Friday, 08 December 2017

Save a Girl’s Life, Get Treated Worse Than a Terrorist

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From the print edition of The New American

In February 2013, when Linda Pelletier took her 14-year-old daughter, Justina, to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) for flu-like symptoms, the family had no idea of the nightmare that lay before them. Before the ordeal was over, Justina was the victim of what her father, Lou Pelletier, describes as medical kidnapping, torture, and abuse. It would take 16 months and the bravery of a man the Pelletiers had never met for Justina to finally be released and allowed to go home.

That man is Martin Gottesfeld, and he is now in prison awaiting trial on charges that he hacked BCH and knocked out its Internet during a major fundraising drive. He is facing a possible 15-year sentence, and based on court records provided to The New American, it appears he is being railroaded by a legal system that — after refusing to protect young Justina — seems intent on punishing him with a heavy dose of persecution by prosecution.

Long before Justina was taken to BCH, she had already been diagnosed with (and was being treated for) mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder. Even with her condition, Justina was an active teenager. She was involved in competitive ice-skating and other activities enjoyed by kids her age. That all changed because a BCH doctor in the seventh month of his internship decided to set aside Justina’s diagnosis of mitochondrial disease (which had been made by Dr. Mark Korson, the chief of metabolism at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and one of the foremost experts in the field of metabolic disorders, who had been successfully treating Justina).

Instead, that freshly minted BCH intern decided that Justina was suffering with a mental illness called somatic symptom disorder. That new diagnosis was then rubber-stamped by BCH psychologist Dr. Ioana Simona Bujoreanu, who just happened to be researching somatic symptom disorder under a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Eschewing even the appearance of objectivity, Bujoreanu approved the diagnosis after one 25-minute examination of Justina, without consulting any other physicians. As investigators say, follow the money. With her funding dependent on the grant, one is left to wonder if Bujoreanu conveniently “found” a case of the disorder to study. After all, if the only tool covered by your expense account is a hammer, every problem gets treated like a nail.

On Valentine’s Day 2013, Justina’s parents tried to discharge her from the hospital. BCH staff sought and received the “help” of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), which took Justina into custody as a ward of the state. DCF justified the action by accusing the Pelletiers of “medical child abuse.” Justina was transferred to “Bader 5,” BCH’s psychiatric ward, and all treatment for her disease was stopped. She was held there and at another facility for 16 months, during which time she was in constant pain and her health declined to the point that the girl — who had led an active lifestyle before her incarceration at BCH — was bound to a wheelchair and unable to use the bathroom without assistance.

The Pelletiers fought a protracted battle to free their daughter and save her life. Time after time, the decision of the court was against them. And while BCH was exposed in the media, the well-connected hospital (BCH is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School) seemed willing and able to weather the storm of bad press. It also appeared to have enough pull to avoid being investigated.

Enter Martin (Marty) Gottesfeld, a senior systems engineer with extensive knowledge of computer networks and a bone to pick with the “troubled teen industry” — a loosely connected, multi-million-dollar industry made up of hospitals, boot camps, behavioral modification programs, and residential treatment programs that too often manage to fly under the radar of accountability.  

Justina’s father had bravely broken a gag order and told of the abuse, torture, and mistreatment of his daughter. He told of notes she had managed to sneak out to him folded up in origami that spelled out — in horrid detail — hospital staff laughing as they left her sitting on the toilet for hours, dragging her across the concrete floor causing her toenails to tear off, and refusing her pain medications. Her untreated genetic condition left her in a dangerous position. Lou Pelletier said his daughter’s life was in very real danger.

Photo: JosephBarillari

This article appears in the December 18, 2017, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.

When Gottesfeld heard about Justina’s plight, he decided to do something about it. Since bad press was ineffective and the likelihood of an investigation was at or near zero, Gottesfeld decided on a different approach. As he explained in a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post entitled “Why I Knocked Boston Children’s Hospital Off the Internet,” he decided to hit them where they would feel it: On April 20, 2014, he knocked them off the Internet during a major fundraising drive. Marty wrote that “to save Justina from grievous bodily harm and possible death,” he would “have to hit BCH where they appear to care the most, the pocket book and reputation. All other efforts to protect Justina weren’t succeeding and time was of the essence.” He added, “Almost unbelievably, they kept their donation page on the same public network as the rest of their stuff. Rookie mistake. To take it down, I’d have to knock the whole hospital off the Internet.”

Two months after the BCH hacking, the hospital released Justina, and she went home. Her father had to carry his once-active daughter into their home.

When authorities — who had previously refused to investigate the claims of the Pelletiers and other families that the hospital had taken their children from them under false pretenses and whose children had been subjected to torture and other mistreatment — began to investigate the cyberattack, they honed in on a YouTube video posted by Gottesfeld on March 23, 2014. That video lays out the details of Justina’s abuse at the hands of the state and the hospital, lists the contact information of those involved in the case, and implores viewers to “use this information to your maximum potential in order to save Justina’s life.”

Ignoring the fact that the video — which only specifically asks viewers to write letters and make phone calls — should not have been seen as evidence of a crime and used to obtain a search warrant (since encouraging people to write and call is not illegal), FBI investigators used the fact that the video was posted from Gottesfeld’s account and IP address to get a “Tap and Trace” order for records related to his Internet traffic. Based on the information gathered by executing that order, investigators filed for and received a search warrant for Gottesfeld’s house.

Investigators using the video to obtain both a Tap and Trace order and a search warrant is only the beginning of government malfeasance in this case. As documents provided to The New American (and published online) show, the persecution by prosecution of Marty Gottesfeld — for daring to do what he could to save the life of an innocent child — is mired in overreach, conflicts of interest, and fraud.

As Marty’s wife, Dana Gottesfeld, told The New American in an exclusive interview, the search warrant based on the Tap and Trace order — and issued after that order was carried out — listed information about particular Internet traffic that was gathered by authorities “exceeding what the Tap and Trace allowed.” She told us, “The search warrant affidavit mentions traffic obtained from the Tap and Trace. However the Tap and Trace, as ordered, shouldn’t have given them those details.”

Add to that the errors, misstatements, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods found in the search warrant affidavit, and one is left to wonder how the search warrant ever could have been issued in the first place. The answer to that question opens up a whole new can of worms — one that stinks of conflicts of interest. The “judge” (she is actually a federal magistrate — not a judge — and should not be signing off on search warrants in the first place, according to constitutional lawyer Joe Wolverton) who signed off on the search warrant has direct ties to BCH and Harvard University. Magistrate Marianne Bowler is married to Dr. Marc Pfeffer, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, which oversees BCH. Furthermore, Bowler was employed as a research assistant in biochemistry at Harvard Medical School prior to starting her legal career.

Since FBI Special Agent Michael Tunick made the connection to Harvard explicit in the affidavit, Bowler cannot even claim ignorance of the conflict. In paragraph 8, Tunick wrote, “The incoming traffic resulted in significant disruptions to the BCH website and additional disruption to the network on which BCH and other Harvard University-affiliated hospitals communicate.”

Bowler is the same magistrate who refused Marty bail, leaving him to sit in prison while awaiting trial. In a statement provided to The New American in April, Marty wrote, “Magistrate [Marianne] Bowler’s deep personal connection to Harvard Medical School and therefore its affiliated pediatric teaching hospital, Boston Children’s call into question every aspect of her involvement with [this] case.” He added, “From her original approval of the search warrant for my residence to her five month delay in issuing a bail finding to my detention over the last 14 months. I am deeply concerned about her ability to remain impartial.”

That was written in April. Bowler eventually outright refused bail in Marty’s case. To put that in perspective, Marty Gottesfeld — who was arrested in February 2016 —  has already spent more time in prison for taking action to free Justina than she spent in medical incarceration. And he hasn’t even been tried yet.

Bowler’s refusal to grant Marty bail is particularly noteworthy given that she went out of her way to make sure Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev knew his rights (going so far as to read him his Miranda rights from the bench), which resulted in his refusal to continue talking to investigators. Furthermore, she ordered the release of his friend (and suspected accomplice) Robel Phillipos — who was accused of lying to investigators — on $100,000 bond, on the conditions that he remain in his mother’s house and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Granted, she was right to make sure Tsarnaev was aware of his rights, and she had the legal authority to release Phillipos on bail. But given the difference in the way she has handled this case, it appears that Gottesfeld’s rights would be better protected by Bowler if he were a terrorist. At least then, he’d probably be out on bail and home with his wife.

The malfeasance and conflicts of interest do not end there, though. The search warrant affidavit signed by her also mentions Wayside Youth and Family Support Network (the BCH-affiliated facility to which Justina was transferred after months at BCH). Paragraph 27 says:

Since the attack against BCH in April 2014, the FBI has learned of other DDOS [distributed denial of service] attacks against entities associated with BCH, the Justina Pelletier custody battle, and the troubled teen industry. Additional victims include: NSTAR (which has a relationship with BCH), Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, Judge Rotenburg Educational Center, Greatschools.org, Sorenson’s Ranch, and Logan River Academy. These victims all experienced similar attacks.

This is important because Bowler is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of The Boston Foundation, which raises money for Wayside Youth and Family Support Network. She is listed as such on page 18 of their December 2, 2015 report.

The facts demonstrated by these court documents, Bowler’s connections to the entities involved, and her refusal to treat Gottesfeld with the same decency she willingly showed to terrorists, seem to bear out his claims about Bowler’s lack of “ability to remain impartial.” This whole case smells of a personal vendetta. Bowler’s allegiance appears divided between justice and Harvard, with justice getting the short end of the stick. It is not every day that a federal magistrate is given the opportunity to abuse her power by bringing the full weight of her bench against someone who is accused of attacking something near and dear to her. When that does happen, she is supposed to recuse herself. In fact, procedure requires it. Yet, in the face of all of that, Bowler continues to preside over the case.

America does not need those who abuse power to sit in places of power. Magistrate Marianne Bowler needs to be removed from this case — if not the bench.

It is a sad commentary when innocent children and those who take action to defend them have less protection under the law than those who abuse and torture children in the name of medical science. It seems more than a little like 1930s Germany.

Photo: JosephBarillari

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