New York City taxpayers are stuck with a $230 million bill for the thousands of lawsuits against the NYPD that the city settled in the last fiscal year, according to a report released this week by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The annual claims report found that the majority of suits against the department were related to improper police conduct, including excessive force and false arrests. While the number of claims against the NYPD has remained stable—there were 6,472 actions last year, compared to 6,546 in 2017—total payouts have decreased significantly from last year’s high of $335.5 million.
The Comptroller’s report noted that five wrongful conviction suits accounted for $33 million of this past year’s payouts. Four out of five of those claims involved people who spent decades in prison before their sentences were vacated by the late Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Their settlements ranged from $1.5 million for Paul Gatling, who was exonerated at the age of 81, to $12.3 million for Andre Hatchett, who spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.
It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.
Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.
It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.
Oliver Taylor, a student at England’s University of Birmingham, is a twenty-something with brown eyes, light stubble, and a slightly stiff smile.
Online profiles describe him as a coffee lover and politics junkie who was raised in a traditional Jewish home. His half dozen freelance editorials and blog posts reveal an active interest in anti-Semitism and Jewish affairs, with bylines in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel.
The catch? Oliver Taylor seems to be an elaborate fiction.
His university says it has no record of him. He has no obvious online footprint beyond an account on the question-and-answer site Quora, where he was active for two days in March. Two newspapers that published his work say they have tried and failed to confirm his identity. And experts in deceptive imagery used state-of-the-art forensic analysis programs to determine that Taylor’s profile photo is a hyper-realistic forgery – a “deepfake.”
Who is behind Taylor isn’t known to Reuters. Calls to the U.K. phone number he supplied to editors drew an automated error message and he didn’t respond to messages left at the Gmail address he used for correspondence.
Reuters was alerted to Taylor by London academic Mazen Masri, who drew international attention in late 2018 when he helped launch an Israeli lawsuit against the surveillance company NSO on behalf of alleged Mexican victims of the company’s phone hacking technology.
In an article in U.S. Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner, Taylor had accused Masri and his wife, Palestinian rights campaigner Ryvka Barnard, of being “known terrorist sympathizers.”
Masri and Barnard were taken aback by the allegation, which they deny. But they were also baffled as to why a university student would single them out. Masri said he pulled up Taylor’s profile photo. He couldn’t put his finger on it, he said, but something about the young man’s face “seemed off.”
Six experts interviewed by Reuters say the image has the characteristics of a deepfake.
“The distortion and inconsistencies in the background are a tell-tale sign of a synthesized image, as are a few glitches around his neck and collar,” said digital image forensics pioneer Hany Farid, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.
Artist Mario Klingemann, who regularly uses deepfakes in his work, said the photo “has all the hallmarks.”
“I’m 100 percent sure,” he said.