February 14, 2018

‘I said a little prayer’— Florida lawmakers react to Broward school shooting

Bill Nelson


Democrats representing Broward County and South Florida seethed Wednesday over congressional inaction on firearms, hours after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 people dead. It was the second time in just over a year that Florida’s second-most populous county experienced a major mass shooting.

But while Democrats demanded action, Republicans generally avoided calling for legislative change, at least in the immediate aftermath.

“I said a little prayer, for all of them, then the next thought that popped into my head was, do we have to go through this again?” Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said. “Look how many of these mass shootings have occurred and we say enough is enough and then nothing is done. Here in the Senate we cannot even get Senator [Dianne] Feinstein’s bill that would prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who represents Parkland in Washington, choked up during an interview as he waited for a flight home. He said he spoke at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just a few weeks ago.

“I have a picture of an adorable six year old who was killed at Sandy Hook whose father gave me that picture so I can remember every day why were working so hard to try to reduce gun violence,” Deutch said. “Everyone cares about safe communities. I shouldn’t need a mass shooting in my district to give me legitimacy to talk about why we need to prevent more mass shootings but I guess that’s the sad reality.”

Florida state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who represents northern Broward County in Tallahassee, said “This country and its elected leaders collectively have failed our children.”

Read more here.

August 30, 2017

Confederate generals are history: Hollywood agrees to rename streets

125HollywoodVote31 NEW PPP

@PatriciaMazzei @CTeproff

Acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery and the Civil War, Hollywood commissioners decided Wednesday to rename three streets honoring Confederate generals that for the better part of a century have run through a predominantly black city neighborhood.

After more than five hours of fervent and often tense debate, the City Commission voted 5-1 to rechristen Forrest, Hood and Lee streets, though their new names have yet to be determined.

“This is about what the meaning of community is,” Mayor Josh Levy said. “We don’t endorse hate. We don’t endorse symbols of hate. What hurts you, hurts me. It should hurt all of us.”

Levy, Commissioners Kevin Biederman, Dick Blattner, Debra Case and Linda Sherwood voted in favor. Vice Mayor Traci Callari voted against. A five-vote super-majority was required for approval. Case was out of town and attended the meeting by phone. Commissioner Peter Hernandez walked off the dais in a huff just before the vote, accusing his colleagues of violating procedure.

Hernandez and Callari said residents of the three streets should have gotten a chance to vote on the changes, something the commission opposed last month. Hernandez also suggested the city was acting with hypocrisy by not renaming other Hollywood streets also thought to be named after Confederates. 

“I can’t support cherry-picking, and I can’t support the process, the way it was done,” he said.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal. el Nuevo Herald


Protesters await Hollywood's decision on renaming Confederate streets

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@CTeproff @PatriciaMazzei

A lone man holding a large Confederate flag was hauled away in handcuffs Wednesday near Hollywood City Hall after he charged — flag first — at demonstrators urging commissioners to rename three local streets, including one honoring a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Moments earlier, the man, whom police identified as 22-year-old Christopher Rey Monzon of Hialeah, had engaged in a screaming match against some of the protesters.

“The white man made this country!” he said. “You’re lucky to be here. Florida is my home, and I will defend it.”

At first, he had stood silently by, giving media interviews as protesters holding ”Take Them Down” signs quietly stared at him. A scrum of police officers awaited nearby, ready to defuse any tension.

“These socialists are destroying our history,” he told the Herald, saying the fact that he was the only white nationalist present gave him “stronger resolve.” He gave his name as “Chris Cedeno” and said he was from Hialeah Gardens.

Then, after the shouts, the man broke yellow police tape as he lunged at protesters, said one of them, Cindy Thompson. Police took him down and ripped the flag from his hands. He was later charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault and inciting a riot.

“It’s pretty sad we live in a world where this still happens,” Thompson said.

About 150 people had begun gathering under the noontime sun to protest Forrest, Hood and Lee streets, which run through the predominantly black Hollywood neighborhood of Liberia.

Sometime after 4 p.m., commissioners are scheduled to vote on renaming the streets, christened in the 1920s after Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army; Gen. John Bell Hood, a commander in the Battle of Gettysburg, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant general said to be the Klan’s first grand wizard.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

August 18, 2017

Former Wasserman Schultz aide indicted

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U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s former information technology aide and his wife have been indicted on bank fraud charges.

A grand jury late Thursday returned an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Imran Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, of Lorton, Virginia, on four counts: conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on a loan or credit application and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Awan, 37, previously had been charged in a criminal complaint with one count of bank fraud. The indictment expanded on the charges and also added Alvi, 33, as a defendant.

The indictment states that Awan and Alvi conspired to obtain home equity lines of credit for $165,000 and $120,000 from a credit union on two properties. They provided false information that the properties were Alvi’s principal residence and second home when they actually rented out the homes. Then, they transferred the proceeds to Pakistan.

More here.

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 browardbeat.com.)

“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 HelloFLA.com, 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 browardbeat.com 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.