Mass. Board of Medicine lacking in transparency for malpractice, other disciplinary actions

By Callum Borchers and Stephen Kurkjian

Dr. Stancel M. Riley, the medical board’s executive director, defended the practice of removing disciplinary disclosures from physicians’ profiles after 10 years. Discipline is posted permanently in 47 other states. Photo Credit: Callum Borchers

In 2005, a Suffolk County jury decided that Dr. Mary Ames-Castro and another obstetrician caused irreversible brain damage to an infant girl during a delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital. The $23.8 million malpractice judgment was one of the largest in state history.

But the judgment was never entered in a public database maintained by the state Board of Registration in Medicine. The board erased Ames-Castro’s profile from the database because she let her license expire after the botched procedure.

Nowadays, she is practicing medicine in Oregon under her maiden name, Mary Beth Ames, and also holds a license in Wisconsin. Because neither Oregon nor Wisconsin publicly records out-of-state malpractice judgments — and because Massachusetts deleted Ames-Castro’s profile — her current patients are left with the false impression that their doctor has a clean record.

The veil of secrecy afforded to Ames-Castro is commonplace in Massachusetts, due to physician-friendly provisions in state law, the board’s policy of purging certain records, sometimes in violation of state law, and outdated technology. Over the last two decades, these routine omissions and removals have taken thousands of embarrassing records out of public view, according to an Initiative comparison of the board’s records and a nationwide database maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

For example, there have been 35 criminal convictions of Massachusetts doctors since 2002. In most states, the convictions would be posted permanently online; in Massachusetts, not one is listed in the state medical board database.

Among the missing cases: The recent conviction of Dr. Salah F. Abass, who was found guilty of indecently assaulting a nurse at his Methuen clinic; the guilty plea of Dr. William A. Houghton, who admitted to groping three female patients at his office in Gardner; and the recent federal prison term of Dr. Scott S. Reuben, a Springfield anesthesiologist who faked the results of 21 influential medical studies.

Dr. Scott S. Reuben faked the results of 21 influential medical studies and served time in federal prison for health care fraud. But the Board of Registration in Medicine categorized his voluntary license surrender as non-disciplinary and erased his profile. Photo Credit: Photo used with permission of Anesthesia & Analgesia

In the case of Reuben, there is only a phrase in the board’s database: “voluntary agreement not to practice.” There is not even a cautionary flag, since the agreement is described as “non-disciplinary.”

By almost any measure, Massachusetts is a national leader in medicine. And in 1996, the state medical board became the first in the country to make doctors’ profiles public.

Back then, the board chairman proudly declared: “The informed patient, empowered by choice, is our best guarantee for quality care.”

But the board now lags well behind its counterparts in most other states, who have leapfrogged past Massachusetts in the transparency of its records on physician performance. Elsewhere, a patient could learn that her surgeon had, 12 years before, arrived drunk to an operating room, and decide whether she is comfortable going under his knife today. In Massachusetts, the same patient could not make such an informed decision because the medical board removes old misconduct from its doctors’ profiles.

Problems identified by the Initiative include:

* The Massachusetts medical board is one of only three in the country that take down physicians’ online profiles when doctors lose or fail to renew their licenses, leaving no trace of their indiscretions for new patients if they go on to practice in other states.

* Massachusetts is one of only four states that wipe doctors’ disciplinary and malpractice slates clean after 10 years. In addition, the board does not post online its own disciplinary orders, which describe doctors’ wrongdoing, even though its counterparts in 36 other states do.

* The board makes no public disclosure when Massachusetts doctors are penalized by medical boards in other states, even though it is required by state law to do so.

* The Massachusetts board posts only clinical privilege penalties imposed by hospitals, and overlooks sanctions where an estimated 80 percent of medical care is provided — at medical clinics, outpatient surgical centers, nursing homes, and other non-hospital settings.

Medical board officials point out that some policies — like the 10-year posting window and the exclusion of non-hospital sanctions — are codified by state law, and thus beyond their control. But there is no statutory basis for the deletion of doctors’ profiles, and the absence of out-of-state disciplinary records is a blatant violation of law.

Linda DeBenedictis, president of the New England Patients’ Rights Group, expressed disappointment that the state board is withholding so much information from public scrutiny.

“It’s a system that favors physicians over patients, and it’s tragic,” DeBenedictis said.

Dr. Stancel M. Riley, the medical board’s executive director, asserted in a recent interview that the board’s philosophy “is to make as much information available to the consumer as possible because we think that keeps everybody safe.” The seven board members, five of them physicians, were appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Riley defended the practice of wiping clean disciplinary and malpractice records after a decade, arguing that “if nothing has happened to you in 10 years, you would think that would be a good indicator that you were pretty good.” He also said patients could be confused if the profiles of unlicensed physicians remained in the database.

Forty-seven other states’ medical boards have decided the value of keeping former licensees in their databases outweighs the possibility of confusion.

Riley and his deputies did, however, acknowledge significant shortcomings in other aspects of their disclosure policy.

Riley, for one, said the exclusion of non-hospital sanctions from the database is a “big hole.” The federal database, maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services, shows that 40 percent of all disciplinary actions against Massachusetts doctors during the past decade, 118 in all, were for incidents in nursing homes, medical clinics and managed care facilities.

Other lapses are more puzzling.

Russell Aims, left, the medical board’s chief of staff, said documents that explain disciplinary actions cannot be posted online, as they are in three dozen other states, because they are not accessible to people with visual impairments. Attorney Brenda Beaton acknowledged the board fails to disclose discipline by other state medical boards, even though Massachusetts law requires it to do so. Photo Credit: Callum Borchers

For instance, Brenda Beaton, the medical board’s general counsel, said out-of-state disciplinary actions have been missing from profiles for 16 years because “we don’t really have a good mechanism to make sure that what we would put up on the profile would be absolutely accurate.”

Another major omission has resulted from a Catch-22-like requirement in state law. Russell Aims, the board’s chief of staff, said the board used to post digital copies of its disciplinary orders. But an online accessibility law requires that documents be available in a text-to-speech format for the visually impaired.

Because the PDF format of the disciplinary records is not compatible with text-to-speech software, Aims said, the law dictates that such records cannot appear in the database. If the visually impaired cannot access the information, then no one can.

What’s more, even the speed with which the board resolves complaints against physicians is shrouded in secrecy. Until 2005, the board posted the amount of time it took to close a case — the average back then, 370 days — but for seven years now, the board has not known the average, Aims said, because of an “IT problem.”

Massachusetts built the nation’s first physician profile database in 1996 after a string of unchecked medical errors at Quincy Hospital (now Quincy Medical Center) and a series of Globe Spotlight articles revealed how little patients knew or could find out about their physicians.

Despite resistance from some members, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the state’s largest physicians’ group, supported the disclosure legislation and even helped write it. But the medical society also pushed for disclosure limitations, such as the removal of malpractice and disciplinary postings after 10 years, and the omission of sanctions by non-hospital providers

The Massachusetts database became a model for other states’ medical boards. Over the last decade and a half, however, other states have taken advantage of technological advances to make their records increasingly transparent to consumers, while the Massachusetts statute has remained unchanged.

While medical board officials insist that they value transparency, they also say disclosure has limited power to keep patients safe. For four years, the board has been pushing for rigorous — but private and non-punitive — peer reviews, charging doctors with policing themselves, and empowering healthcare facilities to handle most errors internally without reporting them to the board or to the public.

But there is scant evidence that doctors can or are willing to hold one another accountable. Among roughly 35,000 licensed physicians in Massachusetts, an average of only 41 per year were reported to the medical board by fellow doctors from 2001 to 2010, according to the board’s annual reports.

“If the medical profession truly believes that self-regulation and peer review are essential to high quality health care, then it must show the public through meaningful reporting that the system works,” said Nancy Achin Audesse, a former state senator and longtime patients’ rights advocate who directed the board from 1999 to 2008.

Hospitals are even less stringent about disciplining doctors. In the last decade, Massachusetts hospitals limited, suspended or revoked clinical privileges an average of just 18 times per year, according to the federally maintained National Practitioner Data Bank, which registers disciplinary actions and malpractice payments across the country, but keeps doctors anonymous.

Even the medical board itself has proven to be passive and slow to discipline the state’s doctors. Last spring, Public Citizen rated Massachusetts 47th in the country with just 1.83 medical board penalties per 1,000 doctors. Aims, the board’s chief of staff, said the low ranking is a positive indicator that Massachusetts has some of the nation’s best doctors.

But the number of cases that go unpublished because of Massachusetts’ failure to keep pace with other states’ disclosure standards is staggering: In all, the Initiative found records of 711 disciplinary actions taken by the board and 2,984 malpractice payments made between 1990 and 2001 are not available in the state database because of the 10-year posting limit.

By the end of this year, the 73 board actions and 222 malpractice payments from 2002 will vanish also.

In addition, disciplinary actions taken by the board against 283 doctors during the last 10 years are missing from the state website. Because the doctors have either left the state or given up the practice of medicine, their profiles have been taken down by the state medical board.

And when it comes to recent malpractice payments, more than a quarter of the 2,467 payments made during the past decade are no longer shown on the profiles of the doctors responsible for the malpractice. Most of those doctors, too, have either given up their practices or left the state like Ames-Castro, and their profiles have been taken down, Aims said.

And even some some doctors who continue to practice here enjoy spotless profiles because the state medical board has not been officially informed of the payments by the doctors’ malpractice insurers.

For two years, the profile of Dr. Dorina Abdulah of Quincy made no mention of a $2.4 million judgment in March 2010. During a 2001 physical examination, court documents show, Abdulah noted a “slight systolic murmur” in the heart of Antwoine Key, a college basketball recruit from West Roxbury High. Though the abnormality is commonly associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a congenital defect similar to the one that killed Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis in 1993, Abdulah cleared Key to play.

Four years later, during Key’s senior season at Eastern Connecticut State University, the 22-year-old died after collapsing during a game at Worcester State University. An autopsy revealed the cause of death: HCM.

Antwoine Key, a senior on the Eastern Connecticut State basketball team, collapsed on-court and died in 2005 of a congenital heart defect. The doctor who had detected a murmur in Key’s heart, but cleared him to play anyway, lost a $2.4 million malpractice suit. The payment went unreported by the state medical board for two years. Photo Credit: Photo used with permission of Eastern Connecticut State University

Key’s family sued Abdulah and won in March 2010, but the payment was not posted online until this month, after reporters made inquiries about the omission. Medical board officials said such errors are rare, and said they are confident that malpractice insurance companies are complying with state and federal laws and reporting the results of every lawsuit. Court clerks also are required to submit reports to the board, but their filings indicate only that a suit has concluded, and cannot be used to update a doctor’s profile.

The board’s annual reports show that in 2004, 2005 and 2009, insurers filed a total of 250 fewer closed claim reports than court clerks did.

In addition to doctors like Ames-Castro, whose name has been culled from the database, there are doctors like Reuben, whose name remains but is accompanied only by the phrase “voluntary agreement not to practice.” When the medical board takes away a physician’s license, it erases his profile and replaces it with an unexplained status, such as “resigned,” “suspended,” or “revoked.”

There is not even a hint in the database that Reuben, the former chief of acute pain at Baystate Medical Center, pleaded guilty to charges of health care fraud in US District Court in February 2010, after the hospital discovered he had fabricated 21 studies that encouraged the use of Pfizer and Merck painkillers. Reuben was a paid speaker for Pfizer, and the drug company funded some of his studies.

Reuben was sentenced to six months in federal prison but is free again and has applied for a medical license in Vermont. That state’s medical board is reviewing his application and could admit him as soon as April 4.

Last year, the Board of Registration in Medicine appeared ready to make its profile database more transparent in at least one department: It planned to start posting non-hospital disciplinary actions, and even notified a doctor who had been censured by a nursing home that the punishment would be listed on his profile.

But the board backed down when the physician, supported by the Massachusetts Medical Society, objected. The nursing home discipline never was posted.

Also contributing to this report were Jesse Nankin and Melissa Tabeek. The Initiative for Investigative Reporting, in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support nonprofit investigative reporting. Email: watchdognewengland@neu.edu.

Click here to view a state-by-state comparison of medical board transparency. This story only touches on a handful of instances where the Massachusetts profile database has come up short. Here is one more for you.

BRA Sweetheart Deal Boon to Red Sox Revenue

This article was prepared by the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University. It was reported by Colman Herman, Callum Borchers and Stephen Kurkjian, and was written by Kurkjian.

Red Sox security staffer closes off Yawkey Way for a game. The license agreement gives the Red Sox control of 19,500 square feet of the street.

Over the last nine years, the Boston Red Sox have increased their revenue by an estimated $45 million through the use of two streets that city officials handed over for a relative pittance – an average of $186,000 a year in lease fees.

Every home game, the Red Sox close off Yawkey Way, where thousands of fans congregate before heading into the park and spend millions at concessions. Around the corner, the team has turned the air rights over Lansdowne Street into 269 expensive seats and 100 standing room spots atop the Green Monster.

The leasing agreement, whose details have never been publicly reported, has been a bonanza for the Red Sox, because the city set the lease fees without taking into account how much money the team could make from use of the properties.

Had the city demanded a portion of the revenues, as is common in commercial ventures, the team would have paid the city millions more over the first nine years of the 11-year lease, according to industry estimates and an examination of city records.

After inquiries from a reporter and subsequent questions from the state Inspector General’s office, Peter Meade, the executive director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, has written to the Red Sox asking for an expedited start to negotiations for a new lease.

Meade, in an interview, said the city will seek a percentage of the revenues after the current contract expires in 2013 – and will also try to renegotiate the remaining two years left on the existing lease to do the same.

In a statement, Susan Goodenow, the Red Sox spokeswoman, defended the lease fees as appropriate but refused to respond to questions about the Initiative’s estimates. She said team officials would not discuss the issue because of negotiations with the BRA.

In 2002, the BRA declared the two streets to be “urban blight’’ to legally justify taking them from the city and handing control to the Red Sox. This is a common tool the authority uses to reclaim destitute property in the city for redevelopment, thought it is unclear how these prosperous streets fit the definition.

And instead of seeking a share of the actual revenues, the city’s outside appraiser decided to base the Lansdowne Street lease payments on the value of the land only, which they determined was worth little because the only possible buyer would be the team.

As for Yawkey Way, the appraiser recommended a lease payment based not on what large pre-game crowds would spend there, but on the business done by pushcarts in shopping malls.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is unabashedly supportive of the 2003 lease agreement. In a recent interview, he acknowledged that while the BRA might have driven a harder bargain on the lease, other financial benefits to the city have offset the revenue the city might have gained by claiming a share of revenues.

“What we’ve made from more real estate taxes, more jobs and increased business in that area over the past 10 years more than makes up for it,” Menino said.

To be sure, expansion and improvements at Fenway have increased the park’s real estate value three-fold since 2002 to $88 million. This year, the team is paying the city $2.67 million in property taxes – three times as much as the team paid a decade ago.

But with a big boost from the generous lease agreement, the team’s revenues – and its value – have also soared. Since 2002, the year John Henry’s ownership group took over the Sox, the team’s value has more than doubled, from $426 million to $912 million, according to Forbes magazine.

What was once baseball’s fourth most valuable franchise is now second only to the Yankees and worth $112 million more than the third-place Dodgers, Forbes reported.

After taking control of the team in 2002, Henry moved quickly to expand the ballpark to increase revenues and make the park more fan-friendly. The city, in turn, was eager to help new owners who were intent on preserving the oldest park in baseball.

Before the 2002 season ended, the team announced the first major steps in their long-range plan to preserve Fenway Park – construct a new section of seating atop the iconic Green Monster, and set up ticket gates outside the park itself, on Yawkey Way, to relieve the crush of fans in the concourse behind home plate.

But both goals required city approval. The first hurdle was easily cleared: For the last 12 home games of 2002, the city gave the team temporary rights to close off Yawkey Way and open up ticket gates at each end of the street – for four hours before and two hours after each game. The fee: just $900 a game.

The Sox painted the experiment as a critical indicator of whether they would be forced to build a new stadium.

But the leases faced major obstacles. The city itself could not give the team long-term use of the streets absent a public safety justification. So Menino turned to the BRA, the development agency he has often micromanaged.

On December 12, 2002, the BRA Board declared that the two streets were within an area of “urban blight’’ – even though the area is among the most commercially attractive in Boston. The board’s action empowered the BRA to use its eminent domain power to take them from the city and lease them back to the team.

Click on the graphic to learn more about how Initiative reporters came up with these figures.

The BRA’s unusual action has gone largely unnoticed, save for a 2008 article in the New England Law Review. Brian Mahler, who is now an attorney in the Massachusetts Superior Court Department, wrote that the BRA had “stretched the definition of blight” to justify taking Yawkey Way. In his article, “Kick Me Out of The Ball Game,” Mahler wrote that a court could conclude that the taking of Yawkey Way “was done in bad faith, with the Red Sox’s financial benefit the dominant reason for the taking … .”

Mahler added: “While the public may minimally benefit from improved lighting, landscaping, and store fronts along the street, the Red Sox receive an economic windfall by having exclusive rights to all food, alcohol, and merchandise sold on the street before and during home games for a minimal licensing fee.”

Using “urban blight” as justification for a land taking is a throwback to the mid-20th Century, when the federal government authorized local redevelopment agencies like the BRA to make such declarations to justify slum clearance.

Its use for the Fenway deal is not the first time in recent years that such a declaration has generated objections. Meade, in an interview, called it a “term of art” that, he said, perhaps ought to be scrapped for something like “investment zone.”

When the Sox gained control of the street, they barred outside vendors, handing over all concession sales to the team’s vendor, Aramark. According to industry experts, stadium concessionaires like Aramark generally pay the host team 45 percent or more of all sales. Neither the Red Sox nor Aramark would discuss their business arrangement.

The ban on outside vendors prompted one of them, Michael Rutstein, who had hawked game-day programs outside the park for years, to file suit in U.S. District Court.

At a federal court hearing, Rutstein’s lawyer minced no words about what she asserted was the motive behind her client’s banishment: “Mayor Menino is planning to do anything he can to help the Red Sox make more money and the players make more money, and that’s the bottom line here.”

In an interview that fall, Red Sox President Larry Lucchino downplayed the importance of added revenues from the closed-off street, saying, “We do think there will be some additional revenue. But in the largest part, it’s designed to improve the quality of the fan experience.”

In September 2002, U.S. District Judge Robert Keeton temporarily put aside Rutstein’s request for an injunction until a full hearing could be held. A few months later Rutstein dropped his lawsuit because, he said, the cost of proceeding was prohibitive. That left the Red Sox and the BRA free to negotiate a long-term lease.

But at what price? The city had never before given a private company such extensive use of city land and had no standard fee structure in place.

To set the lease price, the BRA hired Casey and Dennis, a Boston real estate appraisal firm that had done contract work for the city before, to determine the value of Yawkey Way and Lansdowne street.

Based on the appraisals, the BRA and Red Sox signed an agreement in February 2003 that called for the Red Sox to pay $165,000 for the first year of the lease with annual increases set by the change in the Consumer Price Index. This year, the annual fee topped $200,000 for the first time.

However, the appraisals minimized the value of both pieces of property by failing to take into account their revenue potential – 19,500 square feet of sidewalk and public street on Yawkey Way; 5,800 square feet of air rights above the Green Monster on Lansdowne street; and 3,262 square feet of subterranean space below it, which the team needed to strengthen the foundation for the seating.

The Green Monster section overhangs Lansdowne Street by 17.5 feet. The Red Sox used 5,800 square feet of air rights and 3,262 square feet of underground space to construct the new seats.

The appraisers reasoned that air rights above Fenway Park’s left-field wall would not be marketable to anyone but the Red Sox.

Therefore, the appraiser determined that whatever the property on Lansdowne Street would attract in a competitive market would have to be reduced by 75 percent, since no one would bid against the Red Sox.

In its appraisal, Casey and Dennis said it did not consider a revenue-sharing option for appraising the Lansdowne Street parcel, contending it was “applicable, but highly hypothetical … .”

Commercial real estate specialists, however, say that revenue sharing arrangements in such cases are more advantageous to the property owner – in this case the city. And Meade’s move to reopen negotiations suggests the BRA now agrees.

In a twist on this issue, a lawsuit filed in 2002 by the Chicago Cubs demonstrated just how valuable air rights behind a popular major league stadium can be.

Thirteen restaurants had established themselves on separate rooftops just beyond Wrigley Field, with views not unlike the view from the Monster seats. Collectively, the 13 were grossing about $15 million in annual sales of food and drink. After the Cubs sued, the businesses agreed to turn over to the Cubs 17 percent of their gross revenue.

To calculate the team’s revenue boost made possible by the BRA, Initiative reporters compiled Red Sox attendance figures and ticket prices, and consulted with baseball industry revenue specialists, including Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross; and Jim Grinstead, who publishes the newsletter, “Revenues from Sports Ventures,” which is regarded within the industry as a reliable guide to how sports teams make money.

In the nine years since the appraisal, the Red Sox have shown what a financial bonanza could come from building a block of seats above the Green Monster. After subtracting construction costs, the section of 269 seats and 100 standing-room only spaces has conservatively generated more than $21 million in sales of tickets and concession items for the team since 2003, according to calculations based on industry studies of ticket and concession sales at Major League parks.

The city could have used the team’s potential income as a barometer for the lease arrangement, according to experts consulted by the Initiative for Investigative Reporting. In the real estate business, it is called the Income Appraisal Method.

When Casey and Dennis turned their attention to the value of Yawkey Way, the firm looked for comparable lease arrangements. They determined that the lease fee should be based on what “push carts or temporary kiosks located in shopping malls” would pay, instead of what vendors would pay for the chance to sell at a thriving sports stadium.

The BRA did not allow the appraisers to discuss their work for this story.

Since 2003, the team’s share of Aramark’s concession sales on Yawkey Way has exceeded $23 million, according to calculations based on industry studies.

Michael H. Harrity, a commercial real estate expert who teaches at Babson College, said potential income is a more reliable benchmark when the property being valued is unique and comparable sales cannot be found.

“I would calculate a fair price of the properties to be the excess profitability the Red Sox stood to earn from the long-term operations on these properties,” Harrity said in an interview.

On the Yawkey Way concessions, Grinstead suggested the vendors located there could add as much as 10 percent to Fenway Park’s overall $33 million concession and souvenir sales annually.

Had the city, for instance, insisted on a 10 percent revenue sharing arrangement for the $45 million in revenue from both the Monster Seats and Yawkey Way, the city would have received an estimated $4.5 million over the last nine years, instead of the $1.67 million in fees.

Goodenow said the team disputes the estimates and that the fees paid by the team “have been fully adequate and appropriate to compensate the city.”

Lucchino, the team president, would not consent to an interview.

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, said he believes the city made the best deal it could at the time, since it created an incentive for the team to remain at Fenway. Given the disruption and potential taxpayer costs to build a new stadium, Zimbalist said, “This was a worthwhile investment for the city to make.’’

Meade, who became BRA director earlier this year, said he believes the 2003 agreement helped the Red Sox stay at Fenway, and in the city. But he said the time has come to change it.

The BRA has added impetus to seek a new agreement. The office of state Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan earlier this year requested information about the lease after a reporter inquired about the agreement.

Meade, who said he had been unaware of the inspector general’s inquiry, wrote to Lucchino in July to say he wanted to jump start negotiations for a new lease.

“We are sure you agree that the fan experience created by the game-day closure of Yawkey Way and the seating made possible by the license of the Lansdowne Street property rights have been wonderful additions to Fenway Park,” Meade wrote.

“We’re in a different place than we were several years ago,’’ Meade said in an interview. “Just to use the (Monster) seats as an example, we weren’t sure that was going to work. Even for closing the street, nobody knew if that would work or if it did, how well it would work. Now we have a pretty clear idea that it works well. So we’re better armed now going into negotiations on a new agreement than folks at the city were almost a decade ago.”

Melissa Tabeek, an intern at the Initiative for Investigative Reporting, contributed reporting for this story.

Stephen Kurkjian’s email is stephenkurkjian@gmail.com

Related Story: City Agreement with Red Sox Offers Free Parking on Van Ness Street for Players and Friends

Click here to learn how the Initiative reporters came up with the figures for the graphic above.

City Agreement with Red Sox Offers Free Parking on Van Ness Street for Players and Friends

This article was prepared by the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University. It was reported by Colman Herman, Stephen Kurkjian and Callum Borchers, and was written by Borchers.

A security guard rolls open the gate at the intersection of Van Ness Street and Yawkey Way.

For the average Red Sox fan, finding a parking spot near Fenway Park means cramming the family car into a congested lot and paying $25 or more. But for some lucky few with connections, it means pulling into a gated parking zone next to Fenway’s redbrick façade and handing the keys to a valet.

The VIP service might be nothing but a kind gesture by the Red Sox — except that the gated parking area is actually a segment of Van Ness Street, a public way, which the club commandeers hours before each of its 81 home games without paying a penny to the city of Boston.

The Red Sox set up temporary barriers at both ends of Van Ness and assign security guards to admit and park about 40 vehicles on both sides of the street, and even on the sidewalk. A reporting team that visited the ballpark on multiple occasions found some of the cars belonged to players. Others were registered to team staffers and friends: a physical therapist, a dry cleaner, and a former marketing executive of a Red Sox nonprofit.

Neither the Red Sox nor the city could produce a document authorizing such use of Van Ness, but both sides defended the practice.

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, cited the city’s traffic rules and regulations, which exclude vehicles from Van Ness Street beginning three hours before Red Sox home games and ending two hours after they conclude. In practice, however, one Red Sox security official said the team typically shuts down the street seven hours before the first pitch.

When the Boston Transportation Department added Van Ness to its list of streets that could be regularly closed for traffic, in 1993, it included no provision for Red Sox parking. But Joyce said the city does not object to team personnel parking on the street.

“We close it off for public safety reasons,” she said, to benefit both players and public. However, she would not address questions about non-players who park on the street.

Red Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow said the team is entitled to free game-day use of Van Ness Street, thanks to a decades-old pact between former owner Thomas Yawkey and the city. She said Yawkey once owned the land beside Fenway Park that was used to extend Van Ness Street to its current length. Yawkey sold the property to the city for $1 in 1940, Goodenow said, and “a condition of this sale was that the Red Sox would be allowed to close the street to the public during baseball games.”

Suffolk County Registry of Deeds records tell a somewhat different story. In 1945, records show, the city’s Board of Street Commissioners took land owned by the Red Sox and three other companies via an easement, and used it to pave a Van Ness Street extension.

There is nothing in land records to suggest the Red Sox have a right to use the street on game days, according to real estate experts who examined documents on behalf of the Initiative for Investigative Reporting.

Other public ways closed by the Transportation Department are narrow passages, such as Beach Street in Chinatown Park, or streets where pedestrian traffic is unusually heavy, like a segment of Summer Street near Downtown Crossing. Among the 12 city streets where vehicles are banned, Van Ness is the only one used to benefit a single, private entity such as the Red Sox.

Melissa Tabeek, an intern at the Initiative for Investigative Reporting, contributed to this report.

Related story: BRA Sweetheart Deal Boon to Red Sox Revenue

Fenway Park Revenue Graphic Explained

By Callum Borchers

To estimate the revenue generated by the Red Sox’s use of Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, the Initiative for Investigative Reporting consulted industry experts, sports and financial publications, and public documents. In cases where research yielded a range of values, the Initiative used conservative figures.

One useful tool was Team Market Report’s Fan Cost Index, which tracks the cost of tickets, concessions, souvenirs and parking at every Major League Baseball stadium. At Fenway Park, the most expensive ballpark in baseball, typical concession and souvenir costs in 2011 were $24.62 per person.

Red Sox attendance in 2011 was 3,054,001, according to Baseball-Reference.com, which means concession and souvenir spending at Fenway was about $75.2 million. That money was paid to Fenway Park’s exclusive food and retail vendor, Aramark. The terms of the contract between the Red Sox and Aramark are not public, but a survey of concessionaire deals by AthleticBusiness.com put teams’ shares at 40 to 50 percent of gross revenue.

One contract that is public showed the Arizona Cardinals — an NFL franchise with none of the Red Sox’s pedigree — got 47 to 50 percent of gross concession sales under a 2001 agreement. The Initiative used a 45-percent share for the Red Sox.

A 45 percent take of Fenway’s concession and souvenir revenue amounted to $11.08 per ticket holder for the Red Sox in 2011. Jim Grinstead, who publishes the directory Revenues from Sports Venues, suggested the club’s use of Yawkey Way as an extension of the Fenway Park concourse could bolster concession and souvenir sales by 10 percent. At that rate, Yawkey Way added $3.1 million to what the Red Sox would have made without the street closure in 2011.

The Green Monster section, built over Lansdowne Street, is comprised of 269 seats, which cost $165 apiece, and 100 standing-room spots, which cost $35 apiece. The weighted average price of a Monster ticket in 2011 was $129.77. With an additional $11.08 in concession and souvenir purchases, the average Monster ticketholder was worth $140.85 to the Red Sox in 2011.

Over the course of the season, the section yielded $4.2 million. If the city of Boston were to base its license fee on revenue, it would deduct the Monster section’s amortized construction costs, said Babson real estate expert Michael H. Harrity and Holy Cross sports economist Victor Matheson.

According to estimates the Red Sox provided to the city when they applied for building permits, the Green Monster section cost about $6.5 million. Matheson suggested a 7 percent amortization rate, which, he calculated, yields a construction deduction of $862,552 in each of the license agreement’s 11 seasons. The remaining Monster revenue in 2011 was $3.3 million.

With $3.1 million from Yawkey Way and $3.3 million from Lansdowne Street, the Red Sox made $6.4 million on two public streets in 2011. The Initiative performed the same calculations for each of the first nine years of the license agreement to estimate the Red Sox’s revenue to date: $44.8 million.

Related story: BRA Sweetheart Deal Boon to Red Sox Revenue

Another Arrest Tied to Georgia Gun Pipeline

Shawn Young: Gun seized from his Topliff St. home has been linked to illegal 'straw' purchases in Georgia. Photo credit: Dorchester Reporter

By Callum Borchers

A year after murder by gunfire spiked 66 percent in Boston, the city is on pace for an equally deadly 2011 as weapons imported from states with relaxed gun laws continue to wind up on local streets.

Through Sept. 18, there have been 36 deadly shootings in Boston this year, only one fewer than at the same time last year, when the final tally was 58. There were 35 fatal shootings in all of 2009.

Shootings throughout the city in which a victim was hit but did not die also remain high. A total of 162 people have been wounded in shootings through Sept. 18, one more victim than on the same date a year ago.

While the number of individuals arrested with illegal firearms has fallen 12 percent this year, compared to the same nine-month period in 2010, a recent arrest illustrates how some of the guns end up in the hands of criminals in Boston.

A .45-caliber Taurus Millennium seized during an Aug. 2 drug bust in Dorchester was the third recovered by Boston Police from a batch of 18 such weapons reportedly funneled to Boston via illegal straw purchases in Georgia. A pair of convicted felons bought the weapons, which are known to be preferred by gang members for their deadly-powerful punch yet small size, in Georgia in 2009 using “straws,” in this case two female accomplices with clean records.

The first of the 18 Taurus guns was seized in Boston in May 2009 — seven weeks after it had been purchased in Georgia — following its use in a city shooting. The second Taurus was seized during a gang-related investigation several months later, in September 2009.

According to a search warrant from the most recent recovery in August, the Boston Police Drug Control Unit began investigating 30-year-old Shawn J. Young in April, after a confidential informant reported that Young, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound bouncer at McFadden Pub who goes by the street name “Fat Boy,” was selling crack cocaine from his home on Topliff Street, a side street lined with three-decker homes on the slope of Meetinghouse Hill. Working with the Drug Control Unit, the informant made five drug purchases from Young between April and July, all under police surveillance.

Police executed the warrant on Aug. 2 and arrested Young, who has previous convictions for firearm possession and drug dealing. Among the contraband was the Taurus Millennium handgun, which was loaded with 10 rounds.

On Sept. 8, Young was indicted on a federal charge of illegal firearm possession, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence, and is now in the custody of the US Marshal’s office.

Illegal possession cases like Young’s and gun violence in general are highly concentrated in local neighborhoods, as Watchdog New England and the Dorchester Reporter reported last December. So far this year, 75 percent of the city’s shootings — including murders and non-fatal incidents — took place in the three police districts that cover Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. The alarming number is no aberration. In every year from 2004 to 2010, no less than 68 percent of Boston shootings occurred in those three neighborhoods. The seven-year average was 76 percent.

In prosecuting gun- and gang-related cases, state and federal law enforcement officials meet weekly to decide which ones merit transfer to federal court, said Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk District Attorney’s office.

“The decision is made on the facts of the case, the defendant’s record, and the relevant laws,” Wark said. “In some respects, Massachusetts gun statutes can be stricter than federal laws, and in others the federal prosecutors are able to obtain harsher sentences.”

In the Young case, the serial number on his gun matched that of a weapon purchased by Erron Denise Love-Morgan on April 26, 2009, at a gun show in Norcross, Ga. Love-Morgan and another woman, Casita Qwanet Washington, acted as straws for felons Anthony Vincent Cartman and Tchaka Jamal Shields, buying 18 Taurus firearms on their behalf over a two-month period, according to an indictment handed down last December by a federal grand jury in Atlanta.

It is illegal to buy a weapon for someone else to conceal the identity of its true purchaser. Cartman and Shields had criminal records that prohibited them from buying guns, so they recruited Love-Morgan and Washington to serve as proxies, according to the indictment.

How the 18 handguns made their way from Atlanta to Boston could not be determined. But Shields, one of the four indicted in the straw purchase scheme, was born in Boston and has long-standing ties to the city. During a detention hearing in January, Shields’s mother testified that her son has an aunt and some cousins in Boston and that he travels here with some regularity.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Plummer, who is prosecuting the case in Atlanta, said in a recent interview with the Reporter that he could not provide a direct answer to a question about whether Shields brought the guns to Boston himself or sold the weapons to middle men who took them north. But Plummer said “read between the lines” when asked about Shields’s connections to the city and the short period of time it took for one of the guns to find its way to Boston.

Shields’s attorney, L. Burton Finlayson, declined to comment on his client’s ties to Boston and whether or not he played a role in transporting the guns to Boston.

Shields pleaded guilty in June to the federal charge of firearms trafficking. He is being held at a detention facility in Lovejoy, Ga. and faces up to five years in prison. The two women also pleaded guilty and are free on bond. Cartman, who had been on the run, was apprehended in the Bronx in August.

It is unclear if Shields and Cartman have any relationship with Young or how many times the gun found at Young’s house changed hands before ending up in his. Young’s attorney, public defender Stylianus Sinnis, could not be reached for comment.

As Watchdog New England and the Reporter reported in January, investigators say most guns used by criminals in Boston are purchased originally in Georgia, New Hampshire, Maine, or Vermont, four of the 33 states nationwide that do not require full background checks. Massachusetts does.

A 2000 study by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed straw purchases are a popular way for people like Shields and Cartman — whose status as felons would have blocked attempts by them to buy guns in person, even in Georgia — to evade gun control laws.

The relative ease of obtaining weapons has contributed to a rise in violent crime in Boston over the last two years, reversing the positive trend of 2009. That year, there were 223 shootings in which a victim was wounded or killed, 28 percent fewer than in 2008.

But shootings crept back upward last year, to 258 — a 16 percent increase — and the city is on target to match the shooting total this year. The 198 shootings through Sept. 18 are as many as there were at the same time in 2010.

Callum Borchers is a reporting co-op with Watchdog New England, the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University, which has teamed with the Dorchester Reporter to conduct in-depth reports on neighborhoods issues. The Initiative is supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Callum Borchers may be reached via e-mail at callum.borchers@gmail.com Pat Tarantino of the Dorchester Reporter contributed to this report.