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An Accidental Interview With John Sakowicz

I had to bring a bad alternator over the hill to Ukiah last Thursday. I wasn't sure if it was dead on my first alternator related trip the day before, riding the Mendocino Transit Authority from Boonville to downtown Ukiah. I got a bench test ran at an auto parts store off of Clay Street. The man came back to the counter holding my dusty alternator,

“It's blown,” he said. I was somewhat relieved, believing that I had pinpointed my van's troubles. He said they didn't have it in stock, and if they ordered it it wouldn't arrive for five days. Since the alternator was for my only car I walked around town until I found an auto parts store on State Street that said they could get it for me the next day. I was reluctant at first to trust this auto parts store. Their front of house inventory hasn't been changed for nearly twenty years. I looked at their Tasmanian Devil trailer hitch covers with faded packaging and white fuzzy dice hanging there waiting year after year to be bought. I had to be in San Francisco in two days so when they told me they found a match and it would be there the next day I left a deposit and told them I would see them tomorrow.

The next morning I woke up and my girlfriend and I walked to the end of our road and held out a cardboard “Boonville” sign. She was trying to get into town for work, I was trying to get to 253 to hitch a ride back to Ukiah because the MTA bus had already passed through Anderson Valley.

I walked out of Boonville on Highway 253, over the Anderson Creek bridge, eating black berries growing on the shoulder. I held up my “Ukiah” sign at traffic. At a pull-off just over Anderson Creek a newer model car stopped for me and I ran across the gravel. The man inside had black hair and stylish black rimmed glasses. I got in and he said he could take me over the hill into Ukiah. He immediately told me he was the host of a radio show on KZYX. He was on his way home inland from where his show is broadcast in Philo.

“What's your name?” I asked.

“John Sakowicz,” he said, turning to look right in my eyes, looking for a hint of name recognition. “I host 'The Truth About Money'.”

“I'm Cody.”

I told him that I wrote for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, covering the coastal court in Fort Bragg.

“Oh,” he said, then he was silent for a few seconds.

“They wrote about me, and it wasn't good. I retired from working on Wall Street and they questioned all of my credentials.”

He was agitated talking about it.

“Bruce Anderson can really hurt someone's reputation, but will never correct it.”

We rolled up the hill until we were at the three-mile long stretch on top.

“You know he was very instrumental in us losing our previous news director Paul Hanson.”

“Didn't a newspaper in Oregon report on the lottery scandal he was involved in first?” I asked.

“Well yes but the charges were dropped! He didn't do anything wrong.”

“So the Oregon newspaper just made something up and reported it?”

“Well, Paul Hanson is a Vietnam veteran and his veteran friend asked him for help.”

Mr. Sakowicz told me that this veteran friend didn't have any medical benefits so Hanson helped him launder some money.

“It wasn't even that much money,” Sakowicz told me. His confident DJ voice had begun to morph into an awkward tone, like a student attempting in vain to explain away an incident to their principle.

“Paul Hanson is a friend of mine,” he said. “He had 30-years experience, we were lucky to have him. I think the station was only able to pay him $35,000 a year.”

On July 20th of 2001 Paul Hanson did indeed plead guilty in Marion County Circuit Court in Oregon. The original charges against Hanson were “felony forgery, cheating and attempted theft.” He was accused of forging a winning Oregon State Lottery ticket for $25,000 and attempting to cash it. Hanson pleaded guilty and it was reduced to a misdemeanor. He received 18 months probation, 20 hours community service, and was ordered to pay $100 restitution to the Oregon State Lottery. In the Vancouver, Washington newspaper The Columbian, Hanson claimed the lottery ticket was damaged when he bought it.

“I did nothing wrong. I took the ticket to Oregon State Lottery headquarters knowing full well it would be turned over to the Oregon State Police crime lab.”

Before his KZYX position, Paul Hanson was the news director for KVAN-AM 1550 in Vancouver, Washington.

Once we finished our conversation about Hanson, Sakowicz asked me about Ten Mile Court and said there was a lot of interesting pot cases out there. As Sakowicz moved to different subjects of choice, he spoke the language and jargon. I listened, letting him speak.

“You can grow up to 99 plants with the proper credentials. I've thought about doing it myself. The hard thing is that every single gram and dollar and were it goes and comes from has to be accounted for.”

Taking what he said about “retiring from Wall Street” in consideration I asked him how long he had lived in the area.

“Ten years. I used to work for the Mendocino County Sheriffs Department. Not as a deputy but as a corrections officer. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

He told me he was in charge of the “administrative segregation” unit in the Mendocino County Jail at Low Gap. He said that since there is not a facility to hold and treat mentally ill offenders they must be kept segregated in a special unit of the jail.

“We kept three classifications of prisoners in administrative segregation; the first were the prisoners who had a history of violence while incarcerated, like if they attacked guards or other prisoners. The second classification was the verbally violent prisoners who would taunt and incite and yell.”

“Talk shit,” I offered.

“Yeah,” he said and quickly continued. “The third classification were the special needs prisoners; prisoners on suicide watch or anyone else that should be kept out of the jail's general population. They are kept in administrative segregation for 23 hours a day.”

We crossed through the eye of the needle and began our long decent down into the Ukiah Valley.

“You may not know it, with all this pot everywhere, but some really dangerous people come through this county. Like the Hells Angel who killed two people about ten years ago, I held him in ad seg. Or the transient who…”

Sakowicz rattled off some more hardcore criminals he held in Mendocino County Jail “ad seg” unit.

“We have to keep them separate from everybody else to prevent what they call 'jailhouse justice'.”

He told me they also kept white supremacists in administrative segregation. He called them “woods” and I asked him why they were called that.

“Peckerwoods, 'woods' is short for peckerwoods.”

A dry haze laid over the dusty inland hills as we spiraled down.

“We kept homosexuals in ad-seg for their own protection. We kept rival gang members in ad-seg. I had Norteños and Sureños in ad-seg. And all of these prisoners were together in one unit! We couldn't take two prisoners out at once. If a Norteño was in the yard and a Sureño had a court date we had to bring the Norteño back to his cell before we could take out the Sureño.”

“Do you remember that gang sweep the Mendocino County Sheriff conducted a few months ago at Homeland Security's request?” I asked Sakowicz.

“Yes I do remember that.”

“A lot of people on the Coast thought it was a veiled immigration sweep. And some of the alleged criminal gang affiliates that were called upon from the Homeland Security's list lived in Anderson Valley.”

“ICE comes through the Valley. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

On May 3rd 2011 Homeland Security Investigations division, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, Willits Police Department, Fort Bragg Police Department, and Mendocino County Probation began their “gang sweep” in the Ukiah Valley. Officers in the field wore “Gang Task Force” Kevlar vests and held automatic rifles. They arrested three men in Ukiah, two of them were held on immigration detainers. On May 4th the sweep was conducted in Anderson Valley and the Fort Bragg area. Five people were arrested, four of them held on immigration detainers, two had federal apprehension warrants, all lived in or near Fort Bragg.

During the sweep they found Refugio Ortega Vasquez in illegal possession of ammunition in Ukiah. The second day they found 201 illegal marijuana plants and 8 processed pounds at a home in Fort Bragg. According to the Mendocino County Sheriff's press release about the sweep, “Statements and evidence collected also showed the marijuana was being grown for financial gain.” All of the marijuana was seized but no arrests were made and no charges were filed at the time.

As we neared the Ukiah Valley floor and Highway 101 Mr. Sakowicz asked if I wanted to be dropped off at the corner of State Street and 253 or off the Perkins Street exit in town.

“I'm going near downtown so Perkins Street is fine.”

He got on 101 North. A red and white Cal Fire “Bomber” airtanker dropped a stream of red dust near the mountains lining the east side of the valley.

Sakowicz dropped me off by the Perkins Street exit and I thanked him for the ride. I walked west into town on Perkins and north on State Street to the auto parts store. I picked up the new alternator and carried it to a cafe were I ducked out of the hot Ukiah Valley sun and got a drink. I sat my new alternator on the table and covered it with my wide-brimmed straw hat as I went to the bathroom. Old locals sat and mumbled to each other. The young girls working swept the floor, made lattes, and pumped country music through the speakers installed in the cafe walls.

Soon I ventured back into the sun and walked south on State. My plan was to walk to Highway 253 and hitch a ride back into Anderson Valley with my “Boonville” sign and put the new alternator in my distressed van. The Cal Fire bomber and spotter plans took off and landed in rotation from the airport the whole time I walked through Ukiah that day. As I approached the airport I could read the letters underneath the bomber that said “Cal Fire” in red and white as it took off again.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Air Program has two major support contractors. These are currently Logistics Specialties Incorporated of Layton, Utah, and DynCorp of Falls Church, Virginia. Both are private military and government contractors.

According to the Cal Fire Air Program page on “DynCorp provides airtanker and airtactical plane pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. (All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots.) LSI provides procurement and parts management services.” In 2008 Cal Fire awarded DynCorp International with a $137.7 million contract good through 2014, but DynCorp has been involved with Cal Fire since 2001. William L. Ballhaus, DynCorp International President and CEO, said “This is an outstanding example of a state and private sector partnership with tremendous benefits for the people of California.”

DynCorp receives 96% of its annual income amounting to $2 Billion from the U.S. federal government. They provided security for Afghan interim president Hamid Karzai, trains most of the Iraqi and Afghani police forces, assisted in recovery in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, provides contracted maintenance for 85% of NASA aircraft, and worked with the Colombian national police to fight left-wing rebels and eradicate coca fields in Columbia.

A group of Ecuadorian farmers from the Columbia and Ecuador boarder region filed a class-action lawsuit in 2001 against DynCorp in US federal court. The farmers claimed DynCorp sprayed herbicide on a virtual daily basis between January and February 2001 causing health problems in residents and destruction of livestock and food producing fields. The plaintiffs also claimed that DynCorp's herbicide spraying killed four infants in the region. They filed the suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act.

But when governments hire a private business to do its dirty work, the blame can be hard to place.

Near the turn of the millennium reports began to surface of DynCorp employees involved in child sex slave trafficking in Bosnia. DynCorp fired two whistleblowers who complained about the conduct of their fellow employees. Their names were Kathryn Bolkovac and Ben Johnston.

Ben Johnston was an aircraft mechanic for DynCorp working in Bosnia. He claimed that DynCorp employees were having sex with children 12 to 15 years old and selling them to each other as slaves.

Members of the 48th Military Police Detachment conducted a sting of the DynCorp hanger at the Comanche Base Camp, one of two U.S. military bases in Bosnia at the time. Army Criminal Investigation Command or CID conducted an investigation. In a sworn testimony to the CID, DynCorp employee Kevin Werner who was stationed in Bosnia said “during my last six months I have come to know a man we call 'Debeli,' which is Bosnian for fat boy. He is the operator of a nightclub by the name of Harley's that offers prostitution. Women are sold hourly, nightly or permanently.”

Kathryn Bolkovac was a U.N. International Police Force monitor who was hired by DynCorp to work in Bosnia. She filed a lawsuit in Great Britain against DynCorp after she discovered that some of the contractor’s officers were involved in the trafficking of young girls for prostitution. Her story was made into a movie called “The Whistleblower” in 2011.

DynCorp was in Bosnia on a $15 million dollar contract to assemble and train police officers. Many employees have been forced to resign, but none have faced criminal charges of any type. When the U.S. Army or government is asked about illegal or corrupt activities that have been carried out by the contractors they hired or sub-contractors, they can often effectively pass the blame away from their core. Contractors like DynCorp are protected by jurisdictional loopholes, obscure international treaties, and the confusion caused by convoluted bureaucracies.

In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on June 24th 2009, which was intercepted and released by Wikileaks, the Afghan Minister of the Interior at the time Hanif Atmar suggested to the U.S. that they “quash” any news story about a DynCorp party held at the Kunduz Regional Training Center for the Afghan police recruits. In the cable was a summery of a meeting between U.S. Assistant Ambassador to Afghanistan Joseph A. Mussomeli and Hanif Atmar. The Minister of Interior had conducted an investigation and arrested “two Afghan police officers and nine other Afghans” (which included some of the training center's language assistants) for facilitating the crime of “purchasing a service from a child.” For the party on April 11, 2009 DynCorp hired a 17-year old Afghan “Dancing Boy” to “perform.” They also obtained an unspecified drug for the party.

Dancing Boys are part of a practice with a long tradition in Northern Afghanistan called Bacha bazi (Persian for “playing with boys"). They are prepubescent or adolescent boys who are sold to wealthy men for entertainment and/or sex. In a Reuters article from November 18th of 2007 a 38 year old Afghan business man said in regards to his Dancing Boy, “'I don't have a wife. He is like my wife. I dress him in women's clothes and have him sleep beside me. I enjoy him and he is my everything,' he said, kissing the photograph.” The boys are often seen as status symbols, dressing up in woman's gowns and performing dances for groups of men, and are often bought and sold outright for use as personal sex slaves. Atmar warned that if a journalist were to publish a story on the incident it would “endanger lives.” During the Minister of the Interior investigation there were proposals made to station military officers at Regional Training Centers to oversee the military contractors, but it is noted in the cable that “Placing military officers to oversee contractor operations at RTCs is not legally possible under current DynCorp contract.” Soon after MIN Hanif Atmar resigned from his position, taking responsibility for security failure that allowed an attack on President Karzai's Afghan Peace Jirga in 2010. Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli is now Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia. The U.S. Embassy Cable states that “Beyond remedial actions taken, we still hope the matter will not be blown out of proportion, and outcome which would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan.”

DynCorp's Ukiah Airport office is at 1475 South State Street next to Enterprise-Rent-A-Car.

I held up my cardboard “Boonville” sign to passing traffic in vain. Few people in town stop to pick up hitchhikers. I walked on past all the retired motor lodges where rooms are now rented as homes. The dry haze still hung about the hills surrounding Ukiah Valley. The Cal Fire bomber practically skimmed the tops of South Ukiah houses and trees on its way down from the sky again. I stood with sign in hand at 253 next to the large vineyard. I was finally picked up by a kind brother and sister with a small child in a car seat heading back to Anderson Valley. The young man had seen me around Boonville and told his sister to pick me up. The little boy in the car seat next to me switched back and forth between English and Spanish. He told me about the Burger King fries he just ate. When he ran out of things to say he began making animal noises.

“That's a good cat noise,” I said. “Wow, was that the sound of two different pigs!”

We all laughed and joked back over the hill. They dropped me off outside of Boonville and I thanked them for the ride, the new alternator sitting in the bottom of my backpack wrapped in a flannel shirt, waiting to be installed.

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