UPDATED & EXPANDED !
NL-This morning I woke up to an overwhelming amount of breaking stories in my mail box. The big one being a link to a pastebin of an email chain involving several AIDS Healthcare Foundations big wigs plus Tim from AIM fame, Shelley Lubben of Pink Cross and much more. There are pages and pages to go through. Just a quick scan shows people being paid to support AHF’s side, and people being paid to find the people to support AHF’s side. And that’s just the beginning… Luckily Whiteacre gets up earlier than I do and already had dissected a lot of this info and since emails HE WROTE appear in the mix, he took on the task of reconstructing and opining about it.
OP/Ed by Michael Whiteacre
Dozens of AHF emails have now been leaked on pastebin.com. Links to these communications were emailed to various journalists, activists, bloggers, government bureaucrats and industry insiders. The content of these emails is truly startling, and provide an alternatively fascinating, illuminating and disturbing glimpse into an organization where a battle-oriented mentality reigns supreme.
What stands out as most obvious is that Michael Weinstein runs his organization as a dictator. There is no sign that he answers to anyone – not even the AHF board of directors. He is revealed as the ultimate micro-manager.
The emails also seem to reveal a level of collusion, or at least a suspicious level of cooperation, between several persons and institutions that are (at least in theory) supposed to be neutral parties.
I decided to write my personal construction of AHF’s war on the porn industry, utilizing the leaked emails (which contain so much private information, including mentions of and emails from myself, as well as emails from pothers that I had been forwarded previously by the parties who sent them, that they are undoubtedly authentic) in conjunction with historical material and my own interviews and research materials. Here is part one.
This is the story of master manipulator Michael Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation – who played the City of LA against LA County, and the mainstream “straight” porn industry against the gay porn business; colluded with like-minds at Cal-OSHA, UCLA and LA County Department of Public Health; and chewed up and spit out an assortment of pathetic adult industry fringe players.
The Common Denominator: Sensationalism = Profit
Weinstein doesn’t speak much of his early life; he doesn’t seem to have many credentials, other than his tremendous savvy and his flair for sensationalistic grandstanding.
According to his official bio, before becoming involved in HIV/AIDS related issues in the 1980s, he was a businessman and graphic designer. Then, in 2001 he received an honorary Doctorate Degree from Whittier College for his career achievements.
Before founding AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 1987, Weinstein had served as coordinator of the Stop the AIDS Quarantine Committee and then as executive director of the Los Angeles AIDS Hospice Committee, which led the fight for hospice care in the mid-eighties.
Under Weinstein’s leadership, AHF grew from “a group of friends dedicated to the creation of dignified care for people in the last stages of AIDS to the largest AIDS organization in the United States.”
Weinstein also created the popular Out of the Closet thrift store chain, the nation’s largest AIDS-related retail business. Out of the Closet now boasts stores in California and Florida, some of which offer free (Elisa-based) rapid HIV testing.
AHF’s financial statements make clear, the vast majority of AHF’s revenue derives from its AIDS drug pharmacies. And with those many millions of dollars in pharmacy revenues annually, Weinstein is, in effect, one of the biggest drug dealers on the planet.
This didn’t happen by accident. Michael Weinstein knows how to do three things exceptionally well, and they are all interdependent characteristics: he knows how to generate publicity, he knows how to shake down his targets, and he does it all while never dropping his “AIDS Advocate” halo.
In July 2004, after having sued Abbott Laboratories over its recent 400% price increase for the drug Norvir, AHF outraged the activist community with its settlement of the suits: under the terms of the settlement, Abbott would not reduce the price of Norvir, but instead contribute to treatment programs run by AHF.
This betrayal drew fire from the AIDS activist community. The AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (ATAC), which called AHF’s efforts “half-hearted and self-promoting”
"This was a carefully orchestrated sell-out by AHF," said Thomas Gegeny, Executive Director of The Center for AIDS in Houston.
Martin Delaney, founder of Project Inform in San Francisco, was not surprised: "AHF has a history of bargaining for its own interests to the exclusion of those in the community as a whole.”
In January 2007, AHF announced it was suing Pfizer over Viagra. Weinstein claimed that the pharmaceutical giant was “promoting Viagra as a party drug … leading to more infections with sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.”
Weinstein said, “We estimate that a majority of new infections in this country are related to the use of crystal meth, and the majority of crystal meth users are also using Viagra.” (He also called AHF “a victim of Pfizer’s irresponsibility.”)
According to the Bay Area Reporter, when pressed to back up his assertion with data, Weinstein mentioned recently speaking with a group of black youth who said crystal meth "use is rampant" within their community.
The problem was, Viagra’s television commercials relied exclusively on images of heterosexual couples; yet AHF would have you believe that Pfizer was directing its marketing at gay men.
"The idea that people on speed are having wild sex with Viagra because they saw a halftime commercial during the Super Bowl is ridiculous," former San Francisco AIDS policy adviser Jeff Sheehy told the B.A.R. "I don’t like direct to consumer TV ads, but the rest [of the suit] is just extortion."
What Weinstein didn’t mention is that he had AHF filed suit only after Pfizer had failed to jump at AHF’s demand for a multi-million dollar funding request.
"I should have known that the petty, small-minded [Weinstein] wouldn’t give up on this", commented AIDS activist Michael Barr.
Weinstein knew better than to roll over – despite the fact that, in 2003, GlaxoSmithKline’s then-CEO, Jean-Pierre Garnier, accused AHF of blackmail after it had sued the company over its drug prices, he was generally extremely successful at squeezing money out of corporations. His simple tactic was to shame them into it.
And it worked again – AHF sued for an unspecified amount of “damages”, and walked away with a reputed multi-million dollar grant as a settlement. Not too shabby.
In April 2008, Weinstein wrote an op/ed for the Los Angeles Times in which he prescribed that the US stop funding AIDS vaccine research, and instead redirect those billions of taxpayer dollars toward treatment and prevention services – the kind which, coincidentally, AHF provides.
On June 11, 2009, Weinstein opened up the Los Angeles Times and saw a headline that declared: “Porn actress tests positive for HIV.” The story of the performer known only as “Patient Zero” was breaking everywhere.
Weinstein saw an opportunity. He was litigious, and was convinced that the adult industry – a bunch of amateurs by comparison to Big Pharma — could be easily arm-twisted.
A battle with the porn industry required Weinstein alter his tactics. Unlike Pfizer, porn companies don’t have shareholders and institutional investors.
He needed to besiege and undermine the industry, because you can’t shame the shameless.
Anything With Porn In The Title
It all started as a crusade for condoms. Weinstein is a proud “condom nazi” and the reason is quite simple: condoms are an essential element required to “sell” AIDS fear and hysteria. Condoms in porn – permanent, universal, legally mandated condom use in porn – means the normalizing of the “sex leads to death” parable upon which AIDS profiteers like Weinstein rely.
Armed with a canon of cynical buzz-words — the porn industry was “greedy” and didn’t care about “worker safety” – Weinstein was certain this was going to be a press field day.
But there had been so few instances of HIV in the porn world, and no actual outbreak (where HIV was spread within the industry from one performer to another) since 2004. They needed a statistical, medical, basis for their actions. They needed an “epidemic.”
Enter Dr. Peter Kerndt, Director of LA County Department of Public Health’s “Sexually Transmitted Disease Program.” In 2007, he’d co-authored a paper entitled, “The Adult Industry: Time to Regulate?” which trumpeted a public health rationale for abridging freedom of speech:
“The portrayal of unsafe sex in adult films may also influence viewer behavior. In the same way that images of smoking in films romanticize tobacco use, viewers of these adult films may idealize unprotected sex. The increasingly high-risk sexual behavior viewed by large audiences on television and the Internet could decrease condom use. Requiring condoms may influence viewers to see them as normative or even sexually appealing, and devalue unsafe sex. With the growing accessibility of adult film to mainstream America, portrayals of condom use onscreen could increase condom use among viewers, thereby promoting public health.”
The authors (who thanked UCLA’s Paula Tavrow, for her input) also recommended “restricting distribution of adult movies to condom-only films” and pressuring “large hotel chains, video retailers, and cable networks … to purchase adult films under a condom-only ‘seal of approval.’”
Then, LA County Drs. Kerndt and Robert Kim-Farley, who had seen the raw data turned in by AIM Healthcare in accordance with the law, famously cooked the numbers to order for AHF, by comparing STI rates in performers with those in the (largely untested) population at large. These reports were, as Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer MD, MS, PhD, of Johns Hopkins would conclude in 2011, “fatally flawed” and “without basis in science”,
Armed with these figures, AHF went to town — press releases cited Kerndt, and referenced “the rampant epidemic of STDs in Los Angeles’ adult film industry”
Soon, however, it was revealed that Patient Zero was simply an ex-performer attempting to get back into the industry who was already infected, and no one else was impacted. In other words, the AIM system worked.
Nonetheless, in July 2009, AHF sued Los Angeles County alleging that public health officials had failed to prevent the spread of STDs, and to enforce laws requiring employers to protect workers against exposure to bodily fluids.
Enter Shelley Lubben
A self-described “professional liar” and “con artist”, Lubben’s trouble with the cops began in her teens. At age 18, she ended up a prostitute in L.A., before trying her hand at a porn career six years later. After appearing in a handful of long-forgotten low-end porn videos in the mid ‘90s, she married her drug dealer and eventually ended up in Tacoma, Washington, where she found Jesus. Diagnosed bi-polar, and prescribed Lithium and Zoloft, Lubben now claims that God has healed her of all her medical and mental problems.
Lubben claims it wasn’t her eight years as a hooker, but her brief porn career (which occurred before AIM existed) which led to a host of medical problems, including herpes (which she can’t prove she had, because God miraculously healed her of it) and miscarriages (which, in reality, began in high school and ended years before she ever set foot on a porn set).
Quietly, the staff at AHF despised Lubben, who considers homosexuality an abomination, and believes that gays can and must be cured of their gayness through Christ, but they were so out-of touch with the “straight” porn business (and happily so) that they took whoever they could find. It’s telling that, to the folks at AHF, the overdone, glammed-out Shelley Lubben looked like a genuine porn star.
The ultimate attention whore, Lubben sought press for the non-profit group she created (and which paid her), Pink Cross Foundation, and thus sought to form an alliance with AHF. Lubben’s goal was to end all porn, while Weinstein’s was merely to co-opt it, so compromise had to be struck.
Simply put: Lubben would simply not bring up her true goal – nor her belief that homosexuals (including the SHF executive staff) not “cured” or their gayness are presumably going to burn in hell — at AHF-sponsored events. As she wrote Weinstein in a newly-released 2010 email,
“If I get asked by media about his [sic], I am going to do what you taught me and say my beliefs are irrelevant to working with AIDS Healthcare or the health department or any other organization fighting to enforce safety and health laws within the adult film industry.”
However, sometimes Lubben just couldn’t help herself when a microphone was placed in front of her cosmetically-altered face, as in May 2010 when she was interviewed by msnbc, and said plainly that she’d “love to see porn come down.”
“Lubben acknowledged that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation had different long-term goals, but she said she was happy to work with anyone who could advance the Pink Cross mission.
“’We believe the beast can be stabbed in seven different places and bleed to death,’ she said…. Right now, the issue that’s working is workplace safety, and, through it, Lubben has ‘found a common denominator’ with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.”
When Lubben attached herself to Weinstein’s agenda – creating what adult industry director Ernest Greene has termed “one of the most peculiar alliances since 1938” — she turned it into a full-blown crusade.
On August 20, 2009, vowing "never to stop pushing" for condom use in porn, AHF, joined by Lubben, announced its filing of third-party complaints with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA), against “16 production companies that refrain from using condoms in their films.” Said Lubben,
"We want the fans to know what they’re contributing to…. We want to educate them to exactly what they’re watching — diseased people….”
Cal-OSHA, like LA County, had been all-too-happy to stay out of the messy business of porn production, but, like any regulatory agency worth its salt, it never turned down the opportunity to claim provenance and authority. Whether or not it desired to enforce rules in the adult industry, Cal-OSHA was never going to cede its power to do so should it so choose.
Weinstein and his right hand man Brian Chase understood this, just as they understood that, once called into action, Cal-OSHA had a legal duty to investigate once complaints were filed.
The folks at OSHA – who, to their great credit, had made careers out of protecting workers — could be easily manipulated by Weinstein’s sham concern for “worker safety” in the porn industry. These were “true believers”, and, armed with a duty to investigate, they would play their part out until the very end.
Weinstein’s strategy would be successful beyond his wildest dreams, for despite their initial reluctance, the people from OSHA quickly grew into their new roles as Weinstein’s “enforcers.” No longer mere bureaucrats, they became jack-booted bureaucrats.
Reportedly, Weinstein and Co. were guided by the erroneous belief – born of utter ignorance of the workings of the industry it claimed to want to save – that it was adult producers who paid directly for AIM’s testing of performers, and thus pressed its theory that AIM was an arm of production, and thus an “employer” subject to regulation (and records inspection) by Cal-OSHA.
Cal-OSHA proved willing to buy into AHF’s cock-eyed theory, and, the same day AHF announced its 16 complaints, Cal-OSHA noted that it had subpoenaed patient records from AIM, but that access was being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging a violation of patient privacy.
That very same day, August 20, 2009, writer Matt Siegel posted an article which gay publication The Advocate had previously published in edited form. It featured a particularly scathing comment from Weinstein:
When offered the proposition that, “If the government tries to make any regulations, the production companies will immediately up and move causing the state to lose billions of dollars in tax revenue, if the government tries to regulate, porn will go underground and/or abroad which would invite more risky behavior on set.” Weinstein said,
“So let them move. I don’t think that’s the basis on which we decide what public policy should be. These people are fabulously rich. Larry Flynt has made a large fortune by exploiting young people. His wife died of AIDS. He watched her wither and die. Shame on him. Why should we care whether their profits go down? Why would we put that on a higher level than the health of these young people?”
On December 22, 2009, a propaganda piece entitled “Safe Sex Sells” was published on Forbes.com by Whitney Engeran-Cordova (of AHF), Peter Kerndt, Cristina Rodriguez-Hart (of UCLA’s Reproductive Health Interest Group), Jane Steinberg (director of Programs and Policy at the Los Angeles Department of Public Health STD Program) and Paula Tavrow (program director of UCLA’s Bixby program in Population and Reproductive Health).
“Testing is important as a containment strategy but should not be confused with prevention. If the industry was doing ‘an excellent job’ in protecting its performers, it would require all performers to use condoms…”
“It is also possible to use filming techniques to reduce the visual effect of condoms, by using flesh-tone condoms or by digitally erasing them in post-production.”
Then, in January 2010, AHF was contacted by a man named Tim Tritch.
For six years, Tritch was employed by the labs that tested the specimens drawn at AIM: Heathline Clinical Laboratories and later Westcliff Clinical Labs. As the Account Representative for the AIM Healthcare account, Tritch took home a small commission on every test. He also hung out at AIM quite a lot.
Until 2008 – when for reasons not revealed publicly, Tritch’s association with the lab ended.
Subsequently, Tritch had also worked as a consultant to the Licensed Adult Talent Agency Trade Association (LATATA).
His unctuous persona hid a deep bitter frustration and seething anger that often reared its head in his pseudonymous postings on porn gossip boards (“Joe Know” was a frequent moniker), which often sat side by side with overly-ingratiating posts under his true name. Tritch was also the source, anonymously (or pseudonymously, as “Sam”) for many porn industry posts by a hateful (pseudonymous) blogger known as Darrah Ford. Birds of a feather do flock together, for Ford was also Shelley Lubben’s biggest fan and booster.
On the surface, Tritch could appear typical of the kind of personalities that hang out on the fringe of the porn business: he would talk about the close personal terms he was on with porn stars (“I don’t know most stage names,” he’d brag, “I know most performers by their real names.”). The difference was, Tritch was intimately affiliated with the organization at the very heart of the adult film industry. He would work their booths at adult fan conventions, and had even helped build two of AIM’s locations. “I hung doors, painted walls, set up computers, whatever was needed,” Tritch wrote in 2010.
He had a proposal for Weinstein: he offered to speak with politicians and health officials as an expert, and to lobby his allegedly vast collection of friends in the adult industry to “negotiate with AHF.” He would also disabuse AHF of its false notions of how AIM, and its testing/database system, actually worked.
Tritch seemed to believe that AHF could actually force positive change on the adult industry and ultimately strengthen the safety net for performers. Now that the Cal-OSHA process had been set in motion, Tritch envisioned the possibility of a vigorous, healthy debate based on the facts – facts which he was willing to provide to AHF.
Naïvely, he believed that was what Weinstein wanted too.
Tritch seemed eager and he was willing to work cheap – between $1,500 and 2,500 a month as an independent contractor – “to build a plan” with AHF.
Weinstein met with Tritch personally at the beginning of February, and presented himself as the ultimate “insider”: he had precious first-hand knowledge of adult industry medical protocols (i.e., the way AIM, and its testing/database system, actually worked) as well as its hiring practices, and was seemingly on close personal terms with almost everyone.
Tritch’s contacts in the industry were likely the deciding factor for Weinstein; Weinstein had, since day one, sought a “divide and conquer” approach to his crusade. He understood the tremendous potential PR value of having current, active performers speak out against the “unsafe” adult industry, or at least in favor of AHF’s purported cause, but he needed an “in.”
Leaked emails reveal Shelley Lubben “working on” delivering “current adult film workers who want safety in the workplace and condoms.” She clearly had no public relationship with any such performers, but she excused the complete lack of visible evidence of any such effort by claiming, “I’m not doing it publicly … but privately I’m gathering the troops whose voice will make a difference.”
Inevitably, Lubben would fail in her mission time and time again, leaving Weinstein to stamp his feet like Rumpelstiltskin at having to settle for her delivering that which he didn’t really want: more disgruntled and washed up former porn performers.
Weinstein saw potential in a relationship between Tim Tritch and AHF; he listened intently, and his plan began to evolve. Tritch reportedly opened up about what he later wrote in emails to this author: that the achilles heel of AIM’s system was patient privacy — although Tritch saw AIM as having become another arm of production, via the “business relationship” between the clinic and producers who could access performer test results.
On February 24, Weinstein wrote Tritch:
Brian Chase [AHF’s Assistant General Counsel] will prepare a simple contract. You can submit an invoice electronically next week for the first month’s fee. Thanks.
The AHF party line was that AIM had grown too close to the porn producers: they had conferred an unfair monopoly on the clinic, and thus AIM was essentially a “front” for the producers. This was, in key respects, the very opposite of Tritch’s construction of the relationship between AIM and the producers.
In Tritch’s view, it was the producers who had moved closer to AIM, turning what had been designed and operated as an extremely effective harm reduction program into a shield against claims that the industry was not doing enough to safeguard performers. To Tritch, it was this change in the balance that was creating the unhealthy perception that AIM was nothing more than an arm of production, in that AIM had passively allowed producers to claim the clinic as their own, for their own benefit, not the benefit of performers. In other words, AIM’s mission was far too important to allow it to be hi-jacked by producers who simply wanted to claim that AIM was “sufficient.”
In fact, to Tritch, the AIM clinic, with its so-called monopoly, and its centralized database system were absolutely essential to the health of the industry.
Which was precisely why Weinstein needed to destroy it.
That Sunday afternoon, February 28th, Weinstein got down to business with Tritch by soliciting for plaintiffs in his anti-AIM campaign:
Dear Tim – We are interested in finding performers who would be willing to participate in filing a suit against AIM for violating their privacy. Do you know anyone? We would cover any legal costs.
Weinstein’s strategy had coalesced – AHF’s focus would now shift to AIM Healthcare. AHF immediately dashed of a press release announcing its new target:
AHF Calls for Investigation of Porn Clinic AIM, Alleging Violations of Performers’ Privacy Rights
Weinstein would embark on a campaign to obliterate AIM. "AIM testing is a fig leaf that does not protect actors from the risks of unprotected sex during filming," said Weinstein.
On March 4th, AHF mounted a protest in front of the AIM clinic in Van Nuys Blvd. Protesters carried signs reading, “Shame on AIM,” “AIM Owned By Porn” and, in a play on the famous “Silence = Death” AIDS slogan, one particularly offensive placard read: “AIM = Death.”
AHF’s charges of "patient privacy" violations were ironic to the point of nausea, for AHF had a huge medical privacy scandal of its own raging.
Although the law forbids unauthorized disclosures about a person’s HIV status, from 2007 to 2009, AHF was illegally provided the names, and addresses of some 5,000 HIV-positive Medi-Cal recipients from The California Department of Health Care Services. Gay porn producer Paul Morris, whose company was also targeted by Weinstein, noted: "[Weinstein] believes that it’s perfectly acceptable for the government to covertly funnel extremely private information about the HIV status of patients of public clinics in order to bolster the client-list of AHF. Control trumps privacy for the good gay."
Cal-OSHA’s Standards Board was set to meet on March 18th. Weinstein himself composed the confident title of the press announcement: “California Embarks on Setting Condoms in Porn Rules”
AHF trotted out Lubben at the meeting (“representing” performers), and Tritch testified. At this point, AIM’s co-founder Sharon Mitchell was already aware that he had gone to work for the enemy.
In late March, Tritch reported the backlash against him to Weinstein:
I’ve … been called everything, ‘Judas’, ‘backstabber" etc. All this does is let me know that I am doing the right thing.
Not only was Tritch apparently not the bona fide trusted industry insider he claimed to be, Weinstein must have thought, those that did know him now considered him a traitor. If Tritch had ever actually tried to rally support for AHF’s agenda, he now certainly appeared stymied in those efforts.
Without support from active industry members, AHF’s divide and conquer plan which would have been supported by Tritch’s “connections” was not gaining traction. AHF launched a second front:
On April 14, 2010, AHF announced it would file complaints with the California Labor Commissioner against nine porn talent agencies, because the agencies “procure performers for adult film productions who the talent agencies advertise as available to participate in unprotected sexual acts that may result in the exchange of bodily fluids.”
Emails now reveal that, by April 16, the focus had shifted so far to AIM, that Chase had to suggest to Weinstein, “I don’t think it would confuse our press strategy to go after both AIM and porn companies. I think it would have the opposite effect. If we make the suit it all about AIM, they can try to portray themselves as the little nonprofit clinic that’s just trying to keep the girls healthy.“
That same month, AHF canceled Tritch’s contract over his inability to make the introductions he’d promised he could. Weinstein was now all-in, but all he had left was that whack-job, Lubben.
To be continued…