Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Them ho's are going to get what they get"

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Sean McWhirter
  • Sean McWhirter
A 16-month FBI investigation culminated last Sunday in the arrest of Memphis police officer Sean McWhirter at a Tunica hotel where he thought he was taking two "ho's" to a party.

McWhirter, 30, a five-year veteran assigned to the Union Station precinct as a patrolman, has been charged with sex trafficking, according to U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III, the FBI, and Memphis police.

"You would think the message would be loud and clear by now," said Police Director Toney Armstrong in a prepared statement. "We will do this as often as needed in order to rid this department of those who can't make up their minds as to whether they want to be a police officer or a thug."

According to an affidavit by FBI agent Matthew J. Ross, the investigation began on May 10, 2011, when a source reported seeing McWhirter on and off duty at Memphis nightclubs where patrons openly engage in drugs and sex. His cellphone was traced to frequent calls with women advertising on backpage.com.

"Affiant knows through experience in human trafficking investigations that backpage.com is commonly used as an advertisement website for prostitution," the affidavit says.

Last November, McWhirter brought three women to the nightclub "and announced openly the women belonged to him." He had sex with one of the women "in full view of other patrons" and was secretly recorded on video and audio tapes.

In June, the source asked McWhirter about providing women for a party. They spoke again this month and the source was told that it would not cost more than $50 for sex acts.

Them ho's are going to get what they get," McWhirter said in a recorded conversation.

They finalized the details last week in a meeting in McWhirter's patrol car in South Memphis. The source gave McWhirter $120 front money and received cellphone pictures of one of the girls. The party was set for Sunday night at a Tunica hotel which is not identified in the affidavit.

When McWhirter and two women entered the second-floor room, they were busted by FBI agents. McWhirter had his service handgun, a .40 caliber Sig Sauer semi-automatic. He reportedly admitted bringing the two women to Mississippi across state lines from Tennessee and admitted knowing one of them "was known to be a prostitute."

FedEx Earnings Down Due to Weak Global Economy

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 12:58 PM

This can't be good.

FedEx reported lower-than-expected first-quarter earnings on Tuesday, signaling a need to reduce operating costs in FedEx Express to match demand. The company announced in August that it would unveil a restructuring program in October including a voluntary buyout for some employees.

"As we announced on September 4th, a weakness in the global economy constrained revenue growth at FedEx Express during our first quarter and affected our earnings," said FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith in a press release. "Meanwhile, our FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight segments performed well, with both improving their year-over-year operating margins. We are taking further actions to reduce costs and adjust our networks to match current and anticipated shipment volumes."

FedEx reported revenue of $10.79 billion, up 3% from the previous year; operating income of $742 million, up 1% from last year; operating margin of 6.9 %, down from 7% last year; and net income of $459 million, down 1% from last year. It projects reduced second-quarter earnings compared to last year.

"Earnings for the first quarter were below our expectations as weak global economic conditions dampened revenue growth, drove a shift by our customers to our deferred services and outpaced our near-term ability to reduce FedEx Express operating costs," said Alan Graf, chief financial officer. "We plan to provide additional information on our forecast and long-term opportunities at our investors and lenders meeting on October 9-10 in Memphis."

FedEx employs thousands of Memphis-area residents at its FedEx Express World Headquarters on Hack Cross and other facilities in Shelby County. Its Memphis-area workforce is about 30,000.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cash and Herenton Bury the Hatchet

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Eight times they met for breakfast in a restaurant in the Westin Hotel downtown, Kriner Cash the superintendent with an uncertain future in a unified school system and Willie Herenton the former superintendent who wanted to hold the job again before Cash got it instead.

The meetings began in February and continued for several weeks. Seven months after they buried the hatchet, Cash and Herenton held a joint press conference Wednesday to announce the former mayor's participation in a new charter school for juvenile offenders.

It isn't clear exactly who reached out to whom and how. Cash recalled that he sought out Herenton to fill a niche in the school system well suited to his experience and personal biography as a home-grown Memphian raised by a single mother. Herenton said he reached out to Cash as well as Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken and others to help him get back in the schools game. Whatever, the two men met and apparently the talk was unfiltered.

"Straight talk, real straight talk," said Herenton, adding that if the meetings had been taped "you would have heard some dynamic interaction."

"We would tease each other," said Cash. "I asked him 'why do you want to take our money?' " — a reference to the state funding that follows students who go to charter schools. They ate pancakes, and all of the meetings were one-on-one.

At the news conference, Herenton said the final form of the new school isn't clear yet but "my personal hand, my professional hand, will be all over this program."

The announcement and photo op came a day after Cash gave what seemed to be a farewell speech at Memphis Botanic Gardens to 134 Memphis teachers honored by their peers as the best at their individual schools. He said his role now is to ease the transition to the unified school system and the 14 new charter schools that have been approved. He is undergoing a personal transition as well as a widower looking for another job. He expects to be gone by the end of the year and is a finalist for a superintendent job in Florida.

Herenton, on the other hand, has been on the outside looking in since leaving the mayor's office. His attempt to be named superintendent failed when the school board instead opted to do a national search and ultimately selected Cash, of whom Herenton has occasionally been openly critical. Herenton's image was tarnished again when he was trounced by Steve Cohen in his bid for Congress. After that he turned his attention to what he has said many times was his first love, education.

I met with Herenton at the Flyer's office (a change, to be sure) in January when his charter school application was being slow walked in Nashville. He wasn't ready to go public with his frustration, but he was considering other means of getting a piece of the charter deal if he didn't make any progress soon. Within weeks, he and Cash started meeting.

And a year from now, Willie Herenton could be a player again in Memphis education while Kriner Cash is somewhere else.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kriner Cash Shines Along with 134 Top Teachers

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 9:25 PM

Kriner Cash
  • Kriner Cash
Memphis City School Superintendent Kriner Cash was at the top of his game Tuesday night at a classy ceremony at Memphis Botanic Gardens giving public recognition to 134 teachers chosen as the best at their respective schools by their peers.

Each "Prestige Honoree" got a $100 check and a glamour shot that was part of a 15-minute slide show, and several of them are featured on signs at bus stops and on city buses and on billboards that say "I Teach. I am." Cash called them "our irreplaceables" at a time when teachers are leading the news and frequently under fire in Memphis and Shelby County as well Chicago, where the teachers' union is on strike.

Speaking without notes, Cash then took a personal tack.

"I've only fallen in love with two women in my life," he said. One was his wife, who died earlier this year. He recalled how she urged him to come home earlier and spend more time with her and their family, and he promised he would but devoted himself to work instead.

"I'll be there, I'll be there," he would say. "I never thought she was going to pass when she passed. I thought I had some years."

He said he is "almost at complete peace" now that the school system merger is less than year away and "my role now is to transition." He praised "my great beautiful staff" and in a voice choking with emotion said the second love of his life was "that grand lady which is Memphis City Schools."

"I'm honored to be able to have served with you for just a few years," he said.

He stopped short of setting a resignation date but later told me he expects to be gone by the end of the calendar year. He said he is still a finalist for a superintendent job in Florida and has fully informed the school board.

It was one of the best impromptu speeches I have seen and heard in years and he seemed to have the crowd in the palm of his hand, almost like Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention last week, but in his own way. It was clear why Cash has been a finalist for at least three big superintendent jobs in the last four years. And a reminder that a public man or woman has many sides that not everyone sees. And, finally, a night to make Memphis proud of its schools and teachers.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Not Dancing with the Salsa Stars at the Rumba Room

Posted By on Sun, Sep 9, 2012 at 11:27 AM

If you haven't been to the Rumba Room on South Main Street downtown you should check it out, especially on a Saturday night when the stars come out.

Just don't get out on the floor with them if you don't know what you're doing.

The cover is $10 for men and nothing for ladies. That includes a short lesson which gives the uninitiated the mistaken idea that they might be able to do this. A basic three steps, don't look at your feet, don't count out loud, and keep your feet moving, what's hard about that? A lot. You can look like an even bigger idiot than you think other people think you are.

Memphis has some terrific salsa dancers. There were at least a dozen who could have made the finals of Dancing With the Stars, including several leggy, sharply dressed women who could have passed for pros. The best of the male dancers were just as good. Some were flashy, others looked like they came straight from a construction site. A true Memphis melting pot.

Reluctant dancers take a lot of abuse, but our tribe knows these rules of group behavior from hard experience:

It is all right, even mandatory, to dance at weddings. Same goes for line dancing on beginner's night or any place where the floor is too crowded for the talented tenth to move around. But beware of the Rumba Room, Roberts Western World in Nashville, or Cajun bars in Louisiana.

Stay out of the poker room at Tunica casinos if you're playing with scared money.

It is all right to sing drunken karaoke at the company Christmas party but do not ask to sing or play with the band.

If Overton Park is your favorite golf course, don't join an unknown threesome at a private course.

Don't fly fish with anyone who has "done a little guiding" unless you're paying them.

Think twice about taking your suit to a company party where "the pool will be open."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Standstill then Postponement in Schools Trial

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Samuel H. Mays Jr.
  • Samuel H. Mays Jr.
Federal Judge Samuel Hardy Mays may have averted an outbreak of narcolepsy in his courtroom when he postponed the schools trial that had come to a standstill in its second day.

The ponderous proceedings will resume on September 20th to determine whether suburbs can start their own municipal school system next August or September.

“Every delay makes it harder,” said Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald. “But as long as he does not delay the election of school board members (in November) we still have the possibility of making it happen. Of course we’ve still got the building argument that has to be held in some form and whatever other things might be thrown at us.”

The postponement happened Wednesday afternoon when a witness called by the lawyers for the suburbs “drilled down” into demographic data for Gibson County and the city of Milan, about 100 miles northeast of Memphis.

Carolyn Anderson, a “GIS specialist” or computer map maker for the Tennessee Legislature, was describing how she gathered population data on school-age children in small towns and their urban growth areas. Attorneys Allan Wade and David Bearman repeatedly objected that she was giving her opinion and was not qualified as an expert witness. Mays overruled the objections, and Anderson googled Tennessee Census data on her computer and slowly worked her way to spread sheets and maps for Gibson County that were shown on courtroom monitors.

When the objections persisted and the delays grew longer, Mays declared a postponement.

Gibson County is one of the counties that attorneys for the Shelby County suburbs say fits the requirements of the state enabling legislation for new municipal school systems. Wade and Bearman say the legislation was narrowly drawn for Shelby County and violates the state constitution.

The law sponsored by Mark Norris and Curry Todd of suburban Shelby County applies to school mergers where a special school district dissolves into a county school district and increases the enrollment 100 percent or more. Adding Memphis City Schools to Shelby County schools would boost the enrollment of the current county system from 46,000 to about 146,000 in a unified system. The Gibson County special school district currently has 3,586 students and Milan has 2,087 students.

The trial has been narrowly focused on the language of the law and demographic data rather than statements by lawmakers assuring their colleagues that the law would only apply to Shelby County. Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission, over objections from the other side, played tapes of those comments in pretrial hearings in July. The postponement suggests there could be more expert witnesses and another day or more of dueling demographers.

“We are kind of on hold until November,” said McDonald, who has attended the trial. “We have got our committee working full speed ahead to try to get as many things ready for an elected school board as they can. We will keep going unless the judge tells us to stop.”

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Schools Case in Federal Court: Day Two

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 1:19 PM

Daniel Kiel
  • Daniel Kiel
Mega-data gave way to mini-drama for a little while in the second day of the municipal schools case in federal court Wednesday.

The first day was dominated by dueling demographers and some thrilling testimony about the cohort component method of forecasting. The apparent relevance: small Tennessee towns and school districts could theoretically if not actually become bigger towns with municipal school systems, thereby showing that the state enabling legislation was constitutional.

On Day Two, the plaintiffs (Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission) called law school professor and Transition Planning Commission member Daniel Kiel to the stand. He reviewed the work of the TPC from October 2011 until August 2012 in the context of two things that happened in Nashville during that time: the General Assembly's passage of legislation allowing municipal school districts before unification of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems at the start of the 2013-2014 school year and the state attorney general's opinion that muni's couldn't jump the gun.

The TPC plan mentions the possibility of municipal school systems in Shelby County but doesn't specifically account for them in its calculations.

"It was too hypothetical to incorporate into the plan," Kiel said. But when Tom Cates, attorney for the suburbs, asked if "it was always there and always considered something that might happen, is that correct?", Kiel agreed with him and later said "It is accurate that the TPC anticipated the possibility of municipal school systems, yes."

Kiel said the TPC was charged with planning for unification in 2013 and that he personally put in 8-14 hours a week of donated time. Cates said the suburbs were likewise planning for their future by holding referenda in August and school board elections in November.

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right?" he said.

Colorful, and certainly more interesting than the cohort component method and the bona fides of expert witnesses, but the relevance of this examination to the constitutionality of the law in question was not clear. One thing it seemed likely to do was make citizens less comfortable in court than Kiel think twice about serving on school panels that might get them called as witnesses in federal court hearings and subjected to questions from lawyers.

At the lunch break, attorneys for the suburbs were entering into evidence stacks of facts about small towns in Tennessee such as Milan, apparently in preparation for showing how the law of muni's could apply to them as well as Shelby County.

Spectators again included lawmakers Mark Norris and G.A. Hardaway, among others. Hardaway told me he plans to work on fostering better communications in Nashville next session so decisions are not subject to instant judicial review. Norris said he was willing to testify in the hearing but wasn't asked to.

It's a great case for lawyers. I conservatively calculate the daily expenditure for ten attorneys at $2500 an hour, the daily fee for expert witnesses at $4000, and the ballpark total at $25,000 a day. Maybe we should go back to the days of settling disputes by expense account dinners and meetings in smoke-filled rooms.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Municipal Schools Trial Underway in Federal Court

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman was the first witness in the municipal schools trial that began Tuesday, followed by an expert witness in demographics.

Attorney Allan Wade, representing the Shelby County Commission, questioned Huffman for about two hours. The commission contends that the state enabling legislation was narrowly drafted to apply only to Shelby County.

Huffman methodically responded to Wade's questions about the Transition plan for the unified school system starting in 2013 which he said is the only such system on the horizon in Tennessee. He said the unified school board is unlikely to adopt the transition plan in total, but more likely to adopt parts of it.
Huffman also testified about the state-run Alternative School District.

Dr. David Swanson testified as an expert witness about enrollment trends in eight other counties in Tennessee. Like Huffman, his testimony was methodical and accepted with few objections from the defendants.

Those attending the trial included Sen. Mark Norris, Supt. John Aitken, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, and Shelby County commissioners Mike Ritz and Sidney Chism. More than a dozen attorneys are present for the various parties.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Man to Watch: U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III

Posted By on Mon, Sep 3, 2012 at 3:02 PM

The sign-in pens in the United States attorney's office in the federal building have real flowers on the end of them. How about that?

The significance? Zero. But you take your color wherever you can find it in the federal building. Down-to-earth, conversational and opinionated as they may be off the job, feds are invariably somewhat robot-like in public in their official capacity.

Edward Stanton III, the current United States attorney, is no exception. I stopped by recently to get acquainted and found the 40-year-old Stanton polite, professional, dedicated to justice, and, like seven of his predecessors I have known, as guarded as a bulldog with a ham bone when the topic is politics.

They pay their political dues to get appointed by the President on the recommendation of the senior members of Congress from their party (interim United States attorneys are an exception and usually career prosecutors). Then they are supposed to put politics aside when facing some tough calls about public corruption cases. West Tennessee District has a long record of high-profile cases like Tennessee Waltz and Tarnished Blue and Main Street Sweeper.

The process isn't automatic, but if form holds, whether or not Stanton is in office in a year or so will depend on who wins the election in November. Stanton is a Democrat, appointed in 2010 by Barack Obama. His predecessor, David Kustoff, was a politically active Republican appointed by President George W. Bush. Stanton was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress against Steve Cohen. His father is General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. Ed III was a national advance team member for Clinton/Gore ‘96 in Washington, D.C., from July 1996 to November 1996. He has also worked as a corporate attorney for FedEx and in the office of Charles Carpenter, a political strategist for former Mayor Herenton.

“I want to be clear that what I do is not political,” he said. “The dictates of this job are very apolitical.”

In 2011, Stanton and officials from the Justice Department in Washington D.C. went to the National Civil Rights Museum to announce the formation of a new civil rights unit to be headed by veteran Memphis prosecutor Steve Parker. In August, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee approved a consent order in Fayette County, which the Department of Justice negotiated with the Board of Education and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund to desegregate the Fayette County public schools.

It requires the district to implement a controlled choice program, close two schools, construct a new one, revise attendance zone lines, and monitor its schools to achieve a racial balance within 15 percent of the county at large.

“This consent order is a significant landmark in this desegregation case, which dates back to 1965,” Stanton had said in a prepared statement that made me wonder if the Justice Department plans to become more involved in school desegregation in Memphis and Shelby County.

“At this point the Department of Justice is not a party to that,” he told me. “We were a party early on and the litigants agreed to dismiss the Department of Justice.”

He said there is little connection between the Fayette County and Shelby County schools cases.

“Certainly, we are interested in seeing that federal laws are upheld across the board, not only in Shelby County and Fayette County but across this district in all aspects,” he said.

As for the Shelby County cases scheduled to start this week and in November in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays, “We stay apprised of the developments, that's for sure.”

He has a personal interest, too. Stanton grew up in Memphis and attended Idlewild Elementary School, Bellevue Junior High, Central High School. He got his college undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Memphis.

His priorities, he said, are domestic and international terrorism, “worst of the worst” gun crime, a teaching certification scam, the Safe Street Task Force, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Internet crime, social media predators, and human trafficing, which has spiked in Memphis as a distribution center for all kinds of things. A defendant nicknamed “T-Rex” is scheduled to go on trial later this year.

With no ammo of my own to fire at Stanton, I tried baiting him with a week-old quote from Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, state prosecutor, and television commentator long since freed from the bonds of circumspection.

“They are meek and weak-kneed when it comes to the big institutions, and then they pick out these almost insignificant cases as if to prove they’re tough,” Spitzer said, talking about the Justice Department and Goldman Sachs.

Stanton smiled and declined to take the bait.

“Our work in the Western District speaks for itself in this department, as well as the Department of Justice,” he said. “That doesn't have anything to do with what I am doing now as a federal law enforcement official in West Tennessee.”

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