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 ‘FBI’

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Fingerprinting changes are long overdue because the media failed to report on the potential problems

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

For nearly a year, MyTwoCensus.com was the only media outlet reporting about the problems that the Census Bureau faced in terms of fingerprinting the 1.4 million people who were set to work for the 2010 Census. And we continue that fight today.

In December 2009, I reported that a convicted felon in Alaska was working in a supervisory position for the Census Bureau. This was discovered only after the man killed his mother and then himself. Clearly, this incident should have made calls for improved fingerprinting procedures at the Census Bureau obvious. However, the Census Bureau maintained the status quo and did nothing — fending off my questions and ignoring my concerns.

This incident occurred two months AFTER I originally posted the flaws of the 2010 Census fingerprinting process that were written by child advocate and fingerprinting expert David Allburn, who offered solutions to the Census Bureau that were ultimately refused. Allburn wrote:

(1) The Bureau should announce that trainees are responsible for the “readability” of their own fingerprints, and that fingerprint “failure” due to un-readability (or to discovery of disqualifying criminal history), terminates the canvasser’s employment. This stops attracting ex-felons who would intentionally blur their prints, but it is manifestly unfair to honest workers whose fingerprints are blurred by the inexperienced print-takers. This is fixed by step two.

(2) The Bureau should augment its fingerprint capture by adopting part of our patented “self-capture” technique. Invented by a war veteran, the method has applicants use an extra minute or two to make their own set of “backup prints”, observed and authenticated by the print-taker. Barcoded and enclosed with the cards forwarded to the scanning center, those self-captured prints are readily available for fixing any individual print impressions found “bad.” Well tested, this gets the cards through the FBI with the same dependability as live-scanning offers, typically twenty times better than the old rubber-stamp method now in use.

Only after a handicapped woman was raped by a 2010 Census employee and a sex offender was caught going door-to-door did the Census Bureau decide to change their policies. Is that what it takes to create “change” in America?

Washington Post: Stricter hiring rules at the Census Bureau

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

In response to recent incidents and pressure from lawmakers, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves has made hiring rules more tough. MyTwoCensus has for more than a year exposed holes in the Census Bureau’s hiring plan and fingerprinting procedures, so this shouldn’t come as a major surprise. However, this action may further fuel the class action lawsuit against the Census Bureau. Here’s the latest from Ed O’Keefe and Carol Morello of The Washington Post:

The Census Bureau is adopting stricter rules for screening new hires after a registered sex offender using an alias got a job as a census taker, the bureau’s director said Wednesday.

Robert M. Groves said that from now on, applicants whose name, age, gender and Social Security number don’t all match background records will be held up for more investigation instead of being sent on for FBI fingerprint checks. Applicants whose fingerprints are not legible, as sometimes happens with older people whose ridges have worn down, will not be hired until their identities and backgrounds can be checked.

And when there is any “evidence of criminality” by a census worker, Groves said, there will be swifter invention to get them off the streets.

“These three things are good things to do,” said Groves, speaking at a Fairfax event that aimed to encourage Asian Americans to open their doors to census takers and answer their questions. “People should know that the person coming to your door won’t harm you.”

In early May, a woman in Pennsauken, N.J., who was home alone with her toddler son, opened her door to a census worker who asked for the names and birth dates of everyone residing there. Thinking he looked familiar, the woman checked the sex offender registry site after he left and recognized the man under a different name than the one he had given her.

Census officials said the man had passed a name check but failed a fingerprint check and was fired in the first week of May, apparently after he had visited the woman’s home. The man was charged with using a fake Social Security number in his census application.

In a separate incident, a census worker in Indiana was charged with raping and beating a disabled woman in early May when he allegedly returned to the house after first visiting on an official call as a census taker.

The Census Bureau has hired about 635,000 people to make house calls to people who did not send in their census forms by the end of April. This phase is more than half completed, and is scheduled to continue into July.

New York Times Editorial Criticizes Census Bureau Hiring

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The following New York Times editorial concerns the class action lawsuit that we reported on last week. For many months now, MyTwoCensus.com has criticized 2010 Census hiring practices. Here’s the editorial:

The Census Bureau is hiring a million or more people to assist with the 2010 count. It is temporary work, but it pays well. With national unemployment at nearly 10 percent, it looks like an excellent opportunity. That is unless you are one of the nearly 50 million Americans with any arrest or conviction on record.

A new class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of applicants who say they were unfairly turned down for census jobs based on an opaque screening policy that relies on F.B.I. checks for any criminal histories. Those checks are notoriously unreliable. A 2006 federal report found that half of them were inaccurate or out of date.

The Census Bureau is vague about what makes someone ineligible. In Congressional testimony, it suggested that it is excluding people who have been convicted of crimes involving violence and dishonesty. The bureau’s Web site seems to say that applicants whose background checks turn up any arrest — no matter how trivial, distant in time, irrelevant to the job — receive a letter advising them that they can remain eligible only if they produce “official court documentation” bearing on the case within 30 days. Incredibly, the letter does not identify the alleged criminal activity. Applicants must prove eligibility, even if they don’t know why they were flagged.

Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people whose convictions have been sealed or expunged or for people who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.

The hiring problem is not limited to the Census Bureau. After 9/11, Congress required port workers to undergo F.B.I. background checks to keep their jobs. Last year, a study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers, found that the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of those workers.

States and cities are wisely revising employment policies. The federal government needs to develop a fair and transparent screening system for job applicants and a more effective appeals process. Congress must also require the F.B.I. to verify the criminal records — and find missing data before issuing background checks.

Does this lawsuit against the Census Bureau have legitimacy? Perhaps

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

H/t to former MyTwoCensus editor Emily Babay for informing me of the following lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau for its hiring practices. The Philadelphia Inquirer brings us the following:

Phila. woman at center of census lawsuit

By Jane M. Von Bergen

Paying $17.75 an hour, U.S. Census jobs, though temporary, are attractive in an economy where unemployment is stuck at 9.7 percent. But the Census Bureau’s screening policies, designed to safeguard the public, end up discriminating against minorities, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

That’s because the bureau has set up an “arbitrary barrier to employment” for any person with an arrest record, “no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job,” the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, says. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is named as the defendant.

The national suit, filed by Outten & Golden L.L.P. in New York and a coalition of public-interest organizations, seeks class-action status on behalf of those turned down for a job if they were arrested and not convicted, or convicted for an offense irrelevant to the job.

“The U.S. Census Bureau’s top priority is the safety of both our workforce and the American public,” Commerce Department spokesman Nicholas Kimball responded. “Americans must be confident that, if . . . a census taker must come to their door to count them, we’ve taken steps to ensure their safety.”

Kimball declined to comment on the suit.

One of the two lead plaintiffs, Evelyn Houser, 69, of North Philadelphia, thinks she is qualified to fill one of the 1.2 million census positions. That’s because Houser worked for the census before, in 1990.

“What’s the difference between then and now?” she asked in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like a slap in the face.”

The difference, said her lawyer, Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is the government’s cumbersome screening process.

Computers kick back any application with an arrest record, requiring more documentation, but the Census Bureau doesn’t make it clear what documentation is required, Dietrich said.

The discrimination occurs because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans exceed those of whites, the suit says. Compounding the problem, it says, is that one in three arrests do not lead to prosecution or conviction, yet the bureau’s system does not readily distinguish between arrests and convictions.

“The processes are screening out any kind of criminal case, no matter what,” Dietrich said.

“If you were arrested years ago for a minor offense, you are asked to comply with the same burdensome process as if you had been released from jail last week after committing a murder,” she said,

Plaintiffs’ attorney Samuel Miller, of Outten & Golden, estimates that as many as one million applicants may have been caught up in the process, with tens of thousands unfairly deterred or excluded from employment.

In 1981, Houser was a 39-year-old mother raising four children on welfare and food stamps. Her monthly check was several days away, but she was out of food when, going outside to take out the trash, she found a check next to the Dumpster.

“I went home and told my kids, ‘God sent me a piece of paper that says we’re going to eat tonight.’ ”

Houser shouldn’t have done it, but she tried to cash the check. She was arrested. Instead of being convicted, she was placed in alternative rehabilitation program. Her record remains clean, Dietrich said.

In 1990, Houser got a job with the census. Last year, she decided to apply again and passed a qualifying test.

A month or so later, the Census Bureau sent her a letter, asking her for documentation. The way she read it, her fingerprints would suffice, so she had them taken and sent them in the next day.

The bureau rejected her because, it said, she hadn’t sent the right documentation. Dietrich called the bureau’s communications confusing.

Since then, Houser has been involved in a long appeals process, which culminated in the filing of the suit.

Houser, who lives in subsidized housing, estimated that 25 percent of her working-age neighbors are unemployed. They are “just existing,” she said. “It’s just survival.”

She’s helping her neighbors find a path to employment, Houser said. “I’m a little gray-haired old lady and I’m trying to lead them in a better way.”

Washington Post: Muslims Wary Of Census Participation

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The following piece from The Washington Post reiterates a position that MyTwoCensus.com has expressed for quite some time now, because as recently as 2004, confidential data from the decennial census was handed over to federal law enforcement officials:

By Tara Bahrampour

Tuesday, March 9, 2010; 4:02 PM

The millions of blue forms being mailed this month in the first census count since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, do not ask about religion. But the idea of answering any questions posed by the government makes some Muslims uneasy, so community leaders are worried that many may avoid the Census altogether.

“A lot of people, they have the concern,” said Raja Mahmood, 50, a Manassas taxi driver who moved to the United States from Pakistan 25 years ago. “The majority of Muslims, they don’t want to draw attention.”

Although he plans to fill out the census form — and the Falls Church mosque he attends, Dar Al-Hijrah, has encouraged it — Mahmood said many Muslims he knows are wary about why the government, which treated them with suspicion in the years after the terrorist strike, wants to collect information about them.

“They can look for the count of how many people live here, and that’s a good thing,” he said, “but God knows what is in their heart.”

Muslim leaders have been holding forums to explain the process. Last week, the Justice Department said that information-gathering and sharing provisions of the Patriot Act do not override federal confidentiality laws related to the Census, with stiff penalties for sharing information about an individual.

“That would go a long way toward calming fears,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Still, community leaders say they understand why people might be cautious. Many remember the trepidation that arose after 9/11, when men from some Muslim countries were required to register with the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service. The requirement led to deportations for visa violations or minor infractions unrelated to terrorism, Hooper said, adding that “whole neighborhoods were emptied.”

(more…)

Another fake 2010 Census form, this one a scam…

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Just last week, we reported that the  GOP has been distributing a flier with the word “census” on it that is not related to the 2010 Census but actually a political fundraising advertisement. It seems that Kansas City residents are dealing with a far more sinister form of mailer. The Kansas City Star reports the following:

By TONY RIZZO and JOE LAMBE

Law enforcement agencies Monday were warning the public — especially the deaf community and senior citizens — about two suspicious mailings seeking money and personal information.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

The FBI is warning senior citizens about an official-looking survey that seeks money and personal financial information.

Although not labeling it a scam, the bureau said the mailing is not connected to the U.S. census or any other federal agency, although it looks similar to a legitimate census document.

The mailing purports to be a “2010 Census of Senior Citizens” and asks recipients to answer survey questions and says the results will be shared with the president of the United States. Questions concern health care and other senior-related issues.

It solicits donations ranging from $15 to $25 so additional surveys can be sent to other senior citizens. It also asks for credit card information if people want to donate.

“It is not the official census, and the census would never ask to send money,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. “As always, we caution providing any personal and or financial information to unverified entities.”

Patton said the FBI doesn’t know of anyone in the Kansas City area having provided money, but it wants people to be aware.

“If you did not initiate the contact, be very cautious about providing any personally identifying information or financial information,” Patton said.

Also on Monday, Johnson County prosecutors warned that thieves are focusing on deaf persons in letters or an Internet scam.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

Letter To The Editor: Census Bureau Ignores Fingerprinting Problems And Focuses on Name Checks

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The following letter, from David Allburn of National Fingerprinting, comes in response to our recent post that features questions about why felon/presumed murderer Thom Gruenig was working in a supervisory role for the 2010 Census answered by the Census Bureau:

To The Editor:

Did you notice that your questions about FINGERPRINT comparisons were answered with statements about NAME-CHECK comparisons?

The Census Bureau made the two statements that “No criminal record was found,” and “He was not in their criminal database.” Those statements ask us to assume that he was not ANYWHERE in their criminal database, most especially not in the FBI “fingerprints” database. It is not evident at all from the investigation report you published, whether the FBI had actually compared Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints to the fingerprints of felons, no matter what the names were.  The questions to ask should have included these, for which I proposed what the carefully considered Census answers might be:

1.  ”What would normally have happened at the FBI side if Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints were determined by the FBI automated equipment to lack sufficient image quality to enable print-to-print comparison?” [Answer: A name-check is done instead, and Census relies upon that.]

2. “Is there any record entry maintained at Census or at the FBI, by them or by their contractors, that shows whether the aforementioned image quality test was passed or failed, either by a direct data description or by a reliable indirect indicator?” (…such as an indication that the fingerprint query defaulted into the name-check process by returning a TCR number.) [Answer: If a TCR is returned, that indicator is probably retained by either FBI or Census or their contractors somewhere.]

3. “If due to ‘normal procedure’ Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints may not have actually been compared with others in the FBI file, is there any process by which new prints can be taken of assured-adequate quality and re-submitted to assure AFIS acceptance and comparison?” [Answer: If Mr. Gruenig were to be booked after our background check, presumably pursuant to a new criminal allegation, his prints would likely be routinely sent by the booking law enforcement agency to the FBI for comparison, and re-sent however many times necessary to assure the fingerprint check was actually accomplished to reveal whether any previous forensic-purpose prints on file matched his.]

4. “If a disqualifying record were thereby exposed and reported, would Census have the same confidence in the fingerprint portion of its background check process as previously asserted?” [Answer: Yes, but our confidence would be higher for those prints that passed the quality check at the FBI side.]

5. “if there were a way to assure that fingerprints submitted with insufficient quality to support an actual FINGERPRINT COMPARISON did not result in a default-hire as may have occurred in the Gruenig case, and such a way could be instantly and simply incorporated into the current logistical process, is there any reason why Census would not adopt it?” [Answer: Census routinely considers all helpful proposals according to the Federal Acquisition Regulations.]

6. “Would Census reveal whether an internal investigation was done to determine if Mr. Gruenig’s prints were rejected for quality reasons, and whether or not there actually were matching prints in the FBI file after all? [Answer: The Census Bureau considers personnel records confidential and does not reveal their contents.]

7. “Would a Freedom-of-Information Act request limited to whether Mr. Gruenig’s prints got a TCR result from the FBI allow a FOIA response?” [Answer: Consult the answer to #5 above.]

8. “If it were to be revealed by other legal means that there was a TCR returned by the FBI in Mr. Gruenig’s case, and that he indeed did have matching prints on file with the FBI under a fake name different from the one he gave on his Census employment application, …. (question left to be finished by MyTwoCensus.)

Of course, the above is an interrogation, not an interview. And it may turn out that Mr. Gruenig’s prints indeed got compared with the FBI print collection and turned up with no matches. Such a result would impugn Alaska’s reporting system, not Census Bureau procedure. But such close questions is necessary when jousting with a skilled PR department that carefully chooses its words such as providing NAME-CHECK answers to FINGERPRINT-CHECK questions.

I am glad that MyTwoCensus will “soon get to the bottom of this.” Can’t wait.

David Allburn

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.

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.