AG Paxton Urges HHS to Repeal Rule that
Violates the Religious Liberty of Texas’
Faith-Based Foster Care and Adoption
AUSTIN, TX – In a letter today to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Attorney General Ken Paxton urged prompt repeal of an Obama-era rule that violates the religious liberty of Texas’ faith-based foster care and adoption service providers by requiring them to abandon their core religious beliefs as a condition of receiving federal funding under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.
“People of faith should not be required to forfeit their sincerely held religious beliefs as a condition of helping Texas’ most vulnerable children,” Attorney General Paxton said. “We’re asking HHS to repeal its unlawful rule on child welfare funding or, alternatively, grant the state of Texas an exemption from the rule.”
Attorney General Paxton, in his letter to Lynn Johnson, the assistant secretary at HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, pointed out that the rule on Title IV-E funding exceeds statutory authority, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and conflicts with Texas law.
Last session, the Texas Legislature enacted House Bill 3859, which protects the religious liberty of child welfare organizations and prohibits the state from granting or refusing to grant funding to such organizations because of their religious beliefs, including the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Texas’ share of Title IV-E funding is administered by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) through its Child Protective Services, which works with secular and faith-based communities to find loving homes for children removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect.
Some faith-based providers who receive Title IV-E funding through DFPS require potential foster care or adoptive parents to share a particular religious faith, be a member of a congregation, or agree to the provider’s statement of faith. But the federal rule requires those organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs as a condition of receiving funding.
High-Ranking Military Commander Busted
in FBI Child Sex Trafficking Sting
COBB COUNTY, GA – Earlier this week, the FBI Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force held a sting to catch alleged sex traffickers and made multiple arrests in the process. During the sting, a high-ranking Air Force Colonel was ensnared by federal agents.
The undercover sex bust unfolded Tuesday night at a Cobb County hotel at which Lt. Col. Willie Newson, 47, was arrested. According to authorities, Newson thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl at the hotel. He was actually meeting undercover agents pretending to be a child.
Georgia Department of Defense spokeswoman Desiree Bamba told AJC.com that Newson is on the command staff of Maj. Gen. Jesse T. Simmons Jr., who is the commander of the Georgia Air National Guard. Newson also was formerly the commander of the 165th Communication Flight of the 165th Airlift Wing, according to the official.
“Lt. Col. Newson’s alleged actions do not reflect the values we uphold in the Georgia National Guard,” she said.
As WSB-TV reports, the “undercover officer that Newson spoke with gave him the opportunity to stop communicating several times.” However, Newson continued to pursue who he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
The Air Force Colonel was using a popular dating app to pursue the child.
On Tuesday, Newson was arrested on multiple charges stemming from the child exploitation charges. After he was taken into custody, he immediately bailed himself out for $20,000.
He is currently on leave pending the outcome of the case.
“It’s upsetting to the safety of our kids, the safety of this community as a whole,” Mark Samuels, who manages the hotel where the bust took place.
As TFTP previously reported, another high-level government agent was arrested under similar circumstances. 41-year-old Donald Baldi, a Navy contractor with top-level security clearance was arrested and charged with second-degree distribution of child pornography and third-degree possession of child pornography. Baldi was also released on bail.
Just down the road, in Fulton County, GA, a massive sting operation carried out by the FBI in metro Atlanta captured dozens of child traffickers and rescued 160 children who had been forced into sex slavery by their captors. The operation concluded in June of this year.
Illustrating the massive scope of the sting, called Operation Safe Summer, it was a collaborative effort between the FBI and 38 other law enforcement agencies from six metro counties.
“They are crimes of special concern to the FBI and to law enforcement generally,” Special Agent in Charge Matt Alocke told Channel 2. “Because the victims are so vulnerable as children and because the offenders could be from just about any walk of life, from a gang member all the way up to someone who is highly successful and wealthy.”
In total, the sting ensnared 150 traffickers. Approximately 160 children, including some as young as 3-years-old were rescued. According to Alocke, the sting was specifically timed to catch these predators before summer started as the trade tends to prey on children when they are out of school.
“It’s important for those of us who are responsible for the children, the parents, the guardians, the older siblings, to not let children fall away (from) those strongly centered circles of importance,” Alcoke said.
On multiple occasions, the Free Thought Project has reportedinterviews of former child sex trafficking victims who’ve all noted that they had nowhere to go as police and high-level politicians all took place in the abuse.
In case after case, the Free Thought Project reports on horrifying instances of child sex rings that were allowed to go on for decades because politicians — including heads of states — policemen, clergy, and others were all in on the sick game.
Cottondale Child Sex Abuse suspect faces
Child Porn charge
TUSCALOOSA, AL – A Cottondale man with pending child sexual abuse charges has been arrested for disseminating child porn.
Agents with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation’s Special Victims Unit arrested James Robert Pendley, 48, on Friday. Pendley is facing one count of dissemination of child exploitation material and could face further charges, according to Lt. Brooke Walker, commander of ALEA’s Special Victims Unit and the Alabama Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Pendley is currently awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree sodomy and domestic violence. He was arrested on May 10, 2017, and charged with first-degree sodomy and one count of third-degree domestic violence/assault, a misdemeanor.
According to court records, Pendley is accused of shoving and pushing a family member who caught him abusing a 6-year-old boy in the bathroom of his residence on North Davis Road on May 4, 2017. A grand jury later indicted Pendley on five felony counts of first-degree sodomy against victims who were 12, 6 and 2 at the time of his arrest.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Al May revoked Pendley’s bond Friday, at the request of the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office.
The Special Victims Unit was assisted by the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Northport Police, the Joint Electronic Crimes Task Force, Alabama State Troopers, ALEA Tactical team and members of the SBI’s Alcohol and Narcotics division while conducting the child pornography investigation.
Verizon throttled fire department’s
“unlimited” data during California wildfire
“Fire department had to pay twice as much to lift throttling during wildfire response.”
Update: The Santa Clara fire department has responded to Verizon’s claim that the throttling was just a customer service error and “has nothing to do with net neutrality.” To the contrary, “Verizon’s throttling has everything to do with net neutrality,” a county official said.
Verizon Wireless’ throttling of a fire department that uses its data services has been submitted as evidence in a lawsuit that seeks to reinstate federal net neutrality rules.
“County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon,” Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration. “This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services.”
Bowden’s declaration was submitted in an addendum to a brief filed by 22 state attorneys general, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The government agencies are seeking to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules in a lawsuit they filed against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Throttling affected response to wildfire
“The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers,” Bowden wrote.
Santa Clara Fire paid Verizon for “unlimited” data but suffered from heavy throttling until the department paid Verizon more, according to Bowden’s declaration and emails between the fire department and Verizon that were submitted as evidence.
The throttling recently affected “OES 5262,” a fire department vehicle that is “deployed to large incidents as a command and control resource” and is used to “track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed,” Bowden wrote.
“OES 5262 also coordinates all local government resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex Fire,” an ongoing wildfire that is the largest in California’s history, Bowden wrote.
The vehicle has a device that uses a Verizon SIM card for Internet access.
“In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds,” Bowden wrote. “These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively. My Information Technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email about the throttling, requesting it be immediately lifted for public safety purposes.”
Verizon did not immediately restore full speeds to the device, however.
“Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the Department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan,” Bowden wrote.
Verizon “risking harm to public safety”
Because the throttling continued until the department was able to upgrade its subscription, “County Fire personnel were forced to use other agencies’ Internet Service Providers and their own personal devices to provide the necessary connectivity and data transfer capability required by OES 5262,” Bowden wrote.
Verizon throttling also affected the department in a response to previous fires in December and June, emails show.
Bowden argued that Verizon is likely to keep taking advantage of emergencies in order to push public safety agencies onto more expensive plans.
“In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service—even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations,” Bowden wrote.
Update: In a statement to Ars three hours after this article was published, Verizon acknowledged that it shouldn’t have continued throttling the fire department’s data service after the department asked Verizon to lift the throttling restrictions.
“Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” Verizon’s statement said. “We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.”
Verizon also noted that the fire department purchased a data service plan that is slowed down after a data usage threshold is reached. But Verizon said it “made a mistake” in communicating with the department about the terms of the plan.
“We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan,” Verizon said. “Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle.”
Verizon also said that the Santa Clara “situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court.”
Throttling happened after net neutrality repeal
Verizon’s throttling was described in fire department emails beginning June 29 of this year, just weeks after the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules took effect.
Even when net neutrality rules were in place, all major carriers imposed some form of throttling on unlimited plans when customers used more than a certain amount of data. They argued that it was allowed under the rules’ exception for “reasonable network management.” But while such throttling is generally applied only during times of network congestion, the Santa Clara Fire Department says it was throttled at all times once the device in question went over a 25GB monthly threshold.
Even if Verizon’s throttling didn’t technically violate the no-throttling rule, Santa Clara could have complained to the FCC under the now-removed net neutrality system, which allowed Internet users to file complaints about any unjust or unreasonable prices and practices. FCC Chairman Ajit decision to deregulate the broadband industry eliminated that complaint option and also limited consumers’ rights to sue Internet providers over unjust or unreasonable behavior.
Emails between fire department and Verizon
On June 29, Fire Captain Justin Stockman wrote an email to Verizon, noting that download speeds for an essential device used during large disasters had been throttled from 50Mbps to about 30kbps.
A Verizon government accounts manager named Silas Buss responded, saying that the fire department would have to move from a $37.99 plan to a $39.99 plan “to get the data speeds restored on this device.” Later, Buss suggested that the department switch to a plan that cost at least $99.99 a month.
Stockman didn’t have authority to upgrade the plan, so he sent an email to Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski that same day. Stockman wrote:
Verizon is currently throttling OES 5262 so severely that it’s hampering operations for the assigned crew. This is not the first time we have had this issue. In December of 2017 while deployed to the Prado Mobilization Center supporting a series of large wildfires, we had the same device with the same SIM card also throttled. I was able to work through [Fire Department IT executive] Eric Prosser at the time to have service to the device restored, and Eric communicated that Verizon had properly re-categorized the device as truly “unlimited”.
Prziborowski expressed concern about the throttling in an email to Buss. “Before I give you my approval to do the $2.00 a month upgrade, the bigger question is why our public safety data usage is getting throttled down?” Prziborowski wrote. “Our understanding from Eric Prosser, our former Information Technology Officer, was that he had received approval from Verizon that public safety should never be gated down because of our critical infrastructure need for these devices.”
While fire department personnel thought they were already paying for “truly” unlimited data, Verizon said they weren’t.
“The short of it is, public safety customers have access to plans that do not have data throughput limitations,” Buss told Prziborowski. “However, the current plan set for all of SCCFD’s lines does have data throttling limitations. We will need to talk about making some plan changes to all lines or a selection of lines to address the data throttling limitation of the current plan.”
The emails started up again on July 5 and 6. “Can confirm that after using 25GB of data, our service drops to zero. This is unacceptable and needs to be fixed,” fire department IT officer Daniel Farrelly wrote.
Buss clarified that “data throughput is limited to 200kbps or 600kbps” after 25GB of use. Buss also told fire officials that all Verizon plans have some sort of throttling and that the department would have to pay by the gigabyte to avoid throttling entirely.
Verizon has always reserved the right to limit data throughput on unlimited plans. All unlimited data plans offered by Verizon have some sort of data throttling built-in, including the $39.99 plan. Verizon does offer plans with no data throughput limitations; these plans require that the customer pay by the GB for use beyond a certain set allotment.
The Mendocino fire began on July 27. On the night of Sunday, July 29, Stockman sent an email to Bowden:
OES 5262 is deployed again, now to the Mendocino Complex, and is still experiencing the same throttling. As I understood it from our previous exchange regarding this device, the billing cycle was set to end July 23, which should have alleviated the throttling. In a side-by-side comparison, a crew member’s personal phone using Verizon was seeing speeds of 20Mbps/7Mbps. The department Verizon device is experiencing speeds of 0.2Mbps/0.6Mbps, meaning it has no meaningful functionality.
Farrelly wrote a brief email to Buss that night, telling him to “Remove any data throttling on OES5262 effective immediately.” Farrelly emailed Buss again the next morning, saying, “Please work with us. All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind.”
Buss responded that afternoon, suggesting a plan that costs $99.99 for the first 20GB and $8 per gigabyte thereafter. “To get the plan changed immediately, I would suggest calling in the plan change to our customer service team,” Buss wrote.
That was the last email submitted in the court exhibit.
Santa Clara apparently switched to the $99.99 plan, more than doubling its bill. “While Verizon ultimately did lift the throttling, it was only after County Fire subscribed to a new, more expensive plan,” Bowden wrote in his declaration.
Trouble Ahead for Wrongly Criminalized
In a major blow to survivors of human trafficking, the US Department of Justice has announced that it will no longer allow funding to be used to help survivors get legal representation to clear their criminal records that resulted from their victimization. The decision by the Office for Victims of Crime will affect $77 million of human trafficking grants this year.
The abrupt policy reversal was initiated by the Trump administration and goes against the consensus of survivors, advocates, and law enforcement. The new funding restrictions are expected to go into effect in just a couple of weeks.
In an opinion piece in The Hill, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, and Kate Mogulescu, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Law at Brooklyn Law School, write:
It is widely acknowledged that victims are frequently arrested when they are trafficked. A 2016 National Survivor Network survey found that over 91 percent of respondents reported having been arrested, over 40 percent reported being arrested 9 times or more.
No one questions the detrimental impact this has on survivors’ ability to move forward. Criminal records act as concrete barriers for survivors, and lead to denial of employment, housing, and other services. Furthermore, the message to survivors living with criminal records because of their trafficking is clear — you did something wrong, you deserve this, this will live with you forever.
That’s why Manhattan prosecutors screen every prostitution arrest for evidence of trafficking and dismiss prostitution cases after individuals receive counseling sessions and other services.
But the most effective legal response to correct the injustice of past convictions is vacatur or expungement, laws that provide survivors a way to clear their record of charges they were convicted of that were a result of trafficking. New York was the first state to pass such a law in 2009, and almost every state in the country has taken some steps toward relieving survivors of the burden of a criminal record since then.
In one example, Vance and Mogulescu point to the case of a young woman who was sex trafficked for five years in New York, starting when she was just 16. During that time, she was arrested for prostitution six times.
Yet, because of collaboration between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Brooklyn Law School, her convictions were vacated, ensuring that she would she would not be haunted by them for the rest of her life.
Prosecutors have come to rely on partner organizations to help identify trafficking victims and bring vacatur motions or expungement petitions. Under the new funding rules, victims who can’t access legal representation will be forced to file petitions on their own — a significant burden to those seeking justice.
As Vance and Mogulescu conclude, this policy will have tremendous impact on the ability for trafficking survivors to simply live their lives:
“Funding for this work is critical — for the survivor trafficked into prostitution over two decades ago, who has focused on her education, earned a Masters degree in counseling, but is prohibited from taking a state licensure exam because of her criminal record; for the survivor parent of a nine-year-old child who faces humiliation at being fingerprinted to chaperone a school trip; for the survivor who secures an entry level service sector job but has the offer rescinded when a background check reveals her criminal record.”