May 13, 2020 12:30 PM

Virus will keep nation's largest public university system closed this fall

Posted May 13, 2020 12:30 PM

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Classes will continue online for all 23 campuses in the California State University system this fall.
Classes will continue online for all 23 campuses in the California State University system this fall.

LONG BEACH, CA. —The California State University, the largest system of four-year higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, 53,000 faculty and staff and 482,000 students announced Tuesday will continue with online classes this fall.

According to a media release, Chancellor Tim White said, “This approach to virtual planning is necessary for many reasons. First and foremost is the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff, and the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID-19 – current and as forecast throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast. Virtual planning is necessary because it might not be possible for some students, faculty and staff to safely travel to campus. 

Said another way, this virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible.

Consequently, our planning approach will result in CSU courses primarily being delivered virtually for the fall 2020 term, with limited exceptions for in-person teaching, learning and research activities that cannot be delivered virtually, are indispensable to the university's core mission and can be conducted within rigorous standards of safety and welfare. There will be hybrid approaches and there will be variability across the 23 campuses due to specific context and circumstances.

Some possible examples of potential exceptions  - and only when there are sufficient resources available and protocols in place to assure that rigorous health and safety requirements are in place - include clinical classes with training mannequins for our nursing students such that we keep students on track for licensure and entry into the state's healthcare workforce; essential physical and life science laboratory classes enabling degree completion and entry into the energy and bioscience fields; access to kilns and other unique facilities to enable students in the performing and creative arts to explore and express the depth, breadth and beauty of humanity; hands-on experience with unique instrumentation and senior capstone projects for engineering, architecture and agriculture students; and access to the blue-water hands-on interactive simulator for boat and ship handling, to provide students with knowledge, understanding and skills necessary for the maritime industry and required for licensure by the US Coast Guard and UN International Maritime Organization.

The granting of limited exceptions to permit in-person activities will continue to be informed by thoughtful consultation with academic senates, associated students, staff councils and union leadership, and will be based on compelling educational and research needs, while continuing to meet safety benchmarks. Any exceptions may be permitted only in the continued presence of the aforementioned rigorous safety measures and training, and only in consideration of resource availability and other matters of local context, and be in accordance with the guidance of local and state public health agencies, the repopulation directives of governmental authorities along with other relevant regulatory agencies.

This combination, really a myriad of factors, will result in variability across the 23 campuses due to specific context and circumstances, but predominately there will be limited in-person experiential learning and research occurring on campuses for the fall 2020 term. On some campuses and in some academic disciplines course offerings are likely to be exclusively virtual."

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May 13, 2020 12:30 PM
Virus unleashes wave of fraud in US amid fear and scarcity
Counterfeit COVID-19 test kits-photo courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

WASHINGTON (AP) — A 39-year-old former investment manager in Georgia was already facing federal charges that he robbed hundreds of retirees of their savings in a Ponzi scheme when the rapid spread of COVID-19 presented an opportunity.

Christopher A. Parris started pitching himself as a broker of surgical masks amid the nationwide scramble for protective equipment in the first desperate weeks of the outbreak, federal authorities said. He was soon taking in millions of dollars.

Except there were no masks.

Law enforcement officials say Parris is part of what they are calling a wave of fraud tied to the outbreak.

Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is leading a nationwide crackdown. It has opened over 370 cases and so far arrested 11 people, as part of “Operation Stolen Promise,” according to Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s incredibly rampant and it’s growing by the day,” Albence said. “We’re just scratching the surface of this criminal activity. ”

From a fake #COVID19 test kit photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Patrol

Parris was on pretrial release for the alleged Ponzi scheme when he was arrested last month in what authorities say was an attempt to secure an order for more than $750 million from the Department of Veterans Affairs for 125 million face masks and other equipment.

“He was trying to sell something he didn’t even have,” said Jere T. Miles, the special agent in charge of the New Orleans office of Homeland Security Investigations, which worked the case with the VA Office of Inspector General. “That’s just outright, blatant fraud.”

Parris has not yet entered a plea to fraud charges and his lawyers did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Nationwide, investigators have turned up more than false purveyors of PPE. They have uncovered an array of counterfeit or adulterated products, from COVID-19 tests kits and treatments to masks and cleaning products.

Steve Francis, director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says authorities have tracked counterfeits flowing into the U.S. from 20 countries and for sale through thousands of websites.

“There are people popping up who have never been in the business of securing equipment on a large scale,” Francis said.

Enter Parris.

From his home outside Atlanta, he claimed to represent a company with 3M respiratory masks and other protective equipment for sale. At the time, there was a mad scramble for supplies that pitted state and local governments against each other.

As outlined in court documents and interviews, his pitch reached a company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that was trying to help government agencies acquire PPE. In late March, it contacted the VA, which was dealing with a critical shortage of protective equipment.

The VA was suspicious of the price, about 15 times what it was paying amid the shortage, and alerted its inspector general, which brought in Homeland Security. That resulted in a sting that led to Parris.

“He had no means of producing any PPE,” Albence said. “It was just a scam.”

Coronavirus test kits that were not FDA approved-photo U.S. courtesy Customs and Border patrol

But it had some takers. Federal authorities say a Parris-controlled bank account received more than $7.4 million, with most appearing to come from unidentified entities trying to buy safety gear in March and April, according to court documents. He wired some of the money to accounts overseas, including more than $1.1 million to a Swiss company’s bank that authorities say may be a shell corporation.

The U.S. government seized more than $3.2 million from his accounts.

The Ponzi scheme was unrelated to the alleged attempt to defraud the VA but “is sufficiently similar to the conduct in this case that it is relevant to his plan, intent, and modus operandi,” according to a search warrant affidavit.

In the earlier case, Parris and his partners are accused of defrauding about 1,000 people out of at least $115 million from January 2012 to June 2018. They persuaded the victims to turn over their savings for what turned out to be nonexistent investments, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Another member of the partnership, Perry Santillo, pleaded guilty to fraud in November.

As part of the alleged scheme, Parris and the others bought the businesses of investment advisers who were retiring and leveraged the trust those advisers had built up over the years to pitch the bogus investments, with relatively modest returns, to their newly acquired clients.

Florida attorney Scott Silver, who represented some investors who sought to get their money back after the SEC shut down the operation, said there was little to recover because Parris and the others spent most of it.

He wasn’t surprised that Parris had been arrested in the COVID fraud case. “He’s already facing 20 years in prison,” he said. “What’s he worried about?”

Parris, who was charged in the case in January, grew up in Rochester, New York, and worked as an insurance agent, owned a dry cleaner and got involved in local politics. He ran unsuccessfully for city council and said he was vice president of a local African American Republican committee.

“So many people that know me, you know, trust me,” Parris said in a 2015 hearing with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which later suspended his broker license.

One of Parris’ alleged victims in the Ponzi scheme, Jane Naylon, said she took guitar lessons from Parris’ father, a reverend at a local church and lost $150,000 in the fraud.

Naylon was dismayed when Parris was released on his own recognizance in the Ponzi scheme. When she learned he had been charged for PPE fraud, she said she was in shock, but also pleased.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I hope he goes to jail for life.”

Parris is now jailed in Atlanta and is expected to be transferred to Washington to face charges in the VA case.

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