Dogfighters get creative as Vick spotlight fades

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Crime, Featured, National News, Top Stories

(CNN) — When pro quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to bankrolling a dogfighting operation in 2007, there was a spike in reports of dogfighting in the United States.

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But when the headlines faded, the blood sport grew stronger and went even more underground, with thugs taking inventive precautions to keep police at bay, animal cruelty experts say.

“They know it’s just not smart to have large crowds anymore, so we’ve seen fights where you’ve got the two handlers, a referee and Web cams everywhere broadcasting the fight on the Internet,” said Mark Kumpf, an investigator based in Ohio who directs the National Animal Control Association.

Fights are also being staged on the move — in 18-wheelers. “These guys are very sophisticated,” Kumpf said. “If you’re driving down the road, there could be dogs in that truck driving next to you that are dying.”

Dozens more dogfighting cases have been investigated and prosecuted since the Vick case, said Alison Gianotto, who runs the database PetAbuse.com.

The computer programmer, horrified when a neighbor’s cat was set on fire eight years ago, created the California-based organization to track animal cruelty cases and animal abusers.

The database, which logs media stories, has also become a popular place for law enforcement to send reports.

“There’s not a central body keeping track of what’s happening nationally, which is unfortunate when you consider that a lot of these cases cross state lines,” she said.

Still, detectives, animal welfare professionals and prosecutors agree that the attention the Vick case has brought to dogfighting has been positive because more people are inclined to report their suspicions. Dogfighting is illegal in all states; penalties vary but usually include heavy jail time or steep fines.

The National Football League suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007 after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in Virginia. Vick, 29, was freed from federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 20 and returned to Virginia to serve the last two months of his 23-month sentence in home confinement.

“At the height of attention on the Vick case, things quieted down across the country with some of these dogfighters getting out of the business,” veteran animal abuse investigator Tim Rickey said. “But then, the headlines went away, and people thought the attention was off. It just started right back up, almost stronger than before.”

“Every Saturday night in every county in Missouri, there is a dogfight going on,” Rickey said.

While the Vick case was making its way through the court system, Rickey, who directs the animal cruelty task force at the Humane Society of Missouri, was initiating what would become an 18-month investigation linking dogfighting rings in eight states.

That probe led to the July 8 arrest of 28 people from eight states. As many as 400 dogs were confiscated in raids coordinated by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, Rickey said. He said it was the largest such case involving dogfighting in the U.S.

While those involved with the national case declined Monday to give details about that investigation, CNN spoke with several detectives across America who have worked other dogfighting cases. Among the abuses they’ve uncovered:

• Dogs with missing ears and patches of skin

• Animals with teeth shaved down to the bone

• “Vets” who have used leg splints that are to tight to “treat” animals in dogfighting rings

• Contraptions, usually fashioned out of wood, much like a treadmill, that force chained dogs to run or be choked.

Detective Keith Coberly of the police vice squad in Dayton, Ohio, described a case he recently investigated that resulted in the convictions of three men.

A neighbor called police when she saw a mangled dog that had apparently escaped from a home where investigators found 60 chained pit bull terriers, many being starved and wallowing in their own waste. There were thousands of hypodermic needles scattered across the ground.

“They were using steroids on the animals,” he said. “There was one dog — in such bad shape, man — tethered to a logging chain, and another was kept in a two-foot shed without ventilation or food.”

The suffering is incalculable, and the cost of caring for the animals is steep.

Because the national investigation originated in Missouri, the state is harboring about 400 of the rescued dogs, some that have had puppies recently.

“These dogs are bred to attack each other, so just caring for them is a tremendous job. You have to keep them separate, and you have to protect volunteers who are devoting 12, 14 hours of their day,” Rickey said. “And we’re doing all of that in this economy.”

Investigating dogfighting is dangerous — and hugely popular in Russian mafia circles and with drug traffickers in Mexico, experts say.

Dogfighting is reliant on word of mouth, and on what one undercover officer described as “bad character” references. “If you can get someone to vouch for you, a match is set up,” Kumpf said. “They’ll have everyone go to a hotel and come pick you up and drive you around in an unmarked van.” Driving around town helps shake any police tail, he said.

Those betting on fights aren’t likely to get paid on site any more. Money is often kept at another location, making it more difficult to make arrests.

In late July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick, who said on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night that he cried in prison because of the guilt he felt about dogfighting.

Vick’s agent announced Thursday that the former Atlanta Falcon signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, which reportedly could be worth more than $6 million.

“I hope people realize [dogfighting] is not just about Michael Vick,” Rickey said. “It’s a lot bigger than him.”

LAKELAND, FL: Cops say Church Volunteer Had Sex With Boy

August 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Crime, Featured, National News, Top Stories

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13-Year-Old Met Man At Auburndale Church

A church volunteer who is HIV positive has been arrested on charges that he sexually battered a 13-year-old boy and had intercourse with him.

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Jere Michael Temple

Jere Michael Temple began spending time with the victim about six months ago after meeting him at the Rainbow Promise Community Church in Auburndale. Rev. Karen Ducham said Temple attended services and was a volunteer.

According to the Lakeland Police Department, Temple spent weekends with the teen and acted as a mentor. The victim told a detective the 58-year-old man had unprotected sex with him on multiple occasions. The teen told his mother about the incidents on Friday, and she reported the allegations to police. Temple is being held on $1.25 million bond.

Source: ClickOrlando.com

Grandmother gets Custody of Michael Jackson’s kids

August 3, 2009 by  
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LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson’s mother has gained permanent custody of her late son’s children during a hearing Monday that saw a last-minute objection by the pop icon’s former dermatologist.

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Michael Jackson with Parents.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff made a series of key rulings during the morning portion of the Monday hearing. In addition to approving Katherine Jackson’s guardianship petition, he also granted monthly stipends to the 79-year-old and the three young grandchildren she is now charged with raising.

The ruling came after a few tense moments in which an attorney for Beverly Hills Dr. Arnold Klein, Michael Jackson‘s longtime dermatologist, raised nonspecific objections to the custody arrangements. The attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, said they were based on the doctor’s long-term relationship with the singer and his children.

“Legally, he is not a presumed parent,” Kaplan said. He said Klein had concerns about the children’s education and other day-to-day parenting issues.

Beckloff ultimately determined Klein didn’t have legal standing to object to the care of Jackson’s children, but said he could raise objections later. Klein has repeatedly denied tabloid reports that he is the biological father of Jackson’s children, saying last month on “Larry King Live” that “to the best of my knowledge” he is not.

Diane Goodman, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, told Beckloff that Jackson’s youngest son, Prince Michael II, was born through a surrogate who has no parental rights.

Katherine Jackson’s approval as permanent guardian is in accordance with her son’s wishes, who named her in a 2002 will as the person he wanted to raise his children.

Last week, Katherine Jackson and her son’s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, reached an agreement over custody issues. Rowe never formally petitioned for custody, but will receive some visits with Jackson’s two oldest children, to whom she gave birth while the couple was married in the late 1990s.

Rowe did not appear in court Monday.

Katherine Jackson arrived Monday, flanked by her daughters LaToya and Rebbie and son Randy Jackson. Several attorneys representing her were also in court.

Beckloff noted that the singer’s two oldest children, 12-year-old Prince Michael and 10-year-old Paris Michael, filed declarations stating their wishes for who would raise them. He did not indicate what they said.

The agenda for Monday’s hearing contained a long laundry-list of issues for Beckloff to rule on. After a morning recess, the judge was expected to consider whether Katherine Jackson can mount a challenge to two men who have are administering her son’s estate, attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain.

The men were named as co-executors of Jackson’s 2002 will, and have already received millions of dollars in the singer’s money, property and a life insurance payout, court filings show. According to Jackson’s will, 40 percent of the estate goes to Katherine Jackson, 40 percent goes to the children, and 20 percent goes to various charities.

It is unclear how much money Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren will receive in allowance from the singer’s estate in the meantime. Beckloff did not state the figures in court and indicated he was likely to seal those details if attorneys asked him to do so.

The proposed figures have been redacted from court filings so far.

Beckloff did trim the amount the three children will receive, saying that there appeared to be some duplication between the expenses Katherine Jackson listed and those listed for the children.

The hearing was attended by more than 20 attorneys representing a variety of interests, including Sony/ATV, a music catalogue in which Jackson had a substantial stake, concert promoter AEG Live, and Columbia Pictures. Several of the attorneys are also handling issues in Britney Spears’ conservatorship case, and an afternoon hearing scheduled in that matter was postponed.

The attorneys were outnumbered only by media outlets jockeying for seats in the hearing. A variety of broadcast, Internet and print media outlets covered the hearing, arriving more than an hour before Beckloff took the bench to get a seat. An overflow room was also required.

Sony bids $50 million for Jackson rehearsal film

July 20, 2009 by  
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LOS ANGELES – Sony Corp.’s movie studio has bid $50 million to acquire the worldwide distribution rights to a film based on rehearsal footage for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” comeback concert series, according to a person familiar with the bid.

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The person said Monday that the bid came after several studios, including Paramount, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., were shown footage starting early last week. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the bidding had not been completed.

The winning studio would produce the film with Jackson’s concert promoter, AEG Live, and his estate.

It would go a long way to helping AEG Live recoup some of the $30 million to $32 million it spent producing the concert before Jackson died June 25.

Sony Pictures has a leg up on other bidders because Sony Music distributes Jackson’s music and is in a 50-50 partnership with his estate in Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

The bidding was reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times and industry blogger Nikki Finke.

The estate and AEG Live are also negotiating with several television networks and pay-per-view outlets on a TV special that would be a stage show featuring Jackson’s music and dancing. It would be directed by “This Is It” director Kenny Ortega.

The selling price being discussed for the rights to show the TV special is also in the tens of millions of dollars.

General Electric Co.’s NBC has been in talks on the TV show, but the concept, air date and cost for the rights has not been finalized, said NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks.

“We have no deal for the rights to the Michael Jackson special,” Marks said.

Michael Jackson back-up dancer comes home

July 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, Latest Top Stories, Local News

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WEST PALM BEACH, FL–With every pop of his head, and move of his body, Kriyss Grant oozes energy, passion and raw talent.

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In the three short years since the G Star High School graduate left West Palm Beach, he has risen to the top of the dance world, most recently rehearsing along Michael Jackson as one of his dancers for his comeback tour.

He says he has gone through a whirlwind of emotions, rehearsing for Jackson’s comeback tour one week and his funeral the next.

“The thing I’ll miss most is his energy, his vibe and his passion,” Grant said.  “Before he even would walk into the room, you just feel his presence and know he’s there.”

Grant danced alongside Jackson for just three months,  rehearsing for the “This Is It” tour in Los Angeles.

He says he learned more from the superstar in that time than during a lifetime of dancing.

“If he wants you to do a move like this or whatever, you do it like this,” Grant said as he was demonstrating a signature Jackson move.  “You use your all. Your face and your body.”

Grant has been dancing since he could walk, without any real formal training, just a love for moving his body to music.

After a series of audtions in April, the virtual unknown was picked by the King of Pop to be one of twelve of his dancers.

“After the last audition, he shook my hand and said ‘Man, you are awesome,’ and I almost fell over,” Grant said.  “I was like I can’t believe this is Michael Jackson.”

The rehearsals were grueling, Grant said.  16 hour days, six days a week.  Still, he says Jackson was loving and encouraging.

“If he liked something we were doing, he would say, oh, lets do it like that,” Grant said.  “He was constantly evolving.  He wasn’t cocky.”

Grant says he rehearsed with the superstar the night before he died.

The next day, the dancers were tragically informed they would be performing for their idol’s funeral instead of the concert.

“When I want to cry, I think about what he taught me,” Grant said.

Jackson taught them to look at the world beyond themselves, he said

“It wasn’t really a comeback tour,” he said. “It was about a message.  The message was about healing the world.”

Source: WPTV.COM EXCLUSIVE

King of Pop’s albums soar

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Michael Jackson’s “Number Ones” grabbed the No. 1 spot this week, but that’s not all. » Astonishing numbersmj

Michael Jackson has three of the five best-selling albums in the U.S. for the second week in a row. Number Ones sold 339,000 copies this week and would have held at #1 on The Billboard 200 if catalog albums were eligible to compete on that chart. (The 2003 compilation sold a little more than twice as many copies this week as NOW 31, the album that holds the #1 spot.) Thriller sold 187,000 copies and would have jumped from #3 to #2 if catalog albums were invited to the party. The Essential Michael Jackson sold 125,000 copies and would have dropped from #2 to #5. (Billboard excludes catalog albums from the big chart on the theory that new albums need the spotlight the chart provides more than past hits do.)

Jackson’s catalog of solo albums sold 800,000 copies this week, up from 422,000 copies last week. (This was the first full week following Jackson’s death on June 25. Last week’s total reflected just four days of sales.) Billboard reports that 82% of the Jackson albums sold this week were CDs (vs. digital downloads). Last week, 43% of the Jackson albums sold were CDs. I think this shows that on a special album, people want the CD as a keepsake. (What a retro concept!)

Jackson’s total song download sales this week, including hits with his brothers, stand at 2.2 million downloads, down just a little from 2.6 million last week. A total of 47 songs that feature Jackson are listed on the Hot Digital Songs chart. (This is down just a bit from last week’s eye-popping total of 50.)

Number Ones racked up the biggest weekly sales total in Nielsen/SoundScan history for a catalog album (excluding Christmas albums). Jackson also held the old record, which he set in February 2008, when Thriller 25 sold 166,000 copies in its first week. Number Ones also posted the biggest one-week sales tally for an album by a deceased performer since the Notorious B.I.G.’s Duets: The Final Chapter debuted in December 2005 with first-week sales of 438,000.

Number Ones has sold 564,000 copies so far this year, which puts it at #18 on Nielsen/SoundScan’s running list of the best-selling albums of 2009. If it keeps going like this, it could topple Taylor Swift’s Fearless as the #1 album for the year-to-date. (Fearless has sold 1,352,000 copies since Jan. 1.) This will (in all likelihood) be only the third time in Nielsen/SoundScan history that an album by a deceased performer has ranked among the year’s top 10. 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me was the #6 album of 1996 (he died on Sept. 13 of that year). The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death was the #6 album of 1997 (he died on March 9 of that year).

Number Ones holds at #1 on the Catalog Albums chart. (Catalog albums are albums that are more than 18 months old, have fallen below #100 on The Billboard 200 and don’t have a current radio single.) Jackson owns the entire top 10 this week, counting a Jackson 5 album. The Essential Michael Jackson holds at #1 on the Digital Albums chart. The collection sold 53,000 digital copies this week.

This is the third time that Thriller has posted sales of 100,000 or more units in a week in the Nielsen/SoundScan era (which dates to 1991). As noted above, the album sold 166,000 copies when a 25th anniversary edition was released in February 2008. It sold 101,000 last week, in the aftermath of Jackson’s death. Thriller is the only the second catalog album (again, excluding Christmas albums) to top the 100,000 sales mark more than once since 1992. It follows the Grease soundtrack, a 1978 blockbuster that came back strong in the mid-1990s. The John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John tune-fest topped the 100,000 sales mark twice in December 1996 and again in April 1998, when the movie was re-released theatrically.

Jackson has five songs in the top 10 on Hot Digital Songs this week: “Man In The Mirror” at #2, “Billie Jean” at #4, “Thriller” at #5, “The Way You Make Me Feel” at #7 and “Beat It” at #10. Later today, I’ll post a Chart Watch Extra in which I count down Jackson’s 40 most songs with the most cumulative paid downloads. The list shows which of Jackson’s songs have best stood the test of time-and which haven’t.

Pop Quiz: To get you in the mood, here’s a good (but seriously tough) Jackson trivia question. What do these three songs have in common: “Rock With You,” “Human Nature” and “Man In The Mirror.” Answer below.

Jackson is selling around the world. In the U.K., The Essential Michael Jackson moves up to #1, dethroning Number Ones (which drops to #3). In Japan, King Of Pop vaults from #43 to #6.

In a Chart Watch Extra (here’s the link), I told you that Michael Jackson has had 17 #1 hits on the Hot 100 (combining Jackson 5 and solo records). Let me add that he has also had five #2 hits. Twice, he peaked at #2 behind hits that went on to be Billboard’s #1 single of the year. That was the fate of the J5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” (which got stuck behind Three Dog Night’sJoy To The World,” the top hit of 1971) and his own “Rockin’ Robin” (which ran up against Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the top hit of 1972). The J5’s “Mama’s Pearl” peaked at #2 behind the Osmonds’One Bad Apple,” which was created in the mold of the early J5 hits. His other #2 hits were the J5’s “Dancing Machine” and his duet with Paul McCartney, “The Girl Is Mine.”

Quiz Answer: Those were the first “outside songs” (songs that Jackson didn’t write) to be released as singles from his three most famous albums, Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad. (I told you it was tough!)

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