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13 posts from February 21, 2013

February 21, 2013

Suspect in David Rivera campaign-finance scandal to be charged Friday with federal crimes


A former candidate under FBI investigation with former U.S. Rep David Rivera is scheduled to be charged Friday with federal crimes over his campaign finances, sources tell The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

The charges against Justin Lamar Sternad stem from an investigation by The Herald, which first found discrepancies in his congressional campaign finance reports last August.

The FBI then began investigating Sternad, whose reports could have concealed as much as $100,000 in services and mailers, some of which attacked a Democratic rival of Rivera, who is a Republican.

Sternad is scheduled to surrender Friday morning in federal court, charged with lying on his federal campaign reports to hide the source of secret money funneled into his run for congress. Sternad is also charged with conspiring with others as part of the alleged scheme to defraud the United States.

Sternad, cooperating with authorities, is expected to plead not guilty. His lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor refused comment.

Though Rivera is a target of the investigation, his name is nowhere in the indictment of Sternad, a source told The Herald.

Sternad and two campaign vendors who performed work for him have talked to the FBI and a federal grand jury to describe Rivera’s involvement in Sternad’s mercurial bid for Congress, which ended Aug. 14 when he lost the Democratic primary to Joe Garcia, who later beat Rivera in the general election.

A close friend of Rivera’s, Ana Alliegro, worked as Sternad’s campaign manager and repeatedly delivered fat stacks of cash to Rapid Mail & Computer Service, owner John Borrero told The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and then the FBI.

Another vendor, Hugh Cochran of Campaign Data, told The Herald and FBI agents that he spoke with Rivera about running computer queries to identify voters to whom the different mailers were sent.

A third vendor, Expert Printing, produced the mailers but has refused to talk to the Herald.

Rivera has denied wrongdoing. Rivera couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.

“No federal agency has ever stated or confirmed that I am under investigation for anything,” Rivera has said in a prior statement about the case.

Alliegro, who was supposed to talk to the FBI in September, skipped out on her meeting with federal agents and is rumored to be overseas. Initially, Alliegro’s parents and lawyer didn’t know her whereabouts. Now she has been in contact with them.

Without Alliegro’s testimony, federal authorities could have trouble determining Rivera’s actual links to the unreported stacks of cash that funded Sternad’s campaign.

More here.

Weatherford's dance card getting full

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s star continues to glisten in conservative circles.

The American Conservative Union announced today that Weatherford is a “rising elected leader” and will speak at its annual conference from March 14 to March 16 in National Harbor, Md.

The 33-year-old Wesley Chapel Republican, Florida’s youngest House Speaker in 55 years, will join eight other “featured speakers who will introduce what they are doing in their states to promote the conservative movement and agenda.”

They include:

 -- New Hampshire Rep. Marilinda Garcia

 -- Connecticut Senator Art Linares

 -- Michigan Rep. and assistant majority leader Lisa Posthumus Lyons

 -- New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis

 -- Nebraska Senator Beau McCoy

 -- West Virginia Delegate John B. McCuskey

 -- Franklin County, OH., auditor Clarence Mingo

 -- Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon

Other speakers at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC,  include Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, UT and U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-WI, and his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, who were on MTV’s The Real World.

“We are thrilled to welcome these young elected leaders to the CPAC, as they represent the bright future of the conservative movement,” said ACU chairman Al Cardenas, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party. “This year in particular, we are focused on ensuring young conservatives have the tools they need to succeed.”

Adam Putnam on Rick Scott: Expanding Medicaid for 3 years 'naive'

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam openly bashed Gov. Rick Scott's call to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law, first at a Thursday appearance at the Florida Retail Federation and again in an interview.

"It is naive at best to think that you would enroll 1 million people in three years and then decide to walk away from the program," he said in an interview, referring to Scott's proposal to undo the expansion if the federal government withdraws money or if the Legislature chooses not to renew it.

Without using Scott's name, Putnam implied Scott made his decision for political reasons.

"I think we all have an obligation to look beyond the window of our own time in public life and think about the longterm impact of these policies in Florida," he said.

Is Putnam's outspokenness on this issue a sign of a 2014 primary challenge? He would not say for sure. "This isn't a conversation about politics or campaigns. This is a question about what the most responsible fiscal policy for Florida is."

We pressed again. "This is a conversation about healthcare and healthcare costs. It's not a conversation about individuals or personalities."

Putnam said the state's current safety net already provides enough care for the neediest families.

"I've seen how issues like this explode in cost once they becone an accepted part of policy. And it's just simply not realistic to think you would enroll over 1 million new people into a program that you would then end in three years," he said. "History would suggest otherwise." 

House committee expands early voting options in latest stop for priority bill

A House committee gave Democrats a victory in the hard-fought effort to find a fix to the long lines at the polls that embarrassed the state during the last election.

The House Approriations Committee unanimously passed a bill to extend early voting hours, provide voters with more polling places for early voting and give elections officials more flexibility in setting the early voting sites.

The measure, which restores 14 days of early voting and imposes a maximum of 168 hours, restores many of the changes made in 2011. Republican lawmakers pushed legislation that year that limited elections supervisors to eight days of early voting and a maximum of 96 hours, sparking the waiting lines and delayed results that gave Florida another Election Day black eye. 

But the Republican-controlled committee agreed with Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and passed his amendment that to set a floor of 64 hours of early voting, rather than the 48 hours the original proposal would have allowed.

Other Democrats were not as successful.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-Tampa, proposed an amendment to require that the state include buildings in the Florida college system as early voting sites because it would give “greater flexibility to the supervisor of elections and greater convenience and access to students and officials of these institutions.”

Continue reading "House committee expands early voting options in latest stop for priority bill" »

PolitiFact checks a claim about Latinos loving ObamaCare

grande problemo for the Republican Party is how to win over Hispanic voters who flocked to President Barack Obama in 2012. But even with Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio supporting immigration reform, Latinos are still concerned about other issues, said David Plouffe, a recently departed White House senior adviser.

For a New York Times magazine cover story about the Republican Party’s future, Plouffe was asked if a presidential candidate like Rubio could get his party back into the game.

Plouffe called Rubio "the tea party Cuban-American from Florida" and said he wouldn’t have much appeal to Hispanic voters in other states.

"And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration," Plouffe said in the February article. "It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos."

His statement that Latinos supported Obama’s Affordable Care Act more than other groups caught our attention, so PolitiFact decided to check it out.

Senate Dems ask Scott to partner with other states on property insurance

After members of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee acknowledged that a bill to reform of Florida’s property insurance system would likely raise rates, three Senate Democrats called on Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday to pursue a “multistate compact” as an alternative.

The compact, according to Sens. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, Jeremy Ring, D-Margate and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, would bring together states that are prone to hurricanes, in order to spread the risk around.

 “The bottom line is Florida will not solve this problem by itself,” said Clemens.

 A letter to Scott, signed by Smith, Clemens, Ring and two other Democrats on the Banking & Insurance Committee, talks about insurance rates that are “doubling, tripling and in some cases, quadrupling.”

 “We strongly urge you as Governor to utilize your relationship with other Governors in the Southeastern Atlantic and Gulf states, to pursue a regional approach for addressing these issues,” the letter reads.

The Senators said they were not sure how all the details of the compact would work, but said it would help align the risk and the insurance rates. Relying on a bailout from the federal government—which faced gridlock last year before approving aid for Hurricane Sandy—is not a viable option, said Smith.

“Sandy was a gamechanger,” he said.

Scott has not made any major policy proposals on the property insurance issue. In an interview, he said that he has not yet seen any of the bills being discussed in the Legislature, and that his main priorities were jobs and education.

Meanwhile, the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee continues to work on a massive bill that would overhaul Citizens Property Insurance. That bill could deter people from joining Citizens by forcing the state-run insurer to charge higher rates. It also could allow private insurance companies to raise rates faster than what is currently allowed by law.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said he believes that the bill will create a more robust marketplace for insurance, thereby lowering rates through increased competition.

“I really believe that we’re going to see a reduction in rates,” he said. 

Four senators propose bill to modify nuke bill that has cost customers $1 billion

Barraged by a storm of bad press over the crippled Crystal River nuclear power plant, four Tampa-based state senators announced Thursday they will file legislation next week to require utility companies to surrender the profit they've collected from a nuclear cost recovery law if they abandon plans to build the nuclear plants.

"Times have changed,'' said Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the sponsor of the bill, noting that natural gas prices are a third of what they were when the  law was first enacted in 2006. "The time is now to evaluate the role of nuclear cost recovery."

The bill would require a utility company to return profits to taxpayers from the 2006 Nuclear Cost Recovery Act if it decides not to complete construction of a project. The bill will also sunset the act, estimated at two or three years, unless one of the companies has begun construction.

But the measure stops short of outright repeal of the act that opponents say has effectively transferred the risk of building the costly nuclear power plants from the company's shareholders to taxpayers.

Continue reading "Four senators propose bill to modify nuke bill that has cost customers $1 billion" »

Sen. Joe Abruzzo to FL Attorney General Pam Bondi: investigate NCAA 'abuse of power' in UM case

State Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, wants Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the NCAA for its tainted investigation into the University of Miami. Abruzzo, who doesn't look like he attended UM, cc'd U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the following letter:

I respectfully request that your office begin an investigation into the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) actions during its probe of the University of Miami’s athletic program.

NCAA Enforcement Staff violated its own rules and engaged in corrupt behavior in an attempt to manufacture misdeeds against the University of Miami. In so doing, the NCAA has demonstrated a lack of institutional control and may have engaged in unfair trade practices in violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), Chapter 501, Florida Statutes. Since your office is the enforcing authority of FDUTPA, I am requesting that the NCAA’s admitted wrongdoing be investigated immediately before the NCAA’s witch hunt against the University of Miami causes further damage.

Among other acts of wrongdoing, the NCAA was so desperate to gather evidence against the University of Miami that it made improper payments to a convicted con artist and his lawyer for information that it was not allowed to obtain. The NCAA, which does not have subpoena power, paid thousands of dollars to the con artist’s lawyer to gain subpoenaed witness testimony in a bankruptcy case, so that the forbidden information could be used in its investigation. Not only does this abuse the bankruptcy process, but it clearly circumvented the limits of the NCAA’s authority. All of these improper activities occurred in South Florida, within the jurisdiction of your economic crimes division.

In addition, the NCAA advised potential witnesses that their silence would be interpreted as validating the claims of the criminal, Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro. This unethical behavior and lack of due process by the NCAA should not be tolerated in our State.

The NCAA’s admittedly corrupt investigation has now dragged on for more than two years, and the University of Miami has suffered through this abuse of power. While the NCAA has been paying off a criminal and his lawyer for forbidden fruit, the University of Miami has tried to work cooperatively with the NCAA and has even self-imposed serious sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban and a conference football championship game.

I strongly feel that the NCAA’s abuse of power and payoffs must be scrutinized to the fullest extent, especially considering the NCAA’s role as a regulatory institution of more than 400,000 students across the nation. Thank you for your consideration.


Senator Joseph Abruzzo

Download NCAAletterAbruzzoFinal-1

New poll challenges notion Floridians support Medicaid expansion

With Gov. Rick Scott saying he wants Florida to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, The James Madison Institute rushed to release its poll that indicates a majority of Floridians oppose expanding the health care program.

That is a different result from two other polls that concluded Floridians wanted the state to accept federal dollars to help more uninsured get health coverage. James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank opposed to government expansion, asked the question differently.

James Madison Institute asked 600 people earlier this month, “At 21 billion dollars, spending on Medicaid currently represents about 30 percent of Florida's budget. If Florida should implement the Medicaid expansion, Medicaid would become an even higher percentage of overall state spending. Does this fact make you more likely or less likely to support expanding the Medicaid eligibility requirements in Florida?”

The result: 56 percent of respondents said they were less likely to support expansion compared to 30 percent who said they were more likely.

Continue reading "New poll challenges notion Floridians support Medicaid expansion" »

Broken borders? Forget Mexico. Check out lines, CPB staff at Miami International Airport


For a picture of the nation’s border struggles, look at the long lines and understaffed international-passenger checkpoints at Miami International Airport.

Up to 1,000 passengers in a single day have missed connecting flights at the airport — the busiest in the nation for international flights — because they’re held up at the Customs and Border Protection facility.

And the problem could get even worse next month because of looming federal budget cuts, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday after visiting the airport.

“Everything we are trying to do here — the additional staffing, overtime, technology…. will come to a screeching halt,” Napolitano said.

Continue reading "Broken borders? Forget Mexico. Check out lines, CPB staff at Miami International Airport" »