Archive for December, 2009
Full-body imaging might have detected that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had stuffed his underwear with explosives before he boarded a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas day.
But a considerable bipartisan majority of U.S. House members are on record opposing the widespread use of such scans in a vote that saw privacy concerns trump security measures. In June, the House voted 310-to-118 for an amendment by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that would have prohibited whole-body imaging as a “primary screening” method at airports. The amendment died in the Senate.
Chaffetz’s amendment would have allowed such scans as a “secondary” screening method, but passengers would be given the option of a pat-down search in lieu of whole-body imaging and the Transportation Security Administration would have been banned from “storing, transferring, or copying any images” from the scans.
Local U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta; and Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, supported the ban on whole-body imaging. U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, voted against the Chaffetz amendment.
There’s a spirited debate on the Internet over whether Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., was drunk when he turned in this rambling performance during the recent health care reform debate. Baucus was also in the news recently after it was revealed he had nominated his live-in girlfriend and former staffer for a U.S. attorney’s position in Montana.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned in a 2006 scandal over sexually charged Internet messages to former congressional pages, links to the Baucus video on his Facebook page and says: “This is the senator that hired his staffer and then took her on trips…and divorced his wife….and they had me run out of town.”
Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater’s son, John, is a member of the fraternity that could be permanently barred from Florida Atlantic University because of a hazing incident in the fall.
John Atwater — a 21-year-old senior, homecoming prince and president of the university rugby team — is a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the fraternity known as Sig Ep that has been suspended from campus activities pending the outcome of an investigation into an Oct. 17 hazing incident.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office is conducting a review of the hazing ritual in which a 19-year-old frat brother wound up in the emergency room after being bound with duct tape and forced to binge drink, according to FAU police.
Sen. Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said he was unaware of the incident or of the fraternity’s suspension.
“I know he’s a member of the fraternity but I’m not aware of any incident or that they’ve been suspended,” Atwater said in a telephone call on Christmas Eve. “This is the first I’m hearing about it. If you weren’t telling me this I wouldn’t be up to speed on this at all.”
Nicholas Letteri, a Sigma Phi Epsilon member from the Tampa area, told police he was the victim of a “kidnapping” prank at an off-campus home of a fraternity brother.
Letteri said he was bound and forced to drink a liquor and beer concoction from a cereal bowl while Sig Ep members drew on his back with markers and others used squirt guns to drench his crotch, face and chest.
He was forced to chug beers and repeatedly threw up, he said. Letteri said he was still sick the next day and a friend took him to the Boca Raton Community Hospital emergency room.
Campus police have closed their investigation and forwarded the case to the State Attorney’s Office for review, Police Chief Charles
Lawmakers have beefed up anti-hazing laws to discourage hazing, which frequently involves fraternity brothers forcing initiates to drink alcohol. Hazing – rituals that involve a risk of bodily harm or death – can be a first-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony.
A law passed in 2005, based on a bill filed by House Majority Leader Adam Hasner of Delray Beach, expanded misdemeanor hazing crimes to include high school students and increased to a third degree felony hazing rituals that result in serious injury or death.
The university temporarily suspended the Sig Ep chapter and is conducting its own review. A decision on chapter’s fate is expected in January. Discipline can range from suspension to banishment from campus.
The college does not tolerate hazing and the chapter of the national fraternity, known as Sig Ep, could face severe consequences, said Charles Brown, FAU’s vice president for student affairs.
“I don’t tolerate it. I will close the chapter down,” Brown said, if its members are found to be at fault.
Republican Party of Florida Jim Greer, under fire from GOP discontents trying to oust him from his post, removed the party’s grievance chairman Tony DiMatteo from the committee set to deal with a complaint about the party infighting.
Greer accused dissidents of “treason,” “slander” and “libel” in a letter to party leaders.
In the letter, Greer, handpicked by Gov. Charlie Crist, warns he won’t back down from his leadership spot despite efforts by what he calls Marco Rubio backers to get rid of him. (more…)
A fugitive who escaped from a Florida work release program more than 30 years ago and was captured this weekend in Missouri is out on bond.
Oscar Richardson, who officials say had been living under the assumed name ‘Eugene Ward’ in Missouri for years, was one of a dozen fugitives featured in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s “12 Days of Fugitives” holiday-themed campaign to close cold cases. (more…)
Chris Hart, a former state representative and head of Workforce Florida, will take over as the head of Gov. Charlie Crist’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, Crist’s office said in a press release.
Hart will replace Dale Brill, appointed by Crist two years ago, who is leaving on Jan. 1 to head the Florida Chamber Foundation, the release said.
Hart will remain as president of Workforce Florida, a public-private agency created by former Gov. Jeb Bush involved in establishing state employment policy and economic development.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s holiday-themed fugitive project nabbed its first missing suspect this weekend, officials said.
But FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey’s cheer over the capture didn’t last long. The armed robber who escaped from a Florida work release program more than three decades ago was set free on bond.
Oscar Richardson, who officials say had been living under the assumed name ‘Eugene Ward’ in Missouri for years, was one of a dozen fugitives featured in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s “12 Days of Fugitives” holiday-themed campaign to close cold cases.
Richardson was arrested this weekend after a tip received through fugitive hotline, according to FDLE officials. He was convicted of armed robbery for holding up two stores in Tampa in 1977.
Bailey held a press conference in Tallahassee early Monday afternoon praising the success of the “12 Days of Fugitives” campaign blitz.
A few hours later, Bailey blasted Taney County Circuit Court Judge Tony Williams’ decision to let Richardson back on the loose.
“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the irresponsible decision of Judge Tony Williams to allow Oscar Richardson to post bond. Richardson is a violent felony offender who was serving time in Florida for an armed robbery conviction when he fled after serving only a fraction of his sentence. Allowing this fugitive to walk out of a courtroom after hiding from authorities for 30 years diminishes the seriousness of his crimes and shows a lack of sensitivity for those he victimized and a disregard for the safety of the citizens of Taney County. We are working closely with Missouri authorities to aggressively pursue Richardson’s extradition to Florida. His debt to our state remains unpaid,” Bailey said in a statement.
Richardson, who’s been on the lam for more than three decades, was arrested in Missouri where he had been living under an assumed name, FDLE officials said today.
Richardson’s was the oldest of the dozen cold cases FDLE officials are hoping to close.
Richardson, now 61, escaped from a Kissimmee work release center in 1979 after serving less than two years of a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.
In 1977, Richardson held up a drug store and convenience store in Tampa.
Richardson was living under the name of “Eugene Ward” in Missouri when he was arrested on Saturday and is believed to have lived there for many years.
Richardson was arrested by a U.S. Marshals Task Force and was booked into the Taney County Jail on his outstanding warrant for escape, FDLE officials said.
Florida’s unemployment rate jumped again last month, climbing to 11.5 percent with more than 1 million workers out of a job.
The state’s unemployment rate climbed .2 percent from October’s jobless rate and is 4.8 percentage points higher than it was in November last year.
Florida’s unemployment rate is 1.5 percent higher than the nation’s jobless rate and is the highest in 34 years. (more…)
State Sen. Dan Gelber and attorney general candidate nailed down another big-name Democratic endorsement, this time from Buddy McKay, who served as lieutenant governor under the late Gov. Lawton Chiles and briefly served as governor after Chiles’ death.
Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and former House member, is trying to trade up for the Cabinet post just a year after he won election to the Senate.
He and colleague Dave Aronberg, a Democratic senator from Greenacres, are in a battle-of-the-endorsements.
Post On Politics had erroneously reported that the sheriffs were split on the candidates.
They are not.
Aronberg has the support of 10 Democratic sheriffs, including Palm Beach County’s own law enforcement rock star Ric Bradshaw.
Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former state education commissioner Betty Castor and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis have all thrown their support behind Gelber.
Republicans have lined up Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Holly Benson, a former House member who also served as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, in a GOP primary race that’s been virtually silent compared to the Aronberg/Gelber contest.
They’re all vying to replace Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican who is running for governor in a primary against another senator – Paula Dockery.
Gelber’s latest political aspiration has opened up the door for yet another former senator, Gwen Margolis, to return to the chamber.
Margolis, a former Senate President, left office before being termed out to make room for Gelber. If she wins, it would be the Miami Beach-area Democrat’s second return trip to the Senate. After serving in the state House, she switched to the Senate from 1981-1992 before making a losing bid for Congress. Margolis was reelected to the Senate in 2002.
Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio are in a dead heat in the GOP race for the U.S. Senate, according to a poll released this morning.
The Rasmussen Reports telephone survey found Crist and Rubio in a 43-43 percent tie among likely Republican primary voters.
Crist’s lead over Rubio dropped 10 percent in the same poll since August. And the governor’s popularity is at an all-time low, with just 19 percent of respondents having a “very favorable” opinion of him.
Earlier this year, Rubio, the first Cuban-American House Speaker, was considered a long-shot in the race.
But conservative support – including the endorsement of The Club for Growth and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina – has rallied Rubio’s campaign and drawn national attention to the Florida primary, viewed as a test of the rising “Tea Party” movement and characterizing the fight for the control of the party between moderates and conservatives.
Crist and other GOP leaders have angered Republican conservative base voters who typically show up at the polls to vote in primaries.
This summer, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer – hand-picked by Crist – snubbed Rubio by endorsing Crist and discouraging primaries that he said weaken the party’s ability to win in the general election.
Crist alienated conservatives by applauding President Barack Obama’s stimulus package symbolized by the now-infamous “man-hug” with the Democratic president.
And he raised eyebrows in August when he appointed his longtime advisor and right-hand-man George LeMieux to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who retired before his term ended.
The winner of next year’s primary is likely to face off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is gathering petition signatures to get onto the ballot.
Gov. Charlie Crist attended a March of Dimes gala in Palm Beach on Saturday without his wife of one year Carole by his side.
The Palm Beach Post’s Jose Lambiet reports that the stag appearance was all the more unusual because the First Lady was a chairwoman of the fundraiser last year and is close friends with local chapter benefactors and socialites Annie Falk and Lori Stoll, who both showed up at the gala.
Crist, who partied until about 9 p.m., said his wife was waiting at home for him on their first anniversary.
First Lady Carole Crist appeared sans governor at The Colony last week to raise money for the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Read Jose’s story here.
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation into “Wafflegate” but his concerns about transportation officials’ possible violations of the state’s Sunshine laws aren’t keeping him from signing the bill they were writing about into law tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Crist will hold ceremonial signings in Tampa and Orlando of the sweeping rail bill passed during a special session last week.
Today, Crist acceded to Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s request for the inspector general investigation.
But he rejected Sen. Paula Dockery’s suggestion that he delay signing the bill that paves the way for SunRail.
Dockery’s fought for three years the deal in which the state will pay CSX at least $430 million for 61 miles of track in Central Florida for a commuter rail project. The state will share the rails with CSX, which will continue to operate freight on the line for less than $4 million a year.
The Palm Beach Post reported on Sunday that CSX played a major role in the crafting of the bill.
“For three years, the agency has been stonewalling citizens trying to examine this back-room deal. Given the secretive code words used to hide its communications, the agency has violated the public trust. Until the investigation is completed, I would encourage the governor to delay signing – or better yet, veto – the legislation we’ve now learned was authored by CSX,” Dockery, R-Lakeland, said in a statement.
Orlando Ax the Tax chairman Doug Guetzloe also asked Crist to hold off on signing the bill into law. Guetzloe and the state Tea Party Chairman Fred O’Neal have asked Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to investigate the matter they coined “Wafflegate.” Guetzloe also said he will file an ethics complaint and ask Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office to look into it.
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered his inspector general to investigate the state’s top transportation officials’ use of code words in e-mails.
Crist made the request after Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink asked Crist for an internal investigation to find out if Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos (whom Crist appointed in 2007) and her deputy Kevin Thibault tried to hide their e-mails from public records review by giving the subject line of “pancake,” “pancakes” and “French Toast.”
The e-mails sent in November contained information about a proposed rail bill later approved by lawmakers during the special session that ended last week.
“Given our state’s proud and comprehensive public records laws, I remain concerned that DOT employees may have deliberately used these code words in an attempt to disguise their actions from the people of Florida. We live in the Sunshine State, and this is not the way the people’s business should ever be done,” Sink, the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, wrote in a letter to Crist to Crist asking for the investigation.
Minutes after Sink’s office released her letter, Crist’s office sent out his response.
“I agree with the letter that was just received from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. Accordingly, I have directed Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to conduct an inquiry of the Department of Transportation,” Crist said in a statement.
Crist’s order for an investigation came after numerous demands for an inquiry from other sources.
Tea Partiers have asked Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to convene a grand jury to investigate state transportation officials’ use of code words in e-mails.
Tea Party Chairman Fred O’Neal filed a request with Meggs yesterday asking for a grand jury to look into “deliberate evasion of Florida’s Public Records law” as well as “as an arrogant disregard” of the state constitution’s Sunshine Law guaranteeing access to public records and meetings.
Tea Party activists dubbed the messages “Wafflegate” after The Palm Beach Post reported that Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and her deputy Kevin Thibault exchanged three messages last month with the subject lines “pancake,” “pancakes” and “french toast.”
Doug Guetzloe, chairman of “Ax the Tax,” said he plans to file complaints with the ethics commission and Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office and another to Meggs.
“This is a direct violation of public trust,” Guetzloe said. (more…)
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said that the word “pancake” in the subject line of an e-mail from her deputy Kevin Thibault was just a way for the message to stand out from the hundreds she receives daily.
The code words were not a way to circumvent public records laws, Kopelousos insisted.
“I get hundreds of e-mails in a day and Kevin was trying to get me to look at something,” Kopelousos said. “There was nothing more, nothing less than just that. He wanted to get my attention so I would read the email he was forwarding.”
Kopelousos said her department e-mail searches include not only the subject line but the attachments as well.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is outraged over high-ranking transportation officials’ use of code words in e-mails, possibly to avoid being captured by public records requests.
The Palm Beach Post reported this weekend that Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and Deputy Secretary Kevin Thibault exchanged messages in November with “pancakes” and “french toast” as the subject lines in e-mails crafting the sweeping rail bill lawmakers approved last week.
The messages had nothing to do with breakfast.
The officials should quit if the messages were intended to subvert the state’s broad public records laws, Sink said.
“We live in the Sunshine State, and this is not the way the people’s business should be done. Those who acted this way should be held accountable, which is why if anyone at the Department of Transportation was involved in this activity, including Secretary Kopelousos, they should immediately resign,” Sink, a Democrat who is running for governor, said in a statement this morning.
In another message, FDOT attorney Bruce Conroy advises FDOT general counsel Alexis Yarbrough not to reply to a chain of messages concerning whether the department needed to change state law to broaden its powers over high speed rail projects.
“Fyi below to discuss in lieu of emails,” Conroy wrote on Oct. 19.
Thousands of e-mails from state transportation officials revealed that CSX – the transportation giant that stands to get at least $432 million from taxpayers in a deal to build a Central Florida commuter rail line – played a major role in crafting the legislation.
GOP money man Al Hoffman, a developer and former finance director for the Republican National Committee, wrote a scathing letter to Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer asking him to step down.
“It is time for you to resign in order to end the excessive, irresponsible, unethical, and perhaps illegal spending that has marked your administration,” Hoffman wrote to Greer in a letter dated today.
Greer blew off Hoffman’s request after the state party executive board gave him a 25-2 vote of confidence this afternoon.
“It reminds me of a World War II United States Army general when he was asked to surrender. He wrote one word back on a piece of paper. And it was ‘nuts.’ So that’s all I have to say about the letter,” Greer said.
He said Hoffman’s out of touch and hasn’t done much in the way of fundraising for the state GOP in the past three or four years.
Maybe that’s because Hoffman was out of the country at the time.
President George W. Bush appointed Hoffman to serve as ambassador to Portugal in 2005.
The Republican Party of Florida board of directors gave Chairman Jim Greer a vote of confidence today at their quarterly board meeting in Tallahassee.
Palm Beach County GOP state committeeman Peter Feaman and Charlotte County GOP Chairman Bob Starr cast the two votes against Greer. There were 27 board members in attendance.
GOP National Committeeman Paul Senft made the motion to take a vote of confidence in Greer “in the interest of party unity and for clarification.”
“We’ve got to not throw the party under the bus,” Senft said before making the motion.
Florida should expand early-voting hours and locations and ease “onerous” voter registration rules that may prevent thousands of eligible people from casting ballots, a voting-rights group says.
The nonprofit Advancement Project called for the changes this morning in a conference call with reporters. The Washington, D.C.-based group is involved in a legal challenge to the state’s 2005 “no match, no vote” registration law that requires voter registration information to match state driver records.