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5 posts from February 2, 2014

February 02, 2014

FL Senate's GOP leader, Benacquisto, plans to announce bid for Radel congressional seat Monday


**UPDATE: Benacquisto announced, her letter to supporters is below**

Florida Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto is calling and telling supporters she intends to announce as soon as Monday that she'll run for the congressional seat vacated by Trey Radel after a cocaine scandal.

Benacquisto's announcement should come as no surprise to those who have read this space since November. At the time, there were rumblings about her running for CD-19 -- even if Radel stayed in. After Radel finally quit last week, we were the first to tell you she was DC-bound to talk to Republicans and conservative groups to line up support.

"She's making calls," said a Republican. "A statement should be released Monday."

Continue reading "FL Senate's GOP leader, Benacquisto, plans to announce bid for Radel congressional seat Monday" »

Miami lawmaker wants grade for school under investigation


Flagged for suspected irregularities for a second straight year, North Miami Senior High has a supporter in state Rep. Daphne Campbell.

On Tuesday, Campbell, D-Miami, sent a letter to Florida’s commissioner of education urging the state to remove the high school’s “incomplete” status and issue its letter grade, which otherwise would have been handed out in December.

“This is ridiculous,” Campbell is quoted as saying in a press release. “There is no reason why a school should have to wait to receive a report for their institution.”

Actually, there’s a very good reason, according to the Department of Education. A state contractor that ferrets out highly unusual test scores again zeroed in on the school.

A Miami-Dade district investigation found nothing amiss, but the state is still reviewing the latest batch of test results and due to state law can't comment until the probe is over.

In the meantime, Campbell warns that the wait “will no doubt send the school to back-pedal to the days of a failing school with a very low morale that will breed nothing but trouble for the school.”


Miami Beach hires police veteran


John Buhrmaster, a longtime Miami cop and former Miami city manager’s chief of staff, is now the No. 2 with Miami Beach Police.

The 63-year-old was promoted Thursday to deputy chief, replacing Mark Overton, who left to helm the Bal Harbour police department. He’ll serve as the deputy under Chief Raymond Martinez, himself a former Miami police officer.

“It’s exciting. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s a challenge I’m willing and able to accept,” Buhrmaster said.

Buhrmaster spent 38 years with Miami Police, most of the time in the homicide unit, where he served as a supervisor for six years before he was demoted under former Chief Miguel Exposito in 2009. At the time, the move was seen as payback because of his ties to ex-Miami Chief and City Manager Donald Warshaw, a one-time foe of Exposito.

Under current Miami Police chief Manuel Orosa, Buhrmaster returned briefly to the homicide unit before retiring. He joined Miami Beach police, as the deputy commander of internal affairs, in December 2012.

His promotion comes at a time of political change in Miami Beach, with Mayor Philip Levine having recently taken office.


Banking Bad: a Miami man's identity-theft nightmare


Fighting a bad cold, Carlos Gomez had decided to sleep by himself that night so he wouldn’t expose his wife.

He awoke to a nightmare. Just before dawn, insistent pounding on the front door jolted the ex-Marine and young father out of bed. Federal agents poured into his Kendall home, pushing his wife aside and rushing to his bedroom. They held guns to his face before slapping him in handcuffs.

“I kept asking, ‘What is going on?’ ’’ recalled Gomez, who works as a UPS driver. “I was scared for my life.”

Gomez, busted in a money laundering scheme, would spend nearly two weeks in a federal detention center and another seven months under house arrest.

It took 222 days before federal prosecutors realized it was all a terrible mistake: A rogue bank worker had stolen his identity.

Thanks in part to Gomez’s own sleuthing, prosecutors eventually discovered he had been wrongfully charged. The Wachovia Bank employee had stolen $1.1 million from customers, then swiped Gomez’s identity to create a checking account under the pilfered name to launder portions of the embezzled proceeds.

Now, nearly three years after the ordeal, Gomez is suing Wachovia for “malicious prosecution.”

More here.

Ex-Florida Democratic leader Charlie Whitehead dies

Charlie Whitehead, who was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party as its long heyday faded in the 1980s, has died.

Whitehead was a gregarious and well-liked party leader who was a long-time car dealer in Panama City at a time when Democrats were as dominant in state politics as Republicans are today.

For part of his tenure as chairman, his Republican counterpart was Tommy Thomas, who also was a Panama City car dealer (Thomas sold Chevrolets; Whitehead sold Fords).

"He wasn't just a Democrat or a Republican. He was a Floridian, Mr. Integrity,'' said former four-term state attorney general Bob Butterworth, who sought Whitehead's advice when he first ran for statewide office in 1986. "He considered his role as party chairman to be a public service. He did it with dignity, grace and professionalism and he made you feel good to be in public service. He saw it as a calling.''

Whitehead had not been active in statewide politics for some time, but he endorsed Charlie Crist as an independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.

In a 2004 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Whitehead traced the start of his party's decline to the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980.

"Everyone he touched in Florida got elected, and it started to snowball. He built the Republican Party in Florida," Whitehead told the newspaper. "From Pensacola to Jacksonville, that's where he really killed us. Those are strong military areas, and he was strong on the military."

-- With reporting by Lucy Morgan, Tampa Bay Times staff writer