Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, Detroit

2013 is the year when I met some truly amazing people. I gave my first Pecha Kucha Night presentation and published The Roswell Chronicles. It's also the year when I got re-acquainted with so many of old friends from high school.

It was the year of the Duct Tape Fire Hydrant and other truly strange things.

It was the year when Detroit began the long, painful journey through bankruptcy and when some truly amazing Detroiters got elected.

2013 could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse. Thank you, everyone, for being a part of this adventure with me.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy 100th birthday to the Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station, circa 2009
Photo by Frank Nemecek
Michigan Central Station, formerly the main train station in Detroit and one of the most famous abandoned buildings in the world, turns 100 years old today. The first train pulled out of the station at 5:20 p.m. on December 26, 1913.

Across the internet, and in at least some the newspapers, one will find much written about the Michigan Central Station on this historic anniversary. My friend Dan Austin has a column about it in this morning's edition of the Detroit Free Press here. Tom Zoellner also has piece about what the place would be like if it were a part of a high-speed rail network here.

I would simply like to add my own birthday wish for the Michigan Central Station. I hope that the new year brings a new owner for the station; one who will give it the love that this historic landmark richly deserves.

Meet Detroit's new fire commissioner

Mayor-elect Mike Duggan has announced the appointment of Jonathon Jackson, a 25-year veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, to serve as his new fire commissioner. In an interview with WXYZ-TV, Jackson promised:
  • More arson investigators in Detroit;
  • More firefighters;
  • Better equipment for those firefighters; and
  • Better response times for Detroit Fire and EMS.
Jackson, in my opinion, clearly has the background and experience to make great things happen within the Detroit Fire Department. He is also saying all of the right things.

However, I hasten to add that there has been a parade of experienced professionals over the past several years with the right resumes saying all the right things before becoming Detroit's new fire commissioner. The results that they have collectively produced have, unfortunately, been disappointing.

In the coming months, we will know for certain just how effective Jonathon Jackson is a fire commissioner. Until then, I wish him the best.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ss. Peter and Paul Church goes all out with Christmas decorations

Christmas decorations at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church
Photo by Frank Nemecek
This Christmas season, the folks at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church (7685 Grandville Ave.) here in the Warrendale neighborhood of Detroit have gone all out with their decorations. I think they did an awesome job. It's worth attending mass there just to see them.

Once upon a time, when I was growing up in the neighborhood and attending grade school there, their decorations were much simpler. There was a nativity scene and the altar was decorated. However, the rest of the church had few, if any decorations.

I particularly liked the decorated statues at the rear of the church - simple yet elegant, in my opinion. There are more photographs of the Christmas decorations at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, including two panoramic shots, available on my Google+ page here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Breaking news: Minivan catches fire on Greenview

I was on Faust, near Dayton, this evening when I heard a sudden bang that seemed to come from a couple of blocks to west. Being the curious blogger that I am, I went to investigate.

When I reached Greenview I saw that a minivan was engulfed in flames, just south of Dayton. I called 9-1-1 and was told by the operator that the Detroit Fire Department was already on their way. From that point, the only thing left for me to do was to step back and shoot some video with my cell phone.

The Detroit Fire Department did indeed show up promptly. I could hear their sirens within a couple of seconds of hanging up with 9-1-1. Once on the scene, the firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze. There did not appear to be any injuries associated with this vehicle fire nor was their any other property damage besides the minivan.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Read the "Roswell Chronicles"

UFO Crash - Roswell, New Mexico
On a personal note, my sci-fi novel Roswell Chronicles is being published in serial format by Juke Pop Serials. It tells the story of Samantha Haut and her cousins as they are caught between a greedy corporation and pissed off aliens from outer space.

The first chapter of my novel is available for FREE by clicking here. If you like it, please click the "+ Vote" button at the end of the chapter to keep "Roswell Chronicles" alive on Juke Pop.

Phil Robertson, Michigan Treasury, and Hamtramck

When Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty made remarks in an interview with GQ magazine that were critical of gays and lesbians, he was promptly suspended by the A&E television network. There has been much said elsewhere about Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, and the suspension - so much so that it almost seems pointless for me to comment further on it here.

Instead, I will simply say that it's interesting how the Phil Robertson situation was handled by A&E versus how the Michigan Department of Treasury handled allegations that their Emergency Manager in nearby Hamtramck Cathy Square made a series of inappropriate comments in the workplace. A&E promptly took disciplinary action whereas the Michigan Department of Treasury simply swept the entire matter under the proverbial rug.

With all of the commotion over Phil Robertson and his suspension, I cannot help but wonder what it would be like if the A&E television network ran the City of Hamtramck.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter craft projects at the Edison Branch Library

Snowy River - Photo by Garret Voight
The Edison Branch of the Detroit Public Library (18400 Joy Rd.) will host a winter craft project on Saturday, December 28 from 2 - 3 p.m. Children and tweens will be able to make a craft item that celebrates winter and snow.

Children will also be able to take the winter-themed craft item that they make home with them.

This is event, like most events at the Detroit Public Library, will be free and open to the public. All children and tweens in the Warrendale neighborhood and surrounding areas are invited to participate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

More than 6 inches of snow

Measuring snowfall
Photo by Frank Nemecek
According to the Official Warrendale Snow Gauge (a/k/a - a ruler stuck in my yard), we received 6 1/2 inches of snow over the weekend. This makes this one of the biggest snowfalls to hit the Warrendale neighborhood in several years. Plus, the forecasts call for even more snow to fall soon.

No matter what the calendar says, I think it's safe to say that it is winter in Detroit.

The 12 Crimes of Christmas

The holidays are quickly approaching, and we can't help but gussy up our homes to make them look prim and proper to fit the theme of the season. Spiritedly doorways, radiant lights and fantastic inflatable decorations line the streets, kindling a warm feeling of security, tranquility and good fortune.

The only thing is, not everyone is as keen on the spirit of the season.

Unfortunately, the goodwill of the holidays doesn't necessarily drag down crime rates. In fact, in some areas of the country the holidays actually bring about slightly more crime. While Warrendale enjoys the blessings of a vibrant, connected community, holiday crime is a risk for every homeowner regardless of location.

Here're the 12 crimes you need to look out for this month, and a few tips on how to defend against them:
  1. Break-ins. With presents in the front window and lawn decorations at every corner, the holiday season is a burglar’s dream. Be wary of how you display your newest gizmos and gadgets and don’t let your outdoor ornaments create shadowy hiding places.
  2. Cybercrime. Some crimes are carried out digitally. This holiday season, guard yourself from spammers and hackers by installing anti-virus software and clearing out the cache on your web browser.
  3. Drunken driving. Holiday parties can lead to an influx of inebriated drivers, so keep an eye out for dangerous or erratic motorists when you hit the road. Drive defensively and practice caution. And if you partake of adult beverages yourself, use a designated driver, call a cab or take a bus.
  4. Public intoxication. Just like #3, beware of your surroundings (and the people around you) when you’re out and about.
  5. Vehicle crime. With millions of parking spaces packed to the brim at shopping malls and locals stores, carjackers and thieves may be on the prowl. Don't leave any enticing items such as a wallet or MP3 player sitting on your seat, and take care of your keys.
  6. Phishing/Vishing. Some scammers will use the holiday season to take advantage of the public's generosity. Always ask who is calling when you answer the phone and don't respond to any e-mails if you're not totally sure of the sender.
  7. Robbery. If you're out on the street with a brand new purse or nifty mobile device, you could be a target for a robbery. Stay completely aware of your surroundings, and try not to flaunt your new gifts.
  8. Littering. It sounds a little silly, but some communities dole out serious fines for littering. Dispose of all those boxes and wrapping paper properly. Or figure out a way to reuse it!
  9. Shoplifting. You know not to shoplift, but you may not know how to respond to a shoplifter. If you see a shoplifter, consult a store employee or security guard rather than confronting the person yourself. It's much safer to let the proper authorities deal with the issue.
  10. Identity Fraud. The holidays can mean quite a bit of spending. Be careful where you use your credit card and make sure you reveal personal information only at trustworthy establishments. IdentityTheftProtection.org has an entire feature on the topic if you need more information.
  11. Vandalism. If your yard or home is damaged in any way, report it to your local police department immediately. The glitz and glamor of holiday d├ęcor can be an open invitation for vandals, so it's fair to be suspicious if you notice something missing or dented.
  12. Commercial burglary. If you're a shop or restaurant owner, it might be smart to invest in a home security system. The addition of surveillance cameras will help you keep an eye on the store while you're enjoying your time off.
Publisher's note: My thanks to Drew Smithfield for contributing this article.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Detroit birth and death records transfer to Wayne County

Individuals will have to obtain Detroit birth and death certificates through the Wayne County Clerk’s Office beginning January 14. The Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion will close its Vital Records Division permanently at 4 p.m. on Friday, December 13.

During the transfer of services from the City of Detroit to Wayne County, birth certificates will not be available from December 16 – January 13, 2014. However, during the transfer period, funeral directors may file and obtain death certificates at the Wayne County Clerk’s Office in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. Funeral directors, however, are advised to call (313) 224-7631 first because of Wayne County furloughs and the upcoming holidays.

In Person
Beginning January 14, 2014, individuals will be able to obtain Detroit birth and death certificates at 640 Temple Street, 6th floor with same-day service. Parking will be free.

By Mail
Individuals may also send requests for Detroit certificates by mail to:

Office of the Wayne County Clerk
City of Detroit Vitals
640 Temple Street, 6th Floor
Detroit, MI  48201.

All mail requests must be sent in letter form, and include the signature, return address, and phone number of the individual requesting a record. A photocopy of the requestor’s identification. must be included with all birth record requests. Payment by money order (payable to The Wayne County Clerk’s Office) must be with all requests. The cost for the first certified copy of a birth or death record is $22 and $7 for any additional copies.

Individuals may also obtain birth and death certificates through the State of Michigan Vital Records Office
by calling (517) 335-8666 by writing to Post Office Box 30721 in Lansing, MI 48909

For additional information on how to obtain a Detroit birth or death certificate via the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, visit www.waynecounty.com/clerk/birth_certificates.htm or call (313) 224-7631.

Warrendale to get new streetlights in 2014

Nightscene in the City
Photo by Dustin Steiner
According to a plan unveiled earlier this week by the Public Lighting Authority of Detroit, the Warrendale neighborhood is scheduled to get new streetlights next year. Other parts of the city will have a longer wait ahead of them. However, Warrendale and the surrounding neighborhoods will get new street lights in 2014.

There are several blocks in Warrendale where the street lighting is spotty at best, including one block that never had streetlights installed in the first place. All of this is in addition to the problems with streetlights along W. Warren Avenue, which is the main commercial thoroughfare for Warrendale.

My one hope is that state and local officials also do more to target metal thieves who steal the copper wiring from theses street lights, rendering them inoperable. That, however, is the subject of another blog post.

For the time being, I'm simply glad to know that the Warrendale neighborhood will finally get new streetlights within the next year.

My Dave Bing documentary

Movie Poster - Weekend at Bernie's
As a lifelong Detroiter and a documentary filmmaker, I seriously considered making a documentary film on Mayor Dave Bing and his four and a half year-long tenure as Mayor of the Motor City. However, I realized after a moment of reflection that someone else had already made that movie.

It was called Weekend at Bernie's, with Mayor Bing playing the role of Bernie Lomax. What is left of Kwame Kilpatrick's political machine, of course, played the parts of Richard and Larry in that movie.

There is no point in me making yet another sequel to that movie. I suppose this means that will just have to figure out a different project to work on in the coming months instead.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Leland wins Detroit recount

The Leland vs. Bennett election recount for the Detroit City Council's 7th district is now over. Gabe Leland will still represent the district, which includes the Warrendale neighborhood.

The margin of victory, however, did change - by one vote.

Yes, it changed by one vote.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Recount begins today in City Council race

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers recently approved a request for an election recount from John K. Bennett, one of the three candidates who sought sought to represent Detroit's seventh district on the City Council. Former State Representative Gabe Leland was originally declared the winner of that race, but
Bennett is contesting those results.

The recount will begin at 9:30 a.m. this morning in Cadillac Place (3044 W. Grand Blvd.), which is in the New Center area of Detroit. I will have updates on the results of this recount throughout the day.

Come to the December pizza party

Monthly pizza party at Gracie See Pizzeria
Everyone who reads this blog is invited to my monthly pizza party. The next one will be on Monday, December 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Gracie See Pizzeria (6889 Greenfield Rd.).

Please join current and former residents of the Warrendale neighborhood, as well as some good people who just like good pizza, for our monthly pizza party. The staff at Gracie's will also have some great drink specials all night long.

As always, the first pizza will be on me. After that, we simply order from the menu and split the check when it arrives.

An RSVP is appreciated, but not mandatory. Guests may confirm their attendance on either the Facebook or Google Plus page for this blog.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Pizza and planning

I had dinner with our newly elected Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland this evening. We got together over pizza to discuss the future of our district.

As an added bonus, our waitress at Gracie See Pizzeria was Ashley, one of the coolest people around.

Twenty people charged in Medicare fraud

According to statement issued late yesterday, 20 Detroit-area residents have been charged for their roles in physician home visit, home health care, chiropractic, and psychotherapy schemes to submit more than $34 million in false billing to Medicare.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade, Special Agent in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh, III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office made the announcement.

“Medicare fraud hits every taxpayer and harms so many who are in need of critical health care,” said Raman. “The defendants arrested yesterday and today include doctors, physical therapists, and home health care agency owners who were entrusted by Medicare to provide their patients with necessary care and services. Instead, they abused that trust for their own profit. The strike force’s operation reflects our continuing and unflagging commitment to put an end to these harmful fraud schemes.”

“These charges clearly send the message to criminals that committing fraud against government health care programs puts them squarely in the sights of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force,” added Pugh. “Taxpayers and patients should know that OIG with its Strike Force partners will continue to root out, expose, and hold accountable those who attack the Medicare program.”

Court documents unsealed this week in the Eastern District of Michigan charge defendants including physicians, owners, and operators of companies, office employees, and patient recruiters with submitting fraudulent claims for services that were never rendered and with paying kickbacks to obtain patients to be billed. Nineteen of the defendants were arrested or surrendered to authorities yesterday morning and this morning, and one defendant remains at large. In addition, law enforcement agents yesterday and today executed search warrants at nine locations and seizure warrants of 14 bank accounts related to the alleged fraud schemes.

The following charges were unsealed:

United States v. Goldfein, et al.
Two individuals, both medical doctors, were charged in an indictment with conspiring to commit health care fraud for their roles in a $5.4 million scheme to defraud Medicare by submitting fraudulent claims for physician home services that were not provided. The indictment alleges that the fraudulent claims were submitted by a physician clinic that provides both in-home and outpatient health care services. The clinic, with locations in Livonia and Swartz Creek is known as Tri City Medical Centers P.C.

The defendants charged in the indictment are Aaron Scott Goldfein, 49, of Bloomfield Hills and William Clay Sokoll, 58, of Royal Oak.

United States v. Elhorr, et al.
Three individuals, one of whom is a medical doctor and one of whom is a nurse, were charged in a superseding indictment with conspiracy to commit health care fraud for their roles in an $11.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare by submitting fraudulent claims for physician home services that were not provided. The superseding indictment alleges that the fraudulent claims were submitted by a home visiting physician practice. The practice, located in Allen Park was known as House Calls Physicians PLLC.

The defendants charged in the superseding indictment are Ali Elhorr, 44, of Dearborn, Lama Elhorr, 31, of Hollywood, Florida (formerly of Dearborn), and Kelly White, 44, of Dearborn.

United States v. Khan, et al.
Ten individuals were charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit health care fraud or conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks for their roles in a $7 million scheme to defraud Medicare. The defendants include two medical doctors and three owners of home health care agencies, one of whom is also a physical therapist, as well as patient recruiters and office staff. The indictment alleges that the defendants caused the submission of fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary home health care services and paid kickbacks in the form of cash payments and prescription narcotics to Medicare beneficiaries for the use of their Medicare beneficiary numbers. The indictment also alleges that physicians received kickbacks in the form of cash payments to certify Medicare beneficiaries for medically unnecessary home health care services. The fraudulent claims were submitted by two home health care agencies, Advance Home Health Care Services Inc. and Perfect Home Health Care Services LLP.

The defendants charged in the indictment are Walayat Khan, 65, of Ypsilanti, Adelina Herrero, 72, of Ann Arbor, Amer Ehsan, 44, of Canton, Haroon Ur Rashid, 47, of West Bloomfield, Mohammad Rafiq, 47, of West Bloomfield, Salman Ali Sapru, 51, of Ypsilanti, Farhan Khan, 25, of Ann Arbor, James Zadorski, 48, of Detroit, Cynthia Bell, 55, of Detroit, and John Sanders, 59, of Pontiac.

United States v. Hassan, et al.
Two individuals were charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks for their roles in a $4.5 million scheme to defraud Medicare. The indictment alleges that the defendants, the owner of a home health care agency who is also a physical therapist and a recruiter, caused the submission of fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary home health care services and paid kickbacks in the form of cash payments to Medicare beneficiaries for the use of their Medicare beneficiary numbers. The indictment also alleges that physicians received kickbacks in the form of cash payments to certify Medicare beneficiaries for medically unnecessary home health care services. The fraudulent claims were submitted by Cherish Home Health Services LLC.

The defendants charged in the indictment are Zia Hassan, 47, of Saline and Nathaniel Miller, 52, of Detroit.

United States v. Minhas
Naseem Minhas, 47, of West Bloomfield was charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks for his role in a $5.7 million scheme to defraud Medicare. The indictment alleges that the defendant, the beneficial owner of a home health care agency, caused the submission of fraudulent claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary home health care services and paid kickbacks in the form of cash payments to marketers to recruit Medicare beneficiaries and to certify Medicare beneficiaries for medically unnecessary home health care services. The indictment alleges that the fraudulent claims were submitted by Tricounty Home Care Services Inc.

United States v. Lovett, et al.
The owners of a Detroit-area billing company were charged in a criminal complaint for their roles in a health care fraud scheme involving claims for chiropractic and psychotherapy services. The complaint alleges that the operators of ABIX LLC obtained the Medicare numbers of licensed medical service providers in and around Detroit and used this information to bill Medicare for chiropractic and psychotherapy services that were not provided.

The defendants charged in the criminal complaint are Elaine Lovett, 58, of Wayne County and Michelle Freeman, 54, of Livingston County.

An indictment or criminal complaint is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.

These cases were investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William G. Kanellis, Trial Attorney Matthew C. Thuesen, and Special Trial Attorney Katie R. Fink of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Police response time improves by 79.5%

Detroit Police Officer on Patrol - Photo by Frank Nemecek
While much of the news media has focused recently on the City of Detroit's on-going bankruptcy, there have been some very powerful developments that have gone almost completely unreported. For example, since Chief James Craig took command of the Detroit Police Department in July, the agency has seen a 79.5% improvement in its response time for priority one calls.

The Detroit Police Department was averaging 57 minutes to respond to emergency calls five months ago. Since then, according the Detroit Performance Dashboard, that response time has improved to an average of 11.67 minutes. This translates to a 79.5% improvement during that time.

Make no mistake about it: the Detroit Police Department still has one of the worst response times of any law enforcement agency in any major city in the industrialized world. There is still a considerable amount of work that needs to be done.

However, a 79.5% improvement in only a few months is dramatic progress. It also gives me confidence that even more will be accomplished in the not too distant future. I congratulation Chief Craig and everyone else who has been a part of making this progress.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Detroit moves forward with bankruptcy

The City of Detroit will be moving forward through the Chapter 9 Bankruptcy process thanks to a ruling issued this morning by Judge Steven Rhodes. The City will now have to negotiated a plan of adjustment with its approximately 100,000 creditors to whom it collectively owes $18.5 billion.

I have argued for years that the City of Detroit faced financial problems that were simply too big to be addressed anywhere other in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. While no one should be happy that we as a community are collectively in this position, I believe the fact that it is moving forward offers compelling hope for better days to come.

In a prepared statement, Mayor-Elect Mike Duggan said in part:
I'm going to do everything I can to advocate on behalf of Detroit's future in this process. We need to make sure the retirees are treated fairly on the pensions they earned and we need to make certain we come out of bankruptcy in a way we can afford to provide the quality of city services the people of Detroit deserve.
I believe this is the perfect balance between two competing priorities. We as a community have a moral obligation to ensure that pensioners and other creditors are treated fairly in the process. However, we also need to be able to improve dramatically the quality of city services that Detroit receive on a daily basis.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Tip of the Week: Uber is hiring

Uber is a service that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. The service is available in 58 cities in 22 countries around the world and recently expanded to include Detroit.

Since they are expanding, Uber is hiring drivers. Applicants must have a valid drivers license and be able to pass a background check. Those that qualify can earn as much as $50,000 per year driving in the Detroit area.

Interested drivers can start their application by clicking here.

Anyone who would like to try the Uber service can get $10 in free credits by visiting uber.com/Signup.

Driving for Uber is your Warrendale Tip of the Week.