Hepatitis C hits prisons hard

By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service

LANSING —  As the opioid epidemic has spread, so has hepatitis C.  

Cases in Michigan rose faster than the national average from 2015 to 2016, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The effects can be seen throughout Michigan but most prominently in prisons where, according to the National Hepatitis Corrections Network, hepatitis C poses a significant health threat

There are currently about 2,700 reported cases of hepatitis C in Michigan correctional facilities, said Holly Kramer, a communications representative at the Department of Corrections. That’s 7 percent of the inmate population.

And that raises health and financial concerns for employees and administrators.

The contagious disease spreads through blood-to-blood contact and attacks the liver. It spreads most often when people share needles to inject drugs. It can also be spread through tattoo needles, tattoo ink, piercings and sexual activity.

Joe Coyle, manager of viral hepatitis infections at the Department of Health and Human Services, said that because law enforcement agencies target hard drug users, those with addictions often end up in prison.

With even fewer resources for drug use in prison, inmates share needles more often, making hepatitis C easier to spread.

“The liver is considered a non-complaining organ because you don’t feel pain when something is wrong with it,” said Jacqueline Dominguez, executive director of the American Liver Foundation Great Lakes Division. “That is why it is called the silent epidemic.”

Untreated hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

According to the Liver Foundation, once a person develops cirrhosis, scar tissue begins to replace regular liver tissue, blocking blood flow.

For those without insurance, the medicine for hepatitis C can cost as much as  $1,000 per daily pill for an 8-to-12 week treatment. Foundations may help lower the cost, but it can still be a burden, Dominguez said.

Young adults are hit the hardest as cases among those between 18 and 29 rose 473 percent from 2005 to 2016 in Michigan

According to Health and Human Services, 84.2 percent of patients in Michigan in the same age group reported injecting drugs.

Anita Lloyd, the communications director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, said,

“Inmates deserve quality medical care, and that includes hepatitis C treatment. Nourishing food and adequate medical care are two factors that go a long way in maintaining the safety, security and stability of prisons for inmates and staff alike.”

The organization is the union that represents corrections officers.

The Corrections Department’s Kramer said the average cost per prisoner for the treatment o is $25,815. In the past year, about 390 prisoners completed treatment with a 96 percent success rate.

The department receives $16.9 million per year to treat hepatitis C, Kramer said. That enables it t to treat at least 350 inmates, a number that represents fewer than  20 percent of those infected.

Coyle, of Health and Human Services, said prevention is key for protecting the health of prison staff and other inmates but that goal comes with challenges.

“Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C,”  Coyle said.

The best way to avoid its spread is avoiding contact with other people’s blood, he said. And  most effective way for drug users to avoid the disease is through stopping drug use altogether, but that’s not easy for addicts.

The Liver Foundation recommends counseling and rehabilitation. That can lower the spread and the rate of reinfection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Liver Foundation have resources for those affected by hepatitis C, including educational materials and help finding medical assistance.

No big push for tougher drunken driving standards

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — A new national report recommends that states lower their blood-alcohol content limits to .05 in an effort to better combat drunken driving, but Michigan lawmakers aren’t stampeding to do it.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) applauded the report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, saying many of the conclusions — like tighter sales restrictions to already-drunk persons — affirm the organization’s goals.

However, MADD disagreed with lowering the legal limit, saying there are “better, more effective pathways” to eliminating alcohol-related crashes.

The organization is not actively against lowering the state’s limit to .05, according to Angel Harris, victim services manager for Michigan MADD.

MADD doesn’t argue that a .05 limit “wouldn’t make a difference,” Harris said. “What we’re saying is that we don’t really know because there hasn’t been enough information gathered. The only state that has done that so far is Utah, and it just went into place.”

The Utah legislature voted to lower the state’s threshold to .05 last year.

MADD says the organization would rather focus its efforts on preventative measures like ignition interlocks, which require convicted drunken drivers to take a Breathalyzer test before their car will start.

A bill by Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, would mandate that first-time convicted drunken drivers use an interlock for at least 90 days or have their license suspended. Repeat offenders would be required to use the interlocks for even longer. The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

“The reason that the all-offender interlock law is being focused on more so at this time is because it’s already been passed in 30 states,” Harris said. “We’ve seen statistics from those states that show a decrease in the number of drunken driving offenses, the number of fatalities, the number of repeat offenders.

“There’s information out there that can show us the difference it makes to have that law,” she said.

Kesto said having an interlock law would let offenders keep their licenses, allowing them more opportunities for employment.

“People make mistakes, and we don’t want them to continue to do that, so that interlock will keep the streets safe,” Kesto said. Offenders “can keep their jobs, because they’ll be able to have transportation to get back and forth.”

MADD ranks Michigan as one of the worst states when it comes to drunken driving laws, due in part to the state’s lack of an all-offender interlock law.

It was the second-lowest scoring state for 2018, receiving one star out of a possible five. Only Montana scored lower, receiving a half-star.

Bill Amundsen of the Michigan Council on Alcohol Problems (MICAP) said the Legislature gets a low rating from his organization as well when it comes to curbing drunken driving.

Citing the influence of beer and wine distributors on legislators, Amundsen said Michigan has long seemed more interested in widening access to alcoholic beverages than preventing alcohol-related crashes.

“We try to encourage them to do better beverage alcohol public policy,” Amundsen said. “What they seem to follow is the hospitality industry.”

Amundsen said that getting Michigan to enforce a .05 limit has been a goal for MICAP and is now more realistic since Utah lowered its own threshold.

While the National Academies report concluded that the .08 limit isn’t low enough, it was uncertain as recently as five years ago whether Michigan’s limit would remain even at that level.

When Michigan reduced its limit from .1 to .08 in 2003, that legislation included a “sunset clause” that would return the limit to .1 in 2013. However, as the original deadline neared, the Legislature delayed it to 2018, later delaying it further to 2021.

Kesto, who sponsored the latest extension, said allowing the limit to revert to .1 would have cost Michigan federal funding. Co-sponsors of that extension included Reps. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, and Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, failure to comply with the federal standard of .08 could have cost the state $50 million a year in federal highway aid.

“I think it has been successful, because number one, you have people who are less intoxicated on the roads,” Kesto said. “But don’t forget, number two, we get federal funding as well to help maintain and fix roads.”

While the Legislature as a whole doesn’t receive high marks from MADD for its efforts on drunken driving, Kesto is an exception. He’s been named a “Legislator of the Year” by the organization three times: first in 2013, for his efforts to extend the .08 limit, and again in 2016 and 2017.

Kesto said he hadn’t seen “concrete data” to back up the National Academies study but is aware of other states possibly looking to reduce their limit.

Kesto said while reducing legal limits may make roads safer, only one legal limit would eliminate drunken driving: 0.00.

“You can make the assumption that .08 should go down to .05 so you have less intoxicated people, but it’s not about getting less intoxicated,” Kesto said. “You should be aiming for triple zeroes.”

Do juveniles understand their rights? Maybe not

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Through TV shows and movies, many Americans became familiar with Miranda rights for arrested suspects, but how well do juveniles understand those rights — to remain silent and to have a lawyer, even if they can’t afford to pay for one?

Not well at all, some experts say.

An American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study concluded that the Miranda rights are too complex and advanced for juveniles to understand.

Its report prompted police departments across the nation to develop and employ a simplified explanation for juveniles in custody.

In Washington state, for instance, the sheriff’s office in King County worked with the public defender’s office and a community nonprofit group to come up with simplified warnings.

Miranda rights go back to 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that law enforcement agencies advise suspects in custody about those rights before interrogation.

The Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice found that 10,728 crimes by juveniles were reported in the state in 2016.

John McKaig, who chairs the children’s law section of the State Bar of Michigan, said that when a suspect is in custody, “the police have to give you your Miranda warnings and tell you what you’re being charged with.”

McKaig, a lawyer in Mancelona, said juveniles “watch television, but if understanding their rights is a problem, the judge will understand that immediately and appoint an attorney.”

Lisa Halushka, an assistant dean at the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School campus in Auburn Hills, said, in Michigan, “There’s no written law or legislation that suggests that the police have to jump through extra hoops in order to get a juvenile confession admitted. However, law enforcement officers — to the extent that they can — ensure that juveniles understand their rights.”

There’s case law in Michigan suggesting that courts look at additional factors for juveniles than for adults, said Halushka.

That position was confirmed by Bill Vailliencourt, the Livingston County prosecutor.

“The court determines whether the rights were properly explained and waived. It looks at individual cases and the totality of circumstances,” he said.

Vailliencourt is vice president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Factors such as age, whether an adult or custodian was present during questioning, the juvenile’s background, education, prior experience with criminal law, mental and emotional health are all considered in determining whether the suspect fully understood his or her rights and knowingly waived them.

Vailliencourt explained that the state Supreme Court has expressed confidence in the language outlined in the Miranda rights and has repeatedly upheld it as adequate.

In the case of juveniles, the police have the flexibility to explain Miranda rights differently in different circumstances, he said.

Asked whether simplified warnings make it less likely that juveniles will confess to a crime as Miranda rights critics claim, Halushka  said, “That’s naïve.

“It’s human nature to want to talk ourselves out of a hole. Simplified Miranda warnings can help facilitate that process,” she said.

While simplified Miranda rights could be easier to understand,  Vailliencourt said that raises concerns.

“I can understand why the police may be reluctant to tailor how they present Miranda rights in specific cases. The court could question whether the language used was appropriate. If it’s found not to be, the court can suppress the juvenile’s confession,” he said.

Will the state consider adopting new Miranda rights for juveniles?

Halushka said, “I can’t speak into what Michigan will do, but I would rather see well redrafted Miranda rights in compliance with the current recommendations, read in court and approved by a judge rather than having protracted hearings.”

The question of whether Miranda rights are appropriate for juveniles comes at a time when Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill seeking to change Michigans juvenile criminal justice laws by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18.

Supporters of  his legislation argue that 17-year-olds are still developing mentally and,  just as they can’t vote, rent a car or buy cigarettes, they shouldn’t be treated as adults in criminal proceedings.

The bill is pending in the House Law and Justice Committee.

Lawmakers eye making cyberbullying a crime

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan would become the 17th state with criminal penalties for cyberbullying under a proposal in the Legislature that would make it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison if a bullied person dies.

The bill would make cyberbullying a misdemeanor with a potential maximum one-year jail term. However, if the bullying results in the death of the victim, it would become a felony.  

Current state law doesn’t specify what qualifies as cyberbullying.

Enforcement of penalties for online bullying creates the potential for a First Amendment viiolation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan.

“There is no Supreme Court decision for lower courts to go off of,” said Tara Mesyn, a former Mason High School teacher who is working on a study of cyberbullying laws at Michigan State University.

“The lack of precedent has caused interpretation of what is and what isn’t cyberbullying to be all over the place,” she said.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township.

“As it stands, a child’s parents are required to find representation and to pursue litigation for cyberbullying on their own,” Lucido said.

“With the passage of this bill, it would become possible for the state or justice system to act on cases of suicide and independently investigate potential acts of bullying,” he said.

The House Crime and Justice Committee was prepared to pass the bill before receiving a letter from the ACLU raising concerns that the law would violate freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

The committee will reconsider the bill later this year, said Lucido, vice chair of the committee.

According to ACLU of Michigan policy counsel Kimberly Buddin, “The broad scope of the bill ends up criminalizing speech online that would generally be protected.”

Buddin acknowledged that “advocating for someone to cause physical harm to another person would not fall under protected free speech.”

The Department of Education has taken a neutral stance on the legislation, according to its school safety consultant, Aimee Alaniz.

Drones raise issue: Who controls prison airspace?

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Now that drones fly in the face of state prisons, someawmakers want to restrict the airspace over and near those facilities.

Recently, drones have been spotted flying over state prisons, making officials nervous. Exacerbating their worries is contraband dropped by the drones into a prison.

“We receive reports of drones flying over or nearby multiple times a month, sometimes multiple times a week,” said Chris Gautz, the Department of Corrections public information officer. “It creates a huge strain on the facility. So when people are dropping cell phones, guns or drugs, it’s a huge security concern.”

Although no guns have yet been reported as dropped into prisons, both prison officials and state politicians are worried it could happen. Last summer, a drone dropped razors, drugs and cellphones behind a  prison fence, prompting some lawmakers to introduce bills that would outlaw the craft above or near prisons.

It’s  a safety issue, said Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, a primary sponsor of one of the bills. “I’ve heard from sheriffs from the three biggest counties in the state of Michigan concerned about this, so I decided to pick up the ball and run with it.”

His bill would outlaw the piloting of unmanned aircraft within 1,000 feet of state prisons, municipal police departments and state court buildings.  

The incident that prompted the legislation occurred last August at the Richard A. Handlon correctional facility in Ionia County. Three men were charged with smuggling weapons, drugs and cellphones into the prison.

Gautz said that because of the threat, when a drone is spotted near a prison and inmates are outside, sirens blare and prisoners are moved back to their cells. “We have to conduct a large-scale search of our entire prison grounds.”

A challenge for the state legislation is that regulating where drones can be flown flies into the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates airspace.

“I don’t know where this is going to go,” said Robert Goodwin, a senior geospatial analyst/project manager with Michigan State University. “I understand the spirit of the law, but the FAA stepping in will open a huge can of worms.’”

Drone piloting, whether as a hobby or for commercial purposes, is new airspace for the FAA, said Goodwin, who pilots drones for university research. Because flying drones is new, the FAA is unlikely to support state restrictions on where they can be flown. Often state governments try to regulate where drones can be flown but don’t have authority to do so.

“Typically communities try establishing ordinances that say, ‘Listen, you can’t fly over a park,’ which they have no jurisdiction over,” he said. “Even if they make that statement saying someone can’t, it won’t hold water.”

But another lawmaker, Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, says that because the FAA hasn’t restricted where drones can fly, the state can.

If the federal government decides it doesn’t want to regulate where drones can go, then sstates can,  Barrett said.

As Chirkun tackles drone restrictions, Barrett is sponsoring a bill to allow an agreement between the FAA and police agencies for local authorities to enforce regulations relating to operation of unmanned aircraft systems.

Other solutions besides outlawing drones above state prisons include making it difficult to fly them, Barrett said. But those technqiues are expensive and not perfected, like frequency jammers the military uses to block radio waves.

“I think in the absence of those solutions, we should at least regulate and make it a crime,’ he said. “I’m not the one that favors regulation, but one that likes public safety.”

Goodwin sees problems for both hobbyists and commercial drone pilots if the state’s airspace starts to get regulated.

“From my standpoint, if they are going to choose an area, put a circle around it and say you can’t fly here, that can limit you a lot,” he said. “There’s going to have be exceptions to the rule set in place.”

As soon as states or the FAA regulate where drones can go, more rules will follow, Goodwin said.

“What if prisons want to use drones themselves? Or maybe a farmer wants to do agriculture research on his dairy farm. There’s all sorts of crazy things that are going to happen over the next several years in terms of what will and will not be allowed.”

New technology would make 911 better, but at a cost

By JINGJING NIE
Capital News Service

LANSING — An improved emergency 911 system would allow Michigan residents to text police if they are held hostage by an active shooter.

Crime victims could text for help without alerting a burglar in the next room.

And police could accurately locate crime victims who use cell phones to report when they are threatened.

But lawmakers are now struggling to figure out how to pay for the expansion of the new system called Next Generation 911.

“The problem we have right now is many 911 centers around the state are only able to trace a call to a landline,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who has introduced a bill to expand the Next Generation 911 system beyond the 33 counties that have it now.  “However, most people nowadays are changing to cellphones.”

The current 911 system is almost 40 years old. Meanwhile, around 70 percent of 911 calls are made from cellphones that cannot be accurately traced, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Michigan residents now pay 19 cents a month for state 911 fees per device. Prepaid wireless users pay 1.92 percent per retail transaction.

If the bill passes, the state 911 fees would go up to 25 cents per month, and prepaid wireless users would pay 4.53 percent per retail transaction.

Without the change, even the counties that already have Next Generation 911 will lose it when their funding runs out next year, said Harriet Miller-Brown, the state 911 coordinator.

“Even though they have it, it won’t be paid for, and there is no more money for new counties to join,” Miller-Brown said.

Next Generation 911 makes it easier for dispatchers to help each other out when they are flooded with calls, said Thom Sumbler, vice president of sales and business development for Peninsula Fiber Network, which installs systems for counties.

Dispatchers are flooded with calls when accidents happen, said Sumbler. ”There might be only two or three people taking calls and they might be getting 25-30 calls at one time,”

If someone called in about an unrelated heart attack, the call might not go through with the old system, he said. With the Next Generation 911, calls can be routed to dispatch centers that are less busy.

“This is an enormous improvement,” Sumbler said.

Next Generation 911 also allows users to text to 911.

“Always call when you can, text when you can’t,” said Jason Torrey, director of Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch/911 and the president of the Michigan Communication Directors Association.

But under certain circumstances, text is the better option.

“If you’re a victim of domestic violence and the assailant is in the immediate vicinity and you don’t feel safe placing a voice call, you can use that text solution to silently notify dispatch and 911 that you need help,” Torrey said. “We’ve had that occur, right here in our own town.”

The feature is also helpful for people who are deaf or partially deaf, Torrey said.

Next Generation 911 is also more reliable.

“With the older system, one backhoe digging the line somewhere can take out multiple 911 centers,” said Torrey.

With the newer system, there is always another route so that call can be delivered, he said.

“There are so many opportunities and so much diversity that you can have with this new network,” said Torrey.

The bill was referred to Energy and Technology Committee.

Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Public policy advocates say it’s common sense to raise the age for a person to be tried in Michigan criminal courts as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.

The reason is, young people in adult prisons are at higher risk for sexual assault, restraint, solitary confinement and suicide, they say.

“We are a super-minority in the nation when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Placing them in juvenile facilities also gives them a better chance to rehabilitate, advocates say.

“In contrast, young people in the juvenile justice system have opportunities for education, rehabilitative programs and interventions that may help them to succeed,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, a national public interest law firm.

But county officials are unsure who will pay for the hundreds of 17-year-olds and younger in the adult system who would move to juvenile facilities.

Lowering the age would create a lot of changes to the juvenile justice system, and the counties could be unprepared for those changes, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Currently, the state and the counties are responsible for the upkeep and care of prisons. Counties pay for juvenile facilities.

Bills passed the  House in 2016 to raise the age from 17-years-old to 18-years-old but the Senate is waiting for a cost study commissioned by the Legislature before moving the bills.

The Association of Counties has been worried about the pending bills in the past for monetary reasons. County funding has been down since the 2008 recession, and the state is underfunding county programs, it says.

Furthermore, the  association says the proposed legislation does not require the state to cover additional local costs.

Costs are expected to go up for counties but the actual amount is unknown and will depend on the results of the cost study that was commissioned by the Legislature, Bosworth said.

The cost study is expected to be released within months. The study will look to see if there are savings for treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Since potential costs are unknown, the impact on counties financially is unknown but rural and more northern counties could feel a larger burden, Bosworth said.

The Human Impact Partners, a national public policy research and advocacy group, studied juvenile facilities, adult facilities and community-based programming in Michigan. To house a youth in a juvenile facility costs nearly $179,000 a year while to house a youth in an adult facility it costs just over $40,000 per year.

The counties are worried they won’t be able to adequately fund the transition of prisoners from the adult system to the juvenile system and afford the higher costs of the juvenile system.

Advocates are adamant that the age for adult prisons needs to be raised. Michigan is one of only five states in which the age to be tried as an adult is not 18..

Kids who commit crimes need rehabilitation at a facility equipped to handle their developmental status and recognizes they are not adults, Guevara-Warren said.

“In other parts of our laws, 17-year-olds aren’t old enough to vote, they’re not legally old enough to drop out of school, they’re not old enough to buy fireworks,” Guevara Warren said.

Other reasons to raise the age stem from the more supportive treatment of young people in juvenile systems, which allows them to stay in touch with families and communities.

“It’s designed to help young people with their education and to provide treatment and rehabilitation,” Feierman said. “When the juvenile justice system is really working well, it is an intervention that helps young people. The criminal justice system just isn’t designed to fulfill those goals.”

The battle over raising the age, however, is not about the policy implications but over how to pay for it.

Feierman and Guevara Warren said states are recognizing the age raise is better policy and better financially in the long run.

“Youth prosecuted as adults earn 40 percent less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system which translates in a loss of state tax revenue and economic productivity,” Guevara Warren said.

Fantasy sports websites may have to pay for state license

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan could join 16 states in regulating fantasy sports that offer cash prizes.

Bills that have been approved in committee seek to clarify fantasy sports as a dominantly skill-based game exempt from gambling laws. Right now they are unregulated in Michigan — anyone can sponsor a league and anyone can play.

The bills would bar anyone under 18 from playing the games and bar contests from being based on youth sports, high school sports or college sports. They also would  require operators of the games, including FanDuel and DraftKings, to apply for a license to operate in the state.

A license would cost $5,000 and have an annual $1,000 renewal fee.

The attorney general has not labeled fantasy sports gambling.

The bills, put forward by Sens. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, label fantasy sports as a game of skill, not gambling. They passed the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee 7-0 and were recommended to the Senate floor without amendment.

Hertel testified before the  committee on Oct. 11, saying he felt the games needed regulation to avoid a ruling by the attorney general and to avoid potentially having more than a million residents breaking the law. If the attorney general decides the games are gambling, they would be regulated by the gambling laws.

Players select fake teams of real life athletes and compete against each other. Points are awarded based on the real-life athletes’ statistics collected in the game that day or week. Winners of the leagues often receive monetary prizes.

Skill games are based on strategy and knowledge of the game. Fantasy sports could be considered skill-based because players have to research the athletes, the team they play for and allocate money properly to craft the right team.

Supporters of daily fantasy sports say the games are skill-based as it takes a certain level of knowledge to consistently craft winning teams.

“It is a difficult skill to allocate assets and choose which players have the best chance of success, similar to how a pro sports team general manager does the same thing,” said Marc LaVorgna, a press representative for DraftKings and FanDuel, the two main daily for-profit fantasy sports websites.

LaVorgna also provided real-world sports as an example of skill-based decisions, as real sports executives must make decisions on which players will be beneficial to team goals.

“It’s about making decisions on a consistent basis that give you the best chance at success,” he said.

Gambling-based games have to meet the criteria of prize, consideration and uncertain outcome in Michigan, said David Murley, deputy director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Prize is the reward given out to winners. Consideration is buying into the game, such as putting a dollar into a slot machine or buying a lottery ticket.

“What if something is a game of skill? Well, if there’s an uncertain outcome and it meets the other two things, then at least it would seem to fall in the broad definition of gambling,” Murley said.

Supporters of fantasy games argue that it’s a skill because its based on their knowledge of the sport, its players and the strategy of creating teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

The popularity of fantasy games has grown into daily fantasy sports in which players pay into the league that day. They construct teams under a salary cap where each real athlete costs a certain amount of money to be placed on a team.

Cash prizes are awarded to the winner based on the fees paid by the players that day. Two of the most popular websites for daily fantasy are FanDuel and DraftKings.

The Gaming Control Board hasn’t taken a position on whether fantasy sports are gambling or skill based.

But it’s not clear-cut, as elements of both skill and chance are at play.

“Sometimes it’s not easy to draw the line between where the skill ends and the chance begins,” Murley said.

According to Hertel’s testimony, approximately 1.6 million Michigan residents partake in some form of fantasy sports for cash. These bills would mean exemption from gambling laws, clarification over just where the games fall and regulation of the fantasy sports sites.

The bills call for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to conduct licensing.

The Gaming Control Board argues that it’s the best fit to manage the operation, however.

“This is our business,” Murley said. “We’re in this world. We know things about consumer protection, we know things about gaming payouts, we know about licensing these people and some of the issues we’re likely to see. We know about entities that are part of a larger enterprise.”

Murley said the gaming board is familiar with larger companies that own gaming divisions such as Dan Gilbert’s Greektown Casino in Detroit and the Ilitch family’s MotorCity Casino. With this knowledge, it argues it can better serve consumers.

“If we’re going to have this, then really this should go to the gaming control board,” Murley said.

Major recycling scam ends in indictment

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A bogus scheme to build an eco-friendly “green energy” waste processing facility in Detroit defrauded lenders and investors — including Chinese investors hoping to qualify for U.S. visas — of $4,475,000, according to a federal grand jury.

Project promoter Ronald Van Den Heuvel promised the victims that his Green Box-Detroit would build and operate a facility to recycle paper, process other waste and produce synthetic fuel, the indictment charged.

He also sought approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) to issue $95 million to $125 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the project’s $200 million price tag, legal documents said.

In a related civil suit against Van Den Heuvel and Green Box-Detroit, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said, “He claimed that he had developed a breakthrough recycling process that could turn post-consumer waste into usable products. He represented that the Green Box process would be both environmentally friendly and profitable, and would allow Green Box-Detroit to repay investors.”

But it was a scam because Van Den Heuvel never acquired the promised facility or equipment and used the money for other purposes, the indictment said.

The Detroit scheme was disclosed in a broad indictment accusing Van Den Heuvel of fraudulently obtaining more than $9 million in investments and loans in Wisconsin and Michigan between 2011 and 2015. He promised to “turn post-consumer waste from sources like fast food restaurants completely into usable consumer products and energy,” the U.S. Attorney’s office in Milwaukee said in announcing the indictment.

“As represented by Van Den Heuvel, the Green Box business plan was to purchase the equipment and facilities necessary to employ a proprietary process that could convert solid waste into consumer products and energy, without any wastewater discharge or landfilling of byproducts,” the indictment said.

Van Den Heuvel, who lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, diverted more than $3.9 million of the $9 million for personal uses, the indictment and SEC suit said. Among them: $44,000 for Green Bay Packers football tickets; $57,000 for court-ordered support for his ex-wife; $89,000 for a new Cadillac Escalade; $16,570 for his children’s private school tuition; and $33,000 for his wife’s dental work.

He also falsified financial statements that “grossly inflated his personal wealth and his companies’ assets,” the indictment said.

His defense lawyer, Robert LeBell of Milwaukee, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The primary victims of the Detroit project were nine investors from China who poured $4,475,000 into the failed endeavor. They’d hoped to become permanent residents — green card-holders — by investing at least $500,000 each under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services EB-5 Immigrant Investment Program.

Van Den Heuvel worked through Green Detroit Regional Center, which is owned by a Georgia law firm that is authorized to operate in Wayne, Livingston, St. Claire, Lapeer and Macomb counties, court documents said. The center finds “foreign clients, mainly from China and South Korea, to invest in large alternative energy projects,” according to its website.

The Green Box-Detroit project was portrayed as creating 35 direct and indirect jobs per each Chinese investor.

“Green Detroit Regional Center promoted the EB-5 investments in Green Box Detroit based on Van Den Heuvel’s representations,” the SEC suit said. It said the chief executive officer of the Green Detroit Regional Center, Georgia lawyer Simon Ahn, marketed the project to investors through immigration consultants in China.

Neither Ahn nor Green Detroit Regional Center have been charged or sued by the SEC.

Ahn said, “If the charges are true, it is completely shocking to learn about the extent that Ron Van Den Heuvel hid the truth from me,” the center and investors.

“All of us visited the plants in Wisconsin many times, including the potential site in Detroit, and everything checked out fine. All the financials from a recognized accounting firm indicated that everything was proceeding on track, Ahn said.

The SEC suit said Van Den Heuvel falsely told investors that the MEDC had approved tax exempt bonds for the project. However, the MEDC rejected the request after discovering five tax liens, one construction lien, two state tax warrants, four civil judgments and three civil lawsuits, according to court documents.

“Van Den Heuvel did not satisfy MEDC’s concerns. He did not provide additional information to the MEDC, and did not provide a satisfactory explanation for the issues that it had raised,” the SEC suit said.

MEDC vice president of marketing and communications Emily Guerrant said “Yes, they did approach us. No, we never engaged with them.”

Ahn said it is likely that a receivership will be established to help Chinese investors recoup their money. He said it is “hard to determine at this point” whether they will qualify for green cards.

The grand jury accused Van Den Heuvel of wire fraud and illegal financial transactions. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the federal government is seeking to recoup the proceeds of the alleged fraud.

Earlier this month, Van Den Heuvel pleaded guilty under a separate 2016 indictment in a bank fraud conspiracy case. Charges against his wife and a bank loan officer in that case are still open.

State agencies unite to reduce mental illness in jails

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Up to 64 percent of county jail inmates in Michigan have some form of mental illness.

And while lawmakers discuss ways to reduce that number, law enforcement officers have put their own solutions to the test.

“Police chiefs are saying, ‘We’re spending tons of time with individuals with severe mental illness in the community and then we’re bringing them to jail,’” said Ross Buitendorp, a board member of the Mental Health Diversion Council.

Jails have become mental health hospitals, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Koops estimates between 45 and 65 percent of county jail inmates receive some form of psychotropic medication for mental illness, and 90 to 95 percent have some type of substance abuse problems.

Jails are not the best places to treat people with mental illness, Buitendorp said, so agencies are working together to identify and treat those who need help.

Law enforcement agencies are tackling the problem by increasing use of a decades-old program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, Buitendorp said. The 40-hour class trains officers to better identify people with mental illness, and intervene in a smarter way.

A CIT-trained officer can recognize symptoms that someone who is suicidal, bipolar or schizophrenic might show during times of stress.

“What the officer does is look at the behavior of the person in front of them, and run it against the symptoms they’ve been trained in,” said Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. “So when they see these things, they can separate the conduct driven by a mental health crisis as opposed to criminal conduct.”

The goal after recognizing those symptoms is slowing things down. Officers have time on their side, Diaz said.

“They’re going to try to open lines of communication using a set of skills called ‘active listening,’” Diaz said.

Active listening is an effort to hear what the person is saying. That can take time because many mentally ill patients have thought-process problems. But a successful attempt can calm the individuals instead of further agitating them.

In addition to keeping people with mental illness out of jail, CIT training also emphasizes diverting patients already behind bars to a mental care facility. Officials without such training are much less likely to move a person with a mental health crisis to an appropriate facility.

While Michigan doesn’t keep track of the reduced number of injuries during these interactions, other cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where CIT training has been in wider use, show the training works, Diaz said.

So Michigan agencies are doing more of it. The Community Mental Health Board of Clinton, Ingham and Eaton Counties reports 95 cases of the method used in the last year. lt expects to have 160 officers trained before 2018.

Buitendorp is also the director of substance abuse at Network180, a community health agency in Kent County that has helped train 80 officers.

“The police departments and the emergency departments are our biggest fans and our biggest partners,” Buitendorp said, “because we all serve the same clients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says the increased training is a great first step to addressing larger issues like mass incarceration of undeserving individuals.

“Recognizing that mental health issues are at the base of a lot of these criminal charges is so important,” said Shelli Weisenberg, ACLU’s political director. “Putting the resources for the training, creating those collaborations even though we don’t have resources in place, it’s a fabulous first start.”

The money comes from grants distributed by the federal government and the jail-diversion committee, donations from organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and increased commitments from police agencies willing to send officers to be trained.

For example, Oakland County has a mental crisis center, called Common Ground, designed for people needing immediate mental help. It’s an important stop for many police officers who need to drop off a mentally ill person, said Jeff Kapuscinski, the director of business development at the agency.

“We think that the programs and services we provide for people in those situations are not only more appropriate for the care they might need at that moment, but it’s also less costly for taxpayers than sending them to jail,” Kapuscinski said.

Kapuscinski says Common Ground is one of only a handful of agencies of its kind in the country. The agency diverted 431 people from jail in 2015, saving Oakland County more than $5 million.

The savings represent progress, Kapuscinski said, but it’s not more than money is necessary. A lack of material resources, like available beds in hospitals, is a serious problem for mentally ill patients.

“Frequently, it’s been our experience that folks experiencing mental health issues or a mental health crisis are lower in terms of the priority of being served in an emergency department,” Kapuscinski said. “That’s when emergency department boarding becomes an issue.”

Both Koops and Kapuscinski agree it’s not uncommon for inmates to wait weeks for an open spot.

“The number-one issue up here is not training, it’s the availability of bed space for mental health patients,” said Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clarmont. “We had a violent offender with mental issues a little while ago who waited three days before we got a bed for him.”

AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, which covers Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties, averages three to four such individuals a year. Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which covers six counties in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, diverted 30 people people from jail.

Clarmont requires that all of his officers receive training every 24 months, but those training sessions are less in-depth than some that are hosted further south.

“We can train them for the very short term,” he said. “But we are not mental health officials. To be frank, we don’t have the medication or facilities.”

Despite the mountain of barriers many sheriffs and community health officials have begun to climb, other public figures involved in the conversation are on the move. In July, 2017 the MiLegislature created the House C.A.R.E.S. task force made up of 14 lawmakers. The group is charged with addressing the growing issue of mental health, and that includes mental health reform in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve identified through the first meetings of the task force, perhaps we can do a better job of communication when someone enters the corrections area,” said Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, a member of the task force. “We have to find the best way to care for these folks.”

For Koops, of the Sheriffs’ Association, the pivot toward more help for the mentally ill is a welcome first step toward solving an old problem.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” he said. “And this is the first time in 42 years I’ve actually seen some coalitions come together to see this issue and want to work and make it better.”