September 10, 2014

As feds draw closer, David Rivera's confidante to be sentenced today


The federal investigation into former congressman David Rivera takes another major step today when his close friend and political ally is scheduled to be formally sentenced for her role in allegedly helping him break campaign finance laws.

Ana Alliegro last month made a surprise admission of guilt in open court and named Rivera as the mastermind of the 2012 scheme to steer more than $81,000 to a political unknown to help fund fliers and other items to campaign against the Republican’s rival, current U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

“Those fliers were designed by Ana Alliegro [and] David Rivera,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mulvihill said in court, implicitly citing prior statements Alliegro had made to prosecutors.

Before that disclosure in court, Rivera had denied wrongdoing and falsely claimed he was never under investigation. Rivera couldn’t be reached.

Court records and testimony indicate that Alliegro has told authorities that Rivera not only set the conspiracy in motion, but he also helped her flee the United States to Nicaragua when she was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors instead.

Alliegro in March was informally extradited to the United States and has been in jail ever since. Now that she’s cooperating, Alliegro could be sentenced to just six more months in jail, or even house arrest.

Alliegro is the second conviction in the case. Her co-conspirator, no-name former Democratic candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, pleaded guilty in 2013 for accepting the illegal campaign contributions and making false statements about them when he ran as a Democrat in the 2012 primary against Garcia and others.

Garcia won that race and went on to wallop the scandal-plagued Rivera in the general election. In this election, however, federal investigators are now examining whether Garcia's former top consultant and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation to the congressman) helped prop up yet another ringer candidate two years before in what appears to be a pre-cursor to Sternad's case.

Rep. Garcia has denied wrongdoing, said he'd cooperate with prosecutors and no witnesses have said he's culpable -- a stark contrast to Rivera's case in which two campaign vendors told The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that the Republican was involved in the 2012 campaign-finance scheme from the start. Based on the Herald reports, the FBI began examining the case.

With the two convictions and what appears to be a wealth of evidence and testimony against Rivera, Miami’s political and legal worlds have been abuzz with word of Rivera’s imminent indictment.

But Rivera, who has survived a prior federal investigation and a separate state investigation into his finances, has avoided indictments in the past. A Tallahassee judge, however, recently sided with state ethics commission prosecutors and found that he broke state ethics laws over how he managed campaign and taxpayer money as a state legislator.

Rivera is appealing. The ethics commission has yet to rule on the case.

But voters have rendered their verdict.

Rivera tried to mount a comeback to run against Garcia this year. But the one-time political power broker, nagged by scandal and his repeated misstatements reported in the press, came in fourth place in a five-way GOP primary on Aug. 26.

Rivera received just 2,209 votes – which is 647 less than the no-name Sternad received just two years before when his campaign was propped up by illegal money.

September 09, 2014

XX marks the spot? Charlie Crist campaigning on abortion, equal pay, birth control


Emboldened by Democrats’ success with women voters, Charlie Crist’s campaign has teamed up with Planned Parenthood to target Gov. Rick Scott over abortion, birth control and Medicaid expansion.

On Tuesday, Crist’s campaign touted its newest TV ad that seeks to paint the Republican incumbent as “extreme” for signing multiple laws restricting abortion rights and for saying he opposes the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade ruling.

“Rick Scott’s devastating policies have left women without a representative fighting for them in Tallahassee,” Crist’s running mate, Annette Taddeo, said on a conference call with Planned Parenthood.

Scott’s campaign and the Republican Party of Florida wouldn’t comment. But a top Scott surrogate, Miami state. Sen. Anitere Flores, said the Democrats are misconstruing Scott’s record and what’s important.

Flores, a Republican who backed all the abortion bills Scott has signed since 2011, sponsored the 2014 legislation that restricts abortions after about the 20th week of pregnancy, when a fetus or baby can be considered “viable” by a physician.

“This issue isn’t anti-woman. This is about a new life,” Flores said. “Technology and medical advances have gotten to the point to say this baby, this fetus is alive. And the courts have ruled that a state has a compelling interest in protecting the child, protecting the life of the unborn.”

 More here

PPP: Crist 42%, Scott 39%. Medical marijuana in trouble at 61%

From a press release:

PPP's newest Florida poll continues to find a tight race for Governor, with Charlie Crist holding a slight advantage over Rick Scott. Crist is at 42% to 39% for Scott, and 8% for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. This election is shaping up as a choice between two candidates voters have decided they don't care for. Only 40% of voters approve of the job Scott is doing to 49% who disapprove. But they don't like Crist either- 40% of voters rate him favorably with 46% holding a negative opinion. The dissatisfaction with both major candidates probably helps to explain Wyllie's 8% standing but since he is drawing pretty equally from both Scott and Crist he's not having a major effect on the race in the way some Libertarians are in other states. When you take him out of the equation Crist's lead remains 3 points at 44/41.

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Bondi and Sheldon set to debate in October, but is that it?

SheldonIt’s been three weeks since the Democratic nominee for Florida Attorney General, George Sheldon, proposed five debates with Republican incumbent Pam Bondi.

Since then, he told reporters on Tuesday, he hasn’t heard back.

“Time’s a wasting,” he said.

Actually, two hours before, Bondi’s campaign sent out an email announcing that she had accepted an invitation to debate Sheldon in October for a Bay News 9 broadcast, which can be aired in Tampa Bay and Orlando.

Sheldon said he’d accept.

“I’m pleased to do it in her backyard,” he said.

But Sheldon, 67, stands by his request for five debates. He said he’s already accepted offers with Bay News 9, Fox News and the First Amendment Foundation, and would welcome at least two more.

Details about the one agreed-upon debate still need to be worked out, such as the date, time, place and whether Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer would join Bondi and Sheldon on stage.

Bondi’s email only invites Sheldon, who himself said he’d welcome Wohlsifer’s participation.

“He’s on the ballot,” Sheldon. “I think that’s appropriate.”

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Lawsuit alleges Wexford ignored years of abuse of mentally ill inmates in Dade

The Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews, and Wexford Health Systems ignored the widespread torture and abuse that mentally ill inmates have suffered for years at Dade Correctional Institution, a civil lawsuit alleges.

Disability Rights Florida, a nonprofit mental health advocacy group, is seeking an injunction to force immediate reforms and investigations into some of the more egregious complaints that it says Crews and others have ignored for more than three years.

Crews, his department, and Wexford, which provides health services to prisoners, “have permitted people with mental illness who were and currently are housed in the in-patient mental health unit at Dade CI to be subjected to abuse and discrimination by correctional officers to such an extent that at least two persons with mental illness have died within the past two years,” the suit, being filed Tuesday, alleges.

One of those who died is Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate who was given a “shower treatment,” by corrections officers on June 23, 2012, allegedly as punishment for acting out and defecating on the floor of his cell. Rainey’s mental state had deteriorated so badly from the abuse inflicted by corrections officers that he became agitated and delusional, according to the lawsuit, prepared by Peter P. Sleasman, lawyer for the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, along with prominent legal firm Holland and Knight.

More from Julie K. Brown here. 

Photo: Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews provides information about his visit to Dade Correctional Institution to conduct a full assessment on the 2012 death related to Darren Rainey, and discuss his meeting with Miami-Dade police officials at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City on Thursday, July 10, 2014. AL DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF


University of Miami's retiring Donna Shalala calls community 'maddening'


Tucked in University of Miami President Donna Shalala's retirement announcement Monday was a hard-edged appraisal of South Florida.

"This great community is maddening, delightful, and limitless in its vitality and promise," Shalala wrote.

It's unclear what, exactly, the typically unvarnished Shalala considered "maddening" (fair-weather football fans, perhaps?). But it appeared to refer to the community outside UM -- though not everything has been rosy inside the university during her 14-year tenure, either.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has waged public battles of his own, chuckled at the description in an interview with the Miami Herald.

"That pretty much describes it," he said. "It's delightful -- but maddening at times."

Fact-checking Joe Garcia's attack that Carlos Curbelo "supported ending the Medicare guarantee"

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, portrays his Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo as out of touch with middle-class residents in his South Florida district when it comes to issues such as Medicare benefits.

Web ad repeatedly shows Curbelo in a TV interview saying "if anybody has a complaint, file it," while the ad lists a litany of attacks on Curbelo. (That quote is unrelated to Medicare and relates to a situation involving Curbelo’s work as a lobbyist.)

Narrator: "When Curbelo supported ending the Medicare guarantee?

Curbelo: "If anyone has a complaint, file it."

Here we will fact-check whether Curbelo "supported ending the Medicare guarantee" -- an attack that could draw the attention of senior voters in the district that spans Miami to Key West. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read how we rated Garcia's claim.

Will Broward courts grant same-sex marriage licenses? Stay tuned on Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, Broward Judge Dale Cohen is expected to make final a divorce for a Lake Worth lesbian seeking to end her 2002 Vermont civil union.

Expect Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, one of Broward's longest serving Democrats, to announce his decision about whether to grant same-sex marriage licenses later Wednesday or Thursday.

Forman has said that he and his legal staff have been researching their options and he hasn’t publicly revealed if he is leaning either way. Advocates in favor of same-sex marriage have been lobbying Forman to grant marriage licenses, but that may not happen this week. 

“My personal view is I never had a problem with people marrying the people they love but I still need the law in front of me to make that change,” Forman said. “Whatever I am going to do I am going to follow the law.”

If Forman decides to grant same-sex marriage licenses, he is certain to face a legal challenge that will force his office to spend time and money defending his decision. The Christian Family Coalition, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, was scheduled to hold a presser at the Broward courthouse earlier today.

With various same-sex marriage cases winding their way through Florida courts, Forman could take a cautious path and decide to wait for additional court rulings.

Forman won’t face political repercussions for his decision because he has already announced he plans to retire in 2016. A Democrat, Forman never lost a race since he joined the Hallandale City Commission in 1973 -- he later served as a county commissioner and state senator before winning the Clerk’s job in 2000.


Seven former Supreme Court Justices say they oppose medical marijuana amendment

An anti-drug group fighting Amendment 2 has elicited the backing of seven former state Supreme Court justices to oppose the effort to legalize medical marijuana. But a spokesman for a pro-amendment group countered that's "what's relevant is the majority opinion" of the current court.

A divided Florida Supreme Court ruled in January that ballot language for the proposed constitutional amendment meets all legal requirements.

“It strikes us as disrespectful to the sitting justices on the bench that these former members of the highest court in our state would publicly question the decisions of the court in such a manner,” Ben Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, the prime group fighting for Amendment 2, wrote in an email.

In a press statement billed as a  “paid political advertisement paid for by Drug Free Florida Committee,” former Justice Kenneth B. Bell said that “Once an Amendment is in the constitution, it is extremely difficult to change.  A subject such as this should be addressed by general law … The Legislature has already legalized a strain of low-THC marijuana for medical use that is not smoked. Any expansion of marijuana use should reflect further development in medical knowledge and have a carefully limited scope, which Amendment 2 does not do.”    


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UPDATED Big-spending conservative groups target Miami Rep. Joe Garcia with TV, online ads


Two conservative political groups announced separately Tuesday that they plan to spend big bucks to oppose the reelection of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat who represents the 26th congressional district, one of Florida's most competitive.

The American Action Network plans to spend $1 million in television and online advertising to run in October that will highlight the conviction of his former chief of staff and Garcia's support of Obamacare.

"South Florida families deserve better than another scandal-plagued politician like Joe Garcia who won't take responsibility for the criminal actions of his own chief of staff," group spokeswoman Emily Davis said in a news release. "It's time Joe Garcia answers for the crimes under his watch and his record of boosting Obamacare at the expense of South Florida families."

The ad buy is part of an $8 million effort across the country targeting nine swing districts. The same group funded an online ad in July urging Garcia to oppose cuts to Medicare Advantage proposed by the White House -- which Garcia had already done.

Also Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, said it would re-launch an online ad criticizing Garcia's Obamacare support. The ad has been on the web since February. 


"Congressman Garcia is still supporting ObamaCare, even though he's seent he disruption, confusion and hardship it's causing Florida families," Chris Hudson, the group's Florida director, said in a news release. "Congressman Garcia may claim he is working on behalf of Floridians to get them relief from the law, but the truth is he's done nothing to get rid of ObamaCare, even a year after the disastrous rollout."

Last year, the same group ran a TV ad against Garcia and fellow Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, also over Obamacare.

The outside ads, known in political parlance as independent expenditures, come the same day Garcia unveiled his first TV ads, which feature some jabs at Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo. Garcia's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is no surprise that out of state millionaires and special interests are trying to buy elections for lobbyists like Carlos Curbelo. Curbeo has already proven his allegiance to special interests by refusing to disclose his lobbying clients and by funneling tax dollars on the school board to his political donors. Now these special interests want him in Congress to push their shared agenda of ending the Medicare guarantee and putting big money special interests first in Washington. Our campaign is about continuing to work for South Florida families -- always putting the people of South Florida over politics,” Said Miguel Salazar, spokesperson for the campaign.

"It is no surprise that out-of-state millionaires and special interests are trying to buy elections for lobbysists like Carlos Curbelo," Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar said in a statement. "Curbelo has already proven his allegiance to special interests by refusing to disclose his lobbying clients and by funneling tax dollars on the school board to his political donors. Now these special interests want him in Congress to push their shared agenda of ending the Medicare guarantee and putting big money special interests first in Washington."

(PolitiFact Florida rated an earlier Garcia statement over Curbelo's position on the so-called Medicare guarantee "false.")

Garcia has used conservatives' spending to urge liberals to donate to his campaign. At least two other conservative groups, America Rising PAC and LIBRE Initiative, have also targeted him. The National Republican Congressional Committee said in June it planned to spend $1.4 million in ads against Garcia.

Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had reserved about $970,000 in ad time as of June.

This post has been updated with comment from the Garcia campaign and the PolitiFact Florida mention.