Posts Tagged ‘investigation’

The Central Subway is here… on the web

September 10th, 2019


Hot on the heels of my previous post about subway station plaques, it appears three new San Francisco subway stations are online: well, on the web, anyway.

Today I was making my way to Muni Metro and happened to pull up SF Muni Central on my phone to see if I had any chance of getting a train at a reasonable time. But something looked a bit off.

See, normally the SF Muni Central website displays a screenshot of the train positions in the subway. It’s part of the train control system and not very user friendly, but it’s easy enough to figure out once you’ve gotten used to it.

This time, a separate section appeared underneath the subway map…



It’s clearly a desktop window with the title “Line Overview.” But why? What does this even mean?

I’m going to make a wild assumption this is something we wouldn’t normally see: the user interface for the train control system. If you do a Google image search for the keywords “thales line overview” you’ll find slides with screenshots that look remarkably similar to this. Thales is the company that provides Muni’s train control, now that Thales owns a former division of Alcatel — it’s all very complicated.



But I’ve saved the best for last. On the bottom right is a new subway! Yes, it’s the yet-to-open Central Subway.

Following Muni’s convention of three letter platform designations with the first two letters indicating the name of the station, we have:

  • CT: Chinatown
  • US: Union Square
  • YB: Yerba Buena

The other two platforms at either end are presumably for maintenance purposes.

Now, obviously this isn’t finalized and probably not even meant to be shown to the public, but if this is the layout I’m already seeing two big problems.

  1. There’s only one place for trains to turn around at the end. We saw how poorly this worked with Embarcadero back in the day, with Muni eventually moving the turnback into the N-Judah extension that had room for more than one “scissor” turnback section. That could be a problem if a lot of people are using the subway to get to Warriors games, for example.
  2. The entire map seems flipped around. Conventionally Muni Metro has positioned outbound to inbound as right to left, but here it’s the opposite. Unless they intend Chinatown to be an outbound station, but that wouldn’t really make sense — inbound has always meant “towards downtown.” I hope that’s not how they’re going to label the stations, because that would be very confusing.

We’ll know more once the Central Subway finally opens. But as of now we don’t even have an official opening date yet.

Update: The bottom half of the image disappeared from SF Muni Central the next day.

New Age “sovereign citizens” found guilty of bank robbery

February 4th, 2018

Mugshots of Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf and Randall Beane from the Knox County Sheriff website.

Recently a strange “sovereign citizen” court case caught my eye due to one of the defendants involved. If you’re not aware, sovereign citizens are people who believe for various reasons they’re beyond the reach of law, often because they found some kind of legal cheat code that gets them off the hook for anything from a parking ticket to a standoff with the FBI.

In this trial and as in so many other sovereign citizen cases, both defendants were found guilty. But before we get into that, let’s take a trip down memory lane so I can explain why this is relevant to my interests.

Free energy and a flight to Morocco

Four years ago I wrote a post on this blog titled Anatomy of a free energy scam in which I detailed a woman calling herself HopeGirl who kept raising money to build a free energy machine. (Many of the links in that blog posts no longer work but you can still find backups on Shocker: four years later, the QEG free energy machine still doesn’t work.

HopeGirl and friends wound up moving to a community of like minded folks in Aouchtam, Morocco. This community evolved out of an odd hybrid group called One People’s Public Trust (OPPT), which mixed sovereign citizen beliefs with bizarre financial ideas and some New Age woo thrown in for good measure.

Before the relocation to Morocco, OPPT filed a series of documents which they believe “foreclosed” on the US federal government as well as major corporations, banks, and the Federal Reserve. Yet they curiously continued asking for donations in US currency, almost as though they didn’t actually believe what they were saying at all.

One of the main players behind OPPT was a former prosecutor known as Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf — let’s just call her Heather. At some point Heather had been married to a man from Morocco, which could explain OPPT’s decision to move there.

Aside from functioning as a lawyer of sorts for the group Heather also helped spread a philosophy of BEing and DOing. You can learn more about this at a website run by Heather and her followers, although I’ll warn you right now that it involves watching hours of long, poorly made YouTube videos that no sane person would ever be able to sit through.

Do the terms BE and DO sound familiar in this context? HopeGirl’s website and forum for her QEG magic energy machine was located at (site now dead, link is to an backup copy.) HopeGirl eventually became disenchanted with the New Age weirdos who she joined in Morocco and publicly distanced herself from the group, which she explains here. Unfortunately her realization was short lived, as HopeGirl continues blogging about free energy, “chemtrails,” “orgone,” and other magical thinking that still sounds suspiciously New Age-y.

Between Heather and HopeGirl moving to Morocco together and their shared terminology at the time, I hope you can see how my interest in the QEG scam eventually led me to try and piece together what happened to Heather when she popped up in the news recently.

Numerology bank robbery

Here’s the story behind the case as I understand it based on the court documents as well as newspaper articles. Links to these articles and related online forum threads are at the end of this blog post.

A US Air Force veteran in Knoxville, Tennessee named Randall Beane got himself into some serious financial debts despite making a six figure salary as a software engineer.

Rather than turn to a financial advisor or even trying to refinance on his own, Randall turned to YouTube where he found a video channel run by a man calling himself Harvey Dent, named after Batman villain Two-Face. Is your Spidey sense going off yet… oh sorry, wrong comic.

Harvey Dent’s YouTube channel is difficult to describe. It’s a mix of crazed rants on various topics, most of which are mercifully short. He’s a self-styled guru who claims to lead an “intellectual freedom movement,” whatever that means. He also has a tendency to erupt in laughter at random times which makes the videos a challenge to take seriously.

At some point Randall allegedly came across one of Harvey Dent’s videos, possibly this one, that explains a sovereign citizen concept about how the government is somehow monetizing our birth certificates with secret Federal Reserve accounts that can be accessed through some kind of… numerology? It’s bafflingly incoherent. (Note: Harvey deleted his previous YouTube channel, so it could have been one of his older videos that’s no longer available.)

Randall decided to go with this scheme he learned about from Harvey Dent’s video and somehow wound up enlisting Heather’s help, presumably because she was promoting the video. Taking Heather and Harvey’s advice, Randall withdrew money from his super duper secret bank account at the Federal Reserve and deposited into a certificate of deposit (CD) at his bank, USAA. Due to some fluke this temporarily worked, and he immediately used that money to purchase a luxury motor home for half a million dollars.

Heather and her friends’ website deserves some credit for posting actual court documents from her case — even if they apparently don’t believe the court is legitimate presumably due to the aforementioned foreclosure against the government. Regardless much can be gleaned from the court documents.

For context in understanding some of Heather’s court document filings, the frequently cited Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a suggestion for a framework of laws to facilitate commerce between individual states. Most states adopted UCC into their own laws in one form or another, but it’s important to remember that UCC is a recommendation for laws rather than laws in and of themselves. This distinction is something Heather seems to willfully ignore in her (many) irrelevant filings.

Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect a half-million dollar motor home

Randall’s bank transactions quickly raised red flags. Not only was the initial deposit into the CD a banking error, but withdrawing money from a CD prior to the maturity date incurs a significant penalty.

Before Randall could even drive “his” motor home away — presumably with the intent to sell it and pay off his debts — FBI agents arrested him.

Heather intervened on Randall’s behalf by going all the way to the top of the government she allegedly foreclosed upon, showing up unannounced at the White House for an impromptu meeting with Trump.

The Secret Service had none of Heather’s shenanigans, getting in touch with the FBI instead. After an identity hearing Heather was shipped off to be tried along with Randall in a court in Knoxville.

Heather and Randall chose to represent themselves in court. And by represent I mean they did very little, aside from re-filing court decisions with Heather’s fingerprints and the word “REJECTED” written on the documents. It’s not clear they even participated in jury selection. At least Heather had the foresight to bail herself out while leaving Randall in jail, as any good attorney would.

Needless to say both Heather and Randall were found guilty and now face significant sentences. Heather faces conspiracy money laundering. Randall faces bank and wire fraud. Now behind bars, both are scheduled to be sentenced in June.


The sad thing about this case is there aren’t really any winners. Ultimately taxpayers pick up the cost for court cases and incarceration, while the Federal Reserve clearly messed up when they allowed a fraudulent transfer to take place.

Worse yet, I’m not sure Heather’s followers will learn anything when they can spin this as a pair of heroic citizens fighting “the man” and losing in a court they don’t think is legitimate. No matter what happens it’s difficult to imagine Heather’s clan from seeing this as an abuse of power from a government they don’t recognize.

For his part Randall seems like the dopey fall guy. I’m not saying he deserves to get off the hook for what he did, but he’s likely to get the tougher sentence for being the one who executed the robbery in his own name despite not being the mastermind behind the scheme. He seems to me an extreme case of what can happen if you believe everything you see on the internet.

Still it’s reassuring for us Americans to know the FBI and Secret Service can do their jobs even in this turbulent era. The worst outcome would have been Randall and Heather getting away with bank robbery. Thankfully they did not.


These news reports are the sources for most of the information in this blog post:

The following web forum threads helped provide context and information while researching the trial:


The Daily Beast wrote an excellent piece on this saga: Sovereign Citizen Convicted After Giving Advice on Plundering Federal Reserve

Update July 2018
Heather was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison, followed by a supervised release.

Anatomy of a free energy scam [updated]

May 29th, 2014

Back in September a “free energy machine” which had crowdfunded a bunch of money on IndieGoGo came to my attention. When I followed up later, I found this same project had not one but two more crowdfunding campaigns, raising a grand total of $57,590.

Now if you really built a free energy device — that is to say a device that takes no input and emits electricity (or something that can be converted to electricity, such as motion) — you would not settle for less than $60,000. The device would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars if not more. The amount saved on coal mining and oil drilling alone would be astronomical.

Of course, anyone who remembers anything from their high school physics class knows that energy has to come from somewhere. That doesn’t stop people from trying the impossible; there’s dozens of websites and forums on the internet for those who “just want to believe.” But most of those people simply have strange ideas and too much time on their hands — they’re not asking people to pony up tens of thousands of dollars so they can take a free vacation around the world.

So let’s look deeper at this particular scam and how it came to be.

Who’s who

Let’s assess the major players here:

Naima Feagin, aka Hope Girl, runs an organization with the completely understated title “Fix The World.” According to her LinkedIn profile, this organization came about after exposing a massive conspiracy:

In 2012 Naima conducted a research project under the pen name “HopeGirl” that exposed hidden levels of global financial issues and their effects on society. This research resulted in a book of solutions written by 300 people from 37 countries titled “How to Fix the World” which quickly went viral on the [sic] blog

Sure enough, Hope Girl’s first blog post blames “the Cabal,” a nefarious group who control all major corporations and the government. Obviously their secret goal is to start World War 3 to establish a global currency system, which they’ve already begun by causing banking scandals. What the Cabal doesn’t want us to know is that free energy is real, crop circles mean we’ve encountered aliens, etc. etc. She even cites a discredited Iranian scientist who has his own personal model of the sub-atomic universe. Yikes.

She goes on to claim that in six months (from August 2012) we’ll all see that this is true because a resistance movement will have changed everything:

  • “There will be enough food and water for everyone…”
  • “Many people will not have to get sick, suffer and die…”
  • “There will be free energy for everyone.”
  • “New technology will dramatically change the way we live and do commerce, making interstellar travel possible for everyone.”

How do we know this is true? Well of course: “This is the future that I am choosing to believe in.” Sounds like someone read The Secret!

Surprisingly, there was never a follow up post after six months that explained why this future didn’t occur in six months. I guess we’re stuck with the 2,000+ years as predicted by Star Trek?


Hope Girl’s stepfather James M. Robitaille is the electrical engineer behind the QEG. There isn’t much information about him on the internet, but according to the IndieGoGo page his former accomplishments include designing an in-car vacuum cleaner for Honda.

Over at Consumerist they thought the vacuum worked well. Still, a vacuum cleaner is kinda far from a free energy device.


“Sir Dr.” Timothy Thrapp runs a religious technology group called WITTS Ministries. Among other claims, WITTS says Jesus will help us cure cancer, end pollution, and make cars that run on air and water. (I guess they have a newer version of the Bible than I do.) One of their projects is a free energy generator that claims to draw its power from the quantum field.

Birth of the Quantum Energy Generator (QEG)

Clearly, WITTS makes some pretty wild claims. But what are claims without proof? Well, WITTS would love to prove to you that their technology is sound, provided you’ll make some pretty sizable donations to their sister group, Enlightened Technology. The plans alone cost $300, and the required training starts at $1,000 an hour. Yikes!

Hope Girl’s stepfather found out about the WITTS quantum generator, somehow decided it was real, and decided to copy it without the help of WITTS and/or Jesus 2.0. Their new device would be called the Quantum Energy Generator, and Robitaille’s electrical expertise could bring this device to every corner of the world.

But WITTS countered back, explaining on their page Identifying Counterfeits:

World Improvement Ministries HAS OVER 300 independent Engineers that have made video testimonies and/or audio testimonies and or written, signed and notarized sworn to under oath, written testimonies of each of their independent verifications.

It would be interesting to compare the list of those 300 engineers with the “300 people from 37 countries” Hope Girl mentioned, wouldn’t it? Or is 300 just a number you pull out of your ass when you wish to sound like many people agree with you?

QEG goes open source

The team behind the QEG eventually open sourced the design. Or at least they open sourced something. The PDF document is a mixture of instructions, techno-babble, and a copy of a seemingly unrelated patent from Nikola Tesla. Like many of his contemporaries, Tesla didn’t believe in quantum mechanics.

The document warns you that even though the device is open source, you should never attempt to build one on your own. One such warning says that “A considerable level of knowledge in quantum physics is also required,” a field neither Robitaille, Naima, nor anyone at WITTS claim to have education in.

They later clarified this quantum physics requirement in another document, because it involves (of course) yet another conspiracy:

There are no physics papers on this as far as we know. this knowledge has been suppressed for over 100 years.

It’s bad enough that the document doesn’t describe how it works or why the Tesla patent is involved, but now we have to learn an entirely new version of quantum physics that we couldn’t have known before? Oh dear! Worse yet, Fix the World hasn’t revealed any details of their new scientific theory so far.

Perhaps the most troubling statement in their original document is this FAQ entry:

Does the QEG emit radiation?
No — it’s not that type of energy.

Exactly what “energy” is being emitted, then? It certainly can’t be electricity if there’s no radiation. So what is it, and why isn’t it defined?

Somehow this great open sourcing of the plans leaves more questions than answers. There’s even more pieces of the puzzle missing than there were before.

Fixing the world

Hope Girl said she flipped the QEG’s switch, but days later claimed there were “good reasons” that she couldn’t say whether or not the device actually worked. In fact, even asking if it worked was the wrong question, she said: instead we should be asking “How to we get this to the people?”

Nope, who needs evidence? Instead it was time to Fix the World!

Why did they need to raise money to fly to other countries to build this? Because shipping the device pre-assembled might end up with the questionable device stuck in customs, and because Robitaille’s quantum energy expertise is unparallelled, the family team hopped on a plane to Taiwan, London, and Morocco.

It was only after getting off the ground that they announced they had achieved something called “Resonance,” which they never took the time to define. It certainly does not mean (spoiler alert!) that any form of measurable electricity is generated.

Exit strategy?

Around this time, the posts on Hope Girl’s blog started to use worrying language like “managing expectations” and “full disclosure”. Something wasn’t right.

Further down the rabbit hole, she decided that negative comments left on her blog and YouTube videos were evidence of a vast government conspiracy which is proven by a couple of completely out-of-context slides from the Snowden leak. (Apparently this is a new kind of proof where you don’t have to connect all of the dots.)

In other words, anything that contradicts Hope Girl’s mentality of “it’s true because I believe it” is negative, and therefore the result of government sponsored internet trolls.

And her own internet forum echos the sentiment that all skepticism is evil:

Healthy skepticism is just another form of doubt – a negative force.

On the one hand the QEG is indeed a machine, but a totally different kind of machine than the ones we are so familiar with. It is true that she may need a skilled technician to build her, but truly requires a shift in consciousness to understand what makes her ‘tick’. And that’s where one’s attitude in this whole process can and will make a difference….

Take for example the “double-slit experiment,” where the mere act of ‘observation’ can completely change the outcome of an event. There are a number of things so far, involving the measurable part of the QEG, which currently may not make any sense… but then perhaps it needs a different level of sensitivity all together. Your presence, your state of mind, your attitude are believed to be key ingredients in observing the successful creation of this free energy device. This forum supports that belief and vision.

In short: There is no place for skepticism in this forum, you won’t get far trying to court a lady with skepticism, cause truly that is what the QEG is, a Lady with a mind and a will of her own.

When asked the simple question of how the device works, the question was met with similar hostility:

This goal cannot be achieved if your attitude is one of …. “skepticism.” The quantum realm does not work that way. Healers in general have a knowledge of how the quantum realm operates, and responds, providing what we expect, and using intention to accomplish. We have to clear and clean our emotions and minds in order to successfully heal…..

In other words, even questioning how the device works may cause it to fail! Apparently the QEG is like a drug-induced buzz, and it won’t work if you harsh its mellow, man.

But the seeds of escape were planted long before Hope Girl even announced the QEG. No, there was a free energy boogeyman all along: the government and/or corporations.

Like many people who lack basic critical thinking skills, “the government” and “corporations” are not things that exist but rather reasons in and of themselves that don’t need to be connected via evidence to indicate wrongdoing. Merely stating their names is enough; no further explanation is necessary.

Government… corporations… government… corporations… oh no, the QEG will never work now! It was entirely my fault for using those words!

Putting it all together

So what did James Robitaille build, if not a free energy device that derives its power from the quantum field? A thread on Reddit posits an interesting theory: Robitaille doesn’t seem to understand how to measure electricity and the device is a type of transformer.

There is, of course, a very simple explanation for all of this. Like Steorn Orbo and other alleged free energy devices, the QEG and WITTS generators are a mix of wishful thinking, workshop skills, and a misunderstanding of the results.

The fundraising and announcements are a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. One could conclude Hope Girl herself acknowledges this in a post saying “We are not in the prove it business, we are in the do it business.”

Finding gullible people on the internet is like shooting fish in a barrel. Building a device that breaks the known laws of physics is not something a group of conspiracy theorists are going to accomplish while vacationing around the world on someone else’s dime.

Is this truly a scam? One could argue that Hope Girl’s apparent belief in the machine indicates that it’s not an intentional scam but rather an honest mistake made by someone who takes charlatans seriously. But honest mistakes don’t involve taking money from people to travel the world and give vanity speeches. Just because people who are gullible exist doesn’t make it right for you to take their money. It doesn’t matter if televangelists disagree — even if you can find 300 of them.

Too often we reward those who sell dreams with unsubstantiated claims. And who could stop them? Consumer protection agencies can’t bother with the small timers, and it’s not always in the interest of payment processors and crowdfunding platforms to turn them away. It seems we’ve allowed crowdfunding to elevate small time scam artists — accidentally or not — to the global level.

Where are they now?

A few days before I completed this blog post, I was unsurprised to find that Fix the World released a report demonstrating that the QEG does not generate electricity and cannot run without external power, so of course they’re asking for more money.

Surprise! Only not.

UPDATE: June 8th

The dubiously named Fix the World is now claiming they have achieved what they’re calling “overunity,” where you get more power out than you put in. Of course, they also provide no evidence, just like always. There seems to be a pattern here. But that pattern hasn’t stopped them from raising over $13,000 in their latest crowdfunding scam (mentioned above.)

I was also alerted to something called an Ecklin generator, also known as a Brown-Ecklin generator. Apparently the people behind this device device promised the OMNI Magazine crowd in the 70’s and 80’s that they too could generate energy out of nowhere with some spinning magnets and whatnot. And much like the QEG, the people behind it couldn’t explain how it worked because they overlooked the most obvious answer: that it doesn’t work.

And to those like HopeGirl who labels any who dare question her as a troll, I ask you this: who is the real troll here? Is it the person who seeks donations for a seemingly impossible device that they refuse to prove actually works? Or is it the person who says you should donate your hard earned money to something that helps people, like a food bank or the Red Cross?

UPDATE 2: October 1st

I’d gotten the family relationships wrong regarding some of the people involved. Sorry about that, I’ve corrected the post to avoid confusion.

Meanwhile an attempt to achieve free energy with the same QEG design in Hungary failed and an attempt in Canada has nothing to show.

Now that the QEG is a bust Hope Girl would like even more money to move to Morocco. As much as I’m sick of people giving money to Hope Girl rather than legitimate causes, a part of me really wonders what elaborate rationalization she’ll have to concoct regarding why Morocco’s QEG still isn’t functional if she ever returns.