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Human Trafficking Part 3: Most Trafficking in the U.S. is not about Sex Work, but Labor by Immigrants


Part 3 of a five-day investigative series on human trafficking in Maryland Capital News Service produced by student journalists and professional editors of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland College Park. 


For a girl from Cameroon, the idea of America was seen only through a television screen. America was a dream where she could marry the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and be a part of the Beverly Hills 90210 clique.

“The way we see America in Africa, oh my God, it’s like heaven,” said Evelyn Chumbow, a survivor of domestic labor trafficking. “You would have never told me I would see a homeless person or I would be enslaved in America. I would never, ever [have] thought that.”

Labor trafficking can be found in sweatshops, on farms, in restaurants and nail salons, on construction crews and custodial staffs and in American households, according to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. Labor trafficking victims are more commonly immigrants brought to the United States than Americans, according to “Hidden in Plain Sight,” a 2014 Urban Institute-Northeastern University study.

Victims are lured into modern-day slavery with false promises of a better education, work opportunities and higher wages, in search of the American dream, according to the  Urban Institute-Northeastern University study.

Immigrant women who don’t report

“Domestic work is mostly immigrant women,” said Tiffany Williams, former director of the Break the Chain campaign.  “So even those who are on visas are in this precarious immigration status because the employer holds the key to the visa.

“Those who are undocumented don’t come forward, don’t report, don’t challenge unless it’s really bad,” Williams said, “because they don’t want to lose their immigration status.”

Researchers agree that labor trafficking is the leading form of human trafficking, but sex trafficking is the focus of more federal prosecutions, according to a 2015 report by Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of the U.S. House and Senate.

“Unfortunately, the clandestine nature of trafficking makes estimating prevalence really difficult,” Lara Powers, hotline manager and program specialist at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, said in an email.

The federal trafficking statute defines labor trafficking as obtaining a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit them for involuntary servitude.

In 2012, the Department of Justice successfully prosecuted 138 traffickers, with 76 percent of the cases predominantly sex trafficking and 24 percent predominantly labor trafficking.

Because there is no template for what a labor trafficking case may look like, it often is difficult for the public to identify. And domestic labor trafficking in particular is out of sight, with the worker inside a household.

Victims do not always realize they have been trafficked. Victims’ relationships with their employers may start out as ordinary work situations and deteriorate into trafficking over time, Williams said.

Youngster from Cameroon

Evelyn Chumbow

Evelyn Chumbow now travels the country to raise awareness of human trafficking as part of the Survivors of Slavery organization.

Chumbow was between 10 and 12 years old, according to court documents, when Theresa Mubang, an American citizen originally from Cameroon who is now 52, brought her to Silver Spring, after promising Chumbow’s family that she would receive a good education.“But that’s not what happened when I got here,” said Chumbow, now 29.

According to federal court documents, Chumbow said Mubang forced her to cook, clean and care for her children without payment or schooling and routinely beat her. She’d strike Chumbow with the heel of a shoe or a metal broom, and she used a white plastic television cable to whip the girl’s hands or back until she bled, the documents say.

“Sometimes, when she was tired of beating me up, I had to stand up in her bedroom from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. I stand up there really straight, no sleep,” Chumbow said in an interview.

Mubang, now in prison, did not respond to a letter requesting comment.

It was years before Chumbow escaped. Because of isolation from the outside world, Chumbow says she had lost a sense of time and did not know her exact age when she first left Mubang.

A stay with an aunt did not work out. Chumbow eventually found a church and a Catholic charity that alerted authorities. At 17, Chumbow said, she was placed in foster care.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which Congress passed in 2000, allows law enforcement to investigate and prosecute human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking. The law offers legal protections to victims.

Most labor trafficking prosecuted federally

Most labor trafficking cases are prosecuted federally “because state law is less developed than federal law,” said Martina Vandenberg, founder and president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center.

“The laws have been, by and large, on the books a shorter period of time. State’s attorneys general and state prosecutors have tended to focus on sex alone because in the commonplace understanding of human trafficking, most people understand it as sex,” Vandenberg said. “It’s an added level of investigative sophistication to identify labor trafficking cases.”

Vandenberg said that state authorities rarely identify labor trafficking cases. “Frankly, the labor inspectors … are less robust than they should be, less active than they should be, in identifying this kind of abuse.”

Evidence can be difficult to assemble. While force and fraud can be found through physical signs and records, “coercion can take many subtle forms” and is harder to identify, according to a 2015 report from the National Domestic Worker Alliance.

Many cases are challenging to prove because they are rarely discovered while a victim is being trafficked, with few witnesses or physical evidence to corroborate the victim’s allegations, said Rachel Yasser, assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for both arresting and deporting immigrants, but it also investigates instances of human trafficking.  Immigrant workers are afraid to cooperate with the agency because of its contradictory responsibilities and fear they might be deported, though they are victims, Williams said.

Many immigrant workers are more likely to cooperate with other investigators, such as those from the Department of Labor, she added.

Labor trafficking 25% of reported Md. cases

In 2014, about 25% of the 135 potential human trafficking cases reported in Maryland to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center involved labor trafficking. Domestic servitude accounted for 11% of the 135.

Many of the workers recruited from other countries come with hopes like Chumbow’s.

“They come with low levels of education and have a very sincere interest to make improvements in their lives to support their families, and are coming with the hope of achieving the American Dream,” said Isela Bañuelos, one of the co-authors of the 2014 Urban Institute and Northeastern University report.

“Perpetrators of labor trafficking are using this to lure people in, making false promises,” she said.

Almost a third of victims in the U.S. come from Latin America, more than 25% come from Southeast Asia and almost 11% come from Africa, according to the “Hidden in Plain Sight” report.

Of 122 closed labor trafficking cases from four U.S. locations — the urban Northeast, the rural Northeast, the South and the West — studied since 2000 by researchers from the Urban Institute and Northeastern University, about 10% of victims were trafficked from the U.S. and Canada.

Traffickers use the threat of an illegal immigration status to coerce victims by threatening arrest and telling them no help is available to improve their situation, according to the research.

But, Bañuelos said, more than 70 percent of studied trafficked victims legally came to the U.S. on a visa.

Traffickers dehumanize their victims and force their labor by controlling almost every aspect of their lives, researchers say. They control their movements and outside communication, psychologically and physically abuse them and deny them food and medical care all while living in substandard conditions, according to “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

A federal jury in Maryland convicted Mubang in 2004 of holding a juvenile for a term of involuntary servitude and harboring a juvenile for financial gain. In 2005, she was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison. She is scheduled for release in 2021.

Meanwhile, Chumbow has earned U.S. citizenship and her associate degree and is finishing her bachelor’s degree in homeland security at University of Maryland, University College.

Chumbow speaks to groups internationally about long-term services for human trafficking survivors.

“I am an advocate now. I’m using my experience and I’m teaching other people,” she said. “Yes we are survivors, but also we’re above that. We’re also human beings. We are the abolishers of the modern day slavery, and we have to work together.”

By Naomi Eide and Carly Morales


Human Trafficking Part 2: The Internet is a Fertile Field


Behind the numbers on human trafficking arrests is a thriving underworld that depends on a steady stream of vulnerable women and minors for its profits.

To get a better picture of human trafficking’s reach and impact in Maryland, Capital News Services examined hundreds of pages of testimony and evidence produced in three dozen successful trafficking prosecutions over the past decade.

The traffickers aren’t always the flashy, bling-wearing, urban street pimps Hollywood portrays, the records show. They are sex salesmen who use business cards and online classifieds like Backpage to market their products. The business — often referred to by insiders as “The Game” — includes strategy and deception.

Ads on Backpage

Advertisements under the “Escorts” link on Backpage include erotic photos and descriptions of services by location. Last Friday, there were over 200 such ads posted for the Baltimore area (some were duplicates) and even more for the D.C. area.

“WeeKdaY SpEci@Ls SwEEt TrE@T PriCeS U CaN’t Be@T 18-18-18,” reads one Backpage posting submitted as evidence in a 2013 human trafficking case. Many provide ages, but authorities have found some of those listed in their late teens or early 20s are actually minors.

Not all ads are for prostitution, and not all prostitutes are under the control of traffickers. But the Internet, social media and mobile apps have allowed traffickers to reach a wide audience of victims and johns — and then disappear through Web wormholes when police try to track them down.

“In the past, all prostitution was run on the street,” said Montgomery County prosecutor Patrick Mays, who works on human trafficking cases. “Previously, there was a physical location in every city where girls would walk the street. Now it has completely changed with the Internet. Trafficking is all over the place.” (The Washington Post reported in late July that street-walking had returned to some parts of the District.)

Jeremy Naughton, of Oxon Hill, identified prostitutes who were working independently through their website ads, according to evidence presented at his 2013 federal trial in Baltimore. He then posed as a client and, once alone with them, pulled out a gun, seized their belongings, and forced them to prostitute for him in Montgomery County and in New York, prosecutors said.

He intimidated one prostitute into compliance by “snapping the neck of her dog with his hands,” investigators said. He was convicted of sex trafficking and weapons charges and sentenced to 36 years in prison. Naughton, now 34, is appealing. He told CNS through his attorney that he “never denied that he was in the business of prostitution, but the women who worked with him did so voluntarily.”

Drugs, dependency and brute force

Trafficking Maryland live

While traffickers conduct much of their business in cyberspace, the methods for maintaining emotional control over victims are still largely old school: drugs, dependency and brute force.

A blurry surveillance tape from the early morning hours of Feb. 23, 2013, shows the garage of the Maryland Live! Casino: A slender woman stands in front of a heavyset man amid the parked cars. He suddenly swings his fist, delivering a blow to the side of her head that catapults her several feet, stumbling.

He pauses before walking over to connect more punches, striking her in the face as she crouches to shield herself.

Trafficling Lee

According to court records, the woman, referred to as J, was a prostitute; the man, Michael Wesley Lee of Odenton, was her pimp; and the beating was punishment for failing to attract enough customers at the casino to have sex with her.

While Lee sat in an Anne Arundel County jail on an assault charge, his partner, Robert Downing, also of Odenton, took J to a hotel to have sex with customers to raise money for Lee’s bail, the records say.

J escaped when Downing left her alone. She declined to press charges, and the assault case was dropped, records show.

Enticed from St. Louis

Six months after the assault, in August 2013, Lee used the social media website Tagged to entice S, a 23-year-old woman living in St. Louis, to come to Baltimore with the promise that she could work for his “webcam business,” according to court documents. Lee bought the woman a $208 one-way Greyhound bus ticket and she traveled to Maryland in August 2013.

After she arrived, Lee revealed the truth: He was really a pimp with women in several states working for him, court records say. He took her to a Microtel in Linthicum Heights, confiscated her identification — a common ploy by traffickers — and told her she needed to pay off the ticket and a $1,000 initiation fee, court records say.

S “was afraid to challenge Lee because of his size and his demeanor,” and had no money of her own, the records say.  By the next day, she’d had sex with 10 different clients and charged rates as high as $200 — but he kept the money, some of which was used to place advertisements on Backpage, records say.

Around the same time, he lured M, a 21-year-old exotic dancer to the hotel on the pretense that he would get work for her at clubs, according to court records. When he tried to force her to stay to prostitute for him, she ran from the hotel, records say. He chased her, but she escaped by hopping a fence.

S got away several days after M by calling 911 for an ambulance from an Extended Stay hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. When the ambulance crew arrived, she told them about Lee and they called police, who arrested him, according to court records.

Lee, now 31, pleaded guilty to federal trafficking charges and was sentenced in March to 13 years in prison. Downing, now 46, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of using interstate facilities to promote and facilitate a prostitution business and received a 46-month term. Both men declined to be interviewed by CNS.

Parent trap

Single mothers make an especially vulnerable target for traffickers. Pimps often use the children as a soft spot to exploit — either offering a way to support the child or threatening the child if the mother refuses to meet their demands, court records show.

R left her parents’ home in a small Guatemalan town at 17 for the United States. She was raped in transit and gave birth to a baby girl after arriving in America, she later testified in federal court.

She took a job in 2006 making around $400 a week at a recycling plant in Prince George’s County and moved to Langley Park, a landing spot for many Central American immigrants who arrive without legal immigration papers. A man spotted her at a restaurant and offered to pick up the bill. She refused. But within weeks, the two were dating, she said in court.

He told her that he was in construction, that he was a painter, she said. His aunt could care for her baby at her house while she worked. Three months into their courtship, with her baby under his control, he told her how he really made his money: “Selling women,” she testified.

And soon R, in fear for the baby’s safety should she say no, was working for him.

She became one of the prostitutes in a brothel the man had set up in a house in the Washington suburbs, she said in federal court.

Trafficking Ventura

Then she met German de Jesus Ventura. He was a client who told her he would take her away from this life and take care of her and her daughter, R said. She wouldn’t have to prostitute anymore if she came with him, she said.

At the beginning, their relationship was “very perfect,” she said.

Then one day, Ventura tossed her a box of condoms and told her it was time to get to work. When she refused, he beat her, she testified at his 2013 federal trial in Baltimore on trafficking charges.

Ventura didn’t just run prostitutes – he controlled them with violence, and used them to build a network of brothels, according to court records.

“I didn’t want to have sex with men,” R told the court during Ventura’s trial. She told how he would threaten her and the other prostitutes with guns, how he abused her “with his fists and a belt” when she resisted him.

Trafficking Fuertes

“He would beat me and tell me that he was going to kill me,” she said.

Court records outline how from March 2008 to November 2010, Ventura and his partner, Kevin Garcia Fuertes, expanded their prostitution business from a small brothel in an Annapolis apartment to a major sex trafficking ring that operated out of residential neighborhoods and sprawled across the borders of Maryland and Virginia.

Attracting customers with business cards

To attract customers, he used accomplices to distribute business cards advertising “deportes” or “sports” in the vicinity of his brothels, records say. These cards signaled to seasoned patrons where to find prostitutes.

Paper tally sheets scrawled by Ventura and later confiscated by authorities, recorded whether each girl was reaching her quota – as many as 30 men a day. One 15-minute session typically cost $30. The women were allowed to keep half of those proceeds, according to trial testimony.

Despite at least one police raid, in 2008, the prostitution operation carried on for two more years before a joint investigation by federal and state law enforcement gathered enough evidence to arrest Ventura and Fuertes on sex trafficking charges. It took court orders to track cell phones and surveillance to photograph Ventura transporting women for prostitution, records say.

A jury convicted Ventura, now 37, of sex trafficking. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. His case is on appeal. Fuertes, now 27, also was convicted of sex trafficking and sentenced to nearly 20 years.

Neither man could be reached for comment.  At his sentencing, Ventura said, “I have never sold prostitutes” nor harmed anyone and that “the only thing I did with Ms. [R] was to help her.”

At the time of the trial, R had obtained a work permit and found a job as a laborer in construction. But her baby had been taken during the 2008 police raid of Ventura’s brothel, she testified, and legally adopted by another family.

Runaway problem

Runaways are among the easiest targets for traffickers, advocates say: Many come from troubled families and unstable living situations. They’re often on their own without money or shelter.

“These victims are looking for somebody who’s there to pay attention to them and somebody who might be the first person in their life to offer them the care, support  and love that they’re looking for,” said Alicia McDowell, executive director of the Araminta Freedom Initiative, a Baltimore anti-trafficking advocacy group.

Harvey Mojica Washington was charged in state court with misdemeanor human trafficking, sexual assault of a minor and other charges stemming from his recruitment of C, a 14-year-old runaway, for his prostitution business in January 2012. The trafficking charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to a third-degree sex offense, a felony.

At his sentencing hearing in March 2015, Prince George’s County Assistant State’s Attorney Christina Caron-Moroney said that Washington fed and clothed C for a few days after picking her up off the street before revealing the real price of his attention: prostitution.

She was shown how to post ads on Backpage to attract clients and how to turn tricks, the prosecutor said. Washington instructed her to sleep with men in cars in a parking lot until she raised enough money to get a hotel room, she said.

Trafficking web traffic chart

The girl contacted friends through Facebook to tell them she was unhappy with what she was doing and wanted a way out. When Washington found out, he “became violent with her,” Caron-Moroney said at the sentencing. Her mother sought the FBI’s help and, through her friends, agents tracked her down in February 2012.

Washington, now 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years suspended.

“This is the time for excuses and reasoning, and I have neither,” Washington said, voice weak, at his sentencing. “I’m not opposed to any sentence, I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

C decided not to testify in person at the sentencing. The girl had spent more than two years in a treatment facility for post-traumatic stress disorder following her ordeal, Caron-Maroney said. So the teen wrote a letter to the court, which the prosecutor read aloud.

“I am not his first victim of this type, but I would like to be the last,” C wrote. “I couldn’t sleep for months thinking this man would be free and come and find me or my mom and little brother.… He puts girls in this situation, takes away their pride, and joy of becoming a woman just to make money.”

By Katelyn Secret, Jin Kim, Jessica Evans and Courtney Mabeus
Lisa Driscoll, Jon Banister, Fatimah Waseem, Hayley Goodman and Melanie Kozak contributed to this article.

Special Report Part 1: Trafficking in Dozens of MD Towns while Authorities Struggle to Fight It


These women’s stories, told in a variety of Maryland courtrooms, are similar. And chilling.

R, an immigrant in her early 20s with no papers, a third-grade education and a baby girl, entrusted her life to a man she met at a restaurant in Prince George’s County who told her he’d take care of them. Instead, he beat her and threatened to harm her daughter to force her into prostitution.

S, 23, took a bus from St. Louis to Baltimore to work for a man who promised he’d give her a job in his “webcam business.” Arriving on the ticket he paid for, she learned the man was actually a pimp — who told her she’d have to work as a prostitute to pay him back, including a stint in a hotel near Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

C, a 14-year-old runaway, was walking down the street when a man offered her a ride and a place to stay in Clinton. He pampered her, fed her and took her shopping. Then on the third day, he revealed he ran a prostitution business and expected her to work for him. When she messaged friends on Facebook that she wanted out, he became violent.

Their stories, taken from court records, sketch out a common theme: Traffickers find vulnerable young women, seduce them with promises of security, then force them into the sex trade.

When they resist, they are beaten, drugged, threatened with the loss of their children.

And the businesses are everywhere. From a brick house in a quiet neighborhood to a three-star hotel near a swanky mall, sex trafficking has infiltrated the most ordinary of surroundings in Maryland. Behind closed doors, its victims — runaways, single mothers, immigrants, addicts — do what they’re told in unimaginable conditions.

No part of the state immune

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Howard County detectives arrested Rowland Duffey in room 333 at this Columbia hotel and charged him with human trafficking. A 22-year-old woman told police that Duffey had driven her there from Maine against her will, confiscated her cell phone, demanded she have sex with men who responded to his online ads, and hit her when she resisted, records show. She broke free by telling him she needed emergency care for diabetes. When he took her to a hospital, she sought help. Duffey, now 33, was convicted in state court in 2013 on a misdemeanor human trafficking charge. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Capital News Service Photo Illustration by Alexis Saunders

“I would say that there isn’t any part of the state that’s immune to this,” said Steven Hess, law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.

Three years ago, Gov. Martin O’Malley unveiled the state’s plan of attack at a gathering of 400 people from state, federal and local agencies. A centerpiece of his plan was an ambitious initiative to collect and share data on human trafficking “from every part of government” — and use it to mount a “coordinated, effective, targeted attack.”

Current and former officials say that little progress has been made on the information-sharing plan.

Initially spearheaded by the state police, the effort has been stalled by staff turnover and slow response by government agencies to requests for information, said Amanda Rodriguez, who stepped down in March as human trafficking policy manager for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

She now is chief program officer at TurnAround, a nonprofit social services agency in Towson that works with trafficking victims.

Rodriguez and others involved in anti-trafficking work said lack of information has hurt efforts to win adequate resources on state and local levels to fight the problem. Work on human trafficking cases is mostly done by adding on to the responsibilities of people doing other things.

“To be able to ask for funding, we have to be able to support it with numbers,” Rodriguez said.

How the investigation was done

In the absence of a comprehensive state assessment, Capital News Service obtained a state database of human trafficking arrests and sent public records requests to every county in Maryland.

The reporters also mined police and court files on three dozen criminal investigations from the past decade for details about how victims become trapped, how traffickers operate and how authorities respond locally to what law enforcement and victim advocacy groups say is a significant nationwide problem.

The raw numbers that emerge from enforcement data present a mixed picture: Authorities have uncovered extensive evidence of sex trafficking in Maryland but are still struggling to win convictions with it.

Prosecutors filed 274 sex trafficking cases in state courts between January 2010 and December 2014, according to a CNS analysis of data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Fifty-nine defendants were charged with felony sex trafficking, including 40 cases involving trafficking of minors.

But most of the rest — 215 — were prosecuted under the misdemeanor trafficking provision of the law.

Trafficking chart

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Few defendants convicted

And relatively few defendants were convicted of sex trafficking: Those charges were dropped in two-thirds of the cases. There were two felony and 20 misdemeanor sex trafficking convictions, with 54 cases still open as of December 2014, according to the state’s database.

Federal prosecutions are rarer but more successful. Eighteen cases filed since 2010 — including 11 in which the victims were minors — had resulted in conviction of 21 defendants on federal sex trafficking charges in Maryland.

Many of the federal cases came out of joint investigations between federal and local law enforcement. The U.S attorney’s office coordinates the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, which collaborates with local authorities on prosecution of traffickers and provision of services to victims.

Both federal and state human trafficking laws require proof that a pimp used force, fraud or coercion to control a victim in order to convict on a felony charge. If the victim is a minor, coercion is presumed. Otherwise, authorities must prove that the trafficking victims weren’t willing workers.

Proving that often requires the cooperation of victims — and the emotional and financial hold traffickers have over victims was a top reason investigators gave for not producing more trafficking convictions. Other kinds of evidence — cell phone communications and following the money — take time and resources that haven’t materialized.

Federal penalties harsher

When police have evidence of force, fraud or coercion, the cases often are pursued in federal court, where the penalties are harsher — up to life in prison.

For federal prosecution, prosecutors may consider whether the crime is multi-jurisdictional, includes factors that increase severity — such as drug violations or violence — or if the defendant is a danger to the community, said Rachel Yasser, assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

So most sex trafficking charges are filed in Maryland state court.

A conviction under the felony provision of the state’s human trafficking law carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

But, more likely, the case will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 10 years and $5,000 fine.

Police and prosecutors say they choose that path if they don’t think they can prove the force, threat, coercion or fraud required to win a felony conviction.

“I mean it’s basically a slap on the wrist,” said State Police Sgt. Deborah Flory, whose job includes investigating trafficking cases. “There’s no real penalty. Catching a robbery charge is worse than catching a trafficking charge for an adult.”

That also helps explain why human trafficking charges are dropped in so many cases: Defendants may be convicted on other types of charges — such as prostitution, weapons, drugs or assault that are easier to prove and carry similar or tougher penalties.

Maryland Department of Public Safety officials would not release the full arrest database, which would have allowed CNS to make that determination.

However, a search of criminal court records in Baltimore found that, since January 2013, prosecutors have dropped all charges in eight of the 10 cases that included trafficking charges and deferred prosecution on a ninth. One case led to a conviction on a non-trafficking charge. All involved misdemeanor trafficking charges.

Christine White, head of the research committee for the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force and a University of Maryland, College Park criminologist, said the enforcement statistics are disheartening several years into a major state push to combat trafficking.

“With all the problems with arrests and prosecuting,” she said, “you wonder are we all on the same page?”

By Katelyn Secret, Jin Kim, Jessica Evans and Courtney Mabeus

Say What? Maryland Legislators Score Well with Environmentalists & Businesses


Environmentalists and business groups generally give very different ratings of Maryland legislators based on their votes. But in scorecards just released by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Maryland Business for Responsive Government almost all Annapolis lawmakers improved their scores with both groups.

Democrats, as usual, scored much higher on the environment and Republicans scored significantly better on business issues.

“This year, Maryland legislators earned significantly higher scores for their environmental votes than in years past,” said Marcia Verploegen Lewis, chair of Maryland LCV. “We believe this is because of our work in educating legislators over the years about these urgent issues and the bipartisan support for these priorities in Maryland.”

“Generally, the legislature assumed a more moderate stance this year on issues that affect business and jobs in Maryland,” said MBRG President Duane Carey. “We have a long way to go, but we are giving credit to the General Assembly for avoiding tax increases and publicly acknowledging the need to improve our business climate.”

LCV used four votes to rate the legislators related to fracking, climate change and changing the rain tax (stormwater fee) mandate. Senate Democrats earned an average score of 95% (most scored 100%), Senate Republicans averaged 46%, as did House Republicans. House Democrats averaged 99%.

Here is the complete LCV scorecard.

Business group operates differently

The business group operates very differently from the League of Conservation Voters, which actively lobbies lawmakers on bills it favors. LCV took great pride that its members made 1,000 phone calls and sent 10,000 emails to legislators advocating for and against legislation.

MBRG does not lobby or identify legislation it backs, and sometime uses little noticed legislation to make an assessment, such as its opposition to the expansion of punitive damages for drunk driving lawsuits. MBRG opposes any attempt to weaken “Maryland’s appropriately stringent standard for awarding punitive damages” in any kind of lawsuit, it said in its 2015 Roll Call report.

In that report, based on eight Senate votes and 11 votes in the House, nine senators and 34 delegates, all Republicans, scored 100%, while seven Democratic senators scored below 30%.

Perhaps most telling are the top scorers for veteran Democrats who have served more than four years, four-term Del. Eric Bromwell of Baltimore County with lifetime MBRG score of 59% (71% in 2015) and five-term Sen. James Ed DeGrange of Anne Arundel County with a score of 68% (60% in 2015).

Somewhat reflecting the shift in State House politics or just the votes MBRG chose this year, both longtime Democratic presiding officers of the Senate and House improved their scores from last year.

Senate President Mike Miller of Calvert and Prince George’s counties went up from 25% to 60% with a lifetime cumulative score of 55%. House Speaker Michael Busch went up from 30% to 43% with a cumulative score of 47%.

Two Republican delegates in their second four-year terms scored 100% — Kathy Afzali of Frederick County and House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore and Harford counties. Republican Sen. Ed Reilly of Anne Arundel County was the top Senate veteran with 98%.

By Len Lazarick

Education: Schools Must Choose More Standardized Tests in the Fall


Maryland public school systems will weigh this summer whether to add more standardized testing for 11th grade students in an effort to conform to a new state law that kicks in during the 2015-2016 academic year.

They face a choice of whether to add two Common Core-aligned tests to assess college and career readiness, or use scores from one of several already established college entrance exams like the SAT. It’s also possible students who take a college placement exam could be exempt from taking PARCC in school systems who elect to use it.

“Local systems will have to identify by September/October if they will use PARCC tests or a different assessment for determination of college and career readiness,” said Maryland State Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard.

A state law passed in 2013 requires all 11th graders be tested for college readiness in English language arts, literacy and mathematics by the end of 2015-2016 school year.

State board votes

“Each district will determine what test they will use,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery at the June 23 State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting.

While the 2013 law calls for college placement scores to determine readiness, state education board members approved the use of the PARCC English 11 and PARCC Algebra II assessments — for students enrolled in those courses — last week.

The board voted 8-0-2. Andrew Smarick, a Hogan appointee, and board member Larry Giammo abstained from voting.

“I want more information,” Smarick said. “I’m in favor of giving [local school systems] more discretion over assessment decisions at the high school level, but there are a lot of ripples from testing decisions.”

The 2016 state education budget includes $913,200 for the PARCC English 11 and $837,100 for the PARCC Algebra II assessments, totaling $1,750,300. If school systems choose not to use the PARCC tests, there will be no state funding to cover the alternate tests.

The estimated PARCC test costs were based on all eligible students within the state. Any unused funding will be returned to the state education budget, Reinhard said.

Educators happy

A spokesman from the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), which represents 71,000 educators in Maryland, said they were happy the State Board gave county school systems a choice in using the PARCC assessments.

“In too many instances, tests are mandated before their effectiveness is proven,” said MSEA spokesman Adam Mendelson.

However, Mendelson also noted that educators were continuing to monitor the amount of testing taking place and will continue to fight for restoring time for more student learning.

“While the effect of this decision by the State Board remains to be seen, increases on top of the already large testing burden facing our students would be a step in the wrong direction.”

SAT can replace PARCC

Students in school systems who choose to use the PARCC tests may still take the SAT or another college placement exam. Students taking the SAT, for example, could be exempted from taking the PARCC tests if they score at a certain level, said MSDE Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith.

“Indeed, it is likely that students interested in going to a four-year college will do this,” said MSDE spokesman William Reinhard.

Last year, he said 41,620 out of 59,018 graduating seniors — about 70% — had taken the SAT in Maryland.

State law does not require students to pass the exams in order to advance to the 12th grade. However, students who do not achieve the minimum scores will be required to enroll in a transition course in their senior year.

PARCC English 9 and PARCC geometry tests were also approved for use in schools for students enrolled in those classes. The PARCC geometry test could replace the mandatory middle school math 8 test for middle school students taking geometry. Smith estimates some 5,000 middle school students take geometry.

“We think the student should take a course reflecting the course they are in, not a different test because the federal government says a test has to exist,” Smith said. “It’s all about making it more effective and more efficient.”

English 9 tests could be used by some school systems to gauge where a student is academically and make determinations for the future. It would not, however, replace any required tests, Smith said.

The state education department budgeted $989,000 for the geometry test and $989,000 for the English 9 test. The state education department, however, does not expect that all school systems will use all four of the newly approved PARCC tests next year.

“English 9, I would predict, maybe no one will use at all next year,” Smith said.

By Glynis Kazanjian


Gov. Larry Hogan Announces Cancer Diagnosis


For weeks, we’ve been anticipating a major announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan up or down on the Purple Line. But as his family filed into the State House reception room Monday afternoon, even from afar, it was clear this announcement was not about mass transit.

As is typical with this tight-lipped administration, word had not leaked about the shocking news that the governor had a very virulent form of cancer (lymphoma) that was eating him up from within. There had even been some misinformation about a bug he caught in Korea on a trade trip.

Five months to the day since he took office, Hogan was again confronted with the awful and unexpected as he had been with the Baltimore uprising in April. This time the disruption was more personal, and he confronted it in the same way; plain, direct, forceful and with considerably more humor than could be expected. The state of emergency this time was his own.

He lightened the scary announcement by joking he had “much, much better odds” at beating the big C than he had beating Anthony Brown last year.

Believing he can win

Hogan may have been one of the few people early on to actually believe he could defeat Brown. But having seen that resolve carry him on an improbable path to victory, defeating this disease seems less improbable.

Even as spoke of this battle, and the 18 weeks of aggressive treatment, he stayed on political message. You probably won’t see it on most of the TV clips, since it sounds like a loop of his campaign speech, but you can see it here in the video, as he talks about the odds in this fight being better than the odds on repealing the rain tax, delivering tax relief, reining in state spending without tax increases or reducing tolls.

Given those odds, this guy does not expect to lose this fight.

Choosing Rutherford

Hogan’s decision to choose Boyd Rutherford as lieutenant governor looks even wiser in this perspective of a man who will need a good second-in-command to run the government when he is ill. As secretary of the Department of General Services in the Ehrlich administration, Rutherford acquired a wide knowledge of state government, and attended scores of meetings of the Board of Public Works that he will be chairing more often. Low-key, steady and less political, Rutherford seems a good complement to a governor always in a campaign mode.

Hogan insists he will continue to work at running the government. Yes, he’ll lose his hair — adding to the growing collection of photos of Hogan in hats — and lose some weight. It’s likely that on some days the governor will look like death warmed over.

But he has promises to keep, and he made this last promise.

“I won’t just beat this disease. I’ll be a better and stronger person and governor when we get to the other side of it.”

If he does overcome the Big C, the big Ds of Mike Miller and Mike Busch won’t look so formidable.

By Len Lazarick

Concerns Mount on Pennsylvania Nitrogen Pollution Coming Into the Bay


U.S. senators from Maryland and Pennsylvania are raising concerns over the nitrogen levels in the Susquehanna River, which in turn threatens the health of the Chesapeake Bay. They are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase aid to watershed states.

In a letter sent last week to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr., both Democrats, suggested inadequate federal resources are causing shortfalls in Pennsylvania’s nitrogen reduction through the federally mandated Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

“The USDA must live up to the leadership role it’s been given in our region by providing improved financial and technical resources necessary for the Susquehanna River Basin and Chesapeake Bay Watershed farmers to meet the goals of the state WIPs,” said the letter.

Through quoting the 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, Cardin and Casey outlined the secretary’s duty to concentrate federal programs within priority areas located in Chesapeake Bay counties.

“We expect USDA to fulfill its legal duty to provide greater resources to farmers in the Susquehanna River Basin and Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” they stated.

Nitrogen Reduction Falling Short

The senators’ unease arose from the 2014 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, which calls for greater nitrogen reductions.

While Pennsylvania has met some goals, on-track to reduce phosphorous and sediment pollution by 60% in 2017, nitrogen levels remain a problem.

“Pennsylvania has made progress in the agriculture and wastewater sectors to ensure implementation is occurring, even though all its milestone commitments were not achieved,” said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its February 2015 assessment. “However, projected reductions for nitrogen would be substantially behind schedule.”

Farmers’ Efforts Unrecognized?

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, representing 60,000 farms and rural families across the state, believes the EPA’s computer calculations misrepresent pollution reduction efforts along the Susquehanna.

The EPA measured only federal cost-share programs going into effect, also known as Best Management Practices (BMP).

But BMP programs like riparian buffers, vegetated buffers, contour strips and no-till farming are in many cases fully paid for and implemented by farmers themselves, therefore not measured in the report, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

“One of the top frustrations among Pennsylvania farmers located in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has been the lack of credit they receive for all of the efforts they’ve taken to reduce runoff and soil erosion,” said Mark O’Neill, director of media and strategic communications.

The farm bureau would welcome additional federal funding for technical assistance, in order to help the farmers paying for BMP programs, he said.

Pollutants in the Susquehanna

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.02.01 AM

The Susquehanna River stretches 464 miles through Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, picking up nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment along its way. It provides half of the freshwater flowing into the Chesapeake Bay,

As of 2009, the EPA estimated Pennsylvania to be the source of nearly half the nitrogen running into the bay (44%). The Susquehanna was estimated to be carrying 46% of all nitrogen entering the bay.

Earlier this month the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed a cancerous tumor found on the lip of a small-mouth bass caught on the river last year.

The PFCB press release indicated finding cancerous tumors in fish is extremely rare.

Groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and PFCB believe this case will draw attention to their concern over the health of the lower 98 miles of the river, claiming it is “compromised,” and needs a restoration plan.

According to the Bay Foundation, about 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams are impaired.

“As we continue to study the river, we find young-of-year and now adult bass with sores, lesions and more recently a cancerous tumor,” said Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. “We’ve known the river has been sick since 2005, when we first started seeing lesions on the smallmouth. Now we have more evidence to further the case for impairment.”

While agriculture is not the only contributing factor for an unhealthy bay, it is a large contributor.

“Sediment and nutrient runoff from farm fields and suburban and urban lawns and hard surfaces are two of three leading sources of stream impairment,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.

2017 Programs to Meet 2025 Standards

The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was created in 2010 to put the bay on a “pollution diet.” The plan requires states contributing to the watershed reduce their overall nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution output.

To meet its overall TMDL allocations, Pennsylvania has committed to achieving approximately 75% of its necessary nutrient and sediment reductions from the agricultural sector.

“We are committed to helping our farmers and committed to helping reduce the amount of pollution that reaches the Susquehanna River Basin and Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Cardin, who is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We can do both effectively, with the right resources.”

TMDL programs are required to be in place by 2017, in order to have reduced overall pollution by 60% in 2025.

By Rebecca Lessner



New Law Aims to Protect Oyster Farms from Poachers


As oyster farming grows in Maryland, legislators moved to protect the product that protects the Chesapeake Bay by enacting HB 287, to help leaseholders of aquaculture plots — oyster beds suspended in open water cages — to recoup damages from poachers.

Those caught poaching would be subject to pay three times the cost of their illegal harvest directly to aquaculture farmers, who are collectively leasing 4,000 acres of the Maryland Bay.

“The state of Maryland has a long history with getting this industry up and running and it’s about ready to take off, as long as we don’t kill it,” said Bill Sponsor Del. Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s.

According to O’Donnell, smaller aquaculture farmers are being hit hard when poachers damage their plots.

Through Submerged Land Leases as well as Water Column Leases from the state, farmers are able to legally grow and harvest oysters on dedicated plots in the Chesapeake Bay. There are currently 319 oyster aquaculture leaseholders within the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Oysters not only filter bay waters, but also are a key anchor in the ecosystem, creating a foundation for bay grasses, which in turn shelter grass shrimp, rockfish and crabs.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 7.04.49 AMIn 2010, Maryland opened 600,000 new acres of the Chesapeake Bay to be leased for oyster harvesting since the current leases were maxed out.

DNR has been accepting new applicants for aquaculture plots since the expansion. Just last year, the value for aquaculture equaled $3 million and the wild harvest exceeded $14 million.

Since industry is growth is new, the Natural Resources Police (NRP) are still focusing primarily on enforcing oyster protection around “sanctuaries,” state protected oyster-beds that are not harvested.

While officers will respond to calls from aqua-farmers, they are not patrolling aquaculture areas as heavily they do oyster-sanctuaries.

Repeat offenders

Natural resources police boat by AccessDNR on Flickr
Natural Resources Police boat by AccessDNR on Flickr Creative Commons License

Candy Thompson, public information officer for Maryland NRP, said the department recognized a need for a crackdown on poaching two years ago, with the implementation of the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network. This radar works around the clock to monitor commercial fishing practices.

The radar sends an alert to NRP officers whenever a trespasser enters a restricted zone. Thompson compared the system to a “Swiss Army knife,” having more uses than originally intended, including watching oyster sanctuaries. The radar can be used to track poachers outside of sanctuaries, but officers only respond when they get a complaint of poaching.

Earlier this season, Adam Rodney Antes, 32, of Nanticoke, was intercepted by the Natural Resources Police (NRP) in Somerset County while poaching oysters on protected land.

Antes had two bushels of undersized oysters on board his boat, if found guilty of charges he faces a maximum penalty of $8,000. NRP reported this as the third oyster-related charge Antes has received in the last year.

The market price of oysters fluctuates, sometimes the profits of poaching can outweigh the fines. Because of this poachers charged are often repeat offenders.

According to the 2014 Oyster Season Enforcement Report, NRP issued 131 citations and 160 warnings for various oyster violations last year.

Now, aquaculture farmers are also experiencing the effects of poaching.

“These growers cannot lock their doors when they leave their business at the end of the day,” said O’Donnell. “The NRP does not have the personnel to watch them all the time.”

According to O’Donnell, his constituents say the Natural Resources Police are stretched too thin, unable to boat to the oyster bed before the poachers have left.

Now, if the farmer is able to capture video footage and the poacher is caught afterwards by the NRP, they are liable to the leaseholder for damages three times the value of the shellfish harvested, restoration costs and attorney fees.

Oyster Restoration = Bay Restoration

O’Donnell believes helping aquaculture growth in Maryland will also help clean up the bay, as oysters filter phosphorous and nitrogen out of its waters.

“Science has shown that one average oyster can filter fifty gallons of water a day, yet we often forget that as an oyster grows larger, its filtering capabilities increase exponentially,” said the Coastal Conservation Association Maryland (CCA MD) in a letter to DNR.

In order to help these oysters grow larger and increase their population across the bay, conservation advocacy groups are using volunteer programs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has been using volunteers to protect baby oysters, called “spat,” in oyster gardens until they are able to mature. Each volunteer grows 1,000 to 2,000 spat in wire mesh cages, suspended from piers into the Bay, over a nine-month period.

In June, the full-grown oysters are returned to CBF, who will then plant the mature oysters in sanctuary reefs. Volunteers who want to continue gardening will pick up a new round of spat, beginning the process again.

With help from oyster gardeners, CBF planted 29 million juvenile oysters throughout the bay last year, with 23.8 million in Maryland.

By Rebecca Lessner

Analysts See ‘Hard Core’ Liberal Democrats Running for U.S. Senate


Democratic primary voters should find little difference in political ideology between the two candidates running to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski, according to outside analysts.

Both U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are ranked “hard core liberals” by On The Issues, a political website that analyzes policy issues supported by federal, state and local politicians.

Both Edwards and Van Hollen are considered reliable Democrats, who vote with their party 100% of the time, according to The Sunlight Foundation, a national, non-partisan organization that focuses on transparency and accountability in government and politics.

Edwards, of Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, is considered one of the most liberal members in the House of Representatives, ranking among the top 10% of all members, according to, a government transparency website that tracks legislation in Congress and legislators’ voting records. She is also considered the most liberal of Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation.

While both politicians share very similar political views, Van Hollen is considered slightly to the right of Edwards because of his willingness to work across the aisle with Republicans.

Sponsoring bills with Republicans

In the 113th Congress, which ran from January 2013 to January 2015, 29% of the 325 bills Van Hollen cosponsored were introduced by someone other than a Democrat, and 37% of bills in which Van Hollen was lead sponsor had Republican co-sponsors.

In contrast, Edwards, has a 0% rating for writing legislation that was also co-sponsored by a Republican, and she is tied for sixth lowest among all House Democrats for co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation.

“Edwards tends to gather co-sponsors only on one side of the aisle,” GovTrack reported.

In a potential larger field of candidates, though, both Edwards and Van Hollen would be considered to the left of center. Prospects like Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, 2nd congressional district, of Baltimore County and Rep. John Delaney, 6th, of Montgomery County and western Maryland, are shown to be a little more bipartisan.

Ruppersberger ranks the highest amongst Maryland’s delegation for co-sponsoring legislation across the aisle. In the 113th Congress, 46% of the bills Ruppersberger co-sponsored were with members from parties other than Democrats; Delaney came in second at 34%.

“What’s interesting about bringing a Ruppersberger and Delaney dynamic [is], it introduces a more moderate candidate to a Maryland that recently rejected Anthony Brown,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, 7th, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. John Sarbanes, 3rd, have also been reported as considering running for Mikulski’s seat.

Most progressive to most conservative

On a spectrum of most progressive to most conservative, Edwards, Cummings, Van Hollen and Sarbanes – in that order – are considered the most liberal, according to GovTrack, while Delaney and Ruppersberger are considered more moderate.

“Make no mistake about it, Delaney and Ruppersberger are still Democrats,” Kromer said. “They’re just more moderate Democrats.”

According to OpenCongress, an affiliate of the Sunlight Foundation, Ruppersberger votes with his party 94% of the time and Delaney votes with party 85% of the time.

Still blue state

Kromer, who oversees political polls produced by Goucher every spring and fall, said while she thinks there’s an outside chance voters could elect a Republican to the Senate, she still thinks Maryland is a blue state.

“While you hear a lot of talk that Maryland is a purple state now, I don’t think we’ve gotten to that point,” Kromer said. “It’s still a blue state, but I think it will be interesting to see what type of blue state candidate will rise up through the Democratic party.”

Kromer believes the difference between a liberal candidate versus a moderate candidate will boil down to the type of initiatives the senator would throw their weight behind.

“There are two different ways to look at it,” Kromer said. “Does it matter in terms of party line vote, probably not. The difference is, the things they emphasize will be different. A more progressive candidate like Edwards or Van Hollen might throw their weight behind or spearhead different initiatives than a Ruppersberger or Delaney.”

For example, Ruppersberger, who is rated as a “populist leaning liberal” instead of a “hard core liberal,” does not support amnesty for illegal aliens.

Delaney comes from a business background with a history of creating thousands of jobs as chief executive of financial services companies he has founded and taken public.

“It will be interesting to see who Maryland prefers to send,” Kromer said.

By Glynis Kazanjian