Tuesday, November 07, 2006

All Eyes on Raj

From Sepia Mutiny:

Raj Peter Bhakta (R)- As you may recall SM interviewed Bhakta (a Congressional candidate) earlier this year.

Bhakta is the son of Indian and Irish immigrants who has made the elimination of Section 8 public housing and erection of a border fence his central tenets.

To Tom Ellis, the Republican chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, he’s “a breath of fresh air,” a young candidate with ideas and panache who is recognizable to Ellis’ teenage daughters. Bhakta says he’s a reformer - even President Bush is a target - for honest government and fiscal responsibility.

Daily News: For $400?

Philadelphia Daily News recounts family victimization.

A father and his three trembling children stood together, looking down the barrel of a gun.

Two menancing thugs delivered their ultimatum: "Give us the money, or we'll shoot."

This terrifying scene was not a typical holdup, playing out late at night on the corner of a city street. It was taking place in the front bedroom of a home in Kensington Saturday morning, and the assailants were looking for more than spare change.

When it was finally over, police said a woman had been raped, a repairman had been shot, a family had been left forever scarred - and the crooks were on the run after targeting the wrong people.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Candidate in Pennsylvania

From Chennai Online News Service:

Yet at the national level there is interest in Pennsylvania where a maverick 31-year-old Raj Peter Bhakta is on the Republican ticket trying to unseat a Democratic incumbent.

Bhakta has made news not only by being a star in Donald Trump's reality show 'The Apprentice' but also in his seeking to prove the point that America's borders are pretty lax when it comes to enforcement.

Bhakta recently made news--riding an elephant and along with a mariarchi band-- crossing a point in the Rio Grande without being hauled up by enforcement officers. Bhakta is a Republican novice with tough immigration credentials trying to make it on November 7.

Inquirer: Seeking Peril

Philadelphia Inquirer depicts gang epidemic

They call themselves the Lemon Crew, the Scorpions, Tiny Rascals and 60 Lansdowne Crips, and there are dozens of others, laying claim to blocks and neighborhoods across the city.

They are Philadelphia's gangs, and some are extraordinarily violent, contributing to the surge in shootings and murders engulfing the city.

While officials debate the scope of the situation or even the definition of a gang, U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan is certain.

"There is a gang problem," Meehan said.

Daily News: "This Used to be Such A Lovely Neighborhood"

Philadelphia Daily News details robbery, rape.

Two thugs are on the lam after a vicious home invasion in Kensington Saturday, cops said.

The creeps didn't even bother to wait till dark. They attacked in broad daylight.

According to Sgt. Francis Erickson, of the police Special Victims Unit, two men entered a house on Wishart Street near E about 10 a.m.

"There was a female upstairs and she heard males threatening her husband downstairs and demanding money," Erickson said.

"One of the males then came upstairs, demanded money from the woman and then forced her into a bedroom and raped her."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

DNA World Showcases Raj

From DNA World:

In the neighbouring state of Pennsylvania, 30-year-old Raj Peter Bhakta is fighting to represent the 13th District. In what is easily one of the most bizarre PR campaigns, Bhakta rode an elephant (the Republican Party symbol) on the US-Mexico border to highlight the illegal immigration issue. That was in October. Since then, though, he has highlighted other issues in his campaign. “We need sensible immigration reform,” he says. “I support additional funding for border enforcement as well as efforts to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.”

Congratulations Notre Dame (8-1)

Notre Dame defeats North Carolina 45-26.

Notre Dame keeps winning -- just not as impressively as many expect.

Brady Quinn threw for a season-high 346 yards and four touchdowns and the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish beat North Carolina 45-26 on Saturday.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Philly.com: Hitman Hunt

From Philly.com:

Philadelphia police are seeking the public's help in finding a 19-year-old "hired gun" wanted in two drug-related killings.

Chief of Detectives Joseph Fox said Malik Collins should be considered armed and "extremely dangerous" and should not be approached.

Without offering any specifics, Fox indicated that there was a certain urgency to getting Collins off the street now.

He said a manhunt also involving state and federal law enforcement officials was under way to find Collins, whose last known address was 3014 W. Thompson St. in Brewerytown.

Collins is wanted in two fatal shootings. The first, in October 2005, left one man dead on the 1200 block of 29th Street. The second, in June, left one man dead and two others wounded on the 1600 block of Wingohocking Street in Nicetown.

He also is a suspect in a number of other shootings, Fox said.

Police ask that anyone who sees Collins call 911, and that anyone with information about his whereabouts call the Homicide Squad at 215-686-3334.

“I Like to Keep an Eye on Things”

Northeast Times profiles vigilant tenet.

Michael Hatch admits that he has a bit of a wild streak in his persona, but he’s not crazy enough to think he’s immune from the crooks that prowl Northeast Philadelphia.

Hatch has never held an official law enforcement job, but in the last few years he’s become a regular Joe Friday in his Bustleton neighborhood.

The 54-year-old has helped authorities nab a wagon full of thieves, burglars, vandals and assorted scofflaws in and around his Roosevelt Boulevard apartment building, thanks to his astute observation skills and his personal investment in security equipment.

Hatch has bought and installed eight closed-circuit cameras around his apartment. Last month, the devices helped him make his biggest bust to date — he led police to two men who allegedly burglarized his building.

He doesn’t like to take too much credit for the pinch, however. He prefers to thank the guys who actually have been supplying the cash for all of the security equipment through the years.

"The people who destroy my property pay for my cameras," Hatch said in the wake of the recent break-in.

The incident occurred on Oct. 6, shortly after 5 a.m. Hatch, an early riser, had already been up for about a half-hour and was eating breakfast at his computer.

At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary on the two video screens that he uses to monitor the exterior images picked up by his security cameras.

But things changed in a hurry.

"A couple of guys started walking up the driveway and walked in (the building) like they live here. And the door was unlocked," Hatch said.

Normally, the exterior door to the two-story building is accessible only to residents and guests that they allow to enter the premises. Each apartment also has an interior entrance, but residents also keep belongings in the basement in designated storage spaces.

The basement door is intentionally left unlocked and open, although the individual storage units have locks on them.

Hatch was suspicious of the two visitors from the start. They didn’t look familiar and, he figured, it was awfully early for one of his neighbors to be getting any company.

"I thought they might be going upstairs, but I didn’t hear them going up the steps," he said.

Instead, all was quiet. Yet his cameras didn’t pick up anybody leaving the building. The only feasible explanation, then, was that they had gone into the basement.

"I waited a few minutes until they got comfortable, then I went downstairs," Hatch said.

Some might consider him foolish or even a bit crazy for even considering confronting the invaders. But he grabbed a knife for defense and went anyway.

The basement door, the one usually propped open, was conspicuously shut — which Hatch took as another sign that the men were up to no good.

When he opened the door and poked his head into the room, the men almost jumped through the ceiling.

"I said, ‘Hi, how you doing?’ And they said ‘Hi’ too," Hatch said. "Then I went back upstairs and called police. They stayed. I guess they figured that everything was OK."

When police arrived, the men gave an excuse that they were "waiting for a ride," Hatch said. "So the police gave them a ride down to the (7th) district."

Several of the storage stalls in the basement appeared to have been breached, with wooden boards pried from their doors and chicken-wire fencing pushed to the side.

Items belonging to building residents had been stacked near the exit, including toolboxes and a surfboard. Hatch gave a witness statement to police investigators.

"I showed them (my) cameras and told them to let (the suspects) know that they walked in on eight cameras, let them know they should go back to burglary school," Hatch said.

The apartment dweller is getting pretty used to the whole police routine by now.

He first moved there about six years ago, while recovering from a major auto crash that nearly cost him his life. He started getting into security or "spy" equipment after someone vandalized his van.

"My brother-in-law, he has a house and cameras on it. That’s where I picked it up," Hatch said.

"I had my van parked across the street. I woke up one morning and the window was broken. I was new here. From that, I got one camera."

A few months later, his investment paid dividends.

At the time, Hatch was selling a car that was parked outside the building. A teenager and his buddies showed up one day and asked him about the vehicle.

But while one youth did the talking, a couple of others seemed more interested in an old Jaguar that Hatch owned at the time.

That night, Hatch woke up to noise from Roosevelt Boulevard and discovered that someone had ripped the hood ornament from the Jag. Hatch went back to his security tape and saw that the same group of kids had returned and done the damage.

Using contact information provided by the one teen, he tracked down the others, contacted their parents and eventually got them to pay for the damage, under his threat of reporting the incident to police.

"I got seven-hundred fifty dollars out of them," he said.

Another time, Hatch saw a man "poking around" the building. That night, the man returned and tried to enter the building through the back door.

"He said he was trying to stay warm," said Hatch, who called police to get rid of the guy, but didn’t follow up with his complaint in court.

Yet another time, Hatch claims, he helped stop a potential road-rage incident on the Boulevard when he told an angry and armed motorist who had stopped in the middle of the street that cameras were watching his every move.

The devices benefit his neighbors, too. Besides looking out for his fellow apartment dwellers, he can keep an eye on the busy parking lot of a nearby restaurant. He has called police to report car break-ins there.

Over the years, Hatch figures he’s spent well over $1,000 on surveillance equipment at places like Radio Shack and local "spy" shops. The devices have dropped in price significantly in that time, primarily because the technology has become more commonplace, he said.

Though some renters might think it should be the landlord’s responsibility to install needed security measures, Hatch is a firm believer in taking responsibility for one’s own security.

"When you move in, you put up your own stuff," he said.

The cameras not only help him protect his property; they also give him peace of mind.

"I’d never live without them now," Hatch said. "I like to keep an eye on things. You get used to it."

“With Their Heads Held High”

Northeast Times highlights criminal rehabilitation.

For 20 years, the Redirection Center Inc. has been helping those in recovery in the Frankford community. As the lead organization of the Frankford Reentry Pilot Project, the center hosted a recent meeting of advisory board members at its headquarters at 1926 Margaret St.

A consortium of organizations and city agencies is working together to improve the community by assisting ex-offenders from the 19124 ZIP code and their families. The mission is to help the former inmates restore their lives and thus reduce the high rate of those who return to crime and life behind bars.

According to spokesman Ray Perry, the ex-offenders typically serve between four and 23 months at the Philadelphia Industrial Corrections Center on State Road for misdemeanor crimes such as possessing drugs or using them.

"We don’t deal with heavy offenders, not felony crimes, not murder or sex offenses," Perry said, discussing the kinds of ex-inmates who don’t qualify for the re-entry program.

A social worker behind the city’s prison walls chooses the ex-offenders likely to be good candidates for the program.

"We prefer they have three months left on their sentence, so we can mentor them and start to get things in order, so that when they come to us, we’ve already done a job search and they can get right to work," Perry said, adding that program participants are mentored for another nine months.

The project already has placed roughly 10 people in jobs. There are two recent ex-offenders — a man and a woman — who are out of jail and enrolled in the program and doing well so far, according to Perry.

The woman, Denise, stood and introduced herself to the Frankford Reentry Advisory Board members during the recent meeting at the Redirection Center Inc., putting a face to the project for those in attendance.

Board members are representatives of community-based organizations that provide services to ex-offenders. Those services include vocational training and help with finding housing.

The president and vice presidents of Pioneers International Inc. spoke to the roughly 30 board members about their training program, called ServSafe Certification, for ex-offenders trying to build a life outside of prison.

The program offers national food-handling certification to those who complete the eight-week course, which also includes life-skills training, basic computer training and job placement with restaurants, catering companies, food service companies, hotels, nursing homes or hospitals. State law requires that at least one employee of any food-handling institution be ServSafe certified.

Richard Green, president of Pioneers International, said there is much merit in the program.

"We want to bring our program to this community," Green said. "It will give (graduates) the edge that a lot of people don’t have. They can come in with their heads held high, not coming into a situation where someone is doing them a favor."

While the organization is bringing the program to Frankford through the Reentry Pilot Project, free classes will be held at Pioneers headquarters, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 500, starting in early December.

Each consecutive eight-week class will accommodate a maximum of 20 students. Those classes are filling fast, with an extensive waiting list, said vice president James Marshall.

Pioneers International expects to train at least 100 people in the first year of the program.

"In most cases, a job is there waiting for them. It’s an industry with plenty of opportunity," Green said.

The classes, he explained, are ideal for those who have the "entrepreneurial spirit but are doing it the wrong way."

"They can take that kind of energy and apply it in the right way, turn their life around, and become model citizens," Green said.

Classes also can be coordinated for those in the recovery process or taking medications as part of treatment.

Pioneers is also recruiting non-profit organizations for community-service outreach as part of a welfare-to-work initiative. Clients would work 20 hours per week, for free, for four weeks. Organizations can have as many workers as needed during that educational period, with a case manager checking their attendance daily.

For more information about either program, call 215-732-2991.

In addition to aiding ex-offenders, the re-entry project provides outreach to the families and the children of those in the program.

According to the Rev. Richard Smith, a prevention effort is being started to take a group of youngsters on a retreat in the mountains, along with hosting free hip-hop concerts for young people between 12 and 24 years of age.

"Statistics tell us that there is a six-percent chance that ex-offenders’ children will also be offenders," Smith said.

Dr. Victoria Yancey, special representative for community relations and faith-based initiatives for the School District of Philadelphia, also invited board members to "surround our arms around children that are wanting and needing," at an anti-violence summit from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Benjamin Franklin High School, 550 N. Broad St.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

“The Whole Neighborhood is Going Down"

Philadelphia Inquirer discusses another Northeast murder

A clerk in a small East Frankford grocery store who was known to give free milk to mothers or let customers slide when they came up short was gunned down during a robbery yesterday morning when he refused to give up cash from the register, police said.

The victim, Julio Brito, 51, of the 2000 block of Orthodox Street, was taken to Frankford Hospital-Torresdale Campus, where he was pronounced dead shortly after the shooting, officials said.

Mohammed Alkurdi, owner of Abby Auto Sale, next to the grocery store, said he heard screaming when he ran to the store and found his friend on the floor.

"I witnessed the last five seconds of his life," Alkurdi said. "We tried to save him but could do nothing."

Monday, October 30, 2006

You Gotta Believe

India E-News spotlights Raj.

The spotlight, however, is on five prominent Indian Americans -- Republicans Bobby Jindal and Raj Bhakta; Democrats Ajinderpal Singh Sekhon and Jay Goyal; and independent Neeraj Nigam.

Bhakta, a Republican hopeful, may pull off a shocker against incumbent Allyson Schwartz in Pennsylvania, according to News India Times, an ethnic Indian newspaper.

Raj, Schwartz Respond

Norristown Times Herald reprints questions and answers.

The following are responses, in their own words, to five questions that The Times Herald posed to the candidates in the 13th congressional district, Allyson Y. Schwartz and Raj Bhakta.