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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Journalist Alleges Police Retaliation

After Arrest at Spa Owned by His Wife, Albany Journalist Alleges Police Retaliation 
The New York Times by Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore

Albany, NY - In early spring, the police raided a spa near the Capitol, alleging that a masseuse was actually a prostitute. It appeared to be a minor arrest, except that the spa’s owner is the wife of the investigations editor at the local newspaper, The Times Union. And that’s where it gets complicated. The investigations editor, J. Robert Port, said he believed that the city’s mayor and local law enforcement agencies targeted his wife’s business in retaliation for critical coverage in his newspaper, including a series of articles questioning the practices of an undercover unit of the sheriff’s office that investigated drug cases, prostitution and gambling. City officials deny Mr. Port’s charges. The county sheriff, Craig Apple, disputed Mr. Port’s contention of a plot but said he had asked his internal affairs division to review his agency’s role in the case. Mr. Port’s wife, Bin Cheng, has not been accused of a crime, but the massage therapist, Mia Lin, was charged with prostitution, and the police seized $5,000 she had with her, Ms. Lin’s lawyer said. Ms. Lin has pleaded not guilty, and the case is pending. “This is a carefully planned plot to retaliate against me and my newspaper and my reporters for many stories we have done in recent years about the Albany police and the sheriff’s office drug enforcement unit,” Mr. Port, who is also a former adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, said in an interview. He said that he asked, shortly after the raid, to be removed from direct supervision of articles involving the City of Albany, “just to protect the newspaper’s reputation and my own credibility.” Rex Smith, the editor of The Times Union, said he did not believe that prostitution had taken place, but stopped short of endorsing Mr. Port’s claims of a plot. “Obviously, the allegation Bob makes is an explosive one, and we wouldn’t put that into print without being pretty confident of our reporting,” he said. Mr. Smith said early Thursday afternoon that The Times Union had not yet published an article about the raid, which took place March 15, because, “Applying the same standards to our staff and family as we would to anybody else, we concluded that it would be inappropriate.” He noted that the charge against Ms. Lin, 53, was a misdemeanor. “We think there’s a broader story here,” he said. “We don’t have all the facts we need to publish the full story yet and I suspect The New York Times doesn’t, either.” The Times Union published its own article late Thursday evening. The business run by Mr. Port’s wife, Green Garden Asian Spa, was in downtown Albany, in a handsome brick building a few blocks from both the Capitol and the district attorney’s office. The spa closed after the raid. Mr. Port said he arrived at the spa the morning of the raid and found seven officers and a building inspector on the scene. Kevin Luibrand, a lawyer who represents both Mr. Port and Ms. Lin, said, “I see the timing and the resources committed to be substantially disproportional to what is really a minor, and absolutely denied, prostitution charge.” According to the arrest report, Ms. Lin had engaged “in sexual conduct with another person in exchange for a sum of U.S. currency.” Mr. Port denied that account, and said that a police officer “stripped naked and masturbated in front of” Ms. Lin. He also said Ms. Lin was strip-searched. “Obviously I have pissed some people off enough to the point where they would send in jackbooted thug police officers to do an anal search on someone I believe they thought was my wife,” Mr. Port said, adding, “I am enraged, I am angry.” Ms. Cheng first came to the attention of law enforcement several months ago, when a property owner in Latham, N.Y., filed a complaint about “suspicious activities” at a massage parlor Mr. Port had rented for use by Ms. Cheng, according to Sheriff Apple. The allegation was received by the sheriff’s drug enforcement unit. That same unit had been the subject of articles in The Times Union that scrutinized its practice of using property and cash seized in drug raids to buy vehicles. The paper also reported that the head of the unit, John Burke, was drawing an Albany police pension as well as a salary from the sheriff’s department. Ms. Cheng moved her business to Albany, and the sheriff’s office turned over the matter to the Albany police. Mr. Port said he believed that the spa had been targeted by three officers associated with the drug enforcement unit, which has since been disbanded; as well as the mayor of Albany, Gerald D. Jennings; and Jeffery V. Jamison, the city buildings director. Mr. Port did not provide evidence of a plot against him. Mr. Jennings’s spokesman, Bob Van Amburgh, denied any plot, saying, “In terms of any kind of mayoral involvement, nothing could be further from the truth.” Mr. Burke said of Mr. Port’s claims of a plot: “It’s ludicrous, it’s unfactual, it’s bizarre.” And the Albany police chief, Steven Krokoff, defended the arrest. “The Albany Police Department doesn’t get involved in conspiracies,” he said, adding, “The last thing I have is any ax to grind with The Times Union.” After the arrest of Ms. Lin, the buildings division issued violations, citing a failure to obtain permits to operate and to hang a street sign. But Mr. Jamison said, “Nobody had any knowledge that Port was involved until after the fact, when he put his name on the building application. I’m kind of bewildered by those accusations.” Danny Hakim reported from Albany, and Nicholas Confessore from New York. William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting from New York. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: May 24, 2012 An earlier version of this article said incorrectly that Ms. Lin first came to the attention of law enforcement several months ago, and that Mr. Port had rented the massage parlor for use by Ms. Lin, according to the county sheriff, Craig Apple. It also said incorrectly that Ms. Lin moved her business to Albany.

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