Archive for the ‘Crimes & Misdemeanors’ Category

sportsstuff“The sports collectibles industry looks like it is going to take a big hit because of the souring economy, and there’s lots of speculation that the hobby’s biggest auction house, Mastro Auctions, won’t be around much longer. The Illinois company – the nation’s largest sports memorabilia auction house – is the target of a federal investigation into shill bidding and fraud, and [last month], the Daily News reported that it has problems paying consigners.” (via NY Daily News)


[Until a few years ago, and for more than a decade, I was a prominent and respected member of the sports collectibles industry. Early on, I ran a mail order business specializing in historic and rare sports programs and tickets; and for several years after that, I ran a catalog auction, Sloate & Smolin, in partnership with Barry Sloate, a specialist in early cards and memorabilia; I also ran my own online memorabilia auction, About Time Auctions. So when I say that the sports collectibles industry has never been a place for the faint of heart, I speak from experience.

Bill Mastro, the founder and president of Mastro Auctions, has a long and complicated history with the “hobby” – Mastro is one of the people most responsible for transforming a one-time hobby into a major industry and for making a fair number of people, himself especially, quite wealthy along the way. But there are low moments in the Mastro story as well, some of which are reported by Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson in their 2007 exposé, The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card.

As for the broader concerns of the hobby-industry, a “crash” in the hobby market has been anticipated for years — since before I became a full-time dealer in the early 1990s — but never materialized. But this time might be different – facing the one-two punch of a sinking world economy and the possible demise of one of the industry’s leading auction houses, the hobby this time really might be going down for the count.]


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Blagojevich MoneyGlenn Selig, a publicist for Rod Blagojevich, says the recently impeached former Illinois governor signed a six-figure deal on Monday to write a book “exposing the dark side of politics.” (via The Huffington Post)

Update: (3/9) BLAGOJEBOOK

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“A month after allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced in the mainstream press, the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking cautious steps to confront the scandal. Meanwhile, outsiders are tackling the issue head on.

“On Sunday, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind plans to host a community-wide ‘morning of chizuk’ (support) for the alleged victims of abuse. Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who is largely responsible for bringing public attention to the scandal, has recruited rabbis and community leaders to speak at the event, which takes place in Boro Park, the center of the Hasidic district he represents. Some community members believe the gesture is merely symbolic, but Hikind calls the event ‘unprecedented.’

“‘No one has touched this subject before,’ he says. ‘We’re telling the victims we’re sorry we didn’t see your pain before, and we’re turning the corner.'” (via NPR)

[The website for the organization Survivors for Justice, run by “survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and their advocates who are committed to offering guidance and support to victims seeking justice through the criminal and civil legal system,” can be found here.]


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marijuana11“Could Cannabis sativa be a salvation for California’s fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke?

“[Assemblyman Tom Ammiano] from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.” (via LA Times)



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texasborderbadge“In a controversial program aimed at enhancing border security, Texas sheriffs have erected a series of surveillance cameras along the Rio Grande and connected them to the Internet.

“Thousands of people are now virtual Border Patrol agents — and they’re on the lookout for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

“Robert Fahrenkamp, a truck driver in South Texas, is one of them.

“After a long haul behind the wheel of a Peterbilt tractor-trailer, he comes home, sets his 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound frame in front of his computer, pops a Red Bull, turns on some Black Sabbath or Steppenwolf, logs in to www.blueservo.net — and starts protecting his country.

“‘This gives me a little edge feeling,’ Fahrenkamp says, ‘like I’m doing something for law enforcement as well as for our own country.'” (more @ NPR)

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A “No Kissing” sign in the Warrington Bank Quay railroad station, Cheshire, England. The sign was installed by Virgin Rail. (via The Guardian)

[And Don’t Sleep in the Subway, either!]

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the-killer-underpantsIn London, “A British bishop was arrested on suspicion of child cruelty after he helped his two young sons to perch on top of the chimney of their house to read a book as part of a school project. Bishop Jonathan Blake, of the Open Episcopal Church, took pictures of his sons Nathan, eight, and Dominic, seven, while they sat on top of their two-storey home. The children were calmly holding a book called “The Killer Underpants” for a school competition to find the most unusual place where a pupil had read a book.”

(via Reuters UK)

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“The pain caused by Bernard Madoff will be lasting and felt by a great many people. There can be little doubt that the method by which he used his Jewish identity to worm his way into the confidence of many Jewish investors and charities will be among the most memorable aspects of his villainy. But those concerned about the future of American Jewry have far more pressing worries than the money Madoff stole and lost or the ammunition he might have given to anti-Semites. The real question is whether, at a time when resources are growing relatively scarce, the American Jewish community will finally take the full measure of the threat to its long-term survival and husband its straitened resources to address that threat openly, honestly, and effectively.”

(via Commentary)


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earthourIt’s been a good news/bad news year so far for Shepard Fairey, the “street artist” who created the iconic image of Barack Obama for the 2008 Presidential Election that recently entered the permanent collection of Presidential portraits in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

First, the good news:

Fairey has been chosen to create the artwork for this year’s “Earth Hour” campaign.

Scheduled for 8:30 PM on March 28th, “The lights out initiative, which began in Sydney in 2007 as a one-city environmental campaign, has evolved into a grassroots action that has captured the attention of the citizens of the world. In 2008, 371 cities across 35 countries turned their lights out in a united call for action on climate change.

Now, with almost two months still remaining before Earth Hour 2009, that number has already been eclipsed, with 377 cities across 74 countries now committed to turning off their lights for one hour.”

Now the bad news:

Last week, on the eve of the opening of a retrospective of his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Fairey was arrested in Boston on graffiti-related charges – he is accused of defacing public property by posting stencils of the professional wrestler Andre the Giant and the word “Obey.”


And this past Monday, Fairey filed a lawsuit against The Associated Press – his lawyers are asking a federal judge to shield Fairey from copyright infringement claims in his use of the news photograph as the basis for his poster image of President Obama. “According to the suit, A.P. officials contacted Mr. Fairey’s studio late last month demanding payment for the use of the photo and a portion of any money he makes from it.”



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Last month in London, multi-millionaire businessman and author Farhad Hakimzadeh, 60, a Harvard- and MIT-educated American citizen of Iranian descent and the former head of the Iranian Heritage Foundation, was sentenced after pleading guilty in May, 2008, to “10 counts of theft at the British Library (with 20 additional counts taken under consideration) and four at the Bodleian, but he is believed to have defaced or destroyed as many as 150 books at both institutions by using a scalpel to remove maps and illustrations in order to ‘improve’ his own copies of the books. . . .

“The 10 items Hakimzadeh admitted to stealing from the British Library are estimated to be worth £71,000 ($104,689), but the library estimated that total costs for repairs to the damaged volumes will be much higher, and the losses of the still-missing materials have been called ‘incalculable.'”

‘“You have a deep love of books, perhaps so deep that it goes to excess,” offered British judge Peter Ader as he sentenced Hakimzadeh. (more @ Fine Books & Collections)

More recently, “A book dealer who plundered rare books valued at more than £230,000 from the private library of the Rothschild family was jailed [last week] for 28 months. David Slade, 59, admitted taking more than 30 books belonging to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild after he was hired to catalogue the family’s collection. Aylesbury crown court heard Slade stole the volumes over a four-year period from the Rothschilds’ Ascott House estate, near Wing, Buckinghamshire. He then sold them at auction.” (more @ The Guardian)


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While the completion of the final 670-mile stretch of security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border continues to be slowed by political and engineering issues, across the more than 600 miles of fence already completed (“a hodge-podge of metal panels, wire mesh and steel posts”) “drug smugglers . . . continue to breach the fencing that is up, forcing Border Patrol agents and contractors to return again and again for repairs. The smugglers build ramps to drive over fencing, dig tunnels under it, or use blow torches to slice through. They cut down metal posts used as vehicle barriers and replace them with dummy posts, made from cardboard.”

Teddy Cruz, reporting for “The Nation,” writes that “no matter how high and long the post-9/11 border wall becomes, it will never stop the migrating populations and the relentless flows of goods and services back and forth across the formidable barrier that seeks to exclude them.” Yet from the southward flow of materials something remarkable is being created – “while human flow mobilizes northbound in search of dollars, the urban waste of San Diego moves in the opposite direction . . . The leftover parts of San Diego’s older subdivisions — standard framing, joists, connectors, plywood, aluminum windows, garage doors — are being disassembled and recombined just across the border. A few miles south, in Tijuana, new informal suburbs — some call them slums — spring up from one day to another. This river of urban waste flows across the Tijuana-San Diego [sic] to make something dramatically new.”

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dvd“Because of widely available broadband access and a new wave of streaming sites, it has become surprisingly easy to watch pirated video online — a troubling development for entertainment executives and copyright lawyers.”

(via NY Times)

[Earlier this week, for the first time, I watched a pirated movie, a DVD copy of a current-run Academy Award-nominated film apparently reproduced from an advance review video (during an early scene, for a few seconds, a message appeared on the bottom of the screen warning against reproduction or distribution of the video). I must admit to having had some misgivings about watching the DVD, yet what I mostly thought about was how commonplace it is to find for sale legally in bookstores, uncorrected proofs or review copies of new books sold to the stores by editors and reviewers, often in advance of the books’ release. Review copies of new books, not intended for resale, are so ubiquitous in New York City that it has become hard for me to justify paying full price for new titles.]

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The New York Times ran an obituary yesterday about Joseph Ades, “the white-haired man with the British accent, the expensive European suits and shirts,” who had been a fixture among the vendors at the Greenmarket in Manhattan’s Union Square. I was drawn to the article not because of a remembered encounter with Ades but because of my interest in the legal obstacles facing street vendors, often immigrants and people of color, in New York City. In the Times’ obit, David Hughes, the operations manager at the Greenmarket, noted that Mr. Ades conducted his business on the fringes of the market “because he never obtained a permit to do business there, and if he staked out a spot too close to the vendors, someone would complain and security guards would be alerted.” Although Ades managed to persist through this wink-wink arrangement, most street vendors are not so fortunate.

New York’s Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that serves “New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing,” several years ago established the “Street Vendor Project” to assist vendors who have been victims of New York’s aggressive “quality of life” crackdown (vendors have been denied access to licenses, restricted from streets closed to them at the urging of powerful business groups, or penalized with onerous fines for minor violations).

The most successful of the project’s public fundraisers is the “Vendy Awards,” a juried competition between five or six of New York’s best “street chefs,” with the winners determined by the attending public (who pay for the pleasure of sampling the various fare – all proceeds going to support the project’s work) and a panel of food “experts.” This past fall, the judges at the fourth annual event, held at the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, included well-known food writer and journalist Calvin Trillin.

As to Mr. Ades (R.I.P.), his story, as told in the obituary, is a romantic one, to be sure, but better to ask almost any New York City vendor for his or her story if you want the real word on the street.

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“Like obscenity prosecutions, paraphernalia cases often target people for conduct they believed was legal. The law in both areas is fuzzy, and drug paraphernalia, like obscenity, tends to be judged by the “I know it when I see it” method.”

How the crusade against drug paraphernalia punishes controversial speech (via reasononline)

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