In reaction, whistleblower Edward Snowden, formerly utilized by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and now the most crucial subcontracted worker in our time, tweeted, “Never underestimate the strength of a staff having a conscience.”
The Twitter Quitter, Briskman and Snowden all share one factor in keeping: These were subcontractors for technology firms. Extremely high-profile cases of worker defiance indicate a bigger trend inside the American labor experience, one which has major implications in all aspects of our way of life — subcontracting workers.
We’ve got the technology industry has frequently recognized subcontracting by quarrelling it helps workers shape their very own schedule, or offers an affordable and simple method to launch entrepreneurial endeavors.
Simultaneously, however, subcontracted work is another deeply unpredictable and demanding type of labor. As staffing firms have proliferated, and digital the likes of Airbnb and Uber make it much simpler to locate work moonlighting, the predominance and expectations of these types of employment make it more difficult to locate a good job with regular pay, foreseeable hrs and workplace legal rights.
Subcontracting is basically “fee-for-service” work, by which companies hire outdoors firms to supply a specific kind of labor. This middleman will be responsible for finding, training and overseeing workers for your business. The main company pays just for the actual labor it requires from individuals workers — not for that true costs of supplying a good and guarded workplace.
Plastic Valley corporations rely on this practice since it is far cheaper to train on a subcontracted worker rather than directly employ somebody who has defined workplace legal rights and negotiating power, receives benefits and it is directly paid by condition and federal labor laws and regulations. Subcontracting forces most of the costs utilizing workers to the workers themselves.
This practice absolves the company taking advantage of that actually work from the risk connected by using it.
Using subcontractors causes it to be difficult to contain the primary business legally responsible when personnel are hurt at work or wages go delinquent. Through subcontracting, the likes of Twitter avoid the price of keeping workers’ physiques healthy capable to use health insurance safe workplaces. They are able to turn another way when dealing with the disastrous health insurance and ecological implications of tech production — from repetitive stress injuries to leukemia, from water pollution to coal consumption. Cutting these costs at the fee for workers is exactly what makes subcontracting so lucrative and engaging for corporations.
Hi-tech was among the first industries to subcontract the majority of its necessary operations. In the earliest times of the Plastic Valley, nearly every major technology company has trusted contract employees.
It has historic roots. The Santa Clara Valley, now the place to find the Plastic Valley, featured a largely farming economy before it grew to become a technology hub. Because the technology industry increased, it absorbed the permanent type of frequently-subcontracted farming workers, who have been mainly ladies and people of color which had labored within the region’s orchards and canneries.
These workers as well as their families grew to become the brand new, subcontracted labor pressure that supported tech’s manufacturing and repair needs through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Despite many efforts, major unions were rarely in a position to organize technology businesses that weren’t associated with the military, so that as individuals nonmilitary sectors from the tech industry increased to become a lot of the industry, so did the concept of subcontracting.
Through the 1970s, subcontractors were building the majority of high tech’s semiconductors and motherboards, disposing its chemical and industrial wastes, and managing its structures and grounds. While its plant’s roots are within the Plastic Valley, this practice is just about the norm for that technology industry worldwide: Subcontracted workers build hardware outdoors Shenzhen and Kl, take telephone calls in Bangalore and clean offices in New You are able to. In the last 3 decades, this practice has elevated overall in military and government sectors too.
In the beginning of Plastic Valley to the current, subcontracting makes unionization especially difficult. Because the 1960s, any whiff of the unionizing workforce inside a subcontracted shop means the contracting company only will fire the subcontracting firm and all sorts of its employees. Employees, consequently, don’t have any option, as their legal rights to union activity are safe only underneath the relation to their employment using the subcontractor, not the organization in control.
With secondary strikes and boycotts illegal underneath the National Labor Relations Act, applying direct pressure towards the primary clients are thus incredibly difficult. Left towards the whims of the employers with minimal leverage, subcontracted workers confront precarious conditions and discover themselves susceptible to termination. Losing employment over union activity could cause lengthy-term unemployment.
This issue is just growing worse. From content moderators who try to scrub the web of their worst dregs, to authors in digital media, towards the TaskRabbits who clean Airbnbs for absentee landlords, subcontracting encompasses us — as well as in growing figures. This precarious workforce increased three occasions quicker than the American workforce overall in 2014, by 2027, some estimate, a lot of the workforce — white-colored collar, blue collar, eco-friendly and pink collar — is going to be freelance.
So what you can do? Growing workers’ control of their labor as well as their lives is the initial step toward demanding accountability from all of these massive corporate entities. Workers must harness the natural power they possess at work. Which means fighting to safeguard the valuable couple of unions we’ve, joining and beginning them ourselves, reversing laws and regulations against secondary boycotts, protecting unions within the courts around the federal level, supporting movements and ballot initiatives for greater minimum wages and ensuring all workers have robust and continuing healthcare, regardless of who employs them or the way they are utilized.
Subcontracted and directly employed workers should also band together to break the rules from the particular vulnerability that subcontracted workers experience. Doing this will boost the strength of directly employed workers too.
What will work for contract workers can also be great for all users of digital and social networking and knowledge-collection services. People like Snowden says the U.S. government was unlawfully collecting our communications without our understanding. The Twitter Quitter highlighted the president was utilizing a corporate social networking platform to craft policy. Empowered workers, by taking exercise democratic control at work, will strengthen our weakening democratic practices.
Workers offer us our very best opportunity for safeguarding public debates and democratic processes off and on the web. Although Snowden’s sacrifices are surely on the different order of magnitude than individuals of Briskman and also the Twitter Quitter, whether they can get it done, we all can get it done — especially since these workers were so precariously employed.
In the end, their solo functions of resistance could have been less dangerous had they been paid by unions. When personnel are organized in unions, they don’t need to act alone to consider a stance — they are able to decide on so together. And when the union takes a stance, one individual is less inclined to be designated and fired, since the decision would be a collective one.
Imagine what we should could do if everybody had safe, secure employment, based on control of their labor, their working conditions and daily operations. Never underestimate the strength of a staff having a conscience.
In August, when Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas, David Clutter was in court, trying one more time to make his insurer pay his flood claim — from Hurricane Sandy, five years before.
Mr. Clutter’s insurer is the federal government. As it resists his claims, he has been forced to take out a third mortgage on his house in Long Beach, N.Y., to pay for repairs to make it habitable for his wife and three children. He owes more than the house is worth, and his flood-insurance premiums just went up.
The government-run National Flood Insurance Program is, for now, virtually the only source of flood insurance for more than five million households in the United States. This hurricane season, as tens of thousands of Americans seek compensation for storm-inflicted water damage, they face a problem: The flood insurance program is broke and broken.
The program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been in the red since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005. It still has more than a thousand disputed claims left over from Sandy. And in October, it exhausted its $30 billion borrowing capacity and had to get a bailout just to keep paying current claims.
Congress must decide by Dec. 8 whether to keep the program going. An unusual coalition of insurers, environmentalists and fiscal conservatives has joined the Trump administration in calling for fundamental changes in the program, including direct competition from private insurers. The fiscal conservatives note that the program was supposed to take the burden off taxpayers but has not, and environmentalists argue that it has become an enabler of construction on flood-prone coastlines, by charging premiums too low to reflect the true cost of building there.
The program has other troubles as well. It cannot force vulnerable households to buy insurance, even though they are required by law to have it. Its flood maps can’t keep up with new construction that can change an area’s flood risk. It has spent billions of dollars repairing houses that just flood again. Its records, for instance, show that a house in Spring, Tex., has been repaired 19 times, for a total of $912,732 — even though it is worth only $42,024.
And after really big floods, the program must rely on armies of subcontractors to determine payments, baffling and infuriating policyholders, like Mr. Clutter, who cannot figure out who is opposing their claims, or why.
Roy E. Wright, who has directed the flood insurance program for FEMA since June 2015, acknowledged in an interview on Friday that major changes were called for and said some were already in the works. The program’s rate-setting methods, for example, are 30 years old, he said, and new ones will be phased in over the next two years. But other changes — like cutting off coverage to homes that are repeatedly flooded — would require an act of Congress.
“The administration feels very strongly that there needs to be reform this year,” he said. “I believe strongly that we need to expand flood coverage in the United States, and the private insurers are part of that.”
The federal program was created to fill a void left after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when multiple levees failed, swamping an area bigger than West Virginia and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Insurers, terrified of the never-ending claims they might have to pay, started to exclude flooding from homeowners’ insurance policies. For decades, your only hope if your home was damaged in a flood was disaster relief from the government.
Policymakers thought an insurance program would be better than ad hoc bailouts. If crafted properly, it would make developers and homeowners pay for the risks they took.
When Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968, it hoped to revive the private flood-insurance market. Initially about 130 insurers gave it a shot, pooling their capital with the government. But there were clashes, and eventually the government drove out the insurers and took over most operations.
Since 1983, Washington has set the insurance rates, mapped the floodplains, written the rules and borne all of the risk. The role of private insurers has been confined to marketing policies and processing claims, as government contractors.
That worked for a few decades. But now, relentless coastal development and the increasing frequency of megastorms and billion-dollar floods have changed the calculus.
“Put plainly, the N.F.I.P. is not designed to handle catastrophic losses like those caused by Harvey, Irma and Maria,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a letter to members of Congress after the three huge hurricanes barreled into the United States this season.
Mr. Mulvaney called on Congress to forgive $16 billion of the program’s debt, which both houses agreed to do.
The program, however, needs more than a financial lifeline: Without major, long-term changes, it will just burn through the $16 billion in savings and be back for more.
The White House is hoping to lure companies back into the market, letting them try to turn a profit on underwriting flood policies instead of simply processing claims for the government.
One measure proposed by the Trump administration is for the government to stop writing coverage on newly built houses on floodplains, starting in 2021. New construction there is supposed to be flood-resistant, and if the government retreats, private insurers may step in. Or so the theory goes.
“The private market is anxious, willing and completely able to take everything except the severe repetitive-loss properties,” said Craig Poulton, chief executive of Poulton Associates, which underwrites American risks for Lloyd’s of London, the big international insurance marketplace.
“Severe repetitive-loss properties” is FEMA’s term for houses that are flooded again and again. There are tens of thousands of them. While they account for fewer than 1 percent of the government’s policies, they make up more than 10 percent of the insurance claims, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued FEMA to get the data.
The Trump administration has also proposed creating a new category of properties that are at extreme risk of repeat flooding and that could have their insurance cut off the next time they flooded.
That might sound harsh. Environmental groups, though, argue it’s worse to repeatedly repair doomed houses on flood-prone sites as oceans warm and sea levels rise. The Natural Resources Defense Council argues that the flood-insurance program should buy such properties so the owners can move somewhere safer.
The program, however, has only limited authority to make such purchases; homeowners need to line up funding through other government agencies. As a result, such buyouts are rare.
“I have mounds and mounds of paper, and I’m still waiting,” said Olga McKissic of Louisville, Ky., who applied for a buyout in 2015 after her house flooded for the fifth time. “I want them to tear it down.”
Ms. McKissic even had her house classified as a severe repetitive-loss property, thinking FEMA would give it higher priority. But FEMA has not responded to her application. Instead, it doubled her premiums.
That’s what happens when there’s a monopoly, said Mr. Poulton, the Lloyd’s underwriter.
Over the years, he said, he has noticed that his customers are buying Lloyd’s earthquake insurance because it includes flood coverage. They do not like the government’s flood insurance because payouts are capped at $250,000 and have other limits.
Such as basements.
Matt Herr of Superior Flood in Brighton, Colo., another underwriter for Lloyd’s, recalled a client whose handicapped son lived in a “sunken living room,” eight inches lower than the rest of the house. When the neighborhood flooded, $22,000 of medical equipment was ruined. The government refused to pay, calling the living room a basement. Its policies exclude basements.
While the government program insures more than five million homeowners, that is just a small fraction of the number of people who live on floodplains.
Mr. Poulton researched the flood insurance program and eventually found a public report that explained how its pricing worked. The program, he learned, was not using the detailed, house-by-house information on flood risk that is available through satellite imagery and other sources.
That’s because Congress gave the program a legal mandate to work with communities, not individual households. So the program was surveying floodplains, then calculating an “average annual loss” for all the houses there. Its insurance rates were based on those averages.
“It undercharges 50 percent of its risks, and it overcharges 50 percent of its risks, on an equal weighting,” Mr. Poulton said.
Offer a better deal to the households with a below-average risk of flooding — a policy whose price reflects their lower risk — and they will jump at the opportunity to save money on premiums, he said.
But the government does not readily divulge all of its historical claims data, so insurers cannot comb through them and analyze the risks.
“What we know is snippets,” said Martin Hartley, chief operating officer of Pure Insurance in White Plains, which offers supplementary flood insurance to homeowners who want more than the government’s $250,000 coverage.
Also, the government relies on mortgage lenders to enforce the rule requiring at-risk homeowners to buy flood insurance. Mr. Poulton said he found that FEMA officials had told lenders that, in effect, they shouldn’t trust private insurance.
He went to Washington to complain to program officials.
“We told them their guidelines were bad, bad for consumers,” he said. “We said: ‘They’re only good for you. You’ve got to change them.’ They said: ‘We don’t answer to you. We answer to Congress.’ We’ve been lobbying ever since.”
No one paid much attention until after Sandy, when the program fell deeper into debt with the Treasury. To help fill that hole, Congress in 2012 approved big increases in its premiums. But that caused an uproar when people got their bills. Two years later, Congress rescinded much of the increase.
Then came this season’s hurricanes and the $16 billion bailout.
The Office of Management and Budget sent Congress an updated list of proposals in October, including measures that would remove certain obstacles to private-sector competition. Its plan would open up the data trove to potential competitors and direct mortgage lenders to accept private flood-insurance policies. It would also revoke an agreement that the program’s contractors — including about 70 insurance companies — must currently sign, promising not to compete against the government program.
Some members of Congress — including Democrats like Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, whose states have significant flood exposure and bad memories of Hurricane Sandy — are resisting. They say bringing in private insurers would make the program’s troubles worse, because the insurers would cherry-pick the most profitable customers and leave the government with all the “severe repetitive-loss properties.”
Mr. Poulton did not dispute that. In fact, he said that was exactly what should happen.
“We need the N.F.I.P. to be a full participant in this as the insurer of last resort,” he said. That means it would take the high-risk properties that the private insurers did not want, acting like the state-run insurance pools for especially risky drivers.
Some lawyers for aggrieved policyholders think a shake-up might improve things, if it brought accountability.
August J. Matteis, who is representing Mr. Clutter in his lawsuit, said the insurance program had been so criticized by Congress for its borrowing that by the time Sandy blew in, it had instructed contractors to hold the line on claims. They did so with a vengeance. Thousands of people with flood damage from Sandy ended up disputing the government’s handling of their claims.
Long Beach, Mr. Clutter’s town, is on a barrier island off the southern shore of Long Island. When Sandy sent several feet of floodwater washing over it, the piers supporting the Clutter family’s foundation collapsed. Upstairs, floors buckled. Walls cracked.
Mr. Clutter called Wright National Flood Insurance, the Florida company that administers his policy. Wright sent an independent adjuster, who took photos with captions like “structural foundation wall has been washed in” and “piers have collapsed — no longer supporting risk.”
But then, Wright sent a structural engineer from U.S. Forensic of Louisiana who declared that Sandy had not caused the damage.
In 2015, Mr. Clutter happened to catch a “60 Minutes” report on the aftermath of Sandy. It included accusations that U.S. Forensic had falsified engineering reports on other people’s houses.
There were so many disputed claims and questionable inspections, in fact, that the government opened an unusual review process for Sandy victims. Mr. Clutter went through it, but said the government’s offer fell far short of his repair costs. He sued FEMA and Wright Flood Insurance in August.
Michael Sloane, Wright Flood’s executive vice president, said in an email that while the company could not comment on Mr. Clutter’s case, “we are always committed to working with our customers to keep the lines of communication open as we continue working toward resolution.”
U.S. Forensic did not respond to messages.
Mr. Wright, the program director, acknowledged the problems after Sandy but said corrective measures had been taken “so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Much of Long Beach has been rebuilt since Sandy. Small houses like Mr. Clutter’s are being torn down and replaced with bigger ones that sprawl across two lots. Mr. Clutter worries that if insurers, not the government, set the prices, premiums will soar.
“Then, what happens to me?” he asked. “I’m essentially being driven out of my home that I have three mortgages on.”
DETROIT — Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, the country’s two largest banks, trace their roots in Detroit back decades, when they helped finance the city’s once-booming auto industry.
These days, Detroit is still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, and the two banks have pledged to help resuscitate the city and its crippled housing market. So, guess how many home mortgage loans these two enormous banks made last year in this city of 637,000 people.
Bank of America made 18. JPMorgan did just six.
Detroit’s hometown lender, Quicken Loans, made the most — a mere 90.
Midwestern cities like Detroit have long embodied the American can-do spirit. Over the course of a century, Motor City melded assembly-line prowess with freedom-of-the-road ideals to help define a nation. In the postwar years, Detroit became the epitome of the American dream, a place where factory workers without college degrees could make enough money to buy a house of their own.
Yet as home prices soar across the United States — particularly on the coasts — Detroit remains a poster child for the economic crisis and housing collapse of a decade ago. Boarded up homes and rubble-strewn fields litter the landscape.
Today, a house can be bought here for the price of a used Chevy Caprice.
What is truly surprising about that, though, is how difficult it still is for buyers to actually buy. Basically, prices are too low for lenders (who see the deals as too small or risky) but too high for buyers (who may be cash-poor). There aren’t enough houses in move-in-ready condition — and not enough money to fix them up.
This strange situation has turned Detroit into an unlikely petri dish for experiments into how to kick-start a housing market that is, depending on your perspective, either slumbering or comatose.
Will a neighborhood of “tiny houses” for the poor help fix things? Or how about rehabbing city-owned homes, and selling them at a loss, to jump-start the action? Other more conventional — if risky — ideas involve providing no-interest financing to fix up tumbledown properties. Or offering mortgages for homes that normally would be too small to be worth a banker’s trouble.
One local financier is even trying to beautify bulldozed neighborhoods by planting thousands of trees on 160 acres of vacant land his firm has gobbled up.
And while Detroit is worse off than most big cities, housing-policy makers nationwide are keeping a close eye to see what lessons can be learned.
To understand how far Detroit has fallen, consider the statistics. In the mid-2000s, banks were writing some 7,000 mortgages a year. Then, the financial crisis nearly destroyed the American automotive industry, Detroit’s economic heart. Jobs disappeared; citizens fled. Last year, there were more than 700 mortgages made in Detroit, up from 200 at the depth of the crisis but barely 10 percent of the level a decade earlier.
Those bleak numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. Behind the scenes, nonprofit groups, foundations, local officials and a dozen banks including JPMorgan, Bank of America and Quicken are trying to varying degrees to reanimate the mortgage market in Michigan’s largest city.
Success, however, often comes achingly slow.
At 15455 Winthrop Street, on one of Detroit’s better manicured blocks, there is a freshly rehabbed three-bedroom home. The bungalow-style house was fixed up by the city itself, through its land bank, which acquired the house a year ago after the county foreclosed on the owner for failing to pay taxes. The land bank did a gut renovation with money provided by a grant from Quicken.
Since August, the land bank has been trying to sell the house, with a price tag of at least $79,900. More than 80 people have come to check it out. But so far there have been no takers.
“We have never not sold one,” said Craig Fahle, a former radio host who today is the communications director for the Detroit Land Bank Authority. “Detroit likes to do everything kicking and screaming,” he said. “But we get there eventually.”
Even happy stories are the product of a slog. Erica Wyatt struggled to pay down her debts and then searched for two years before she managed to get a mortgage from Fifth Third Bank to buy a four-bedroom home for $92,000. The transaction happened only because Ms. Wyatt, a single mother with four children, received $15,000 in down payment assistance.
Ms. Wyatt, who grew up in Detroit, said she was determined to move back into the city after renting a home in a suburb. “I wanted to make sure my children saw that not all of Detroit is bad and there are some beautiful neighborhoods,” said Ms. Wyatt, 39, who works for an insurance company.
Some of the ideas seem like stopgap measures. A social services group’s community of “tiny homes” — 400-square-foot structures with nothing more than a bedroom, a bathroom and small kitchen — is being erected to provide housing to homeless and handicapped people. The project, led by Reverend Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, is taking place on a plot of vacant land the charitable organization bought from the city.
The dollhouse-like structures — seven so far — are near the organization’s main social services facility, in a rather desolate area of Detroit off Rosa Parks Boulevard. In all, Ms. Fowler hopes to build two dozen small homes, which will be rented for as little as $250 a month and eventually deeded over after seven years to a select group of homeless or poor individuals.
Tiny-house living can take adjustment, even for people with no roof over their heads at all. Ms. Fowler said that one homeless veteran told her the homes were too small to compete with a traditional homeless shelter.
Still, for some, the homes are perfect. One of the first tenants to move in this past summer is a former Methodist minister, David Leenhouts, who was forced to give up his ministry near Cleveland because of health issues that make it difficult for him to walk and talk.
Mr. Leenhouts, who grew up in the Detroit area, said his college-age son told him the small home, with a steepled ceiling, was all he needed because everything is within just a few steps. Mr. Leenhouts, 59, said, “I have no idea where I would be living if I was not chosen for a tiny house.”
That said, a cluster of tiny homes hardly seems scalable in a city as big as Detroit. And almost by definition, a tiny home isn’t a viable option for a family with children.
It’s also an example of why the long-term prognosis for Detroit’s housing market remains uncertain at best. Much of the work underway is taking place block-by-block — much like the tiny-home homeless experiment — and there are a lot of blocks in this 139-square-mile city.
“The pilot programs help some people, but they are on the margin,” said Gregory Markus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan and executive director of Detroit Action Commonwealth, an advocacy group for low-income residents. “‘The root problem is that Detroit is the poorest big city in America.”’
The national poverty rate is 14 percent, and Detroit’s is 36 percent. Mr. Markus said that, without more jobs, home buying will remain a largely unattainable goal.
Detroit’s population peaked in the 1950s at nearly 2 million and has been falling ever since. The financial crisis and the city’s bankruptcy filing in 2013 hollowed out what was left of its once large, middle-class African-American community. Over the past decade there have been more than 150,000 home foreclosures here.
Detroit lacks “a functioning housing market,” a report last year bluntly declared.
Things are so difficult that simply finding a contractor to rehab a home can be an ordeal. “We had several contractors who didn’t want to do work in the city,” said Heather McKeon, 35, who along with her husband, Matthew, recently moved into a fixer-upper in Detroit’s up-and-coming Corktown neighborhood. “They would say, ‘I don’t trust that I can keep my tools here.’”
She added: “It is still sort of flabbergasting to be laughed at.”
Ms. McKeon, an interior designer, said many insurers wouldn’t sell them a homeowner’s policy on an unoccupied home under renovation. Ultimately, they got a policy from a subsidiary of Munich Re Group of Germany.
Detroit’s Largest Property Owner
Many of the efforts to resuscitate the housing market begin with the Detroit Land Bank Authority, a government agency that is the city’s single largest property owner. The land bank owns some 25,000 vacant homes in various stages of disrepair, another 4,200 occupied homes and 65,000 grass-covered lots where homes once stood before the city tore them down in an effort to fight blight.
Mr. Fahle, the land bank’s communications director, likes to drive around and point out once-abandoned houses that his employer sold to people who then fixed them up.
But on a rainy September day, he was particularly interested in showing off the refurbished three-bedroom house at 15455 Winthrop, which the land bank spent $98,000 to renovate. The asking price for the home — with its restored hardwood floors and a new granite kitchen countertop — was reduced by a few thousand dollars in early September from $83,000 to spur more interest.
Throughout Detroit, the land bank has sold 44 homes under its “Rehabbed & Ready” pilot program. The program is funded with a $5 million grant from Quicken. At the closing, the buyers get a $1,500 gift card from Home Depot to buy appliances.
The program, though, is losing money — an average of $21,000 for every home sold.
Mr. Fahle said the goal wasn’t to turn a profit, but to get more move-in-ready homes into the marketplace and to boost property values in the process. In all, the land bank has sold more than 2,700 houses, many in online auctions.
The land bank’s operations are not without controversy. Housing advocates have complained it has focused too much attention on rehabbing homes in just a few neighborhoods, and on tearing down dilapidated homes elsewhere. A federal grand jury has been investigating the awarding of contracts to tear down more than 12,000 dilapidated homes as part of a war on blight led by Detroit’s first-term mayor, Mike Duggan. The investigation is looking into why costs soared under the demolition program, with almost $140 million in mostly federal money being spent.
Mr. Fahle said the land bank is cooperating with the investigation. He said criticism that the rehabbed and ready program has focused on a just a small part of the city is misguided. Mr. Fahle said a decision was made to select homes for renovation in four neighborhoods early on, but over time it is expanding to other parts of the city.
Homes are certainly worth more in Detroit now than they were a few years ago. Citywide, the median value for a house here is $47,700, a 40 percent gain over the past two years, according to Zillow. Stately homes in the Villages, a group of neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, located not far from the posh suburb of Grosse Pointe, Mich., have sold for more than $400,000.
But progress is largely limited to a small cluster of neighborhoods. About half of the mortgages written in Detroit last year were for homes purchased in just six ZIP codes, according to data from the real estate information firm RealtyTrac, part of Attom Data Solutions. There are 25 ZIP codes in Detroit.
One question is whether the money that banks are providing — a combination of grants and loans — signifies a long-term commitment or an effort to score points with federal regulators. Banks are expected under the federal Community Reinvestment Act to make loans in communities with large numbers of poor- or moderate-income residents in order to spur economic activity.
The downpayment-assistance program that helped Ms. Wyatt buy her home, for instance, was financed by a settlement Wells Fargo reached a few years ago in a housing class-action lawsuit. The settlement money is drying up, though, and the bank said it was not sure if it will renew the program. So far, it has provided assistance to 180 home buyers in the city.
Bank of America said it was committed to working in Detroit and is providing up to $4 million to fund no-interest loans that have enabled 400 homeowners to fix up properties. The bank, working with two nonprofit groups, also has said it was willing to finance $55 million worth of mortgages in Detroit. So far this year, the bank has issued 23 mortgages in Detroit — up from 18 in 2016 — and has increased the number of loan officers in the city.
JPMorgan said it, too, was here for the long haul. Jamie Dimon, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, regularly promotes its Invested in Detroit program, which includes up to $150 million for housing and commercial development and funds for research by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., to study ways to revive Detroit’s economy and housing market.
Quicken, which moved most of its operations in 2010 to downtown Detroit from nearby Livonia, Mich., recently committed $300,000 to a new government program that will give 80 tenants living in homes that face tax foreclosure a chance to buy the houses for as little as $2,500.
Still, the money shelled out by the banks pales in comparison to the estimated $2.5 billion that Dan Gilbert, Quicken’s founder, has spent buying and renovating over 95 largely vacant properties, including old department stores, in Detroit’s downtown. Now most of those buildings are filled with new businesses. A company backed by Mr. Gilbert brought high-speed internet to downtown and Quicken paid $5 million for the naming rights for a recently opened streetcar system called the QLine that makes 12 stops along its 3.3-mile path.
The mayoral election on Nov. 7 is to some degree a referendum on Mr. Duggan’s efforts at reviving both downtown and the city’s housing market. Mr. Duggan is seeking a second term and is opposed by Senator Coleman Young II. Mr. Duggan said one of his top priorities as mayor was getting home prices up in Detroit.
“Home-sale prices have climbed far faster than anyone could have predicted,” Mr. Duggan said.
Perhaps the most vexing issue is the reluctance of banks to give loans to people to buy cheap homes. It’s simple business: The costs of underwriting a $50,000 mortgage — doing all the paperwork, the credit checks and the inspections — are the same as for much larger mortgages that can generate more bank revenue. Plus, when homes are in such disrepair, often they are appraised for much less than the amount the borrower needs to fix it up.
That means the collateral on the loan — the house itself — is worth less than the amount the bank is owed. In today’s risk-averse banking culture, that’s a big no-no.
The winners in this environment are speculators with lots of cash. Many local residents, by contrast, are turning to risky seller-financed transactions such as contracts for deed. Evictions are common after just a few missed payments. Over the past five years, at least 5,400 homes in Detroit were sold through a contract for deed and 34,500 in all-cash deals, according to RealtyTrac.
One alternative is the Detroit Home Mortgage project. Launched in early 2016, the program works with a handful of banks to get an appraisal for a house that’s based on the “true value” of the home after it’s been renovated, not in its current dilapidated state. The process effectively involves two loans — one to cover the purchase of a home, and a second mortgage that effectively covers the renovation work. The second loan is backed by a bank and various foundations involved with the program.
“DHM wants to be an ambassador for lending in the city,” said Alex DeCamp, the mortgage community development manager for Chemical Bank, a local lender that has funded 15 loans through the program. The program can take months to complete. Applicants go through a careful screening and most also complete three mortgage workshops to be eligible for a loan.
So far, 54 home buyers have bought homes through the program, among them Ms. McKeon and her husband. So did Ashley and Damon Dickerson, who are about to move into a renovated two-family home.
The Dickersons, both of whom are architectural designers, closed in March. But their search began months earlier when they submitted a $45,000 bid during one of the land bank’s daily online property auctions.
Winning the bidding for the 107-year-old home was just the start. The couple found it would cost at least $180,000 to fully renovate the six-bedroom, three-story brick structure with a large porch. They were attracted to the home’s hardwood floors, bay windows and potential to reshape it by knocking down some walls.
In all, they got two mortgages from Chemical Bank, according to property records: one for $37,692 to cover the purchase from the land bank and another for $207,000 to cover the rehab costs. The Dickersons, who both graduated from the University of Michigan, said they never would have been able to pull the deal off without the mortgage program. But the process was a bit of an eye-opener because it took longer then anticipated to close on the home. As with any new program, the couple said, there were “growing pains.”
The Detroit Home Mortgage project is now looking to get banks to provide low-interest loans directly to local contractors, so they can renovate more homes and get them into move-in-ready condition.
But for now, the lack of move-in ready homes means home buyers like the Dickersons and the McKeons need to be something of urban pioneers — fixing everything from broken water lines to antiquated electrical wiring.
The prospect of people moving into Detroit from the suburbs or city residents getting mortgages is of course sweet music to local real estate agents. Until now, much of the business for them has been handling all-cash deals. But several said they are looking forward to getting local residents into homes with traditional financing.
Dorian Harvey, a Detroit native and the incoming president of the Detroit Association of Realtors, said he would like for the city and land bank to move quicker to get vacant homes into the hands of local residents. Mr. Harvey, a Morehouse College graduate, said he came from the camp that the rebirth of Detroit is going to have to happen from the ground up with everyone taking part — contractors, real estate agents and local investors.
But he isn’t necessarily waiting on government largess. “There are untapped resources in the city and we need to tap them and the city needs to tap them,” said Mr. Harvey, who added there’s money to made in Detroit. “My heart is liberal but my money is conservative.”
BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — They call it the “Church Lane Hug.”
That is how educators at Church Lane Elementary Technology, a public school here, describe the protective two-armed way they teach students to carry their school-issued laptops.
Administrators at Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th-largest public school system in the United States, have embraced the laptops as well, as part of one of the nation’s most ambitious classroom technology makeovers. In 2014, the district committed more than $200 million for HP laptops, and it is spending millions of dollars on math, science and language software. Its vendors visit classrooms. Some schoolchildren have been featured in tech-company promotional videos.
And Silicon Valley has embraced the school district right back.
HP has promoted the district as a model to follow in places as diverse as New York City and Rwanda. Daly Computers, which supplied the HP laptops, donated $30,000 this year to the district’s education foundation. Baltimore County schools’ top officials have traveled widely to industry-funded education events, with travel sometimes paid for by industry-sponsored groups.
Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020. An industry has grown up around courting public-school decision makers, and tech companies are using a sophisticated playbook to reach them, The New York Times has found in a review of thousands of pages of Baltimore County school documents and in interviews with dozens of school officials, researchers, teachers, tech executives and parents.
School leaders have become so central to sales that a few private firms will now, for fees that can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, arrange meetings for vendors with school officials, on some occasions paying superintendents as consultants. Tech-backed organizations have also flown superintendents to conferences at resorts. And school leaders have evangelized company products to other districts.
These marketing approaches are legal. But there is little rigorous evidence so far to indicate that using computers in class improves educational results. Even so, schools nationwide are convinced enough to have adopted them in hopes of preparing students for the new economy.
In some significant ways, the industry’s efforts to push laptops and apps in schools resemble influence techniques pioneered by drug makers. The pharmaceutical industry has long cultivated physicians as experts and financed organizations, like patient advocacy groups, to promote its products.
Studies have found that strategies like these work, and even a free $20 meal from a drug maker can influence a doctor’s prescribing practices. That is one reason the government today maintains a database of drug maker payments, including meals, to many physicians.
Tech companies have not gone as far as drug companies, which have regularly paid doctors to give speeches. But industry practices, like flying school officials to speak at events and taking school leaders to steak and sushi restaurants, merit examination, some experts say.
“If benefits are flowing in both directions, with payments from schools to vendors,” said Rob Reich, a political-science professor at Stanford University, “and dinner and travel going to the school leaders, it’s a pay-for-play arrangement.”
Close ties between school districts and their tech vendors can be seen nationwide. But the scale of Baltimore County schools’ digital conversion makes the district a case study in industry relationships. Last fall, the district hosted the League of Innovative Schools, a network of tech-friendly superintendents. Dozens of visiting superintendents toured schools together with vendors like Apple, HP and Lego Education, a division of the toy company.
The superintendents’ league is run by Digital Promise, a nonprofit that promotes technology in schools. It charges $25,000 annually for corporate sponsorships that enable the companies to attend the superintendent meetings. Lego, a sponsor of the Baltimore County meeting, gave a 30-minute pitch, handing out little yellow blocks so the superintendents could build palm-size Lego ducks.
Karen Cator, the chief executive of Digital Promise, said it was important for schools and industry to work together. “We want a healthy, void-of-conflict-of-interest relationship between people who create products for education and their customers,” she said. “The reason is so that companies can create the best possible products to meet the needs of schools.”
Several parents said they were troubled by school officials’ getting close to the companies seeking their business. Dr. Cynthia M. Boyd, a practicing geriatrician and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with children in district schools, said it reminded her of drug makers’ promoting their medicines in hospitals.
“You don’t have to be paid by Big Pharma, or Big Ed Tech, to be influenced,” Dr. Boyd said. She has raised concerns about the tech initiative at school board meetings.
A Makeover Is Born
Baltimore County’s 173 schools span a 600-square-mile horseshoe around the city of Baltimore, which has a separate school system. Like many districts, the school system struggles to keep facilities up-to-date. Some of its 113,000 students attend spacious new schools. Some older schools, though, are overcrowded, requiring trailers as overflow classrooms. In some, tap water runs brown. And, in budget documents, the district said it lacked the “dedicated resources” for students with disabilities.
In a district riven by disparities, Dallas Dance, the superintendent from 2012 through this past summer, made an appealing argument for a tech makeover. To help students develop new-economy skills, he said, every school must provide an equitable digital learning environment — including giving every student the same device.
“Why does a first grader need to have it?” Mr. Dance said in an interview last year. “In order to break the silos of equity, you’ve got to say that everyone gets it.”
The district wanted a device that would work both for youngsters who couldn’t yet type and for high schoolers. In early 2014, it chose a particularly complex machine, an HP laptop that converts to a tablet. That device ranked third out of four devices the district considered, according to the district’s hardware evaluation forms, which The Times obtained. Over all, the HP device scored 27 on a 46-point scale. A Dell device ranked first at 34.
The district ultimately awarded a $205 million, multiyear contract to Daly Computers, a Maryland reseller, to furnish the device, called the Elitebook Revolve.
Mychael Dickerson, a school district spokesman, said, “The device chosen was the one that was closely aligned to what was recommended by stakeholders.” Daly did not respond to inquiries.
With the laptop deal sealed, Silicon Valley kicked into gear.
In September 2014, shortly after the first schools received laptops, HP invited the superintendent to give a keynote speech at a major education conference in New York City. Soon after, Gus Schmedlen, HP’s vice president for worldwide education, described the event at a school board meeting.
“We had to pick one group, one group to present what was the best education technology plan in the world for the last academic year,” Mr. Schmedlen said. “And guess whose it was? Baltimore County Public Schools!”
An HP spokesman said the company did not pay for the trip. He said the company does not provide “compensation, meals, travel or other perks to school administrators or any other public sector officials.”
The superintendent later appeared in an HP video. “We are going to continue needing a thought partner like HP to say what’s working and what’s not working,” he said.
Microsoft, whose Windows software runs the laptops, named the district a Microsoft Showcase school system. Intel, whose chips power the laptops, gave Ryan Imbriale, the executive director of the district’s department of innovative learning, an Intel Education Visionary award.
Recently, parents and teachers have reported problems with the HP devices, including batteries falling out and keyboard tiles becoming detached. HP has discontinued the Elitebook Revolve.
Mr. Dickerson, the district spokesman, said there was not “a widespread issue with damaged devices.”
An HP spokesman said: “While the Revolve is no longer on the market, it would be factually inaccurate to suggest that’s related to product quality.”
Asked what device would eventually replace the Revolve in the schools, the district said it was asking vendors for proposals.
Mr. Dance’s technology makeover is now in the hands of an interim superintendent, Verletta White. In April Mr. Dance announced his resignation, without citing a reason. Ms. White has indicated that she will continue the tech initiative while increasing a focus on literacy.
A Baltimore County school board member, David Uhlfelder, said a representative from the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor had interviewed him in September about Mr. Dance’s relationship with a former school vendor (a company not in the tech industry).
The prosecutor’s office declined to confirm or deny its interest in Mr. Dance.
Mr. Dance, who discussed the district’s tech initiatives with a Times reporter last year, did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls this week seeking comment.
Courting the Superintendents
In Baltimore County and beyond, the digital makeover of America’s schools has spawned a circuit of conferences, funded by Microsoft, Google, Dell and other tech vendors, that lavish attention on tech-friendly educators.
Mr. Dance’s travel schedule sheds light on that world.
Between March 2014, when the laptop contract was announced, and April 2017, when he announced his resignation, Mr. Dance took at least 65 out-of-state trips related to the district’s tech initiatives or involving industry-funded groups, according to a Times analysis of travel documents obtained under public records laws — nearly two trips per month on average. Those trips cost more than $33,000. The Times counted only trips with local receipts, indicating Mr. Dance set foot in the cities.
At least $13,000 of Mr. Dance’s airline tickets, hotel bills, meals and other fees were paid for by organizations sponsored by tech companies, some of which were school vendors, The Times found. The $13,000 is an incomplete number, because some groups cover superintendents’ costs directly, which means school records may not include them.
Another way tech companies reach superintendents is to pay private businesses that set up conferences or small-group meetings with them. Superintendents nationwide have attended these events.
One prominent provider is the Education Research and Development Institute, or ERDI, which regularly gathers superintendents and other school leaders for conferences where they can network with companies that sell to schools.
ERDI offered several service levels this year, according to a membership rate card obtained by The Times. A $13,000 fee for Bronze membership entitles a company to one confidential meeting, where executives can meet with five school leaders to discuss products and school needs. Diamond members could pay $66,000 for six such meetings.
ERDI has offered superintendents $2,000 per conference as participating consultants, according to a Louisiana Board of Ethics filing. And there are other perks.
“Because we are asking for their time and expertise, we commonly offer to pay the cost of their food, transportation and lodging during their participation,” ERDI’s president, David M. Sundstrom, said in an email.
Mr. Dance’s calendar indicated that he had attended at least five ERDI events.
Mr. Dance received payment last year as an adviser for ERDI, according to his most recent district financial disclosure. It lists Dulle Enterprises, a company that owned ERDI in the past, as an employer from which he earned income.
Last February, at an ERDI conference in New Orleans, Mr. Dance met with Curriculum Associates, which makes reading software, as well as DreamBox Learning, a math platform.
At the time, both companies had contracts with the district. A few months after the event, the school board approved additional money for both companies. Each contract is now worth about $3.2 million.
A DreamBox spokeswoman said there was no connection between the meeting and its contract. “Even the appearance of impropriety is something we take very seriously and take steps to avoid,” she said.
A Curriculum Associates spokeswoman said: “These panels are not sales presentations, but rather focus-group opportunities to solicit feedback on products under development.”
Ms. White, the interim superintendent, has been involved with ERDI since 2013, according to Mr. Dickerson. He said Ms. White used vacation time to attend events, where she “provided guidance to education-related companies on goods, services and products that are in development to benefit student performance.”
Asked whether Ms. White had received ERDI payments, Mr. Dickerson said, “Participation in ERDI is done independently of the school system.” In an email, Ms. White said she found ERDI to be a “beneficial professional learning experience.” She didn’t respond to a question about ERDI compensation.
She added, “I do not believe there are any conflicts of interests” related to the district’s tech initiative.
Mr. Sundstrom, ERDI’s president, said education companies pay a fee to attend events “not to meet school leaders or make a sale,” but to get meaningful feedback on their education products from knowledgeable school leaders. He added that school officials do not make purchases at ERDI sessions and that it is their school boards that approve district purchases.
Baltimore County’s travel rules say, “No travel expenses will be paid by those seeking to do business with the Baltimore County Public Schools prior to obtaining a contract.” Mr. Dickerson explained that applied to companies currently bidding for contracts.
A Foundation’s Big Fund-Raiser
Beneath crystal chandeliers last April, politicians, school leaders, vendors and community members gathered in a banquet hall. The occasion was State of the Schools, an annual fund-raising luncheon arranged by the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.
The foundation was created in the early 1990s and raises money for schools. Tech companies have made significant donations, and have directors sitting on the foundation’s board. The directors include employees from Discovery Education, Pearson and Microsoft, all vendors with multimillion-dollar district contracts.
Daly, the laptop provider, was the biggest donor, giving $30,000. McGraw-Hill, Discovery Education, Pearson and Microsoft each donated $1,500 to $15,000. Of the $211,500 in publicly listed donations for the event, tech companies gave about 43 percent.
“You have these huge contracts, and then you donate all this money, and the foundation puts up a banner advertising your company’s name,” said Michael J. Collins, a former Maryland state senator and former school board member. “I just didn’t think that passed the smell test.”
Discovery Education said it trained employees to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Microsoft said its policies followed government gift and ethics rules. Pearson said its donation had been nominal and vetted to prevent conflict of interest. McGraw-Hill said it was committed to integrity and transparency.
Deborah S. Phelps, the foundation’s executive director, said it awarded scholarships and gave schools grants for projects in culture, science, technology and other subjects.
When asked if the foundation had policies governing donations from vendors or potential vendors, Ms. Phelps said no. “‘There’s not necessarily a policy,” she said. There is also no policy prohibiting foundation board members who are vendors from reviewing grants involving their or competitors’ products, she said.
Mr. Dickerson said the focus of Baltimore County Public Schools was on “supporting students, teachers and their learning environments.” He added: “We are unapologetic for engaging with our Education Foundation, business partners and community stakeholders in an effort to close known achievement gaps.”
Mr. Reich of Stanford suggested school districts establish clearer rules governing their relationships with vendors, particularly with tech companies racing to win over the gatekeepers to America’s classrooms. Otherwise, parents could lose trust in the system.
“School leaders should be just as concerned about the perception of corruption as actual corruption,” he said.
Many of the ideas in the Republican tax proposal unveiled Thursday have found bipartisan support in the past and endorsements from economists who see a way to improve the U.S. economy. That includes plans to make the corporate rate more competitive, simplify personal taxes, curb several tax breaks of dubious value and provide more assistance to working families.
The controversy is over who will gain the most: the rich and corporations. The GOP bill would cut the corporate rate well below previous attempts, eliminate a tax on inheritance that affects only people with many millions of dollars, and take other actions that do not provide direct benefits to most Americans.
And the proposal represents a significant break with previous tax-rewrite discussions. Republicans have in the past focused on the importance of not adding to the nation’s debt through tax reform. Democrats have favored overhauling the tax code to raise revenue to pay for needed improvements in America’s infrastructure or to provide services for the middle class and poor.
But in this case, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimated Thursday that the tax plan would be paid for by $1.5 trillion in additional borrowing over the next decade. Much of that reflects tax reductions benefiting the wealthy and companies.
Budget experts say the GOP’s decision jeopardizes what could otherwise be one of the great legacies of Republican-controlled government: fixing the U.S. tax code and improving the economy.
“I do think this is a sensible framework. It emphasizes the need for corporate reforms and how our tax system works,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “But this is still a deficit-exploding tax cut at a time when the deficit is at near-record levels.”
At heart, the GOP plan cuts taxes on large businesses and pays for those reductions by raising taxes on individuals, the exact opposite of what was done in the 1986 Tax Reform Act under President Ronald Reagan. Republicans have long held up the 1986 effort — which did not add to the deficit — as a model.
The cut in corporate taxes will deplete the Treasury by nearly $847 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. The elimination of the estate tax — which is paid only by the small portion of Americans with estates worth more than $5.49 million — and related measures will cost $172 billion. The creation of a 25 percent rate for people who pay corporate taxes through the individual code — a popular way for the wealthy to reduce their tax obligation — will cost $448 billion.
The GOP offsets some of those costs by raising taxes on individual earners who use tax breaks such as the mortgage interest deduction and the state and local tax deduction. But critics say the GOP could have chosen to overhaul the tax code in a way that concentrated benefits on middle- and working-class Americans — and chose not to.
“You can very much achieve tax reform without giving higher-income earners a tax cut,” said Chye-Ching Huang, deputy director of federal tax policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
President Trump and top Republican leaders argue that the middle class and working poor will benefit from lower taxes of big businesses because corporations will use the money they save on taxes to hire more workers and pay existing employees higher wages.
“We will be creating jobs like you have rarely seen,” Trump said in the Oval Office, as he kissed a postcard of the House GOP tax plan, hailing it as a “great Christmas present.”
Invariably, overhauling the tax code creates winners and losers, and the writers of the legislation argued that they were making progress toward a top policy goal.
“None of [the critics] thought we would even get this far with tax reform, and they’re wrong,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the chief author of the tax bill, said Thursday.
The plan contains several policies that have attracted bipartisan support before. The current corporate tax rate of 35 percent is far higher than those of most other wealthy countries, leading many companies to say they are at a disadvantage and must spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources on complying with tax rules. In his last year in office, President Barack Obama proposed lowering it to 28 percent.
The GOP has pursued a much lower rate, proposing on Thursday a 20 percent rate. Earlier this year, the GOP planned to offset the deep cut in the corporate tax rate by imposing a substantial new tax on imports, a move that was killed by retailers and other industries. The bill unveiled Thursday didn’t have many revenue streams from businesses.
Likewise, many experts agree the tax code contains numerous tax breaks that don’t provide much benefit to the economy. For example, while many existing homeowners may appreciate the mortgage interest deduction, research suggests that it disproportionately benefits higher-income earners and does little to spur home-buying. Democrats have proposed limiting its value before — just as the GOP tax bill on Thursday proposed allowing new home buyers to deduct interest on only $500,000 of mortgage debt rather than the current $1 million threshold.
Only 5 percent of mortgages in the United States are worth more than $500,000, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The mortgage interest change, among other limits to tax breaks benefiting individual earners, would raise more than $1.25 trillion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Alan Auerbach, professor of economics and law at the University of California at Berkeley and one of the country’s top tax scholars, said some provisions in the plan make a lot of sense. For example, he praised how the GOP proposal would allow companies to deduct the cost of investing in new equipment, which is likely to spur immediate spending in the economy. But he lamented how much the plan adds to the deficit, among other provisions.
The bill “has a pulse,” he said, but he’s “not sure it can be resurrected” into something that is good policy for the United States, especially after so many interests groups and lobbyists pressure Congress for changes in the coming weeks.
Republicans are pushing an aggressive timeline to get the bill to the president’s desk. The idea is to limit lobbying by moving quickly, but many are skeptical it can happen.
“The problem is we’re creating policy in an era of free-lunch economics,” MacGuineas said. “No one seems to acknowledge budget constraints and real choices.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the greatest boxer of his generation, is not shy about using social media to display the wealth that his years of prize fighting have won him. On Facebook, you can find videos of Mr. Mayweather draped in diamond chains. Want to see him with blocks of $100 bills taped to his torso? There’s that, too.
Recently, Mr. Mayweather has shown his appreciation for a new kind of money. In September, he told his 13.5 million followers on Facebook not once but twice that they should buy a new virtual currency known as the Centra token.
“Get yours before they sell out,” he wrote above a picture of himself admiring the many boxing title belts he had been awarded over the years. “I got mine and as usual I’m going to win big with this one!”
Mr. Mayweather is among the many celebrities who have recently endorsed an initial coin offering, the name for a hot but loosely regulated new method of fund-raising in which entrepreneurs sell their own virtual currencies to investors around the world.
The boxer’s endorsement of Centra, along with a similar endorsement from the popular rapper DJ Khaled, lent a patina of credibility to a project that has ended up with more than a few problems, including a chief executive who does not appear to have been a real person and a shaky, fast-shifting business plan.
Thanks in part to the endorsements, in just a few weeks Centra’s founders raised over $30 million from investors around the world. They finished their fund-raising this month, just before a grand jury indicted two of the three co-founders on perjury charges stemming from a drunken-driving case.
Centra was one of the 270 or so I.C.O.s that have raised more than $3.2 billion this year, a 3,000 percent jump from last year’s total, according to data from Tokendata.io, which tracks coin offerings. Investors have been willing to pay real money for these virtual tokens because they hope their value will go up as fast as the price of Bitcoin, the best-known digital currency, has in recent months.
Celebrities have helped stoke the I.C.O. boom. The actor Jamie Foxx, the socialite Paris Hilton and the soccer player Luis Suarez, for example, have all promoted new virtual currencies to their sizable followings on social media in recent months, offering legitimacy and attention to coin offerings that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Mr. Mayweather, who has promoted three different tokens — Centra, Stox and Hubiits — has even taken to calling himself Crypto Mayweather in social media posts, a play on his better-known nickname, Money Mayweather.
But the story of Centra illustrates that beneath the signs of mainstream acceptance, coin offerings still exist in a legal gray zone with few checks on the ambitions of young entrepreneurs.
“It’s undeniable that a celebrity endorsement brings a new audience into the world of crypto currencies,” said Peter Van Valkenburgh, the director of research at Coin Center, a nonprofit that advocates for Bitcoin and related technology. “But I’m not certain that celebrity endorsements are doing a good job of bringing attention to the legitimate projects.”
Coins of the Digital Wild West
The original virtual currency, Bitcoin, is a digital token — with no physical backing — that can be sent electronically from one user to another, anywhere in the world. The network on which Bitcoin is stored and transferred was designed to operate without any company or government in charge, governed by a far-flung collaboration of volunteer programmers and computers that maintain all the records.
Initial coin offerings have taken advantage of the decentralized structure of Bitcoin and another popular virtual currency network, Ethereum. People can pay for tokens like Centra using Bitcoin and Ether (the currency inside Ethereum), and no financial authority needs to approve the payments or even know they happened.
Coin offerings have also copied the decentralized structure of Bitcoin and Ethereum, and are riding on the coattails of tech industry enthusiasm for those currency systems. The Centra founders said their token would fuel a new virtual currency debit card and online market. Some venture capitalists have said these new tokens could provide a way to fund and support new global networks — like the next generation of the internet.
But while Bitcoin and Ethereum have gone through years of public vetting (and still have plenty of critics), the new tokens being sold in recent months are unproven, and marketed on the promises of their creators.
The creators of Centra are 26-year-old friends from southern Florida, Sam Sharma and Raymond Trapani. The company’s chief marketing officer, Robert Farkas, was recently given the title of co-founder as well. Before Centra, neither Mr. Sharma nor Mr. Trapani had any professional experience with the technologies associated with virtual currencies, or with the debit cards they were hoping to build.
The primary business experience of Mr. Sharma and Mr. Farkas was at Miami Exotics, a luxury car rental business that the two built. Mr. Trapani’s old Instagram account shows that he was also a credit repair specialist with a penchant for pictures of luxury cars and stacks of $20 bills.
“You can sit and watch my life, or you can join my team and live a life like mine!” he wrote in one post.
The lack of experience in the virtual currency industry did nothing to limit the ambitions of Centra’s founders. In July, they put out a website and an announcement that described Centra as an answer to the proliferation of virtual currencies.
“Centra Tech has a brilliant solution, the world’s first Debit Card that is designed for use with compatibility on 8+ major cryptocurrencies blockchain assets,” the announcement said.
Making up for the inexperience of the young men was an older chief executive named Michael Edwards, at least according to the Centra website at the time.
The first cracks in the project appeared in early August when a programmer, Harry Denly, wrote on his blog that Mr. Edwards appeared to be made up. The photo on Centra’s website was a photo of a Canadian physiology professor who had no relation to Centra — and none of the details on Mr. Edwards’s LinkedIn profile, like his work experience at Bank of America and Wells Fargo, checked out.
Centra initially threatened to sue Mr. Denly but then said the bad profiles were the result of freelancers who had hastily put together the company’s marketing material. The LinkedIn profile was deleted.
The company has since removed any mention of Michael Edwards from the Centra site and elevated Mr. Sharma to be president. The company also deleted several other employees whose identity and existence were challenged on social media forums.
“When I got involved, the website got cleaned up from A to Z,” Mr. Sharma said in an interview.
Centra charged past these hiccups and began its token sale, got its endorsement from Mr. Mayweather (more on that later) and moved ahead with its plans for a virtual currency debit card. The debit card was described as a new product that would make it possible to spend virtual currencies anywhere Visa cards were taken. The company’s site showed Centra cards emblazoned with the Visa logo.
There was one problem with this plan. The company had not been approved, or had even applied, to run a Centra card on the Visa network, a spokeswoman for Visa said.
After The New York Times reached out to Visa this month, Centra took all the mentions of Visa off its website. Mr. Sharma then said in an interview that the company had shifted its strategy and was now planning to run its cards on the Mastercard network in partnership with a Canadian financial institution. He said this would not require approval from Mastercard because the Canadian institution would issue the cards.
But a Mastercard spokesman, Brian Gendron, disagreed.
“Centra would need approval from Mastercard for something like that, and we are not aware of any approval that has been sought or achieved,” Mr. Gendron said.
Because Centra began raising money without going through any standard background checks, no one verified the company’s credentials with the credit card networks or other relevant authorities. A basic background check would have turned up the numerous run-ins with the law that Mr. Sharma, the company president, has had.
Mr. Sharma has been sued in Florida and New York several times on allegations of unpaid bills and business deals gone sour. Twice, people have accused him in court of trying to fraudulently sell or lend them cars that he didn’t own, and twice he has been evicted for claims that he failed to pay rent.
The landlord in Boca Raton, Fla., who evicted him, Steven Fern, said that after Mr. Sharma stopped paying the rent on his condominium, Mr. Sharma promised repeatedly that he would make it up the next month.
“He stayed the entire time, literally until the day the police came,” Mr. Fern said. “It was a strange scenario, and we lost a lot of money.”
Mr. Sharma said that these problems, a few years ago, had happened when he was “a kid.”
He said the landlord’s statements were “not accurate.”
Sprite, Pinot Grigio and a White Maserati
For now, the bigger problem facing Mr. Sharma and Mr. Trapani is the perjury indictment by a Manhattan grand jury on Oct. 5, just a few days after Centra finished fund-raising.
The charges stem from an incident last year in Manhattan, when Mr. Sharma was arrested early on a Friday in a white Maserati. According to a local news report, Mr. Sharma ran a stop sign and had “a flushed face, a strong odor of alcohol on his breath and watery and bloodshot eyes, and was unsteady on his feet.”
Mr. Sharma and Mr. Trapani both said during Mr. Sharma’s trial that on the night in question, Mr. Sharma had only had Sprite and one glass of pinot grigio, according to the indictment.
“As defendant Sharma and defendant Trapani knew, the testimony that defendant Trapani gave was false, and the truth was that on March 24, 2016, there were alcoholic beverages other than pinot grigio on the table and the defendant did not order Sprite,” the indictment said.
Mr. Sharma said that he couldn’t speak to the case because it was still going on, but that it should not have any effect on Centra.
“I’m obviously not comfortable with that situation,” he said. “But it’s not that I did something so intensely crazy that investors need to worry.”
He and Mr. Trapani both said they were moving ahead with their big plans for Centra, including more projects with Mr. Mayweather.
Mr. Trapani said the company was connected with Mr. Mayweather and DJ Khaled through social contacts in Miami. Mr. Trapani said Mr. Mayweather was so intrigued by Centra’s technology that he wanted to be paid in Centra tokens, and wanted to be a partner for future business ventures.
“He’ll do anything we ask,” Mr. Trapani said. “He’ll go shopping around Beverly Hills if we ask him to do it with this card.”
The boxing champ understood their deal differently. A spokeswoman for Mr. Mayweather, Kelly Swanson, said he had been paid in cash for the posts and was not involved in any continuing relationship with Centra. She did not say how much he had been paid.
After being contacted by The Times, Mr. Mayweather deleted his Instagram and Facebook posts endorsing Centra, though he left up a Twitter post.
Mr. Sharma disputed the account of Mr. Mayweather’s spokeswoman and said the boxer had received Centra tokens. “We dealt with Floyd directly through my guy,” Mr. Sharma said. “It was a very direct, individual deal.”
Representatives for DJ Khaled did not respond to requests for comment.
Other celebrities have already learned the risks of associating with initial coin offerings.
In September, Ms. Hilton endorsed a token known as Lydian Coin on Twitter, where she wrote: “Looking forward to participating in the new @LydianCoinLtd Token!” Ms. Hilton deleted the post after Forbes reporters uncovered the checkered legal past of the founder of Lydian Coin, who had aimed to raise $100 million.
Regulators have been relatively slow to crack down on problematic coin offerings. But the Securities and Exchange Commission did recently bring its first case against what it claimed was a fraudulent project — a relatively small one that collected a few hundred thousand dollars.
For now, Mr. Sharma and Mr. Trapani are sitting on the $30 million that investors gave them.
Mr. Sharma shared and proved his ownership of the Ethereum wallet where they are currently keeping the money.
Assuming regulators don’t step in, Mr. Trapani and Mr. Sharma can keep the money, even if they don’t build anything. But they say that won’t happen.
Mr. Sharma said Centra was planning to issue its first batch of debit cards this year, regardless of the denials of Visa and Mastercard, and would unveil its broader technology in November. They have already rented lavish offices in Miami Beach and hired several people.
“I see us taking over as being the No. 1 company that people will use to use their crypto assets,” Mr. Sharma said, using an industry term for virtual currencies. “Once our proof of concept goes from beta to live, I think that we are going to take market dominance in the full aspect.”
Some potential investors did not share Mr. Sharma’s enthusiasm and discussed their concerns on Reddit and other social media platforms. But those criticisms ended up having less of an impact than the social media nods from Mr. Mayweather and DJ Khaled.
“What’s important is Centra is being endorsed and they have a product,” a Reddit user named islandsurf wrote back to the critics, explaining his own investment. “That’s what matters to investors!”
By JIM RUTENBERG
Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein might have originate from different ends from the political spectrum, but as it happens there is a lot in keeping.
They rose to positions of power around the same time frame and used their big, bullying voices to secure on their own leading roles in American culture. Both men labored in industries that endure gross behavior from male executives for many years, and both now stand charged with lording their status over ladies who have walked toward state that the boys sexually harassed or else mistreated them.
Mr. O’Reilly, late of Fox News, and Mr. Weinstein, late from the Weinstein Company, share another thing. They stored their alleged misconduct under wraps with the aid of the nondisclosure contracts incorporated included in the numerous out-of-court settlements that permitted these to admit to no wrongdoing.
The sums they compensated their accusers bought them silence. A complete, public airing didn’t become until individuals meddling reporters arrived.
The report within the New You are able to Occasions a few days ago that Mr. O’Reilly compensated $32 million in one settlement using the former Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl in The month of january gives $45 million the quantity that’s been compensated to 6 ladies who accused him of harassment.
With individuals settlements, Mr. O’Reilly wasn’t only in a position to keep his top-rated, prime-time tv program, an electric train engine for his book and speaking empire, but he seemed to be able, in Feb, to land a brand new $100 million contract from Fox News, the network that made him a star.
Two several weeks later, Fox News and it is parent, twenty-first century Fox, forced Mr. O’Reilly out.
What altered? The allegations against Mr. O’Reilly, once easily taken aside, had all of a sudden be a problem. They’d be a problem simply because they became public (using it . Occasions reporters who first authored concerning the $32 million payout, Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt).
Inside a similar turn of occasions, earlier this year, Mr. Weinstein didn’t serve you for a week at his company following the Occasions and so the New Yorker detailed sexual harassment and abuse claims against him returning decades.
Now, a nationwide reckoning is going ahead. Allegations of harassment and abuse have motivated action at Amazon . com Studios, in which a female producer’s accusation forced the resignation of their chief, Roy Cost in the APA talent agency, where allegations from a minimum of three men from the agent Tyler Grasham brought to his firing at Vox Media, which ignored its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, following a lady accused him of misconduct on Medium without naming him and also at Nickelodeon, which severed ties with “The Loud House” creator Chris Savino after several women leveled accusations.
But it’s a reckoning lengthy delayed. Along with a big reason behind the delay is due to the out-of-court settlements and also the nondisclosure contracts which go together.
It had been a nondisclosure agreement that switched from the spigot of accusations from the comedian and actor Bill Cosby, who had been made to grapple with women’s complaints whenever a former Temple College sports department worker, Andrea Constand, accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 2005. After a little dozen others made similar charges meant for her situation, Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand arrived at a private settlement.
Also it would be a nondisclosure agreement that introduced to some close the flurry of media attention that adopted the suit filed against Mr. O’Reilly through the former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris in 2004. Her silence — together with saying yes towards the public statement that there was “no wrongdoing whatsoever” — selected about $9 million.
Individuals are just the very best known examples. The entertainment news and gossip archives are full of reports of celebrity sexual harassment cases designed in disappearing ink.
Go ahead and take summer time of 2010. Two women filed lawsuits accusing the actor Casey Affleck of harassment throughout the filming of “I’m Still Here.” Around the same time frame, the actress Kristina Hagan billed the television star David Boreanaz had harassed her when she was an additional on his Fox show “Bones.” Her high-profile lawyer, Gloria Allred, went before a cluster of cameras to report that Ms. Hagan was “looking toward her day in the court.Inches
But the 3 women struck private contracts resolving their cases from the men, who denied the claims against them. Mr. Affleck continued to win an Oscar, and Mr. Boreanaz is really a star from the new CBS drama “SEAL Team.”
I arrived at to Ms. Allred on Friday to go over what lots of people were visiting view because the systemic silencing of ladies — a stratagem that, yes, compensates the accusers, but additionally enriches the lawyers who arrange the deals and, perhaps, leaves other women vulnerable. Wasn’t that system, I requested, stifling a wider discussion?
“My duty being an attorney would be to my client and also to assist her and safeguard her and support her with what she thinks is the best for her existence,” Ms. Allred explained. “I don’t think any lady ought to be sacrificed for that ‘cause.’”
For several women, she stated, a private money is the best outcome. “Some clients wish to safeguard their privacy — it normally won’t want anybody to understand,Inches she stated.
Generally, Ms. Allred stated, if there’s no confidentiality agreement, there’s no shot in a settlement. And she or he disputed the concept out-of-court settlements in some way allow the alleged harassers off scot-free.
”If the accused sexual harasser is having to pay my client $500,000, or $a million or $two million, it is not nuisance value,” she stated. “That’s an admission the accused feels he has risk and the man has been doing something which he shouldn’t did.Inches
Still, Mr. O’Reilly has recently stated that he struck the deals simply to “protect my loved ones.Inches Over the past weekend, he used his web site to call the most recent Occasions report a “smear piece.”
To acquire the $32 million he was stated to possess compensated Ms. Wiehl, Mr. O’Reilly bought greater than her silence. Included in the deal, the Occasions reported, all texts along with other communications together were destroyed, and that he got an affidavit, signed by Ms. Wiehl, by which she attested that they had “no claims” concerning the allegations in her own initial complaint.
Due to such contracts, it needed several weeks and several weeks of reporting for individuals who nailed lower the tales on Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Weinstein — just like they stymied a lot of earlier efforts by others. Jessica E. Lessin, the editor in chief from the tech news website The Data, stated that using nondisclosure contracts slowed its analysis into sexual harassment allegations in Plastic Valley — particularly, against Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. (He resigned from Binary and apologized, saying it had been wrong to “leverage a situation of power in return for sexual gain.”)
“The freedom to inform your story should not be easily signed away,” Ms. Lessin explained. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t cases when it’s reasonable for their services, however they appear frequently that it’s a sign that ladies are having to sign away their legal rights to freedom of expression.”
Binary, incidentally, was paid by another type of legal silencing — nondisparagement clauses mounted on employment contracts, which, because the Occasions reported in This summer, the organization searched for to make use of to help keep complaints from going public. The Weinstein Company were built with a similar provision.
The Brand New You are able to Condition Legislature is thinking about legislation that will void contract provisions that keep employees from getting harassment and discrimination claims.
That’s a start.
A showdown is looming in Washington between Congress and also the effective social networking firms that have helped define the present unsettled age in western democracies.
The immediate issue prior to the Senate and also the House intelligence committees, that have called representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to look on 1 November, is to look for the extent the businesses were utilized in a multi-pronged Russian operation to help the 2016 presidential election.
The 3 companies have accepted that Russian entities bought ads on their own sites in order to skew the election. In Facebook’s situation, ads pushing divisive messages were bought by fake American accounts and centered on swing states. On Twitter, vast military of automated user accounts – “bots” – and pretend users helped promote fake news tales, unhealthy for Hillary Clinton and favourable to Jesse Trump. Russian-funded accounts spread bogus tales over the Google internet search engine and it is subsidiary YouTube.
The broader question hovering within the committee proceedings on 1 November is whether or not these organisations, which once appeared to encapsulate the spirit of freedom of expression and communication these days, have grown to be Trojan viruses horses utilized by foreign autocracies and domestic extremists to subvert democracies from inside, exploiting openness, blurring fact and fiction and fuelling civil conflict.
Twitter and Google will be sending their general counsels to testify prior to the congressional panels. They’ll face unparalleled questions regarding the way the companies intend to police themselves.
With individuals proceedings looming, Trump searched for on Saturday to downplay the significance of Russian ads and pretend news throughout the election. “Keep listening to “tiny” amount of cash allocated to Facebook ads,” obama tweeted. “What concerning the vast amounts of dollars of pretend News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?”
“Crooked Hillary Clinton spent vast sums of dollars more about Presidential Election than Used to do,Inches obama authored in another tweet. “Facebook was on her behalf side, not mine!”
Nevertheless, momentum is building in Congress to begin controlling and patrolling outdoors plains of social networking. On Thursday, a bipartisan bid premiered within the Senate to workout control button over online political advertising. “The Honest Ads Act”, backed by Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner and Republican John McCain, targets stopping foreign affect on elections by submitting political ads offered online towards the same rules and transparency that pertains to Radio and tv.
“Unfortunately, US laws and regulations requiring transparency in political campaigns haven’t stored pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to benefit from these loopholes to trick countless American voters with impunity,” McCain stated around the bill’s launch.
Jesse Trump within the Oblong Office. ‘The Honest Ads Act’ targets stopping foreign affect on elections by submitting online political ads towards the same transparency that pertains to Radio and tv. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
Social networking companies have fought against off such attempts at regulation for a long time, however a tech company worker who requested anonymity to discuss openly about internal industry discussions recommended Plastic Valley might certainly be available to narrowly tailored regulation on political ads.
“In 2011, when political advertising on social networking were much more of a fledgling industry, companies were more concerned that the disclaimer could be problematic and hurt the,Inches the worker stated. “The social and political ad’ space is really established since it’s difficult to see campaigns pulling from the market according to that.”
However, it’s not obvious just how much offer the bill will attract in the Republican leadership, that has opposed efforts to limit anything it sees as associated with campaign finance.
‘Totally divisive material’
The weather where the legislation is debated is decided to some large degree through the results of the fir November proceedings. Social networking executives will be requested the things they understood about Russian subversion of the platforms so when they understood it. You will see be also sharp questioning over if the precise targeting of divisive ads and pretend news in areas that demonstrated important to Trump’s victory demonstrated any proof of collusion.
CNN has reported that Russian-purchased ads were targeted in sophisticated ways on key demographic groups in Wisconsin and Michigan. In central Pennsylvania, another condition won narrowly by Trump, there’s proof of outdoors tampering made to depress the Clinton election.
John Mattes, an old Senate investigator who helped run the internet campaign in North Park for Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s challenger for that Democratic nomination, finds Sanders supporters sites full of eastern Europeans posting fake news under false names.
More lately he’s encounter exactly the same phenomenon inside a Facebook supporters group in central Pennsylvania. One troll, calling themself Stephen Forest, shared a number of fake news tales targeting Clinton, Muslim refugees and African Americans.
Mark Zuckerberg authored inside a 21 September publish, on coming back from parental leave.
He listed nine remedial actions the organization would take, including measures that will disclose who compensated for any political ad and permit their Facebook page to become visited to determine what ads these were posting with other audiences.
Sheryl Sandberg in the US Capitol. She’s stated from the a large number of political ads compensated for with a Russian entity: ‘We’re likely to be fully transparent.’ Photograph: Came Angerer/Getty Images
Facebook has handed towards the special counsel and congressional investigators searching in to the Kremlin’s interference the information of three,000 political ads compensated for with a shadowy Russian entity known as the web Research Agency (IRA). Their chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, stated Facebook owed the country “not just an apology but determination” to defeat tries to subvert US democracy.
Within an interview using the Axios media site, Sandberg didn’t address whether Russian trolls were individuals same users because the Trump campaign, which may point to collusion. But she did promise: “When the ads get released we may also be releasing the targeting for individuals ads. We’re likely to be fully transparent.”
Buzzfeed reported that the organization required 11 several weeks to consider lower a Russian troll account impersonating the Tennessee Republican party which in fact had greater than 130,000 supporters, regardless of the complaints from the real Republicans within the condition.
Senator Warner has known as Twitter’s response ‘inadequate on every level’. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
Inside a statement on 28 September, Twitter stated it had been applying policies targeted at removing bots coupled with found as many as 201 accounts that made an appearance to become from the Russian propaganda campaign. The organization is as reported by the Daily Animal to possess paid information on tweets promoted through the Kremlin’s British-language TV network, RT.
Which was a small figure in contrast to the size of invasion recommended by outdoors researchers. Warner known as Twitter’s response around the issue “inadequate on every level”.
Google stated recently it’d found no proof of a Russian propaganda campaign. However the Washington Publish reported on 9 October that the internal analysis been on fact found Russian operatives spread disinformation across Google’s many products, including YouTube, in addition to advertising connected with Search and Gmail.
The congressional proceedings will represent a dent skirmish inside a struggle within the limits of internet freedom. The Plastic Valley giants is going to be protecting a worldview in addition to their profit.
“There is really a Californian libertarian mentality that assumes everybody is nice in mind which should you create a wide open platform, excellent achievements happen,” stated one investigator searching into Russian manipulation of social networking platforms. “But you will find bad individuals who wish to do bad things.
“The question about all of this freedom is – exactly what is a cost worth having to pay?”
In the treacherous world of finance, where investors confront biased advice, hidden costs and onerous fees, one investment giant seems to stand apart — the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, also known as TIAA. Calling itself a “mission-based organization” with a “nonprofit heritage,” TIAA has enjoyed a reputation as a selfless steward of its clients’ assets for almost a century.
“Our values make us a different kind of financial services organization, known for our integrity,” Roger W. Ferguson Jr., TIAA’s president and chief executive, says on the company’s website.
TIAA’s clients — educators, researchers and public service workers, many inexperienced with finance — consider the company a trusted partner without whom they could not hope to retire comfortably. That many customers revere it is not an overstatement.
Now, TIAA’s image as a benevolent provider of investment advice is in question. Several legal filings — including a lawsuit by TIAA employees with money under the company’s management, and a whistle-blower complaint by a group of former workers — say it pushes customers into products that do not add value and may not be suitable but that generate higher fees. Such practices would violate the legal standard that applies to retirement accounts and securities laws governing investment advisers.
And while TIAA contends that its operations are untainted by conflicts because its 855 financial advisers and consultants do not receive sales commissions, former employees, in interviews and in lawsuits, disagree. They say the company rewards its sales personnel with bonuses when they steer customers into more expensive in-house products and services.
The accusations are notable not only because TIAA tells clients that it puts them first, but also because it is one of the world’s larger money managers, with almost $1 trillion in assets under management. Today, five million people — most of them college professors, nurses, administrators, researchers and government employees — entrust their money to TIAA. (Formerly known as TIAA-CREF, the company changed its name to TIAA last year.)
Pushing customers into investment products to generate higher pay is a tactic as old as investing itself. And many Wall Street firms, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley among them, have gotten into trouble for aggressive sales practices. TIAA, by contrast, has been seen as a different animal from its Wall Street counterparts.
Asked about the allegations, Chad Peterson, a TIAA spokesman, said the company focuses exclusively on meeting its clients’ long-term financial needs and operates in “a highly transparent and ethical way.” He added that TIAA’s clients had benefited from their association with the firm.
“We’ve paid more than the guaranteed payouts to our fixed annuity holders every year for more than half a century,” Mr. Peterson said. “We’ve paid $394 billion in benefits to retired participants since 1918. Since our founding, our retired participants have never missed a payout from us — through depressions, wars and natural disasters.”
According to interviews with 10 former employees, TIAA management assigned outsize sales quotas to its representatives and directed them to meet the quotas by playing up customers’ fears of not having enough money in retirement and other “pain points.”
These allegations are echoed in a confidential whistle-blower complaint filed against the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission and obtained by The New York Times. The complaint, which is pending, contends that TIAA began conducting a fraudulent scheme in 2011 to convert “unsuspecting retirement plan clients from low-fee, self-managed accounts to TIAA-CREF-managed accounts” that were more costly. Advisers were pushed to sell proprietary mutual funds to clients as well, the complaint says. The more complex a product, the more an employee earned selling it.
Those who questioned management’s directives, the complaint says, were “processed out” of TIAA.
Under the legal standard applied to retirement accounts, these plans must be run solely in the interests of participants and beneficiaries. Fiduciaries are barred from engaging in transactions in the plan that would benefit them or other service providers like TIAA.
Clients must also be told of conflicts. Sales representatives who do not make this clear would violate the rules.
The former TIAA employees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. TIAA makes employees sign an unusual agreement when they are hired stating that they will not make disparaging public comments about the company. The agreement, reviewed by The Times, gives TIAA the right to go to court to force compliance with its terms.
TIAA’s claims that it is more honorable than its competitors may have been true decades ago, but they no longer are, the former employees said.
Edward Siedle, founder of Benchmark Financial Services, is a former S.E.C. enforcement lawyer whose firm investigates improprieties at pension funds and recently helped a whistle-blower win the largest award from the S.E.C. after an enforcement action. Mr. Siedle has been briefed on the TIAA whistle-blower complaint and the former employees who brought it. “TIAA’s longstanding reputation as a low-cost provider doing well for educators and not driven by profit seems to be challenged by the revelations about how it’s doing business today,” he said.
A Broad Reach
In the early 1900s, teachers had no access to pensions that would help them live comfortably in retirement. So in 1918, the Carnegie Foundation donated $1 million to create the nonprofit Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association. Its goal was to “ensure that teachers could retire with dignity.”
For decades, TIAA grew by selling mostly insurance products, like annuities that guaranteed a steady stream of retirement income to their holders. Then in 1952, TIAA added the College Retirement Equities Fund, a global stock portfolio, to its offerings. The company, still operating as a nonprofit, became known as TIAA-CREF.
In most cases, clients invest with TIAA because their employers have hired it to administer their workers’ retirement accounts, known as 403(b) plans. Some 15,000 of the nation’s colleges, hospitals and other nonprofit organizations employ TIAA, its website says.
TIAA typically acts as record-keeper to these institutions, administering accounts that allow beneficiaries to choose among an array of mutual funds and annuities. When TIAA is a plan’s record keeper, its in-house funds are typically among the investments offered.
The company earns a record-keeping fee from these institutions, but it can also receive far more revenues when investors buy its mutual funds and annuities. Therein lies the potential for conflict at TIAA.
(I am a trustee of St. Olaf College, an institution that employs TIAA as record keeper on its retirement plans. The college recently asked other companies for information about their costs and offerings to help assess whether TIAA should stay on the job, but I will not be advising or making decisions on that matter.)
In 1997, Congress revoked the company’s nonprofit status as part of a tax reform bill, saying the status gave TIAA an unfair advantage over other companies. This meant TIAA’s costs would rise significantly because it would have to pay taxes.
Still, TIAA’s management said, the change would allow it to pursue investment opportunities it had not been able to engage in as a tax-exempt entity.
Former employees said the company became more aggressive in its sales practices when Herbert M. Allison Jr., a longtime Merrill Lynch executive, took over as TIAA’s chief executive in 2002. Around that time, the company was facing a major problem: Many clients withdrew their money when they retired from their universities or hospitals, moving their accounts to competitors like Vanguard, Charles Schwab and even higher-end brokerages like Merrill Lynch.
Eager to stanch the outflows, TIAA set up a registered investment advisory firm in 2004 that began offering private asset management services. In 2005, it created the Wealth Management Group, providing managed accounts for clients, for a fee.
The costs of these accounts were high compared with TIAA’s basic retirement accounts, and so was the pressure to sell them, according to the whistle-blower lawsuit. It notes that TIAA levied fees of 0.75 percent to 1.15 percent of assets under management. These charges came on top of the often hefty costs associated with TIAA funds or annuities.
“Had the retirement plan clients known of the advisers’ conflict of interest, they certainly would have been more wary and undertaken more investigation to discover the managed accounts the advisers were pushing were subject to substantially higher fees,” the complaint says.
Former employees contend that sales pressures at TIAA increased after it began losing university and other institutional accounts to competitors. Internally, TIAA executives had a name for this problem: Money in Motion. And in the fall of 2014, TIAA was reeling from the loss of the $1.3 billion University of Notre Dame account.
Losing such an account not only means no more record-keeping fees for TIAA, it also means the company will no longer generate money management revenues from participants’ purchases of in-house funds. That’s because TIAA’s funds are rarely offered to participants in plans that do not employ the company as record keeper.
After Notre Dame decided to move to Fidelity, a group of TIAA executives convened a conference call. Topic A: how to stop other accounts from walking out the door.
According to a tape provided by a former employee, one executive reported that the company had lost almost $6.4 billion in assets to competitors so far that year. When clients stopped taking part in a plan by retiring or changing jobs, the executive said, only half kept their money there.
Changing this dynamic was crucial, the executives agreed. And one urged the group to look at who was at risk of moving money out of TIAA accounts “and target those participants.”
Lawsuits Over Costs
In recent years, lawsuits directed at high-cost providers of retirement account services have shed light on the expenses associated with these arrangements. TIAA’s offerings have been among those drawing scrutiny.
In 2015, TIAA came under attack in a lawsuit brought by its own employees. This past May, TIAA agreed to pay $5 million to settle the plaintiffs’ allegations that the company breached its fiduciary duty by overcharging its workers in their retirement plan.
The plan offered only high-cost TIAA investment products, the lawsuit said. TIAA strongly denied the allegations but agreed to include investment options from outside fund managers in a settlement of the case; TIAA said it settled to avoid the costs and distractions of litigation.
On its website, TIAA says that its investment vehicles carry “some of the lowest costs in the industry.”
According to Morningstar, the average asset-weighted expense ratio on TIAA’s mutual funds was 0.32 percent in 2016. Although lower than the 0.57 percent mutual fund industry average, it is more expensive than a low-cost provider like Vanguard, whose average expense ratio was 0.11 percent in 2016.
TIAA also paid $19.5 million in 2014 to settle a suit brought by faculty members at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. They contended that TIAA failed to pay customers investment gains generated on their money during the time between the clients’ requests to move their funds from TIAA and the actual redemptions. TIAA had to pay $3.3 million in plaintiffs’ legal fees in that case.
TIAA denied liability in this case, saying the processing delays arose from a system upgrade.
Last February, a new lawsuit was brought by Melissa Haley, a participant in the Washington University Retirement Savings Plan. She alleged that TIAA had improperly charged her for loans she took out using her retirement account as collateral.
When a participant borrows against retirement-plan assets, most plan overseers take the loan out of the participant’s account. That way, the interest paid on the loan goes back to the borrower.
TIAA had a different practice, taking a loan from TIAA’s general account. That meant TIAA earned the difference between the interest it charged on the loan and the amount the participant earned on the money invested with TIAA. This enabled the firm “to earn additional income at the expense of retirement plan,” the lawsuit said, estimating that TIAA had generated $50 million a year from this practice nationwide.
Ms. Haley, who works as an administrator in cancer research at Washington University’s School of Medicine, said in an interview that she had been surprised when she learned about TIAA’s loan practices. “We’re all trying to do good things at the university, and you assume that anyone who is affiliated with it would be on the same path,” she said. “TIAA doesn’t have the values I thought it did.”
Mr. Peterson of TIAA said the company denies Ms. Haley’s allegations and will fight her suit vigorously. After the lawsuit was filed, TIAA told some college officials that loans should be funded from a participant’s account, calling that approach “a best practice.”
Even though TIAA stopped being a nonprofit organization in 1997, many of its customers might think it remains one. The company’s website ends in a .org rather than a .com and TIAA repeatedly refers to its “nonprofit heritage.”
Most of TIAA is for-profit. Teachers Advisors, for example, is an investment advisory firm that receives compensation from each in-house mutual fund it manages. Nuveen, a mutual fund company purchased by TIAA in 2014, is also run on a for-profit basis. So is EverBank, a Florida banking institution TIAA acquired in June.
According to TIAA’s 2016 annual statement, it generated $30.8 billion in income; $15 billion of that came from premiums collected on its insurance products. It earned almost $12 billion in investment income for its clients and $221 million in fees associated with TIAA’s investment management, administration and investment contract guarantees.
As these figures show, insurance is by far TIAA’s biggest business. It is a stock life insurance company whose shares are held by TIAA’s board of overseers. Most of the money it generates in its businesses is reinvested in the company or paid out to holders of TIAA annuities, the company says. Last year, it paid $3.8 billion to those holders.
TIAA’s employees were paid almost $1 billion in 2016, its filings show.
TIAA’s executive pay packages are comparable to those on Wall Street. During 2016, Mr. Ferguson, its chief executive officer, received $18.5 million in compensation, $5.1 million more than Michael Corbat, the chief executive of Citigroup, received.
Although TIAA contends that its sales representatives are not paid commissions, it does award bonuses to financial consultants and advisers if they sell in-house products or services. “There is an incentive for consultants to refer you to, or recommend that you open, TIAA accounts, products and services,” one TIAA filing with the S.E.C. said.
TIAA’s financial consultants who deal with institutions also receive bonuses based on their success in keeping clients’ money in house, the filing shows.
The company says in the filing that it addresses these conflicts of interest “by disclosing them to you.” While the lengthy document is sent to TIAA’s clients, they may not read it. The conflicts are not discussed in TIAA’s current private asset management brochure, dated March 2017, which says, “Your team always manages your portfolio according to your best interests.”
But the whistle-blower suit recounted a comment made by an executive at a convention of the company’s advisers in Orlando, Fla., in 2014. At the event, the lawsuit said, Carol Deckbar, then executive vice president and chief operating officer at the company, urged advisers to put more of their clients into in-house mutual funds. “Where do you think you get your bonuses?” the executive asked the crowd, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Deckbar, now head of institutional investment and endowment products and services at TIAA, declined to comment through the TIAA spokesman. The spokesman also declined to comment.
To receive a bonus, the former employees said, they had to meet a series of production thresholds and qualitative measures. Advisers work against a performance scorecard each year.
According to internal and S.E.C. documents, TIAA advisers receive more money if they put clients into what the company calls complexity products — in-house offerings like annuities and life insurance as well as costlier private asset management accounts and fee-based Portfolio Advisor accounts.
This creates an incentive, former employees said, for sales representatives to push retiring professors or administrators to move money from their institutional plan, with annual costs of around 0.3 percent of assets under management, to managed accounts charging fees of 0.7 percent to 1 percent.
Mr. Peterson, the TIAA spokesman, declined to comment about these allegations. An S.E.C. filing by TIAA said that it has a transaction review process aimed at making sure that recommendations are appropriate for clients.
The employee scorecard represented both carrot and stick. If enough money was not being rolled into managed accounts, representatives’ bonuses could be cut at their supervisor’s discretion, a former sales representative said.
A new federal fiduciary rule, which will require financial advisers working on retirement accounts to put their clients’ interests first, states that firms like TIAA cannot use bonuses or other incentives that would “cause advisers to make recommendations that are not in the best interest of the retirement investor.” Along with many on Wall Street, TIAA argued against the fiduciary rule.
TIAA’s efforts to hold on to client assets and bring in new customers seem to be working. In 2016, the company said, its Institutional Financial Services unit attracted more than 261,000 new individual clients. The business group “beat their targets” in many areas.
But in June, the company changed the message it wanted its sales representatives to tell clients. A training update to wealth management advisers, provided to The Times from a current employee, came as the new fiduciary rule was being finalized.
It told advisers “to avoid accidentally implying that you may be acting as a fiduciary,” when having educational conversations with clients. They should avoid “referencing the participant’s best interest” and “discussions regarding TIAA’s not-for-profit heritage.”
Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network’s top-rated host at the time, Bill O’Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, according to two people briefed on the matter — an extraordinarily large amount for such cases.
Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.
It was at least the sixth agreement — and by far the largest — made by either Mr. O’Reilly or the company to settle harassment allegations against him. Despite that record, 21st Century Fox began contract negotiations with Mr. O’Reilly, and in February granted him a four-year extension that paid $25 million a year.
Interviews with people familiar with the settlement, and documents obtained by The New York Times, show how the company tried and ultimately failed to contain the second wave of a sexual harassment crisis that initially burst into public view the previous summer and cost the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, and eventually Mr. O’Reilly, their jobs.
In January, the reporting shows, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, the top executives at 21st Century Fox, made a business calculation to stand by Mr. O’Reilly despite his most recent, and potentially most explosive, harassment dispute.
Their decision came as the company was trying to convince its employees, its board and the public that it had cleaned up the network’s workplace culture. At the same time, they were determined to hold on to Mr. O’Reilly, whose value to the network increased after the departure of another prominent host, Megyn Kelly.
But by April, the Murdochs decided to jettison Mr. O’Reilly as some of the settlements became public and posed a significant threat to their business empire.
Early that month, The Times reported on five settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly, leading advertisers to boycott his show and spawning protests calling for his ouster. About the same time, the O’Reilly settlements arose as an issue in 21st Century Fox’s attempt to buy the European satellite company Sky.
In addition, federal prosecutors who had been investigating the network’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Ailes had asked for material related to allegations involving Mr. O’Reilly, according to an internal Fox email obtained by The Times.
“Their legal theory has been that we hid the fact that we had a problem with Roger,” Gerson Zweifach, Fox’s general counsel, wrote in the email, referring to the prosecutors and Mr. Ailes, “and now it will be applied to O’Reilly, and they will insist on full knowledge of all complaints about O’Reilly’s behavior in the workplace, regardless of who settled them.”
He warned the Murdochs that they should expect details from the January settlement to become public. Six days later, Mr. O’Reilly was fired.
In a statement, 21st Century Fox said it was not privy to the amount of the settlement and regarded Mr. O’Reilly’s January settlement, which was reached with a 15-year Fox News analyst named Lis Wiehl, as a personal issue between the two of them.
Regarding Mr. O’Reilly’s contract extension, the company said Fox News “surely would have wanted to renew” Mr. O’Reilly’s contract, noting that “he was the biggest star in cable TV.”
It emphasized that provisions were added to the new contract that allowed for his dismissal if new allegations or other relevant information arose. “The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract,” the statement said.
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. O’Reilly, at times combative and defiant, said there was no merit to any of the allegations against him. “I never mistreated anyone,” he said, adding that he had resolved matters privately because he wanted to protect his children from the publicity.
“It’s politically and financially motivated,” he said of the public outcry over the allegations against him, “and we can prove it with shocking information, but I’m not going to sit here in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up every single day of their lives by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it.”
He declined to specifically address questions about the settlement with Ms. Wiehl or any others.
Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyer, Fredric S. Newman, described his client’s relationship with Ms. Wiehl as an 18-year friendship in which she at times gave him legal advice.
Asked about the allegation of a nonconsensual sexual relationship, a representative for Mr. O’Reilly, Mark Fabiani, said that 21st Century Fox was “well aware” Ms. Wiehl had signed a sworn affidavit “renouncing all allegations against him,” adding that after receiving the document Fox News offered Mr. O’Reilly “a record breaking contract.”
Lawyers for Ms. Wiehl, Jonathan S. Abady and O. Andrew F. Wilson of the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, declined to comment.
Details of the settlement and how the company handled the O’Reilly situation emerged from interviews with two people briefed on the agreement and several others familiar with the dispute; all of them spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive private negotiations. The Times also viewed a copy of a document partly outlining the agreement and other documents related to the dispute, and received answers to written questions from 21st Century Fox.
The disclosure of Ms. Wiehl’s settlement follows a wave of public accusations against the Hollywood studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, which has increased scrutiny of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Times reported this month that Mr. Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women, most of whom received between $80,000 to $150,000.
Ms. Wiehl’s $32 million deal dwarfs other previously known sexual harassment settlements at Fox News. The largest of those was the $20 million payout the former host Gretchen Carlson received after she sued Mr. Ailes in July 2016.
The settlement with Ms. Wiehl was more than three times the amount of any of Mr. O’Reilly’s previously known deals; in 2004, he had settled a lawsuit with a producer, Andrea Mackris, for about $9 million. Publicly known harassment settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly have totaled about $45 million.
Claims Covering 15 Years
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ms. Wiehl started making regular appearances on Mr. O’Reilly’s show in 2001, when she joined Fox News as a legal analyst. During a segment in September of that year, Mr. O’Reilly announced that Ms. Wiehl had landed a job at the network and said she owed him.
“Hey, you know, Lis, I got you this job,” he said. “You know that?”
“I know you did, I know,” she replied.
“So you owe me,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “You owe me big.”
“No, no, no,” Ms. Wiehl said.
Mr. O’Reilly also made suggestive remarks to Ms. Wiehl on the air. During one segment on his radio show in 2005 about a strip club, he suggested that she learn how to dance for a $10,000 tip.
Ms. Wiehl last appeared on Mr. O’Reilly’s show on Dec. 20, 2016. On Jan. 2, Mr. O’Reilly received a draft of a lawsuit Ms. Wiehl was threatening to file outlining her allegations of sexual harassment, and 21st Century Fox received a copy of the complaint soon afterward.
Both Mr. O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox were at critical junctures. If the allegations became public, they would not only embarrass Mr. O’Reilly and harm his career, but could jeopardize his yearslong custody battle with his ex-wife. A hearing was set for later that month, when Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyers planned to argue that he should be given more time with his son, according to two people familiar with the dispute.
At Fox News, Ms. Kelly had just announced that she was leaving the network for NBC. Her departure made Mr. O’Reilly’s presence in the prime-time lineup even more crucial, with his show pulling in top ratings and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Mr. Newman told 21st Century Fox that Mr. O’Reilly considered it a personal matter and that he would resolve it on his own. Mr. Newman handled the negotiations with lawyers for Ms. Wiehl.
After a few days of negotiation, Mr. O’Reilly and Ms. Wiehl reached a deal, according to a copy of the term sheet for the agreement that was sent anonymously to The Times and confirmed by the people briefed on the settlement. Dated Jan. 7, it called for Ms. Wiehl to be paid over a period of time to ensure her silence. In return, she agreed not to sue Mr. O’Reilly, Fox News or 21st Century Fox. And all photos, text messages and other communications between the two would be destroyed.
Ms. Wiehl signed an affidavit, dated Jan. 17 and obtained by The Times, stating that the two sides had resolved their dispute and that she had “no claims against Bill O’Reilly concerning any of those emails or any of the allegations in the draft complaint.” In the affidavit, she said she had worked as a lawyer for Mr. O’Reilly and was serving in that capacity when he sent her “explicit emails that were sent to him.”
In response to questions about why he sent sexually explicit material to Ms. Wiehl, Mr. O’Reilly said that during his time at the network, he had been sent threatening messages almost every day, including some that had obscene material. To deal with this problem, Mr. O’Reilly said, he set up a system in which the material would be forwarded to his lawyers so they could evaluate whether he needed to take any legal action. Mr. O’Reilly said Ms. Wiehl was among those lawyers.
Although the matter had been settled confidentially, Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyers were concerned about keeping the dollar figure secret. Mr. Newman provided the company with a document that informed them of the deal but did not include the dollar figure.
The company said Mr. Newman made clear that it would not be told the financial terms because Mr. O’Reilly thought the company “leaked sensitive information.”
In February, Mr. O’Reilly received his new contract, with a salary increase to $25 million, from about $18 million. It’s not clear who initiated negotiations for the extension. Mr. Newman says Fox News pushed to renew the contract; the company says the negotiations were bilateral.
“It was Fox News that wanted to renew Bill O’Reilly because of the Megyn Kelly defection,” Mr. Newman said, adding that Mr. O’Reilly was a wealthy man who had no need for extra money. The company said it would have renewed his contract whether Ms. Kelly stayed or left.
Mr. Fabiani, Mr. O’Reilly’s representative, said that he was concerned that 21st Century Fox’s statements about Mr. O’Reilly were designed to hurt his brand.
“Up to this point, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly have had a constructive business relationship — with Fox News even running ads for his new book on their air,” Mr. Newman said. “We hope that all the leaks coming out of Fox are not designed to hurt Bill O’Reilly in the marketplace.”
‘A Critical Development’
In mid-April, after The Times revealed five of Mr. O’Reilly’s settlements, the public scrutiny was creating more problems for Fox, and the company started an investigation into his behavior. On April 13, Mr. Zweifach, the company’s general counsel, notified the Murdochs about a new document request from federal prosecutors investigating the network.
“We have had a critical development in the O’Reilly matter,” Mr. Zweifach wrote in an email, which was delivered anonymously to The Times. (The company declined to comment on the email.)
In the email, Mr. Zweifach explained to the Murdochs that the government request for all documents related to sexual harassment allegations against Mr. O’Reilly would “clearly call for the production of the Wiehl materials.”
Mr. Zweifach said 21st Century Fox could try to challenge the request by telling prosecutors that the case had not been settled by the company, so shareholder money was not involved. But he added that there was “virtually no chance that they will back off.”
“The fact that it seems like a bogus theory of federal securities law disclosure will not stop them from exploring it,” Mr. Zweifach added.
The public outcry, advertising boycott and federal inquiry were not the only issues weighing on the Murdochs. The bid for the Sky satellite company was a high priority for the elder Mr. Murdoch, an acquisition he considered important to his legacy.
Mr. O’Reilly’s settlements arose as an issue at an April 18 meeting between 21st Century Fox executives and the British regulators who were reviewing the company’s bid, according to a government report on the meeting. The report said regulators were “concerned that board members regarded Mr. O’Reilly’s settling cases personally as somehow a point in his favor.”
A day after the meeting with regulators, while Mr. O’Reilly was on vacation in Italy, he was dismissed. He left the network with a $25 million payout.
In a statement provided this past week, the company said: “21st Century Fox has taken concerted action to transform Fox News including installing new leaders, overhauling management and on-air talent, expanding training, and increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination.” It added that “these changes come from the top.”
The company’s bid for Sky remains under regulatory scrutiny.
In response to questions from The Times, the company said that it had “complied fully” with document requests from the United States attorney’s office and that “it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending investigation other than to reiterate that we are cooperating fully.”
In recent weeks Mr. O’Reilly has made several public appearances to promote a new book. He said on the “Today” show that he never sent a lewd text or email to a Fox News employee, that his conscience is clear and that “a political and financial hit job” brought him down.
“This is horrible, it’s horrible what I went through, horrible what my family went through,” Mr. O’Reilly said in a raised voice at the end of the interview with The Times. “This is crap, and you know it.”