New England Muckrakers

Notable investigative stories from newspapers, websites and TV and radio newsrooms in the six New England states plus “Citizen Muckraker” reports.

Recent Posts

Homeowners sold out by cities? Investors foreclose on tax liens

Dartmouth town administrator Greg Barnes (left) auctions off some properties with tax liens to Bill Cowin, managing member of Tallage, LLC. (Peter Pereira/The Standard-Times)

As cash-strapped towns and cities around the Bay State face a mounting stash of unpaid tax liens, they are increasingly turning to for-profit companies to pursue delinquent owners -- prompting concerns among consumer advocates that vulnerable residents are being hit with astronomical fees and sometimes are losing their homes in the process. Continue Reading →

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Poorly rated nursing homes got HUD-guaranteed mortgages anyway

Shutterstock

Nursing homes with even the lowest ratings received financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Development . While an HUD spokesperson says the quality ratings of newly-insured nursing homes has risen in recent years, low-rated facilities are still receiving assistance. From the story: "...Dr. David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at the American Health Care Association, the leading for-profit nursing home advocacy organization, pointed to the higher percentages of all skilled nursing facilities that have earned the top score, a five-star rating, from the federal government from 2009 to 2013." Read the full investigation at the Center for Public Integrity. Continue Reading →

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Election was awash in cash–but did it make a difference?

 

When the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United, it unleashed a flood of money into politics. It raised concerns that the rich and powerful could buy elections. Two election cycles later, the political impact of Citizens United is becoming clear. From the story:

"This fall’s state election set at least two Massachusetts political spending records: the most outside money dropped on a governor’s race — $16.9 million on the general election alone — and the most cash poured into ballot campaigns, at $28 million. But even in an era of supercharged political spending, it’s not clear that money can buy an election." Continue Reading →

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The Green Monster: How the Border Patrol became America’s most out-of-control law enforcement agency

La Region Tamaulipas

The US Border Control is one of the biggest law enforcement agencies in the country.  It's also one of the most corrupt. From border control agents taking advantage of young women crossing the border, to fraud and an overall lack of checks and balances, US Border Control has major flaws. From the story: "Corruption and excessive force have also skyrocketed along with the massive hiring surge. In fact, between 2005 and 2012, nearly one CBP officer was arrested for misconduct every single day—part of a pattern that Ronald Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division, calls “shocking.” During Obama’s first term, the sheer number of allegations was so glaring that, according to two CBP officials, DHS under Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered Customs and Border Protection to change its definition of corruption to downplay to Congress the breadth of the problem." Continue Reading →

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The prisoners fighting California’s wildfires

Amanda Chicago Lewis/BuzzFeed

Holton Conservation Camp is like a summer camp for prison inmates—only they're tasked with fighting California wildfires.  And they're only getting paid $2 an hour to perform some of the most dangerous tasks involved with fighting a fire. According to Buzzfeed, inmate firefighters save California roughly a billion dollars per year.  However, public opinion in the U.S. regarding locking up nonviolent offenders, who are the only candidates for the firefighting program, is shifting.  That same pool of candidates could disappear. Continue Reading →

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How the Army denies veterans justice without anyone knowing

ILLUSTRATIONS:
VICTOR ABARCA

Chuck Luther was diagnosed with PTSD after a 2006 deployment to Iraq.  However, the diagnosis was quickly changed to a "personality disorder," and Luther was discharged with no benefits. So, he turned to the Board for Correction of Military Records for help.  Ultimately, it was a losing battle.  According to Fusion, between 2001 and 2012 the board has never granted a medical discharge. Continue Reading →

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FDA approves cancer drugs without proof they’re extending lives

Mark Hertzberg

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Inlyta, a $10,000 a month drug meant to treat advanced kidney cancer, and allowed it to hit the market.  However, there's no evidence Inlyta can treat cancer at all—in fact, it might have hastened the death of a cancer patient during a clinical trial. And Inlyta is only the tip of the iceberg.  The FDA allowed 74% of the 54 new cancer drugs without proof the drugs extended the lives of patients. From the story: "Instead, the agency approved the drugs based on surrogate measures, such as a tumor shrinking, rather than the gold standard and most reliable measure of cancer research, patients actually surviving longer. Continue Reading →

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Medical firm profited on pain with knockoff spine surgery hardware

Credit: Annie Tritt for CIR

Spine surgery patients could have counterfeit screws in their bodies, all because a Southern California firm profited from knock-off screws. Spinal Solutions LLC is at the center of the scandal, although the owner of the company, Roger Williams, remains MIA.  Williams founded Spinal Solutions in 1999, and lived a lavish lifestyle from the company's profits.  He's also under investigation for underpaying his taxes. Williams was adept at courting clients—doctors. Continue Reading →

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Greek Letters at a Price

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Sororities are seriously expensive, and many new members don't fully understand the costs when they join. From lavish gifts for Littles and Bigs, to monthly dues and administrative fees, the bill for being in a sorority can be steep.  And it's not just money—charity events, weekly meetings and semi-formals take up a lot of time as well. From the story: "Do the math: Official charges include Panhellenic dues, chapter fees, administrative fees, nonresident house/parlor fees, a onetime pledging and initiation fee and contribution toward a house bond. Members must also buy a pin (consider the diamond-encrusted one) and a letter jersey. Continue Reading →

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10 Disturbing Things ProPublica/NPR Learned Investigating the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Efforts

The American Red Cross made a lot of mistakes post-Hurricane Sandy, even going as far as sending out trucks lacking supplies "just to be seen." Some trucks were kept from delivering aid, used instead as backdrops for press conferences.  And that's just the start. From the story: "After both storms, the charity’s problems left some victims in dire circumstances or vulnerable to harm, the organization’s internal assessments acknowledge. Handicapped victims 'slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area' because Red Cross staff 'didn’t know/follow procedures.'"

Read the full investigation at ProPublica. Continue Reading →

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