Here are some of the top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly.
Police sting, or entrapment? WTSP reports a pattern of police misconduct in its ongoing investigation of sex sting operations in Tampa Bay. In some cases, men were facing felony charges for seeking sex with underage teens after responding to police decoys online. “Most of the cases … involved men who weren’t necessarily looking for underage teens, but either posted—or responded to—ads seeking adults.” — WTSP Tampa via @conor64
New Jersey has diverted more than $50 million meant to prevent lead poisoning to pay routine bills. The Lead Hazard Control Assistance fund was created in 2004 to help New Jersey families remove or contain lead and to relocate children to “lead-safe” housing. Lawmakers were supposed to allocate at least $77 million to the fund through fiscal 2015, but most of the money has been diverted to the state’s general treasury. Meanwhile, New Jersey still hasn’t adopted the CDC’s recommended threshold for lead exposure.—Asbury Park Press via @KenStailey
Hot cash to Cuba. The South Florida Sun Sentinel investigates the pipeline of stolen money flowing into Cuba in the shadow of U.S. sanctions. Cuban crime rings have generated an estimated $2 billion since 1994, the Sun Sentinel reports, as the accused benefit from special immigrant protections that usually prevent their deportation. “Cuban crime rings are staging car accidents for insurance fraud, hijacking trucks, and selling their Medicare numbers to provide for their families in Cuba. They’re smuggling money from these illegal enterprises on charter flights to Cuba, paying mules to take cash back and wiring dollars through Western Union,” the Sun Sentinel reports.—via @IRE_NICAR
Sex trafficking: The boom North Dakota isn’t prepared for. The influx of men working North Dakota’s oil patch has created a growing demand for commercial sex workers, including underage girls. More than a dozen men were convicted last year of attempting to buy sex from underage girls, and one sting “snared so many prospective johns it had to be shut down early.” The issue has caught law enforcement and local officials unprepared as they are “struggling to keep up with all the demands of a booming population and the crime that has followed” in the region.—Forum News Service / Pioneer Press via @rschalow
Why is Kentucky paying millions to jailers who don’t operate jails? The state pays nearly $1.4 million a year to 41 jailers in counties that have no jails — most of them shuttered for cost reasons or because they failed to meet minimum standards. Why? “Kentucky’s the only state that has elected jailers,” a corrections expert explains.—Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting via @marshallproj