Do you want receipts? Y / N
George Santos, who as far as we know may actually be Andy Kaufman [Dok, you say everyone is Andy Kaufman! — Rebecca], allegedly ran a credit-card-skimming operation in Seattle in 2017, according to the man convicted of the crime and deported to Brazil for it. Gustavo Ribeiro Trelha, who roomed with Santos at the time, sent a sworn declaration to US law enforcement agencies detailing the accusation, according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the declaration and also interviewed Trelha by phone.
At this point, we're ready to believe just about anything about Santos, including the possibility that he's actually an alien time traveler fucking around with us while he's on spring break from Tralfamadore Polytechnic.
In the declaration (translated from his native Portuguese), Trelha writes, “I am coming forward today to declare that the person in charge of the crime of credit card fraud when I was arrested was George Santos / Anthony Devolder.” He said that he recognized Santos on TV after he was elected to Congress.
Politico reports that postal receipts show the declaration was sent to the FBI, the US Secret Service, and the US Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York, by Trelha's New York attorney, Mark Demetropoulos.
And by golly, there are some definite connections: Politico reports it's seen a copy of a lease showing that Trelha rented a room in Santos's apartment in Winter Park, Florida, starting in November 2016. As Politico notes, Santos
was previously questioned about the Seattle scheme by investigators for the U.S. Secret Service, CBS News has reported. He was never charged, but the investigation remains open. Santos also told an attorney friend he was “an informant” in the fraud case. Trelha insists he was its mastermind.
And golly, what a tale! The two met through a Facebook group for expatriate Brazilians living in Orlando in the fall of 2016. Trelha writes that while he rented from Santos, that was "where and when I learned from him how to clone ATM and credit cards."
Santos taught me how to skim card information and how to clone cards. He gave me all the materials and taught me how to put skimming devices and cameras on ATM machines.
He alleges Santos had a warehouse in Orlando where he
had a lot of material — parts, printers, blank ATM and credit cards to be painted and engraved with stolen account and personal information.
Santos gave me at his warehouse, some of the parts to illegally skim credit card information. Right after he gave me the card skimming and cloning machines, he taught me how to use them.
We do have to say that while this sounds plausible, the idea that George Santos actually mastered any real skills, even criminal ones, seems out of character. We can see him lying about being a criminal genius, though, and lying well enough to fool someone else into actually doing crimes.
After training under Santos in the ways of the scammer — we can certainly envision a montage here, with hilarious failures and no actual success — Trelha says, he flew to Seattle and got arrested right quick, on April 27, 2017, when a security camera captured him removing a skimming device from a Chase ATM.
At the time of his arrest, Trelha had a fake Brazilian ID card and 10 suspected fraudulent cards in his hotel room, according to police documents. An empty FedEx package police found in his rental car was sent from the Winter Park unit he shared with Santos.
But did they scan it for alien DNA? Big oversight, guys.
It gets, as you'd expect, stupider. Trelha wrote in his declaration that Santos had promised him to split the money from their frauding 50-50, and that it was all very high-tech:
We used a computer to be able to download the information on the pieces. We also used an external hard drive to save the filming, because the skimmer took the information from the card, and the camera took the password.
It didn’t work out so well, because I was arrested.
Has Netflix or HBO snapped up the movie rights yet?
Trelha said Santos visited him in jail in Seattle, and told him "not to say anything about him." What's more, he says Santos "threatened my friends in Florida that I must not say that he was my boss." The friends, he wrote, were "all afraid of something happening to them," which is why he's since lost track of them.
Then there's this, which has the ring of absolute authenticity: Trelha concludes the narrative by saying, "Santos did not help me to get out of jail. He also stole the money that I had collected for my bail."
That's our George all right!
Politico adds that in an interview, Trelha said that
before flying to Seattle, Santos had traveled to Orlando to pick up $20,000 in cash he instructed Leide Oliveira Santos, another roommate, to give him from a safe. Santos had promised to hire El Chapo’s lawyer for Trelha, he said.
Again, that's very Santosian or Santosesque: not just any lawyer, but El Chapo's lawyer. What's more, we get a little more documented fibbing by Santos:
In an audio recording of Trelha’s May 15, 2017 arraignment in King County Superior Court, Santos tells the judge he’s a “family friend” who was there to secure a local Airbnb if the defendant was released on bail.
Santos also claimed to the judge he worked for Goldman Sachs in New York, a key part of his campaign biography he later admitted wasn’t true.
They should have asked his wife, Morgan Fairchild, whom he has seen naked more than once.
But nah, it all evaporated. No El Chapo lawyer, not even an el cheapo lawyer. Santos didn't even call Saul — or Lionel Hutz — and Trelha never heard another word from him. Oliveira Santos couldn't contact him, either. By then, Santos had run off to Venice, where he took to calling himself Tom Ripley.
Trelha couldn't make bail, and pleaded guilty to "felony access device fraud," for which he spent seven months in prison. After that, he was deported to Brazil in 2018, where we hope he's kept his nose clean.
Trelha says he has witnesses who can back him up on all this, and Politico closes the story thusly:
A federal prosecutor who handled Trelha’s case described the scheme as “sophisticated,” adding that the Seattle portion was only “the tip of the iceberg,” according to court records reported by CBS News. But a person close to the investigation who is not authorized to speak publicly said they saw no evidence that prosecutors did forensic reports on Trelha’s phone or seemed motivated to pursue international co-conspirators.
We tried to contact Rep. Santos about all this, but all we could learn was that the congressman was last seen talking to a detective in Los Angeles who tried to follow him when he realized Santos was Keyzer Söze, but by then he'd vanished.
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There's a Supreme Court case, but it's not even about how to help him — yet.
When Miguel Luna Perez started school in Sturgis, Michigan, he was nine years old. His parents had immigrated from Mexico and he'd never learned sign language in Spanish, which means he missed out on much of the earliest language development that children, hearing or deaf, need from infancy. But once in an American school, he was eligible for all sorts of learning assistance, starting with instruction in American Sign Language (ASL).
He never got any of the help he was entitled to, and now, at the age of 27, he's unlikely to ever be able to communicate well enough to hold a job, as a perfectly infuriating Detroit Free Press story explains today. It's a subscriber-only piece, but Luna Perez's case, which was heard by the Supreme Court in January, has also been covered at Education Week and elsewhere. It's being watched extremely closely by folks involved in disability and special education law, since it could have major implications for schools going forward.
That said, the best thing for school systems to stay out of trouble is for them to actually live up to the legal requirement to make sure that all kids get a "free appropriate public education" — a phrase that ought to ring familiar to anyone who's set foot in a college of education because it's on the test. ("Public Law 91-142" might as well be tattooed on my brain from my own Bachelors degree in English Education, because it too was on the test. Both were on all the tests.) Do right by kids with disabilities, and the legal issues involved in Luna Perez's case won't even come up.
When he started school in Sturgis in 2004, Luna Perez hadn't had any school in Mexico, couldn't read lips, didn't know any form of sign language, and couldn't read English or Spanish. But as Education Week explains, his parents thought he was getting the services he needed:
Still, to Luna Perez’s parents, who speak only Spanish and thus had their own challenges communicating with the district, it seemed like the Sturgis school system had their youngest child’s interests at heart. Perez received an individualized education plan, or IEP, under the main federal special education law. The IEP called for him to have an educational aide use sign language to relay his lessons to him. His teachers described him as a curious student who willingly used the signs taught to him.
In reality, though, the school hadn't followed through on its obligation to provide a "free appropriate public education" as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As the Free Press explains, a teacher for deaf students from a larger neighboring district recommended that Luna Perez get instruction in American Sign Language, the lingua franca of the American deaf community. (There's also "Signed English," a word-for-word English-to-signing system that most deaf folks also learn, but isn't as fluid as ASL, which emphasizes concepts over word order, and yes I have just grossly oversimplified.)
But for unknown reasons, the ASL teaching never happened in the 12 years he attended Sturgis schools, and that's why Luna Perez is suing the district:
Instead of being assigned a qualified instructor, Miguel's attorneys argue, he was provided a teaching assistant who tried to teach herself Signed English out of a book and ended up using a sort of idiosyncratic signed shorthand that was unable to give him full access to communicating with his teachers or other students. Throughout years of his schooling, his instructors said he "cannot hear or speak complete sentences to communicate," court records claimed.
Because his aide only taught him the idiosyncratic version of Signed English she sort of made up, the two of them could kind of communicate, but he never learned to communicate with others — not even other users of Signed English, let alone ASL. Had he started using ASL or even real Signed English at the age of nine, Luna Perez might have overcome many of the difficulties he arrived at school with. Instead, he was largely cut off from communicating with others,
likely leaving Miguel unable, in the words of one expert who analyzed him, to ever develop higher-level abilities in reading, writing or math. Even after beginning to learn ASL at the Michigan School for the Deaf in his 20s, signed explanations eluded him. He remains, according to the claim, at greater risk of depression, anxiety and maltreatment. Occupationally, they say he is consigned to a life as an unskilled laborer despite having no cognitive impairment when he entered the school system. [Emphasis added — Dok]
Through it all, his parents thought he was making good progress in school, because after all, he was on the honor roll every year until shortly before graduation, when his parents were informed he would only receive a completion certificate, not a diploma.
And now we get to the other jaw-dropping part of all this: The Supreme Court case isn't going to decide what sort of damages or compensation Luna Perez might be entitled to. Instead, it will decide whether his lawsuit can go forward at all, because there are two chunks of special education law at work here (Chunks is a real legal term, I'm fairly certain). It's complicated, and Yr Dok Zoom is a rhetorician, not a lawyer, so we will skim over a lot of the gory details.
There's IDEA, which regulates public education for students with disabilities, and then there's also the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires reasonable accommodation to public spaces and jobs and stuff, and which, unlike IDEA, allows people who've been treated unjustly because of their disability to sue for damages. Luna Perez's family already settled a complaint in 2018 under IDEA, which resulted in the state paying for him to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf for four years — where, because of the serious long-term deficits resulting from not learning to communicate while he was in school, he made only minimal progress, but far more than he did in the12 years of school he couldn't understand.
The legal fight is over whether Luna Perez can sue Sturgis over that harm and collect damages under the ADA. The catch is that the text of IDEA requires a plaintiff to "exhaust" all possible options under IDEA before suing under any other law. Luna Perez's lawyers argue that would have been crazy, since it would have required his family to reject the settlement that allowed him to get at least some benefit from the School for the Deaf. "Exhausting" every last option would have meant going even more years without learning. So far, though, the school district has won in two lower courts by arguing that's what Luna Perez and his family should have done.
One of his attorneys, Roman Martinez, explained to Education Week that the district's argument
turns the IDEA upside down. [...] The statute clearly wants to get kids like Miguel educational relief as quickly as possible. That means that when the school district offers you everything you want under the statute, you should be allowed to say yes, without giving up other claims under other statutes.
During oral arguments in January, Justice Elena Kagan seemed inclined to agree, asking the district's lawyer, Shay Dvoretzky, "What should Miguel (and his family) have done differently than he did in this case?"
Dvoretzky argued that granting damages under the ADA could lead to parents skipping the steps available in IDEA so they could seek damages instead, but Kagan wasn't having that, replying,
It strikes me it’s the parents that have the greater incentive to have education fixed for their children. [...] This is litigation being run by parents who are trying to do right by their kids.
Even some of the Republican-appointed justices seemed to find Dvoretzky's reasoning a stretch; Amy Coney Barrett said, "It's hard for me to see how the ADA claim ever gets asserted" if there's endless litigation over whether options under IDEA have truly been "exhausted."
For his part, Luna Perez said, in a statement prepared with the help of his lawyers and interpreters,
My case at the U.S. Supreme Court is hard for me to understand. [...] Part of it is about having no interpreter at Sturgis. Part of it is that some judges said I can’t tell my story in court. I want to tell my story in court. I wish I could have gone to college. I don’t have a job, but I want to have one. I want to make my own choices.
He also said that he was proud to have completed a high school diploma at Michigan School for the Deaf, not just a certificate of completion:
At MSD, I learned so many new words and signs. [...] I learned construction. I helped others in my class to measure, and I got to build chairs and tables. I learned about building houses. I want to build houses as a job.
Here's hoping the Court allows his ADA suit to go forward, and that Miguel Luna Perez can have at least a measure of justice for the life that was denied him.
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New job, same Sarah.
Congratulations to Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who joins the ranks of so many Republican leaders in protecting children from burdensome regulations which prevent them from being chewed up by the rapacious maw of capitalism before they're old enough to drive a car. Priorities!
This morning Governor Nepo Baby, whose greatest claim to fame was two years of lying for Donald Trump, signed HB 1410, dubbed the "Youth Hiring Act of 2023." The Arkansas bill ditches the requirement that employers get a work permit for kids under 16, with the signature of a parent or guardian and a description of the work to be performed, i.e. a certification that the child is not being employed in a dangerous or exploitative capacity. So congrats to all the kids under 16 in Arkansas who are now free to work eight hours a day, six days a week, all year long. Because children are our most precious resource, and there's no time like the present to begin exploiting them.
Let us pause to note the clanging irony of Sanders congratulating herself on becoming the youngest governor in the country at the ripe old age of 40, and then immediately turning around and farming her state's children out for parts. It's particularly gross coming less than two weeks after the company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine for employing children as young as 13 in meatpacking plants across eight states, including Arkansas. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't get where she is in this life by being burdened with human emotions like, say, shame. Or, as her spokeswoman put it, “The governor believes protecting kids is most important, but doing so with arbitrary burdens on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job is burdensome and obsolete."
The legislative debate was no less gross. Senator Terry Rice lamented that kids today are turning into helpless snowflakes.
“They cannot function, they cannot communicate, they cannot do a lot of things that we did at 11 years old,” he said. “I don’t want them being abused, but at 14 and 15, if they want to work, that’s the best training they will get.”
Were you thinking that the "best training" for kids is school, i.e. their real job? Oh, you sweet summer child! And while we are glad to hear that Senator Rice doesn't "want them being abused," he seems willfully unconcerned that removing the requirement that parents sign off before their kids can work for 48 hours a week under God only knows what conditions might lead to that very thing he doesn't "want."
The bill's sponsor, Senator Clint Penzo, pointed to his own formative experience in his family's construction business.
“I worked all through school, and I think we need to see more of that in our society,” he insisted, while neglecting to mention how requiring a work permit would interfere with the character-building aspect of manual labor. He, too, failed to grapple with the fact that poor and immigrant kids are being farmed out as cheap labor across the country, not to build character, but to feed their families (and in some cases traffickers!) and subsidize remittances to send back home. Nor does he acknowledge that, in a tight labor market, child labor might drive down wages for adults, who aren't working as part of an exercise in moral improvement but are trying to raise their families out of poverty.
And so Arkansas joins the ranks of red states preparing for the rumored "national divorce" by sending the kids out to work for a little extra cash. Perhaps we should be grateful that the state hasn't copied Iowa's new bill, which explicitly immunizes employers from lawsuits if kids get sick or injured on the job. Although we note that Arkansas still exempts children 16 and older from all labor protections if "the boy or girl is married or is a parent."
Because in Real America, there's enough filth go around for everyone.
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That's a tyranny!
As the US staggers through its Second Gilded Age, the legacy of decades of Republicans promising we'd all be better off if we just cut regulations on business while also gutting government agencies that only get in the way of prosperity, we're once more seeing problems that a lot of people thought had been left behind a century ago, like the horrors of child labor. Funny thing about capitalism: When you take away regulations that are supposed to keep people safe, the same old abuses come roaring right back.
Perhaps the one consolation is that we also have muckraking journalists who expose the abuses. As the New York Timesreported over the weekend (free gift link), the USA is seeing a wave of exploitation of migrant children who shouldn't be working in dangerous full-time jobs, but who are, thanks to failures in government systems meant to protect migrant children, chronic under-staffing of the agencies that are supposed to protect worker rights, and of course the tight post-pandemic labor market, in which there are too many job openings and too few adult workers willing to work for the low wages employers are offering. These kids aren't hiding out from immigration authorities, either: Most have been processed through the immigration system after surrendering at the border, and are in the US legally while their immigration cases move forward.
Also fortunate: There's a pro-labor Democrat in the White House, and outrage over the Times story has prompted the Biden administration to take action (another gift linky) to crack down on the abuses the investigation exposed:
The White House laid out a host of new initiatives to investigate child labor violations among employers and improve the basic support that migrant children receive when they are released to sponsors in the United States. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, called the revelations in The Times “heartbreaking” and “completely unacceptable.”
As part of the new effort, the Department of Labor, which enforces these laws, said it would target not just the factories and suppliers that illegally employ children, but also the larger companies that have child labor in their supply chains. Migrant children often use false identification and find jobs through staffing agencies that do not verify their Social Security numbers.
Companies have escaped fines in the past by blaming those agencies or other subcontractors when violations are discovered.
The Labor Department announced Monday that it would lead an interagency task force to fight child labor, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services. The agencies pledged to make several reforms to keep migrant kids safe and out of dangerous jobs; several of the steps announced in the statement will address shortcomings identified by the Times.
For instance, the Times pointed out that HHS has fallen down badly in its responsibility to make sure that unaccompanied minors who cross the US-Mexico border are placed with sponsors who will care for them and make sure they go to school. As the number of unaccompanied minors has surged in recent years, HHS has fallen far short in vetting sponsors, leading to many children being placed not with family members but with labor traffickers, winding up in virtual indentured servitude. Even kids placed with relatives sometimes have to take jobs where they work long hours at dangerous jobs that are supposed to be off limits to minors.
Kids are often placed without any case management or follow-up, which the agency says it will address by working with Congress to get sufficient funding so that all minors get "post release services" by 2025 — currently, the Times reported, only a third of underaged minors get full case management.
The rest are often released to sponsors with only a card bearing the toll-free number for an HHS hotline to report any abuses, but several teens told the Times that nothing happened after they called to report they were being overworked and not paid. An HHS spokesperson explained that the most the agency can do is to pass along reports to local law enforcement, since HHS has no law enforcement powers.
HHS will make changes to hotline procedures immediately, requiring that hotline operators follow up with children who call, to let them know what law enforcement agency their complaint was forwarded to — although it might be nice if there were more follow-up with the local agencies, too. HHS will also begin providing more information on labor protections to kids and to sponsors, which is a start, at least.
The Labor Department will ramp up investigations of alleged abuses, including situations reported by the Times at a food-processing company, Hearthside Food Solutions, which has 39 factories in the US and makes and packs foods for major companies like General Mills and Frito-Lay, among others.
The joint statement also called on Congress to provide more funding for its investigations and enforcement functions, noting that a funding freeze from 2010 to 2019 ( the result of austerity demands from Republicans during the 2010 debt ceiling crisis) has led to loss of staff and critical shortages of resources needed to protect workers. Emergency funding from the COVID relief packages has helped to offset the lost capacity, but Congress hasn't funded the agency at levels the Biden administration requested.
The Labor Department also asked Congress to steeply increase penalties for companies that use child labor, noting that
The maximum civil money penalty under current law for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child. That’s not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies. The Department of Labor is calling on Congress to increase civil monetary penalties, strengthening protections from retaliation for people who report child labor law violations and investigating corporations flouting child labor laws.
Well hell yes, let's do that.
Members of Congress are demanding action too, including some Republicans, who we hope will actually work to improve conditions for underaged workers, not just yell at the administration while doing nothing:
Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately began launching investigations and discussing legislation, including plans to demand the Department of Health and Human Services to track and provide better care for children after they are released to sponsors. Democrats are also considering new measures.
Both the House Judiciary and Oversight committees pledged investigations, and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the Judiciary chairman, demanded in a letter sent Monday that Robin Dunn Marcos, the director of the division of H.H.S. in charge of child migrants, submit to a transcribed interview.
Great. And how about adequate funding for HHS to do the vetting and follow-up, as well as for the Labor Department to investigate child labor abuses, please?
And dare we even go there: How about some real reform of the immigration system, so that 12-year-olds aren't being sent north to clean slaughterhouses so they can send money to their families in Guatemala? If there aren't enough American adults to take those jobs, what if... we allowed in more people who want to work to come here and work?
Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think crazy stuff.
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