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Infighting spurs lawsuit at super-rich Pa. school

The Investigator

April 22, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Hershey lawsuit, prison opt-outs, voting reform, survivor bill, PSERS fallout, money laundry, protest spies, leaving Afghanistan, and Senate scenesters.
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A director and alumnus of the Milton Hershey School is suing the institution, America’s wealthiest private school, to find out where its money goes, according to reporting by Bob Fernandez and Charlotte Keith.

For over a year, Bob Heist says he sought internal financial records detailing the spending history of the $17 billion charity, which has a mission to educate low-income students for free. But Heist claims he was denied the access he needs as a board member charged with overseeing the Pennsylvania boarding school’s operations. (The school argues appropriate access has been given.)

Heist has now taken his claim to court, filing suit against the school — an extremely unusual step for a sitting board member, taken against an extremely unusual institution, and one that raises questions about oversight of the vast Milton Hershey fortune.

Also this week, Marie Albiges reports 10 election oversight hearings in the state House — called necessary by Republicans and a cover for voter suppression by Democrats — have ended with only the vaguest hint of an actual reform roadmap. 

Among the GOP priorities taking shape are broader photo ID laws and signature matching for mail-in ballots. Less clear is whether lawmakers will finally deliver the fixes county officials have long requested.  

And finally, Joseph Darius Jaafari reports more than 80% of correctional staff and officers who work in Pennsylvania prisons are not vaccinated, or have not reported their status. 

An updated Department of Corrections dashboard shows that as of April 21, out of 15,852 correctional staffers, only 3,133 were fully or partially vaccinated. At facilities in Albion, Fayette, Pine Grove, and Smithfield, 90% of staff or more remained unvaccinated.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

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"If you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result."

—Sen. Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne) on a revived push to temporarily allow survivors of decades-old child sexual abuse to sue the perpetrators
» A LIVE GUIDE TO THE MAY PRIMARY: On Tuesday, May 4 at 5 p.m., join Spotlight PA as we break down the judicial candidates and four questions you’ll see on the primary ballot. RSVP FOR FREE

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and sign up for alerts for your county

» PRIMARY GUIDES: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates.

» Relief for child sex abuse survivors revived in Pa. Senate

How law enforcement uses sweating, stuttering, and helpfulness to search drivers

You’re driving down the highway and you get pulled over by a state trooper. The officer explains that one of your back tires hit the white fog line — a traffic violation — and starts asking you questions.

Legally, you’re not required to answer anything beyond what the trooper needs to issue a traffic ticket or warning. But if you are too helpful, break out in a sweat, stutter, or simply misstate something and then backtrack, the U.S. Supreme Court has found all of that could be used as evidence that you’re possibly committing a crime.

Justifications for traffic stops have come under increasing scrutiny in the past month after a Minnesota police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was stopped and engaged by police for expired tags and, possibly, for having an air freshener on his rearview mirror

Law enforcement across the country use pretextual stops to pull drivers over for alleged traffic infractions in order to look for possible criminal activity.  

Here in Pennsylvania, State Police troopers have justified these kinds of stops by saying a driver was nervous, sweating, or eating. In some cases, judges found these searches were illegal, a Spotlight PA investigation last year with The Appeal found.

In response to the reporting, the state Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into some traffic stops and searches by State Police, and that review is ongoing.

The State Police doesn’t track how often troopers search a vehicle without finding anything criminal.

“We don’t get to see how many times they fail,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in police training. “We have the numerator. We won’t ever have the denominator.”

Department officials defended the practice as producing results, such as large-scale drug busts or weapons collection. 

“We’re looking at totality,” Lt. Col. Scott Price said last year. “Nervousness alone is not a probable cause, but nervousness in concert with inconsistent statements or a strong smell of marijuana [is].”

Joseph Darius Jaafari

A longer version of this story will appear on SpotlightPA.org. Additional reporting by Joshua Vaughn of The Appeal.

PSERS PILEUP: Pennsylvania's largest pension fund has a new overseer now that its chief investment officer, the "highest-paid employee of Pennsylvania government," is busy responding to investigations from the likes of the FBI, The Inquirer reports. The fund also voted to raise employee contributions — but that expense could wind up falling to taxpayers.

MONEY MILLS: One of the "first money laundering investigations involving the U.S. steel industry" is detailed in a new deep-dive from the Post-Gazette that spans an oligarch, Pittsburgh meetings, a rash of U.S. steel mill buys, and the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from a Ukraine bank — an amount "large enough to cripple the country’s economy."

'COVERT SURVEILLANCE': Philadelphia police asked federal agents to "infiltrate" racial justice protests last June, according to emails obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Critics say it's an underhanded workaround for a decades-old ban on city police doing this themselves. It's not the first time it's happened either.

FINAL WITHDRAWAL: President Joe Biden said he will pull 2,500 remaining troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 and end America's "forever war." The 20-year conflict left scores of civilians dead along with thousands of U.S. troops, dozens from Pennsylvania. In Canonsburg, "one of the most patriotic towns in America," The New York Times found mixed feelings.

MONEY MAN: John Fetterman leads the early fundraising pack in the Democratic race for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's seat but faces crosswinds and lone-wolf criticism from within his own party, per Politico Magazine. The Republican primary is also taking shape, with former President Donald Trump looming large over the growing field.

» AP: SCOTUS rejects last Pa. election challenge case

» BILLY PENN: Child remains from 1985 MOVE bombing are missing

» POST-GAZETTE: Small Pa. paper files antitrust suit against tech giants

» TIMES-LEADER: Barletta launches PAC, eyes run for Pa. governor

» WTAJ: New podcast probes DA Gricar’s disappearance, 16 years later

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

WORD JUMBLE (Case No. 89)What common English-language verb becomes its own past tense by rearranging its letters?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: I am 40 and my child is 10.
Congrats to Elizabeth W., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Philip C., Jim T., Michael H., Scott G., Hagan H., Daniel M., Annette I., Valerie H., John N., Michelle T., Jon N., Kenneth J., Ira B., Roseanne D., George S., Judy A., Lynda G., Eileen D., Edward F., Joel S., Ken S., Gary H., George S., John H., Dennis P., Ken M., James D., William D., Seth Z., Bruce B., Tom D., Geoff M., Fred O., Mary B., Norman S., Beth T., Robert K., Peter S., David I., Joe S., Dennis F., William H., Irene S., and R. Kurtz H.
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