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152 posts from October 2017

October 31, 2017

Rep. Daisy Baez: 'I will tender my resignation'


State Rep. Daisy Baez will resign her Florida House seat Wednesday ahead of pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her legal residency, she told the Miami Herald late Tuesday.

As part of an agreement with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Coral Gables Democrat will also pay a $1,000 fine, take an ethics course and serve one year of probation, during which she’ll be banned from seeking public office.

“On November 1, I will tender my resignation as a member of the Florida House of Representatives,” Baez said in a statement. “I want to thank the residents of Florida, Miami-Dade County and District 114 for giving me the opportunity to serve, it’s been a great honor.

“When I began my service as a Representative last year, I vowed to serve the public interest to the best of my ability and I am confident I have done so. As I return to my life as a private citizen, I pledge to continue fighting for universal healthcare, empowering our teachers, and improving the quality of life for the youngest, most vulnerable Floridians.”

Baez was returning to Miami on Tuesday from the Dominican Republic, where she buried her mother, who died last week. 

Prosecutors began investigating after the Herald reported on May 16 that Baez did not appear to live in House District 114, as required by the Florida Constitution. She claimed she rented an apartment inside the district.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Miami Beach commissioner files police complaint against candidate she says exposed himself to her

@joeflech @PatriciaMazzei

Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has filed a police report against a commission candidate, complaining that he exposed himself to her.

Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald late Tuesday she had gone to police to tell them Rafael Velasquez, a candidate for the Group 2 commission seat in the Beach, flashed his penis while the two were in a car after having dinner Oct. 18

“I want to get a restraining order,” she said, referencing a Facebook post where Velasquez tagged her in a denial and tried to discredit her story. 

Velasquez denied the accusation and said he was considering suing Rosen Gonzalez.

After Rosen Gonzalez made the accusation against Velasquez on Monday, two other women told the Miami Herald that Velasquez had sexually harassed them. A local publicist said he groped her while posing for a picture at a public event and later sent flirtatious text messages. A third woman said he made inappropriate comments to her when the two ran together on a slate of potential Democratic delegates backing Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.

More here.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald staff

South Florida lawmakers propose a path to legal status for Haitian TPS recipients



A bipartisan group of South Florida lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that provides a path to permanent residency for thousands of foreign citizens who participate in a temporary program that allows them to work and live in the United States.

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act, which provides a pathway to permanent legal status for certain Haitians, Nicaraguans, El Salvadoreans and Hondurans who arrived in the United States before Jan. 13, 2011.

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings also signed on to the legislation, which applies to participants in the Temporary Protected Status program, along with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian migrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture,” Curbelo said in a statement. “While I will continue to support extensions for Temporary Protected Status, this bipartisan legislation would give these migrants the peace of mind to continue giving back to their communities, contributing to our economy and supporting their families.”

Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras are the three countries with the most participants in the program, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. About 300,000 people from those three countries participate in TPS, and the bulk of Haiti’s 50,000 TPS recipients live in South Florida.

“I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort to provide a permanent solution for families living in the United States with temporary protected status,” Wilson said in a statement. “It is in the meantime imperative that we not forget the economic, cultural and other contributions that people living and working in the United States thanks to this measure are making to both to our nation and their native countries.”

The Trump administration faces multiple looming deadlines for extending the Temporary Protected Status program in Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Haiti’s status is set to expire in January 2018 after then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for six months instead of the usual 18 in May.

Kelly also said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.”

Extending TPS for Haitians is a source of bipartisan agreement among Florida lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. But the Trump administration terminated Sudan’s TPS status in September, an indication that they could decide to end other countries’ TPS status.

Currently, citizens from nine countries are eligible for TPS. The bill to provide a path to permanent residency does not apply to TPS recipients from Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

Read more here.

Miami Beach candidate accused of sexual harassment loses campaign staff

@PatriciaMazzei @joeflech

After two women accused him of sexual harassment, Miami Beach candidate Rafael Velasquez lost his entire shoestring campaign staff late Monday.

They quit and said they could no longer stand by him, a week before Election Day.

Campaign Chairman Ansh Grover, Field Director Michael Thoeness and Treasurer Gustavo Perez resigned as of 5 p.m. Monday in a joint memo to Velasquez.

“My heart truly hurts,” Grover wrote. “We live in times where our sisters, mothers and families and friends are experiencing abuse at higher levels than ever before — yet fear holds back so many from being able to get justice. We will not stand by as stories continue to come in and victims continue to increase.”

Tuesday morning, Velasquez, a 44-year-old married father of two, offered a muddled apology to his accusers, telling the Miami Herald he was sorry for sending text messages he considered flirtatious. But he maintained he did not flash his penis to a sitting commissioner or grope a local publicist. 

“I want to apologize to anybody I might’ve offended in my communications,” he said. “I never meant to offend anyone. I certainly learned a lesson.”

More here.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald staff

Someone is spying on Florida legislators. But who is it and what have they found?

Covert camera
For at least three days in the final week of the 2017 legislative session, a covert surveillance camera recorded the comings and goings of legislators and lobbyists living on the sixth floor of the Tennyson condominium near the Capitol.

Weeks later, in a dark parking lot of an Italian restaurant in Tallahassee, Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor, was also being spied upon. Grainy photos show him standing and planting a kiss on the cheek, then the mouth, of a female lobbyist on the last night of the Legislature’s special session.

These weren’t routine smartphone photos captured for fun. They were the work of private investigators whose research has fueled an escalating barrage of rumors in the last week about sexual harassment in Tallahassee and infidelity among the state’s elected legislators. Read more here. 

October 30, 2017

John Kelly does not apologize for false comments about Frederica Wilson

Frederica Wilson 2


White House chief of staff John Kelly declined to apologize for falsely recounting a 2015 speech by Rep. Frederica Wilson that he used to attack the Miami Gardens Democrat during a weeklong dispute between Wilson and President Donald Trump

"No. Never. Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments," Kelly said to conservative Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday night. 

Kelly also attempted to explain that Wilson made comments after her speech at a 2015 FBI dedication ceremony in Miramar where she took undue credit for her role in the building's development. Video of Wilson's speech shows that she never took credit for securing federal funding for the $194 million project.

"Well, I’ll go back and talk about before her comments and at the reception afterwards," Kelly said to Ingraham. "Again, it was a package deal. Don’t want to get into it." 

That was in contrast to his initial comments from the White House podium.

 “A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly said on Oct. 19.

The dispute between Kelly and Wilson began after Wilson overheard a phone call between the president and the widow of a solider who was a longtime constituent of Wilson's and a participant in a mentoring program started by Wilson. 

Wilson was in the car on the way to meet the casket when Trump called Sgt. La David Johnson’s family after he was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

Trump said “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway,” according to Wilson, who heard the call on speakerphone in the car. Johnson's widow, Myesha Johnson, backed up Wilson's account of the call. 

"As far as the young widow goes -- she has every right to say what she wants to say," Kelly said. "But it’s the politicization of something that was so from the heart." 

Wilson took issue with Trump's remarks, and when she went public two weeks ago Trump attacked her in a series of tweets.

“I think it’s so insensitive. It’s crazy. Why do you need to say that?’’ Wilson told the Miami Herald. “You don’t say that to someone who lost family, the father, the breadwinner. You can say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. He’s a hero.’

Florida politicians react to Mueller indictments

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers react to the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, which was joined by a guilty plea from Donald Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos for making false statements about contacts with Russian nationals.

Most Republicans did not return an email seeking reaction, though Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said they had confidence in Robert Mueller to be fair.

Democrats said it shows the seriousness of the issues in play and said President Trump should not try to hinder Robert Mueller's investigation.

"If Mr. Trump fires Mueller, Congress should move quickly to ensure that the investigation continues unimpeded and consider impeachment charges," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.

We'll add to this as reaction arrives.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton

"The Mueller investigation must be allowed to continue independently, without obstruction from the Administration and entirely free from any political influence. The fact that people are even asking about the firing of Mueller reminds us why we need to renew the independent counsel law, so we can have someone the President cannot fire. Progress in the Mueller investigation reminds us that the House Judiciary Committee has so far failed to do its job and conduct its own investigation into obstruction of justice."

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach

"The interference with our 2016 elections by Russia is a serious attack on our democracy and national security. We must give Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller full range and freedom to investigate all possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and other related matters including perjury and obstruction of justice. … Firing Mueller would be a blatant attempt at obstructing justice. If Mr. Trump fires Mueller, Congress should move quickly to ensure that the investigation continues unimpeded and consider impeachment charges.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston

"The federal investigation led by Robert Mueller is incredibly important for our democracy and our nation. As the special counsel's criminal probe escalates, Congress must send a clear signal that we will not tolerate any interference by the President or his Administration."

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

"After reading the guilty plea and indictments of Trump Campaign officials, it is more apparent than ever that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team must be given latitude to get to the bottom of the Trump Campaign coordination with Russia and Russian meddling in our elections.  It is illegal for a foreign country and its agents to make political contributions to U.S. candidates and it is dangerous for a U.S. political campaign to conspire with a malign foreign power.  Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort's 'pattern of illegal activity' and apparent money laundering are outrageous.  The guilty plea by a separate Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser for false statements relating to his 'Russia updates' raises many additional questions that the Special Counsel must pursue."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

"Mr. Mueller has been entrusted with conducting an important investigation. I believe he will execute his job in a fair and impartial manner that will restore trust in our democratic institutions. The American people deserve no less."

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami (via spokeswoman)

"Since the announcement of Director Mueller's appointment, Congressman Curbelo has been supportive of the investigation. That has not changed and Congressman Curbelo believes Director Mueller should continue and finish his work."

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

"I support investigative efforts as we work to ensure that our democratic process is protected from external interference, but it's important that we are not distracted from the important work at hand like tax reform. Rest assured though, that anyone who has violated the law should swiftly be brought to justice. To date, I have not seen proof that there was any wrongdoing by the President or collusion between his campaign and Russia."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times


Feds to allow South Atlantic red snapper fishing after lobbying by Rubio and Nelson



Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson lobbied the Commerce Department to let South Florida anglers fish for red snapper in July, and now the federal government is implementing a short 2017 season for red snapper off the South Atlantic coast.

Recreational anglers can now fish for red snapper in the South Atlantic during the next two weekends while commercial fishers can begin harvesting red snapper on November 2 until the end of the year. This year marks the longest red snapper statewide since 2013 and the first time red snapper fishing was opened off the South Atlantic since 2014. 

"This fall’s new Red Snapper season will benefit Florida fishermen and small businesses," Rubio's office said in a tweet. 

The federal government has jurisdiction over red snapper fishing in federal waters, which begin nine miles offshore on the Gulf Coast and three miles offshore on the Atlantic coast. Closer to shore, the state of Florida regulates recreational red snapper fishing.

Recreational red snapper fishing will be allowed from Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 10-12 in waters off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina after the Commerce Department issued its decision. 

UPDATED Miami-Dade Democrats suspend campaign for Beach candidate accused of exposing himself to commissioner

@PatriciaMazzei @joeflech

A second woman accused Miami Beach City Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez on Monday of sexually inappropriate behavior, saying he groped her at an event four months ago and then sent her a text message telling her she “felt good.”

The disclosure, by local publicist Frances Alban, comes after Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a Beach commissioner and Democratic congressional candidate, accused Velasquez — whose campaign she endorsed — of exposing himself to her in her car two weeks ago.

After Rosen Gonzalez’s accusation, the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, which backed Velasquez in next week’s nonpartisan race, told the Miami Herald it would suspend its digital ads and mailed fliers campaigning for Velasquez. After Alban came forward, Party Chairman Juan Cuba said Velasquez should end his candidacy.

“If these allegations are true, it would be appropriate for him to withdraw,” Cuba told the Herald.

Alban said she and Velasquez, whom she’s known for about seven years, both attended a June 8 meeting at the North Beach Youth Center. As they posed for a photograph, Alban said, Velasquez grabbed her butt. 

“My immediate reaction was it must have been an accident,” said Alban, who is smiling in the photo.

Alban left early and texted Velasquez later to ask if she’d missed anything, according to text messages she shared with the Herald. He said no — and asked if they could meet “one-on-one.”

“You looked sexy tonight,” Velasquez wrote, inserting a purple devil emoji.

“Why, thank you!” Alban responded.

“Very feminine... and waiting for your photographer to shoot ...you felt good too.”

More here.

This story has been updated.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald staff

October 27, 2017

Cuba quietly reveals names of sonic attack victims — but some are wrong, U.S. says

Cuba Attacks Medical Mystery (1)
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres @dchangmiami

For half an hour on prime time Thursday night, the Cuban government took to state-owned television to defend itself against U.S. accusations that American diplomats suffered from a mysterious sonic attack.

In doing so, Cuba also appears to have engaged in a bit of sly retaliation: Briefly, the government published the names on screen of nine purported American attack victims, whose names the U.S. has kept secret.

A one-page memo from Cuba’s powerful Ministry of the Interior dated April 4 asked a Havana health clinic that treats foreign patients to provide summarized medical histories for American citizens who might have reported auditory or neurological symptoms from “sound levels that could affect their health.” The request to Clínica Internacional Cira García also listed the names of the nine potential victims.

The State Department said Friday it could not vouch for the document’s veracity or confirm that any of the names even belong to U.S. government personnel — though other government records available online show at least some of them are diplomats, and some of them are posted to the U.S. embassy in Havana.

But a U.S. official with knowledge of the situation engaged in a bit of sly retaliation of their own: Not all of the people named were attack victims, the official said, without venturing an explanation as to why they would be included in the list at all. 

“Who knows why the Cubans do what they do?” the official said.

More here.

Photo credit: Desmond Boylan, Associated Press