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9 posts from June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013

FDLE closes second voter registration fraud case involving GOP vendor, makes no arrests

Nothing to see here, move along.

That’s basically the conclusion of a criminal investigation into a GOP vendor that was released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Thursday.

Investigators found at least 11 voter registration forms filled out in Lee and Charlotte counties that were fraudulent: addresses were wrong, people were given the wrong Republican Party affiliation, some basic information was incorrect.

But when FDLE investigators tracked down employees for the GOP vendor that filled them out, they employees denied any wrong-doing.

“Based upon a lack of evidence, witnesses, and the access to voter registration cards by numerous (vendor) employees, no further investigative activities will be initiated in this case,” the report concludes.

Case closed. No arrests.

That’s good news for the Republican Party of Florida and the vendor they hired last year, Strategic Allied Consulting, to register voters. The firm ran afoul of the law when an elections worker in Palm Beach County flagged questionable forms after spotting irregularities.

The case exploded in a media firestorm as it was learned questionable registration forms the vendor had filled out were found in a dozen counties. The RPOF soon fired Strategic Allied Consulting, and the vendor quickly fired at least two employees that were involved in the fraudulent forms.

It was all kind of embarrassing for the Republicans, who had made ACORN a really big deal. You remember ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now? It was the nation’s largest community organization advocating for low and moderate income families. After a series of controversies, it disbanded in 2010.

That didn’t matter to Republicans who wanted to use the left-leaning group as an example during the next election cycle. They pounced on the group’s voter registration efforts. During the 2008 election, ACORN claimed it signed up to 1.3 million voters, but it was later revealed that 30 percent of that total was rejected for various reasons. In Florida that year, ACORN’s Florida organizer alerted Miami-Dade County law enforcement that 1,400 voter registration forms the group had collected — but hadn’t turned into elections officials yet — appeared to be problematic.

An investigation led to 11 ACORN workers charged for falsifying information on hundreds of forms, with penalties ranging from probation to 125 days in jail.

Although ACORN blew the whistle on itself and the group wasn’t prosecuted for further fraud in the state, Republicans alleged that ACORN helped steal an election. In 2011, Republicans passed HB 1355, which imposed tighter deadlines for third-party groups to submit voter registration forms and imposed $50-a-day fines if they didn’t turn in the forms within 48 hours.

“Did they forget ACORN already?” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Gainesville, responding to critics who alleged the new law intended to suppress the vote.

But with no ACORN around in 2012, it was Strategic Allied Consulting that became the bête noire for honest electioneers. And that meant serious ironical blowback for Republicans.

Just as the whole case threatened to blow up, however, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced they would investigate. And in Florida, that meant that state law allowed state officials to stop talking about it. Cases are confidential until they are closed.

Gretl Plessinger, an FDLE spokeswoman, said there are three ongoing cases involving Strategic Allied Consulting in Miami, Pensacola, and Tallahassee. No details could be revealed about those. Another case, in Jacksonville, closed earlier this year. Two staffers admitted to forging forms, but investigators stopped the investigation and never interviewed supervisors.

The case that closed Thursday involved 16 “suspicious” voter registration forms in the Fort Meyers area. FDLE agents tracked down each form and found 11 were fraudulent.

Four people listed on registration forms used the same handwriting to fill out the applications. The addresses didn’t match up. Four people claimed someone listed their party affiliation as Republican, even though they weren’t. One form’s address for a new registrant led investigators to a construction site. One woman said she didn’t fill out any information, but was listed anyway as signing up to vote. One woman refused to speak with investigators, saying she already told elections officials that someone had incorrectly registered her to vote.

Investigators interviewed three former staffers with Strategic Allied Consulting. But all three said they had no more information to provide. None of them admitted to forging the forms.

Although agents notified the state’s Division of Elections that the casee was closed on April 15, the case wasn’t released to the media until Thursday. That timing was similar to the Jacksonville case, which was closed in January, but not released to reporters until March 5 -- the first day of the legislative session.

And unlike the 2011 session, when ACORN was invoked repeatedly by Republican lawmakers, Strategic Allied Consulting was nary mentioned during this year's session.

No ACORN here. 

Judge orders delay in trial on congressional redistricting case

A Tallahassee judge agreed Thursday to extend the court date in the already long-running lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional redistricting map to give the parties time to fight over whether or not legislators will be required to testify.

Ruling from the bench, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave the coalition of voters groups and the state until December or January to conduct the trial, instead of Aug. 19 as was previously scheduled.

The delay gives time for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on whether current and former legislative leaders will have to testify about the central question in the case: whether they violated the constitutional ban against intentionally drawing the maps to benefit their party.

Continue reading "Judge orders delay in trial on congressional redistricting case" »

State officials skipped interviewing key witnesses in GOP voter registration fraud case

TALLAHASSEE — Criminal investigators couldn't find a better witness than Jeff Jewett.

Last year, Jewett was the field coordinator for a private vendor used by the Republican Party of Florida in Jacksonville, overseeing a staff of 32 people registering voters. He discovered that one of his employees turned in seven bogus forms: fake addresses, non-working phone numbers, multiple signatures made in the same handwriting. He fired the employee, contacted elections officials and turned in the counterfeit forms.

Jewett's tip launched voter registration fraud case JA-32-0001 that would take Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents three months to close. The employee, a University of North Florida college student, admitted to investigators that he forged the forms. Because he had no criminal history, he got probation and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.

Case closed, right?

Sure, except for one thing.

Jewett, the one who reported the crime, the one who supervised the employee and could best inform investigators if this was an isolated case or was more systemic, was never interviewed.

"I was surprised," Jewett said. "I figured they'd be interested in talking to me considering I was the one who turned him in."

Such a lack of initiative is baffling for an investigation into a crime that Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers had made a top priority in prosecuting and preventing. In the 18 months leading to last year's presidential campaign, they said the specter of voter registration fraud was so great that it was necessary to push for a purge of ineligible voters and a new law that made it harder to register voters.

Story here


New name surfaces in L.G. guessing game: George LeMieux

It doesn't take much to stoke the most popular parlor game in Tallahassee these days: Trying to figure out who Gov. Rick Scott will pick as his lieutenant governor and campaign running mate in 2014.

The latest name to gain circulation is George LeMieux, the former Charlie Crist appointee to the U.S. Senate who dropped out of the Republican primary against former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV last year and earlier served as former Gov. Crist's first chief of staff.

LeMieux was one of the 80 or so guests accompanying Scott on a week-long job promotion trip at the Paris Air Show. In a brief and over-the-top speech, he speaks glowingly about Scott working "from morning till late into the night" to turn around Florida's economy. "The state is doing great, and he has done an incredible job at it," LeMieux says in the video, released by Scott's office.

A case can easily be made for and against LeMieux. If Crist is the most likely Democrat to give Scott a run for his money, LeMieux makes sense from a political standpoint: Few know Crist better than LeMieux, he knows where a body or two is buried, and LeMieux can play rough if Scott wants a partner willing to play the hatchet man role. He has high-level state government experience, too.

On the negative side, he'll have to answer for all of his votes in the U.S. Senate, and his close association with Crist as the "the maestro" of Crist's 2006 victory. Then there's LeMieux's very unsuccessful campaign to hold the Senate seat Crist handed him in 2009 and the fact that he's a middle-aged white male lawyer from Broward County who will add no sizzle to the Scott ticket.

But before you dismiss LeMieux out of hand as an impossible choice, ask yourself: Did you think Crist would put him in the United States Senate?

-- Steve Bousquet

NRA launches email campaign to support bill banning firearms sale to mentally ill

Gun rights Marion Hammer, who for decades has fought laws that restrict firearms in Florida, is mounting a campaign to urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill that will ban gun purchases –- for the mentally ill

Hammer, the powerful lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and United Sportsmen of Florida, has started an email “alert” to about 200,000 of the group’s members  urging them to “Please email Governor Scott right away and urge him to sign HB-1355.”

The blitz is necessary, she said, to “counter the barrage of emails” loaded with “patently false” information filling Scott's “Sunburst” email inbox.

Since the bill’s passage, the governor’s office has received at least 17,008 emails and 2,711 calls in opposition to the bill (as of June 19). Many of the emails are identical, except for names of  the senders. In contrast, Scott has received a dozen calls and one email in support of the bill.

Continue reading "NRA launches email campaign to support bill banning firearms sale to mentally ill" »

Is Rick Scott's Florida No. 1 for corruption? Dems say so

The Florida Democratic Party is jazzed up about the chance to knock Gov. Rick Scott out of office, producing a Web video that touts the significance of "one" in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

One part features Scott saying, "Florida won't stop until we’re No. 1."

The words "Um, right" appear on the screen, followed by a newspaper headline typed over Scott: "Study ranks Florida No. 1 in government corruption." "No. 1 in government corruption," the text states. "Yep, Rick Scott, you're #1 alright."

Continue reading "Is Rick Scott's Florida No. 1 for corruption? Dems say so" »

State board sides with Gov. Scott, rejects university fee increases

Students attending state universities won't pay any new fees this year, though most still face a small tuition increase.

The state Board of Governors agreed with Gov. Rick Scott to "hold the line on fees" and rejected requests from eight schools to increase the Capitol Improvement Fee that students pay. Most schools had asked for $2 more a credit hour or an increase of roughly $60 a year per student.

The board also turned down requests from Florida A&M and Florida State universities to create a Green Fee that would have paid for environmentally friendly programs. Both schools were asking for 50 cents per credit hour, or $15 a year per student.

"I do think that this is the wrong time" to raise fees, board Chairman Dean Colson said.

Scott had actively campaigned for universities to reject an automatic 1.7 percent tuition hike required by state law. But only two schools -- Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Atlantic University -- agreed.

Although the governor is currently in Paris on a business trip, he has tried to influence the fee debate taking place during the Board of Governor's three-day meeting at the University of South Florida. He sent a letter to board members Wednesday urging them to reject the proposed increases.

Without referencing the governor or his letter, many members agreed that fees should not go up in the fall. 

Continue reading "State board sides with Gov. Scott, rejects university fee increases" »

Justin Sternad: Rivera might have been involved in scam, his gal pal duped me


Justin Lamar Sternad, who is to be sentenced Monday in Miami federal court for campaign-finance crimes, said in an interview Wednesday night on America TeVe that he believes former Congressman David Rivera was part of the conspiracy.

Sternad, however, said he had no direct knowledge of Rivera’s role and suggested that the former congressman’s gal pal, Ana Alliegro, had far more to do with the criminal effort to underwrite his campaign.

Neither Rivera nor Alliegro have been charged in connection with the case involving Sternad. Both Rivera and Alliegro have denied wrongdoing.

Sternad said he was “manipulated” by Alliegro and that she promised to find “Democratic donors” to help fund his longshot campaign.

Alliegro referred to the campaign’s secret financiers only as "the mafia," which Sternad said he later guessed was Rivera.

Campaign vendors hired by Sternad told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald last year that both Rivera and Alliegro were involved in Sternad’s race.

Sternad said Alliegro handled the campaign money and vendors, and suggested that she tricked him.

"When we first met she told me there were some Democratic donors who were willing to support me in the campaign, and that she could help me get the contributions," Sternad said. "I was new at this game. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/19/3460394/justin-lamar-sternad-says-he-was.html#storylink=cpy

State beefs up security for prescription drug database

From the Associated Press:

State health officials said Wednesday they were beefing up security of the statewide prescription drug database to protect patient information, a week after the American Civil Liberties Union said patients' personal information was leaked.

The Florida Department of Health said it was working with law enforcement officials and Attorney General Pam Bondi to explore addition safety measures, including limiting the number of people from state agencies allowed to use the database, creating a system requiring all agency administrators be notified when a user requests database information and potentially disqualifying users who compromise patient information.

State officials said they also want more clearly displayed penalties for improper disclosure on the program's web-based disclosure screens.

Health officials are currently working on rules about the enhanced security and access of the database and will hold a workshop next month where stakeholders and the public can weigh in.

State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong said the database "works daily to save the lives of those with prescription narcotic addiction and privacy is job one. That's why today the department is taking steps forward to put additional safeguards in place to prevent any unauthorized use of information that is intended to save lives."

The database, which lawmakers created in an effort to crack down on the state's pill mills, leaked thousands of patients' personal information, even though some of the details were not part of any criminal investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union said last week.

Read more here.