July 10, 2014

On-duty cops at Scott campaign event draws election law complaint

A leader of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, an officers' union that backs Charlie Crist for governor, has filed an election-law complaint against Gov. Rick Scott, accusing his campaign of violating the law by having on-duty police officers at a campaign event.

The complaint was filed by Jeff Marano of Fort Lauderdale, a 30-year PBA member who cited a state law that makes it a misdemeanor for public employees to engage in political activity during working hours, except for elected officials such as sheriffs.

"Rick Scott's political campaign facilitiated the violation of (law) by soliciting the assistance of on-duty law enforcement officers -- under the false pretense of security -- only to repeatedly feature them as props in the background of campaign events," Marano's complaint alleges.

Scott held a campaign event Monday morning at Patrick's Uniforms in Tampa, a business specializing in police uniforms and accessories. Top brass from several law enforcement agencies were there, including the police chief of Holmes Beach, William Tokajer; several uniformed Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies, and an enforcement officer from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.

In his complaint, Marano cites reports by three media organizations: WTVT, WFLA and The Tampa Tribune. Marano cites a WFLA report that some police officers left when they discovered it was a campaign event, and that WTVT quoted Chief Tokajer as saying the Scott campaign did not specifically tell him that the event was political in nature.

Scott's campaign issued a response that did not specifically address the allegations in the complaint.

"Gov. Scott is proud to have the support of Florida’s law enforcement community, including the Florida Police Chiefs Association and 40 Florida sheriffs. This is just another sad distraction from Charlie Crist’s numerous ethical problems, including his broken promise to be transparent by releasing tax returns for both himself and his spouse,” spokesman Greg Blair said.

Ringer candidate in middle of fed probe of ex-Miami Rep. David Rivera sentenced to 7 months

@jayhweaver

Justin Lamar Sternad, a hotel worker and father of five, just wanted to be somebody in the eyes of his family. So he set his sights on a seat in Congress.

“I wanted my wife, children and family to be proud of me,” Sternad, 37, told a judge Thursday in Miami federal court.

Despite his good intentions, Sternad admitted in so many words that he allowed GOP campaign consultant Ana Alliegro and her close friend, then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, to recruit him as a straw candidate to challenge Rivera’s political enemy, Joe Garcia, in the 2012 Democratic primary. Garcia went on to beat Rivera in the final election.

“I hate to admit that I was naive,” Sternad told U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. “I hate to admit that Ana Alliegro and David Rivera were able to take advantage of me.”

Sternad, who had pleaded guilty last year to violating election laws, issued an apology but asked the judge for lenient punishment: home confinement. Showing some sympathy, Altonaga sentenced him to seven months in prison — less than the eight-month term recommended by the U.S. attorney’s office because of his cooperation. Under sentencing guidelines, Sternad had been facing up to one year in prison.

“You did begin with good intentions but were led astray and used by Ana Alliegro and others,” Altonaga said, without referring to Rivera by name.

More here.

This post has been updated.

July 09, 2014

Odebrecht may sue Miami-Dade over stalled Airport City project

@PatriciaMazzei

A Miami-Dade County commissioner said Wednesday he wants to press Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration for a final decision on a commercial development proposed at Miami International Airport that has been in the works for six years but now appears to be on the verge of falling apart.

Airport City had already been diminished by Cuban exile politics before county aviation administrators recently began to reconsider whether what remains of the project is a good idea after all.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, the vice-chairman of the commission’s transportation and aviation committee, said he’s tired of the back and forth.

“I don’t know if we can continue to wait for the administration to give us a response,” he said. “Every time they give you a response it’s ‘Prepare for more and more delays.’”

Barreiro spoke after the aviation department informed the committee that it is still figuring out if what’s left of Airport City — once a 33-acre behemoth expected to bring to the county half a billion dollars over five decades — is the best development for the prime properties just east of MIA.

More here.

Crist's claim about Medicaid expansion and jobs

The White House has new ammunition for those fighting for Medicaid expansion: It would create create jobs.

The study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers — titled "Missed Opportunities" — provides a state-by-state analysis of how many jobs would be created by expanding Medicaid. The number for Florida: 63,800 jobs between 2014 and 2017.

The study is part of the Obama administration’s promotion of the Affordable Care Act, which includes the federal government picking up the initial tab for Medicaid expansion.

Democrats including former Gov. Charlie Crist are using the study to attack Scott for Florida’s decision not to expand Medicaid. Crist is expected to win his primary and face Scott in November.

"Expanding Medicaid would create 63k jobs -- but Rick Scott still won’t do it," Crist said on TwitterJuly 2.

Florida’s Republican-led Legislature opposes expanding Medicaid. Scott once opposed it, too, butswitched positions in 2013 and now supports it. Supporters of the expansion say Scott hasn’t done enough to turn the Legislature around.

Here, though, we wanted to focus on jobs. Would expanding Medicaid create 63,000 jobs? Read the full report from PolitiFact Florida.

DOC secretary now vows to get involved to expedite probe into inmate deaths

After weeks of silence, and months of receiving complaints about a suspicious inmate death by a scalding shower, Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews said Wednesday that he will travel to Miami to accelerate the investigation into the death of inmate Darren Rainey.

In a statement released Wednesday, Crews announced that he also will be traveling to prisons across the state to "assess operations, meet with leaders and officers, and take action on activities that run counter to the Department’s mission of maintaining a secure environment for officers and the inmates the Department houses."

He said he will also personally do what he can to assist Miami-Dade homicide detectives who are investigating the death of Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate who was found dead in a shower at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012.

Rainey was forced into the small shower by guards, who left him there, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell. For almost two hours, he screamed as he was drenched in scalding hot water until he collapsed, with his skin peeling from his body, witnesses said.

Police did not interview witnesses until May of this year, as the Herald was preparing to publish a story about his death. The case remains open and neither the police report nor the autopsy has been released. His family still has not been told how he died.

Crews has remained silent about the reports about Rainey's death until Wednesday when he said he was "outraged at these reports." He promised to fire anyone involved in the 2012 death. 

Crews' comments come a day after the Miami Herald reported that former DOC Secretary James McDonough said the events at his former agency "smacks of torture, sadism, murder, cover up, and ignoring of the facts." McDonough said he was "revolted...by the lack of sense of outrage by Department officials, and other officials." 

Crews' statement also follows a whistleblower complaint filed this week by four former DOC investigators who discovered the death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution and news that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the FBI, have opened four additional investigations into suspicious inmates deaths at Florida prisons.

The whistleblowers allege that the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events of the inmate’s death. 

Four of those investigators complained to DOC officials and Gov. Rick Scott's inspector general Melinda Miguel but, when nothing was done, they filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit on Monday -- against the governor, Miguel and the agency. The lawsuit alleges they have been retaliated against. 
 
"The IG whistle blower complaint has been filed by pros,'' McDonough wrote. "They surely complained within the system as the cases were originally being investigated, and they would have run those complaints up the chain of command.  The names I see among them are mature, responsible, and conscientious.  They understand the parameters of use of force, its necessity, and its limits.   Whistle blowing would have been the last option exercised.  They must have been both frustrated and outraged at the inhumanity."
 
In his statement Wednesday, Crews acknowledged that the "integrity and trust of my department is at question, and we must do more to ensure facilities are safe.
 
"Let me be clear,'' he said. "There is zero tolerance for corruption or abuse at the Department of Corrections, and we will root out any-and-all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations.

"We will bring any truth to these claims to the light of day.  That is my mission and my promise. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be traveling to each of our facilities to meet with corrections personnel to underscore this message – and take action whenever and wherever needed.”

Here's the full DOC statement: 

Tallahassee, Fla – Today, Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews announced he will be traveling to Dade Correctional Institution for a full assessment on the 2012 death related to Darren Rainey and will meet with Miami-Dade police officials to offer assistance on the investigation so it is completed as soon as possible.  The Secretary also announced that he will be traveling to facilities across the state and assess operations, meet with leaders and officers, and take action on activities that run counter to the Department’s mission  of maintaining a secure environment for officers and the inmates the Department houses.

Mike Crews said, “There have been numerous reports that officers at Dade put Darren Rainey in a scalding shower as punishment, which resulted in his death.  I am outraged at these reports of abuse and will not stand for it.  That’s why we are fully prepared to move forward with terminations of anyone involved in the June 2012 death. 

“As this investigation continues we will fully cooperate with local and federal partners to ensure that all responsible parties are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  I know that the integrity and trust of my department is at question, and we must do more to ensure facilities are safe.  Let me be clear: there is zero tolerance for corruption or abuse at the Department of Corrections, and we will root out any-and-all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations.

"We will bring any truth to these claims to the light of day.  That is my mission and my promise. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be traveling to each of our facilities to meet with corrections personnel to underscore this message – and take action whenever and wherever needed.”

Rubio pressures Obama to drop hammer on Venezuelan leaders

@CAdamsMcClatchy

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio stepped up his pressure on the Obama administration to drop the hammer on Venezuelan officials involved in that country’s crackdown on peaceful protesters.

In a letter Wednesday to the White House, Rubio, a Florida Republican, requested that the Obama administration use the authority it has to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Venezuelan leaders involved in repressive tactics against their own citizens.

Since February, Venezuelans protesting the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro have been met with often brutal state-sanctioned violence, according to human rights activists and political leaders. According to Rubio’s letter this week, more than 40 people have died and “beatings of protesters have been routine.”

While members of Congress continue to work on legislation to impose sanctions, Rubio on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to take action now.

He wrote: “Many senior Venezuelan officials and businessmen with ties to the regime frequently travel to and house their investments in the United States. They buy residences here. They use our banks and send their children to school in the United States…. You already have the ability to begin to make life more difficult for those involved in brutal human rights abuses and corruption. By preventing these individuals and their families from traveling to and investing in the United States, you can make clear that those who violate the Venezuelan people's fundamental freedoms will pay a significant price.”

State and federal investigators open new probes into inmate deaths

New investigations are underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the deaths of three inmates whose bodies were found in state prisons over the Fourth of July weekend, authorities confirmed Wednesday.

The deaths bring the total open, in-custody state prison death cases under scrutiny to 10 — nine of them being handled by the FDLE.

The Miami Herald also confirmed Wednesday that an FBI investigation is ongoing at Suwannee Correctional facility, the site of an October prison riot by inmates who attacked five prison guards. In April, Shawn Gooden, 33, died under mysterious circumstances at Suwannee, and his death is also under investigation by the FDLE. Inmates there have long complained of violence, abuse and corruption at the prison, located in Live Oak, just west of Lake City.

The FDLE would not release any information about the new deaths, except to say that two of them happened at Hamilton Correctional Institution and the third at Columbia Correctional. More here. 

Meanwhile, it's been nearly two years since Frank Smith, a 44-year-old inmate from Miami, died under suspicious circumstances at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford and the Department of Corrections has offered no reasons for his death.
 
The 10 employees who were suspended over the incident are still on leave and drawing full pay. Smith died on Sept. 4, 2012, after a violent altercation with officers as he was being moved from a prison hospital to his cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

The Department of Corrections placed 10 staff members, including an assistant warden, on paid leave, a routine step when employees are suspected of wrongdoing. So far, taxpayers have paid nearly $700,000 in salaries to them.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took control of the case 21 months ago and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the investigation continues. He said the delay could be due to the time needed to complete toxicology reports.

“There’s no timeline that I can give you” on when the investigation will end, Bailey said.

The Alachua County Medical Examiner has declined to release details of Smith’s autopsy, citing the investigation. Gainesville-area State Attorney Bill Cervone said Wednesday that nothing has been presented to his office for possible prosecution. More on Smith here. 

-- By Julie K. Brown and Steve Bousquet

 

Ethics complaint: Crist failed to report income, car lease on financial disclosure forms

An ethics complaint filed Wednesday is calling additional attention to Charlie Crist's finances.

The complaint, filed by Sarasota Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters, alleges that the Democratic candidate for governor failed to disclose two liabilities: his leases on a Jeep Cherokee and a St. Petersburg apartment. Crist mentioned both the car and the condo in a June 17 interview with the Herald/Times.

"As a result of this failure to substantially comply with financial disclosure obligations, Florida voters do not have an accurate picture of Mr. Crist's actual net worth," Gruters wrote in the complaint.

Gruters also said Crist had "misrepresented the nature of his financial relationship" with the St. Joe Company, a Panhandle-based real estate firm. Crist reported income for consulting with the company. But the complaint alleges he did not report "the full extent of his relationship" with St. Joe's because he had earned less pay for similar services the year before.

The complaint also blasts for Crist for not reporting any "income" through his consulting company, Charlie Crist, LLC.

"In no way does Mr. Crist report any income resulting from Charlie Crist, LLC and in no way does Mr. Crist reveal the extent of his ownership interest in the entity itself or any of its underlying assets as required," Gruters wrote.

Crist does, however, list the company's bank account as an asset worth $128.884.

Crist has recently come under fire for failing to release his wife's tax returns.

"Charlie Crist is cutting legal corners again," Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said. "This time it is to avoid transparency on his personal financial disclosure." 

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate called the ethics complaint "another pathetic flail" from the Scott campaign.

Read the complaint below.

Download 7.9.14

Broward absentee ballot requests are up compared to '10

Absentee ballot requests for the primary in Broward County have already surpassed the number during the 2010 primary.

As of early July, Broward received 110,505 absentee ballot requests for the primary election. In 2010, the county mailed 86,465 absentee ballots for the primary, said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. (Not everyone who requests an absentee ballot ultimately uses that ballot to vote so it isn’t a concrete prediction of turnout.)

Democrats hoping to oust Republican Gov. Rick Scott this year will focus considerable effort on Broward County because it has the second biggest contingent of Democratic voters behind Miami-Dade. Broward’s 41 percent turnout in the 2010 general election was one of the factors in Democrat Alex Sink’s loss to Scott. This year, former state legislator Nan Rich of Weston faces former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary and there are also some primaries in local races.

Crist has held several fundraisers here and has one tonight at YOLO, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. On Tuesday night he house hopped for fundraisers at the homes of three Democratic mayors: Joy Cooper in Hallandale Beach, Peter Bober in Hollywood and Frank Ortis in Pembroke Pines.  

Scott has also held several public events in Broward in recent months including at a Cuban restaurant in Oakland Park which he used as a backdrop for this Spanish-language ad.

Broward plans to start sending domestic absentee ballots to voters July 22.

 

 

 

Florida business groups join in push for immigration reform

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida joined forces with faith-based leaders Wednesday to call for national immigration reform.  

"Inaction by Congress is not a path forward," said Leticia Adams, the chamber's director of infrastructure and governance policy. "The problems with our immigration system have grown and multiplied, and have become a threat to the productivity of key industries in Florida."

The press conference Tallahassee was part of a national "day of action" that included at least 60 other events.

Taking part in the national effort: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership for a New American Economy, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Western Growers.

At the Tallahassee news conference, leaders in the business and education communities blasted Congress for failing to take action. 

"This issue is not going away and we run the danger of it getting worse, from a national security perspective, from an economic perspective and from a humanitarian perspective," said Rudy Fernandez, a professor at the University of Miami and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush

Fernandez held up polling data showing that both Democrats and Republicans believe the U.S. immigration system is broken. A recent Harper poll, he said, found that 71 percent of Republicans would rather choose a presidential candidate from a party that supports immigration reform than from a party that opposes it.

A Florida media call is scheduled for 1 p.m. with Brewster Bevis, of the Associated Industries of Florida; Steve Johnson, of the Florida Farm Bureau; and Al Cardenas, the former Chairman of the American Conservative Union.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Farm Bureau and Associated Industries of Florida are heavily funded by industries that rely on migrant and immigrant workers.