9 Jaw-Dropping Investigations We Published In 2015

Rucksacks of cash, ghost schools, jailed high schoolers. From neglect at a major for-profit foster care company to America's broken guest worker system to a mobile home builder preying on minorities, the year that was in BuzzFeed News investigations.

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In An Unmarked Grave, A Baby’s Untold Story

Kieran Kesner for BuzzFeed News

A second story in the series spotlighted one harrowing example: a two-month-old girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome in a Mentor home whose caregivers hadn’t been taught basic safe sleeping practices for infants. For several years, the state of Massachusetts kept almost everything about the baby girl a secret, including her identity. We published her name and her story.

2. Debt and Jail in Texas — Kendall Taggart and Alex Campbell

Dylan Hollingsworth for BuzzFeed News

Serena Vela skipped school and couldn’t pay the $2,700 she owed in fines. The 11th grader was sent to adult jail for nine days, and on the first school day after she got was set free, her high school kicked her out. Soon after this story came out, it was cited on the Texas senate floor as legislators changed the state’s law to put an end to the jailing of poor teens who skip school.

Their Crime: Being Poor. Their Sentence: Jail

Steven St. John for BuzzFeed News

Still, many adults in Texas get locked up because they can’t pay petty fines, and BuzzFeed News also found that many judges flout laws meant to protect people from going to jail simply because they can’t afford their debts.

3. Sanctions Against Thuggish Regimes, A Company That Altered Sales Records, And One That Dealt With Blacklisted Banks — Aram Roston, Max Seddon And Jane Bradley

Sasha Mordovets / Getty Images | AP

After Western sanctions began shutting down sales of high-tech internet equipment to Russia’s military and security forces, employees at the technology giant Cisco Systems altered sales records and booked deals under a false customer name, according to internal company documents. Cisco vehemently denied violating sanctions, but later shut down the department in Moscow that made the sales.

A Financial Firm Sold Critical Data To Sanctioned Banks

Photo Illustration BuzzFeed News / Getty images

The London office of Reed Business Information sold critical financial data to blacklisted institutions in Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Iraq between 2008 and 2013, despite strict international sanctions designed to starve the rogue states of funds. Our investigation unraveled the web.

4. Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools — Azmat Khan

Azmat Khan / BuzzFeed News

Over and over, the United States has touted education as one of its premier successes in the bloody war in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. But BuzzFeed News found that many of the schools, teachers, and students cited by the U.S. exist only on paper. As for the schools that do still stand, many are so substandard that they expose children to “unhealthy and even dangerous conditions.” And our government? It knew for years it was peddling hype.

5. The New American Slavery: America’s Broken Guestworker System — Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger, and Jeremy Singer-Vine

Ken Bensinger, Jessica Garrison, and Ben King / BuzzFeed News

Every year, thousands of foreign workers are given temporary visas to do some of the most menial labor in America. But many of these workers have been abused — deprived of their fair pay, imprisoned, starved, beaten, raped, and threatened with deportation if they dare complain. Yet employers face little scrutiny for their actions.

In the wake of this story, members of congress demanded an overhaul of the program.

“All You Americans Are Fired”

Kevin D. Liles for BuzzFeed News

The H-2 guest worker program isn’t supposed to deprive Americans of jobs. But a second investigation in this series found that many employers take extraordinary measures to deprive U.S. workers of jobs so they can hire foreign workers instead. Sometimes minority Americans are pitted against the immigrants: “All you black American people, fuck you all,” a company supervisor was quoted as saying before laying off scores of people and filling the jobs with guest workers.

How A Former Pot Grower Made A Fortune Importing Mexican Workers

Pat Kinsella for BuzzFeed News

The guest worker program is virtually unknown to the general public, but American businesses prize it for the steady supply of cheap and pliant labor. Its foremost champion has been Stan Eury, who waged and won battle after battle to push the program’s wages down, to reduce regulation, to bat back worker protections, and to discourage and disqualify American job seekers. He also conspired to defraud the United States of America. But though he’s now in prison, his operation is still going strong.

6. Meet The Obscure Company Behind America’s Syria Fiasco — Aram Roston

Shaam News Network/Handout / Reuters

As a key part of its high-stakes program to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, the Pentagon farmed out a multimillion-dollar arms deal to a tiny and little-known private company called Purple Shovel LLC. That company then tried to sell the U.S. grenades considered unreliable because they were manufactured three decades ago, delaying the government’s efforts to stand up the rebels. An American contractor died while training with the outdated grenades.

A second story revealed that the Pentagon also did business with a separate subcontractor who had a documented link to a notorious alleged organized crime figure in Bulgaria known as “the Baron.”

7. Lycamobile: The Tory Donor’s Rucksacks of Cash And Offshore Empire — Heidi Blake, Michael Gillard, Tom Warren, Jane Bradley, and Richard Holmes

Getty / i-images / Lynzy Billing / Sian Butcher / BuzzFeed

For weeks, BuzzFeed News filmed bagmen for one of the British Conservative Party’s biggest corporate donors driving around in unmarked people carriers and depositing up to £1 million each week at the Post Office. Legal and financial experts called the deposits “deeply suspicious” and demanded urgent investigation.

Lycamobile’s Offshore Empire Embroiled In Sri Lanka’s Hunt For Stolen Assets

Getty / Reuters

Then, in a second story in the series, reporters found ties between the company’s chief executive, Subaskaran Allirajah, and Sri Lanka’s former president, who has been accused of corruption and war crimes. The story unearthed details of a $10 million deal between a Sri Lankan state telecoms company, the former president’s relatives, and a Lycamobile offshore company.

8. Revealed: National Crime Agency In Crisis Over Unlawful Searches — Tom Warren

Rex Shutterstock/PA/Laura Gallant/BuzzFeed

“Britain’s FBI” is in crisis, with every single one of its live investigations and prosecutions in jeopardy. The reason: its widespread use of potentially unlawful warrants. Major cases have already collapsed, and the conviction of one of Britain’s most notorious drug traffickers may be at risk. BuzzFeed News pulled back the curtain on the problem, which one judge referred to the problem as “systemic.”

A follow-up story revealed that the NCA also has major problems in detecting money laundering.

9. Warren Buffett’s Company Wants To Sell You A Mobile Home. (Note To Minority Buyers: You Pay Extra.) — Daniel Wagner and Mike Baker

Rick Wilking / Reuters

Warren Buffett’s Clayton Homes deploys predatory practices that have damaged minority communities across the country. The company, which dominates virtually every facet of the mobile home industry, charges African-Americans higher loan rates than it does whites who earn less money. While it markets to Latino customers with ads in Spanish, its practice is to provide contracts in English — and not provide interpreters. Its corporate culture has condoned racism towards customers and its minority employees. We did this investigation in partnership with The Seattle Times, whose version of the story is here.

Pulitzer-prize winner Mark Schoofs is the investigations and projects editor for BuzzFeed News. While working at The Village Voice, Schoofs won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his series on AIDS in Africa.

Contact Mark Schoofs at mark.schoofs@buzzfeed.com.

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