An Unknowing Witness to Alleged Human Trafficking

via An Unknowing Witness to Alleged Human Trafficking

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An Unknowing Witness to Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Money Laundering and More

By Sheila Carmody

Like so many days that summer, the temperature was supposed to be in the 90s so we agreed to go early, partly to avoid the hottest part of the day and also so we had the rest of the day free.

At 10 a.m. sharp, my friend Claire rang the doorbell.

I opened the door to my second floor condo: “Come in,” I shouted down the stairs.

The door burst open and I heard Claire climbing the stairs. I’d left the door partially open at the top on the landing so she knew to come right in.

She reached the top of the stairs, stepped over the threshold, took a breath and looked up.

“Let’s just walk over,” I said.

“Ok,” she said.

It was June 30th, 2018.

I didn’t know it at the time but Claire and I were about to embark on a mission that would end with me taking the witness stand in federal court, testifying against an alleged sex cult leader facing federal charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking.

An Idyllic Setting

I was visiting a friend from work in 2003 the first time I pulled into Knox Woods from Route 236 in the Saratoga County town of Halfmoon. Every curve in the road revealed a new cluster of condos and town homes warmed by the light of twinkling lampposts. They almost looked like fireflies dancing, weaving, bobbing, lighting the way though the dark thick woods.

Within days I called my real estate agent who had been showing me small houses for sale. I told her I wanted to look at a condo in Knox Woods. The first one she showed me was on Victory Way, 120 Victory Way.

I remember stepping inside the two bedroom 1,000 square foot abode the first time. It was dark but cozy. There was a living area to the left and to the right a kitchen with a tall counter in between.

I walked around the open kitchen area through a dining area and into the hallway leading to the bedrooms. The bedroom to the right was about 11’ by 10’, big enough for my daughter. To the left was a bathroom. It opened into the hallway and through a second door into the back bedroom. The bedroom in the back had a large walk-in closet.

A number of business cards were strewn on a table by the front door signaling to me the demand for a condo was high so I immediately made an offer. By October of 2003 we were in.

Two Women Walking

The winding roadways flanked by trees, carrying only local traffic, made Knox Woods perfect for evening strolls, and residents were often out walking, which is why the two dark-haired slender women I passed by every evening along the main drag of Knox Boulevard didn’t seem unusual at first.

Aside from the fact that they looked alike, the same height with the same slender build, and seemed always to be walking, nothing stood out about them. Well, not nothing. If there were nothing, I wouldn’t have noticed. I couldn’t really help but notice. A day didn’t go by when I didn’t see them walking together, looking very much alike.

Maybe they were a gay couple, I thought. That thought made even more sense when they started pushing a stroller with a young child.

That’s it: they must be a gay couple who had a baby. I never noticed one of them being pregnant, but they could have adopted the child.

Both had a Stepford-wife like demeanor about them. You would have thought a new baby would bring a smile to their faces but they walked without expression.

Again, they might not have been so noticeable but they were always walking along Knox Boulevard, and now pushing a baby stroller. And then one day, almost as if they were multiplying, there came a young man among them, walking in between them, a relatively young man with a beard and eyeglasses.

Speaking of Sex Cults

The first time I noticed Keith Raniere was while he was walking in Knox Woods. I wasn’t curious, though, until one day I was turning left onto Independence Boulevard from Victory Way. I glanced to the right before turning and there he was being interviewed by someone holding a video camera while another person held a mic.

There were no call letters on the mic, but he was clearly being interviewed.

I asked my friend, the same one who had introduced me to Knox Woods: “Who is that guy?”

It was a while ago but she probably said: “He’s the leader of a sex cult.”

I was confused.

A sex cult?

Who needs a cult for sex?

As time went on, I met someone new, moved in with him and rented my Knox Woods condo. The first two years I rented to a young man from India who worked for GE. The next two years I rented the condo to a couple, one of whom worked at a furniture rental company, which meant they had a fabulous selection of furniture.

Then came Kathleen O’Sullivan. Or at least that’s who she said she was.

I had advertised the apartment on Craig’s List, and Kathleen, or Kathy as I came to call her, showed up very interested in the apartment. She commented on the full complement of furniture still in the apartment, how beautiful it was.

Kathy had long blond hair. She was slender, petite. Pretty with small features.

I told her I would do an employment verification to qualify her for the apartment. She didn’t have an employer, she said, but was left a lot of money by her husband who passed away. She was willing to pay one year’s rent up front.

A whole year of rent up front was unusual but it didn’t seem like a problem since the lease would be signed and she would pay before she moved in. We agreed to meet later in the week when she would sign the lease and pay the rent – $11,100.

The House Sitter               

Kathy and I made the same arrangement for seven years in a row, usually meeting at a Starbucks where she signed a new lease and paid me cash for the entire year’s rent. I wasn’t expecting cash the first time, but cash is the same as money from what I remember so I took it. The money usually came in stacks of $100 and $50 bills in a paper bag with a handle. Seven years in a row she did this and by 2017 the bag contained $12,000 in cash.

The first time I interacted with Kathy aside from the lease signings was when the hot water heater in the upstairs condo leaked and damaged my furnace and walk-in closet.

I was out of town when the association manager called me to say there might be damage in the apartment. I called Kathy and arranged to have a friend take a look.

Turns out there was quite a bit of damage and my friend took pictures to send to the insurance company. He went back a second time and met with the representative of the company that eventually replaced the furnace and repaired the closet. It was my friend who first mentioned the name Dannielle.

I was confused: who’s Danielle?

That’s when Kathy started to refer to a house sitter. That must be Danielle, I thought.

Then I received some more confusing messages from my friend. The woman upstairs, my neighbor, came by while he and the repairman were waiting outside to go in. Danielle would ride up on a bike whenever he went to the condo. This time she was a little late and the neighbor from upstairs started to give them an earful.

They’re having sex parties in there, the neighbor told them.

It is kind of strange, my friend said. There’s no furniture in the apartment. No clothes in the closet.

Kathy did say she wasn’t planning to stay at the condo all the time. She had a sister who lived nearby and wanted a place to stay when she was in town.

I was unsure about the veracity of what the neighbor told them. Kathy did not seem like the type to hold sex parties. Also, I’m not sure that’s any of my business so I didn’t ask and only made sure the work was done.

A Bit of Background

At some point even before the hot water heater decimated the closet and furnace, I stopped by the association manager’s condo, which is almost directly across from mine. I was dropping off a lease; the property management association required one to be on file.

Bill, the association manager, told me he had seen “that guy” going into my condo, “that guy” being the same one I saw being interviewed and who my friend told me was the leader of a sex cult.

Bill handed me some print-outs of local newspaper stories about the organization called Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um) with headlines like: Lawyer Attacks Nxivm Scheme; Paper Reveals Secrets of Firm; and Nxivm Courts Rich, Powerful and Influential.

I read the stories, still unclear about what it all meant. Over time, I simply viewed the articles as click bait for a struggling local newspaper.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to enter the condominium myself when I received a text from Kathy saying there was no hot water. My boyfriend suggested she check the breaker. The hot water came back on as soon as she flipped the switch. But the reason the breaker was tripped was likely because the hot water heater was nearing the end of its life so I scheduled a repairman to meet me there the next day.

I arrived at the condo and was greeted by a woman with dark hair who I assumed was Danielle, the house sitter. The condo was dark inside but I like a darker room so I wasn’t surprised. Yes, there were long red velvet drapes on the windows. Maybe it was a little eccentric.

The hot water heater was replaced and I didn’t think about the condo again until March 2018 when my boyfriend pointed out an article in The New York Times. The headline – “Authorities Raid Homes Linked to Cultlike Group that Branded Women” – grabbed his attention.

About Last Summer

Three months later, and several news stories in, I called Kathy, as in year’s past, to ask if she would be signing a new lease. When she didn’t return my call, I started to wonder if there was a connection between Kathy and Nxivm.

I called her a second time and when she didn’t call back, I was concerned, mostly because my condo was income for me and now we were close to one month before the lease would end and she wasn’t returning my calls.

I shared my concern with Claire, who has been a friend for decades and is a Rental Manager for a 165-unit rental community. She and my boyfriend told me I had to give Kathy a 30- day notice if I wasn’t planning to renew the lease. “You’re going to have to knock on the door and hand deliver the notice,” my boyfriend said.

The heat was already oppressive the morning Claire and I embarked on our mission to deliver the 30-day notice. We didn’t really discuss what we might encounter as we wound our way around some of the same paths frequented by Keith Raniere and what I now referred to as his harem.

When we reached the front door of the condo, I knocked. No answer. I knocked again. No answer. I knocked a third time. Again, no answer.

I grabbed the doorknob and the door popped open. It was unlocked. Claire and I exchanged glances and then went in, closing the door behind us.

I called out – hello! Maybe they didn’t hear me knock on the door. Still no response.

It was dark so I flicked the light switch on and the kitchen lit up. Suddenly we were in a time warp. We slowly made our way through the kitchen. There were plates and pots and pans on the counter and in the dish drainer. They were bone dry. There was a bulletin board on the wall leading out of the kitchen. Push pins were arranged in the shape of a heart. Instructions – one of which included a request I’d made to turn off the water to the outside tap during the winter – were written on a piece of paper.

My eyes wandered from the instructions, and, as they did, Claire eyes locked onto mine. I followed her lead as she slowly turned her gaze back toward the bulletin board. At the same time she lifted her hand, unfolded her index finger and pointed to a picture pinned to the bulletin board. Now we were both looking at that same thing.

It was “that guy.”

We looked back at one another. Now we knew. Nxivm was here.

Claire took a picture of the bulletin board and we ventured further into the condo, turning right, stepping into the hallway. The only light came from the small bedroom on the right. There were only the original blinds on the windows and the bright morning sun made its way through, lighting up a room that contained a treadmill so big it filled most of the 11’ by 10’ space.

We moved on into the bedroom at the end of the hall where the darkness started to close in on us. I knew where the light switches were having lived in the condo myself so I went straight to a light switch outside the walk-in closet. I flipped on the switch and we looked out over an unmade bed and beyond to the far wall and window where heavy red velvet drapes hung from ceiling to floor.

Curious, we both walked over and Claire reached up to pull the drapes back and bring in a little light. That’s when we noticed there were latex black-out drapes under the red velvet drapes. No wonder it was so dark.

There was very little in the bedroom besides a bed, a television and a tripod, a good size tripod sans camera, positioned at the bottom corner of the bed. I opened the walk-in closet and there were some towels and a few garments. We walked into the bathroom which held the usual soaps and shampoos.

The bathroom had two entrances, one from the master bedroom and one that led back through to the hallway. We made our way back into the hallway and walked back past the alley kitchen into the living and dining area. The only furniture was a table in the dining area. In the corner of the living room were boxes packed with personal items and mementos, pictures and the like. Star Trek DVD’s.

The walls were covered in cobwebs.

Claire turned to me: “They scurried like rats,” she said.

The mystery of who had been there, what they were doing, where they went and whose belongings were left behind was building as Claire and I reached the front door of the condo where we’d first begun our tour of what now felt like a dungeon. That’s when Claire noticed the magnets on the refrigerator.

“I suck big hard d-ck!” and “Slap my heinie” and “boner” were just a few of the words and phrases spelled out in colorful magnets on the refrigerator door. Claire took a second picture.

We were a little stunned when we stepped outside and back into the bright sunlight, partly because it was so bright compared to the apartment. Also because of what we’d just seen. I locked the door behind us, tucked the notice terminating the lease behind the window grille and decided to stop by the home of the association manager. He was and still is the eyes and ears of the neighborhood.

I’d often see Bill when I lived at 120 Victory Way but had only spoken with him intermittently since.

We stepped inside his condo. I haven’t seen anybody go in or out of there for several months, he said.

With the mystery unsolved we headed back to my place in the same development. I own two condos in Knox Woods. We moved back after my daughter graduated from college.

By mid-July we were convinced Kathy wasn’t coming back and figured we would have to find some place to store the contents of the condo for 30 days, as the law required.

When my boyfriend and I went to assess the remains of the condo I brought my Flip Video camera to record what was inside, to create sort of an inventory of the items we would have to remove.

Again, I knocked on the door. There was no answer so I unlocked the door and we went in. It was as though time had stood still. The same dishes in the dish drain, photo on the bulletin board, tripod by the bed. My boyfriend was mostly concerned with how we would remove the contents of the condo. The treadmill probably weighed 500 lbs.

We were also concerned the food in the kitchen would attract rodents so we emptied the refrigerator and some items from the cupboards into garbage bags and took it out to the dumpster.

Once again when we left I locked the door behind me. I still didn’t want to disturb anything until the end of the lease, which was now two weeks away.

Within those two weeks, I called Kathy again. This time she answered. She apologized for not calling me back and expressed an interest in signing another lease only this time she could only afford to pay six months in advance.

I was confused. By now I was reading about the FBI raiding nearby properties associated with Nxivm. If she were involved with this group, why would she want to continue renting in close proximity to an alleged crime scene?

I wasn’t sure what to think. I decided to exercise my option not to renew.

I agreed to extend the lease to the end of August so she had more time to move out.

The last time I spoke to Kathy was toward the end of August of 2018. She still didn’t mention Nxivm but said the apartment was mostly empty. My boyfriend had been in the apartment getting an estimate for work that had to be done and he said it was in good shape. All of the contents were gone and the cobwebs cleaned up.

I thanked her for cleaning out the place and for seven years of renting and we said our goodbyes.

Then Came the FBI

I thought the whole Nxivm thing was behind me until the day after I spoke with Kathy for the last time. I was sitting in my car under the shade of a tree, listening to a podcast, eating lunch and my phone rang. I usually ignore the phone when I don’t recognize the number but I was waiting for some messages to be returned so I answered.

It was the FBI.

I sat up straight in the driver’s seat of my car and immediately panicked.

You’re not in trouble, the voice on the other end of the phone said. He asked me about Victory Way and my tenant. “We’re coming to Albany and would like to meet with you, just to pick your brain,” he said.

My first reaction to all of this was – no!

No, no, no, no, no.

I’m embarrassed to report that I panicked, and lied, saying I wasn’t in the condo in June and I didn’t see a tripod. Suddenly it was 1978 again and the school Principal wanted to know where I was going.

It was not my best moment.

My only explanation, when I relayed the story to the prosecutor a few months later, was I thought if I said “no” the FBI would go away. She laughed heartily and relayed the story of her best friend from childhood who slammed the door in the face of the FBI when they knocked on her door to ask about the prosecutor who, at the time, was an applicant for the U.S. Attorney’s office. Apparently, the FBI is accustomed to such reactions.

My awkward opening with the FBI passed and they told me they were coming to Albany a week later.  We decided all three of us – myself, my boyfriend and my forever friend Claire – would meet with them together, as each of us had been in the apartment when it was still “occupied.”

We also decided to meet at the “scene of the crime,” 120 Victory Way.

It was a Thursday evening and we all piled into a car and drove over to the condo together. At this point the place was being painted. I told the painter to take the night off.

It was a warm evening and as soon as we got out of the car there they were: two of America’s finest in suit and tie.

We shook hands and all five of us disappeared into the condo. They pulled out their FBI badges to identify themselves and my boyfriend, as I had asked him beforehand, carefully checked their IDs.

They asked us to identify ourselves, which we did. I gave them a little history about the condo and what I knew of the woman who rented it over the last seven years, which wasn’t much. I gave them a short tour, shared what we saw when we went through the condo, before all of the contents had been removed.

Then I pulled the Flip Video from my bag and a piece of paper where I had written what was in each snippet of video. I also shared the leases I signed with Kathy over the years.

The taller of the two FBI agents asked if we had any still photos and Claire stepped forward with her phone.

She texted them the two photos she took: one of the bulletin board picture and the other of the refrigerator magnets.

I mentioned the Hale Drive townhouse, also in Knox Woods. It had been raided by the FBI several months earlier. Bill pointed out the place several years ago, I said.

Who is Bill, they asked.

Surely I would have thought my upstairs neighbor, the woman whose hot water heater damaged my closet and furnace a few years back, would have given them Bill’s name. At that point I suspected she was the one who gave them my name. I had seen her at the pool a couple of weeks earlier and I mentioned the tripod.

As we wrapped up, the taller of the two FBI agents asked me to nod in the direction of Bill’s condo on the way out.

“Seriously,” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

When we left the condo, as instructed, I nodded in the direction of Bill’s front door and they headed off in that direction.

We hopped in the car and left.

I didn’t really think I was that helpful until this past May when I received a call from the same FBI agent.

“We need you to testify at the trial,” he said over the phone.

By then I had reflected on my experience with Nxivm. The apartment had been cleaned and repaired and painted. A new renter had moved in.

I spent a lot of time there after Kathy O’Sullivan moved out, getting it ready and showing it. It was back to being my place. I also knew now who Kathy O’Sullivan was. While most of the news photos were of Allison Mack, the Seagram sisters and Nxivm President Nancy Salzman, there was at least one of Kathy Russell the bookkeeper; she was Kathy O’Sullivan.

Over the next two weeks I communicated with the FBI via email. They arranged my flight to New York from South Florida where I now live. They also booked my hotel.

While my involvement was only tangential I realized they were telling a story in court and I was one small element of that story.

On Thursday, May 30th I boarded a flight from Palm Beach International airport to JFK airport in New York. I was supposed to testify the next day.

We landed at JFK and as instructed I called a car service. An Egyptian gentleman in a black Lincoln Town Car picked me up and drove me to a hotel in downtown Brooklyn. He talked nonstop from JFK to downtown Brooklyn mostly about what 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Uber have done to his industry. His chatter was a good distraction for me.

I was communicating via text with the FBI almost immediately after landing. They were sending a man and a woman – she was with Homeland Security, he with the FBI – to my hotel to meet me an hour or two after I arrived to escort me to the U.S. Attorney’s office a couple of blocks away for a briefing.

It started to rain when they arrived to meet me in the lobby so I grabbed my umbrella and we walked the couple of blocks to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

We went up to the fourth floor where I met the prosecutor. All four of us sat down in a conference room where they told me what I could expect the next day. The prosecutor went over mostly what I had already told the FBI.

The prosecutor had four clips from the video I had taken last summer in the condo, video I knew they would be showing in court. They discussed the time table for the next day. I would probably not take the stand until after lunch.

Two hours later my new escorts drove me back to my hotel. It was a short ride but it was pouring rain.

The next day I took a long walk in Brooklyn. When I arrived back at the hotel I showered and waited while I watched Netflix. Around 12:30 p.m. I heard from my Homeland Security escort, a very nice talkative light-haired woman from Queens. The court breaks at 1 p.m. for lunch, she said. There are a couple of witnesses before you so you may not take the stand until 4 o’clock but we’ll come get you around 2:30 p.m.

I told her I’d be in the lobby by 2:30 p.m.

Almost as soon as I sat down in the lobby, I received a call from the same woman asking me to start walking towards them because I might take the stand sooner. Apparently, the judge gets testy when a witness is not queued up and ready to go.

I started up Tillary Street toward the federal courthouse which is right across the street from the U.S Attorney’s office. It was a beautiful sunny day and Brooklyn at the foot of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges is frenetic, to say the least. A good frenetic.

We met a block or two from the hotel and they escorted me around the corner onto Cadman Plaza East to the entrance of the federal courthouse. They made me feel comfortable every step of the way. I knew exactly what would happen and when.

They brought me upstairs to the jury room. The jury was in the courtroom and the jury room was a better place to wait than the small windowless witness room, they said. We chatted about a lot of things, almost none of it about the case. I texted my friend Claire: “I’m in the jury room.”

“OMG,” she texted back.

As my turn to take the stand approached, I was escorted to the smaller windowless witness room. I waited briefly and then I was summoned.

We moved a few steps to a set of double doors and the doors opened. I was warned in advance that the courtroom was bigger than I might expect. The judge was at the far end and he pointed to the witness stand. That was my cue. Suddenly all those years of watching courtroom dramas came in handy. This was a scene I had watched over and over again on television. I was comfortable. Not nervous at all.

I stepped up onto the witness stand, held up my right hand and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I sat and was asked to state and spell my name.

The prosecutor approached the podium and started asking me questions.

I tried to focus on what she was saying but couldn’t resist scanning the courtroom. The jury sat to my right, closer than they appear on television. The defense and prosecution tables were perpendicular to the judge and witness stand.

They showed the video I took all those months ago on a large screen on the wall and on computer screens, one in front of me and one in front of each juror. The prosecutor I met with the night before asked a few more questions. The defense was offered the opportunity to cross examine. They declined, as the prosecution expected.

I was excused by the judge, a tall slender older gentleman (think Mueller), and I stood, stepped down, walked past the jury back through the courtroom and out the door.

My new friends escorted me back down to the lobby of the federal courthouse and out the door into the sunny afternoon. Now back on Tillary Street I thanked them.

“I can find my way back,” I told them.

We parted ways and I walked back to the hotel. Along the way I called my boyfriend to let him know I was finished and all was well. When I arrived at the hotel, I walked through the lobby, up the stairs to the second floor where a bar fed out onto an outdoor patio.

I ordered a Tennessee Honey on the rocks, settled in and called Claire. Mission complete.

Sheila Carmody is the editor of the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” available on Amazon and the owner of two condos in Knox Woods.`

 

 

 

 

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How to hijack the news

sheilaby Sheila Carmody

When I finally started working on the other side of the news aisle for a small struggling private college, I already understood what public relations professionals typically do not understand — when news breaks that’s your chance to hijack the story to make your own organization shine. (See every news item devoted to Donald Trump.)

My first opportunity to make that happen came with the death of an international cosmetics entrepreneur in 2007. I’m not sure how I made the connection between Dame Anita Roddick and the small struggling private college where I had just been hired as Media Relations Director, but I discovered Roddick had been a Woodrow Willson Visiting Fellow at the school for a month four years earlier.

When I read of her passing I also read about her history as a socially responsible entrepreneur. It turned out Roddick, who founded the skin care company The Body Shop that eventually sold to L’Oreal for $1.14 Billion, was one of the first businesses to focus on the so-called triple bottom line, paying attention to social and environmental issues as well as profits. She sold the company when she knew she was dying from hepatitis C she contracted in a blood transfusion 30-plus years earlier.

I knew from reading the news regularly that socially responsible business practices were becoming more mainstream and I knew I had a story that would at least promote the college’s business program.

Once I had the background and the angle for the story (the triple bottom line), and the name of a professor from the business department I knew was willing to be interviewed, I sent a two sentence email to the local Business Editor, knowing full well she could use it for a business story. And use it she did.

“They worked to create a bachelor’s degree program in business and organizational management centered on social responsibility,” the news editor wrote of the college in the next day’s news story on the front page of the business section. “Roddick endorsed the program and later became a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow at the school, presenting talks on- and off-campus in 2003. She delivered the commencement address in 2004 and received an honorary degree.

“In May, she hosted 20 students and those two faculty members at Amnesty International’s center in London as part of the school’s international study series. The site had benefited from a donation she gave with Elton John toward educating people about human rights, said an associate professor at the college and coordinator of the school’s business and organizational management program. Like any larger-than-life figure, Roddick was an amalgam of contradictions.”

Today, what I did is called hijacking the news. I call it proactive public relations. At the time it just came naturally to me. It wouldn’t occur to me to write something or share something that wasn’t a good story.

I continued to use the same approach and the struggling private college’s enrollment applications experienced a 60 percent increase within 18 months.

Click hereClick here for How to get the media to pitch to you

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Behind the Counter at Macy’s

Macys

It seemed like a good idea at the time: working at Macy’s during the holiday season. As a New Yorker (and a lover of fine merchandise) I’ve always liked Macy’s and while I’m in South Florida working on the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” by Lonnie Palmer, I thought a temporary job would be a good way to assimilate and make a little Christmas money.

Did I say I love fine merchandise? I love to look at it, touch it, admire it. I can spot a $3,000 suit 200 yards away.

I worked for Macy’s in upstate New York 20-plus years ago so I’m not a retail virgin. And I’ve always admired Palm Beach County’s Gardens Mall. How could you not. It’s sparkles, especially at holiday time. So I applied online for a holiday position at the Macy’s in Gardens Mall three miles from where I was staying.

It was the second week of November. I chose an interview time and arrived at the prescribed time. I was interviewed by a manager. He asked if I ever had a situation where someone did something unethical or illegal in the workplace that I was aware of and what did I do.

I shared a situation I faced at work that was reported to me and as the Senior person in my position I had to report it. It never went anywhere but I was protecting myself more than anything.

Apparently that was enough to get me a spot in Fine Jewelry. After a battery of training on a variety of subjects: security, the difference between a precious and semi precious stone, and what to do with toxic waste — I never used that one — I was on the floor opening in the dark, counting necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets. Every morning and every night hundreds of pieces of jewelry had to be counted before opening and after close of business. Auditors would be strict in February.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I suspected everyone was shopping online and traffic at Macy’s in Gardens Mall in Palm Beach would be light. I discovered some other things. For one thing, selling fine jewelry is like selling narcotics. (I have friends who are nurses.) Everything is locked. And when you’re holiday help, you get the worst keys. But you learn to live with them. (It is not a job for the faint of heart.)

I learned that people don’t like working in Fine Jewelry because there are so many procedures, but most of the people who work there have been there a long time.

And I learned that cash is a rare commodity. I can count on one hand how many times customers paid in cash between Black Friday and Boxing Day.

I discovered something else: online shopping can’t hold a candle to the relationship you form with customers in the store at the mall. Even when you’re only spending 15 minutes with someone. There was:

  • The man (middle aged if we’re honest) who didn’t want to move in with his girlfriend because she has a cat.
  • The woman (definitely middle aged) whose adult son was lovely but clearly on the autism spectrum. He was looking at a St. Christopher medal. She told him 10 times this was the only day she would buy it because it was on sale. She would not be coming back tomorrow. He wondered if one was shinier than another. She managed a mobile home park in New Jersey and was trying to get out of the northeast for a few months.
  • The woman who came running up after Christmas to say: “Do you remember me?” She held out her hand; it was a very pretty diamond ring. “I had a daughter I was trying to get her opinion?” I remembered the daughter.
    The woman and her millennial daughter and son buying a watch to replace her husband’s (their stepfather’s) watch which she broke in anger. The same watch that made her take notice of him 15 years ago. Oops!
  • The man who was proposing (middle aged man) for a third time.
    The man whose wife just had a baby a week ago. His “adult” daughter was helping him buy the gift, earrings and a necklace. I was thinking: this woman doesn’t need a necklace.
  • And the mothers who were buying gifts for their sons to give to their girlfriends.

Ultimately, they all added up to sales. We sold a lot of jewelry between Black Friday and Christmas. I sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. And I was — am — a rookie. The people I worked with — Martha, Mani, Latasha, Patricia, Ann Marie, Cookie, Marie, Ruth, Michael, Vanessa, Kim, Anastasia, Debra, Lorraine, Deema, Katie and Lydia — were pros. They only tolerated me. After all, there was a commission and this was the time of year to make it.

Would I do it again next year?

Definitely. Turns out it was a good idea.

And I’m happy to report it was a good year for retailers, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, which studies transaction and survey data on purchases made with credit cards, cash and checks. Retail sales were up 7.9 percent compared to the same period last year. (click here for the Washington Post story.)

Now we just have to work on the stock market.

Happy New Year!

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Raise Awareness for Cats Trapped in a Folk Music Environment

 

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Flipped Classrooms Promote STEM Learning

How do you get middle school students engaged in English Language Arts and STEM?

Two ways: Moodle and flipped classrooms.

Our Savior’s Lutheran School, a Christian school in the Albany area for 60 years (click here for their website), is using both to engage middle school students and prepare them for the transition to high school and beyond.

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Flipped classrooms promote STEM learning.

At the pre-K to 8 school, Moodle is being used for middle school English Language Arts and the flipped classroom model for science.

No. 1: What’s a flipped classroom?

A flipped classroom is a class where the typical lecture by the teacher and homework elements of a course are reversed. Schoolwork traditionally viewed as homework is done during the day in the classroom and students listen to lectures on the day’s topic at night for homework. (You’re welcome, Mom and Dad!)

Science at Our Savior’s Lutheran School has morphed into STEM, which is curriculum based on the idea of educating students in an interdisciplinary and applied approach using a combination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM. Flipped classrooms are a perfect complement to an applied approach to learning – where students are actively engaged in learning during class while lectures are reserved for home, according to Our Savior Lutheran School’s middle school science teacher, Becky Sommer.

Julia, a middle school student at Our Savior’s Lutheran likes it because she gets “tons of help from your teacher one on one,” she said. “And I can watch the lecture for homework at my own pace. I can pause and rewind if I need to listen to something a second or third time.”

The lectures come from various sources – the teacher, science departments of various universities, and YouTube – and are curated by Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school science teacher Sommer.

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Flipped classrooms promote STEM learning.

Flipped learning caters to multiple types of learners and allows lessons to be differentiated so they can learn the way they need to. Learners who understand material best when they hear it can view lectures that emphasize listening to the material. Visual learners can view lectures that emphasize graphics and videos and other visual information that help them understand the lecture content.

“During the day, I make sure that their understanding is more scientifically sound. For students who require a little more explanation, the flipped classroom model gives me the opportunity to do that,” Sommer said. “It allows me to spend more one-on-one time with each student and give them the attention and the assistance that they need.”

Moodle for Middle School

Students access the videos through Moodle. Moodle, which is a self- contained web platform that’s been primarily used at the college level to facilitate online learning. It’s an acronym for Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.

Lorrie March, Our Savior’s Lutheran School English Language Arts middle school teacher, first used Moodle when she was teaching at the higher ed level in Ontario, Canada. She thought it might work in her middle school English Language Arts classroom at Our Savior’s Lutheran School so she implemented Moodle this year, and the students’ enthusiasm has “peaked,” she said.

“Obviously, you always want your content to be something they’re interested in but when you add this to the classroom they are SO excited about it,” she said.

That’s pretty obvious when she tells students to grab a Samsung Galaxy from bins in the classroom and they immediately gravitate toward the power outlet in the room – just to make sure they don’t run low on battery power. They quickly sign in with a username and password and click on the course to get in.

“We create the curriculum and curate the activities, and manage classroom accounts,” Lorrie March said, “but it lives on Moodle’s database, Moodle Cloud, and is managed by Moodle.”

Sydney, a middle school student at Our Savior’s Lutheran School, likes it because “you can do all your work with help from friends and especially your teacher. You can share your opinions, thoughts and ideas with your classmates on the forum and see other people’s perspectives. You are able to give and receive feedback about writing and assignments, and you can access Moodle almost anywhere as long as you have Internet.”

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Moodle is used in Our Savior’s Lutheran Middle School in Albany, NY.

Colleges and universities like University at Albany, Union College and Clarkson University in New York State have been using Moodle as their core learning platform for several years so Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school students will be familiar with it when they transition to high school and college.

Moodle has a variety of functionalities. For example, Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school students recently created a wiki (digital encyclopedia entry) about Anne Frank. Each student contributes to the wiki so it’s a true cooperative effort.

Moodle also allows for multiple ways of producing homework, including the creation of videos.

Getting middle school students engaged is a priority for Our Savior’s Lutheran School, and Moodle and flipped classrooms are two of the latest learning techniques being used in class.

Of course innovative learning techniques are not the only priorities at Our Savior’s Lutheran School. The pre-k to 8 school in Colonie is “designed to provide guidance and direction for children’s academic development along with mental, physical and spiritual growth,” said School Principal John March.

Middle school students are taught how to use their faith to improve the lives of others through service projects: working at a food center established by Albany’s Victory Church in downtown Albany.

They volunteer through the Jaycees, a leadership training and civic organization. Students also clean the facility and wash and fold clothes. During the holidays they pack boxes that are sent all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.

“Putting your faith into action is a very important part of learning at Our Savior’s Lutheran School,” said Principal March “It’s not just the words and the thoughts but how you show your faith that we want to relay to our students.”

In addition to the innovations in the classroom parents are drawn to Our Savior’s Lutheran School because it provides a place for students to deal with life’s issues within the context of their Christian faith.

Our Savior’s Lutheran School was established in 1956 as an effort by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to provide a program of quality Christian education for children in the church and from surrounding communities.

 

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Tennessee Williams Show Opens on Black Friday in Albany

"The Glass Menagerie" opens on Black Friday at Steamer 10 Theatre in Albany.

“The Glass Menagerie” opens on Black Friday at Steamer 10 Theatre in Albany.

A new Albany-based theater company called NorthEast Theatre Ensemble premieres “The Glass Menagerie” on Black Friday at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre, 500 Western Ave., Albany, NY.

Tennessee Williams’s first major play to appear on Broadway, “The Glass Menagerie” is an autobiographical work. It deals with personal and societal problems: the isolation of those who are outsiders for one reason or another, the hardships faced by single mothers, the difficulties a disability may create for a family, and the struggle of a young artist to begin his career.

It’s been produced for the stage and screen starring such luminaries as Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas and John Malkovich.

The Albany production runs for two weekends: November 27, 28 at 8 p.m., Nov. 29 at 3 p.m., Dec. 4, 5 at 8 p.m and Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. and stars Janet Hurley Kimlicko, Joe Plock, Jacqueline Donnaruma and Sean T. Baldwin. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. To reserve your seat call 518-483-5503.

The following is a Q&A with actor/director/educator Janet Hurley Kimlicko who founded the new NorthEast Theatre Company in Albany. The company is based at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre at 500 Western Ave, Albany, NY,  Janet is an actress known for Sticks & Stones (2006), Legend of the Angel of Love, Wedding Peach (1995) and Eve’s Necklace (2010). click here

Janet Hurley Kimlicko, founder of NorthEast Theatre Ensemble

Janet Hurley Kimlicko, founder of NorthEast Theatre Ensemble

Why are you starting a new theater company in the Capital Region?

To create work for myself and others. Being Equity up here makes finding work a challenge. There is not a lot going on and all I hear is: “You have to create your own stuff.” So that’s what I did. There is only one union theater in Albany so it would be great if the NorthEast Theatre Ensemble could get to the place of employing union and non union actors alike.

Any other reason?

I also want to create truth on stage. There is something so special and memorable about an audience and a cast sharing a moment of absolute truth onstage, taking that journey of the evening together. It truly is magic when it happens. Movies are one thing, we all enjoy them, but the shared experience of something good on a live stage is precious. I want to help create that for our actors and our audiences.

What will be different about the NorthEast Theatre Ensemble (NETE)?

NETE is an ensemble group. We all have a hand in directing a show, choosing props, costumes, set pieces. We work together to make it happen.

How do you start a theater?

Find good people with similar views and go from there, and ask EVERYONE you know who has a theater how they did it.

Why did you choose this classic as the first for the company?

We love Tennessee Williams. We love the musicality of his words; he knows how to write women. This is the second show and our first was “Hedda Gabler.” The Glass Menagerie is so beautifully layered and the characters are so intriguing. They are timeless. The struggles of each are just as valid today as they were back in 1937 when the play is set.

Will Steamer No. 10 Theatre be the home of the NorthEast Theatre Ensemble?

Yes, it’s a non-profit, theater that produces and presents shows for children and families, and touring to schools and theaters throughout the Northeast so it’s a perfect fit.

Located in Albany, NY, Steamer No. 10 Theatre presents a variety of live stage and music productions, including children’s theater, Eclectic Performance Series, Vacation Daze, Theater Voices, and Too Deep Entertainment.

The End

 

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Day Three of 50 with Rosie O’Donnell

by Sheila Carmody
Guaranteed Press

art

Just before Rosie’s show at Gotham Comedy Club, we stopped by an art exhibit in Chelsea and this was my favorite: Richard Haines: A Room of One’s Own Daniel Cooney|Fine Art

A perfect storm doesn’t usually lend itself to stand-up comedy — during the storm – but certainly by the time Rosie O’Donnell reaches the 50th time on stage performing her newest stand-up act she’ll have what’s she’s looking for: a new, fully formed HBO special.

Rosie performed the first four shows of what she said will take 50 times on stage before she has a polished act ready for prime time this weekend at Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea, NYC. I attended performance No. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17th.

And, having seen her twice before, both times at Levity Live in Nyack, NY, (the first time with her return to stand up after 10 years and the second for the recording of her last special “A Heartfelt Stand up”), I think I can say: her personal, triple threat slump — estranged wife, dead father and rebellious teenagers — will only make her a better comedian. And perhaps more beloved (which she is) by her fans, who were certainly out in full force this weekend.

Rosie looked a bit more unsure of herself than usual as she gingerly approached the stage Saturday night. She signed on for the weekend’s four shows five months ago when her life looked quite a bit different. But once she took the stage – aside from a few overeager, high octane audience members who interrupted the performance to “share” with her – the early act seems to have the promise of becoming the full-fledged HBO show she’s working toward.

Consider the material: it sounds very much like a George Carlin act. Death, pissed off rebellion, drugs, mental illness, sex, child abuse and some other stuff too.

Rosie of course knows on some level, as painful as recent months have been, the best stories come from pain. Some of her best Saturday night, included:

  • The cat named Pussy.
  • Her imitation of Tatum O’Neal.
  • Feeding her son pizza to keep him from going into the military.

Rosie was definitely feeling unsure of getting on stage, judging by the fact that she said she’d been in therapy every day for the week leading up to Saturday night. Unfortunately she no longer has the British sounding therapist who once told her that the pain she was feeling in her arms (which was actually a heart attack!) was probably (cue the posh British accent) “some psychosomatic trauma transferred. You saw the fat woman. And you thought, ‘That could be me.'” (Click here for the video of Rosie imitating her therapist.)

O’Donnell of course addressed some of the way her life has changed as of late. My own theory of why she’s hounded by the media is because she doesn’t write her own story. She lets others do it for her and then just trusts her PR person to go on the defense. A good offense is the best defense, Rosie!

Whatever the result of her latest project, it will likely be cathartic for her. And we were privileged to get in on the early stages of its development.

Of course, we’ve all experienced the kinds of heartache and — let’s face it — life’s lessons Rosie has learned as of late, but then luckily not in the New York Post. But she’ll get past it. We’ll get past it. And hopefully, eventually, I can get tickets to it!

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Six potential impacts of having your kids “opt out” of state tests

No. 1 – Lower home values. Schools with lower than 95 percent participation rate on the NYS state tests will be labeled in need of improvement and families looking for homes will avoid buying (or even looking) in your district. ( The 95 participation requirement was put in place some time ago because non-participation is an old trick used to make schools look like they’re doing a good job. If you find a way around the weakest kids taking the test you don’t look as bad. Whether you know it or not, when you were in school, some kids were not even given the opportunity to take Regents tests cause more failing kids made the school look bad.)

No. 2 – The majority of kids being opted out are higher performers so the test results will be artificially low which means the teacher evaluations will suffer. So it will hurt the chances of good teachers receiving good evaluations.

No. 3 – A lower than 95 percent participation rate makes for an administrative nightmare. More time will be spent next year on administrative/reporting tasks taking away time spent helping students. Efforts will be directed away from kids toward appeasing State Ed.

No. 4 – Title 1 funds may be at risk.

No. 5 – You will be teaching your children that it’s okay to use kids as political pawns.

No. 6 – Parents will have no idea what their kids learned this year and where they need more support. Educators have worked hard to teach the higher standards this year and parents who “opt out” won’t know how well their children are performing this year.

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Amy Poehler & Tina Fey’s Golden Globe Drinking Game

Oh yes it’s ladies night and it’s feelin’ right.

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