INSIDE INGLEWOOD - The publisher of a five-month-old community newspaper has apparently been the subject of spying and possible wire-tapping.
Morningside Park Chronicle publisher Teka-Lark Fleming had suspected that the constant presence of AT&T and Time-Warner vans outside her house on a daily basis—even weekends—indicated the intent to monitor residents' activity in anticipation of a second break-in of her house. (Full disclosure: this writer is married to the publisher and is the paper's editor-in-chief.)
It was recorded on video tape that when one vehicle departed, another one would arrive shortly afterward not far from where the previous one had parked. More often than not, the driver would remain in the vehicle, and the vehicle would remain for long periods of time—even on Saturdays and Sundays.
No fewer than two of the vehicles photographed were discovered to possess license plate numbers and operator descriptions that AT&T claimed were neither employees nor contractors working for them. No known action was taken to track down the vehicles. Corporate spokespeople from AT&T's regional offices did not return phone calls.
The first break-in occurred on January 23 just before noon. Inglewood police officers remarked that it was clearly a politically motivated invasion. No items of material worth were taken. Boxes of tax receipts were opened and molested by the burglars during the nearly four minutes they were inside the house.
The Chronicle has run stories critical of the fiscal policies of Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts and the current municipal administration. The recently launched paper has also been the topic of articles in area newspapers such as The Sentinel and Inglewood Today. Some of the stories have challenged the Chronicle's financial standing. The Sentinel is owned by friends of the mayor and Inglewood city clerk Yvonne Horton. Inglewood Today is recognized by the city charter as the "official newspaper of Inglewood."
The apprehension of the apparently false T-W "contractor" was thought by some city officials to be carried out by federal agents. The incident took place on February 6 directly across the street from the publisher's house. It was video-taped by an employee of the paper.
The incident began when a phone call was made regarding the suspicious behavior of the driver of a van marked with Time-Warner labels. He had quickly exited the large truck and tapped into the co-axial line of a telco box directly across from the publisher's house. The man then entered the small enclosed box on the T-W truck through a small door over the truck's rear bumper. Video footage shows the co-axial cable plugged into truck's port from the telco box.
Subsequent video footage shows an apparent Time-Warner supervisor's pick-up truck driving to a T-W service truck some blocks from the house. That truck was later confirmed by T-W as being on a proper service call. The distant truck was not visible from the house, but could be seen from in front of a neighbor's house. The T-W operator expressed concern regarding the second "contractor" outside Fleming's house.
After a few minutes, the T-W pick-up returned, driving toward the house. It suddenly swerved into on-coming traffic and backed up against the T-W service truck. Two men in dark windbreakers quickly exited the pick-up and approached the first truck. They knocked on the door after a quick inspection of the cab, and ordered a man out.
While one man interrogated the "contractor," the other turned the truck around to face the rear of the larger truck.
After several minutes of heated gesticulations and words, the alleged wire-tapper was heard to exclaim, "Oh, man, I'm just doing my job!" as he threw his hands into the air. One of the other men ordered the "contractor" to surrender his keys, then followed him to the cab where more items were confiscated.
The suspect was then ordered into the white pick-up truck, and one of the other men commandeered the T-W service truck. The small parade then drove west to Crenshaw and turned north out of sight.
As news of the Inglewood wire-tapping incident was discussed with some city officials, comments were made regarding the close relationships between telco companies and national security agencies, as well as the fact that a number of federal constabulary agencies had lately taken an interest in the city's questionable fiscal health. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI and CIA have become closely associated with communications companies' security details.
The day after the February 6 incident, Milinda Martin, Vice President of Time-Warner Cable's Communications in the Pacific West, wrote in an e-mail that "this matter has received our highest level of attention. Your photos were very helpful to us in identifying the participants in yesterday’s incident."
When asked which agency was responsible for the arrest, Martin stated, "I hope you will understand that we cannot provide more details."
In the two weeks following the incident, only one telco van parked on the streets immediately adjacent to the newspaper publisher's house. That was an AT&T van, which parked minutes after the T-W truck was taken away. The driver, as usual, sat in the van which was pointed toward Fleming's house.
After about 10 minutes, the van suddenly departed, making a U-turn and heading the same way as the confiscated T-W truck and "contractor": toward Inglewood city hall.
(Randall Fleming is a veteran journalist and magazine publisher. He has worked at and for the New York Post, the Brooklyn Spectator and the Los Feliz Ledger. He is currently editor-in-chief at the Morningside Park Chronicle, a monthly newspaper based in Inglewood, CA and on-line at www.MorningsideParkChronicle.com)
Vol 11 Issue 14
Pub: Feb 15, 2013