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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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcing lands exclusive on pardoned Blackwater contractor

scored an exclusive interview with one of the four former Blackwater security contractors pardoned by President Donald Trump for a shooting rampage in Iraq that killed more than a dozen civilians. The interview, the only one granted by any of the contractors, was the result of years of ongoing source work with the contractors’ legal team, who knew that Tucker would be fair and accurate, and that he was intimately familiar with the case from having covered it extensively.

Evan Liberty revealed he was not remorseful for his actions, believed that he had “acted correctly,” and shared details about the moment he learned he had received a pardon, including the three personal items he took with him when he left prison. Tucker made clear the pardons inspired broad condemnation in the U.S. and Middle East and included the perspective of the prosecutors who charged him, the jury who convicted himand the judge who sentenced him. https://bit.ly/3okz4et

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April 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals politics of immigration policy shifts

for two stories on how the Trump administration is dealing with the surge of migrant families at the border and a claimed lack of detention space. Merchant spotted a solicitation for contractors to build tents near the U.S.-Mexico border to temporarily detain immigrant families, and he followed up with an accountability story revealing that thousands of beds for detained families are empty at a time when President Trump was calling the country “full,” and threatening to send migrants to sanctuary cities as political retribution.https://bit.ly/2GuBJxmhttps://bit.ly/2L4OQuG

Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 08, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AWOL Weapons: AP finds tracking tech could aid enemy

collaborated across formats to report on the latest story in AP’s ongoing investigation of missing military weapons, revealing a weapon-tracking technology that the U.S. Department of Defense itself describes as a “significant” security risk.After showing that the military has lost track of at least 1,900 guns, investigative reporter LaPorta and team trained their sights on how technology might help in weapons accountability. They found that one solution — putting radio frequency identification tracking tags inside guns — has introduced a security vulnerability into Army and Air Force units because it could help even relatively low-tech enemies target U.S. troops on the battlefield. The Pentagon originally appeared unaware that some units were using RFID, then said it allows service branches to explore innovative solutions. To demonstrate the highly technical story in understandable ways, LaPorta and editor Pritchard arranged field testing that showed the tags could be tracked from much greater distances than RFID contractors acknowledge. Photographer Berger and video journalist Chea illustrated the testing. Producers Roosblad and Hamlin turned that material into a sharp explainer video with the help of editors Ohm and Vadarevu. Storytelling producer Castañeda curated the AWOL Weapons hub and worked with Sison for the photo edit, while Nashville’s Hall contributed important reporting.https://aplink.news/cqmhttps://aplink.video/6l4https://apnews.com/hub/awol-we...

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July 02, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful reporting, legal challenge reveal FBI going for the gold

has been breaking news about buried treasure since 2018, when the FBI conducted a secretive dig in a remote area of Pennsylvania, aimed at recovering a legendary cache of stolen Civil War-era gold. The FBI has long refused to confirm it was searching for the fabled gold — while also insisting it didn’t find whatever it was hoping to dig up.Rubinkam knew the FBI needed a federal search warrant to gain access to the site, but every document in the case was sealed ... as if the case didn’t exist. With help from AP attorney Brian Barrett and a Philadelphia-based media lawyer, a judge lifted the sealing order, revealing a veritable gold mine of news and confirming Rubinkam’s previous reporting: that the feds were, indeed, looking for gold. Among the details in the FBI’s unsealed affidavit: A contractor’s sensitive instruments had detected a huge underground mass with the density of gold.What the unsealed case didn’t include was a document describing what the FBI actually found. Federal prosecutors assert no such document exists because the dig came up empty. But the treasure hunters who led the FBI to the site in the first place believe the evidence says otherwise. They are seeking FBI records of the dig.Rubinkam’s story was among the top 10 most-viewed stories on apnews.com last week. It appeared on newspapers' front pages and spurred follow-ups, including by The Washington Post.https://aplink.news/gcohttps://aplink.news/jyq

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Toxic chemicals lie beneath Fort Ord

spent a year investigating the possible health effects of groundwater and soil contamination under Fort Ord, a decommissioned U.S. Army base on the central California coast. A tip led AP to a Facebook group of hundreds of soldiers who had lived at the base and developed rare forms of cancer they believe were caused by contamination.The complex, all-formats story included in-depth interviews with those likely suffering health consequences of exposure at the base, which is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. The team revealed a discredited 25-year-old study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no “likely” risk at the site, and documents showing the Army knew toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades, but took pains not to let that information become public. Read more

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June 29, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Immigration: Back-to-back scoops by investigative teams, Washington reporters

The disturbing stories of more than 2,000 kids caught up in the U.S. immigration system – including babies and toddlers forcibly separated from their parents – dominated headlines and led newscasts around the world.

AP reporters, working across the country, in Washington, D.C., Latin America and along the U.S.-Mexican border led the coverage of the impact of the zero tolerance immigration policy. Their work produced a series of scoops that set the agenda, alerting Capitol Hill leaders to a major White House order, leaving an MSNBC anchor in tears and generating action by politicians.

For their work, the Beat of the Week is shared by investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza, Michael Biesecker and Jake Pearson, and Washington reporters Jill Colvin and Colleen Long. The award also recognizes an outstanding company-wide effort that included reporting from numerous locations and across formats, putting the AP repeatedly in front of a major global story.

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