« September 2018 | Main | November 2018 »

125 posts from October 2018

October 28, 2018

Ron DeSantis goes after Charlie Crist in Pinellas County

Desantis

Via @AdamCSmith

TARPON SPRINGS — Campaigning in his childhood home of north Pinellas County, Ron DeSantis on Saturday took a shot at the last Pinellas county governor, Charlie Crist.

"If we win Pinellas County, the rest of everything will take care of itself and we'll be victorious," the Republican gubernatorial nominee told roughly 150 people who gathered to see him at Saint Nicholas Community Center & Conference Hall in Tarpon Springs Saturday morning.

“I promise this as well: I will be a better governor than the last governor we had from Pinellas County, Charlie Crist. So I think give Pinellas County a chance to have a mulligan, ” DeSantis, 40, said of former Gov. Crist of St. Petersburg, who in the last governor’s race won Pinellas County by more than 11 percentage points.

Crist was elected governor as a Republican, but he governed as a moderate and later changed parties to independent as he struggled against Marco Rubio in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Crist ran as a Democrat for governor in 2014 and narrowly lost. He won his south Pinellas congressional seat in 2016.

It was a relatively subdued crowd for a campaign rally, with people seated around round tables to hear DeSantis and Republican attorney general candidate Ashley Moody. Rather than cheering, audience members warmly applauded periodically as DeSantis spent most of his 20 minute remarks criticizing Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.

Read more here.

Andrew Gillum draws enthusiastic crowds in Tampa Bay, despite lingering questions on Hamilton, fundraiser

Gillum MDA

Via @KirbyWTweets

When Andrew Gillum barnstormed the state earlier this year as an underdog in the Democratic primary, he consistently drew the largest, most energetic crowds of any candidate for governor.

During five stops across Tampa Bay on Saturday, Gillum's supporters seemed as fired up as ever, despite lingering questions raised by newly released documents about the Tallahassee mayor's conduct with city lobbyists.

After an afternoon rally attended by about 125 supporters at Al Lopez Park in Tampa, Gillum said he's not worried the disclosures will dent his support as the campaign enters the final week before the general election.

"What I get from people is they say, 'I am so sick of these people crapping on you over nothing,'" he said.

The "nothing" came Tuesday, when the Republican attorney for Adam Corey, a Tallahassee lobbyist and a former ally of Gillum's, released documents in response to a subpoena from the Florida Commission on Ethics. Those documents showed that on a 2016 trip to New York, Gillum received a ticket to the musical Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent known as "Mike Miller".

A subsequent release on Friday showed that Miller may have paid for the food at a 2016 fundraising dinner for Forward Florida, the political committee associated with Gillum's gubernatorial campaign. (The campaign has denied that Forward Florida received any contribution from the undercover agent. Gillum's lawyer has denied that he received any improper gifts.)

If someone besides Forward Florida paid for the food at that dinner, as the documents produced this week seem to indicate, the committee would have had to list the contribution in its campaign finance records. It did not. When asked whether he could produce any more records that could clear up who paid for that food — or any of the other questions about who paid for what on other trips Gillum took with lobbyists to Costa Rica, New York and Atlanta, Gillum said his campaign had nothing more to release.

No major public opinion polls have been completed since the disclosures were first made public. But the controversy didn't dampen enthusiasms for those attending events in Sarasota, Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

Of those at Al Lopez Park who were asked about the disclosures, most seemed either unaware or ambivalent.

"He's a prominent black male leader of a large city. I think they've been after him for a long time," said Terri Mahoney, 76, a retiree from Town 'N Country as she held a large homemade "Ban Assault Weapons now" sign.

Read the rest here.

Feds widen search for others who may have helped the South Florida mail-bomb suspect

 

@Via JayHWeaver

The quick arrest of a homeless man living in his van on charges of sending more than a dozen mail bombs to notable Democrats around the country may have signaled the climax of a massive federal investigation during the past week — but it’s far from over.

Federal agents are still searching for other possible suspects in South Florida who may have helped Cesar Sayoc, the former stripper and self-described entertainment promoter who was arrested at an auto parts store in Plantation Friday.

Friday night, FBI agents questioned a person at a Broward County residence with a potential connection to Sayoc, but nothing came of the interview, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the probe.

Investigators are also analyzing Sayoc’s impounded van in which he lived and allegedly built the pipe bombs because it contains a trove of valuable evidence, from explosive-device materials to credit-card receipts. They say the vehicle, covered with attacks on critics of President Donald Trump, directly links the 56-year-old Aventura man to the crime of mailing explosive devices from South Florida to the Democratic targets. Among them: former President Barack Obama, former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, actor Robert DeNiro and billionaire financier and political megadonor George Soros.

According to sources, Sayoc told FBI agents and other authorities during a brief interview at the bureau’s South Florida field office in Miramar that he never meant to hurt any of the intended targets — though the FBI’s director later said the pipe bombs were not “hoax devices.” Sayoc eventually clammed up, invoking his Miranda rights and asking to speak with a lawyer.

Read the rest by clicking here.

Bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc, lost and angry, found his tribe with Trump

 

Via @LRobertsonMiami @MartinDVassolo and @Blaskey_S

Cesar Sayoc lived on the crummy strip-mall fringes of South Florida, sleeping in a van that stank of sweaty gym clothes, delivering pizzas on the graveyard shift and working as floorman inside a smoky, dingy gentlemen’s club where naked dancers gyrated mechanically for dollar tips from boozy customers.

Sayoc was always several rungs lower on the ladder than he aspired to be and exaggerated the caliber of roles he chose for himself. He said he was a Chippendales dancer, a champion bodybuilder, a professional wrestler, a popular DJ, a dry-cleaning business whiz and a veterinary medicine student who had once played soccer for AC Milan in the Italian league.

Sayoc, who sometimes used the misspelled handle Julus Cesar, liked to brag about owning a strip club, the Caesar’s Palace Royale. It existed only in his mind.

In South Florida, where the sun shines year round, dreams and schemes grow like hothouse flowers. Sayoc finally found his true calling two years ago at a rally for Donald Trump in West Palm Beach. He bought a red Make America Great Again cap, carried a poster mocking Trump critics and joined the boisterous throng in chants of “Lock her up!”

Click here to read more.

October 26, 2018

Undercover FBI agent might have paid for Andrew Gillum fundraiser dinner

TP_418791_JONE_36_bigrally
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Florida Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum greets the crowd after giving a speech during the Florida Democratic Party rally held at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 22, 2018.

An undercover FBI agent might have paid more than $4,000 in food and drinks for one of Andrew Gillum's campaign fundraisers in 2016, according to a new batch of records released Friday.

But the contribution in early 2016 does not appear in the records for Gillum's political committee, raising new questions less than two weeks before the November election.

The fundraiser for Gillum's political committee, Forward Florida, was on April 11, 2016 at the home of Adam Corey, a former lobbyist and a former longtime friend of Gillum's, according to an invoice and emails released by Corey's lawyer.

Roughly forty people who attended the fundraiser were served filet mignons, salmon mousse canapés and cocktails, provided by 101 Restaurant, which was then run by Corey.

Emails show Corey billed "Mike Miller," who happened to be an undercover FBI agent investigating Tallahassee corruption, for the $4,300 tab.

"Attached is the invoice for the dinner you graciously offered to sponsor," Corey wrote to Miller five days after the fundraiser. "As mentioned, it was a bit higher than I expected because of some last minute attendees so let me know what you would like to cover and I'll handle the rest. Again, I really appreciate this!"

A search of Forward Florida's records does not show the contribution, and it's unclear from the records whether Miller, or someone else, ultimately paid for it.

But an email from Corey to Brice Barnes, a campaign finance consultant who was helping Gillum at the time, indicates that Gillum was aware of Miller's help.

"Did he connect with Mike Miller to thank him for co-sponsoring the food?" Corey asked Barnes.

"He sent him a personal note," she replied.

Reached Friday, Barnes said, "I don’t have any information other than the email exchange."

 

Gillum's campaign has not responded to questions about the fundraiser, or who paid for the dinner.

Juan-Carlos Planas, an elections law attorney and former Miami-area state Representative, called the lack of reporting "a clear violation."

"It’s something that should automatically be sanctioned," he said.

Planas said campaigns are often lax about documenting in-kind catering contributions despite the requirements of state law. He said he's a stickler with his clients because it's something that can easily be overlooked on finance reports.

Mark Herron, the attorney registered as an agent for Forward Florida when the committee initially opened, did not immediately respond to comment. He quickly texted a reporter that he was not available to talk when called on his cell phone.

The latest release of records came from Tallahassee attorney Chris Kise, who on Tuesday released 150 pages of records, including texts messages and emails between Corey, Gillum and Miller.

Those records indicated that undercover agents gave Gillum a ticket to the Broadway musical Hamilton during a trip to New York in 2016, a revelation that has dominated the second-to-last week of Gillum's historic run for governor.

Gillum cut ties with Corey, his friend since college, last year. But the more than 80 pages of records released Friday led to further questions about Gillum's coziness with the former lobbyist and his clients.

Corey either arranged or attended seven trips for Gillum in 2016, including a February trip to Tampa to meet with affordable housing developer Peter Leach, one of Corey's clients, and a two-night trip in Atlanta in July.

Friday's records show Leach billed Corey $200 for the round-trip flight aboard his company's jet. Gillum paid for his share out of his office account, according to previous reports. While on the trip, Gillum also met with former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was running for Congress, and former CFO Alex Sink.

“The mayor was invited by Peter Leach to a meeting at his office to learn about some of the work he was doing to advance wrap-around social services in schools and housing developments,” Gillum's chief of staff, Jamie Van Pelt, told the Tallahassee Democrat last year. "While visiting Tampa the mayor also met with local political leaders before returning to Tallahassee."

The purpose of the Atlanta trip is unknown. The records include emails with Gillum asking Corey to upgrade his room at a Westin hotel, but they do not show who ultimately paid the bill.

Kise said Friday that Gillum did not reimburse Corey.

“Mayor Gillum did not pay Corey for those hotel rooms," he said. "You will have to ask him for his credit card records to determine whether he paid for them himself."

Kise, who has been  has been compiling the records in response to a Florida Commission on Ethics probe looking into whether Gillum accepted gifts worth more than $100 without disclosing them during the New York trip and a trip to Costa Rica.

The complaint was filed this year by Tallahassee businessman Erwin Jackson, a longtime Gillum critic. On Thursday, Jackson said he had asked the ethics commission to include the Tampa trip in his complaint.

Miami Herald reporter David Smiley and Times reporter Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

October 25, 2018

Meet the lawyer who dropped a political bombshell on the Florida governor’s race

KiseTallahassee attorney Chris Kise says he had little choice but to release the records.

On Tuesday, Kise released explosive texts that showed that in 2016, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum knew he was receiving Hamilton tickets from an undercover FBI agent who Gillum believed to be a developer looking to invest in his city. The disclosures could hardly have come at a worse time for Gillum, the Democratic frontrunner in the Florida governor's race who's long had the cloud of an FBI investigation into his city's government hanging over his campaign.

Kise released the texts in his capacity as the attorney for Adam Corey — the Tallahassee lobbyist and former longtime Gillum ally. Since the release, Kise, a veteran lawyer in Republican political circles, has been accused by Gillum's campaign of leading a "partisan witch hunt."

But Kise maintains his timing for releasing the records — two weeks before election day — was not motivated by politics. Kise said he is simply trying to do right by a client, Corey, who Kise says has been the unfair target of speculation by Gillum and some in the news media.

"Corey is plain tired of being in the middle," Kise said.

The records Kise released were the target of a subpoena not by the FBI, but by the Florida Commission on Ethics, which is conducting its own investigation into trips Gillum took in 2016 with lobbyists to New York, Costa Rica — and possibly other places.  (Gillum has not been named in any FBI subpoenas.)

Kise said because the case has become so political, the fact of Corey's response to the subpoena likely would have become public. In order to avoid more public speculation about his client, Kise says, he released the records in full — first to the campaigns of Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis, then to news outlets.

 

Read the rest here.

A Florida governor’s debate so intense a racial slur was spelled out on live TV

 

Sequels rarely live up to the original. But in their second and final meeting before the Nov. 6 election for Florida governor, Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum delivered a bare-knuckle brawl of a debate so heated that a racial slur was spelled out letter by letter on live television.

DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed former congressman, painted his opponent as a corrupt on-the-take politician. Gillum, the unapologetically liberal mayor of Tallahassee, cast DeSantis as a vapid extremist who encourages racism.

Cool was lost. The moderator was not spared any venom. And in between daggers and accusations, when policy was actually discussed, two candidates firmly on the opposite ends of the political spectrum left little for the voters in the middle to chew on.

The night began on an explosive note. Moderator Todd McDermott of WPBF in West Palm Beach skipped introductory statements and immediately asked the candidates whether politics has crossed the line from divisive to reckless after someone sent pipe bombs and suspicious packages overnight to the Clintons, Barack Obama and offices of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was in attendance Wednesday night at Broward College’s Davie campus.

“I was at the congressional baseball practice when a gunman tried to shoot my teammates, did shoot [U.S. Rep.] Steve Scalise because he didn’t like Republicans. So, I know firsthand that when we start going down that road, that can be very, very deadly,” DeSantis said, evoking a shooting at a baseball field last year in Virginia.

But the 40-year-old Navy vet had barely just called for civility when he began ripping Gillum for supporting a Miami-based social justice group that as part of its platform states that police have no place in society. Gillum fired back, calling DeSantis a liar and evoking a series of racist robocalls by an out-of-state extremist website that went out to voters shortly after the August primary election and again this week.

“My opponent as soon as he won the Republican nomination for governor went on Fox News and said to voters here in the state of Florida not to monkey this state up by electing me,” Gillum said. “It was followed up that same week by neo-Nazis making calls into the state of Florida to attack my character, jungle music in the background, and the calls of monkeys being heard.”

That set the tone for the rest of an evening that one GOP donor and Florida native compared to a professional wrestling match.

Click here to read the rest.

Verizon names Panama City one of the first to get 5G after facing backlash over Hurricane Michael response

AP_FLCO131_TROPICAL_WEATHER
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has publicly rebuked Verizon for its slow response to Hurricane Michael.

Verizon's recovery in the Panhandle from Hurricane Michael has been nothing short of a mess, with its rivals recovering faster and Gov. Rick Scott and others publicly berating the carrier's slow response.

To make up for it, Verizon is throwing hard-hit Panama City a bone: It announced this week that the city would be one of the first five in the nation to get its next-generation 5G network.

Panama City is joining Los Angeles, Houston, Sacramento and Indianapolis in getting the service, which promises download speeds many times faster than traditional 4G LTE.

"This is about helping Panama City rebuild better than ever," Verizon spokeswoman Kate Jay said.

Panama City would become the first city in Florida to get 5G, but the details are thin.

The service might just be Verizon's in-home 5G service, which is meant to replace your traditional home Wi-Fi, albeit with superfast speeds. The other four cities got that service this month.

But the service could be over Verizon's cell towers, like a traditional cellular network. That's cutting-edge technology that the carrier doesn't expect to start rolling out until 2019 (other carriers are racing to roll out 5G as well). No phones currently sold are equipped to use 5G cellular technology.

When asked which service Panama City might get, Jay said, "Stay tuned on that, as we work to finalize our plans."

Whatever service Panama City gets, it won't be until 2019.

Verizon said it suffered "unprecedented" damage to its network after the Category 4 storm made landfall, and it's taken two weeks for the network to recover.

Over that time, it was subjected to multiple rebukes in press conferences and on Twitter by Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis, who's from Panama City.

"We've put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott told the press a few days after the storm. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it's hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

False attack ad says Ron DeSantis "knocked out a young kid at a bar"

Dangerousdesantis
A screen grab from the ad, which calls him "Dangerous DeSantis" | Vimeo

new attack ad by a mysterious Florida PAC accuses Republican nominee for governor Ron DeSantis of throwing punches in a bar fight back in 2000.

"Who is Ron DeSantis?" the female narrator asks in the ad's opening. "A look at police files with the Pinellas Sheriff's Department reveals DeSantis knocked out a young kid at a bar."

A number of things in that statement are false.

It's true DeSantis, 40, was interviewed by a deputy on a late night in 2000, when he was 21, following a bar fight in Clearwater. The address listed on the report was previously listed as a nightclub called The Venue.

But he was neither the suspect nor the victim. The man who was punched, who was 23, identified a different man. The victim said at the time he was "positive" about the identity of his attacker.

DeSantis told the deputy "he knew there was a fight inside, but he did not observe anything."

The attack ad was launched Wednesday by a Florida political committee called Florida Truth.  The PAC has not yet filed any of its campaign finance reports, so it is unclear who financed the ad.

Miami Herald reporter received a text messages with a link to the video on Thursday, from a no-reply number typical of messages sent to many people. Many campaign groups have been using text messages as a way to spread their messaging to voters in the 2018 race.

The PAC's registered agent, treasurer and chairperson are all listed under the same person, by the name of Max Solomon. He did not immediately return a request for comment.

After the bar fight accusation, the ad goes on to say that "in Congress, DeSantis didn't hold back the punches either."

It states that DeSantis voted against renewing the Violence Against Women Act, a law that provides protections to victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

That is true.

"Andrew Gillum and his allies continue to lie on the campaign trail," said Stephen Lawson, spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, in a statement. "First, about receiving gifts and trips from lobbyists and undercover FBI agents and now this. Of course this is not true and a one minute review of the incident report clearly shows that."

On Twitter, Kevin Cate, an advisor to the Gillum campaign, called for the texts to stop.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed.

October 24, 2018

Here's Ron DeSantis' long-awaited plan on health care

418340_urso_003_disantistampa091918_
CHRIS URSO | Times Florida candidate for Governor Ron DeSantis (R) speaks with reporters outside of Franklin Middle Magnet School Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 in Tampa.

Republican nominee for governor Ron DeSantis surprised a statewide audience during his final debate with Democrat Andrew Gillum on Wednesday evening, when he said he had released his health care plan on his website.

DeSantis has been criticized in the past for not having a concrete proposal on the issue. But by the time of the debate, less than two weeks before the election, there was a featured page on his campaign site.

Some highlights: DeSantis said he "believes that no person should be denied access to medical care based on the existence of a pre-existing condition."

DeSantis, a former U.S. House member, has faced questions in both debates about his votes in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (also called "Obamacare"), which required insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

But in his plan, DeSantis adds that "should Congress repeal the [ACA] law, Ron DeSantis will work to ensure hard-to-insure Floridians with significant health needs have access to coverage by creating a more diverse, robust insurance market that will enable and encourage Floridians to buy insurance before they get sick."

DeSantis also said he plans to "finish implementing Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment," which was approved by more than 70 percent of voters in 2016. Legislators passed a bill implementing that amendment the following year, but the state's health department has lagged in setting rules and regulations governing certain portions of the law.

Among the issues entangled in several ongoing lawsuits over the law is whether or not medical marijuana patients should be allowed to smoke the drug — the Legislature's implementing bill bans it. Gov. Rick Scott has resisted allowing smokeable forms of the drug, saying it could be a gateway to recreational use. DeSantis has said in the past that he thinks the state should enact the "will of the voters."

DeSantis also vowed in his platform to "keep Florida's network of safety-net hospitals strong" — referring to the network of hospitals including public and teaching hospitals that serve a higher percentage of Medicaid patients.

The Florida House and Senate have sparred in recent years over how to distribute Medicaid reimbursement funding among hospitals in the state — the current system grants larger payments to 28 hospitals that currently serve the highest percentage of Medicaid patients.

But DeSantis reiterated a longstanding opposition to Medicaid expansion, a signature issue of Gillum's. DeSantis' platform reiterates the state's Medicaid managed-care model, "which has helped to curb the growth of that entitlement program."

Times/Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.