The Weekend’s Best Investigative Reporting

From squatters in Tarrant County to the far-reaching influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council, we’ve rounded up (and broken down) some of the best enterprise stories from around the state.
Tue December 6, 2011 12:20 am
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On the weekends, papers routinely publish in-depth investigative pieces, so we’ve rounded up (and broken down) some of the best enterprise reporting from around the state.

SQUATTERS IN TARRANT COUNTY
While no one is likely to produce the reality show Squatters of Tarrant County (though you saw that idea here first, folks), Fort Worth Star-Telegram special projects reporter Yamil Berard takes readers inside their world. Squatters of all different stripes have claimed $8 million in properties around the greater Fort Worth area as their own, citing the state’s adverse possession law.

“The cast of characters includes a homeowner who scooped up a dead neighbor’s house; a woman who came to Fort Worth from Memphis to lay claim to a $2.7 million mansion; people who cited Bible verses as legal justification for taking properties; and career criminals who grabbed homes to lease to tenants,” Berard wrote. 

REFORM SLOW TO COME AT STATE AGENCIES
Eric Dexheimer and Andrea Ball of the Austin American-Statesman look into the third abuse scandal at a state institution in five years and see in it a failure to adopt reforms used at other institutions. “None of the basic reforms mandated by lawmakers only a few years earlier at the Youth Commission and state schools made their way to the state hospital system, despite the similarities in the three agencies’ missions: caring for troubled, mentally fragile children in an institutional setting,” they wrote.

In 2009, reforms were enacted at Texas’s state schools for the disabled after it came to light staff had pushed residents to participate in a fight club . Then this October, authorities revealed a psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital had allegedly sexually abused two patients. In the wake of that revelation, state hospital officials say they are now putting rules into place banning one-on-one after hours therapy sessions and other rules that have been in place at the Texas Youth Commission since the 2007 scandal that plagued that institution.

HEAD OF PROMINENT EL PASO ORGANIZATION HAS A DEGREE FROM A DIPLOMA MILL
The head of an El Paso behavioral health center that receives millions from the federal government each year allegedly has a doctorate from a Wyoming diploma mill, Marty Schladen reported in the El Paso Times . Cirilo “Chilo” Madrid, the head of Aliviane, received a doctorate in clinical psychology from Hamilton University, a school which the Government Accountability Office has dubbed a diploma mill.

Hamilton University closed in 2004, Schladen wrote, after the state legislature tweaked the law governing degree-granting institutions. As part of an FBI public corruption investigation, a contract between Aliviane and LKG Enterprises is under scrutiny. According to court documents, Madrid was paid $100,000 in taxpayer money for producing a twenty-page document on, of all things, federal funding.

AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL ENJOYS OUTSIZED INFLUENCE IN TEXAS
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram 's Aman Batheja looks into the outsized influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council in shaping Texas legislation, dubbing the organization “the most powerful force in Texas politics you've never heard of.” ALEC drafts model bills on the group’s pet causes, Batheja wrote, and some of that language found its way into several pieces of legislation this past session including the “loser pays” and voter ID laws, and the sanctuary cities bill.

Some 1,000 state legislators across the country are members of ALEC. “Since 2010, 81 Texas House members have tapped their district accounts to cover ALEC expenses totaling over $125,000,” Batheja reports. While liberal watchdog groups say that “pro-industry, pro-polluter” agendas are pushed at ALEC conferences, ALEC members say the events “are great opportunities for lawmakers to exchange ideas and learn from businesses how government regulations are affecting them.” 

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