September 06, 2013

Jim Greer, now inmate, emerges as prison civics teacher

Jim Greer in prison@SteveBousquet

He once controlled the Republican Party of Florida, flying on chartered jets, drinking top-shelf bourbon and mingling with the rich and powerful.

Now Jim Greer lives at Gulf Forestry Camp, a low-security prison in a remote patch of the Florida Panhandle and a world away from the life he lived as a confidant of former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Near the halfway point of his 18-month sentence for grand theft and money laundering, Greer agreed to speak exclusively with the Times/Herald about his old life and his new one.

The man who use to answer to "Chairman" has a new title: Inmate No. C07705.

On the surface, prison has been good to the 51-year-old Greer.

Seated at a conference table at nearby Gulf Correctional Institution, where prison officials arranged an interview, Greer looks noticeably thinner. He says he has lost 40 pounds.

He's also tanner than when Floridians last saw him in an Orlando courthouse in February. The tan is the result of six-hour days on a work crew, pulling weeds and picking up trash in nearby Port St. Joe.

He says he wakes up each morning at 4 a.m., attends church services on Tuesdays and Sundays, and teaches inmates studying for their GEDs about the three branches of government.

"I teach social studies and civics," he said, "believe it or not."

He is eligible for a work release transfer, has a spotless disciplinary record and has few complaints about prison life.

"When you're down in a ditch, it's 100 degrees and you have a Weed Eater, it's not the most pleasant thing," Greer said. "But it's not North Korea. We're not being beaten every day."

During a 75-minute visit, Greer talked about life in prison, the friends he thought he had and the people (he seldom gets specific) that he blames for his downfall. He tantalizes about a possible tell-all book.

"I have a lot of knowledge of a lot of things," he said. "Maybe someday I'll tell them and maybe someday I won't." Story here. 

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, Tampa Bay Times 

August 25, 2013

From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle

@MarcACaputo

With a 500,000 edge in registered voters and a victory by President Barack Obama’s well-organized campaign in the state, the Florida Democratic Party had all the makings of a possible political juggernaut at the start of the year.

Last week, however, it looked like a joke.

The party’s Florida Chief Financial Officer candidate, Allie Braswell, withdrew Monday just days after announcing his bid. Braswell quit after Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union reported he had a few bankruptcies in his past — a damaging bit of history for someone running to manage the finances of the fourth most-populous state in the nation.

“The bright spotlight of a statewide campaign has cast the ups and downs of my life into harsh relief, and I now know that this campaign is not the way I was meant to serve my community,” Braswell said in a written statement.

Continue reading "From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle" »

August 13, 2013

Take Andy and Don out to the ball game tonight

Yankees logoWhat can $25,000 and a ticket to NYC get you? A ticket to the ball game with Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, and maybe a box of Cracker Jacks.

The annual fundraiser is intended to raise funds for the Senate re-election campaign in 2014, which is not exactly shaping up to be a heavy lift. (No senator is being forced to retire because of term limits and so no Republicans, who hold the majority, are expected to face much of a challenge.)

The first pitch against the Los Angeles Angels starts at 7:05.

Here's the invite:  Download YANKEES 2013 INVITE (3)

August 09, 2013

UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?

Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It also put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.

Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in big trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."

Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.

Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).

UPDATE: Negron supporters however, disagree. They claim the numbers are closer to 13-10 with three holdouts: Sens. Tom Lee of Brandon, Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Gardiner.

They are also confident that three of the open seats in 2016 -- Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, Garrett Richter of Naples and Charlie Dean of Inverness will go to Negron supporters. Who? Matt Gaetz has already announced he's going to replace his dad. Former state Rep. Tom Grady is said to be considering a run to replace Richter and state Rep. Dennis Baxley is considering seeking Dean's seat. 

Continue reading "UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?" »

August 08, 2013

Corcoran gets behind "outsider" candidate to replace Fasano

The prize for first to file for Florida House District 36, which was left wide open Wednesday after Mike Fasano was tapped Pasco County Tax Collector, goes to Bill Gunter.

“It’s a nice day,” Gunter said hours after he filed paperwork announcing his candidacy Thursday. “I just feel like the constituents of the district need a voice for them.”

Gunter’s already got supporters like Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who’s in line to become Speaker in 2016.

Now if only Gunter lived in District 36, which covers parts of coastal Pasco, the Republicans might really have something.

Turns out, Gunter lives further inland, about five miles away, or a 10-minute drive, from the district boundary. It’s a geographical quirk that kind of makes him the “outsider” candidate for the constituents of District 36. He really lives in District 37, which is firmly held by Corcoran.

For Gunter, residency isn’t a major issue. He said he plans to move by the date of the special election, which he said should be in eight to 10 weeks.

He said he knows the district well because of his job with the chaplain corps of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, and pastor of Redeemer Community Church, which isn’t in District 36 either.

“Many of the people I’ve served as pastor live in District 36,” Gunter said, “so I feel like I already know many of them and their issues.”

He said his church isn't exclusive.

"My church is mixed with everybody," he said. Though Redeemer is a Presbyterian church, he said District 36 residents who have attended his services are from all sorts of faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists.

Jewish people?

“Of course not,” he said, “I’m talking about other Christians.”

When he moves, he said he doesn’t plan to sell his Roundelay Drive home, which he bought in 2003. He explained that he might lose next year in the regular election, in which case he would move back. He plans to move to a rental somewhere in District 36.

“Lord willing, if I win again, then it would be wise for me to settle down,” Gunter said.

But what if he loses this year? Will he be forced to live in a district he doesn't represent because he had to make arrangements in case he won? Gunter said he's still working out the details.

"You get into this knowing you'll make some sacrifices," he said.

Florida law allows candidates to run for seats in districts where they don’t reside. And Gunter has done this before. In 2012, he ran for a Pasco County Commission seat in a district where he didn’t reside. He lost, but he said it wasn’t an issue then.

“It was brought up a few times here and there, but it wasn’t like anyone harped on it,” Gunter said.

But Florida Republicans, especially Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, have made residency a major issue this year. He and media outlets have flagged several Democratic lawmakers -- Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Perry Thurston, Rep. Alan Williams, Rep. Hazelle Rogers, Rep. Joe Gibbons, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz -- for questions about their residencies. Latvala thinks the situation is so pervasive that he’s calling for a wider investigation.

When told Thursday about Gunter’s residency status, Latvala said he should be treated like anyone else.

“People need to live in the districts they serve,” Latvala said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got to really move.”

Gunter said he would. He promised.

“I am committed 100 percent to moving,” Gunter said. “I will fulfill the requirements of the law.”


July 26, 2013

Officials unravel Desai's downfall: extravagent spending, possible crimes

From @TBTimes

Six months after Universal Health Care Group declared bankruptcy, authorities are piecing together how extravagant spending and possible criminal conduct led to the demise of the once-thriving Medicare insurer.

A bankruptcy trustee alleges that Dr. Akshay "Doc" Desai, founder of the St. Petersburg company, and two of his top lieutenants took kickbacks from vendors seeking to do business with Universal.

A major bank alleges Desai might have had an insider stake in an Indian outsourcing company that collected millions of dollars from a Universal affiliate.

And the court official charged with liquidating Universal's assets and paying creditors has hired a top Miami law firm for a specific mission: to coordinate with federal prosecutors "in connection with any criminal related matters."

Desai and at least two of his former executives have hired well-known criminal defense attorneys, who insist their clients have done nothing wrong.

But interviews and recently filed court records show that even as Universal spiraled toward collapse, its leaders lived large at company expense. Desai and his wife, Seema, enjoyed weekends at a sumptuous corporate condo decorated with at least $115,000 in furnishings, including original artwork. Top executives drove luxury BMWs and joined dozens of other employees on a company-paid Mediterranean cruise. At the time, Medicare officials derided Universal for having among the worst customer service in the country with frequent complaints from members denied services and health care providers denied timely reimbursement. Story here. 

 

 

July 25, 2013

July 18, 2013

Republicans now own 'Empty Chair Charlie' website

For weeks, Florida Republicans have gleefully tweaked former Gov. Charlie Crist and his record with a daily "This Day in CRIST-ory" feature that points out the flip-flops and policy shifts in the Republican-turned-Democrat's record.

The GOP took its strategy a step further Thursday, claiming ownership of the dormant site www.emptychaircharlie.com, which the Florida Democratic Party created in 2008 as a vehicle to criticize Crist for what Democrats then saw as his inattention to his responsibilities as governor. 

In a release, RPOF said: "The site's sole purpose will be to archive and post previous Florida Democratic Party press releases and other materials attacking Crist's tenure as governor and his open campaign to be John McCain's vice president."

In launching the site in 2008, then-Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman sent an email to party activists, saying the site would be "dedicated to holding Crist accountable for his blatant absence during the state's most dire economic times in 16 years." 

The "empty chair" strategy was actually created by Crist's team in the 2006 governor's race, when Crist effectively criticized his Democratic opponent, Jim Davis, for missing votes while in Congress.   

July 09, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Governor's appointments

Aventura City Commissioner Luz Weinberg, director of communications for Bouygues Construction, has been appointed to the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority.

She is also the vice president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and a member of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Broward Sheriff Scott J. Israel  has been reappointed to the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council.'Great Floridians'

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

'Great Floridians'

Betty Sembler and the late Ruth Springer Wedgworth were honored as Great Floridians during a reception Monday at the Governor’s Mansion.

Sembler was one of the 10 founding members of Straight, Inc. a nonprofit drug treatment program,  and was the founder and president of Save Our Society From Drugs (S.O.S.) and the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. During three decades of activism, she also served as a member of the Governor's Drug Policy Task Force in Florida.

Springer Wedgworth built a small family farm in Palm Beach County into one of the state's most prominent agribusinesses and she was named a Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture. Her son, George Wedgworth, accepted the award on her behalf.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

June 11, 2013

GOP targets Democrats with robo calls urging them to 'free Nan Rich'

Putting its money where its mouth is, the Republican Party of Florida on Tuesday launched a robo-call campaign aimed at loyal Democrats urging them to "free Nan Rich" and let the underdog candidate for governor speak at the party’s annual fundraising dinner this weekend.

“Hi. I’m calling on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida,’’ the recorded female voice says in telephone calls targeting 13,000 Democrats in Miami, Palm Beach and Fort Myers. The phone campaign is part of an aggressive GOP media pitch aimed at exploiting the rift that rose when Rich was denied a speaking spot at the event.

“While our parties may not agree on most issues, we do agree when it comes to honoring those in our parties who represent its core values,’’ the recorded voice continues. “But Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant is refusing to let Nan Rich speak for five minutes at this Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner.” Download RPOF_06112013_NanRich (1)

Rich, a former state senator, was left off the roster of the dinner to be held at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood even though she has been the only Democrat actively campaigning to defeat Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Tant said Rich’s rejection was not a snub but an attempt to streamline and energize a program that has traditionally gone on for hours. Meanwhile, the high profile attention from Repupblican Party Chairman Lenny Curry has not suppressed interest but increased it, she said, noting that the party is sold 40 more tables than last year and is ahead of its fundraising goal.

“I hope it costs them some money,’’ Tant said with a laugh. “Maybe I ought to write Lenny a thank you note.”

RPOF’s focus on the issue – in an email to party stalwarts, the robo calls and press releases – has also helped draw attention to Rich’s campaign which, until now, had been dwarfed by a focus on former Republican governor turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, and former Chief Financial Officer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.

“They are trying to be my best friend,’’ Rich said Tuesday, adding that the RPOF attention and the party rejection “is backfiring on everybody.

“I’ve received two to three weeks of incredible media attention I wasn’t able to get before and people recognize that I’m a legitimate candidate for governor,’’ she told the Herald/Times.

Tant said she was also “thrilled that Nan’s gotten some buzz." 

The party program, which last year included six key speeches, is designed to be kept to 90 minutes, said Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp.

Speakers will include brief remarks from Tant, DNC Chairwoman Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Pembroke Pines, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and a keynote speech from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the rising star who gave a well-received speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and will help the party highlight its outreach to Hispanics.

Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader, agrees there is a need to shorten the speechifying. "I have sat there for hour after hour and there have been too many speakers,'' she said. But she is not persuaded they couldn’t make room for a five-minute speech from the only Democrat who has been campaigning to unseat Scott.

“We have a different view what the purpose of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner is,’’ she told the Herald Times. “I believe I’ve earned the right to speak and it is totally appropriate for me to speak. The truth is people all over the state are expressing that.”

Curry clearly sees the advantage in exploiting the disagreement. In the robo-call to Democrats, the recorded voice quotes Democratic activists and a newspaper columnist and urges people to call the Democratic Party.

"To make your voice heard, call the Florida Democrats at 850-222-3411 Tell them to free Nan Rich and let her speak,’’ the caller says.

Here’s the RPOF script:

“Hi. I’m calling on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida.

"While our parties may not agree on most issues, we do agree when it comes to honoring those in our parties who represent its core values. But Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant is refusing to let Nan Rich speak for five minutes at this Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner.

"Maggie Davidson, state Democratic committeewoman from Broward, told the Sun-Sentinel that “Nan Rich should be allowed to speak. She’s a high-level Democrat and she should be highlighted.”

"The Sun-Sentinel’s Gary Stein, wrote that “Jefferson and Jackson themselves would be all in favor of letting Nan Rich speak.”

"To make your voice heard, call the Florida Democrats at 850-222-3411 Tell them to free Nan Rich and let her speak."