Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

(Note: These groups thrive on the demise of human resource providing, and use ‘endangered species’ as the basis for countless lawsuits that are designed to implement The Wildlands Project and excise humans — except those ‘designated’ to keep tabs on the ‘endangered species’ — from most of this country, and the world.)

Peter Galvin 520-907-1533 Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

Bill Marlett 541-330-2638 Oregon Natural Desert Association (Oregon)

Jon Marvel 208-788-2290 Western Watersheds Project (Idaho),

John Horning 505 988 9126 EXT 153 Forest Guardians (New Mexico)

Mark Salvo 503-757-4221 American Lands Alliance (Oregon)

Katie Fite 208-429-1679 Committee for the High Desert (Idaho)

Charles Watson 775-883 -169 Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association (Nevada)

Erik Molvar 307-742-7978 Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (Wyoming)

February 26, 2003

(Note: These groups thrive on the demise of human resource providing, and use ‘endangered species’ as the basis for countless lawsuits that are designed to implement The Wildlands Project and excise humans — except those ‘designated’ to keep tabs on the ‘endangered species’ — from most of this country, and the world.)


Peter Galvin 520-907-1533 Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

Bill Marlett 541-330-2638 Oregon Natural Desert Association (Oregon)

Jon Marvel 208-788-2290 Western Watersheds Project (Idaho),

John Horning 505 988 9126 EXT 153 Forest Guardians (New Mexico)

Mark Salvo 503-757-4221 American Lands Alliance (Oregon)

Katie Fite 208-429-1679 Committee for the High Desert (Idaho)

Charles Watson 775-883 -169 Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association (Nevada)

Erik Molvar 307-742-7978 Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (Wyoming)

Eight citizen groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to reform the fee charged for grazing livestock on National Forests in the Western US.

The 2003 grazing fee

of $1.35 per month for a cow and her calf is one-tenth of market rates and is the minimum allowed by regulation. The extremely low grazing fee fails to cover the basic administrative costs of the federal grazing program.

In October 2002 the Center for Biological Diversity released a report

showing that the federal grazing program costs taxpayers $124 million at a minimum, and likely as much as $1 billion annually in subsidies and other costs after subtracting fee receipts.

Over ten years ago, the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior and the General Accounting Office established that the formula used to calculate the fee is mathematically flawed, as it subtracts increases in the costs of production twice.

As a result the fee has barely risen above the $1.35 minimum, while market rates on equivalent private ranchlands have increased to almost 10 times greater.

The Forest Service proposed to reform the fee formula in 1994, but never announced a final decision on the reform, and kept on using the flawed formula.

“The Forest Service charges about as much to run a cow on public lands as it costs to feed a pet hamster. The U.S. taxpayer is being fleeced by this bargain basement sale of public resources,” stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Galvin added “Livestock grazing on public lands is one of the major causes of species endangerment in the U.S.”

Joining the Center in this action are American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Committee for the High Desert, Forest Guardians, Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association and Western Watersheds Project.

Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association said that: “Low grazing fees coupled with big federal deficits means that monitoring and mitigation of cow-damaged rangelands will go neglected. It’s not just the American taxpayer who gets the shaft, but the streams, soils and wildlife on all of our Western public lands.”

Katie Fite, Conservation Director of the Committee for the High Desert, added: “The livestock industry claims that public lands ranchers have to invest more time and resources on federal lands than on private rangeland. This may be true in some cases, but USDA research in the mid 1990s showed that costs for private land ranchers average about $40 a cow higher than for public lands ranchers — exactly the opposite of what industry claims.”

Charles Watson, of the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association added that: “The low fee has encouraged overgrazing, massive erosion and invasion by noxious vegetation, leading to the huge fires that have destroyed millions of dollars of private property in the West in recent years. The Forest Service has known about the flaw in the fee formula for years. It’s high time they fixed it.”

The lawsuit, which requires the Forest Service to make a final decision on the reform of the grazing fee formula, was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., today, Wednesday, February 26, and will be argued by Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer and Glitzenstein.

Center for Biological Diversity: Protecting endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

More Information:

Center’s Grazing Program


Forest Service grazing fee FAQs

GAO 1991 study on grazing fee

Rangeland Reform Draft Environmental Impact Statement 1994 (excerpts on the grazing fee change)

Cody, B 1996 Grazing fees: an overview. Congressional research Service

Who runs Tucson? Kieran Suckling. Carolyn Campbell. She works with developers to find common ground, while he fights to save every inch of desert.
(Note: I’ve underlined the language deception herein.)
January 19, 2001
Joyesha Chesnick ‘contributed to this report’
Tucson Citizen
To submit a Letter to the Editor:
Suckling  Campbell

Kieran Suckling (left) and Carolyn Campbell are strong advocates of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a sweeping blueprint for growth management.

You could consider them a sort of good cop-bad cop among environmentalists. They’re each working toward the same goal, but their methods are markedly different.

Carolyn Campbell is the good cop. Easy-going. Accommodating. She’s the one willing to sit down and negotiate a compromise solution.

That makes Kieran Suckling the bad cop. Angry. Combative. He’s the one willing to slap a lawsuit on any foe who gets in his way.

Campbell is the executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, a consortium of about 40 environmental groups supporting a sweeping blueprint to manage growth throughout vast tracts of Pima County.

Suckling is the driving force behind the Center for Biological Diversity, an in-your-face environmental organization that has earned legions of friends and enemies since it set up shop here in the mid-1990s.

Between them, Campbell and Suckling define environmentalism in the Old Pueblo.

Campbell is a former staffer for Morris K. Udall, the southern Arizona congressman who has a permanent place in the hearts of most Western environmentalists.

A 21-year resident of Arizona, she has waged numerous battles on behalf of the Sonoran Desert. This latest one might be the most important.

This is our one big chance,” Campbell says of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which she is working to implement. “This is the largest project anyone has ever undertaken in the country.”

The plan essentially will determine where development may occur in the county. The Pima County Board of Supervisors endorsed the concept nearly three years [ago] and it is also supported by U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe and outgoing Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Work on the plan is under way, and final adoption by the supervisors is scheduled for 2002.

“That’s a really aggressive schedule,” Campbell says. “But the county has been putting so much effort into it, I think we can pull it off.”

As the executive director of a coalition of conservation groups, Campbell balances competing interests and demands of an array of organizations. They range from the mainstream Audubon Society to the aggressive Center for Biological Diversity.

“We’ve calmed some of the radical elements, and we’ve aroused some of the more conservative elements,” Campbell says.

In Campbell’s view, environmentalists and developers have failed to communicate with each other. The running dispute served no one and may have worked against the environmentalist cause.

We haven’t really tried to work together. We just tried to win,” she says. “There’s been no planning in Arizona because everyone was tugging at their elected officials.”

Don’t assume, though, that this greenie is going soft on developers. “Arizona,” she says, “has really been run by the development community.”

But through the conservation plan, Campbell says, developers and environmentalists can find common ground.

How we grow, where we grow, I don’t think we should leave that up to chance,” she says.

Suckling says the desert conservation plan is an example of what can be done to stem the horrors of uncontrolled sprawl. “There was a crisis begging for a solution, and that solution is the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan,” he says.

On a whole host of other issues, though, Suckling’s views are decidedly more edgy. He’s less interested in finding common ground than in preserving ground.

“We’re going to fight as hard as we can,” Suckling says. “There’s a lot of aggressiveness there, but there has to be. If you go and battle developers and you’re not in there to win, you’re not going to win.”

The center catapulted itself into the headlines a few years ago when it flew to the defense of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

Known at the time as the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, the organization had previously focused attention on grazing, mining and logging issues. The pygmy owl forced it to change gears.

In the center’s view, the habitat of the endangered little owl was — and still is — far more important than a new high school the Amphitheater School District wanted to build on the Northwest Side. So it sued to stop construction of the school.

“It put us in the public eye in a really big way,” Suckling calls. “We had no choice but to jump in. It was like walking by a burning house. We had no choice but to run in and try to save the kid.”

A federal court ultimately allowed the school to be built, though with certain protections. Suckling remains undaunted.

“There’s a lot of groups that would not have taken on a school,” he says. “It’s really important that some group wants to be at the vanguard and say things like they are and take aggressive action to protect endangered species. That means you’re going to get criticism as well as praise. If you’re going to change the status quo, that is what’s going to happen. Everybody wants the praise, but a lot of groups are not willing to take the criticism.

“Our group is one that has been very willing to accept the criticism,” he continues. “If developers, miners and loggers aren’t mad at you, then you’re not changing the way they do business.”

Throughout the mid-1990s, the center filed more than 80 lawsuits on behalf of the environment.

Outside magazine not long ago proclaimed it one of the nation’s most effective environmental organizations.

Even a member of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association called the center a “surprisingly clever and effective” group of “zealots.”

As the center’s most prominent zealot, Suckling says he and his colleagues are doing what they believe must to be done to protect endangered species and preserve as much of the desert as possible.

This is an art, not a science,” he says. “It’s driven by passion and experience and creativity.”

Citizen staff writer Joyesha Chesnick contributed to this report.

Copyright 2001, Tucson Citizen.


Additional relevant, researched information:

Who’s got the Power?

September/October 2004

Sierra Magazine

Sierra Club

Kieran Suckling is the policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona. The organization has helped obtain Endangered Species Act protection for 329 species and “critical habitat” designation for over 38 million acres.

Suckling’s Site:

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ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. — On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.

Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents, and spurred state lawmakers to pass several laws cracking down on illegal immigrants within the state.

Since 2009, the park has offered van tours to the springs, as long as rangers armed with assault rifles go along to protect the visitors. Now, ten years after Eggle’s murder, the park’s leadership has decided to open up a portion of the closed areas to the public in March, citing improved safety conditions and a big increase in Border Patrol agents in the area.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in Arizona, immigration has once again been a hotly contested topic in the state: Mitt Romney in a debate last week praised Arizona’s immigration laws as a “model” for the country, while President Obama’s Justice Department is suing Arizona to overturn one of those laws, called SB1070. The law–which has not gone into effect because of a federal court order–requires police to check a person’s immigration status during stops if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime to fail to carry immigration papers or for illegal immigrants to solicit work. Drug violence has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006, but spillover violence has so far been minimal in the United States. Still, Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, falsely claimed that beheadings occurred in the Arizona desert in 2010, the same year she signed SB1070 into law. Arizona was also the first state to pass a mandatory E-Verify law in 2007, to ensure employers don’t hire illegal immigrants.

Brewer says the law will help police officers combat drug trafficking and crime, but critics say it will encourage racial profiling and interferes with federal control over immigration. Yahoo News went to Organ Pipe last week to witness the challenges of the border as the presidential candidates debate how best to control it.

‘They’ll have M14s at hand. Don’t be worried.’

“There is a chance we might have to cancel the tour if there’s some sort of apprehension in progress,” Park Ranger Karl Sommerhauser, wearing a bulky dark green bulletproof vest, told the tourists last week. Sommerhauser had an ear piece curling out of his left ear. “We expect you to take direction from Ken,” he said sternly.

Ken Hires, an unflaggingly cheerful park ranger dressed in reassuringly normal-looking tan ranger clothes, bounded to the front of the room. Hires is what’s called an interpretive ranger, which means he has no law enforcement duties and does not carry a weapon. (“I spent my five years in Vietnam. Enough shooting,” he said later.) Hires explained that some law enforcement officers would be hiding in the hills and closely watching the two-hour nature hike, while another pair of armed rangers would follow the tourists closely from the ground. “They’ll have M14s at hand,” he told the group. “Don’t be worried.”

“You might see something interesting off the trail, but please don’t go wandering off,” Hires continued, explaining that it made it difficult for the rangers to track people from the hills. “Please be respectful that those people are putting themselves on the line for us.”

As the group loaded into the vans, one woman from Idaho whispered to her husband: “Does it make you worried? They get chest protections, and we don’t get none of them.”

Hires, sitting in the passenger side of the van, began talking quickly into his radio to the rangers. He turned to the back and explained: “We operate this as if it were an incident.”

“You say there was an incident out there?” a walrus-mustachioed passenger wearing a cowboy hat asked warily.

“We’re it,” Ken said, to nervous laughter.

‘There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe’

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 330,000-acre, surprisingly green stretch of Sonoran desert populated by barrel, saguaro and organ pipe cacti, spans 30 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The park became a corridor for drug runners in the 1990s after border security tightened at major ports of entry and in urban areas, driving human and drug traffickers to rural crossings. Alan Bersin, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner until last year, admitted that the Tucson sector of the border was “out of control” until recently. In 2010, half of all border apprehensions and drug seizures occurred in the Tucson sector, which encompasses much of Organ Pipe.

Drug runners would cut across Mexican Highway 2 through Organ Pipe’s dirt roads in a car and then quickly hop onto U.S. Highway 85, which shoots up to Phoenix or Tucson. The vehicles blazed more than 200 miles of unauthorized roads through the park, and rangers found themselves in dangerous, high-speed chases nearly every day. An $18 million, 23-mile vehicle fence put up after Eggle’s murder by the Department of the Interior cut down on this vehicle traffic. Now, cartels have had to get smarter, sometimes cutting into the fence, removing it, driving through, and then putting it back together again. Drug runners also started coming more on foot, dropping their packages in designated spots on the highway for someone else to pick up.

The Department of Homeland Security recently put up nine surveillance towers in the park, making it easier for agents to detect this new foot traffic, so the drug runners are now hiding in the hills, where the towers can’t see them. (A Border Patrol helicopter operation last year in these hills netted 800 pounds of trash and a whole “herd” of people, according to Hires.) Border Patrol set up a check point on Highway 85 within the park in the past year, which has pushed drug traffickers to the neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Tohono O’odham reservation, adding as much as four days to their on-foot journeys. “They’re very adaptive, more so than us,” said Organ Pipe park superintendent Lee Baiza wearily, during an interview with Yahoo News last week.

Baiza said he spends about 80 percent of his time working with Homeland Security and handling border concerns. “There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe,” he added.

The superintendent, who took over in 2007, has faced criticism for preventing Border Patrol agents from building new roads in the wilderness areas of the park, which is part of a larger struggle between Homeland Security and national park and land agencies that operate on the border. (More than 85 percent of border property in Arizona is federally owned.) Bob Bishop, a Republican representative from Utah, introduced a bill last year that would waive environmental laws up to 100 miles north of the border, freeing up Homeland Security to build roads through the wilderness to combat illegal immigration and drug running. Bishop criticized the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for preventing Border Patrol agents from driving off-road in the Quitobaquito area of the park because of a pond nearby that contains the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish.

“I may care about the pupfish, but I also care about kids getting hooked on illegal drugs that are coming over that border,” Bishop told Yahoo News. Drug runners cause more environmental damage to the border by leaving trash, he said, than Border Patrol agents would by building roads.

“Every congressman seems to have his own idea of what we’re doing wrong,” Baiza said. “The reality is all of that has improved immensely since 2007.”

Apprehensions in the park were down last month for the first time in three years, Baiza said. Border Patrol would not release park-specific data, but a spokesman, Jason Rheinfrank, said that the Tucson sector overall saw a 40 percent drop in apprehensions last fiscal year, while the number of agents has nearly tripled since 2000. Illegal crossing arrests over the entire border were at a four-decade low last fiscal year, in part because of the flagging American economy.

On March 1, 46 percent of the park–instead of 31 percent–is scheduled to be open to the public. Baiza cited the increased fencing, number of Border Patrol agents, and technology in the park as the reasons for the change.

Organ pipe cactus. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

‘What we are trying to do is retake this landscape’

“The real problem we have with safety is drug dealing, not the people looking for work,” Hires said from a loudspeaker system at the front of the van. Three different border patrol agents riding ATVs raced by, waving. “What we are trying to do is retake this landscape so we can all be free to be out here,” he added.

Twenty minutes later, the vans arrived at Quitobaquito, where two young men toting heavy M14 rifles were already waiting. The rangers arrived at the springs two hours earlier to scour the area and make sure no one was hiding.

“Please be respectful and don’t photograph them,” Hires warned. The park service is worried that cartel members would retaliate against the rangers if their faces were publicized. Baiza says Organ Pipe never sends out press releases announcing new ranger hires for the same reason.

The armed park rangers didn’t greet the group and stayed about 20 paces ahead on the trail. Hires showed the tourists the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish in the pond (the endangered Sonoran mud turtles were nowhere to be found), and answered questions about the names of different plants and flowers. He explained that the springs has been a crossroads for thousands of years, an oasis drawing thirsty desert-dwellers and entrepreneurial shell traders. The tour ended, and two volunteer rangers stood guard as visitors used the restroom in the bushes before the long van ride back.

“You got to show me your visa,” one volunteer ranger joked as people began loading back into the van.

On the way out, Hires pointed out the two park rangers at the top of the hill, green specks on the horizon.

Another border patrol ATV zoomed past the van and stopped the law enforcement park rangers who were escorting the group back to the visitor center.  Two brown packages were tied to the back of the ATV.

“See those bundles? Want to guess?” Hires asked. “Marijuana.” In 2005, the last year the park released border incident data, Organ Pipe park rangers seized 17,000 pounds of marijuana.

The rangers let out a dog from the back of the SUV, as the visitors craned their necks to watch from the van. The dog jumped out and ran to the bundles. He sat down abruptly and pointed his nose at the packages, then looked back at his masters. “That’s the sign,” Hires said. The rangers tossed the jubilant dog a toy, and the Border Patrol agent drove off again in the ATV.

“There’s been a sighting of a UDA,” Hires said a few minutes later, listening to his radio. (UDA means undocumented alien.) “He’s sitting next to a trashcan which means he’s waiting for us to pick him up and give him a ride home. He’s given up.”

‘I feel safer here than in Fresno’

Despite all the excitement on the trip, Hires said he thinks the park is very safe because of the law enforcement rangers and the Border Patrol agents.

“I feel safer here than in Fresno,” Hires said after the tour. (He works seasonally in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks near Fresno, California.)

But visitors–or rather, the people who are choosing not to be visitors–still have concerns. In 2010, visits to the park plunged to a 10-year low of 209,600. Baiza says that when state politicians focus on the dangers of Mexico and the border, fewer people visit the park.

“They come here all petrified,” Bonnie Auman, a park volunteer, said. “Then they see all the law enforcement, the Border Patrol.”

Bishop, the Utah congressman, said that while the stagnant economy may have significantly deterred unauthorized migrants who are looking for work, he doesn’t think it has made a dent in the number of drug runners targeting Arizona. “That’s why we need to control the border,” he told Yahoo News. “They’re not going to be affected by E-Verify and the economy, and the Border Patrol needs to have the ability to battle that.”

It remains to be seen whether visitors will be lured back. Hires journeyed to the Quartzsite, Ariz., RV Show last month to recruit wary RVers to visit the park. “The No. 1 question: ‘Is it safe there?'” he said. “And the second one was, ‘Are you open?’ People thought we totally closed the place.”

Craig Harris
The Arizona Republic

For this series, The Arizona Republic filed 67 public-records requests between August and October. The requests went to Arizona’s four statewide public-pension systems, the Phoenix and Tucson pension programs, and all 57 public-school districts in Maricopa County.

The Republic, under the Arizona Public Records Law, obtained the annual pension payments for more than 111,000 retirees in the six pension systems and the salaries of retirees, mostly educators, who still hold government jobs.

Only the Arizona State Retirement System balked at the request. ASRS on Aug. 31 provided a database of retiree names, their date of retirement, their total credited years of service and their final employer. Citing privacy concerns, the current benefit amount paid to each retiree was not provided.

The newspaper on Sept. 3 demanded through legal counsel that ASRS produce the exact pension benefit for each retiree. A week later, the newspaper requested amounts paid for service credit, a factor in determining a person’s pension, by retirees with the highest pensions.

ASRS sued the newspaper Sept. 15 in Maricopa County Superior Court, asking a judge to uphold its denial of the records. The newspaper threatened to countersue and seek attorney’s fees.

The ASRS board met Sept. 29. Following advice from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, it turned over to The Republic all previously denied records and withdrew its lawsuit.

Director Paul Matson said ASRS was not trying to thwart the Public Records Law but was acting as a fiduciary by guarding members’ data.

Randy Lovely, editor and vice president/news of The Republic, said the paper’s intent in gathering the data was to show how Arizona, like other states, is struggling to fund its public pensions.

The Republic, as part of our detailed coverage of all aspects of the state’s fiscal situation, set out to give readers a full view of the state’s pension situation. Our intention was not to reveal the specific pension information for every individual in the system but rather to analyze the full data to give legislators insights into possible areas of reform and savings,” Lovely said.

Read more:

Craig Harris – The Arizona Republic

Even as local governments and the state are slashing budgets, Arizonans are propping up public-pension systems that allow civil servants to retire in their 50s, receive annuities that can exceed $100,000 a year, and collect pensions while staying on the same job, The Arizona Republic has found.

Over the past decade, government agencies have been forced to pour billions of dollars into the state’s six pension systems to keep pace with continual benefit enhancements. The added cost of these enhancements has been largely borne by taxpayers as pension investments eroded amid stock-market declines.

• State pension fund tried suing ‘Republic’

Even some of the pension funds’ managers agree that these enhancements over the past decade have grown so expensive they are unsustainable without sharp increases in public funding and cuts to critical public services.

Legislators and other policy makers, meanwhile, have done little to overhaul the systems. In fact, pension reform is rarely, if ever, mentioned by Gov. Jan Brewer or the Legislature as they grapple with ways to bridge a two-year budget deficit estimated at $2.25 billion. A key lawmaker said that needs to change.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams said of the state’s pension systems. “A lot of people for too long have tried to ignore it and set it aside. The Legislature needs to seriously look at what the options are.”


The tab for local governments and the state to run these systems grew 448 percent over the past 10 years to $1.39 billion annually, according to a Republic analysis of the benefits paid to more than 111,000 retired public employees. In many cases, taxpayer contributions to the pension funds far exceed workers’ contributions. In fact, most employees earn all their contributions back within three to four years of retiring.

Today, more money is spent on Arizona’s public-pension systems than on the individual state budgets for higher education, corrections, economic security or health insurance for the poor.

Even as governments cut budgets, public-pension costs will keep growing. The state Constitution forbids the government from decreasing a payout for any retiree now in the system. And a coming wave of Baby Boomer employees will soon retire, further increasing the costs.

Byron Schlomach, an economist who studies pensions for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, said there is little political will to change public-employee retirements because they affect about 363,000 state and local public employees who wield clout and because lawmakers benefit from the best of the publicly funded systems.

“Some of the resistance is coming from people who you would think were conservatives, but they may have retired from another pension system,” Schlomach said. “They like the systems the way they are. They have their benefit, and they are resistant to change.”

Well paid

For this series, The Republic filed 67 public-records requests. They were sent to the state’s four public-pension systems, the Phoenix and Tucson municipal pension systems and all 57 public-school districts in Maricopa County. The newspaper, through the Arizona Public Records Law, obtained the amount of pensions paid to retirees in the six systems and the salaries of hundreds of retirees who still hold government jobs, with most being educators.

The Republic‘s analysis shows a system that pays some retirees well, including:

Elected officials. Among those who retired in the past decade, dozens now are paid more in annual retirement benefits than they were paid while in office.

Public-safety officers. An incentive program to keep officers working longer allows them to stop contributing to their pension funds five years early, keep working, then receive large lump-sum payouts – an average of $247,422 for police officers and $314,338 for firefighters. Those officers also then draw regular annual pensions.

City officials. The Phoenix retirement system allows employees to boost their public pay as they near retirement age, triggering increases in the annual amount of their pensions.

Educators. Employees in many school districts find ways to retire and then return to government jobs while also drawing a pension. Some in the public-education system have created a cottage industry to make so-called “double-dipping” easier. More than 900 teachers and administrators in Maricopa County school districts legally collect state pension checks while being paid to keep working for the schools. Some teachers make more than $100,000 a year in combined pension and salary, while administrators’ combined pay and pension can exceed $200,000 annually.

Criminals: Six elected officials and a former county manager now receive state pensions despite being convicted of crimes involving misconduct while in office.

The bottom line: While most private employers have scaled back retirement programs and put more or all of the financial responsibility for their funding onto employees, Arizona civil-servant retirement systems have not made major changes.

Calls for reform

California, New Jersey and Illinois are among many states now struggling with the costs of public-pension systems. Reform movements in some states have cut benefits and raised the age at which workers can start drawing pensions.

Internationally, there have been moves by financially strapped governments across Europe to raise the retirement age. In Greece, generous early-retirement practices led to a debt crisis that prompted unpopular changes earlier this year. Last month, amid mounting protests that hampered France’s economy, the French parliament bumped the retirement age from 60 to 62 to preserve its pension system.

Arizona anti-tax groups and business leaders are calling for changes to ease Arizona’s ever-growing pension costs.

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association and a recent board appointee to the Arizona State Retirement System, said ongoing enhancements to the retirement systems are unsustainable.

“I don’t know how some of this stuff is rationalized,” McCarthy said.

Lawmakers have taken small steps to bring costs under control.

Several modifications begin July 1, 2011, for ASRS, the state’s largest system. Newly hired employees who are part of ASRS will be required to work a few years longer before they can draw a retirement check. Also changed was the formula by which retiring employees’ average ending salary is calculated, slightly lowering pensions.

However, the state won’t see a savings from the changes until those new hires begin to retire years from now.

Even those modest proposals took four years for the Legislature to finally pass.

Though the $23.1 billion ASRS trust is currently underfunded and payments exceed contributions, ASRS Director Paul Matson said the trust is in no danger of becoming insolvent because its size is expected to grow and its investment values will recover.

How pensions work

The largest of Arizona’s six public-pension systems is ASRS, which covers 708 employers of state, county and municipal workers, public-school teachers and those working for Arizona’s three state universities. Created in 1953, it has 92,216 retirees and 220,323 actively contributing members.

Three other systems cover elected officials, corrections employees and police and firefighters. Tucson and Phoenix run their own systems.

Public employees contribute a portion of their pay toward their pensions. Their employers also make contributions equal to or greater than the employees’ amount.

All provide defined-benefit plans, meaning the retiree’s benefits are guaranteed no matter how much he or she has paid into the system while working.

Under such a plan, each trust pays a pension whose annual amount is determined through a formula taking into account the employee’s highest average wage at the end of a career, years of service and a benefit “multiplier.”

For example, an ASRS retiree’s benefit is calculated by multiplying the years of service by his or her average salary over the last three years of employment. That figure is then multiplied by the multiplier, a percentage set by state law and tiered by years of service.

So, an employee who has worked 20 years and had an average annual salary over the last three years of $40,000 would have a multiplier of 2.15 percent. That would result in a lifetime annual pension of $17,200.

The biggest public pensions are given to those who work longer and make more money at the end of their careers. There are 392 government retirees in Arizona who receive annual pensions in excess of $100,000, and the average pension for all six systems is $23,221, according to records the paper compiled.

In the ASRS system, the average retirement age is 60, and the typical retiree works 19.26 years. The average annual lifetime ASRS pension is $19,788.

In the private sector, a 401(k) would have to accumulate $273,752 to $283,327 over a 20-year period to get the same $19,788 annual pension at retirement, according to Michael Juilfs and Jim Dew, certified financial planners who operate separate Scottsdale firms.

For the private employee, the money would last 19 to 20 years, assuming modest interest-rate gains during retirement. The calculations, however, are based upon retiring at 65 – common in the private sector but five years later than a typical ASRS retiree.

“Public employees have a better deal than they realize, and they are not that low-paid,” Juilfs said.

Insufficient funds

Because of the recession and years of low investment returns, Arizona’s public-pension funds are now considered underfunded.

Ideally, a trust is 100 percent funded, meaning the current value of the assets in the trust is equal to the pension cost calculated for all current and future retirees. Pensions funded at 80 percent or higher are considered healthy by industry standards.

As investment values slide, extra money has to come from somewhere.

Each trust has different contribution rates for employees and employers.

In five of the six systems, the employer has a higher contribution rate than the employee. Only ASRS has matching contribution rates.

That ASRS rate in 2000 was low because the 1990s stock-market boom provided an investment surplus for its trust. Back then, the combined contribution rate, the total from employees and employers, was 4.34 percent. Today, it is 19.2 percent, with each side contributing half, or 9.6 percent. Matson projects the combined contribution rate, which includes a small amount going to retiree health-insurance cost, will steadily increase to 22.96 percent by 2018, then decline as the trust’s financial health improves.

Even with far higher contribution rates, the ASRS trust’s assets cover only 75 percent of its liabilities.

Matson chiefly blamed stock-market crashes in 2001 and 2008 for the ASRS trust’s underfunding, and he said earnings in three other years did not meet projections of 8 percent growth.

Most of Arizona’s other public-pension funds are in worse shape. The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System has the worst funding ratio, at about 66 percent.

During the past 30 years, many private businesses have dumped similar defined-benefit pension plans for defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s. Employers make set contributions to employees’ individual retirement accounts but are not responsible for guaranteeing their retirement income or earnings growth.

In 1980, 84 percent of private-sector employees had defined-benefit plans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By March 2009, the most recent records available show, that number dropped to 21 percent.

Recent federal records show 84 percent of state and local government workers still have defined-benefit plans.

“Pension benefits have been cut so much that it appears firemen and teachers have a golden parachute when they really don’t,” said Elizabeth Ashack, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist. “For them, it’s just the way it used to be.”

The Arizona National Federation of Independent Business said none of its 7,500 members offers a defined-benefit plan.

“It’s becoming extinct in the private sector, especially for small businesses,” said Farrell Quinlan, the federation’s Arizona director.

Matson, the ASRS director, defends defined-benefit plans, saying retirees with pensions are less likely to be dependent on government services when they retire. He added that defined-benefit plans provide better long-term security for retirees and they typically are better managed than defined-contribution plans.

Big payouts

The system is providing many employees a comfortable retirement. Meanwhile, taxpayer costs are rising, with the system paying out more than it is taking in. In fiscal 2009, for example, ASRS contributions from employers and employees totaled $1.6 billion. Its benefit payouts: $2 billion, further depleting the trust.

Public-sector retirees’ pensions benefits are guaranteed for as long as they live, and surviving spouses collect some benefits even after the retiree dies.

The largest annual pension in ASRS goes to Carol Peck, who retired as superintendent of the Phoenix-area Alhambra Elementary School District in July 2002 with 35 years of service. According to ASRS records, she had an ending salary of $275,022.

Now chief executive of the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona, she receives a $226,422 annual pension.

Peck, who received numerous professional accolades, including national superintendent of the year, said in an e-mail response that her salary was above average compared with other superintendents but was “determined to be commensurate with my performance.” She also wrote that teacher and staff salaries, as well as student performance, were above average at Alhambra. Peck declined further comment.

Traditionally, public-employee pension systems were recognized as a way to overcome inequities between lower public-sector salaries and higher pay in the private sector. However, that inequity is no longer the case in Arizona, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average state-employee salary in 2009 was $46,841, and the average municipal-employee salary was $42,668. In the private industry, the average pay was $42,090.

Public costs

As governments juggle their budgets to keep their employees’ pensions intact, they have simultaneously found themselves cutting public services because of shrinking revenue and a lingering economic downturn.

At the local level, cities have cut library hours, closed recreation facilities, curtailed public-transit spending and furloughed or laid off employees.

The state has cut health care for needy families, shuttered some state parks and motor-vehicle registration branches, trimmed law-enforcement and prison budgets, and laid off hundreds of workers.

Arizona still faces a combined budget deficit estimated at $2.25 billion this year and next. Gov. Brewer has said public education, health and welfare programs all are likely to see significant reductions in 2011.

As state officials slashed budgets in recent years, they repeatedly argued that they had to cut public services because huge portions of their budgets were off-limits. Spending approved by voters or otherwise guaranteed cannot be cut.

A large portion of that off-limits spending goes to pensions. But cutting that spending is difficult because pension costs are layered throughout dozens of government-agency budgets rather than being lumped together as a single expenditure.


Along with a weak economy, Arizona lawmakers shoulder some of the blame for the pension imbalance. In 2001, they permanently increased the largest system’s multiplier, which increased retiree payouts. Three years earlier, they successfully asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment that does not allow public-employee pension benefits to be diminished.

Since then, they have done little to soften the financial impact on taxpayers.

Adams, the House speaker, said that while lawmakers can tweak the pension systems, they likely will need to ask voters to change the state Constitution.

“If we are going to have any fundamental reform, the voters will have to get involved,” Adams said. “They need to remove the roadblock so the Legislature can do something different like have a defined-contribution plan.”

The governor said Arizona’s pension systems are in better shape than other states’, but “that doesn’t mean we don’t need to go in there and look at this and get the discussion on the table and fix it.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce has openly encouraged lawmakers to consider new public retirement plans that combine a defined benefit and a defined contribution.

Suzanne Taylor, senior vice president of public policy for the chamber, said the current system is “not a sustainable path” for taxpayers.

Retirement system board member McCarthy, a limited-government activist, said lawmakers must act quickly when the session begins in January.

“We are not talking about small parts of state and local governments,” he said. “We are talking about extraordinary costs, and people are finding out these things are choking state and local budgets. The person taking it is the taxpayer.”

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8478.

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by Craig Harris – Dec. 20, 2011 11:09 PM
The Arizona Republic

Local and state governments in Arizona allowed some 2,400 public employees to cash in thousands of hours of accumulated unused sick leave last year, at an average cost to taxpayers of $11,419 per employee, public records compiled by The Arizona Republic show.

A dozen of the largest public entities paid out a combined $27.9 million to those employees at a time when many jurisdictions have been forced to impose furloughs and freeze wages, cut services and, in some instances, raise taxes and fees. Most of the payments came when employees retired, and they were paid only for a portion of all hours accumulated.

Allowing workers to be paid a portion of unused sick leave is common for public employers but rare in the private sector because of the added cost, experts say.

Critics of such policies contend employees should not be paid twice — once for working and then again for not taking sick leave.

The Republic, as part of an ongoing examination of public-employee benefits, looked at the state of Arizona, the two largest counties and their biggest cities. The newspaper found at least five Arizona public employees who accrued thousands of hours of sick leave during their careers and were each paid at least $100,000 for their unused sick leave — more than double what a privately employed Arizona resident earns on average in a year.

The Republic’s investigation also found:

Phoenix in 2010 paid $10.79 million for unused sick leave to 903 employees, for an average payment of $11,958. Payouts went to roughly 6 percent of the 15,000-member city workforce.

Among the 12 public employers reviewed, the highest individual sick-leave payouts last year went to four Phoenix police employees. All worked for the city more than three decades before retiring. The largest payout — $144,279 — went to a retired Phoenix police commander whose 35 years of accumulated sick-leave payout eclipsed his final year’s salary.

Scottsdale had the highest average sick-leave payout of $24,443 per employee, with 43 employees collectively receiving slightly more than $1 million.

The state of Arizona, which includes all state agencies, higher education, courts and the retirement systems, last year paid $6.3 million to 502 employees, with an average payout of $12,591.

Tempe had the lowest average payout last year at $5,629 for 154 employees.

Surprise had no sick-leave payouts last year because it stopped that benefit in 2009.

Public vs. private

Public human-resource directors said sick-leave payouts for public employees generally began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when public employers were having a difficult time competing against the private sector for job candidates.

Today, those benefits remain in place in many cases, but average salaries for public employees now exceed those in the private sector.

Average hourly pay for full-time public employees in the Phoenix area was $24.76 an hour, or $51,501 a year, based on a 40-hour workweek, according to a June U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Meanwhile, average pay for full-time private-industry workers was $20.90 an hour, or $43,472 a year, a difference of $8,029.

In the city of Phoenix, the gap is even wider: Average annual base pay for city employees, not including police and firefighters, is $54,593, according to city records. That figure jumps to $61,845 when benefits like deferred compensation and cellphone and transportation allowances are included.

Cashing out sick leave is rare in private industry because of the cost, according to Astron Solutions, a New York-based human-resources consulting firm. A 2010-11 national study by Astron found just 5 percent of 219 companies surveyed paid employees for some portion of unused sick leave.

Labor Department economist Elizabeth Ashack said most private employers have “use it or lose it” sick-leave policies. And the federal government does not compensate employees for unused sick time, Ashack said.

She said private employers are unwilling to let employees accumulate and cash out sick leave because it’s too costly, and when public employers cash out unused sick leave, it creates “an extra burden on the taxpayer.”

“Maybe in good times it would be good to keep government workers employed so they don’t jump ship,” she said. “But in bad times, the people can’t afford it. It’s an extra benefit, and it’s too expensive.”

Payout at higher wages

The cost of policies allowing sick leave to be cashed out can be high because employees typically do it when they retire. And even though sick-leave hours are accumulated over time, unused time often is paid off based on an employee’s wage in the final year of work. That ending wage can be at or near the top of the wage scale.

Public entities devise their own payout formulas, according to policies reviewed by The Republic. Payments may be made in cash or placed into a health savings account for employees’ use for medical expenses in retirement.

Payouts typically go to employees when they retire and have accumulated hundreds, possibly thousands, of unused sick-leave hours.

Two-thirds of the 12 public entities surveyed by The Republic have no cap on the number of sick-leave hours an employee can accumulate from year to year. Employees typically are paid for a portion — 50 percent, for example — of the total unused hours accumulated at the rate of pay when the person leaves.

In Phoenix, city employees can use accumulated sick leave to increase their pensions by counting their payouts as part of their ending salary, a key measure in calculating lifetime pension benefits. Public employees in other cities, counties and the state, all part of the Arizona State Retirement System, cannot count sick-leave payments toward pension calculations because ASRS wants to avoid the additional cost to the pension system.

Phoenix voters may decide next year to end the practice for new employees as part of a pension-reform package now before the City Council.

Phoenix police and firefighters, who are part of the statewide Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, cannot use sick leave to increase their pensions.

But firefighters who have accrued 2,400 hours or more of unused sick leave and police officers who have accrued 1,714 hours or more may cash out at 100 percent during the next three years all sick leave they earn, according to contracts their unions negotiated with the city. At the end of that period, the public-safety officers no longer are paid for the sick leave and accumulate the time, which can be used or paid at retirement at a reduced rate.

Last year, 405 police officers on average each received $3,947, while 123 firefighters on average received $4,547 under the policy. The payouts amounted to only a portion of their accumulated sick leave, like cashing out part of a savings account. The money was equal to more than two weeks of additional pay for an average police officer and more than three weeks of additional pay for an average firefighter.

Phoenix gives city employees 15 days of sick leave a year, and it had the highest sick-leave payout last year among the 12 major public employers, including the state of Arizona, according to documents The Republic obtained through public-records requests.

It’s how system is set up

The largest individual sick-leave payment in 2010 was $144,279 for George Richards, who spent just more than 35 years with the Phoenix police department and retired last year as a commander. At retirement, he earned $139,963 a year.

Richards, 58, said he could count on his hand the number of days he called in sick, and he was aware the city’s policy would reward him if he did not take much sick leave. He cashed in slightly more than 2,144 hours, records show.

Richards said he understands some taxpayers might be upset at the large payout. But, he added, he protected the public and made numerous sacrifices.

“If someone spends their whole life working in the private sector and they see the huge sick-leave payouts, they may say, ‘That’s not right,’ ” Richards said. “But I would tell all of them I worked nights, off and on, for 35 years and weekends and holidays. The first five years I was married I worked on Christmas. … I was willing for 35 years to do whatever I could to keep increasing my long-term benefit. I knew what the rules were going in, and I played by the rules.”

Will Buividas, treasurer of the 2,200-member Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said officers negotiated in good faith for a sick-leave payout. If it was taken away, the union would seek pay raises. Buividas said he thinks the current policy is a better deal for taxpayers because officers at retirement may only cash in up to 60 percent of their unused sick leave.

If officers were not allowed to accumulate sick leave and cash it out, Buividas said, they would be taking off three weeks of sick time every year. He said if that occurred, the city would have to hire additional police officers and firefighters.

“Most people would find a way to use sick leave so they wouldn’t lose the benefit,” Buividas said.

Byron Schlomach, an economist with the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based government watchdog group, does not fault public employees who take advantage of the system, but he does not like it.

“It’s just stupid to have that kind of policy,” Schlomach said, citing its cost to taxpayers. “We need to radically change the policy.”

Phoenix Mayor-elect Greg Stanton said the city is paying for a comprehensive compensation study to determine whether city compensation and benefits are in line with public and private sectors.

“I want to see the results of that study before I draw conclusions,” Stanton said.

“That said, I am open-minded to any reasonable and fair ways to save the taxpayers money and maximize the productivity of our employees,” he added. “We need to make sure that our salary and benefits are not out of line with the private sector. But as mayor, I want our employees to be as productive and available as possible.”

City differences

Scottsdale Treasurer David Smith said his city’s tab for cashing out sick leave has been “a big pile of money.”

After paying $6.4 million the past four years, Smith said the Scottsdale City Council changed the payout formula. As of July 1, 2011, unused sick leave hours are to be paid off at 50 percent, though hours accumulated before that date will still be paid at 100 percent.

The policy change is projected to lower liability for future sick-leave payouts from $39 million to $30 million.

In Tempe, Human Resources Director Renie Broderick said it is unclear why Tempe had the lowest average payout. The city’s policy is similar to neighboring communities.

Surprise stopped paying employees for unused sick leave two years ago, going to a paid time off, or PTO, system that gives employees a set number of days to be used either for sick or vacation time.

Surprise cashes out employees for unused PTO, but payouts for unused PTO last year totalled $326,659, roughly half the $641,254 it paid in 2008 under the previous policy.

Few plans to change

None of the other major public employers reviewed has plans to significantly change its policies.

Although there is no state or federal law requiring employers to pay workers for accumulated unused sick leave, if an employer has a policy requiring such a payout, then it has to abide by it, said Randall Maruca, Arizona Department of Labor director. And, if a union contract is in place, an employer must comply until the contract expires and a different deal is negotiated.

Maruca said employers are free to change those policies.

But public-sector human-resource directors say allowing their employees to cash out sick leave is a reward, especially for those who have risked their lives on the job. They also argue that it is a benefit to civil servants who have spent decades working in jobs that pay less than their private-sector equivalents.

Recent studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, show public employees now earn more on average than those in the private sector. And public employees in Arizona have pensions that guarantee them lifetime retirement benefits, unlike most of their private-sector counterparts.

Supporters of sick-leave payouts say ending the benefit would be unfair because public employees count on them, and they are used to recruit employees.

“It would be very difficult, when we haven’t given raises for four years, to take something away at this point,” said Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager for Maricopa County, which last year paid $2.3 million into health savings accounts for 99 new retirees who cashed in sick leave.

Kathleen Haggerty, Phoenix’s deputy personnel director, also described the benefit as an incentive to keep employees from taking time off when they are not sick.

But critics like Schlomach say the practice, especially during tough economic times, is a waste of money. And, they say, employees should not be rewarded simply for showing up to work and not abusing sick leave.

“This is a huge amount of money, and it’s hard to justify,” Schlomach said. “When you look at these numbers, it’s obvious there is something wrong with these policies.”

Phoenix’s sick-leave payouts, for example, exceeded $10 million last year. That is more than a fifth of the nearly $50 million the city collected from a food tax it imposed last year.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a frequent critic of city spending, called the sick leave payouts “outrageous” and accused city management of doing too little to protect taxpayers. Instead, DiCiccio said, library hours and after-school and senior programs are targeted for cuts and food taxes and water rates are hiked rather than employee benefits being reduced.

“They cash them in like casino chips, and the taxpayer is the bank,” DiCiccio said. “There is this cultural attitude at City Hall that they just don’t get it. This kind of shenanigans needs to be stopped … You get politicians or staff saying they are working hard to make changes, but all the changes are low-hanging fruit. The higher-hanging fruit would impact their own pocketbook.”

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8478.

Andrea Lafferty Targeted, Detained By State Department Security Personnel As “Threat”
Washington D.C. (December 15th, 2011) — Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) president Andrea Lafferty was targeted and detained by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security personnel this Wednesday during the closing event capping the three day closed-door conference advancing the implementation of U.N. Resolution 16/18.
“For weeks we have been asking whether the true aims of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and U.N. Resolution 16/18 would be used to apply “old fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” to chill and coerce those critical of the Islamist agenda,” said Lafferty.
“Hillary Clinton was as good as her word,” said Lafferty.
Lafferty was circled by several members of Secretary Clinton’s staff before being approached by a member of the security detail, demanding Lafferty follow him. When asked why she was being removed from the reception hall, the security detail announced that a phone call had identified Lafferty as a “security threat” to Secretary Clinton.
“I was shocked and angry at the pressure and shameful intimidation tactics our State Department put on, even to the point of identifying me as a threat to Hillary Clinton.”
Secretary Clinton in a June 2011 conference in Istanbul, Turkey remarked how certain comments from those concerned about Islamic fanaticism have been deemed as “incendiary” and looked to sympathize with efforts that would criminalize certain speech that is “an incitement to imminent violence.”
“This language — “incitement to imminent violence” — has been used time and time again to close events here in the United States concerning the impact of Islamic shariah law, detain law-abiding Christians elsewhere, and now even target and detain as security threats people from State Department events,” said Lafferty.
“The very restriction on free speech the UN Resolution was pushing is exactly what they used against me,” said Lafferty.
“I had warned previously how members of the U.S. State Department and Hillary Clinton have pointedly remarked that part of the implementation of U.N. Resolution 16/18 will be an effort to utilize “techniques of peer pressure and shaming” to silence critics of Islamic shariah,” said Lafferty. “Little did I realize how quickly Clinton and her Islamist friends were set to make examples out of law-abiding Americans.”
Source: Traditional Values Coalition

MILWAUKEE – Police have arrested a 22-year-old Milwaukee woman after a man  was stabbed more than 300 times.

According to an affidavit accompanying a search warrant, the 18-year-old  Arizona man was bleeding from the neck, arms, legs and back when he called  police at about 9 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a local hospital.

The man told police he met the woman online and took a bus from Phoenix.  Court documents say once he arrived he was bound and stabbed over two days.

Documents quote the woman as saying the cutting was consensual during sex  but quickly got out of hand. She said her roommate is possibly involved in  satanic activities and did most of the cutting.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the woman is being held on $150,000  bail.

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