Saturday, February 7, 2015

Last Call For An NBC Nightly News Dump

Nope, Brian Williams's career did not survive the weekend.

In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.

As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

That "next several days" will most likely be "permanent".

Meanwhile, the entirety of FOX News is still employed.  Go figure.

A Taxing Ordeal Online

Well, I hope you weren't planning to do your 2014 taxes this weekend using TurboTax.  You know, like I was.

Up to 18 states are reporting significant upticks in fraudulent activity and there may be a common thread: tax preparation software. 
Individual State Departments of Revenue are loathe to name names but have been quick to point the finger away from their own systems.

Alabama, Minnesota, and Utah state tax offices have already released statements, and tax software company Intuit has now put all state e-filing on hold.

Following up on taxpayer concerns, Intuit announced that it is working with state agencies to address the problem. Intuit reached out to Palantir, a third party security expert, to make a preliminary investigation of the most recent fraud activities. The initial findings have led Intuit to believe that these instances of fraud did not result from a security breach of its systems. Instead, the company believes that the information used to file fraudulent returns was obtained from other sources outside the tax preparation process. 
Intuit stressed that they are continuing to investigate. “We understand the role we play in this important industry issue and continuously monitor our systems in search of suspicious activity,” said Brad Smith, Intuit president and chief executive officer. “We’ve identified specific patterns of behavior where fraud is more likely to occur. We’re working with the states to share that information and remedy the situation quickly. We will continue to engage them on an ongoing basis in an effort to stop fraud before it gets started.” 
So what’s next? As of yesterday, Thursday, February 5, Intuit is temporarily pausing transmission of state e-filing tax returns. This is effective for all states. Intuit will be working with the states today to begin turning transmissions back on
If you have already filed your state tax return using Intuit software during this temporary pause, you’ll just have to wait it out: taxpayers will have their returns transmitted as soon as possible. There’s nothing that you can do just yet. Trying to file again will just cause you more delays down the road.

In other words, Intuit believes that fraudsters who have obtained SSNs and addresses from sources other than TurboTax are filing bogus tax returns in order to get bogus tax refunds.  All that is fine and great until the actual person tries to file their income tax information, and they discover that there's already an income tax return filed for them that year.

It gets ugly, fast.  While this isn't so much of a problem with federal returns (as they started cracking down on that a couple years ago) states are behind the curve, hence this year's state e-file return fraud alerts.

Hopefully Intuit will get this looked at soon.

More Problems For Christie

New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie may have been able to slough off Bridgegate, but now he has a whole new batch of problems to deal with as Christie and his administration are now under federal investigation for stopping grand jury investigations of his supporters.

Two criminal investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday interviewed the man who leveled those charges, Bennett Barlyn. He was fired from the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office in August 2010, and subsequently brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Christie administration, claiming he had been punished for objecting to the dismissal of the indictments of the governor's supporters for a range of corrupt activities. 
Barlyn told IBTimes that he met with the federal investigators at his Pennsylvania home for more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon. He said they specifically focused on why Christie’s then-attorney general, Paula Dow, had moved to expunge the indictments. The investigators are examining what state and federal laws may have been broken in the process. Barlyn said the investigators appeared to be at an exploratory stage, with no certainty that criminal charges would ultimately be filed. The meeting followed a June letter to Barlyn from New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman, instructing Barlyn to be in touch with his office’s investigative team about the case. 
The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment. Christie has denied any involvement in Barlyn's termination, while maintaining that he does not even know the men and women he has been accused of aiding. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment. 

So what happened?  Looks like the last straight arrow New Jersey prosecutor got his legs cut out from under him.

The case centers on exurban/rural Hunterdon County, in western New Jersey along the Delaware River. There, Barlyn claims, then-county Sheriff Deborah Trout ran her office like a private fiefdom, hiring her friends without respect to their experience, and without initiating proper background checks as mandated by state law. 
Barlyn’s office began probing Trout in 2008, eventually convening a grand jury that returned 43 indictments against her, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. The Christie administration then intervened, took over the prosecution and -- in an extraordinary step -- moved to have the grand jury indictments overturned, saying they were legally and factually deficient. When Barlyn raised objections, he was fired.

Now it's entirely possible that Barlyn really was on a witch hunt and looking to collect Sheriff Trout's head for whatever reason, but the Christie team both taking over the investigation and then killing all 43 counts seems at best highly unethical and at worst blatantly illegal.

It's yet another strike against a guy with way too much baggage to ever win a GOP primary for the 2016 nomination, let alone win the White House.  With all the accusations of "Chicago Way cronyism" against Obama shouted into the ether by tea party knuckleheads, this is what that particular crime actually looks like, Jersey style.
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