July 24, 2014

State: Haitian American cancer awareness group founder bilked Florida taxpayers


Jacques Calixte ran a much-lauded publicly funded organization purporting to help Haitian American women detect cancer.

Florida authorities on Wednesday pronounced it a sham, saying Calixte billed the state for nearly $400,000 — but arranged hardly any actual breast cancer screenings for at-risk women.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, called Calixte’s actions “unconscionable.”

The alleged scam led to Calixte’s arrest on charges of grand theft, aggravated white collar crime and communications fraud. The 44-year-old previously had been hailed for his work as founder and operator of Miami’s Haitian American Association against Cancer, which was supposed to arrange and pay clinics to perform breast cancer screenings for women.

According to state investigators, Calixte provided phony bank statements, payroll checks and healthcare reports to Florida’s Department of Health, which had given the group hundreds of thousands of dollars between January 2011 and June 2013.

But a review of his finances showed Calixte spent as little as $16,000 on actual client screenings in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, there was no evidence of expenditures for clinical screenings or testing for Haitian American woman “as required by the contracts,” according to Florida Department of Financial Services.

In all, Calixte is accused of stealing at least $287,000 in state money.

More here.

July 21, 2014

FL CFO Jeff Atwater blasts NY Gov. Cuomo as 'huckster' over ad campaign


Florida's top finance official, CFO Jeff Atwater, is accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of running a deceptive TV ad campaign designed to lure businesses to the Empire State.

“We know a huckster when we see one,” Atwater, who dashed off a letter about his concerns, told the New York Post about the Cuomo Administration's $113 million TV and radio "START-UP NY" ads in Florida and other states that promote New York's business climate and tourism.

Cuomo's office fired back, saying Atwater was misconstruing the incentives that the ad campaign is promoting.

"For a CFO, he must be pretty bad at math if he doesn’t understand that the zero in StartUp’s zero-tax zones means no state taxes for new businesses,” Cuomo spokesman Matthew Wing said in an email response.

In his July 18 letter, Atwater says the ads contain "glaring errors and misstatements" about New York as a place to work. And Atwater needles the number of New Yorkers who have moved to low-tax Florida, a job-creation leader. 

"These advertisements portray an image of New York that simply cannot be supported by facts, particularly in comparison with Florida,” writes Atwater, who is running for re-election this year and faces little-known Democrat William Rankin.

"The reality is that New York boasts the highest taxes in America, the highest costs of living in the country, and one of the worst business climates in the nation. Conversely, by every objective measure, Florida continues to be one of the best states in which to start a business and raise a family." 

This isn't the first time Cuomo has drawn the fire of an elected Republican from outside New York. In April, Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited New York in an effort to lure jobs to Texas and challenged Cuomo to a debate.

Cuomo declined the offer from the Republican, who plans to run for president in 2016.

"I don't think so," a grinning Cuomo said, according to USA today.

Download Atwater

January 10, 2014

Atwater no longer in the running to become next FAU president

The committee tasked with choosing Florida Atlantic University’s next president turned down state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday.

Former U.S. Senator George LeMieux and two academics were named as finalists for the job.

The surprising decision ended days of speculation over who Gov. Rick Scott would choose to replace Atwater in the Florida Cabinet.

“As I said to my staff about accepting an invitation to apply, my passion for serving as Florida’s CFO and my commitment to working with my great colleagues for years to come remains undiminished,” Atwater wrote in a statement Friday.

The FAU selection committee had doubts about including a politician among the finalists.

“The perception out there might be that this is a politically arranged deal,” said member Dick Schmidt, president and CEO of Schmidt Companies.

Schmidt said an experienced politican would bring “baggage” to the university, and might struggle to win over the faculty and philanthropic community.

But FAU Trustee Abdol Moabery said experience in Tallahassee would be an asset.

“For 20 years, I have watched all the funding go to UF [the University of Florida] and FSU [Florida State University], and later USF [the University of South Florida] and UCF [the University of Central Florida], and frankly I’m tired of it,” Moabery said. “We do need a powerhouse. We need someone who knows this legislature.”

The other two finalists are John Kelly, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, and Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. 

Atwater interviews for FAU presidency

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater interviewed Friday morning to become the next president of Florida Atlantic University.

Atwater is among nine candidates being considered for the post.

Former U.S. Senator George LeMieux is also a finalist. His interview begins at 2 p.m.

During his 90-minute interview, Atwater repeatedly said he would build “the brand” of Florida Atlantic University. He also pledged to encourage “creativity and innovation in all facets of the university.”

His priorities, he said, would include expanding the medical school, improving the graduation rate, and building partnerships with local businesses. He would also consider adding new online offerings.

“For us, in the near term, I would certainly believe we could begin to explore how we could integrate online learning with an association and participation in our campus life in real time here on the campus,” he said. “I don’t see it as mutually exclusive. I see it as, in fact, very exciting.”

In making his pitch, Atwater touted his experience in the banking industry and the Florida Legislature. He served as Senate President from 2008 to 2010.

The selection committee is expected to choose the final three candidates Friday evening. The candidates will tour FAU's campuses and participate in open forums next week. 


January 07, 2014

List of potential Atwater successors continues to grow

In Florida, there are few top tier elected positions available at the state level for ambitious pols. Until recently, the three Cabinet races locked up by incumbents promised to be snoozers this election year for all but the very top of the ticket -- the governor's race.

Then chief financial officer Jeff Atwater announced he's ready to ditch his $129,000 state job for one that makes nearly three times the salary: president of Florida Atlantic University. The search committee on Monday picked Atwater, and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux among 10 candidates to interview. If Atwater is named to the post, the governor could appoint a temporary replacement and open the door to politicians from both parties to scurry for the open seat.

Here's the latest line-up of who's considering the job should Atwater leave: 

Continue reading "List of potential Atwater successors continues to grow " »

January 05, 2014

LeMieux also applies for FAU job -- is a turf battle in the making?

On one side we have Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announce he has "been approached" by Florida Atlantic University and has accepted the request to apply for the presidential post. On the other we have former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux announcing Sunday he's also adding his hat to the ring because he was "encouraged by members of the board of trustees." Hmmm.

Whose idea was it to publicly pit these guys against each other, who else has been "encouraged" and why the rush to get a politician?

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Rick Scott "praised LeMieux," in a statement.

"George LeMieux's pursuit of the FAU presidency is further proof that Florida's high-caliber universities attract the best and brightest talent in the country," Scott said. "FAU is fortunate to add to their list of presidency candidates someone like George who has a great vision for our state and would do an outstanding job as president."

Whoa. Was that an endorsement?

But wait, the governor also praised Atwater in a statement a day earlier -- but it reads as if he knew LeMieux's news was coming. He said Atwater has the "experience and skill to be an outstanding president."

"While the school will no doubt consider multiple, qualified, prestigious candidates for the job, FAU would be well served to have a leader like Jeff at the helm," Scott's statement said.

We know Scott is grateful to LeMieux, who served as chief of staff and campaign manager to former Gov. Charlie Crist, was rewarded by being named by Crist to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of former Sen. Mel Martinez in 2009 where LeMieux served for 16 months. Then LeMieux became a vocal critic of Crist and Scott loyalist once Crist jumped parties.

Perhaps, the Florida Legislature's penchant for politicizing higher ed may have some competition.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/05/3853823/former-sen-lemieux-applies-for.html#storylink=cpy

January 04, 2014

Atwater announces he will seek FAU presidency

Saying he has been recruited for the job, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Saturday that he is applying for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University.
If selected by the presidential search committee later this month, Atwater would relinquish what is considered a safe seat on the Florida Cabinet as the state's chief financial manager, creating the only open seat on the three-member Cabinet this election.
Atwater was elected CFO in 2010, after serving two years as Senate president, and was expected to seek re-election. He has also been frequently mentioned as a candidate for governor in 2018.
In an email to senior staff Saturday morning, Atwater said that he has "been approached by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) regarding the search for their next president.  After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to place my name into consideration for this position."
The university is seeking to fill the post vacated by Mary Jane Saunders in May after a series of embarrassing public relations developments. Saunders initiated and then reversed a decision by the univeristy to sell naming rights to the football stadium to the private prison company the GEO Group. The school also faced national ridicule after a teacher conducted a classroom exercise in which students were asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper then step on it and another professor suggested that the Boston Marathon bombing and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., may have been hoaxes.
Atwater's links to the school include having three children attend or graduate from the university and representing the school's three campuses when he served in the legislature from 2000 to 2010. Atwater, a banker by trade and a graduate of the University of Florida, spent much of his legislative career focused on insurance and banking issues and was not known for his work on education issues. His profile says he focused on preserving funding for early childhood education and raising student performance standards.
The 15-member search committee is expected to meet on Monday to come up with a list of finalists and make its decision by Jan. 17.
Here is the note he sent to top staff after rumors circulated last night about his decision:

Continue reading "Atwater announces he will seek FAU presidency " »

December 12, 2013

Democratic CFO candidate raises just $151 in November


The first Democrat to challenge incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was a disaster, but this new guy has his own set of troubles.

William Rankin, a Fort Lauderdale businessman, faces questions about his resume and recently missed a financial reporting deadline. Now that his November fundraising totals have been posted online, we see there isn't much there.

$151. That's what Rankin raised in cash in November. Of course, that's a six-fold increase from his October haul of $25. He keeps his fledgling campaign afloat using $10,600 he loaned to himself.

Meanwhile, Republican Atwater has $814,756 on hand after raising $235,825 in November.

Rankin filed his paperwork at the beginning of October and announced his candidacy on Oct. 22. He says he is focused on traveling the state and getting to know Democrats around Florida, not raising money.

"There's a lot of time out there," he told the Times/Herald today.

Continue reading "Democratic CFO candidate raises just $151 in November" »

October 29, 2013

Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is asking for state insurance regulators to explain why property insurance companies don't seem to be passing along their cost savings to consumers.

At the heart of the issue is the drop in the cost of re-insurance, which has dropped in price after a series of legislative reforms. Atwater asked the same question to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty in an August letter. McCarty responded in a letter, and at a recent Cabinet meeting, and said that rather than reduce the cost of premiums for consumers, insurers were purchasing more re-insurance.

Now, Atwater wants better answers and he is asking McCarty to prepare a report by Dec. 18.

"My question to you is simple: 'Why have rates not come down?',” Atwater writes. Here's his letter:  Download 10.29.2013 Letter to McCarty Regarding Property Insurance Costs (1)

Continue reading "Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping" »

October 23, 2013

Little-known FL Dem announces CFO campaign in dark of night


It's 10:13 p.m., do you know who your Democratic CFO candidate is? Well, just wait 60 seconds, then.

At 10:14 p.m., the oddest of all times for a political announcement, businessman William Rankin announced he'd challenge state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

A retired vet, businessman and former Ohio state treasury official, Rankin has a good bio on paper. So maybe the dark-of-night-campaign announcement forshadows a dark-horse campaign.

But already you have to wonder about the success of a campaign against a seasoned and well-funded pol like Atwater. Still, compared to the last Democrat running for the office, Allie Braswell, Rankin doesn't look as if he'll embarrass the party.

Here's the press release:

Continue reading "Little-known FL Dem announces CFO campaign in dark of night" »