November 12, 2015

Lawmaker renews call for body camera regulations, after police officer who shot Corey Jones is terminated

@ByKristenMClark

Shev jonesA Broward County lawmaker is renewing his call for more transparency and accountability measures from law enforcement, now that the Palm Beach Gardens police officer who shot Corey Jones last month has been fired.

Palm Beach Gardens officials announced Nouman Raja's termination today. (More here.)

“Those of us who have sought justice in this case still have been shortchanged of meaningful information,” Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said in a statement. “Even with the firing, we don’t know the details of how the police department reached this decision. Our quest for justice begins with transparency and facts."

“This is just the beginning,” he added. “We have a long way to go until we get justice for Corey Jones."

Jones said justice and transparency can come from more accurate records of police shootings, such as those which might be provided by dash-camera or body-camera footage -- neither of which is available in the investigation of Corey Jones' death.

Corey Jones was shot dead at 3 a.m. Oct. 18 on an I-95 off-ramp in Palm Beach County after his car broke down. Raja was on duty in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police van, when he stopped to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle. Jones was shot three times.

The unmarked police van had no dash camera, and Raja wore no body camera, because the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department doesn't own or use the devices.

Shevrin Jones has again proposed legislation that would require police agencies to have policies and protocols in place if they choose to use body cameras, but his bill falls short of mandating use of the devices. (More here.)

“Body cameras won’t necessarily save a life,” Shevrin Jones said. “Matters like these will allow for the police force to set forth rules and regulations for the officers, and the proper protocol and procedure in handling them.”

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

November 11, 2015

Cause damage with your drone? You might have to pay up

Drones_AP

@ByKristenMClark

As unmanned commercial drones continue climbing in popularity, so does the potential for accidents in which wayward devices might physically harm people or damage property.

Under current Florida law, there’s nothing a victim could do about such an accident, so a Republican state senator from Miami said he wants to fill that “void in the law.”

The proposal from state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla would provide a legal recourse for victims of drone accidents to recoup their expenses should a drone — for example — lose control and hit a high-voltage electric line or tumble into a crowd of people.

“They’re very hard to control and they can cause massive damage if they fall,” Diaz de la Portilla said of the devices, which can have a variety of functions and sizes, ranging from personal cameras that can be lofted into the air to armed military aircraft.

Senate Bill 642 would allow people to recover costs from the owner and operator of a drone if the device “was a substantial contributing factor” in causing the damage. The manufacturer and distributor of the device also could be sued if the damage resulted from a defect or design flaw.

 
Photo credit: AP

November 10, 2015

Miami-Dade legislative delegation announces new leaders for 2016 session

Jose felix diaz

@ByKristenMClark

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Jose Javier Rodriguez will lead Miami-Dade County's legislative delegation for the 2016 session that begins in January, the delegation announced today.

Diaz, R-Miami, will serve as chairman, replacing Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Diaz spent the past four years as the delegation's vice-chairman.

Rodriguez, D-Miami, will succeed him in that post.

Both were elected unanimously by the 24-member group, which Diaz called "a surreal honor."

"Miami-Dade's delegation is the strongest, largest, and most united delegation in our great state," Diaz said. "We hope this will be indicative of our delegation's willingness to usher in a new era of cooperation and statesmanship."

The delegation has 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats between the county's six Senate and 18 House seats. The chairman and vice-chairman, elected annually, spearhead the delegation's legislative agenda and priorities.

Photo credit: State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. Courtesy of myfloridahouse.gov

November 09, 2015

Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez gets house arrest, probation

@MrMikeVasquez

For-profit college operator Ernesto Perez — a big-time donor to South Florida politicians — officially pleaded guilty Monday to illegally bundling more than $159,000 in campaign contributions.

Perez, who owned Dade Medical College, will surrender in January to begin serving house arrest and probation.

Perez’s official sentence is three days in jail, but because the college operator is receiving credit for time already served, there will be no additional days behind bars.

The plea deal was first discussed last week when Perez was arrested on the campaign finance charges. It was postponed until Monday so attorneys on both sides could work out the details.

Perez also receives three years of probation, plus two months of house arrest. The college owner agreed to pay $150,000 to law enforcement for the cost of the investigation — $95,000 of which he has already paid, lawyers announced.

Perez will also make $50,000 in required charitable donations. The college owner will not be required to pay any restitution to his former students — Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said this is because the criminal charges settled on Monday dealt with Perez’s personal conduct, and not the actions of Dade Medical College.

More here.

Joe Negron's Florida Senate presidency designation set for December

Joenegron

@ByKristenMClark

With the battle for the next Senate presidency settled last week between Sens. Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, Senate Republican leaders announced today the date for Negron's designation ceremony.

It will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 2, during the middle of the final committee week scheduled in advance of the 2016 legislative session.

The planned vote by the Republican caucus is to designate Negron, R-Stuart, as the next Senate president for a two-year term starting in November 2016.

Praising Negron's legislative experience and leadership, current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he is “pleased to see the caucus unite around Senator Negron.”

Up until Thursday, Negron had been engaged in a three-year battle for the chamber's top post with Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. In exchange for Latvala withdrawing from the race, Negron announced he would make Latvala the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Photo credit: tampabay.com

November 07, 2015

FL lawmakers kept soaking up freebies at Dade Medical College - until the bitter end

@MrMikeVasquez

Five weeks before for-profit Dade Medical College collapsed, the liquor was still flowing.

It was open bar at a ribbon-cutting for a new outdoor terrace at Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida. The location: downtown Coral Gables.

There was hors d’oeuvres. There was paella. And there were politicians.

Ernesto Perez, Dade Medical’s principal owner, donated big to scores of political campaigns, sometimes backing both candidates for the same seat. He steered jobs and contractual work to nearly a dozen local politicians, and invited them and their colleagues to events like this one. In those moments, Perez made it a point to shoot photos of himself with the politically powerful, which he liked to splash on the Internet and share on the school’s Facebook page.

The political prestige gave the college credibility, which raised the school’s profile, which helped to recruit more students. That, in turn, boosted profits, which allowed for even more political contributions, and even more influence. Prosecutors say Perez spent more than $750,000 on political contributions.

Perez’s school had luxury suites at Miami Heat games, and Miami Dolphins games.

“If I was at a Heat game and ran into him, they might have handed me a wristband,” acknowledged state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who also attended the September ribbon-cutting.

More here.

November 05, 2015

VIDEO: Florida Senate, House leaders sound off as special session ends

@ByKristenMClark

After the Legislature's special Senate redistricting session ended tonight without a redrawn map of Senate district boundaries, Republican leaders addressed the next steps and whether they could have reached a different outcome.

Read our coverage here.

November 04, 2015

PHOTOS: Ernesto Perez and his political friends

Cantor and mayor

 

@MrMikeVasquez

Before his for-profit college suddenly collapsed on Friday, and before he was arrested for allegedly illegal campaign contributions on Tuesday, Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez was the king of an educational empire. Perez earned $431,999 a year, put his parents and wife on the company payroll, and he contributed heavily to political campaigns.

Perez enjoyed access to local, state, and federal politicians — a U.S. Senator from Colorado, the mayors of Miami and Homestead, and lots of state lawmakers. Here are photographs of some of the many politicians who crossed paths with Dade Medical College. The photos demonstrate the enormous level of Perez’s political reach.

See more photos here

November 03, 2015

UPDATED: Giving money to politicians backfires on Ernesto Perez

@MrMikeVasquez 

One week ago, Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez was drawing a $431,999 salary and running six campuses spread across the state.

On Tuesday, Perez found himself in handcuffs, flanked by a wall of TV news cameras.

The humbling ordeal followed the Friday closure of his for-profit college empire. And the subsequent filing of criminal charges that he illegally bundled more than $159,000 in campaign contributions to politicians.

At Miami’s Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, Perez turned himself in to authorities. The new charges are on top of pending perjury charges, from 2013, that remain unresolved.

Spreading around political cash was Perez’s calling card — now, it has become part of his undoing. And although Tallahassee politicians passed laws that helped Dade Medical, such as weakening academic quality standards, none of that was enough to keep his college afloat. The combination of mounting debts and heightened scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education led to Friday’s school collapse, which displaced about 2,000 students.

During the school’s heyday, Perez was influential enough to secure a sit-down meeting with Gov. Rick Scott. He traveled to Tallahassee in a chartered plane. He drove around downtown Coral Gables in a silver Bentley.

Perez is now “liquidating some long-held assets,” his defense attorney, Michael Band, told Circuit Judge Stacy Glick in a Tuesday court hearing.

More here.

For-profit FastTrain College forged signatures, ex-employee says

@MrMikeVasquez

The former director of admissions at FastTrain College testified in federal court on Monday, telling jurors that school owner Alejandro Amor scolded employees over the forged signatures they were putting on student financial aid documents.

Amor wasn’t upset that the forgeries were happening, ex-employee Juan Arreola testified. The for-profit college owner was ticked off that they weren’t convincing enough.

“The name’s crooked ... you need to coach your guys better,” Arreola said Amor told him. Amor’s suggested method, Arreola said: Put the original signature up to the sunlight in front of a glass window, and then trace it.

“You need to show your guys how to take forging classes,” Arreola said his former boss told him.

Arreola is one of many ex-employees testifying in the criminal trial of Amor, the owner and former school president. The trial may last until December.

Miami-based FastTrain once boasted seven Florida campuses, including locations in Kendall, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines. Amor had a private jet and a 54-foot yacht named Big One.

More here.