March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 06, 2020

Best of the Week

AP’s tour de force coverage of Weinstein verdict sweeps all formats

Coverage by an Associated Press team dominated the closely watched Harvey Weinstein verdict, delivering wins in all formats with speed, depth and exclusivity. Superior planning and preparation, and outstanding coordination on the day of the verdict, gave AP the edge.

Highlights included the breaking news story moving on the wire within a minute of the verdict, exclusive video of Weinstein leaving the courthouse by ambulance, and an enterprising behind-the-scenes photo essay on the women journalists covering the trial that earned remarkable play.

For quick, comprehensive and distinctive coverage that kept the AP ahead on one of the biggest trials of the year so far, Mary Altaffer, Michael R. Sisak, Tom Hays, David Martin, Ted Shaffrey, Robert Bumsted, John Minchillo, Craig Ruttle and Sophie Rosenbaum win AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: NFL’s Saints allegedly do damage control for Catholic Church on abuse crisis

New York-based federal law enforcement reporter Jim Mustian never gives up on a story.

Sticking with a case he began covering at another news organization in another state more than two years ago, Mustian landed a jaw-dropping exclusive for the AP: That a trove of hundreds of confidential emails has surfaced allegedly showing executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese amid its clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The story had an immediate, visceral impact with readers and earned praise from fellow journalists.

Mustian will continue to chip away at this story and, hopefully, reveal more about the Saints and their involvement with the church. But for now, Mustian’s sticktoitiveness and tough accountability reporting earns him this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: New abuse suits could cost church billions

for taking a hard look at the financial reckoning of the U.S. Roman Catholic sex abuse trials, and reporting exclusively that changing laws and attitudes could translate into a flood of lawsuits with potential payouts topping $4 billion. Condon and Mustian reported on the potential impact of new laws, enacted in 15 states, that extend or suspend the statute of limitations governing claims. The pair found several attorneys who have turned their entire practices over to such cases, with TV ads and billboards seeking clients. https://bit.ly/36oRoJX

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Dec. 02, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Catholic review boards often fail sex abuse survivors

In addressing its clergy sex abuse crisis, the Catholic church has touted a key reform: independent review boards with lay people. 

But an exhaustive investigation by the AP team of Reese Dunklin, Matt Sedensky and Mitch Weiss methodically discredited that claim. 

The reporters unearthed dozens of cases nationwide in which review boards rejected complaints from survivors, only to have them later validated by secular authorities. They also found that bishops stacked the boards with their own aides and attorneys. In a few cases, board members were themselves clergy accused of sexual misconduct. 

The rock-solid reporting was brought alive by the storytelling, with revealing details down to the pink sweater one board member was knitting while listening to a survivor’s story of abuse. 

For their comprehensive investigation into the Catholic church’s deeply flawed system for addressing claims of abuse, Dunklin, Sedensky and Weiss earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Opioids scoop: Reporters expose Italian probe of Purdue’s foreign affiliate

for breaking the news that executives with the international arm of Purdue Pharma were caught up in a criminal investigation in Italy alleging they paid a doctor to help sell more opioids in the country. It’s the first known criminal case outside of the U.S. involving employees with the pharmaceutical empire owned by the Sackler family, and the the first in an investigative series about the spread of opioids overseas. The reporters found that the doctor wrote scientific studies and organized conferences to promote opioids as safe and effective for chronic pain patients – the same tactics that experts and attorneys general say Purdue and other companies used in the U.S. that laid the foundation for the addiction crisis.https://bit.ly/2EG0sOZhttps://www.apnews.com/GlobalOpioids

May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Au pairs win $65.5M in suit over US pay

The Au Pair cultural exchange program provides U.S. families with low-cost child care, but former au pairs said they were also asked to feed chickens, help families move and do gardening – all while working at below minimum wage. That prompted a judge to grant class-action status to 11 former au pairs last February and drew the attention of Denver breaking news staffer Colleen Slevin, who spent the next 11 months learning all about the world of au pairs and conducting interviews, such as one with a former au pair who said she felt like a slave.

Slevin also built a relationship with the attorneys for the au pairs and negotiated with them for exclusive notice when the $65.5 million settlement was filed last week.

The result was an APNewsBreak on the settlement that went unmatched for hours and received play around the world.

For her perseverance in building sources and tracking a story of international interest while covering breaking news over a three-state region, Slevin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the Week

The Battle for Alexa: How deported parents could lose their kids to US adoptions

When family separations began under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, widespread rumors circulated that some separated children could end up being adopted by families in the United States – without their deported parents even being notified. California-based investigative reporters Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza set out to learn if this was true and eventually uncovered the case of 5-year-old Alexa Flores, exposing holes in the U.S. legal system that could allow deported mothers and fathers to lose their children.

Alexa’s story illustrates the fate that could await some of the hundreds of children who remain in federal custody after being separated from their parents at the border.

Burke and Mendoza sifted through hundreds of court records and dozens of interviews with immigrants, attorneys, and advocates in the U.S. and Central America. Teaming up with multiformat colleagues David Barraza and Rebecca Blackwell in El Salvador, Mike Householder and Paul Sancya in Michigan, and Mexico City-based Dario Lopez, they revealed how migrant children can become cloaked in the maze of state and federal courts, which are rarely in contact with each other.

For producing a complex, powerful story that spanned two countries in heartbreakingly human terms, Burke, Mendoza, Lopez, Blackwell, Sancya, Householder and Barraza win this week’s Best of the Week.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusives: National Enquirer’s secret safe, Cohen subpoenaed on Trump Foundation

“What’s in the safe?”

The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.

Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.

It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators subpoenaed Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. Klepper reported that Cohen is a potentially significant source for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.

For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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April 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Confidential toxicology report details Prince overdose

In the nearly two years since Prince’s sudden drug overdose death in 2016, Minneapolis reporter Amy Forliti has closely tracked the criminal investigation into his death, cultivating sources who could help her break developments along the way, including the possibility of criminal charges.

A medical examiner's scant one-page report had cited an accidental overdose of fentanyl as the cause of Prince’s death, but provided almost no other detail. Forliti had pursued a copy of the autopsy and toxicology report ever since from multiple sources. She finally obtained the confidential toxicology report on March 26.

Forliti talked to three experts not involved in the case who analyzed blood and liver readings in the report and characterized them as “exceedingly high” – as one expert put it, they were very high even for a chronic pain patient. The details were something no other media could match.

Forliti's exclusive was widely played. It led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website for hours and made the printed paper, a rarity for a story on which they compete with AP. CNN referenced the story on-air and online with credit to AP.

For relentlessly working her sources to break news on a long-simmering story, Amy Forliti wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 23, 2017

Best of the States

AP gets first juror comment in Philando Castile trial

When Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the fatal shooting of black motorist Philando Castile, a question on the mind of every reporter in the courtroom was this: How did jurors reach their verdict?

One of those reporters, Minneapolis’ Amy Forliti, had been laying the groundwork to answer that question for two weeks. Her efforts paid off with The Associated Press getting the first interview with a juror – critical insight into a case that had generated global interest since millions of people saw the aftermath of Castile's death from his girlfriend's livestream on Facebook.

Meanwhile, colleague Steve Karnowski’s subsequent interview provided details in AP’s story that no one else had: The jury had been split 10-2 earlier in the week in favor of an acquittal, and neither of the two jurors who favored conviction was black.

For smart reporting and strong execution that put the AP ahead on a competitive aspect of a competitive story, Forliti and Karnowski win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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