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Mendocino County Today: Sunday, June 15, 2014

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A BOONVILLE KID, honor student at SF State, non-stoner, non-drinker, good guy as personally verified by the Boonville newspaper, is in desperate need of a room in impossible San Francisco. Chris Balson had been living in an on-campus freshman dorm, but he's no longer a freshman. Please contact the AVA if you have something.

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THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT recently took a call from a young woman who said she had been kidnapped and held captive by a band of outback pot growers concealed in the wilds of Fish Rock Road. Which is either Yorkville or Point Arena, depending how far out you are on that seldom traveled track, much of it unpaved. We consider the Zeni Ranch the cutoff point. Past Zeni you’re on the Point Arena side of the mountain, pre-Zeni, you’re Yorkville. Where the kidnapper’s grow site was we don’t know, but we think it was somewhere considered Yorkville. Wherever the pot op is, it's remote.

THE CONNECTICUT GIRL responded to an on-line ad that said a couple of likely young men working an organic farm sure would like it if an unattached young woman would join them on their earnest collective in Mendocino County, the beautiful beating heart of romantic California, land of fresh starts. Connecticut Girl was soon winging her way west.

GREETED PUNCTUALLY AT SFO by a couple of scruffy dudes — they were fresh off the farm after all — Connecticut Girl was spirited north, and may have become at least slightly apprehensive as the familiar signs of civilization melted away behind her and, as the dudes hooked a left over Rancheria Creek and headed west, those signs soon disappeared altogether and Connecticut Girl was deep in the Mendo outback.

THE ORGANIC FARM turned out to be a couple of WalMart tomato starts and 5,000 plants of the type that can garner their farmers more money in one summer than a tomato farmer makes in a decade. And the organic idealists turned out to be a little rough around their edges, and they were quickly impatient with Connecticut Girl’s griping that they not only didn’t have an espresso machine, but were impatient with her whenever she asked to go into town, a two-hour roundtrip if there was a town to go to. Connecticut Girl yearned for the Nice Boys of her leafy suburb back home.

CONNECTICUT GIRL still had her cell phone, however, and she was soon calling home. “Mommy, I think my new friends are criminals, and they aren’t being very nice to me. I heard one of them talking about "gro ho's" and another one called me ‘Fatso.’ They won’t let me leave but I don’t know where I am. Help!”

AT WHICH POINT, Mommy or Daddy or some responsible person of the type they didn’t seem to have in California, called the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department. Mendo’s finest quickly determined Connecticut Girl’s whereabouts and soon retrieved her. The cops, veterans of organic farm tours, sized up the situation and, after a stern warning that filing false police reports could get her in serious trouble, Connecticut Girl was soon headed home with enough material to write five papers on the theme, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

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IN A LITTLE NOTICED RECENT REPORT, the Mendocino County Grand Jury documented what they called “An Appearance of a Conflict of Interest in the adoption of the Mental Health Privatization contract.”

“The 2013-2014 Grand Jury recommends that the ethics policies for Mendocino County be corrected to include time limitations on when County employees must recuse themselves from decisions regarding previous employers. The Grand Jury also recommends that all respective ethics policies are emphasized and County employees are trained to understand and apply these policies. Enforcement of these policies must be a high priority for all County senior managers. County senior managers and senior staff must recuse themselves from any contract activities when they have or had a financial or business relationship with the contracting party within the last three years.”

Amazingly, although the County routinely contracts with local businesses for large contracts and has privatized several departments in recent years, Mendocino County has no such conflict of interest policy. In particular, in 2013, “The Grand Jury received complaints regarding perceived conflicts of interest in awarding the Mendocino County contract for the administration of adult mental health services to the Ortner Management Group. Certain individuals employed by the County with current and previous associations with Ortner had the opportunity to have undue influence in the awarding of this contract.”

“Certain individuals”?

Actually, one individual: Mental Health Director Tom Pinizzotto. (For reasons that have always been unclear, the Grand Jury prefers to coyly avoid naming names even when they conclude that criminal wrongdoing has occurred, such as with the case of former Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith who the Grand Jury determined had chiseled over $3,000 from the County/taxpayers by lying on her expense reports. In such cases, the name of the person is obvious and well-known.)

“During the investigation, the Grand Jury determined that no apparent illegal activity was carried out by any individual; however, there were sufficient opportunities for these individuals to have used undue influence in the selection process. An employee of Ortner Management Group [Pinizzotto] was contracted as a consultant by the Director of Health and Human Services from February 2011 through March 2012. The actual dates of work were from December 2011 through March of 2012.”

Coincidentally, that's when the County began the privatization process which ended up being awarded to Pinizzotto’s former employer, Ortner.

“The newly contracted consultant [Pinizzotto] had access to patient records and County Medi-Cal billing information. This access was not available to other bidders. A concern of the Grand Jury is that the information would have been useful for estimating the cost of the Request for Proposal for administering the billing of adult mental health services in the County.”

In other words, Ortner probably knew how much to bid to get the contract by coming in just under what Pinizotto said it cost the County for the in-house Mental Health Department (even though such estimates are highly subjective and subject to state review and after-the-fact billing rejections and nobody really knows how much it costs).

“However, there is no indication that the information was used inappropriately.”

Translation: Pinizzotto wasn’t dumb enough to leave a paper trail.

“The evaluation summary for Request for Proposal 24-12 [Ortner’s bid] for mental health services was scored by seven County employees. These scorers included the County’s Mental Health Director [Pinizzotto]. This Mental Health Director [Pinizzotto] had previous business relationships with Ortner Management Group that terminated less than 18 months before the evaluation summary scoring took place. The [unnamed] complainants [competitors in the bid? County Mental Health staffers? We need to know!] alleged [our emphasis] that Ortner Management Group was given unfair advantage by the active presence of the consultant and the Mental Health Director [Pinizotto] during the preparation and scoring of [Ortner’s] Request for Proposal. The complainants also alleged [our emphasis] that the release of the Request for Proposal was delayed until Ortner Management Group had completed drafting its response. There is an appearance of impropriety in the process of bidding and awarding the contract to Ortner Management Group because of the previous relationship of the Mental Health Director with Ortner Management Group. There is no evidence that impropriety occurred.”…

“FINDINGS: North Valley Behavioral Health (NVBH) [of Marysville] and Ortner are clearly linked in both business and professional matters. As administrator of NVBH-Fairfield, the BHRS Director [Pinizzotto] had a business and financial relationship with Ortner through NVBH-Fairfield immediately prior to coming to work for the County. The Grand Jury perceived a possible conflict of interest in the selection of Ortner for the privatization contract for adult mental health services. There was a lack of transparency to the public [and the Board of Supervisors] regarding the timelines and the changing work relationships between the consultants and the management of H&HS. There was a lack of transparency to the public as to the legal relationship and responsibilities of the concerned parties during the changing work relationships. The Grand Jury noted that when timelines and contractual relationships were reviewed, there did not appear to be any illegal activities by the individuals involved in the selection of Ortner. Given the response published by the County in the Request for Proposal Addendum No. 1, the Grand Jury finds the County guidelines are insufficient to address perceptions of undue influence. It is not entirely clear to the Grand Jury whether or not there was undue influence in the selection process.”

HOWEVER, as lawyers like to say, Res ipso loquitor — the fact that Mendo ended up awarding almost $20 million per year of mental health service contracts to Mr. Pinizzotto’s former employer — speaks for itself.

PS. FROM THE AVA’S BULGING ‘WE TOLD YOU SO’ FILE (AVA, September 29, 2010): “CEO ANGELO and Ms. Cryer [Health and Human Services Director] also said they’re working on a ‘regional approach’ to mental health services to help reduce costs, perhaps a reference confirming rumors that selective privatization of mental health services on the North Coast may be next. While it’s understandable that any government agency would consider privatization, the model that would probably make the most financial sense is to provide services only to profitable mental health patients while leaving the Sheriff with the great majority of uninsured and otherwise impoverished 5150s. In other words, the crazy people who have private or government insurance would be farmed out to for-profit treatment centers [which turned out to be Ortner] while the rest would remain where they are — the Mendocino County Jail.

“THIS CASH AND CARRY approach to the County's mentally ill appears well under way. Our Health and Human Services Department has already hired two consultants to develop a proposal for just such a thing. One of these consultants, a Mr. Tom Pinizzotto, is the Administrator of the North Valley-Solano Behavioral Center in Fairfield who just happens to also have an existing contract with Lake County for ‘mental health administrative services.’ The other consultant, Ms. Nancy M. Callahan, PhD, is an alleged expert in ‘mental health services to Medicaid recipients,’ and a specialist in computerized data processing, meaning Dr. Callahan is real good at figuring out who can be a valuable funding unit for the private ‘behavior health’ services companies. It seems appropriate about here to repeat our annual definition of a consultant: a person you lend your watch to so he can tell you what time it is.

“COMBINE THESE MERCENARY DEVELOPMENTS with a recent internal memo from Ms. Cryer to the Mental Health staff: ‘We are obviously not moving forward with any plans to fill positions — revenue generating or not.’ Which means even positions that could be funded by state and federal mental health programs (which would not cost any money from the County's general fund) will not be filled — clearly a step towards privatization. Or this: ‘I want to be truthful and tell you that we are probably facing layoffs in the Mental Health Division.’ And, ‘Tom Pinizzotto has been here working for several weeks now, usually two to three days per week and will now be serving as the Mental Health Director. He will continue as a contractor. … His colleague, Nancy Callahan, is assisting with portions of the plan.’ Mr. Pinizzotto’s ultimate objective, according to Ms. Cryer, is to “transform Mental Health” into something Ms. Cryer chooses not to describe to her staff while, we suppose, sending fully funded local mental health patients to his Fairfield facility.

“IF YOU know someone who is in need of long-term mental health services you have two choices: 1. find some way to pay for it yourself or with insurance, or 2. take your uncle directly to Sheriff Allman.”

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DEPARTMENT OF UNINTENTIONAL HILARITY: Members of the “LeadershipTeam” at Willits High School on why they resigned, as reported by Mike A'Dair of the Willits Weekly. “According to Jill Walton, the team's leader, they quit because, among other things, ‘leadership team members also note the failure of the school principal,’ Dr. Jeffrey Ridgely, to adequately perform the ceremonial part of his job. ‘Dr. Ritchley has made no effort to connect with the students,’ Walton said. ‘He's missed four important [sic] events and only made a brief appearance at a fifth.’ According to Walton, Ritchley failed to attend the ‘Art Under 20’ opening, the Spring Music Concert, the Senior Portfolio interviews, and the Associated Student Body Convention. She said he did show up briefly at the ‘Hot Winter's Night’ talent show. His visit there was ‘duly noted,’ Walton said.”

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There are a number of Martin Pereiras who will appear on your computer screen when you Google his name as well as images that can be found for Martin Pereira, a signatory to a letter in the June 11th AVA blasting the Democrats, KZYX and public radio, in general. None of them are of the letter writer because it just happens to be the latest pseudonym of our old agent-provocateur/friend and likely ADL freelancer, Marc Richey. (Curiously, he looks remarkably like Bernie Goetz, the subway killer of yesteryear.)

I outed him the other day when he posted one of his usual off the wall and off topic screeds on an "anti-intervention in Syria" discussion list that had nothing to do with Syria but took those on the list to task for not taking on enemies closer to home which included his all-time favorite target, the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) in Berkeley that for the past 25 years has, from what I have seen, done more good work for the Palestinian cause in the Bay Area than any other organization I'm aware of including those run by Palestinians.

I rarely contribute anything to that email list but I suspected that this Pereira character was none other than Richey and so I posted a message that said so. He made no effort to deny it in a subsequent post and then switched to attacking me who he likes to refer to as “Prince Bankfort,” and accused me of manipulating everyone around the world on the list, most of whom I don't know and before a year ago had never heard of.

This quickly elicited words of sympathy for Richey/Pereira from members of the list accompanied by suggestions that he see someone about his mental health (maybe if they went in together, he and Sakowicz could get a special “loose nut” rate). In any case, like so many email list moderators over the past two decades had done before, the fellow in the Bay Area running this one wanted no part of Richey and his personal attacks and so he was given the heave-ho.

One might have wished that after three decades of poision-penmanship, Richey would find something else to do with his miserable life but, at this point, the hope that springs eternal has either rusted or dried up.

Jeff Blankfort, Ukiah

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SUE MEADOWS of Fremont writes: “I spent four days last week in Southern California. Landscaping is lush and green. Restaurants automatically serve large glasses of water and bring an entirely new glass as a refill. No notices in airport, hotel or other venues requesting people to conserve water. Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a drought emergency appears to have been ignored by our neighbors to the south.”

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The number of pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the state has reached epidemic proportions, it was reported today by Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and state health officer.

As of June 10, there have been 3,458 cases of pertussis reported to CDPH in 2014, more than were reported in all of 2013. Over 800 new cases have been reported in the past two weeks.

Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every 3-5 years. The last peak in California occurred in 2010, so it is likely another peak is underway.

“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” says Dr. Chapman. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”

Infants too young to be fully immunized remain most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. Two-thirds of pertussis hospitalizations have been in children four months or younger. Two infant deaths have been reported.

The Tdap vaccination for pregnant women is the best way to protect infants who are too young to be vaccinated. All pregnant women should be vaccinated with Tdap in the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of previous Tdap vaccination. In addition, infants should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The first dose of pertussis vaccine can be given as early as 6 weeks of age.

Older children, pre-adolescents, and adults should also be vaccinated against pertussis according to current recommendations. It is particularly important that persons who will be around newborns also be vaccinated.

 “Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity,” says Dr. Ron Chapman. “However, vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease.” 

The symptoms of pertussis vary by age. For children, a typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a “whooping” sound. Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough. Parents may describe episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple. For adults, pertussis may simply be a cough that persists for several weeks.

CDPH is working closely with local health departments, schools, media outlets and other partners to inform the general public about the importance of vaccination against pertussis.

Pertussis data, including the number of cases in each county, can be found on the CDPH website, and is updated regularly. (California Department of Public Health)

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MENDO-BORN CATE WHITE, raised in the Anderson Valley, explains her art: “In case you wanna know what it's all about: Painting is a direct response to my chronic feelings of alienation. I count myself among the self-aware outsiders -- people so personally affected/wounded by normalized culture that, in order to become well, we must stand outside of it. My paintings are places to stand. Over the last five years, living in the poor, mostly black neighborhood of West Oakland, I have found a feeling of solidarity in the struggle to retain a sense of self free of societal assumptions and judgments. In forming relationships involving intimacy and personal risk, my liberal ideals about violence, crime, dysfunction, patronage, power and privilege have been upended. I recognize the political risk of being a white artist representing black people. But as I open myself to our shared cultural wounds and paint my perceptions of the people and places I value, I trust that the creative impulse must be a vehicle for healing and love.”

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Arias, Hammond, Harper, Landis, McLaughlin, Sandford, Serris, Tucker
Arias, Hammond, Harper, Landis, McLaughlin, Sandford, Serris, Tucker

ALEXIS ARIAS, Boonville. Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

CAMERON HAMMOND, Ukiah. Robbery, evading a police officer, resisting arrest, revocation of probation.

LABAN HARPER, Burney. Drunk and under the influence of drugs. Arrested in Willits.

CODY LANDIS, Willits. Vehicle Theft.

JOSEPH McLAUGHLIN, Paradise. Failure to appear for hit and run misdemeanor at a state park.



BRETT TUCKER, Ukiah. Driving on a suspended license.

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Caller in the 900 block of Waugh Lane reported at 10:59 p.m. Wednesday that her ex-husband beat her up and refused to give her their son. An officer responded and arrested James Mulheren, 30, of Ukiah, on suspicion of domestic violence, and Molly-Anne Faahs-Stewart, 26, of Ukiah, also on suspicion of domestic violence. They were both booked into Mendocino County Jail.

SHOPLIFTER -- An officer responded to Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard at 2:11 p.m. Thursday and arrested a 22-year-old man for theft. He was cited and released.

LOUD BIRD -- Caller in the 500 block of Stella Drive reported at 3:34 p.m. Thursday that a gray car had been parked there for several weeks, and that a peacock was in a house behind her on Warren Drive that was "very noisy."

SHOPLIFTER -- Caller at Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard reported at 4:54 p.m. Thursday that a man stole a pellet gun with a scope. An officer responded and arrested a 28-year-old man for theft.

CAR DOOR DENTED -- Caller in the 500 block of East Perkins Street reported at 5:11 p.m. Thursday that a man in a red pickup opened his truck door and dented her car door. An officer responded and determined there was very little damage and the caller did not want prosecution.

SHOPLIFTER -- An officer responded to Kohl's on North Orchard Avenue at 6:24 p.m. Thursday for two 13-year-old girls who had allegedly stolen makeup. The girls were released to their parents.

911 HANG-UP -- A 911 call was placed and hung-up from a cell phone in the 300 block of Jones Street. The caller could not be reached upon callback.

The following were compiled from reports prepared by the Ukiah Police Department regarding calls handled by the Fort Bragg Police Department.

SOMEONE SCREAMING -- Caller in the 400 block of Franklin Street reported at 1:22 a.m. Thursday hearing someone screaming off and on for the past several hours. An officer responded, but the area was quiet. At 5:10 a.m., another caller in the same block reported hearing someone screaming. Another officer responded and spoke with the screamer, who was reported to be fine.

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by Scott Smith


In this November 2012 photo provided by PARC Environmental, a traffic stop on Interstate 5 led to the seizure of multiple tequila bottles disguising liquid methamphetamine near Coalinga, Calif. Authorities in California’s Central Valley say that in recent years they have begun to see more meth dissolved as liquid and put into tequila bottles or plastic detergent containers to smuggle it across the border from Mexico. Once in the Central Valley, it is converted into crystals, it’s most sought-after form on the street.

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In methamphetamine's seedy underworld, traffickers are disguising the drug as a liquid to smuggle it into the United States from Mexico.

Dissolved in a solution, it's sealed in tequila bottles or plastic detergent containers to fool border agents and traffic officers. Once deep in California's Central Valley, a national distribution hub, meth cooks convert it into crystals — the most sought-after form on the street.

Tough policing has driven the highly toxic super-labs south of the border where meth is manufactured outside the sight of U.S. law enforcement, but the smaller conversion labs are popping up domestically in neighborhoods, such as one in Fresno where a house exploded two years ago.

People inside the home had sealed it tightly so the tale-tell fumes didn't give them away.

"These guys, they don't have Ph.D.s in chemistry," said Sgt. Matt Alexander of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office. "They're focused on not getting caught."

Investigators say it's impossible to know how much liquid meth crosses the border, but agents in Central California say they have been seeing more of it in the past few years.

A California Highway Patrol officer in late 2012 pulled over a 20-year-old man on Interstate 5 who said he was headed to Oregon from Southern California and seemed nervous. The officer found 15 bottles in the trunk full of dissolved meth but labeled as Mexican tequila.

The man pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and received a federal prison sentence of 46 months.

Three men were indicted in late 2013 and await trial after a drug task force found 12 gallons of liquid meth in a Fresno house along with 42 pounds of the drug ready for sale, four guns and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Officers raided a Madera home earlier this year, finding a lab used to convert liquid meth into 176 pounds of crystals with a street value over $1 million. Nobody was arrested, but agents said the bust dealt a blow to the organization behind the lab.

Mike Prado, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigation's Fresno office, said law enforcement agencies are always on the lookout for creative ways cartels smuggle meth.

"We've become better at detecting certain things," Prado said. "When they catch on to that, they modify their methods."

The super-labs driven south to Mexico are notoriously toxic to people and the environment, but Prado said the small conversion labs in the Central Valley are more dangerous. His agents have found them in densely populated apartment buildings and foreclosed homes in quiet neighborhoods where children play on the street.

In the conversion process, cooks evaporate off the liquid and use highly combustible chemicals such as acetone to make crystals. The fumes are trapped inside. "A spark can turn this into a fireball," Prado said.

That's what happened in 2012, when a home in a middle-class area of Fresno was blown off its foundation. The blast shot the air conditioner into a neighbor's yard; another neighbor had to replace a roof rippled by the concussion. Two men ran from the home, and investigators said a third was seriously injured.

Central California's interstates and proximity to Mexico make it an attractive distribution hub for cartels, officials say.

John Donnelly, until recently in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Fresno office, said agents all over the country have tracked meth to California's Central Valley. "We're the source point for Seattle, Portland, Alaska and as far east as the Carolinas," Donnelly said.

Not all the meth travelling north makes its way to Central California. Two men were arrested last month in San Bernardino when investigators found a conversion lab, 206 pounds of crystal meth and 250 gallons of the liquid capable of producing 1,250 pounds of crystals.

The seized drugs, which investigators suspect came from Mexico, were valued at $7.2 million.

Not all liquid meth makes it across the border. Last year, a 16-year-old from Mexico was stopped at the crossing near San Diego. He volunteered to take "a big sip" to convince inspectors the liquid he had was only apple juice, not meth. The teenager began screaming in pain and died within hours.

Eric L. Olson, a Latin America researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington D.C., said he witnessed agents seize liquid meth disguised in soda bottles during a 2012 tour of the border crossing at Laredo, Texas.

Liquid meth is just the latest innovation for transporting drugs for profit, he said. Smugglers have used tunnels, submarines, drones and once, Olson said, a 90-year-old farmer was used as a decoy.

"There's no end to the creativity to getting the drug to market when there's demand," he said of the turn to liquid meth.

(Courtesy, the Associated Press.)


  1. james marmon June 15, 2014

    Regarding Grand Jury’s Report on Mental Health Contract, is anybody surprised?

  2. John Sakowicz June 15, 2014

    Good work by the 2013-2014 Mendocino County Grand Jury. Outstanding work, really. For the record, the GJ’s foreman is Finley Williams, a guy who is capable in every way.

  3. Helen Michael June 15, 2014

    No surprise in the Grand Jury report. We have questioned the apparent inpropriety of the entire process from the beginning and despite numerous requests to be included, those requests were conveniently disregarded by Ms. Angelo and Ms. Cryer. I don’t like to say “I told you so” but we did tell you so.

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