My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘Bill Sparkman’

Police release 911 tape from death of Ky. census worker

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Police records released yesterday showed that Kentucky census worker William Sparkman, found hanging from a tree near a cemetery in November, had told a friend of his plan to commit suicide.

WKYT in Lexington, Ky., has audio from the 911 tape from the day Sparkman’s body was found. At the time, police said Sparkman’s death was a suicide staged to look like a murder, but further details — including the 911 call and that Sparkman had disclosed his plans to a friend — were not released until this week.

Listen to the 911 tape here (it’s about a minute in to the segment).

Police say Ky. census worker told friend of suicide plan

Friday, January 15th, 2010

An update from the Associated Press on the death of William Sparkman, a census worker in Kentucky who was found dead in an apparent suicide in November:

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Police who investigated the death of an eastern Kentucky census worker found naked, bound and hanging from a tree learned that he told a friend he intended to kill himself and that he had chosen the time, place and method to do it.

Police records about the death of Bill Sparkman were released Friday to The Associated Press.

Sparkman was found near a rural cemetery in September with the word “fed” scrawled on his chest. It triggered a state and federal investigation that ultimately found he had committed suicide.

MyTwoCensus Investigation Into Why Alaska Felon/Murderer Worked For Census Bureau In Supervisory Role

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Last week, we discovered that Thom Gruenig was a convicted felon in Alaska turned Census Bureau Supervisor turned murderer, so logically we wanted to know why in the world the Census Bureau hired him…After five days of waiting for an official response from DC headquarters, we finally got one…

Here is the official statement from the Census Bureau followed by the official answers to questions posed by MyTwoCensus.com:

“We are saddened to learn of this tragic event. Following established
procedures, Mr. Gruenig’s name and fingerprints were submitted to the FBI
for a background check and he was not in their criminal database.”

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Q:    What can you tell us about Thom Gruenig and his employment by the
Census Bureau

A:    Like all 2010 Census employees, after passing an FBI background check
based on his name, social security number and birth date, Mr. Gruenig
submitted two sets of fingerprints that were matched against the
FBI’s criminal database. No criminal record was found. Mr. Gruenig
was then hired in March 2009 as a field operations supervisor for the
Census Bureau in Fairbanks, Alaska. He worked with remote Alaska
Native villages in preparation for the 2010 Census.

Q:    Did the Census Bureau know about Mr. Gruenig’s prior criminal record?

A:    No. As with all census applicants being considered for employment,
Mr. Gruenig’s name, social security number, birth date and
fingerprints were submitted for an FBI criminal background check. He
was not in their criminal database.

Q:    Do you still have confidence in the background check system?

A:    Yes. The FBI’s National Name Check Program is considered the
preeminent investigative determination for pre-employment vetting and
background investigation.  More than 70 federal and state agencies
have confidence in the FBI’s service. The program utilizes criminal
data submitted by state and local law enforcement agencies.  Based
upon Census Bureau results gathered over the last ten years, FBI name
checks failed to identify less than half of 1% of criminal records.

Q:    What criminal activities would disqualify an applicant for Census
employment?

A:    A conviction for the offenses below will likely disqualify an
applicant for employment. However, this list is not all-inclusive;
there may be additional types of offenses for which a conviction
depending on the date, severity, and nature of the offense, may
render an individual unsuitable for hire.

·  manufacturing/sale of any controlled substance
·  breaking & entering
·  burglary
·  armed robbery
·  embezzlement
·  grand theft
·  violent crimes against person or property (includes assault,
battery, kidnapping, manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, murder,
arson)
·  crimes against children
·  sexual offense (includes sexual harassment, sexual misconduct,
sexual assault, rape, statutory rape)
·  weapons charge (includes carrying concealed weapon, possession of
illegal weapon, sale of firearms)
·  terrorism
·  voter fraud/voter registration crimes
·  identity theft

Q:    Approximately how many people will likely undergo background checks?

A:    For total 2010 operations, name checks will be requested for
approximately 3.8 million applicants. Ultimately, about 1.36 million
applicants who successfully pass the FBI name check will be hired and
will undergo an FBI fingerprint check.

MyTwoCensus Investigation and Editorial: Skeptical Over Sparkman Outcome Until More Details Are Provided

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Since yesterday’s revelation by the Kentucky State Police, FBI, U.S. Forest Service,State Medical Examiner’s Office and the Clay County Coroner’s Office, that the death of  Census Bureau employee William E. Sparkman, Jr., “based upon evidence and witness testimony” was “an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide,” many eyebrows have been raised.

Now, insurance fraud is definitely a common occurrence, but to take one’s own life for a small payout is extreme, and cursory searches on Google reveal that this case provides many of the top hits when searching for a suicide that was staged to look like a murder. Thus, this is a very rare occurrance, so these conclusions should be further examined before the door on this case is shut forever.

According to the Associated Press, “Sparkman ‘told a credible witness that he planned to commit suicide and provided details on how and when.’

Authorities wouldn’t say who Sparkman told of his plan, but said Sparkman talked about it a week before his suicide and the person did not take him seriously. He told the person he believed his lymphoma, which he had previously been treated for, had recurred, police said.

Sparkman also had recently taken out two accidental life insurance policies totaling $600,000 that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. One policy was taken out in late 2008; the other in May.

On November 12, The Huffington Post reported the following:

“If it’s deemed suicide, there’s no point in even looking at insurance,” Josh Sparkman said. “There’s no such thing as suicide insurance. The money is not the concern. I just want to know what happened to my dad.”

Sparkman’s naked body was found Sept. 12 near a family cemetery in a heavily wooded area of southeastern Kentucky. One of the witnesses who found the body said the 51-year-old was bound with duct tape, gagged and had an identification badge taped to his neck. Authorities have confirmed “Fed” was written on his chest likely in pen.

Josh Sparkman, 20, who is unemployed, said he’s convinced his father could not have committed suicide, even though law enforcement officials previously told the AP on condition of anonymity that they are looking closely at that possibility and increasingly doubt he was killed because of his government job.

Yet after yesterday’s announcement, Sparkman’s own mother wrote to the Associated Press, referring to the swift conclusion of the case, “I disagree!”

With so many people worried about a lack of participation in the 2010 Census, federal and state agencies had every reason to end this case quickly and quietly. Until the hard evidence about how Sparkman masterminded his own death is provided, this conclusion should be taken as theory, not a fact. While it is interesting to hear basic details in the AP report (“On Tuesday, authorities for the first time released key details such as Sparkman’s wrists being bound so loosely that he could have done the taping himself. Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said an analysis found that the “fed” on his chest was written “from the bottom up.” He was touching the ground almost to his knees, and to survive “all Mr. Sparkman had to do at any time was stand up,” she said.), more evidence that goes beyond circumstantial evidence must be provided to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no other parties were involved in this heinous act.

An autopsy report on Sparkman’s body is still pending, so we await the result of that investigation, as well as a more comprehensive report from the federal and state agencies responsible for overseeing this case.

Kentucky State Police Report on Bill Sparkman’s Death

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

The following is the Kentucky State Police Report on Census Bureau employee Bill Sparkman’s death:

The Kentucky State Police Post 11 in London, with the assistance of the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, the State Medical Examiner’s Office and the Clay County Coroner’s Office, has concluded the investigation into the death of William E. Sparkman, Jr. The investigation, based upon evidence and witness testimony, has concluded that Mr. Sparkman died during an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide.

While all the details of the investigation will not be released at this time, the unusual level of attention and speculation attributed to Mr. Sparkman’s death necessitates this release of information. The investigation indicates that Mr. Sparkman died of asphyxiation/strangulation at the same location where he was discovered in Clay County, Ky. Despite the fact that Mr. Sparkman was found hands, feet and mouth bound with duct tape, rope around his neck and the word “FED” written on his chest, analysis of the evidence determined Mr. Sparkman’s death was self-inflicted.

A thorough examination of evidence from the scene, to include DNA testing, as well as examination of his vehicle and his residence resulted in the determination that Mr. Sparkman, alone, handled the key pieces of evidence with no indications of any other persons involved. Witness statements, which are deemed credible, indicate Mr. Sparkman discussed ending his own life and these discussions matched details discovered during the course of the investigation.

It was learned that Mr. Sparkman had discussed recent federal investigations and the perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities by some residents of Clay County. It was also discovered during the investigation that Mr. Sparkman had recently secured two life insurance policies for which payment for suicide was precluded.

All tips and leads, including those from the public, were thoroughly investigated but were found to be inconsistent with any known facts or evidence. It is the conclusion of the Kentucky State Police, the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, the State Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Clay County Coroner’s Office that Mr. Sparkman died in an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide.

Breaking News: Police: Kentucky census worker committed suicide, staged scene

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

This just in from CNN…(MyTwoCensus.com will publish an editorial about this finding tomorrow morning):

(CNN) — A Kentucky census worker who was found dead in September committed suicide and staged the scene to look like a homicide, authorities said Tuesday.

The body of William E. Sparkman Jr., 51, was found September 12 near a cemetery in southeastern Kentucky’s Clay County.

He had a rope around his neck that was tied to a tree, but his body was touching the ground, authorities said. He had “Fed” written on his chest in black ink, Kentucky State Police said Tuesday, but forensic analysis showed he wrote it himself with a felt pen.

“Analysis of the evidence determined Mr. Sparkman’s death was self-inflicted,” police said in a statement.

“A thorough examination of evidence from the scene, to include DNA testing, as well as examination of his vehicle and his residence resulted in the determination that Mr. Sparkman, alone, handled the key pieces of evidence with no indications of any other persons involved.”

Interview with Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Friday, October 9, 2009 I interviewed Robert Goldenkoff, who has worked for more than 20 years at the Government Accountability Office and currently serves as the GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues. One of his many areas of focus is the 2010 Census, which the GAO defined as a high risk operation in a March 2008 report. On Thursday October 8, Mr. Goldenkoff faced questions at a Senate hearing investigating the 2010 Census. In the following interview he discusses the recent fingerprinting problems that he shared with Congress and many other long-term issues with the decennial census.

SRM: What led to the discovery that there could have been criminals hired by the Census Bureau?

RG: We’re looking at all aspects of the Census Bureau’s readiness for the 2010 Census. The decennial census is so huge that we’re focusing a lot of our work on areas where the Census Bureau doesn’t have a lot of experience, where they haven’t done that particular operation before. One of those areas is fingerprinting. In the past, at least for the 2000 Census, they relied only on a name background check. That was why we included fingerprinting as part of our review, because it was a new operation. They’ve been doing the census pretty much the same way  – obviously technology changes – but, the fundamental approach to the 2010 Census is very similar to say the 1970 Census. So if there’s going to be an issue, it’s more likely in something that they’ve never done before.

SRM: Why is your office investigating this rather than the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office? Or were you working together on this?

RG: We are two independent agencies, two different reporting authorities. We do work together, collaborate and coordinate our work just so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Sometimes we work in the same areas and other times we work in different areas, depending on facts and circumstances.

SRM: Where did you get the figure that you reported to Congress that 200 criminals could have been hired by the 2010 Census? And can you clarify what “could have been hired” means?

RG: It’s strictly based on the percentages. There were 162,000 people in total hired for address canvassing. 1,800 passed the name background check but their fingerprints revealed that they had criminal records. Of those, 750 were disqualified for census employment, because their criminal records were such that they were ineligible for census employment. All we did was project those same ratios for the 35,700 people who went through the name background check but whose fingerprints could not be read. So it’s strictly a projection. It’s unfortunate that the reporting of this was not always accurate or perhaps sensationalized it. We’re not saying that 200 criminals did work on the census, but we’re saying that based on that projection it’s possible.

SRM: During the summer, I was contacted by a man named David Allburn who runs a company called National Fingerprints, LLC, which can be found at NationalFingerprints.com. His firm placed a bid with the Census Bureau to receive a contract to handle the fingerprinting of employees, because right now prospective employees are fingerprinted by other Census Bureau employees who are not well trained in fingerprinting. David informed me that someone who is an experienced criminal would know that it’s very simple to smudge your fingerprints and make them unreadable by simply pressing your hand too hard on the paper when your fingers are being rolled in the ink. The Census Bureau chose not to use David’s company but rather to conduct the operation on their own without outside help. Of course part of the reason David called me originally because he was upset that his company wasn’t chosen for the contract, but he was also concerned that the 2010 Census operations would be infiltrated by criminals. At first I figured David could be overexaggerating this scenario, but now I know that he was absolutely right. So I’m wondering, do you have any idea why David’s method was rejected?

RG: No idea.

SRM: I’ve also heard from many sources that after people have been hired by the Census Bureau and started to work, their criminal background check reports came in later, and only then, after they already had access to a significant amount of data, were they fired. Why did this happen?

RG: I don’t know. Our point to all of this was not to scare people or anything like that. Our point was to make it clear to the Bureau that they need to have a better policy, or at least have a better policy for those people whose fingerprints can’t be read. With so many people working on the census, even if only a small percentage of fingerprints are flawed, you’re still talking about a substantial number of people.

SRM: Has the Census Bureau done anything to try to fix this flawed system?

RG: It is important to point out though that the Bureau has acknowledged that they have a problem with this and they are taking steps, improving training for example, to improve how the fingerprints are actually captured. Moisture is an issue with the quality of prints. The remaining issue is what to do about people whose fingerprints can’t be read.

SRM: I’m also wondering, can social security numbers be used as an element of background checks? Having sat for the employment exams for the 2010 Census, I know that it is mandatory to provide your social security number at that early stage.

RG: That already might be used, but I’m not sure. But people can change their social security numbers or use fraudulent social security numbers. That’s why it’s not as reliable. As we saw, just  the name background check can’t be the only tool used as criminals can get past that system.

SRM: Who do you hold accountable for these errors?

RG: This is something that the Census Bureau had no experience with. It’s clearly something that the Census Bureau and its parent agency, the Commerce Department, need to deal with. We’re not out to get anyone or point fingers. We want to see a successful census. I think the Census Bureau has acknowledged there’s a problem and they are going to work on it – and we are going to keep tabs on them. There are some smaller field operations coming up, but the big one is non-response follow up in the spring, to follow up with non-respondents. That’s going to be around 600,000 people hired. So we’re going to watch the Bureau’s progress in improving fingerprinting abilities.

SRM: On a related issue, I wrote about how the Census Bureau’s three Data Capture Centers may have similar human resources issues. Because, for example, in Baltimore, the Data Capture Center is run by contractor Lockheed Martin, who subcontracted the hiring efforts to Computer Sciences Corporation, I am wondering if the same rigid hiring standards that Census Bureau employees are subject to apply in these cases? I was told by Stephen Buckner, spokesman for the Census Bureau, that these employees are subject to the same standards, but a couple of loopholes that I noticed are that employees at these centers are not subject to drug tests or that because of time lags, people who undergo background investigations now might not start work for six months, meaning that they could potentially develop criminal records in the interim period. Can you address these issues?

RG: I’m not familiar with the specifics when contractors are involved.

SRM: What are the greatest challenges for the 2010 Census from your perspective?

RG: I’m glad you asked that because what we’ve been reporting on is much bigger than fingerprints. That’s certainly an issue, but the Bureau has other things they need to be concerned about as well. Speaking positively, the GAO has a high risk list, and we put the Census Bureau on this list in March 2008 because of weaknesses in the Census Bureau’s IT management, problems with the handheld computers, the difficulties they were having in coming up with the total cost of the decennial census, the fact that they did not conduct a full dress rehearsal, and on top of all that time was running out. And we put the decennial census on our high risk list because it’s a critical statistical program for the nation. Using March 2008 as an anchor point, we have seen that the Bureau has made a lot of progress in terms of risk mitigation. There is certainly a lot more work to be done but we are also encouraged by a lot of the improvements that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it was important to have a president appointed and senate confirmed Director (Robert M. Groves), so it’s certainly important that the top leadership is now firmly in place. We’re encouraged by some of the advisors that Dr. Groves has brought in who have experience from the 2000 Census. And we’re also encouraged by the fact that the Census Bureau acknowledges that they have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. But some of the areas that still concern us: IT management, requirements and testing plans have not been finalized, it’s difficult to track progress because of vague metrics, and some of the IT systems face tight implementation time-frames. Of all the IT systems, the one that we’re most concerned about is the paper-based operational control system (PBOCS).

SRM: Can you elaborate on that?

RG: That was the program that was put in place when they abandoned the handheld computers for non-response follow-up. So PBOCS basically controls the office workflow. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of nailing down requirements and testing in the short time remaining. Basically, they have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it before it needs to go live.

SRM: There was a Census employee named Bill Sparkman who was murdered about a month ago. Is your office involved in that investigation?

RG: No, not at all.

SRM: Do you have any comments on the recent decision for the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN?

RG: The Bureau just needs to make sure that it has adequate guidance so that it can make a determination as to who they should partner with and who the shouldn’t.

Radio Fans: Listen to 2010 Census Speak on NPR’s Talk of the Nation

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Listen to a full show about the 2010 Census here (in MP3 format): Download

UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation Into The Murder Of Census Employee Bill Sparkman

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

The Associated Press has obtained some additional details on this case that are featured below. However, many questions still need to be answered in this case. Though this area of rural Kentucky is rife with meth-addicts and a rampant drug culture, was Sparkman actually the victim of an anti-government crusader? Was this act committed by a single person or a group of individuals?

Again, where were Sparkman’s superiors? Why  did a family visiting a cemetery first encounter this body rather than Sparkman’s fellow Census Bureau employees? What data was left behind in Sparkman’s  computer?

H/t to Roger Alford and Jeffrey McMurray of the AP for the following:

Family cemetery visit led to hanged census worker

BIG CREEK, Ky. — A family’s visit to a rural Kentucky cemetery led to the shocking discovery of a part-time census worker’s naked body hanging from a tree with the word “fed” written on his chest.

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press the man had been gagged and his hands and feet were bound with duct tape.

Weaver said Friday he was certain from the gruesome scene that 51-year-old Bill Sparkman was killed deliberately.

“He was murdered,” Weaver said. “There’s no doubt.”

Weaver said he was in rural Clay County, Ky., for a family reunion and was visiting some family graves at the cemetery on Sept. 12 along with his wife and daughter when they saw the body.

“The only thing he had on was a pair of socks,” Weaver said. “And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.”

Two people briefed on the investigation said various details of Weaver’s account matched the details of the crime scene, though both people said they were not informed who found the body. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Authorities have said a preliminary cause of death was asphyxiation, pending a full medical examination. According to a Kentucky State Police statement, the body was hanging from a tree with a rope around the neck, yet it was in contact with the ground.

“And they even had duct tape around his neck,” Weaver said. “And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder.”

Both of the people briefed on the investigation confirmed that Sparkman’s Census Bureau ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area. Weaver said he couldn’t tell if the tag was a Census ID because he didn’t get close enough to read it. He could see writing on Sparkman’s chest, but could not read that it said “fed.”

Authorities have said the word was scrawled with a felt-tip pen.

Weaver, who works for a family topsoil business in Fairfield, said the body was about 50 yards from a 2003 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck. He said Sparkman’s clothes were in the bed of the truck.

“His tailgate was down,” Weaver said. “I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there. It was a bad, bad scene.

Census Bureau Press Release: Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Statement from Census Bureau Director Bob Groves:

“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of our co-worker, William Sparkman. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sparkman’s family and friends. We are monitoring the developments closely.

“The work of everyone in the Census Bureau depends on the success of our field representatives. They are the front line of the work we do. Mr. Sparkman was a shining example of the hard-working men and women the Census Bureau has in the field. The work they do on a daily basis is not easy but is a great and important service to our nation.”

Q: What can you tell us about the investigation or the circumstances of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  The extent of information we have about the investigation is that the FBI is currently gathering evidence to determine whether this death was the result of foul play. Any other questions related to the investigation or the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sparkman’s death should be directed to:
    • Kyle Edelen
    • Kentucky U.S. Attorney’s Office
    • 859-685-4811

Q: When did the Census Bureau learn of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  After the Census Bureau was informed of this tragedy by the FBI on September 12, Census Bureau Director Bob Groves and local regional director Wayne Hatcher flew to Kentucky to meet with law enforcement officials and the family of Mr. Sparkman to convey our condolences and to offer any assistance they could. They also met with other Census Bureau field representatives in the area to share our grief, to thank them for their service, and to advise them to seek any counseling that they might wish to have.

Q: Are you worried about the safety of other Census Bureau staff?

    A: We have no information that this tragedy was related Mr. Sparkman’s work with the Census Bureau. Over the past decade Census employees have maintained a high level of safety on the job.
    Employees learn that safety is of the utmost importance from their first day on the job, when they receive intensive training on steps they can take to protect themselves in a variety of settings. All employees receive ongoing reminders to take safety precautions when they are in the field. That practice will continue. Violence against Census Bureau employees is extremely rare.

Q: How many people are going door to door in the field?

A: We have an ongoing workforce of approximately 5,900 field representatives who conduct the American Community Survey and other surveys the Census Bureau conducts throughout the year and throughout the decade. In the spring of 2010 we will have nearly 700,000 temporary workers in the field conducting follow-up on the 2010 Census.

MyTwoCensus Investigation and Editorial: Census Bureau Employee Murdered!

Friday, September 25th, 2009

As was reported here and across the news media yesterday by the Associated Press, Bill Sparkman, a Census Bureau field worker in Kentucky, was murdered on September 12 with the word “fed” scrawled into his chest. Unfortunately, the MyTwoCensus team can’t be in rural Kentucky at this time to investigate this matter on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that we are not using all available resources to determine what happened.

10 Questions that MyTwoCensus Hopes To Answer ASAP

10. If Bill Sparkman’s body was found on September 12, why did it take 11 days for this story to come to the media’s attention?

9. Why was it the Associated Press that broke the story rather than local news sources? (Did the police and FBI fail to report this incident to the press?)

8. Why was Bill Sparkman working alone?

7. If the Harris Corp. Handheld Computers (HHCs) functioned properly, is there a GPS record of his last known wherabouts? (Is it possible to mine data from Bill Sparkman’s handheld computer and the Census Bureau’s data network to determine Mr. Sparkman’s duties on the day he was murdered?)

6. Noting that this incident took place in a rural area, would such an incident have occurred if Sprint, the network that the Census Bureau contracted to handle telecommunications, functioned properly in rural areas, allowing Bill Sparkman to call for help when he was in trouble?

5. How did Sparkman’s body make its way to the forest? If his vehicle was nearby at the time of his death, why couldn’t he escape?

4. Where were Mr. Sparkman’s supervisors when he didn’t complete his tasks on time?

3. Did the Kentucky State Police and FBI fail to properly investigate this incident?

2. Is there a violent movement brewing in America against Census Bureau employees or was this an isolated incident? (Were any threats made against Census Bureau employees prior to this incident? If so, were ALL EMPLOYEES warned of possible dangers?)

1. Who committed this horrific act?

Today, the Louisville Courier-Journal provided some updates on the story that could be of interest:

Police said the area has a history of drug trouble, including methamphetamine trafficking and marijuana growing in its forested valleys between steep hills and ridges.

“That part of the county, it has its ups and downs. We’ll get a lot of complaints of drug activity,” said Manchester Police Chief Jeff Culver.

He added that officers last month rounded up 40 drug suspects, mostly dealers, and made several more arrests in subsequent days.

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, said Clay County is impoverished and has a “pretty wild history of a black market economy, a drug economy.”

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Worker Murdered!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Hat tips to the many readers who alerted us to the following story (Please note that we are independently investigating this incident!):

(09-23) 20:45 PDT Manchester, Ky. (AP) –

A U.S. Census worker found hanged from a tree near a Kentucky cemetery had the word “fed” scrawled on his chest, a law enforcement official said Wednesday, and the FBI is investigating whether he was a victim of anti-government sentiment.

Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and requested anonymity, did not say what type of instrument was used to write “fed” on his chest.

The Census Bureau has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation. An autopsy report is pending.

FBI spokesman David Beyer said the bureau is assisting state police and declined to confirm or discuss any details about the crime scene.

“Our job is to determine if there was foul play involved — and that’s part of the investigation — and if there was foul play involved, whether that is related to his employment as a Census worker,” said Beyer.

Attacking a federal worker during or because of his job is a federal crime.

Sparkman’s mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Fla., told The Associated Press her son was an Eagle scout who moved to the area to be a local director for the Boy Scouts of America. He later became a substitute teacher in Laurel County and supplemented that income as a Census worker.

She said investigators have given her few details about her son’s death — they told her the body was decomposed — and haven’t yet released his body for burial. “I was told it would be better for him to be cremated,” she said.

Henrie Sparkman said her son’s death is a mystery to her.

“I have my own ideas, but I can’t say them out loud. Not at this point,” she said. “Right now, what I’m doing, I’m just waiting on the FBI to come to some conclusion.”

Gilbert Acciardo, a retired Kentucky state trooper who directs an after-school program at the elementary school where Sparkman was a frequent substitute teacher, said he had warned Sparkman to be careful when he did his Census work.

“I told him on more than one occasion, based on my years in the state police, ‘Mr. Sparkman, when you go into those counties, be careful because people are going to perceive you different than they do elsewhere,’” Acciardo said.

“Even though he was with the Census Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as ‘the government.’ I just was afraid that he might meet the wrong character along the way up there,” Acciardo said.

Acciardo said he became suspicious when Sparkman didn’t show up for work at the after-school program for two days and went to police. Authorities immediately initiated an investigation, he said.

“He was such an innocent person,” Acciardo said. “I hate to say that he was naive, but he saw the world as all good, and there’s a lot of bad in the world.”

Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, N.C., said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is “an apparent homicide” but nothing else.

Census employees were told Sparkman’s truck was found nearby, and a computer he was using for work was found inside it, she said. He worked part-time for the Census, usually conducting interviews once or twice a month.

Sparkman has worked for the Census since 2003, spanning five counties in the surrounding area. Much of his recent work had been in Clay County, officials said.

Door-to-door operations have been suspended in Clay County pending a resolution of the investigation, Scurry-Johnson said.

Manchester, the main hub of Clay County, is an exit off the highway, with a Walmart, a few hotels, chain restaurants and a couple gas stations. The drive away from town and toward the area Sparkman’s body was found is decidely darker through the forest with no streetlights on windy roads, up and down steep hills.

Kelsee Brown, a waitress at Huddle House, a 24-hour chain restaurant, when asked about the hanging, said she thinks the government sometimes has the wrong priorities.

“Sometimes I think the government should stick their nose out of people’s business and stick their nose in their business at the same time. They care too much about the wrong things,” she said.

The Census Bureau has yet to begin door-to-door canvassing for the 2010 head count, but it has thousands of field workers doing smaller surveys on various demographic topics on behalf of federal agencies. Next year, the Census Bureau will dispatch up to 1.2 million temporary employees to locate hard-to-find residents.

The Census Bureau is overseen by the Commerce Department.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our co-worker,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with William Sparkman’s son, other family and friends.”

Locke called him “a shining example of the hardworking men and women employed by the Census Bureau.”

Appalachia scholar Roy Silver, a New York City native now living in Harlan County, Ky., said he doesn’t sense an outpouring of anti-government sentiment in the region as has been exhibited in town hall meetings in other parts of the country.

“I don’t think distrust of government is any more or less here than anywhere else in the country,” said Silver, a sociology professor at Southeast Community College.

The most deadly attack on federal workers came in 1995 when the federal building in Oklahoma City was devastated by a truck bomb, killing 168 and injuring more than 680. Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the bombing, carried literature by modern, ultra-right-wing anti-government authors.

A private group called PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, tracks violence against employees who enforce environmental regulations, but the group’s executive director, Jeff Ruch, said it’s hard to know about all of the cases because some agencies don’t share data on instances of violence against employees.

From 1996 to 2006, according to the group’s most recent data, violent incidents against federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service workers soared from 55 to 290.

Ruch said that after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, “we kept getting reports from employees that attacks and intimidation against federal employees had not diminished, and that’s why we’ve been tracking them.”

“Even as illustrated in town hall meetings today, there is a distinct hostility in a large segment of the population toward people who work for their government,” Ruch said.

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Barrett reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Roger Alford in Frankfort, Ky., Hope Yen in Washington and Dylan T. Lovan in Louisville contributed to this report.