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State investigators clear justices of wrongdoing, Scott not pleased

Thursday, July 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Three Florida Supreme Court justices did not break the law when they used court staff to notarize campaign documents, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided.

But the matter is not settled. Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis, up for merit retention, now have to fend off a lawsuit seeking to strip them off the November ballot.

Gov. Rick Scott directed FDLE to investigate the issue last month after state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, steered the governor to a state election law prohibiting candidates from using state employees who are on the clock for campaign work.

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs found the judges apparently violated the law, but noted in a letter to FDLE that the notarization took less than a minute.

“It is well established that the law does not concern itself with trifles. In general, there is no prohibition against a notary employed by the state, notarizing a document for their boss, or even as a public service to the citizenry,” Meggs, a Democrat, wrote to FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey this week.

FDLE investigators agreed.

“It appears that the practice of using staff members to notarize campaign and other documents is common practice throughout the State and is done solely as a matter of convenience,” the FDLE report concluded.

The involvement of staff to notarize the financial disclosures and candidates oaths “was ancillary in nature and limited solely to notary services and the typing of the headers on these documents,” the report found. “Neither the Justices nor the Supreme Court staff interviewed considered the notarization of these documents to be, in any way, campaign related, and no evidence indicating an abuse of either position or public resources was revealed during the course of this inquiry.”

Scott issued a terse statement sounding displeased with FDLE’s results.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Gerald Bailey and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for diligently reviewing the possible violations by Florida Supreme Court Judges. According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is ‘common practice.’ Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal. Whatever the ruling, we will accept it and act accordingly,” Scott said.

In April, the justices interrupted oral arguments after being alerted that their campaign documents were not complete. Court staff helped to complete their papers, which were submitted just minutes before the qualifying deadline.

Gov. Scott, AG Bondi say pill mill crackdown working

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A year after creating a prescription drug “strike force,” Florida is moving from the “Oxy express” to a role model for the nation in cracking down on pill mills and illicit pain pill distribution, according to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

The state’s Drug Enforcement Strike Force Teams, initiated by Scott with $800,000 last March, have seized almost 500,000 pills, 59 vehicles, 391 weapons and $4.7 million, according to Scott’s office. And they’ve made more than 2,150 arrests, including 34 doctors.

The dent in the illicit prescription drug trade comes from a combination of Scott’s “strike force” and tough laws – including restrictions limiting rogue doctors’ dispensing of drugs and the amount of drugs per patient they can prescribe – pushed by Bondi. Scott, Bondi, Bailey and a host of law enforcement and health officials boasted of the success at a press conference this afternoon.

“We have a long way to go,” Bondi, who testified before Congress on the issue last week, said, adding that the efforts have made a “tremendous difference in the war on prescription drugs.”

Last year, 90 of the country’s top 100 Oxycodone-purchasing doctors and 53 of the top 100 purchasing pharmacies were located in Florida. The number of doctors dropped 85 percent to 13 and the number of pharmacies went down to 19. And the number of pain clinics in the state has gone down from 800 to 508, according to Scott’s office.

And an interim report shows a nearly 8 percent drop in the number of people who prescription drug-related deaths in Florida from January through the end of June last year compared to the same six-month period the previous year.

From January 1 through July 1 last year, 1,173 people died with at least on prescription drug in their blood. The previous year, the 1,268 people died, a 7.9 percent decrease. Scott’s “strike force” was only in effect for half of that period and many of the restrictions on prescribing had not yet gone into effect. And the state’s prescription drug database was not yet up and running – that didn’t go online until October.

“This is a good news day,” Scott said, saying the drug force has had a “dramatic impact” over the past year. “People know now we are clearly the model.”

The crackdown on drug pushers is turning around the state’s reputation as the drug capital of the country, Bailey said.

“In one year, we’ve gone from being known as the Oxy-express to being a role model for other states dealing with this problem,” he said. “While we have made tremendous strides, we’re just getting started. Prescription drug trafficking remains a significant concern for Florida law enforcement.”

Gov. Scott orders investigation into deadly I-75 crashes

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate a string of car crashes along Interstate 75 near Gainesville that left 10 people dead this weekend.

Scott ordered the inquiry after Florida Highway Patrol officials announced this afternoon they are also investigating. Two FHP supervisors reopened the highway early Sunday morning, less than three hours after the highway had been shut down because of reduced visibility caused by smoke from fires in Paines Prairie.

Shortly after the highway was re-opened, a string of car crashes began, killing 10 people and injuring 21 others.

“Following this weekend’s tragic automobile accident on Interstate 75 in Alachua County, I have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the circumstances leading up to this incident. I will make available any and all resources from the Executive Office of the Governor, as well as any agency under my supervision, as needed. We will also fully cooperate with any federal investigation which may occur. During this tragic time, our thoughts and prayers should be with the victims and their families,” Scott said in a statement late this afternoon.

Prisons chief suspends two guards over inmate collapse

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

dreadDepartment of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil suspended two prison guards involved in the collapse of 20-year-old inmate Samuel Dread who remains in critical condition after exercising on Monday.

McNeil placed correctional officers Sgt. Michael Devanie and James Barry on administrative leave with pay after learning of “conflicting witness statements,” according to a press release issued by McNeil’s office this morning.

Dread collapsed after exercising for several hours in the 86 degree heat as part of an extended day program at Lancaster Correctional Institution near Gainesville on Monday, his first day at the boot-camp style program for youthful offenders. Dread remains in critical condition after being placed into a medically-induced coma.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I have placed these officers on administrative leave until this issue is resolved. The mission of this department is public safety, and that includes the safety of our 102,000 inmates, a responsibility I take very seriously,” said McNeil. “If any wrongdoing has occurred, appropriate, swift action will be taken. In the meantime, these officers will have no further contact with inmates.”

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the incident, saying there are questions about whether prescription medications Dread was taking required him to avoid extreme heat.

“I have every assurance that the investigation will be thorough and complete and at the conclusion we’ll know all the facts in this case,” McNeil said in a statement.

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UPDATE: Captured escapee on the lam for 30 years out on bond

Monday, December 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

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 Eugene Richardson is shown before his 1979 escape, left, and after his Saturday capture.

Oscar Eugene Richardson is shown before his 1979 escape, left, and after his Saturday capture.

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…)

Utility regulators cleared of wrongdoing…again

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found no evidence of wrongdoing in the exchange of BlackBerry messages between utility regulators or their staff and utility officials.

FDLE issued the three-page report today, long after Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs also found no laws had been broken.

The report was released as the Public Service Commission held a workshop to discuss a 17-year-old statewide grand jury report recommending changes to how information between the PSC and the utilities is exchanged to clear up the perception that there isn’t enough distance between the regulators and the utilities they regulate.

The PSC has operated under a cloud of suspicion since late this summer at the beginning of hearings on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike.

On the opening day of the hearing, it was revealed that the agency’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Rudd later quit.

Two commissioners suspended their aides for swapping BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer and another fired hers for giving his secret BlackBerry identification number (PIN) to an FPL lawyer.

State attorney finds nothing criminal at utility reg panel…yet

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Attorney Willie Meggs says there’s no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the Public Service Commission but he hasn’t ended his investigation of possible violations of Florida’s broad Sunshine Laws.

His investigators “are about running out of things to do and people to talk to but at this point we have not found anything criminal,” Meggs said.

But he hasn’t yet shut down the investigation, the prosecutor said.


UPDATE: FPL wants to move ahead with rate hearings

Friday, September 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. officials had this to say about a top GOP senator’s request to halt utility rate hearings until investigations into what could be too cozy connections between regulators and utilities.

“We believe it is in our customers’ best interest for the PSC to proceed with its evaluation of our request – on its merits and the facts – so that it can make a timely decision that will allow us to move forward with investments in the electrical infrastructure that benefit our customers and the communities we serve,” FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said in an e-mail.

Sen. Mike Fasano asked Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter to postpone rate hearings currently underway – including a $1.3 billion rate hike sought by FPL scheduled to resume Wednesday – indefinitely.

Fasano wants several current investigations wrapped up before the hearings continue. He also wants them suspended until the Senate confirms Gov. Charlie Crist’s two nominations for the panel. Crist received a list of six finalists – including two current commissioners – earlier this month and has until Oct. 2 to make his picks.


ACORN workers busted for fraud

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

At least five ACORN workers are behind bars and law enforcement officials are seeking six others for forging signatures on voter registration applications last year.

The workers were turned in by ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Refom Now, supervisors in June 2008.

The arrests today in Miami-Dade County include a mother, her son and her daughter, according to Ed Griffith, spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katharine Fernandez Rundle.

The FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Rundle’s office scoured hundreds of suspicious voter registration applications provided by ACORN. The accused apparently created fake voters who did not exist, signed the forms and handed them in.

Conservatives have attacked ACORN, which targets low-income and minority populations in voter registration drives, publicly and in court for violating elections laws.

“Today’s actions vindicate our quality control systems and show that we took the preservation of the integrity of the voting process with the utmost seriousness,” said ACORN Florida spokesman Brian Kettenring.

“In addition, it also shows that ACORN has consistently been telling the truth about our voter registration work and it challenges the conservative lies that have been spread for years now about our good work,” he said.

The arrests served to confirm some conservatives beliefs about the organization, however.

“Today’s arrests of ACORN Field workers for voter registration fraud in nearly 900 applications further demonstrates how these community organizations with ties to the Democratic Party are corrupting the political process in Miami-Dade County while advocating for President Obama’s radical policies,” state Rep. David Rivera, who also chairs the Miami-Dade County GOP, said in a press release.

FDLE arrests 5 former ACORN workers

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State law enforcement officials arrested five voter registration workers today for forging voter registration applications last year. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued arrest warrants for five others.

The ten worked for the Association of Communities for Reform Now (ACORN) in Miami-Dade County last spring.

ACORN quality control workers suspected that something was amiss with the applications turned in by the ten and reported them to law enforcement.

FDLE and FBI agents found that 197 of 260 applications contained personal identification information that did not match any living person.

The investigators believe that the workers made up the information and forged the signatures, according to an FDLE press release issued today.

Those charged range in age from 19 to 45.

PSC Chairman Carter denies he’s “too cozy” with FPL

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

matt_carterbioIn the latest installment of intrigue at the Public Service Commission, chairman Matthew Carter issued an indignant press release today saying he takes “great offense” at reports that utility regulators are too cozy with Florida Power & Light Co. executives.

The PSC is in the midst of a FPL rate hearing in which the company is seeking a $1.3 billion rate hike implemented over two years.

The opening of the hearing was delayed after it was revealed that a PSC lobbyist and government liaison attended a party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Ryder Rudd, director of the commission’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Governmental Affairs, oversees staff working on two pending FPL cases – the current rate hike and a proposed $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline from the Panhandle to Palm Beach County.

An internal investigation released yesterday found that Rudd may not have broken the law by attending the party but may have violated rules of conduct prohibiting PSC staff from accepting gifts from those whose cases are under review.

Commissioner Nathan Skop, who exposed Rudd’s attendance at the party, demanded that Rudd be fired immediately. Rudd has been taken off any dockets involving FPL.

Carter weighed in today with the press release denying that commissioners and their staff are “too cozy with regulated industries, FPL in particular.”


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