August 15, 2017

Poor communication led to chaos during Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, report says


@amysherman1 @chabelih

Officers responding to a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January failed to coordinate and communicate effectively in the aftermath of the incident, causing havoc at the airport, according to a new report.

On Tuesday, Broward County released a report by a consultant who examined the response by law enforcement, airport and county workers to the Jan. 6 mass shooting that left five people dead and stranded about 12,000 people at the airport for several hours.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, county officials including airport director Mark Gale defended their response to the shooting while also agreeing with recommendations for security improvements outlined in the report.

“Some will take weeks, some will take months, some will take longer but we intend to stay vigilant until all of these recommendations have been addressed,” he said.

More here.

Broward commissioners to review airport security report behind closed doors



Broward County Commissioners will hold a closed-door meeting Tuesday review a consultant's report about the Jan. 6 mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport but it is unclear when the report will be released to the public.

County commissioners will hold a shade meeting at 10 a.m. to discuss the report followed by a news conference at 2 p.m. where county, airport and law enforcement officials will discuss the report prepared by consultant Ross & Baruzzini for Broward County’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL). Under Florida's Sunshine law, the county can meet in private to discuss security at county facilities.

"The report is currently under review by Federal Authorities," airport spokesman Greg Meyer said. "We are hopeful that they will give us approval to release it in advance of the news conference."

A separate draft report by the Broward Sheriff's Office found poor communication by BSO and the Broward County Aviation Department, along with other mistakes, contributed to the chaos which left 12,000 passengers trapped in the airport for several hours. County officials disputed some of the allegations in the report.

The consultant's report is expected to include security recommendations which commissioners can use when they set the annual budget in September. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is expected to join Mayor Barbara Sharief and airport director Mark Gale at the press conference.

Law enforcement apprehended Esteban Santiago in less than two minutes, but more chaos occurred about 90 minutes later amid a false report about another shooting. 

Santiago faces trial in January.





August 10, 2017

Broward County Commission to hold shade meeting on security



The Broward County Commission will hold a shade meeting to discuss security at county locations on Tuesday.

The meeting notice doesn't provide any details about which county locations will be discussed but security is a hot topic at two county locations: the courthouse and the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel will attend the meeting with county commissioners. Governmental bodies are allowed to hold closed-door meetings about security.

In July 2016, an inmate escaped the Broward County courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale. A Sun Sentinel review of internal investigations of the Broward Sheriff's Office found that the inmate took advantage of security flaws to escape. The escape added fire to the ongoing fight between the Broward Sheriff's Office and the county about security at the courthouse, including the new courthouse which opened months later. 

A Jan. 6 mass shooting at the airport which left five people dead has also led to a fight between BSO and the county about airport security.

The county hired a consultant earlier this year to write a report about the shooting which could lead to security recommendations before the commission sets the annual budget in September. 

The Broward Sheriff's Office released it's own draft report in June about the shooting. That report stated that poor communication by the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Aviation Department, along with other mistakes, led to mass chaos for the estimated 12,000 people trapped at the airport. Airport officials disputed some conclusions in the BSO report. 

It's unclear when the county's report or BSO's final report will be completed.

The SEIU union, which represents many airport workers, released it's own security recommendations Thursday calling for more training for airport workers. 

Esteban Santiago, who was charged in the shooting, is scheduled for trial in January.

This post has been updated to include additional information



August 07, 2017

Well-known Republican attorney to challenge Debbie Wasserman Schultz in South Florida district



A well-known Republican lawyer will challenge U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2018, the first time she has faced a credible Republican opponent in the overwhelmingly left-leaning district in South Florida.

Carlos J. Reyes announced to supporters in an email Sunday night that he will run against the Weston Democrat in his first bid for public office in the district. (Hat tip to

“Being the son of Cuban immigrants and many years in community service have taught me the values of hard work and tenacity,” Reyes stated in a press release Monday, the day he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run in the Weston to northern Miami-Dade district. “As a strong advocate for programs that focus on faith, family and freedom, I’ve heeded the encouragement of hundreds of friends, family and community leaders that the time is right to run for United States Congress.”

In November, Hillary Clinton won about 63 percent of the vote in the district making any challenge by a Republican a longshot. Reyes said part of his strategy should he win the Republican primary will be to appeal to independents who represent about 30 percent of voters in the district. Republicans comprise about 25 percent of the voters while Democrats comprise 45 percent.

Reyes' announcement comes at a time when Wasserman Schultz has been on the defense about waiting to fire an IT worker under federal investigation. While many other Democrats fired Imran Awan amid news reports in February that he was under investigation for procurement theft, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire Awan until he was arrested in July for bank fraud. The federal criminal complaint against Awan relates to an application for a home loan and makes no mention of any IT-related issues connected to his job working for multiple members of Congress. Awan has pleaded not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug. 21.

The Awan case will likely become attack fodder for Wasserman Schultz's opponents during the next year -- her primary opponent Tim Canova has been on Fox News attacking Wasserman Schultz for how she handled the case. 

Reyes told the Miami Herald that he isn't focused on the Awan case.

"She is going to have to deal with it however she feels is most appropriate," Reyes said. As for the allegations against Awan, "they may go somewhere -- they may not."

He said he is focused on other issues such as the economy, terrorism and health care. When asked if he believes Obamacare should be repealed, Reyes didn't provide a definitive answer.

"The Affordable Care Act is challenged financially -- it will crumble by it's own weight by the fact that so many insurance companies are dropping out," he said.

Democratic and Republican opponents face an uphill battle against Wasserman Schultz who has easily beat challengers for more than a decade.

In August, she beat Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, by about 14 percentage points several weeks after she stepped down as Democratic National Committee chair amid the release of emails by Wikileaks showing the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

In November, Wasserman Schultz beat Republican Joe Kaufman 57 to 41 percent -- the closest margin any Republican achieved against her. But Kaufman, who is running again, is not seen as a major threat because he has lost to Wasserman Schultz twice in a row and is most famous for being lampooned on The Daily Show for trying to block a Muslim from joining the Broward Republican Executive Committee.

Also running in the GOP primary is Carla Spalding, a Navy veteran, former VA nurse and a mental health educator. In 2016 Spalding ran as an independent in Congressional District 18 and won about 3 percent of the vote in the race won by Republican Brian Mast. Spalding lives in Palm Beach Gardens but her campaign says she will move to a rental home in the district in September.

Among all of the past and present Republican challengers, Reyes is the most well-known opponent and likely has the strongest ability to fundraise.

He is well-known in business, law and Republican circles in Broward and has held many community leadership positions including an appointment by then Gov. Jeb Bush to the South Broward Hospital District. The Miami-born Davie resident owns a commercial and civil litigation law firm in Plantation.

Reyes' connections will give him a good place to start in terms of fundraising, said Chip LaMarca, the lone Republican on the Broward County Commission.

"He has at a minimum to shoot for at least $1 million, a million and a half to get his message out in that district," LaMarca said.

Aaron Nevins will manage Reyes' campaign. Nevins is a political operative who asked for information from Guccifer 2.0, the hacker that stole information from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nevins was the author behind, a political gossip blog where he published some of the documents. Nevins, who also worked for state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, is also the son of Buddy Nevins, author of the blog.

Reyes will hold an announcement rally Aug. 29 at the Signature Grand in Davie.

Wasserman Schultz declined to comment through her spokesman David Damron.

This blog was updated to include an interview with Reyes

August 03, 2017

U.S. Rep. DeSantis asks DOJ to investigate fired Wasserman Schultz IT worker



U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the former information technology worker fired by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Desantis asks for an investigation into the financial records of Imran Awan and his wife Hina Alvi to search for other potential crimes or suspicious activity.

"While we can never tolerate breaches of the public trust, the wire transfer to Pakistan is particularly alarming as Pakistan is home to numerous terrorist organizations," he wrote.

The criminal complaint charging Awan for bank fraud makes no mention of terrorism. 

The federal complaint states that Awan and Alvi raudulently obtained a $165,000 home loan from a credit union. Alvi submitted paperwork in January to wire $283,000 to Pakistan including the money from the loan. When a representative from the credit union called Alvi, a male answering the phone initially said the money was for "funeral arrangements" but later said it was to purchase property.

Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport headed to Pakistan July 24. His wife flew to Pakistan in March.

DeSantis, a Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach, serves on the judiciary committee. His letter to Sessions, and calls for Wasserman Schultz to testify about the case, allows DeSantis to draw attention to himself while he considers a bid for Florida governor in 2018. DeSantis made terrorism a central issue of his short campaign for U.S. Senate in 2016 -- he dropped out when Rubio got back in.

News reports starting in February indicated that Awan was under investigation for equipment and data theft, but the federal charge for bank fraud makes no mention of such an investigation. Awan was a shared employee of many Democratic House members who fired him after the news reports about the investigation, but Wasserman Schultz waited until he was arrested to fire him.

“After details of the investigation were reviewed with us, my office was provided no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling,” she previously said. “Upon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.”

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman David Damron declined to comment on the letter by DeSantis.

Awan has pleaded not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing in Washington D.C. Aug. 21. His attorney filed a motion Wednesday asking the government to return $9,000 in cash seized from Awan by law enforcement when he was arrested. The motion states that Awan needs the money to pay for his defense.


July 28, 2017

Broward elections supervisor to testify in federal voter roll lawsuit filed by conservative group in Miami



Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is expected to testify Monday in a lawsuit that alleges she has failed to adequately purge voter rolls of ineligible voters including those who have died.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the conservative American Civil Rights Union in federal court in 2016. (Hat tip to the Sun Sentinel about Snipes' upcoming testimony.)

The ACRU is being represented by the Public Interest Legal Foundation which has filed similar lawsuits in other states including North Carolina, Virginia and Texas. The president and general counsel of the foundation, J. Christian Adams, is a member of President Donald Trump's commission on voter integrity which has sought to collect voter roll data from all of the states. Trump's allegations about widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election have repeatedly been debunked by PolitiFact, a Miami Herald news partner.

The complaint filed against Snipes alleges that she has violated federal law by failing to conduct reasonable voter list maintenance for federal elections. It does not allege that ineligible voters cast ballots. The lawsuit seeks that a judge order her to make improvements in handling list maintenance.

The complaint states that Broward's voter rolls have "either more total registrants than eligible voting-age citizens or, at best, an implausibly high number of registrants," according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Election Assistance Commission.

At the time of the 2014 general election, approximately 103 percent of the citizens of voting age were registered to vote, the complaint states.

Among actions the plaintiffs seek is for Snipes to request jury recusal forms from the clerk of courts to determine if anyone who has declared themselves a non-citizen has registered to vote. (Florida's controversial attempt to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls before the 2012 election led to about 85 being removed statewide.)

Snipes disputed the allegations in a letter she wrote to ACRU in February 2016. Snipes wrote that Broward "adheres strictly" to the state's guidelines about voter list maintenance. Court records show Broward removed about 240,000 voters between 2014 and 2016.

"At no time in my tenure, which began in November 2003, has the number of registered voters outnumbered the live persons living in Broward County," she wrote.

Before filing the suit, in January 2016 the plaintiffs sent letters raising concerns about voter roll maintenance to multiple Florida counties in addition to Broward including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Clay, Flagler and Santa Rosa. However, a lawsuit was only filed against Broward County. 

When asked why the plaintiffs ultimately only sued Broward, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation pointed to Adams's opening statement in which he said that Snipes was unwilling to "engage in substantive discussions -- essentially saying all counties in Florida who received a letter from the ACRU must be involved in those discussions."

Broward has about 1.2 million voters and has the highest number of registered Democrats -- about 600,000 -- in the state. Snipes, a Democrat, was first appointed to fill a vacancy in 2003 by then Gov. Jeb Bush and has subsequently won elections.

The trial began July 25th and is being presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is representing Snipes.

A spokesman for the plaintiffs said that Snipes is expected to begin testifying at 9 a.m. Monday.

Miami Herald photo of Brenda Snipes testifying in a separate matter pertaining to ballots in 2016. 





July 27, 2017

White House wants "thorough investigation" into fired IT staffer who worked for Wasserman Schultz



The White House press secretary called for a "thorough investigation" into a fired information technology staffer who worked for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

During the press briefing July 27th, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Donald Trump was aware of the case and if he was satisfied with the pace of the investigation.

"I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that but I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation," she said.

On Thursday morning, Trump retweeted a story by Town Hall headlined "ABC, NBC, and CBS pretty much bury IT Scandal engulfing Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office."

Imran Awan worked for many Democratic House members since 2004. But while other members fired him in February when news surfaced that he was under investigation, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire him until Tuesday. Awan was arrested for bank fraud while at Dulles International Airport enroute to Pakistan.

While news reports have stated, based on unnamed sources, that Awan is under investigation for theft of data and equipment, the bank fraud charge is based on misrepresentations to a Congressional credit union about a home loan.

Awan has entered a plea of not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug 21. 


July 25, 2017

Wasserman Schultz fires arrested IT staffer under investigation



U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has fired an IT worker arrested on bank fraud.

Imran Awan was fired Tuesday, according to her office spokesman David Damron.

"Mr. Awan previously served as an employee in our office, but his services have been terminated,” he said in an email.

Fox News reported that Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport Tuesday after buying a ticket to Pakistan on Monday with a return ticket for January.

Awan, 37, of Lorton, Virginia, was arraigned Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on one count of bank fraud, according to Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington D.C.

Awan pled not guilty and was released pursuant to a high-intensity supervision program which requires him to use a GPS monitor, abide by a curfew and not leave a 50-mile radius of his home. Awan was also ordered to turn over all of his passports.  A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 21.

A federal criminal complaint posted by Politico Tuesday states that Awan and his wife Hina Alvi attempted to defraud a Congressional credit union. The couple obtained a $165,000 home loan by making misrepresentations, including about their use of a residence as a primary residence and not a rental property. Alvi left for Pakistan in March and the FBI does not believe she intends to return.

Imran has been under a criminal investigation for equipment and data theft for several months. Many of his relatives, who have also worked for House members, have also been a part of that investigation.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Capital Police, Eva Malecki, told the Miami Herald in February that the United States Capitol Police began the investigation at the request of members of Congress and that no members were being investigated. 

Awan has worked for various members of the House since 2004.

This post has been updated with information from the U.S. Attorney's Office


Debbie Wasserman Schultz to hold tele town hall on health care



U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a tele town hall about health care Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a motion to proceed with debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Wasserman Schultz has been a champion of President Barack Obama's signature legislation passed in 2010 although she has called for some fixes.

Among the problems, she told WPLG Channel 10, is that in numerous places around the country there is "very little choice in terms of competition among companies that provide policies."

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman Michael Liquerman said that a tele town hall allows her to reach a greater audience than an in-person event because thousands can participate.

But it also allows Wasserman Schultz to avoid in-person confrontation by critics, including supporters of her primary opponent Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who has advocated for single payer health care.

Although Democratic support for single payer health care is rising, it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in Congress. There is a great deal of disagreement among experts regarding how much single payer health care would cost.

A single payer bill, H.R. 676 Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, was introduced in February but has received no votes.

Wasserman Schultz is not one of the 115 cosponsors of the single payer bill. She has spoken in favor of a public option which would provide competition for insurers. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova by about 14 percentage points in August in the district which stretches from Weston to northern Miami-Dade County. She easily beat her Republican challenger, Joe Kaufman, in the left-leaning district.

The tele town hall is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. although that could change depending upon the House vote schedule. Constituents will receive a robocall with the phone number. Wasserman Schultz is expected to take questions from constituents and the media.

This post has been updated to include additional information from Wasserman Schultz's office


July 06, 2017

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'



The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file