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Nelson wants Justice Department help in Dozier probe

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by John Kennedy

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the U.S. Justice Department should join an investigation into decades-old deaths at North Florida reform school.

Researchers from the University of South Florida have reported they uncovered at least 50 graves sites at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, which was closed in 2011.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had sought to determine the number of graves in response to years of claims about child-abuse and deaths at the facility. FDLE determined there were only 31 graves, which coincided with state claims that most had died in a fire and influenza outbreak earlier in the last century.

The school was opened from 1900 until last year.

“For the sake of those who died and the family members still living, we’ve got to find out what happened at that school,” Nelson said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.  “I’m asking your department to provide support and assistance to
USF researchers in a broadened search to look for more graves, as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes.  The families deserve closure once and for all.”

Former students at the school went public with allegations of physical and sexual abuse in 2008 and then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered FDLE to investigate. The agency found that 81 students died at the school over the years and 31 were buried on campus.  But FDLE found no evidence to support abuse allegations.

But last year, USF anthropologists and archeologists began their own investigation into the gravesites.

Researchers uncovered 50 gravesites – 19 more than previously identified by FDLE.  They also determined that more deaths occurred at the school than previously known.  They uncovered 98 deaths of boys between ages 6-18 in the years 1914 through 1973.

The research team released its findings Monday and plans to return to the site in January.


Scott pumps up tea partiers, digs in over voter purge

Sunday, June 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott pumped up a conservative crowd at a Tea Party Express event in the Capitol city Sunday afternoon, urging the activists to help him gain support for a controversial non-citizen voter purge now in federal court.

Wearing khakis, a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his signature custom-made cowboy boots, Scott defended the purge and enlisted their aid getting President Obama’s administration to cooperate by granting access to a federal immigration database.

“Okay so the latest is who should get to vote in our state and in our country. People that are citizens of our country. It’s very simple, right? Who comes up with the idea that you get to vote if you’re not a citizen?” Scott asked near the end of a 15-minute speech at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.

Scott explained that his administration unsuccessfully tried to get Homeland Security to give Florida access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or “SAVE,” database the states are supposed to be allowed to use to check voter IDs, among other things.

“That database is obligated to be given to us and it says it’s for voter registration. Go look at it. It’s the SAVE database from Homeland Security. It’s our right to get that data. For whatever reason, they decided not to give it to us. Can you imagine why?” Scott said. “So we have to, you have to, demand that Homeland Security does their job. I’m going to continue to stand up for your right. I do not want one person’s vote in this state diluted by somebody that doesn’t have the right to vote.”

Scott’s office on Friday released a document showing that 86 individuals were removed from the voter rolls since Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent a list of about 2,600 potential non-citizen voters to elections supervisors in April. The error-riddled list turned out to include the names of Floridians who were naturalized citizens and one decorated World War II veteran. The state department contends that 46 of those people – about one-third of one percent – voted in previous elections. But a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times review found that only six of those had cast ballots.

The purge has created a national firestorm and partisan split.

Scott remained steadfastly committed to the purge on Sunday.

“Here’s what we know. We know that people are on our voter rolls that don’t have a right to vote. We know that. We know that people have voted that don’t have a right to vote. We know that. How many races should be decided by somebody that doesn’t have the right to vote. Not one. Not one. Not one person should have the right to vote that doesn’t have the right to vote. That is wrong and it is a crime,” he said.

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder’s office last month told Scott to stop the scrub, saying it appeared to violate two federal laws. The federal “motor voter” law prohibits states from doing purges 90 days before an election. That deadline passed May 16 for Florida’s Aug. 14 primary. And Friday the ACLU and others sued Scott’s administration over the purge, asking a federal court to put a stop to it until the Justice Department weighs in.

But a defiant Scott instructed the tea partiers to contact “everybody that’s involved” and demand that the state get access to SAVE, adding that he’s not backing down. The ACLU and others sued Scott’s administration on Friday, asking a federal court to stop the purge until the Justice Department weighs in.

“It’s not going to be easy. I need your support. You need to go out there and let everybody know that this is wrong.”

Scott said later he is considering suing the Obama administration over its refusal to grant permission to use the database.

“I’ll decide over the next few days what we’re going to do. But I’m going to defend our right to vote. I care about every individual’s right to vote. I don’t want it diluted by somebody else’s vote,” he told reporters after the event.

During his speech, Scott repeatedly urged the tea partiers to put their grassroots activism to use over the purge.

“Your job is to make sure those individuals do their job. Call them. Do what you’ve done to me. I think last week I got 5,000 e-mails. E-mail me. Call. And call everybody else…I’m going to do my job. I’m going to make sure that happens,” he said.

In her introduction of Scott, Tea Party Express co-founder Amy Kremer also riled up the anti-Obama administration crowd over the purge, calling it part of an effort by Democrats to “steal” elections.

“If the Democrats cannot win it fair and square, they will steal it. They have done it before. We cannot let them take this away from us,” she said.

The battle over the voter vetting is on hold in Florida as the state’s 67 elections supervisors have said they will not continue the process until the issue is straightened out between Scott and the Obama administration or the courts. The elections supervisors are the only ones who have the ability to actually remove voters from the rolls.

Scott said he’s confident the supervisors will do the right thing.

“They got elected. They know their job. They have an obligation. My job is to enforce the law that I’m responsible for. They have an obligation to enforce their laws. They’re not supposed to allow anybody to vote that doesn’t have a right to vote,” he said Sunday. “They’re going to do the right thing. They’re doing the right thing. Not one person has been kicked off a voter roll that has a right to vote. But we do know people have voted. We do know people are on the voter rolls that don’t have a right to vote.”

Scott, whose popularity among Florida voters remains lackluster, told reporters he appeared at the event to help get voters primed for the November elections.

“Just to energize the vote. Get people out. Let people know this election’s important. Every election’s important. You always hear that this election’s the most important one. But elections are important. They have an impact. If you want to change the direction of the state, the country, you’ve got to show up,” he said.

AG Holder insists Scott administration breaking the law with voter purge

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch used a Congressional hearing today as a platform for Attorney General Eric Holder to defend his intervention in a controversial non-citizen voter purge launched by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

Holder’s remarks come in the midst of a back-and-forth between the Justice Department and Scott’s administration over who is breaking the law.

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, asked Holder to respond to U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney‘s attack yesterday in which Rooney, R-Tequesta, accused Holder of playing partisan politics by trying to stop a controversial non-citizen voter purge in Florida.

A fired-up Deutch blasted Scott for the problematic purge that flagged more than 182,000 potentially ineligible voters by matching driver’s license and voter registration records. A preliminary list of 2,600 voters given by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to elections supervisors found that many of those targeted had were naturalized citizens and others who had been born in the U.S. About 40,000 legitimately-registered voters could lose their abilities to case ballots in November, Deutch said, if the purge were to continue.

Republicans’ assertions that the purge is needed to combat voter fraud “preposterous and offensive” because only 16 cases of voter fraud were found out of more than 8 million votes cast in the last presidential election in Florida, Deutch said.

“And it’s condescending because voter fraud would be a totally ineffective way to rig an election. It’s rare because it’s a felony that risks prison time and huge fines and it’s a totally illogical way to sway elections. You know what is an effective way to sway elections? Scrubbing thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls. Eradicating voter registration drives. Reducing early voting and disenfranchising millions of seniors and impoverished Americans who lack government ID’s. That’s the tactic that Gov. Scott and his ilk are using not just in Florida but around the country,” said Deutch, who weeks ago had asked Holder to look into the purge.

“But maybe I’m wrong. Is my Republican colleague right? Have I missed some grand conspiracy here?” he asked, setting the stage for Holder to respond to Rooney and Scott, who yesterday accused President Obama’s administration of breaking the law by denying access to a Homeland Security database with more complete citizenship records.

“That is not what motivated our action or will continue to motivate the action that we may have to take,” Holder said. “But I will assure you that we will make sure that the federal law is enforced. And that voter purges happen in a way that is consistent with the law.”

Last week, Holder’s voting rights division asked Scott to stop the purge because it appeared to be a violation of a federal law that bars state voter registration purges 90 days before an election. That window passed on May 16 in Florida for the Aug. 14 primary. Yesterday, Detzner said he “respectfully disagrees” with the Justice Department and that their interpretation of the law would give Floridians the right to sue the federal government to ensure their votes are not diluted.

Holder denied that he is engaged in a “political ploy” and told Deutch he is simply enforcing the law.

“I share your view that we do not want to have people inappropriately voting. We do not want to have voter rolls who contain people who should not have the right to vote. At the same time, we should be engaged in a process that does not put off the rolls people who have served their country, veterans, people who want to exercise their fundamental American rights. The notion that this is somehow a political ploy is inconsistent. One only has to look at the law which is clear. Ninety days. It is very, very clear. Ninety days,” Holder said.

Elections supervisors have abandoned the non-citizen scrub until Scott and the feds – or a court – sort things out.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney tells feds to butt out of Florida voter purge

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney told Attorney General Eric Holder to stop meddling in Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to clean up the voter rolls in Florida, accusing Holder of “blatant politicization” of the non-citizen voter purge.

The Justice Department last week told Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner the voter purge may violate two federal laws and gave Detzner until today to respond to its request to drop the scrub.

Scott has given no indication he’s going to back down, and Detzner insists that the law requires him to ensure the voter rolls are accurate.

Rooney, a Tequesta Republican, is the latest official to wade into the political fray over the purge, which has sparked a national partisan dust-up. Democrats blame the Scott administration of trying to keep minorities and Hispanics – who dominate the list of 2,600 flagged voters given to elections officials in April – from going to the polls in November. Republicans accuse critics of the purge, including Holder, of wanting to break the law by allowing ineligible voters to cast their ballots.

Rooney’s letter mirrors a legal analysis by a former Justice Department lawyer who says Holder is wrong.

“Your actions further demonstrate that the Department of Justice, under your leadership, is more concerned with protecting the reelection prospects of the President than with upholding justice and enforcing the rule of law,” Rooney wrote in a letter sent today.

The News Service of Florida reported that Scott earlier today defended the purge, which he initiated last year, and said he hopes to have a response to the Justice Department today and defended the purge.

“Not a single eligible voter as far, as I know, has been removed from the voter rolls,” Scott said in an interview with WNDB radio in Daytona Beach, where Scott was Wednesday. “Not one. And we’re working to keep it that way.”

Scott insisted the purge is necessary to maintain voters’ confidence in the elections process.

“Their vote should not be diluted by people who don’t have the right to vote,” Scott said. “We need to be reviewing our voter rolls and making sure only those individuals who have the right to vote … are voting.”

Meanwhile, the state’s elections supervisors have dropped the voter purge because the data they received was too flawed and they want to wait until the issue is sorted out by Scott and the feds or the courts. The 67 supervisors are the only ones who can actually remove voters from the rolls.

Florida gets $8.4 billion in national foreclosure settlement

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida will get $8.4 billion of a $26 billion nationwide foreclosure settlement reached following what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called “disturbing practices” at the country’s biggest banks.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a top negotiator for the states involved in the lawsuit, said prosecutors and banks had reached a deal that “provides Floridians with much-needed relief and reforms the mortgage-servicing industry.”

Under the agreement:
* Florida borrowers will receive an estimated $7.6 billion in benefits from loan modifications, including principal reduction and other debt relief.

* About $170 million will be available for cash payments to Florida borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure from Jan. 1, 2008 through Dec. 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse.

* The value of refinanced loans to Florida’s underwater borrowers would be an estimated $309 million.

* The state will receive a direct payment of $350 million.

“This settlement will provide substantial relief to struggling Florida homeowners, and ensures that our state gets its fair share of the relief being provided nationally,” Bondi said in a statement this morning. “This agreement holds banks accountable and puts in place new protections for
homeowners in the form of strict mortgage servicing standards.”

Read more from The Palm Beach Post‘s Kimberly Miller here.

Voting rights groups sue Florida over elections law

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A coalition of groups – including the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and the ACLU - filed a federal lawsuit today against the state over an election law overhaul now being reviewed by a separate federal court in Washington.

The groups are challenging the provision in the law that they say makes it more difficult for groups to conduct voter registration drives.

The lawsuit argues that the new law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, is an unconstitutional restriction on the rights of speech and association, is confusing and violates the National Voter Registration Act.

After more than 70 years helping to register voters in the state, the League of Women Voters of Florida quit its voter registration efforts after the law went into effect in May. The lawsuit argues that the league dropped its efforts out of “fear they will be unable to comply with the laws myriad requirements and cannot afford to risk incurring large fines or enduring the reputational harms that would result from even an innocent violation.”

The Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, also part of the lawsuit, argues that the new law will make it more expensive for them to register college students to vote. Rock The Vote, a national group that targets voters between the ages of 18 and 29, said it has called off registration drives in Florida because it lacks the resources the new law requires.

The lawsuit also argues that the new law disproportionately affects low-income and minority voters, who tend to sign up to vote through registration drives more than other groups. Critics of the law, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, say Florida’s law, one of 14 across the nation passed by GOP-dominated legislatures and governors this year, is designed to make it harder for low-income, minority and college student voters to register and cast their ballots.

A federal judge in Miami threw out a separate challenge on the law in October, saying it was too early to see whether the new law would be harmful. The ACLU was trying in that case to keep the law from going into effect statewide until it received federal approval for five counties requiring “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act.

Crackdown: Holder targets West Palm Beach abortion protester

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett



Mary Susan Pine, who regularly protests outside a West Palm Beach clinic where abortions are performed, is the target of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that seeks to bar her from any driveway leading to the clinic and could result in a $10,000 fine.

Pine, 58, is the first Florida person targeted under the 16-year-old federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

A National Abortion Federation lawyer applauds the suit as part of the crackdown Attorney General Eric Holder promised after the 2009 slaying of a Kansas abortion practitioner.

Read about it here.

Attorney Gen. Eric Holder’s remarks to Forum Club of the Palm Beaches

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by George Bennett

U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder is speaking now to a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch crowd of more than 700.

He’s detaling an Obama administration initiative against financial fraud.

Read his prepared remarks after the jump…. (more…)

AG Holder expected to announce financial fraud crackdown at Forum Club speech

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by George Bennett



After two weeks of bad publicity over its handling of a Nigerian jihadist’s attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day, the Obama administration will try to shift the focus to the economy today, Politico’s Mike Allen reports.

Toward that end, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s lunchtime speech today to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches is expected to lay out an administration initiative to “prevent, prosecute, and punish financial fraud.”

After the massive Ponzi schemes of South Floridians Bernie Madoff and Scott Rothstein, West Palm Beach is a natural backdrop for Holder’s announcement.


CNN’s Schneider kicks off new Forum Club season Friday; AG Holder slated for January

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 by George Bennett

CNN senior politcal analyst Bill Schneider will be the headliner Friday when the venerable Forum Club of the Palm Beaches kicks off its latest powerlunch season.

The event will be at the Cohen Pavilion at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Public tickets are $55 and may be purchased at the event. The buffet begins at 11:30 a.m.

Other Forum Club speakers confirmed so far: Ted Kennedy biographer Peter S. Canellos on Oct. 23, National Urban League CEO Mark Morial on Dec. 15, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder on Jan. 8 and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Jan. 28.

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