Poway Drug Use: Too Much Talk or Not Enough?

FireShot Screen Capture #001 - 'Poway Drug Use_ Too Much Talk or Not Enough_ - Schools - Poway, CA Patch' - poway_patch_com_groups_schools_p_poway-drug-use-too-much-talk-or-not-enoughThis story was reported for Patch Media on Feb. 4, 2011.

Depending on whom you ask, the issue of drug abuse—primarily of OxyContin—in Poway and, more specifically, at Poway High School is either a serious problem or one of little significance compared to other communities in the county.

Some students at the school maintain that there isn’t a significant problem and said some media reports to the contrary are false or are misconstrued. School administrators call the issue one that is typical of any high school in the county, while some parents believe that drug abuse on the campus of Poway High and in the city are reaching epidemic proportions. And Poway’s mayor said the city acknowledges the problem of drugs in general in the city and has taken appropriate measures to counter its growth and, when it comes to law enforcement, one illegal drug abuser is one too many.

Read the full story on Patch.com or click on the picture to the right.

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GLT’s financial missteps show ‘a business in trouble’

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on May 19, 2010.

See original copy of story.

Mikey Rox, a New York City freelance writer, was owed $600 when he stopped submitting his articles to San Diego’s Gay & Lesbian Times in February 2009. That represented a year’s worth of work.

Rox says he tried contacting the magazine’s publisher Michael Portantino and associate publisher Todd Klein, but received no response. So he created a Facebook page to blast the magazine for nonpayment and poor communication with its writers. Klein got in touch and Rox was paid in full within the week. But writers aren’t alone in having trouble getting paid. Others are still getting the runaround.

An investigation into the local news magazine’s circulation shows a publication struggling to meet its bills. As one CPA put it, documents related to the business provide a snapshot of a company in “severe financial turmoil.”

“I think it’s a joke, and I think Michael and Todd are crooks,” Rox wrote in an e-mail response to SDNN’s questions. “I’m a small business owner too and I run a clean operation. If there’s not enough money in the account to pay vendors, I don’t hire them. Bottom line: I hold the companies with which I do business to the same standard.

“If the GLT can’t pay its content providers then it shouldn’t exist,” Rox continued. “It has become a disgrace to the community it serves. Michael and Todd should be ashamed of themselves.”

The documents obtained by the San Diego News Network and media partner San Diego Gay & Lesbian News — which include printing invoices, business and merchant account bank statements, copies of checks, and state and federal tax records — show that the GLT, one of San Diego’s oldest gay print publications, is struggling to pay vendors, owes back taxes to the IRS, and carried a negative balance in a business bank account for 34 of 38 days in January and February. At this rate, the GLT runs the risk of becoming the next gay magazine to go under in the U.S. as the economics of publishing collapse.

Les Euell, a veteran newspaper publisher who lives in Riverside County, said that the GLT has badly damaged its good name and reputation in the community.

“Credibility is far greater than the sum of money in the bank or the accumulation of debt,” Euell said. “As they say, once you lose it, you don’t have it any more.”

In a joint investigation, SDNN.com and SDGLN.com reported last week that the GLT lied to advertisers about its circulation. Sales people told potential advertisers the magazine prints 15,700 copies each week. Printing invoices show the magazine cut its circulation to 10,000 copies weekly in September 2009 and to 9,000 copies in February and March of this year. Advertisers with contracts were not notified of the steep decline; neither was Rivendell Media, the publication’s national advertising coordinator.

Euell said discovery of the inflated circulation figures are a double whammy for the GLT.

“Over-inflating circulation numbers erodes both advertiser and reader confidence,” Euell said, noting that the fuzzy-math practice is both morally dishonest and legally fraudulent.

“It makes readers mistrust what any publication reports as a paper, which, by its very nature, is a sacred trust,” he added. “But then advertisers, who have placed their advertising dollars into the paper, are buying something that is much less than what they thought they were buying. All of this erodes confidence of readers and advertisers, and gives the industry a bad name.”

According to Thomas Hughes, a local criminal defense attorney, the GLT’s misrepresentation of circulation could violate state law. Prosecutors would have to prove the GLT knowingly and intentionally lied to advertisers for financial gain. The source who provided the supporting documents has filed a complaint against the publication with the San Diego County District Attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

CPAs who reviewed the documents analyzed them in broad terms. Still, they agreed that the federal tax lien for $45,592.44 is a serious debt and that the IRS often aggressively pursues repayment in such cases. Also, a $124,546.27 outstanding debt to the magazine’s printer demonstrates that the magazine is having trouble paying vendors. The cost of each weekly printing is $4,000 to $7,000. The debt has accrued just since September 2009.

“This is a business that is in trouble,” said Larry Katz, a local CPA who reviewed the documents.

Portantino and Klein did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Financial turmoil

In an April 29 editorial in the GLT, the magazine took a local nonprofit to task for fraud and financial mismanagement. According to the nonprofit’s former employees, the nonprofit lied about how many clients it served and took in $46,000 less in revenue last year than it did the previous year. The GLT editorial pointed out, “Fraud is fraud.”

Taking others to task for financial deception or mismanagement is standard for the magazine. Notably, it raked former District 3 City Councilwoman Toni Atkins over the coals for her role in San Diego’s pension crisis. But the gay community has been slow and hesitant to criticize the magazine for fear of retaliation. Now the publication is facing financial turmoil of its own, a development that has saddened some in the community and given a sense of satisfaction to others.

The criticisms of its business practices are numerous.

A source says Portantino attempted to slow the cashing of vendor checks by asking staff to stamp the company seal over the routing number on checks to Advanced Web Offset, the publication’s printer. Copies of seven checks to AWO show the company seal stamped over the routing number — thus forcing tellers to manually enter the check information and perhaps leaving the money in the account a bit longer.

The federal tax lien mentioned in last week’s story does not appear to have been paid yet. But in an e-mail response to questions last week, Portantino wrote that he has arranged to repay the debt. Still, the tax problem is not new. The GLT continues to do business as Uptown Publications in print and online but, according to the Secretary of State’s website, the DBA was suspended in March 1991 for failure to file a 1989 tax return. There is no indication it was ever reinstated.

A California Bank & Trust business account statement for San Diego Gay Times Inc. shows a negative ending balance of $16,060.33 on Feb. 26, 2010 despite $87,005.00 in deposits in February that same month.

Some transactions in the bank statements appear to be personal expenses — mortgage, car and utility payments, for example.

There are two wire transfers to Barbara Portantino, Portantino’s mother; $1,200 on Feb. 16 from the San Diego Gay Times merchant account, and $1,000 on Jan. 21 from the business account. There is also a $3,870.62 payment to Central Mortgage from the San Diego Gay Times business account on Feb. 5, and three monthly San Diego Gas & Electric charges. There are copies of checks for $7,000 to a second mortgage Portantino has.

Paying personal expenses out of a business account isn’t illegal — as long as every personal expense paid is documented and reported for tax purposes.

In an e-mail to his staff on March 22, though, Portantino wrote, “Please try and keep in mind that I have not taken a salary for three years to try to keep everyone at full salary and benefits, but that seems to have gone unnoticed and unappreciated.”

San Diego News Network staff members Joseph Peña, Hoa Quach and Eric Yates contributed to this report. As a matter of full disclosure, Joseph Peña is a former employee of the Gay & Lesbian Times.

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Leading gay publication misleads its advertisers

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on May 11, 2010.

See original copy of story.

One of San Diego’s oldest gay and lesbian print publications has been misleading its advertisers with false circulation numbers and at the same time racking up debt, according to information obtained by San Diego News Network (SDNN.com) and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News (SDGLN.com).

In written materials, the Gay & Lesbian Times claims it prints 15,700 newsmagazines weekly, but printing invoices show it has scaled back to as few as 9,000 copies since February 2010.

In a joint investigation, SDNN.com and its media partner SDGLN.com obtained 15 invoices dated from Sept. 23, 2009 to Feb. 17, 2010 that show that the publication’s printer, Advanced Web Offset, printed 10,000 copies of the 60-to-72-page newsmagazine each week.

Additionally, invoices dated Feb. 24, 2010, March 3, 2010 and March 10, 2010 show the Times printed 9,000 copies of issues 1157, 1158 and 1159.

In an e-mail response to an ad query April 28, 2010, though, a Times sales person wrote: “Our weekly readership is 65,000. Every Thursday we publish 15,700 copies, send the paper out via E-blast to 13,000 subscribers and our websites www.gaylesbiantimes.com and www.gltnewsnow.com receive 25,000 to 35,000 hits per week.” Attached to the e-mail was the publication’s 2009 advertising rate information that claims “15,700 issues [were] printed each run” and boasts a readership of 38,750.

According to QuantCast, a website which monitors web traffic for registered URLs, the combined traffic for both sites totals 21,200 visitors and 63,000 views a month.

Sources say the publication has misled advertisers as far back as 2008. Sources also say publisher Michael Portantino and associate publisher Todd Klein did not inform the sales staff of the decrease in circulation, and allowed them to continue telling potential advertisers the magazine printed 15,700 copies each week.

Sean Suydam, a local computer consultant, signed a six-month advertising contract with the Times in August 2009. The advertising rate information he was sent by a Times employee said the magazine printed 15,700 copies weekly.

Suydam said he was not told the magazine cut its circulation. “I was led to believe the whole time [the Times] was printing 15,700 copies weekly,” he said.

“I feel ripped off,” he said. “I’ve always viewed the paper as a part of our community. It’s not the way I would expect someone in the community to treat someone else. I wouldn’t have expected it.”

According to Tim Marzullo, an ex-sales person, accounting assistant and office manager at the Times, circulation was cut in 2008, and the sales staff did not know how many copies were printed each week. Marzullo says Portantino encouraged sales staff to tell potential advertisers the publication has 65,000 weekly readers, but Portantino did not tell the staff members the new circulation numbers.

Marzullo said Rivendell Media, the nation’s largest LBGT media placement company that coordinates national advertising for the Times was never notified of the decrease in circulation either.

When potential advertisers asked, sales staff would tell them the magazine printed 15,700 copies each week, and Klein and Portantino would skirt the question, or did not call back, Marzullo said.

Asked why sales staff continued to send out advertising rate information that included the 15,700 circulation, Marzullo said, “The sales staff was never told [not to].”

In an e-mail response to questions regarding the decrease in circulation, Portantino claims that is not true, and if outdated circulation information was sent out, it was a mistake.

Portantino also wrote, “Like every print media company in the country we have had to make cuts and circulation is down as we’ve said so on our own website.”

In a column published on the publication’s daily news site www.gltnewsnow.com on May 8, 2010, Portantino acknowledged “circulation is down” but he failed to elaborate. That appeared after SDNN began making phone calls to the printer about circulation numbers.

Regarding the information on the 2009 rate card sent April 28, 2010 to a potential advertiser by a Times employee, Portantino wrote, “Our rate card does not give that figure and hasn’t for some time now. Any correspondence from this office stating anything different is incorrect severely outdated and an unfortunate, unintended mistake.”

The decrease in printed copies may be the result of dire financial straits, a source said.

An AWO invoice dated March 1, 2010 showed past due balances from Sept. 23, 2009, and a total of $124,546.27 owed. In an e-mail from AWO to Klein on March 17, the printer indicated a check from the publication bounced, and that the printer would require it to make “cash deposits from now until further notice.”

On Jan. 14, 2010, the Internal Revenue Service filed a federal tax lien for the tax period ending Sept. 30, 2008, and the amount owed at that time by San Diego Gay Times Inc. – the DBA for the Times – was $45,592.44.

San Diego Gay Times Inc. also received a final notice before levy for $1,219.58 from the state’s Franchise Tax Board on Jan. 25, 2010.

The San Diego county assessor’s office has no record that the debts have been paid, but it is possible the debts were satisfied and the IRS has not released its federal tax lien.

The Times vacated its offices at 1730 Monroe Ave. last month. An unlawful detainer and breach of contract civil lawsuit was filed in the San Diego County Courthouse by Albert Hanna, the building’s landlord. A source says the publication was behind on rent, and a public record shows Hanna filed the suit to recover $6,417.50 from the Times.

In a response to the suit, the plaintiff, San Diego Gay Times Inc., claimed the premises contains black mold and that the plumbing does not work, that it is not ADA-compliant, and that it paid for three parking spaces that are illegal spaces.

Hanna declined to comment to SDNN because the case is pending.

When asked via e-mail if a lawsuit had been filed against the Times, Portantino wrote, “There is none to my knowledge.”

A case management conference for the lawsuit has been scheduled for June 9.

Also, internal communications at the news magazine show urgency to collect cash from advertisers.

In an e-mail to sales staff on March 17, Portantino demanded sales staff “find and bring in $5,000 a piece today” from advertisers.

“Just do it, people are behind, bully them, push them, guilt them, deals were made and they are not following through,” he wrote. “There will be no more trust on our part.”

In the e-mail, Portantino threatened a change in the commission structure, layoffs and furloughs if the sales staff members did not accomplish the task.

On March 18, Portantino e-mailed the staff to say he was disappointed in collection efforts and on March 22, he e-mailed the staff to announce a 15 percent pay cut for all salaried staff, and a new commission structure for sales staff. In the March 22 e-mail, he also announced the publication would suspend its 401(k) plan, and would not participate in reimbursements for medical, dental and vision benefits.

“I’ve tried my best and my intentions were to try and keep you all from feeling the economic pinch,” he wrote. “Again, I’m sorry I was unable to accomplish that.”

Suydam said finding out the paper cut its circulation without notifying him changes his opinion of the Times – a news organization that, at times, has harshly criticized gay elected officials and gay social service organizations for not disclosing information, misleading the community, and for financial mismanagement.

“It’s almost as if it’s OK for them to do whatever they wanted to do, and it’s not OK for the rest of the community,” he said. “It’s like they’re holding the community to a higher standard than they’re holding their own organization to, and from a news organization I’d almost expect the opposite. I think news organizations hold themselves to a higher standard. I might tend to discount what [the Times] prints now. I probably won’t look at them the same way.”

A complaint against the Times has been forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. Both the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office requested copies of the source documents provided to SDGLN and SDNN. The documents have been turned over to both agencies, though neither office will comment on whether an investigation will follow.

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News editor in chief Ken Williams and SDGLN.com staff contributed to this report. San Diego News Network staff members Joseph Peña, Hoa Quach and Eric Yates contributed to this report. As a matter of full disclosure, Joseph Peña is a former employee of the Gay & Lesbian Times.

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Clinics, HIV services come under county scrutiny

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on April 29, 2009. Sources gave Hoa Quach exclusive interviews.

See original copy of story.

Allegations of misused federal funds, poor patient treatment, and a case manager pressuring a patient to have sex have prompted the county to investigate the delivery of services at community clinics.

The county Compliance Office’s investigation focuses on allegations related to the delivery of contracted HIV services provided by community-based organizations, which receive Ryan White funds – federal funds for HIV/AIDS services. The complaint focuses specifically on Family Health Centers of San Diego and the San Ysidro Health Center.

The county said it cannot comment on the investigation, but findings and a resolution can be expected in 30 to 45 days.

A spokesperson for the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) said it “cannot speculate on the allegations….but HRSA expects that its grantees provide quality care that affords patients with dignity and respect.” Additionally, Ryan White funding is “competitively awarded.”

Mike Spradley, the community relations manager for Special Delivery San Diego, a meal-delivery service for people with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illnesses, sent a complaint to county supervisors and other elected officials earlier this month. On April 21, the office of Supervisor Greg Cox responded that the complaint is being investigated by the Compliance Office.

Spradley said patients frequently complain to him about shoddy care and disrespect at the clinics.

“I do not see how things could get any worse,” he said.

Spradley said one county staffer in particular is the source of the clinics’ problems. He’s asked for the staffer to step down or be terminated.

San Ysidro Health Center president and CEO Ed Martinez said confidentiality laws prohibit him from addressing complaints regarding the staffer.

A homeless patient — who requested anonymity for fear his access to care would be affected — said he was pressured into a sexual relationship with his case manager at the Family Health Centers of San Diego North Park clinic.

The case manager invited the patient to stay at his home, the patient said. He stayed two weeks, but left after the case manager pressured him to have sex and use methamphetamine, he said.

The patient said the case manager no longer works at the clinic, but he did not know why.

A second patient — who also requested anonymity — said clinic employees at the FHCSD North Park clinic harassed him when he tried to use a clinic bathroom. While he was inside, the patient said an employee opened the door and asked him to leave.

The patient filed a complaint with the FHCSD executive director, Fran Butler-Cohen. In an e-mail response, Butler-Cohen called the incident a “perfect storm [of] miscommunication,” according to Spradley.

Butler-Cohen did not respond to two phone calls and two e-mails requesting comment.

Tom Buehner, a former employee at the San Ysidro Health Center, said patient care at the San Ysidro clinic is bad, too.

Buehner — a doctor who has worked with HIV patients since 1990 – said that while he worked at the clinic, he was the only doctor available for the care of HIV patients at the Health Center’s Elm Street clinic. Though he is unsure of the exact number of patients he cared for, he said he was told the number was approximately 400.

Buehner claims he was told he couldn’t spend more than 15 minutes with one patient. He said patients were “treated like cattle.”

“It was impossible to do the primary care and HIV care in 15 minutes, and on top of that, offices were not properly stocked,” he said.

After Buehner voiced concern, the policy was changed to allow him up to 30 minutes, he said.

He said staff was improperly trained, too. Buehner said once a Spanish-speaking patient came to the clinic after hours. Buehner asked an employee to translate for him. Instead, Buehner said, the employee asked the patient to leave because it was after hours.

“The patient ended up in the E.R. a couple days later,” Buehner said. “It was that lack of compassion I couldn’t understand.”

Buehner said he filed 10 complaints with the clinic’s medical director, Matthew Weeks. Buehner said Weeks only replied to one complaint to tell Buehner it was “redundant.” Buehner was fired on March 16.

Sources said an HIV specialist resigned from the San Ysidro clinic last week, and it is unclear who is treating HIV patients there. That could jeopardize the clinic’s Ryan White funding.

Martinez maintains that the San Ysidro clinic “abides by the highest standards of ethics and care.”

Spradley said he complained to a specific employee when patients raised concerns. He named the one employee in his complaint, and has asked for the employee to step down. San Diego News Network has declined to name the employee, pending the investigation’s outcome.

The county is unable to release information regarding specific complaints against the employee because they are considered “confidential personnel matters,” said county spokesperson Holly Crawford.

“Health and Human Services Agency takes all allegations of fraud, waste and abuse seriously,” Crawford said.

According to HRSA, the San Ysidro Health Center parent company Centro de Salud de La Communidad San Ysidro, received $14.8 million in federal funding, and Family Health Centers of San Diego received $8.98M in federal funding this fiscal year.

San Diego is classified as an Emerging Metropolitan Area, which means more than 2,000 AIDS cases have been reported in the last five years.

The San Diego HIV Health Services Planning Council is responsible for planning and allocating Ryan White funds to programs throughout San Diego County. Patients have testified before the council regarding treatment at the two clinics, Buehner said. This includes which services (not providers) to fund, how much funding, who will receive services, and how.

Community clinics that provide HIV/AIDS care in San Diego County may receive Ryan White funding in three ways: directly from the federal government, from the state and from the county.

Spradley said he hopes the investigation’s outcome raises “the standard of care and community resources for all patients.”

“When tax payer dollars, the standard of patient care and public trust are involved, government oversight is always needed,” Spradley said.


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San Diego’s COO says violations weren’t made in program

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on October 16, 2009.

See original copy of story.

I was hoping to have a full story Friday in regards to the memo released by San Diego Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone but it looks like officials are still examining it.

Let me give readers an update though.

Councilmember Donna Frye’s spokesperson said she’ll be reviewing the memo for the next few days while councilmember Todd Gloria’s office has yet to respond. I also invited councilmember Carl DeMaio to give his thoughts as the numbers guru, but he opted out.

Goldstone stated in a memo Thursday that the city of San Diego did not violate “Council Policy” when awarding or administering the contract for consultancy company Grant Thornton’s services in regard to the Managed Competition Program.

His memo, was in response to a memo issued by Frye and Gloria earlier in the week, asking for insight from Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office into documents that may have shown a violation of council policy– specifically, the San Diego Municipal section 22.3223 which requires that the City Council approve of consulting agreements exceeding $250,000 in a fiscal year.

Goldstone’s memo replied to the councilmembers, stating that the allegations were “baseless.”

Related Links: Memo makes waves at City Hall as Goldstone fires back | SDNN inquiry prompts investigation into city’s finances

Further documentation accompanying the memo shows that $369,030 was spent over three years, and “during no fiscal year did expenditures to Grant Thornton exceed $250,000.”

The $671,011 figure cited in the councilmembers’ memo was a pricing agreement, which establishes the costs of services, and is not a binding contract with the city.

“My staff has researched this issue and has determined that at no time has Council Policy been violated in the award or administration of this contract,” stated Goldstone’s memo.

Check back with SDNN for more info next week.

Hoa Quach is the SDNN political editor. Email her: Politics(a)SDNN.com

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