Eric Lee Can’t Help It If He’s Lucky. But What About Those Who Aren’t?

This follows up on yesterday’s post, Be Careful What You Post on Social Media: Remember the Lee Brothers? and you should read that first.

I ended that post with a few questions. In December 2011, 4 people were arrested for trafficking. Two have court case numbers. Two don’t. The two that don’t aren’t the sons of the owners of the Pinnacle School, which has as one of its campuses the Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP). The CEO is owner Karen Lee. Her son Eric was employed at ERTP as a counselor and is now a supervisor and is one of the 4 arrested who doesn’t have a court case number.

This puzzles me: What does it mean not to have a case number? Not guilty? Dismissed? Or trial pending?

My speculation is that it means either not guilty or charges were dismissed. Why? Because the other son with no case number, Charles Lee, Jr., was arrested 1/30/2013 on an unspecified felony charge and released 1/25/2014. My thinking is that if he were still awaiting a court date for the 2011 bust and was convicted of a felony, then he would not have been released. This could well be erroneous thinking since it doesn’t factor in money and influence.

So if the 2011 charges against the brothers Lee were dismissed, I guess there would be no reason for the guy not to be a supervisor at a remote whatever ERTP is. His mother seemed sure all along he wouldn’t be convicted. But why?

As I said in the title, Eric Lee can’t help it if he’s lucky. Here he is, in the presence of 24 lbs of pot, $37,600 in cash, and a small arsenal when the Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team comes busting through the door of a $138,000 home in Madison. And yet he is free.

He can’t help it if someone (Mom?) can come up with $25,000 bond for him and another $25,000 for his brother so they were in jail only 4 days.  You, I and the man on the moon all know if he had been poor — guilty or not — he’d be in jail awaiting trial. Contrast his predicament with that of the 19-year-old who died naked on the floor of his Madison County jail cell from an infected foot that was never treated. He was arrested in June 2013 for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs and in July for passing a fake $100. By August he was dead. Couldn’t come up with bail, I guess. Freedom isn’t free.

So where are we? Either Eric Lee is awaiting trial or his 2011 problems just dissolved. If he is awaiting trial, then his mom, Pinnacle CEO Karen Lee, has some explaining to do about his job.

If not? Well, then there was no mistake about posting the picture of supervisor Eric on the ERTP Facebook page, maybe as a message that all is clear for Eric, or maybe as a middle fingered salute.

I don’t care if any of the Lees smoke pot or not. I’m unequivocally in favor of the legalization of the plant. For one thing, its illegality continues to destroy the lives of some who are arrested and not for others, and this is unfair. But even if marijuana were legalized and possession for personal use not a crime, trafficking would be. Legal marijuana would be taxed. And one of the best reasons for legalization would be to avoid the culture of trafficking, which includes being willing to harm others, which is why the rifles and weapons were confiscated.

I’d say that Eric could be a nice guy for all I know, except that even if he just stumbled into the house with the 24 lbs of weed, $37K in cash, and shotguns and rifles, what kind of man would be at ease earning his [artisan] bread and [creamery] butter for depriving teens of their liberty and subjecting them to who knows what kinds of torment because they were stupid enough to get caught with a joint in a Huntsville City School and unlucky enough not to have money for a high-profiled attorney and were not to the manor born? One with the integrity of puddle scum, I guess. Or a question of upbringing.

Even if Eric just stopped by the house at the wrong time, his judgment at hanging out with traffickers should disqualify him from a position of responsibility for other peoples’ kids. What does this have to with Huntsville City Schools? Some of those whom Eric Lee are supervising have been sent to ERTP by HCS, and some I expect are there because of social media monitoring. If private pay parents wish to spend tens of thousands of dollars on ERTP without questioning the qualifications of its staff, that’s their decision. But if the public is footing the bill, it should have the assurance that ERTP’s staff, every single one, is qualified and has good judgment. 

As I said back on Sept. 14, 2012, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lees were not convicted. I would be a little surprised if the charges were simply dismissed, but just a little. Why?

Enter Robert Broussard, DA Madison County.

If the charges against the Lees were dismissed, it comes down to the District Attorney for Madison County, Robert L. Broussard, a man for whom I have even less respect than I do for Col. Wardynski. And that is saying something. 

The  Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team is a division of his office, and this team is a specialized and extra-well trained and funded one. I would imagine that they look before they leap, and had an eye on the four people they arrested long before 12/9/2011. All four. A raid like this should have been executed when no stray people were on the premises. This was no broken tail-light, oh my, there’s 24 pounds of weed in the trunk bust. But “Lee” is a fairly common name, and so maybe they hadn’t done their homework well enough to discover they were about to mess with the sons of the power elite.

If the charges were dismissed, I for one would love to hear the story concocted to explain this.  I haven’t the brainpower to imagine how a specialized drug squad could make such a boo-boo. How, exactly, can you be in a house with 24 lbs of marijuana, etc. and walk away from the charges? What was special about the Lees’ presence that didn’t apply to the other 2 arrested, who do have court case numbers? 

What was different about the Lees in contrast to McDonald and Porter? Money. Not just the Lee’s own stash, being augmented by the public through their contract with the HCS, but the money that has gone into propping up Wardynski, who is a great enabler of Karen Lee.

So here’s the situation again. I expect no answer.

1. The charges against Eric Lee are still pending. This means that Karen Lee’s assurance to the public that Eric would not be counseling at ERTP needs some scrutiny.

2. The charges against the brothers Lee were dismissed or they were found not guilty. Did the Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counterdrug Team screw up? Or did Broussard choose not to prosecute? Why?

 

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Be Careful What You Post on Social Media: Remember the Lee Brothers?

splcTime for an update on several previous posts from September 2012, starting with The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy and carrying on through Thank you, Crystal Bonvillian. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Nepotism. These posts came months after my first suggesting that sending HCS students to The Pinnacle Schools’ Elk River Treatment Program at the sole discretion of Wardynski was wrong for many reasons.   .

The Sept. 2012 posts were about the arrests of owners Karen and Charles Lee’s sons, Charles Lee, Jr. and Eric Lee for trafficking on December 10, 2011.  Reports noted agents seized “24 pounds of marijuana and about $37,600 in cash during the bust” and “weapons, including shotguns and rifles.” 

Two others were busted along with the Lees: Corey McDonald and Stephanie Porter.

Now, parents aren’t responsible for the behavior of their adult children. Hypocrisy, like Karen Lee claiming she can turn your kids’ lives around, isn’t a crime.

Apparently neither is employing someone awaiting trial on charges like these as a counselor supervisor in the remote Elk River Treatment Program, aka Wardynski’s teepees of yesteryear, boot camps this season. Lee says she told the Board about the arrests before her contract with HCS was approved. When the Lees’ arrest came to the public’s attention, and it became known that Eric Lee was up at Elk River,

“Superintendent Casey Wardynski expressed support for Pinnacle and Lee, who he said contacted him Thursday afternoon and told him she was altering her son’s duties with the program pending resolution of his case.

“She is removing him from the Elk River program and he will be working other duties,” Wardynski said. . . . Lee told The Times on Thursday that her son would remain an employee, just as any employee would if they were charged with a crime but had not been convicted. That will change if he is found guilty of the drug charges. “Of course, if he was convicted he would be terminated,” Lee said.”

So what does this have to do with social media? Well, I was doing a little bit of my own monitoring of Facebook, and paid a visit here:

Elk River Treatment Program. Look in pictures and who do you find? This guy. There are two instances of that same picture, one on July 30, birthday greetings, and then one on July 31, 2014 with the caption: “Mr. Lee is a supervisor at ERTP.” Well, Karen Lee did promise Wardynski  “she was altering her son’s duties.” She made him a supervisor.
lee3Now, it’s true he hasn’t been convicted of anything. He and his brother do not even have case numbers yet, although in a little over 2 months, 3 years will have passed since their arrest. Scroll down to the end of he post first to see what I am talking about.
But interestingly, the other 2 arrested, Corey McDonald and Stephanie Porter, have case numbers but no sentencing.
It took me a while to figure this out. If you have a case number, it shows up. If you don’t, you just have 000-0000 as a placeholder.
If you go to http://jail.madisoncountyal.gov/smartwebclient/, what comes up first are the new bookings, and they have 000-0000 for case numbers too, just like Eric Lee. Now Charles still has no case number for the 2011 arrest, but he seems to have gotten himself in trouble again in 2013 and spent 13 months inside.
McDonald has a case number for the Dec. 2011 arrest .Porter has a possession charge with no case number from the Dec. 2011 arrest, but does have a case number for the trafficking charge.
So what are we to make of this? Four arrested; two have case numbers and two don’t. Why? What does it mean not to have a case number? Not guilty? Dismissed? Or trial pending? I simply don’t know.
And by the way, the Pinnacle guard charged with torture, Julian Boykin? He too has no case number.

Enlarge Photo
LEE, ERIC EDWARD   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/30/1988 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014271 MniNo: MCSO11MNI002388
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 15:05:42 Released: 12/13/2011 1:50:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 23
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 13A-12-231 000-0000 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
TRAFFICKING (MARIJUANA, COCAINE, METHAMPHETAMINE, DRUGS)

 
lee

LEE, CHARLES IVY   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/20/1987 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014270 MniNo: MCSO00MNI058191
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 15:00:19 Released: 12/13/2011 6:40:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 24
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 13A-12-231 000-0000 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
TRAFFICKING (MARIJUANA, COCAINE, METHAMPHETAMINE, DRUGS

lee2

LEE, CHARLES IVY   (W / MALE / DOB: 7/20/1987 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO13JBN001160 MniNo: MCSO00MNI058191
Booking Date: 01/30/2013 09:51:51 Released: 1/25/2014 12:01:00 AM
Age On Booking Date: 26
Bond Amount: $0.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[-] 15-10-60 CC12-3134 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) COURT SENTENCED (FELONY) F $0.00
COURT SENTENCED

 

MCDONALD, COREY ANDREW   (W / MALE / DOB: 10/9/1984 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014269 MniNo: MCSO11MNI014234
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 14:45:10 Released: 12/14/2011 6:45:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 27
Bond Amount: $25000.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC11 7712 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00

 

Enlarge Photo
PORTER, STEPHANIE IRENE   (W / FEMALE / DOB: 8/26/1986 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO11JBN014265 MniNo: MCSO11MNI000693
Booking Date: 12/09/2011 14:10:48 Released: 12/14/2011 5:20:00 PM
Age On Booking Date: 25
Bond Amount: $2500.00
CELL Assigned:
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC11 7709 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $25000.00
[+] 13A-12-212 000-0000 (STAC) POSSESSION OF A CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE F $2500.00


Enlarge Photo

PORTER, STEPHANIE IRENE   (W / FEMALE / DOB: 8/26/1986 )
Status: Released
Booking No: MCSO12JBN008364 MniNo: MCSO11MNI000693
Booking Date: 07/19/2012 13:33:11 Released: 3/13/2013 6:32:00 AM
CHARGES
STATUTE COURT CASE NUMBER CHARGE DEGREE LEVEL BOND
[+] 13A-12-231 DC12-4952 (STAC) DRUG TRAFFICKING F $0.00
[+] 15-10-60 DC11-7708 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) BOND REVOCATION F F $0.00
[+] 15-10-60 CC12 3133 (MADISON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE) COURT SENTENCED (FELONY) F $0.00

 

Thank you, Crystal Bonvillian. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Nepotism.

Crystal Bonvillian, education reporter for The Huntsville Times, is a brave woman worthy of respect. In today’s Times, she has a lead story, “Huntsville school officials defend alternative school after owners’ sons face drug charges.” Well done, Ms. Bonvillian. She is also seeking to discover what is going on in the HCS classrooms following the 1:1 Learning Initiative I-pad / laptop / Pearson curriculum thrust: “How is the Huntsville schools district’s digital transition working for you?”.

Bonvillian reports that Karen Lee, CEO of Pinnacle, said “‘My sons are innocent until proven guilty.'” That’s true. But the question I raised in yesterday’s post, did Lee tell Wardynski and the Board about the arrest before the lucrative contract with her company was signed, remains. [Update 9/14 evening: “When my sons were arrested I let them know and that was before the board vote took place,” said Karen Lee in an interview with WAFF. I didn’t think anything could surprise me. I was wrong.] Whether she did or not apparently doesn’t matter when it comes to Board member David Blair’s opinion: “‘If everybody got judged by their kids, a lot of people would be in big trouble.'”

As a commenter on al.com noted, “Compare this to Wardynski’s ‘off with his head’ response when Grissom’s football coach was charged with a DUI while mowing Grissom’s field.” Point well taken.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Lee, Jr. and Eric Lee aren’t convicted of trafficking. Maybe they were just at that house to deliver a fruitcake to Stephanie Porter, it being the holiday season and all, and had nothing to do with the “24 pounds of marijuana and about $37,600 in cash during the bust” or the “weapons, including shotguns and rifles.” I find it very odd that a reasonably intelligent woman like Porter (see comments here) was stupid enough to get caught again this summer with four pounds of pot. Make of that what you will.

When you look at mugshots over at the Madison County Jail site, smiles are few, and people who look like they are about to burst out laughing rarer still. Here’s the trio of interest here: Charles Lee, Jr., Eric Lee, and Stephanie Porter. Doesn’t Eric look like he is thinking, what in the hell have these two gotten me into this time?

It’s just weird. So Eric is too old for being one of the bad kids in the teepee, but Ma Lee needs to keep an eye on him, and so installs him at Elk River. Or maybe he was already working there as a counselor (does the Board ask for resumes of their contractors’ employees? Isn’t that kinda standard? What’s his degree in? Any relevant training?).

Bold as brass, but here’s another consideration: doesn’t the HCS have a rather extreme nepotism policy in place? See Redeye’s blog and geekpalaver. An owner’s son as employee? No prob, according to Wardynski, since Lee will be  “removing him from the Elk River program and he will be working other duties.”

Board member David Blair, who lives just down the hill from the Lees, is still a big fan of Pinacle’s. He claims,

. . . he and fellow board members looked carefully at the issue of whether to close the Seldon Center and go forward with Pinnacle before their January vote.

“We looked at Pinnacle, their past performance, their methods and the whole-child offerings for our kids that are struggling and are having some discipline problems,” Blair said. “Pinnacle has a proven track record.”

Problems, problems, problems, Mr. Blair.

Pinnacle’s past performance, which he alludes to, was as a very costly, private school.

Pinnacle’s curriculum, as I understand it, is delivered digitally. As we all know, presumably much of all the HCS’s curriculum is delivered digitally these days — when it is delivered at all. So why did the alternative education program need to be contracted out to a private school-of-sorts? Why couldn’t the Seldon crew have used the same technology and software that Pinnacle’s staff gets up and running?

But most important, to me, are Pinnacle’s Elk River programs, the private prison that Huntsville taxpayers are supporting to the tune of $750 a day, every day (now at $193,500).

What’s its track record? What is the track record of any of these wilderness camps? Again, if you can stomach it, watchCongressional Hearings Regarding Deceptive Marketing Practices, Torture, and Death at Behavior Modification Programs for Teens.” Visit the HEAL website, where “you will find links to lawsuits, news articles, and survivor websites detailing the abuses experienced at these facilities.” Elk River isn’t one of the horror stories yet, but aside from any moral or ethical arguments, how about running some cost-benefit analysis for this boondoggle, Mr. Blair? Or paying an unannounced visit? Talking to ex-staffers and inmates?

You want to know why I keep banging my keyboard about this? It’s simple. I’m appalled that children, even badly behaved children, have so few civil rights, including a right to legal representation, privileged communication with a legal representative, and protection from abuse and false imprisonment. And for people to make money, a lot of money, taking advantage of this, is despicable. Got it?

The Pinnacle Debacle: Who Knew What When

Update 9/14 evening: “When my sons were arrested I let them know and that was before the board vote took place,” said Karen Lee in an interview with WAFF. I didn’t think anything could surprise me. I was wrong. It seems that it was the Huntsville City Schools Superintendent and Board that

  1. Thought this unimportant,  and/or
  2. Banked on the public not finding out or not caring.

Update: If you go here, you can search current and released inmates at the Madison County Jail. While the municpal news wire reported that bond for the four suspects was set at $1 million each, the bond listed for the Lee brothers is $25,000 each. Stephanie Porter’s was $1 million, but has been revoked because of her second drug trafficking arrest while out on bond. The fourth suspect as reported by the news wire, Corey McDonald, does not show up as a current or released inmate.

Speculation: Considering the paucity of media attention, I doubt that Superintendent Wardynski or the Board learned that the two sons of Pinnacle Schools CEO Karen Lee had been arrested for drug trafficking the morning after she presented the proposal for contracting with the Huntsville City Schools to provide alternative education formerly administered by the HCS via the Seldon Center. (If you’re just joining us, read the previous two posts.)

Question: Is it plausible that Pinnacle CEO Karen Lee did not know before the contract was signed with HCS that her sons had been charged with drug trafficking?

Answer: Doubtful. The boys likely did not each have $25,000 readily available or the resources to keep the story out of The Huntsville Times.

Reasonable Conclusions: Before the contract was signed, Karen Lee had two choices:

  1. Tell the Supe or any of the Board about the arrests.
  2. Don’t tell the Supe or the Board.

Option 1. Considering the value she places on “character,” one would think that she would tell the Supe or the Board. It may not have a direct impact on the work Pinnacle does, but sooner or later, the truth will out, and it would prove (is proving?) mighty embarrassing to the HCS.

Let’s suppose she did tell the Supe or at least three Board members. That would mean they entered into this contract knowing that Lee’s claims for programs like hers, based on her own kids’ experiences, were dubious at best. Likely? I doubt it. That, if you trust Lee, is exactly what they did.

Option 2: Lee is a businesswoman with a lot of financial resources and clout in the community. Not telling would mean a good chance of getting a lucrative contract. I think this is the more likely scenario.

She was running a risk, but having kept the story out of the Times, she and the Board and the Supe probably thought she they could get away with it.

She made two miscalculations:

  1. Anything that ever was online will surface, sooner or later.
  2. She didn’t factor in how many of her staff would return to civilization, disgusted and disillusioned.

Now what? I haven’t a clue. But while we are thinking about what the Board really knew about Pinnacle when they signed the contract, I have another speculation and question.

Speculation: Did the Supe arrive in Huntsville thinking, what I need are some teepees where I can a handful of bad kids since that would surely establish order in the HCS? Could be, but I think it more likely that someone who stood to profit by an HCS – Pinnacle agreement brought Pinnacle to him. I haven’t found the connection to the Supe or to any of the Board — yet — but see number 1, above.

Questions:  Since January 1, 2012, when the HCS started paying $750 a day ($192,750 as of today, the 257th day of 2012). to reserve five teepees at Elk River:

  1. Has the Supe or any of the Board paid a surprise visit to the camp? Oh, wait. How do you pay a surprise visit to a place without an address in a remote location? And if the visit is scheduled, you might as well stay home.
  2. Have any of them talked to one of those released from the teepees with provisions in place to preserve anonymity or at least lessen the risk of reprisal for telling their stories?

I doubt it.

Why Didn’t The Huntsville Times Report That 24 Pounds of Marijuana Were Confiscated December 9, 2011?

If you think you are getting a fair view of crime news in Huntsville by reading The Huntsville Times or al.com, consider this:

Press Release: Drug arrest on Maplewood Dr. in Madison

**** FOR IMMEDIATE MEDIA RELEASE ****

Date: December 9th, 2011

Contact Person: Lt. John Stringer
Phone # 256-772-5658
Secondary Contact Person: Lt. Terrell Cook
Phone # 256-772-6252

Earlier today the Madison/Morgan County HIDTA Drug Task Force (STAC Team) executed a search warrant at 310 Maplewood Dr. in Madison. The search warrant culminated in the arrests of the following individuals:

25 year old Stephanie Porter of Madison
24 year old Charles Lee Jr. of Madison
23 year old Eric Lee of Madison
27 year old Corey McDonald of Madison

All of the individuals were charged with trafficking in marijuana.
They were booked into the Madison County Jail with a bond of one million dollars each.
Agents confiscated approximately 24 pounds of marijuana and approximately $37,600 in cash.
Several weapons including shotguns and rifles were confiscated as well.

Now try searching for any of the four suspects’ names on al.com. What surfaces? Nothing.

I painstakingly went through the al.com archives for December 9 to 16, 2011. Did I find anything about this bust? No.

Maybe it was just a really busy news period. I did find these stories:

Burglary reported at vacuum cleaner dealer this morning. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 09, 2011, 1:25PM.

Various items stolen in burglary of a Chinese restaurant. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 11, 2011, 2:02PM

Armed robber takes Sudafed from South Memorial Parkway drug store. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 11, 2011, 9:44PM

Athens man charged with fraudulent leasing. By Kim Albright, The Huntsville Times. December 14, 2011, 8:41PM

Cash taken from register in burglary of China House Buffet. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 14, 2011, 1:50PM

Person spotted in Ridgecrest Elementary School Tuesday night gets away. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 14, 2011, 7:35AM

Woman charged in illegal use of boyfriend’s debit card. By Kim Albright, The Huntsville Times. December 13, 2011, 5:53PM

Armed robber takes Sudafed from South Memorial Parkway drug store. By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times. December 11, 2011, 9:44PM

How can a story about a bust involving 24 pounds of pot and a small arsenal of weapons possibly compete with “Various items stolen in burglary of a Chinese restaurant”? Maybe 24 pounds isn’t all that much. But even divided among the 4 suspects, it seems 6 pounds would last quite a while — if they’re claiming personal use.

This is why I am for the legalization of marijuana. As it stands, a few are making big bucks and many are suffering. Way too many are doing, have done, or will do time (or end up in places like the teepees at Elk River) for a few grams of pot because, unlike these four village idiots, they can’t afford million dollar bonds or thousands-an-hour lawyers, let alone buy off most of the local media (and really, how else could this have happened?).

You think this is a one-off exception to the Tennessee Valley’s news profiteers’ relentless effort to bring you breaking news?

Try again.

Just Google “Stephanie Porter.”

You’ll find WAFF was paying attention to the municipal news wires, just as it was in December 2011. One of the four charged in December was busted again in July: Head of drug ring charged with drug trafficking.

Posted: Jul 20, 2012 12:41 PM EDT Updated: Aug 17, 2012 12:41 PM EDT

By Mary Howard

HUNSTVILLE, AL (WAFF) -The Huntsville STAC arrested a woman for alleged drug trafficking. Stephanie Porter, the head of a Huntsville drug trafficking organization, was arrested after police said she trafficked four pounds of marijuana. Porter has had multiple drug arrests including a previous drug trafficking arrest. In previous charges, Porter was charged with trafficking between $30,000 and $40,000 in drugs a month. Porter is in Madison County Jail on $1 million bond.

Well, folks? Any insights? Any explanations?

As Bob Dylan said,

While money doesn’t talk, it swears . . .
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?
And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy

Karen Lee, the CEO of the Pinnacle Schools and its wilderness camps, Elk River Treatment Program and Academy, has one hell of a lot of gall. Within days of shopping her programs for turning around the lives of troubled teens to the Huntsville CIty Schools on the evening of December 1, 2011, her two sons were arrested December 9, 2011, in a major drug trafficking bust:

Four people face charges after a huge drug bust in the Valley. . . Agents said they found 24 pounds of marijuana and more than $37,000 in cash. They also confiscated several weapons. Agents charged Stephanie Porter and Charles Lee, Jr. of trafficking marijuana. Also charged are Eric Lee and Corey McDonald. Their bond is set at a million dollars.

The weapons confiscated included “shotguns and rifles.”

Having two sons busted as major drug traffickers hasn’t changed Karen Lee’s spiel. These are excerpts from the message from the CEO herself, accessed today on the Pinnacle website

. . . I placed my son in a program at the age of 16. I remember being desperate and scared. It is a leap of faith to place your trust, much more so your child, in the hands of perfect strangers. I wanted more than anything, to know my son would be safe and cared for. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made. It was also the best. It saved my son’s life and created in me a passion to advocate, wherever possible, for troubled teens and their families. The number one priority of the programs of The Pinnacle Schools is the safety and care of all. . .

The programs of The Pinnacle Schools are just that; a challenge. It is a contest; not necessarily of skill or strength, but of character; the deepest part of who we are as human beings. . .

I invite you to talk with me at any time and look forward to working with you and your teen.

Character. Trust. Would you entrust your child’s well-being to a program modeled on the one that the Lee boy, now accused of drug trafficking, attended? Can his mother do a better job with your child than you can?

How about alleged drug trafficker Eric Lee? Would you choose him as your child’s counselor, his role model? While Charles, Jr., may for all I know be cooling his heels in the Madison County jail, Eric isn’t. He’s out at Elk River — not as a patient or inmate or redskin or whatever the teepee detainees are called, but as a counselor. Could be this breaks no law or industry regulation, but it sure does show an abysmal deficit of common sense.

Now, ordinarily I would say that what their adult kids do isn’t their parents’ problem. But this situation is far from ordinary.

The Huntsville City Schools is entangled with Pinnacle Schools in a $778,000 to deliver services once provided by the Seldon Center. Moreover, at the cost of $750 a day, every day since January 1, 2012, Huntsville taxpayers have reserved 5 beds in the teepees at Elk River treatment program ($191,250 as of today, the 255th day of 2012). Charles Lee, Sr. and Karen Lee founded the Pinnacle Schools in 2005. From 2007 to 2010, their profits increased by $147%. Their 2010 revenue was $3.6 million. It was named to the Inc.5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2011. Remember, all this was before the Huntsville City Schools’ contract.

I can’t summon sympathy for the Lees, who must be heartbroken at the prospect of their sons facing long prison terms. I can’t because they are profiteers of the so-called therapeutic wilderness camp industry. Kids are detained in these remote private prisons with no outside contact other than censored mail, no legal representation, no trial, no sentence, and no release date. Many — maybe most — haven’t even been charged with a crime; their “crime” is being troubled, or, more likely, being troublesome to authority figures — maybe their own parents, maybe Colonel Wardynski. The most heinous serial killer in a real US prison has more rights than any kid at Elk River.

If you want to find out more about these places, start here. Hope you have a strong stomach.

Let’s be clear: these places don’t operate to save troubled kids. It isn’t about character. It isn’t about advocacy. It is about money. Just like drug trafficking is about money.

Since December 14, 2011, I’ve been telling Huntsville City Schools and Huntsville taxpayers that the contract with the Pinnacle Schools stinks.

So how about it, Col. Wardynski and the Board?