December 14, 2010

Scott listens to Broward but reveals little on his own budget-cutting ideas

Republican elect Gov. Rick Scott brought his listening tour to Fort Lauderdale today where he huddled for about an hour with Democratic and Republican legislators from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The meeting was held just hours before the state was expected to release new figures showing a budget shortfall that could be as high as $3.8 billion. But in the meeting with legislators and in a brief gaggle with reporters after Scott provided no new details regarding how he'll whack the budget and deliver on his goal of cutting property taxes 19 percent.

When we asked after the meeting if he is considering employee layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts and cuts to specific departments, he replied back with general phrases such as planning to "streamline government" and look at programs.

Legislators made their pleas ranging from boosting public education to encouraging the Legislature to steer away from issues such as stem cell research and focus on creating jobs. Scott listened more than he talked and acted almost like a teacher -- at times not stating his own opinion but asking legislators questions such as "what do you think about tenure?" "What was your perception of Senate Bill 6?"

The most interesting exchange was between Democratic state Rep. Jim Waldman who asked Scott how he plans to cut property taxes 19 percent and what that will mean for local communities' abilities to provide schools and pay for police officers and firefighters.

"I don't really know at this point how you figure to make up for those services that everybody is already cutting," Waldman said.

"All savings are at the state level," Scott replied. "We're not changing how much we send to the counties." Later Scott added: "my goal is not to change funding for public schools. My goal is finding funding at the state level."

In an interview after the meeting Waldman said that Scott's answer "made no sense."

"I walked out with no clarity on anything," he said.

Legislators or those who will take office soon in attendance included Democrats Perry Thurston, Marty Kiar, Jim Waldman, Richard Steinberg and Lori Berman as well as Republicans Jeanette Nunez, Eddy Gonzalez, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and George Moraitis.





December 09, 2010

GOP fundraiser to plead guilty

A prominent Broward County ophthalmologist who raised millions for Republicans and once advised Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to plead guilty Thursday to scheming to bilk the U.S. government -- including failing to report $82,000 in political donations secretly given to a former state senator.

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, 52, is scheduled to plead in Fort Lauderdale federal court to a single conspiracy charge, which also accuses him of lying to federal agents. He is eligible to receive about two years in prison under sentencing guidelines, but his lawyers plan to seek significantly less punishment from U.S. District Judge William Zloch.

Although the ex-senator is not identified in Mendelsohn's plea agreement, sources familiar with the case said the former politician is Mandy Dawson, a Broward Democrat. She has not been charged in the Justice Department's four-year corruption investigation into Mendelsohn and state officials.

April 20, 2010

House votes to add homeless to hate crimes categories

After about 30 minutes of emotional debate, the House voted 80-28 to add homeless people to the list of people protected under the hate crimes act. Under that law, if someone is attacked because they are a member of a protected class -- for their race, gender or disability -- the punishment is enhanced.

Debate seemed to be moving smoothly until Rep. Paige Kreegel, a Republican from Punta Gorda, asked sponsoring Rep. Ari Porth a series of pointed questions about the need for the bill, at one point derisively referring to the homeless as "bums."

Porth, D-Coral Springs, fended off the questions with about 20 Democrats standing silently behind him. During a series of emotional speeches that followed, Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami, referred to a 2006 video of a group of Broward teens brutally attacking three homeless people with baseball bats: "It is disgusting. It's something this state should be ashamed of."

Said Porth: "Nobody is more vulnerable. They have no place to retreat to. They don't have a home to retreat to and be safe in."

March 30, 2010

Get ready for state buget fun this week

The state budget takes center stage in the House and Senate on Wednesday. And based on the amendments already filed, it could be a lively debate.

In the House, Democratic Leader Franklin Sands gets the partisanship started with an amendment to allow state universities to conduct embryonic stem cell research, which is currently prohibited. Another from top Democrat Ron Saunders of Key West would rename the state budget the "Job Killer Act of 2010." Saunders is upset the budget cuts $466 million for road-building fund, which Florida Transportation Commission is also fighting. And Rep. Marcelo Llorente wants to cut the language proposed by House Budget Chairman David Rivera that would require most state agency chiefs to live within 50 miles of Leon County.

Continue reading "Get ready for state buget fun this week" »

March 04, 2010

Waldman tells off Bogdanoff; Bogdanoff blasts back

Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R- Ft. Lauderdale) and Rep. Jim Waldman (D-Cocount Creek) got into a round of name-calling on Wednesday night at a Broward Delegation meeting.

The subject: A bill that would ask voters to decide whether or not the county should have an inspector general to investigate public corruption. Waldman accused Bogdanoff, who is running for state senate and sponsoring the bill, of drafting the bill only to propel "political ambitions" during her election year.

He chided the bill for being poorly put together and a "knee-jerk reaction" to recent indictments of officials such as former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman and Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher.

At the meeting, a red-faced Bogdanoff called him "adversarial," and accused him of being "high maintainance." The next morning, she referred to Waldman as "a puppet" to the Broward County Commission, who she complained have not fully addressed residents' call for ethics reform.

"It was a nasty, nasty meeting,'' Bogdanoff said.

December 14, 2009

Rothstein's tangled business assets make recovery tough

Jailed lawyer Scott Rothstein collected companies like he collected exotic cars, fancy watches and powerful politicians.

By the time his alleged $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme collapsed last month, court documents show he had a stake in more than 100 corporations and businesses. Most were low-profile investment vehicles, with names like 2133 IP and CI27, designed for expediency and to obscure assets. Others were shares in trendy restaurants, flashy vodka companies and beachside hotels that echoed his lavish lifestyle.

Now, as investigators pick through the wreckage of Rothstein's empire on behalf of the investors he allegedly duped, many of his business partners are also facing scrutiny. See story here. 

November 09, 2009

Rothstein: Rumors of my demise exaggerated

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, who returned from a trip to Morocco last week to face a federal fraud investigation, said he was in good spirits Sunday.

``I am sitting here smoking cigars with Marc,'' Rothstein said in a brief interview Sunday afternoon with The Miami Herald, referring to his attorney Marc Nurik. ``Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I'm doing pretty good.''

Rothstein, 47, has been accused by investors in an alleged Ponzi scheme of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and by his law partners of crippling their firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

The rise and fall of Scott Rothstein

If there was one thing Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein craved, it was attention. And how better to get it than to whip out his checkbook?

Like at Gov. Charlie Crist's 52nd birthday party/GOP fundraiser last year, when, instead of buying a $1,000 candle, Rothstein bought an entire chocolate cake covered with 52 candles. His donation: $52,000.

As the governor gave a speech, Rothstein was talking loudly.

``Scott, if you want the mic, it's going to cost you another $100,000!'' the governor joked when Rothstein wouldn't stop talking.

Like at an Eagles concert in January, when band leader Don Henley stood on stage and dedicated, at Rothstein's request, Life in the Fast Lane to the lawyer and wife Kimberly for their first anniversary. His donation: $100,000, to a Henley environmental cause.

Like the TV ads showing Rothstein with star athletes Dan Marino and Alonzo Mourning, whose children's charities benefited from his philanthropic largess, and the glossy magazine ad with his firm photo proclaiming: ``Giving back is an essential part of life.'' Full story here.

October 20, 2009

Strum won't run for state House in Broward

Now that Shane Strum has been named Gov. Charlie Crist's chief of staff, it means that he won't run for the Legislature in Broward.

Strum had been thinking about running for District 91, the seat being vacated by Ellyn Bogdanoff. Bob Wolfe, a Republican committeeman in Broward, said he received a call from a representative in Crist's office stating that Strum will stay with Crist and not seek his own office.

That's bad news for Broward Republican activists who had been hoping a heavyweight would enter the race. Republicans are eager to hold on to their only state house seat in Broward -- and the voter registration numbers lie in their favor. But so far, two young businessmen with little name recognition are  the only ones to file: David Maymon and Yomin Postelnik.

They will face two Republicans turned Democrats: Barbra Stern, daughter of lobbyist Judy Stern, and Freda Sherman Stevens, who lost a race against Evan Jenne last year.

"There will be other candidates down the road,'' Wolfe said. "We don't know who yet.''

October 02, 2009

Lobbyist Steve Hull linked to Mendelsohn probe

Steve Hull A well-known political campaign consultant and former aide to a Florida governor is tied to a federal corruption investigation touching the highest levels of state government, the Herald/Times has learned.

Stephen D. Hull, a Tallahassee-based lobbyist and consultant, helped establish a political committee whose records were seized by the FBI before Wednesday's indictment of Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a Broward ophthalmologist and high-profile fundraiser for dozens of current and former state lawmakers.

Hull, a lobbyist for the Florida Society of Ophthalmologists, did not return messages to his cell phone, office phone or e-mail. He worked as the press secretary to then-Gov. Bob Graham for seven years in the 1970s and '80s.

Two of the political committees under investigation -- the Alliance for Florida's Future and the Alliance for Promoting Florida's Future -- share a phone number or address with Hull's offices, records show. Full story here.