African Republic — The dealer pulled back a shiny pink curtain and
sprinkled the contents of two white envelopes across his desk: sparkling
diamonds, more than 100 of them.
gems are sold legally, he explained. But many are trafficked by rebels
who fight over the mines, adding fuel to a six-year uprising that has
killed thousands and displaced more than a million people here in the
Central African Republic.
Now, hoping to wrest control over the diamond trade and piece the country back together, the government has turned to a new partner — Russia — in what some lawmakers fear is a dangerous bargain that trades one threat for another.
And the central
figure behind the Russian involvement, according to local and Western
officials, is Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a confidant of President Vladimir V.
Putin who was indicted in the United States last year, accused of
helping to finance “information warfare” and disrupt the 2016 American
The Central African
government has welcomed the Russians, betting that stability will enable
it to sell more diamonds legally and use the money to rebuild the
“The rebellion in our country
has cost us a lot,” said Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, the spokesman for the
Central African president. “No one came to our aid except the Russian
“With the help of Russia,” he added, “we will be able to secure our diamond mines.”
The diamond merchant, Arab Arab Koussay, who runs one of the country’s largest dealerships, fingered the gems on his desk and expressed a similar view. “We can’t control everything in this country,” he said.
But Russia’s help
comes at a cost. Its representatives have struck deals with the
government to mine diamonds where the trade is legal — one of many signs
that Russia’s push into the country is closely tied to the profits it
Russian operatives have even partnered with murderous rebels to obtain diamonds in areas where the trade is outlawed, cashing in on the very lawlessness they have been brought in to end, according to members of the Central African government, Western officials and some of the warlords themselves.
More broadly, the
fact that Russian mercenaries are training the nation’s troops has
unnerved some lawmakers. Human rights violations in the country are so
common that the United Nations imposed
an arms embargo against Central African soldiers. But the Russian
trainers have been accused of abuses as well, including rounding up
innocent bystanders in mass sweeps.
“I keep thinking of what kind of army we are going to have if they are trained by Russians,” said Hamadou Aboubakar Kabirou, a member of Parliament.
Mr. Prigozhin has ties to mining, security and logistics companies that have been set up in the nation since 2017, according to American intelligence officials, Western diplomats and a security analyst who provided registration documents connecting him to some of the businesses. Mr. Prigozhin also personally showed up for peace talks with rebel groups several months ago, according to one warlord present.
A brief conversation with Muni Transit Car Cleaner Lead Person, Valerie Taybron, led to spewing an emotional colloquy on why she has been unable to retire from SFMTA. She stated that she and others are victims of the mismanagement of their retirement funds, and of years of service. When digging deeper into what was seemingly an obvious error in paperwork, or maybe a simple accounting mistake has opened up Pandora’s box of gross internal mismanagement on surprising levels. Sexual harassment allegations and retaliation has hit transportation giant, San Francisco MUNI. Court documents show that Key management officials at Muni have been under investigation for not only blatant harassment, but also the mismanagement that has plagued SFMTA that has led to endless litigation.
Richmond Resident Valerie Taybron is preparing her case with
authorities to address not only the sexual harassment allegations, but also
retaliation and racial discrimination actions.
Most recently Muni Chief, John Haley stepped down from Sexual Harassment
charges towards his assistant, Sabrina Suzuki, who filed a suit, which led to
his early retirement. In an SF Examiner article released on October 31, 2018,
the problem runs deep with approximately 60 women giving written testimony to
the SFMTA on October 22 addressing sexual harassment allegations. In 2016
Sherri Anderson, a SFMTA employee was another victim of sexual harassment and
retaliation by management that recently settled her case based on court
documents. (Case #: CGC-16-555748)
Although Ms. Taybron has her own separate complaints against Muni, it
is well documented that her case is not an isolated incident. She has reported her allegations to Ed
Reiskin, General Manager Public Transportation, John Haley Deputy Director,
Donald Ellison, Deputy Director of HR, and Hector Cardenas Local of 1021 with
no resolution, or an attempted investigation. Employees suggest that not only
are a good number of sexual harassment issues ignored by management, but also
accusers have been continually retaliated against for their complaints.
In the case of Joycelyn Lampkin, a Muni
car cleaner, who alleged sexual harassment by her supervisor, Darryl Person,
she filed an official grievance with the HR EEO supervisor Maria Valdez with no
resolve. After Mrs. Lampkin took some
time off, she returned to work and inquired about the results of the
investigation and Mrs. Valdez responded to the alleged incident by stating, and
I quote, “You will rot in hell before I will do anything,” per Mrs.
Lampkin. Much like in the recent
February 12th Examiner article that spotlighted change, women who
formed SFMTA change see the first change in the stepping down of Mr. Donald
In a complaint written on October 17, to Mr. Ed Reiskin by Ms.
Taybron, she alleged that her complaints were intentionally ignored because she
was an African-American Female who had previously won a judgment for similar
complaints in the past. Lee Summerlot, the Acting Deputy Director at the time,
supplied Taybron with surveillance footage of the theft of her personal
property along with tracking for her case. (Continued)…
Ms. Valerie Taybron, Muni Car Cleaner
Lead Person, alleges that not only has the harassment continued, but it has
also taken on the form of retaliation. “MUNI management, John Catanach, Acting
Deputy Director, and Berry Gehret, supervisor, have allowed me to be violated
by being sexually harassed, exposed to continued death threats on the job, the
stealing of my personal belongings, denied opportunity on promotions, and
maliciously stealing from my 40 years of service so that I cannot retire.” stated
Ms. Taybron. Mr. Taybron also alleged
that after she took a fall on the job and that Mr. Gehret refused to call an
ambulance for assistance. This continued effort to retaliate against her
compounds the mismanagement and harassment abuse.
Ms. Taybron has mentioned that she has
gone to the retirement board and Michael Guess, Asst. Manager of Retirement for
11 years to date in hopes of retiring with her full benefits. She was
repeatedly denied because of suspiciously missing files that substantiate her
retirement. On October 28, she submitted
a request for documents to Kate McClure, Senior benefits analyst, which Taybron
stated should have only taken three days based on advisement from her union.
She has yet to receive the documents.
The HR department is currently under
investigation among other issues, for pressuring the closure of pending cases
without investigations. As of 11-28-18 Ms. Taybron has yet to receive proper
paperwork for her retirement and her complete years of service. Per Ms. Taybron, Management called her on
11/8/18 to set up a meeting involving a separate issue, however Ms. Taybron
would not agree to meet in person without her representatives. Hector Cardenas, the Union Senior Operations
Manager surprisingly informed Ms. Taybron that he did not get involved with
retirement issues. Mr. Cardenas also represents the Parking Controllers within
the same union who most recently came out in their harassment allegations and
blasted him for not supporting them on allegations of sexual harassment with no
Muni Execs have their hands full as a
result of mismanagement. They are currently also in a racial discrimination
case with a Muni employee, Mr. Sampson Asrot who was denied a promotion as a
Mechanic supervisor who he contends was purposely overlooked. This court case is still pending with a
continuance in January of 2019. Per
court documents, it appears that a number of issues surfaced in this case
within the discovery process have caught the attention of Government
officials. They are currently
investigating other serious issues as they have their eyes set on further
sanctions. (Case #: CGC16-552737)
Muni is not alone. Sexual harassment is
currently going strong in San Francisco, which is even affecting the tech
giant, Google. They most recently ousted close to 50 people in the last two
years for sexual harassment in the workplace. None of those fired individuals
received exit packages. Muni’s systemic
management problems are running deeper than their ongoing discrimination,
retaliation and sexual harassment issues.
In a September 2018 Examiner article, even Sarita Britt, the former
highest-ranking SFMTA female official stated, “They don’t do thorough investigations.”
Muni is just another SF City and County
Department that is suffering from sexual harassment and discrimination
issues. After numerous attempts to
contact Muni management, Ed Reiskin and Mr. Canatch as well as Mr. Paul Rose in
the media division for a statement, they have not responded, or
commented to date.
Accusers say that its time SFMTA
management to step up and resolve their internal management issues so the
company can run more efficiently. Ms. Taybron apparently has to stand in line
and wait her day in court. “My lawyer is currently preparing my complaint,” she
stated. Mayor London Breed has gotten
involved because these cases and judgments are undoubtedly costing the city
significant resources that trickle down to a single bus fare of MUNI customers
It has been painful to watch the downfall of the actor Jussie Smollett.
By now, you are familiar with his story. In January he claimed to have been attacked by two Trump supporters on a cold night in Chicago. Smollett, who is gay and black, recounted that they shouted “This is MAGA country,” roughed him up, called him racial and homophobic slurs and put a noose around his neck.
But according to Chicago police, it was all a hoax. The actor practiced and staged the charade and paid two co-conspirators — Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo — to carry out the attack, authorities say, because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the show “Empire,” for which he has a starring role. In the immediate aftermath of Smollett’s claim, we wrote about the unique challenge of being black and gay, and how that identity can make one feel especially vulnerable. “Jussie is us. That could’ve been any of us,” said a friend of my colleague Pierre-Antoine Louis.
A few of you wrote in to say that Smollett’s story sounded fishy from the very beginning and that it was too soon to jump to conclusions. That, as we have learned, was absolutely right. But it is also true that hate crimes have been on the rise for three years, and that three out of five hate crimes in 2017 were motivated by race.
Once the news broke that the reported attack may have been orchestrated by Smollett, Pierre said he felt “embarrassed” and was worried that people would question his own experience. But he added: “Just because there’s one false report doesn’t mean that the issues we face daily aren’t real.”
False reports of hate crimes are extremely rare — less than 1 percent of those reported, according to some studies — but they tend to draw attention, making it easier for people to denounce them as identity politics run amok, or simply what happens when we treat victimhood as currency.
Smollett was arrested on a felony charge Thursday, and his legal team has denied the claims made by the police. “He wants nothing more than to clear his name,” said Jack Prior, one of Smollett’s lawyers.
Eddie T. Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, was visibly upset during a news conference about Smollett. He said the actor had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate crimes for which people were actually suffering.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said.