Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

A feed of articles for This Just In

older | 1 | .... | 109 | 110 | 111 | (Page 112) | 113 | 114 | 115 | .... | 529 | newer

    0 0

    By Curtis Krueger, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    A Pinellas sheriff's detective says that in an effort to seek out homegrown marijuana, he donned a Progress Energy uniform as a "ruse" and then entered a homeowner's property without a search warrant.

    The deputy's comments came in a formal interview with an attorney representing people charged with growing marijuana.

    When the Tampa Bay Times showed the interview transcript to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, he quickly disavowed the tactic.

    "I was appalled by it," Gualtieri said Wednesday. "I think it's wrong. It's not what we should have been doing at all." He said he did not know of the incident until contacted this week by the Times.

    Gualtieri said that he instituted a new policy Wednesday preventing deputies from using corporate uniforms without permission from their own supervisors and "express written permission of that corporate entity."

    While wearing the uniform, Detective Paul Giovannoni found no evidence of marijuana, and the resident of the home was not charged with any crime.

    But the revelation follows others about tactics the Sheriff's Office used while investigating "grow houses," and conducting surveillance on the Simply Hydroponics shop in Largo. The Sheriff's Office used a camera outside the store, which has since been removed, to gather information on customers. In one of the investigations, a deputy was suspended for five days for mishandling evidence.

    Attorney John Trevena, who conducted the interview of the detective, called a deposition, called it "indicative of problems with the narcotics unit at the Sheriff's Office that go beyond just this trespassing incident. … It is apparent now that this is a rogue unit, and there needs to be an outside agency to investigate."

    A law professor who reviewed the deposition at the request of the Times, Bruce Jacob of the Stetson University College of Law, said "that's obviously an illegal tactic to pretend that you work for Progress Energy to get on someone's property."

    Generally, law enforcement officers need a search warrant to enter someone's property without their permission.

    In the transcript, Giovannoni said, "I did attempt, one time, to make contact with a gentleman, I did have a Progress Energy shirt on, and he led me to the rear of his property — actually he led me to the side of his property, and that was it."

    When Trevena asked him why, the detective said, "It was just as a ruse, in an attempt to see if — if he didn't let me back there, to see if I smelled marijuana."

    Giovannoni said he didn't think he actually called himself a Progress Energy employee, but said the resident probably assumed he was one.

    Giovannoni acknowledged he had not sought a search warrant. Early in the interview he denied using a uniform in this way, but he brought it up himself later, saying he had forgotten it.

    The sheriff said he spoke to the detective's supervisors about the incident Wednesday, and provided this account:

    Gualtieri said Giovannoni never intended to go to the resident's back or side yard. But Giovannoni did intend to get the resident to open his front door, in hopes of glimpsing or smelling marijuana plants inside.

    But Gualtieri said the homeowner began asking about problems he was having with his power usage, and went around the house to the meter. So Giovannoni went along, essentially caught in his own ruse.

    But even going to the front door in a phony uniform wasn't proper, Gualtieri said. If he had been in a deputy's uniform, the resident could have decided whether to open the door. This way, he didn't know he was opening his door to law enforcement.

    Gualtieri called it "contrary to good policing and respecting individual rights and it's wrong." If the detective had smelled marijuana and used that information to get a search warrant, "I don't think it would pass constitutional muster," said Gualtieri, who also is a lawyer.

    That sounds a different note from another sheriff's employee, Cpl. Michael Sciarrino, who gave a sworn interview with Trevena. Asked about the uniform, Sciarrino said, "I don't think that that's improper because Progress Energy would have the right to go up to their own meter during normal business hours to do it, so that's where I was falling under the assumption that he would be able to do that."

    Although Gualtieri criticized the tactic, he was less quick to criticize his detective. "He's a young detective who I think thought he was just being creative," Gualtieri said. "I put more responsibility with the supervision." He said he wanted to think about whether to discipline anyone.

    Giovannoni said in his deposition that he got the uniform from a Progress Energy employee.

    Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant called this "an isolated case of an employee acting alone without approval or authority," and contrary to policy. She said Progress Energy "doesn't permit or support anyone, including law enforcement, to pose as employees." She said customers can call the utility's customer service numbers to confirm an employee's identity.

    She said the worker who supplied the uniform no longer works for Progress Energy, but declined to say more.

    Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232.


    0 0

    By Tia Mitchell, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida counties stand to lose nearly $300 million in state revenue over the next few years, a punishment of sorts for what the state says are unpaid Medicaid bills.

    But counties say much of what the state categorizes as delinquent bills are actually erroneous charges created by a faulty state billing system, and that the state's decision to collect is masking a ploy to shift additional costs to local governments.

    Led by the Florida Association of Counties, local officials are begging legislators for a fix as House-Senate budget negotiations commence.

    Under the controversial proposal, the state would withhold revenue sharing dollars from counties equal to a portion of the delinquent bills as well as any future payments counties owe under the Medicaid program. Currently, counties are allowed to dispute the amounts they owe and pay what they think is fair.

    Miami-Dade could lose an estimated $31 million in revenue sharing in the upcoming fiscal year with the new system and Pinellas could see an $8.6 million decrease, according to the Association of Counties.

    The proposed change would strip the ability of counties to dispute claims before the state withholds their revenue, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said.

    Calling the new process an "unfair, unfunded mandate," Latvala noted that the policy shift comes on top of a proposal to require counties to pay a bigger share of overall Medicaid costs.

    "(The state doesn't) want to raise taxes so it will force local governments to raise taxes," she said.

    Medicaid — which provides health care services for about 3.2 million Floridians, including many children — is administered by the state using a combination of county, state and federal funds.

    Counties say the state's billing process is flawed.

    During the 2011 fiscal year, the state billed Hillsborough County $27.8 million for Medicaid costs, a 70 percent increase from the previous year, the county said. But Hillsborough disputed $12.8 million of the amount, including a $2.8 million HMO bill it says the state sent over twice.

    Orange County, meanwhile, audited its Medicaid claims and found that the state demanded payment for services even though no money was due, sent duplicate bills and didn't have paperwork to verify that recipients lived in Orange County.

    The Agency for Health Care Administration oversees the Medicaid program and runs the billing system at the center of the dispute. But the idea of withholding revenue sharing from counties was first discussed on Feb. 10 at a meeting of state economists and tax experts. The new system would reduce the backlog owed to the state and ensure future timely payments of Medicaid costs, according to minutes from the meeting.

    Those suggestions eventually were folded into the conforming language of the Senate's 2012-13 budget (now known as HB 5301).

    Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has suggested the state withhold only 85 percent of the money the state believes it is owed as part of a compromise. If counties think the system is so faulty that more than 15 percent of the bills are inaccurate, they should sue, Gaetz said.

    In Pinellas, Latvala said local lawmakers are focused on trying to get the law changed during the budget process and haven't discussed whether they would challenge the decision in court. County officials are hoping for additional concessions before the state budget is finalized.

    "We have to go back and explain to our taxpayers a $7 million increase in costs for things we don't even believe are verifiable or justifiable," said Gretchen Harkins, Broward County director of intergovernmental affairs.


    0 0

    By Tia Mitchell, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida counties stand to lose nearly $300 million in state revenue over the next few years, a punishment of sorts for what the state says are unpaid Medicaid bills.

    But counties say much of what the state categorizes as delinquent bills are actually erroneous charges created by a faulty state billing system, and that the state's decision to collect is masking a ploy to shift additional costs to local governments.

    Led by the Florida Association of Counties, local officials are begging legislators for a fix as House-Senate budget negotiations commence.

    Under the controversial proposal, the state would withhold revenue sharing dollars from counties equal to a portion of the delinquent bills as well as any future payments counties owe under the Medicaid program. Currently, counties are allowed to dispute the amounts they owe and pay what they think is fair.

    Miami-Dade could lose an estimated $31 million in revenue sharing in the upcoming fiscal year with the new system and Pinellas could see an $8.6 million decrease, according to the Association of Counties.

    The proposed change would strip the ability of counties to dispute claims before the state withholds their revenue, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said.

    Calling the new process an "unfair, unfunded mandate," Latvala noted that the policy shift comes on top of a proposal to require counties to pay a bigger share of overall Medicaid costs.

    "(The state doesn't) want to raise taxes so it will force local governments to raise taxes," she said.

    Medicaid — which provides health care services for about 3.2 million Floridians, including many children — is administered by the state using a combination of county, state and federal funds.

    Counties say the state's billing process is flawed.

    During the 2011 fiscal year, the state billed Hillsborough County $27.8 million for Medicaid costs, a 70 percent increase from the previous year, the county said. But Hillsborough disputed $12.8 million of the amount, including a $2.8 million HMO bill it says the state sent over twice.

    Orange County, meanwhile, audited its Medicaid claims and found that the state demanded payment for services even though no money was due, sent duplicate bills and didn't have paperwork to verify that recipients lived in Orange County.

    The Agency for Health Care Administration oversees the Medicaid program and runs the billing system at the center of the dispute. But the idea of withholding revenue sharing from counties was first discussed on Feb. 10 at a meeting of state economists and tax experts. The new system would reduce the backlog owed to the state and ensure future timely payments of Medicaid costs, according to minutes from the meeting.

    Those suggestions eventually were folded into the conforming language of the Senate's 2012-13 budget (now known as HB 5301).

    Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has suggested the state withhold only 85 percent of the money the state believes it is owed as part of a compromise. If counties think the system is so faulty that more than 15 percent of the bills are inaccurate, they should sue, Gaetz said.

    In Pinellas, Latvala said local lawmakers are focused on trying to get the law changed during the budget process and haven't discussed whether they would challenge the decision in court. County officials are hoping for additional concessions before the state budget is finalized.

    "We have to go back and explain to our taxpayers a $7 million increase in costs for things we don't even believe are verifiable or justifiable," said Gretchen Harkins, Broward County director of intergovernmental affairs.


    0 0

    Times staff
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    TAMPA — Three young men were in serious condition after being shot Wednesday evening in an Old West Tampa neighborhood, police said.

    Their names have not been released, but authorities said they are in their late teens or early 20s.

    The episode began when police got a report around 7:35 p.m. of shots fired at 2534 W Palmetto St. in some sort of dispute.

    Outside the home, articles of clothing were strewn and evidence markers dotted the street.

    Neighbors said they heard gunshots and saw two young men wounded in the driveway. A third victim was found about a block away, they said.

    The victims were taken to Tampa General and St. Joseph's hospitals.

    Police have not said whether they are looking for a suspect.


    0 0

    By Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    TAMPA — The City Council will be asked today to spend nearly $4 million on downtown surveillance cameras and police gear for the Republican National Convention.

    A $2 million camera contract would go to Aware Digital, based north of Miami. Police have said they want about 60 cameras around downtown for the August convention.

    Tampa would pay $1.9 million to Safeware Inc. of Landover, Md., for protective equipment — such as helmets, face shields and body armor — to outfit officers working crowd control during the convention.

    "It'll be the basic crowd management gear, protective gear, that officers use," police Chief Jane Castor said.

    Funds for both purchases will come from a $50 million federal grant that Tampa is receiving to pay for convention security.

    The surveillance camera contract was filed with the city clerk's office Wednesday, and officials say council members shouldn't delay a vote.

    "It is absolutely essential that this system is approved ASAP to allow sufficient time for system design, configuration, installation and testing as quickly as possible," Castor wrote in a memo to the council.

    "Every day that goes by is one day that we have less in preparation," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

    It will take time to get the cameras in place, to work out any kinks and to train officers to use them, Buckhorn said. He said he would have loved to get a contract to the council months ago. But he couldn't because the city had to rebid it after the first round came in at more than twice what officials thought was reasonable.

    "I wish we had more time and they had more time to digest it, but the reality is that we can't waste a day," Buckhorn said.

    In addition to the cameras, Aware Digital would provide a wireless mesh network, data storage and a video management system to cover the area around the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

    During the convention there, the cameras would provide real-time views of crowds and traffic so police could be quickly dispatched to hot spots. The cameras also would record images of illegal activity, which could be used as evidence in court later.

    Aware Digital's deadline for a working system would be July 1, with a $500 per day penalty for every day the company is late.

    But while city officials say time is of the essence, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney said "there's no reason for that kind of urgency when the convention is still six months away."

    The ACLU contends the city shouldn't have surveillance cameras permanently focused after the convention on neighborhoods, especially downtown where crime is low, said John Dingfelder, a former City Council member who is the ACLU's senior staff attorney for mid-Florida.

    "There's a lot of people who live downtown and in Channelside whose privacy will be affected by these cameras, especially if they leave them up permanently," Dingfelder said.

    Buckhorn said questions about how the cameras would be used after the convention can be answered "down the road."

    The convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30, is expected to attract up to 15,000 protesters. Officials say Tampa police and Hillsborough sheriff's deputies — officers with local ties and a stake in how their hometown is seen — will be assigned to work with the crowds.

    On Tuesday, police said details of the Safeware purchase were exempt from disclosure under Florida's Public Records Law because they concern security system plans. But when Castor briefed council members Wednesday, she provided the information they requested.

    "She answered all of my questions, and she was very open about what the purpose of the purchase was," council member Mike Suarez said. "There was nothing there that made me say, 'Wait, why are we buying this?' "

    By comparison, city officials in Charlotte, N.C., the site of this year's Democratic National Convention, have disclosed less about their security spending.

    In January, the Charlotte Observer reported that Charlotte police planned to spend up to half of the city's $50 million federal security grant on technology and equipment, but the purchases would not go before Charlotte City Council for the usual public vote.

    That's because the council voted the year before to give the Charlotte city manager the authority to approve convention-related contracts without saying what they were for, the Observer reported. More recently, Charlotte police have disclosed spending $1.73 million on a convention command center and $131,000 on motorcycle equipment.

    It is not unusual for host cities to feel some tension between the secrecy that goes with planning a high-security event and the openness that comes with telling residents about how public funds will be spent.

    Denver, which hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2008, was sued by the ACLU in an attempt to get details of security spending there.

    Denver ended up disclosing general information on its expenditures, partly to dispel rumors that it had bought a "sonic ray gun."

    In a formal statement, the Denver mayor also said police were not buying weapons to immobilize protesters by spraying them with goo or slime.

    While federal officials typically disclose few details about security plans for national political conventions, Tampa officials say they are trying strike the appropriate balance.

    "Much to the chagrin of the Secret Service, we have been very transparent," Buckhorn said. "I understand they have their job, but I also have my job and (Castor) has her job, and our job is to make sure our citizens know what we're doing and why we're doing it to the extent possible."

    If the City Council approves both purchases, Tampa's convention-related security spending will total $6.7 million so far.

    Paying for all of this will be the $50 million convention security grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Police expect to use up to two-thirds of the grant to pay, house and feed about 3,000 law enforcement officers who will be brought in from agencies throughout Florida to help police the convention.

    The Department of Justice grant is not expected to cover the cost of deploying up to 1,700 Florida National Guard troops to Tampa. Instead, the Pentagon typically pays for Guard operations at national political conventions.

    Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.


    0 0

    By Steve Bousquet and Kameel Stanley, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Buckling under the weight of a $79 million deficit, Florida's prison system is cutting back on the visits that probation officers have with offenders — a move sure to raise public safety concerns.

    Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker late Wednesday night confirmed the latest budget-cutting move but he emphasized it would not jeopardize public safety or violate state law.

    "We are not eliminating field contacts. We are just reducing some of the field contacts," Tucker said, referring to visits with offenders on probation. "Nothing is being done carelessly or without regard to public safety."

    Tucker said he was not prepared to discuss all of the details of the policy change, but he said protecting public safety is a paramount concern of the Department of Corrections.

    The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents prison employees, had a different view.

    "This is dangerous and illegal," said Teamsters spokeswoman Leslie Miller. "It gives violent offenders one meeting a month." She predicted it would prompt more offenders to flee.

    Local officials also were concerned.

    "Less supervision of offenders is certainly not a good thing," said Bruce Bartlett, Pinellas-Pasco's chief assistant state attorney. "Judges place people on probation with the intention that they'll be monitored by the Department of Corrections. Any reduction in the supervisory capacity of probation officers creates potential issues."

    Even if prison officials require offenders to visit the probation office in lieu of a visit, it's "not the same effect as having someone knock on your door at 11 o'clock at night," Bartlett said.

    Said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri: "Some people do things because it's the right thing. Others do things because they know they're being watched. For those people who are the latter, when they know they aren't being watched, then my concern is that they might go out there and do things they're not supposed to. And then that falls to us."

    Both Bartlett and Gualtieri noted it was difficult to assess the changes without knowing more details.

    Florida's prison system, the nation's third-largest, is experiencing an unprecedented level of instability.

    Tucker, who has been on the job since last August, has been forced to cut costs, in part by closing seven prisons, because the system has about 12,000 empty beds.

    But on Wednesday, a joint House-Senate conference committee voted to keep open a faith-based women's prison in Hillsborough County that the agency insisted on closing because it was ranked the costliest prison in the state. The prison system hoped to save $10 million by closing Hillsborough Correctional, but the vote Wednesday could keep the prison open for at least one more year.

    Two weeks ago, a move to privatize more than two dozen prisons in South Florida was defeated in the state Senate on a 21-19 vote. But by then, hundreds of correctional officers had quit their jobs, which forced the state to pay out millions of dollars in sick leave, unused vacation time and compensatory time due those workers.

    The same legislative panel that voted to keep open Hillsborough Correctional also agreed Wednesday to eliminate 256 probation and parole officer jobs in the Department of Corrections. Some of those jobs are unfilled; how many could not be determined Wednesday.

    "It's a difficult time in the department, trying to make up the deficit," Tucker said. "The areas we have to do it in are limited."

    Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.


    0 0

    By Kathleen McGrory, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Here's what we're watching on Day 52 of the 2012 Legislature:

    It's all about education in the House on Thursday. The controversial charter school bill, HB 903, will be heard on the House floor. As it stands, the bill allows charter school to more easily access federal education funds — and requires charter schools to post information about their management companies online. But bill sponsor Rep. Janet Adkins has twice tried to add in language that would require traditional school districts to share their construction money with charter schools. She plans to try again on the floor, she told reporters this week.

    Two other important PreK-12 education bills will come before the House: a bill that would expand the tax credit cap (in effect, expanding voucher programs for low-income students) and a bill that makes changes to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Coaches have slammed the later of the two bills, saying it gives private-school athletes an unfair advantage.

    Universities are also on the agenda. The House will debate a bill that would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to have more flexibility in setting tuition.

    • The House is also taking up a measure to reform personal injury protection, or PIP. Reforming the program is a key part of Gov. Rick Scott's 2012 agenda.

    • Over in the Senate, the so-called funeral buffer bill, SB 632, will be heard on the Senate floor. The bill, by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, would make it illegal to picket or protest near a funeral, burial or memorial service for a veteran, emergency response worker, elected official or child.

    • We're also watching to see if the Senate votes on a bill that would allow unregulated surplus-lines insurers to take polices out of Citizens Property Insurance. Sen. Mike Fasano peppered the bill sponsor with questions about the bill on Wednesday.

    What should we talk about tomorrow? Tweet to us @PoliticsTBTimes


    0 0

    By Marissa Lang, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Tampa Bay residents faced another fog-filled commute Thursday morning, experts warned.

    The National Weather Service issued its second dense fog advisory in as many days, warning the fog would likely continue until about 9 a.m.

    The Florida Highway Patrol issued a severe fog warning to all motorists driving over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Drivers were advised to exercise caution, travel slowly and use low-beam lights.

    The fog, which crept into the Tampa Bay area the past several mornings, was likely caused by a combination of high humidity, low winds and high pressure in the atmosphere, Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said.

    A cold front moving into the area by Sunday was expected to cut down the humidity and bring a chance of rain and cooler weather, forecasters said.

    But until then, the bay area was forecast to see warmer weather than usual.

    Thursday's temperatures were again expected to climb into the mid 80s as fog dissipated and the sun broke through.

    On Wednesday, similar temperatures shattered several records throughout the area.

    St. Petersburg broke its previous record high of 81 in 1976 by reaching 83 degrees Wednesday, Tampa tied its record from 1948 with a reading of 83 degrees.

    In Bradenton, temperatures of 84 degrees broke a 1966 record of 82, and Lakeland set a new record of 87 degrees, up from the previous 1976 high of 85.


    SCOTT KEELER   |   TimesSCOTT KEELER | Times

    0 0

    By Marissa Lang, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    MANGO — An elementary school teacher was arrested Wednesday night and charged with having a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old boy, deputies said.

    Ethel Anderson, 29, of Riverview is a fifth grade teacher at Mango Elementary School. The victim is not one of her students.

    Anderson, who was arrested at her home Wednesday night, has been charged with three counts of lewd battery and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. She is being held without bail.

    An investigation began after the 12-year-old's mother began to suspect her son was having a relationship with an adult woman not known to the family, deputies said. That's when she called the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Deputies said Anderson's relationship with the 12-year-old boy began in December. She would invite the boy over to her home, 6623 Waterton Drive, and engage in "inappropriate touching" and oral sex.

    Her husband, Michael Anderson, 30, said he was shocked by his wife's arrest, but declined to comment further.

    "I'm still trying to wrap my head around what all just happened," he said Thursday morning.

    It was not immediately clear how Anderson and the boy met. The investigation remained under way Thursday morning.

    Anderson has worked at Mango Elementary since 2006, said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Public Schools.


    Hillsborough County Sheriff’s OfficeHillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

    0 0

    Times staff
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Fans attending the sold-out Yanks vs. Phillies spring training game at Bright House Field on Saturday have an opportunity to be part of a year-long mural project honoring Phillies greats.

    The mural is a joint effort by the city of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Phillies. When finished, the humongous project's painted cloth panels will be glued piece by piece to an eight-story building at 24th and Walnut Street in Center City, facing the Schuylkill River and I-76 Schuylkill Expressway.

    Set to be completed in the summer of 2012, the 3,750 square-foot mural will feature more than 30 prominent players depicting historical moments from the team's history, including the 1980 and 2008 World Series (against the Tampa Bay Rays).

    The mural is being assembled at community paint days, and this will be the final one before the unveiling this summer. Painting will be from 10:30 a.m. to the sixth inning on the concourse near section 120 for those holding tickets. (As of Friday afternoon, no more tickets were available for the game.)

    The Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports, according to the team's website on mlb.com.

    The Phillies Mural is being created by Mural Arts Program artist and lifetime Phillies fan David McShane. He has also created baseball-themed murals Tribute to Jackie Robinson in North Philadelphia and Philadelphia Stars: A Tribute to Negro League Baseball in West Philadelphia.


    0 0

    By Adam C. Smith, Times Political Editor
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    GAINESVILLE

    Mild-mannered and perpetually rumpled, David Axelrod can sound more like an idealistic dreamer than a bare-knuckled political operative.

    Last week, talking to several hundred Obama campaign volunteers at the University of Florida, he confessed how he went to his White House office and burst into tears moments after Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010. As a young Chicago Tribune reporter he had teetered on bankruptcy at times because of the medical bills for his daughter's lifelong battle with epileptic seizures.

    Never again, he said, would American families have to go through such personal turmoil.

    Axelrod, 57, first met Obama as a community organizer in 1992 in Chicago and 16 years later was one of the chief architects of Obama's historic presidential election. He served in the White House, helping craft the president's message and agenda, before returning to Chicago to help steer Obama's re-election campaign as a senior adviser and strategist.

    We caught up with him in Gainesville last week and found him obviously pleased by the nasty state of the Republican race but under no illusions about the challenges Obama faces winning a second term.

    Here are excerpts from the conversation:

    On the state of the GOP presidential race after the Michigan and Arizona primaries:

    "They're still a thousand delegates away or something from what they need. I don't think that (Tuesday) was a decisive day. They split the delegates evenly in Michigan and Romney won his home state by 3 points. I'm pretty certain it was the least convincing victory a front-runner has won in his home state in like half a century."

    • On the difference between Obama and Hillary Clinton's prolonged primary in 2008 and this year's GOP primary:

    "We gained significantly (in approval ratings) during that process and Romney's lost significantly. All their candidates have in this process. We had a very spirited campaign but it wasn't like this — just relentlessly negative. In fact I looked back at the ads we did in the entire primary season and I think Hillary's name was mentioned twice in all the ads we did. And never in the spirit that you've seen (with the GOP race). I mean, geez, Florida was pummeled by these negative ads, and I think there's a price for that.

    "The second thing is that we were not in a kind of panderfest to the most strident voices in our party. These guys just seem to be marching further and further to the right. When you're having debates about whether colleges are wholesome or not, and some of the other discussions they've been having, I think people just scratch their heads and say, 'What is this?' "

    • On the state of the race in Florida:

    "I think Florida is setting up to be what it has been for the last several elections: I think it's going to be very close. As you mentioned, independent voters have begun to swing back, and I think that has to do with several different factors. Some of it has to do with the president's own case and how he's made it over the past six months, some of it has to do with economic factors beyond housing, a lot of it has to do with the Republican race.

    "And I think some of it has to do with what happened in 2010. In 2010 here and in many places independent voters made a decision to vote Republican and swept in people who were far more extreme than they anticipated. I think there's a great deal of buyers' remorse. You look at the Republican Congress, you look at stuff that's happened in Tallahassee, I think those independent voters are saying, 'I've heard this rhetoric before. I took a shot, and it didn't work out.' "

    Will Florida Gov. Rick Scott's unpopularity help Obama in Florida?:

    "To the degree that both rhetorically and on issues he represents a philosophy of uncompromising rigidity, I think that's been very dismaying to independent voters. Here, in Ohio, in Wisconsin, you've seen governors who turned out to be farther to the right, more dogmatic, less yielding, less willing to compromise than perhaps independent voters had hoped. It does color the elections in those states. I didn't see a whole lot of folks sidling up to (Scott) during that primary season, and I don't expect they will now."

    • On moderate Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe's decision not to seek re-election:

    "There's no doubt Sen. Snowe's a Republican and she believes in Republican principles, but she also was willing to put country ahead of party and to exercise independent judgment issue to issue, which is what people elect you to do. It speaks to what's happened to moderate Republicans when people like Olympia Snowe are run out of the Republican Party. It should be cause for concern to like-minded Republicans and certainly independent voters all over this country. In a narrow and parochial sense, I've read how this is good for the Democratic Party and so on. That may be, but the loss of her voice in the Senate is not good for the country — the narrowing of an already narrow caucus."

    • What about former moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, whose party turned on him when he embraced the stimulus package? Would the campaign like to see any endorsement from Charlie Crist or encourage him to join the Democratic Party?:

    "The president has a very high regard for Gov. Crist. He made a really courageous decision back in 2009 and there's no doubt that he made it because he thought it was what was best for the state of Florida. He understood the politics were difficult and he made it nonetheless. He deserves enormous credit for that and the courage he showed. You know we all talk about that we want public officials who are willing to put the next generation ahead of the next election and he was willing to make a decision like that. So we admire him."

    Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.


    0 0

    Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    TAMPA — Her husband beat her, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. She lived.

    He tried to convince a jury it was all her fault. They believed her story instead.

    On Friday, after two years of hearings, came the sentencing.

    Audrey Mabrey, 29, stood at a court lectern wearing a domestic violence pin and the skin he left her in. She addressed the judge:

    "In December 2009, I woke up after being in a coma for six weeks and felt completely lost," she said. "What I found in the mirror was devastation instantly followed by determination."

    She endured excruciating therapy and surgeries. Learned to live with burns that cover most of her body. Searched for an answer to her young sons' questions of why.

    Now, everything in her life suggests a moving-on. She has emerged as an advocate, returned to school, finalized her divorce.

    Found a way to forgive.

    But Mabrey was clear about the sentence she desired for her ex-husband: "I ask that the court, your honor, not show mercy on his earthly life, because he did not show mercy on mine."

    The defense asked the judge to consider the shortest possible sentence, 12 years and six months.

    Attorney Jennifer Spradley told the judge 46-year-old Hanney had spent his career as a law enforcement officer in New York and had searched through the debris of the twin towers after the 2001 terrorist attack.

    "Better than anyone else," countered prosecutor Jennifer Gabbard, "this defendant should know right from wrong."

    When Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles announced the sentence, Mabrey closed her eyes and exhaled.

    Life in prison for trying to kill his wife. Thirty years for the arson. Thirty for the aggravated battery with great bodily harm.

    "Mr. Hanney," the judge said, "there is your victim, forever to bear the physical and emotional scars that were inflicted at your hands. It is her will to live, her strength in all of this that the court finds nothing short of amazing.

    "But I'm struck by something else — the barbarity of these crimes, the viciousness, as cruel as this court has witnessed."

    Hanney and Mabrey were separated when she stopped by his Apollo Beach house on a break between school and work and went for a jog, on Nov. 17, 2009.

    When she returned, he forced her into the garage, hit her with a hammer, doused her with gasoline and tossed a candle.

    Then in January, he tried to convince a jury she was trying to kill him that day, that it was she who wielded the candle and gasoline, and he kicked her, setting her aflame.

    In an unusual move Friday, Hanney chose to reserve his comments until after the sentence, knowing the judge would not consider them. The man in the jail jumpsuit and chains turned to his ex-wife and said he prays for her forgiveness. He told her, "You are one of the most strongest and most courageous persons I have ever known."

    Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.


    Pool photosPool photos

    0 0

    By Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies have filed an additional sex charge against a former Dunedin school volunteer, saying he posted photos of his 12-year-old victim on a sexual fetish website.

    Steven James Andrews, 29, of 426 Roanoke St. in Dunedin, was arrested Feb. 7 on charges that he paid the girl $100 to pose in various costumes, including full-body spandex and Hello Kitty outfits, at least three times since August.

    Investigators said he then bound and gagged the girl and took pictures of her and that he admitted he later used them during masturbation.

    After Andrews' arrest, authorities recovered from his shorts pocket a thumb drive containing about 100 photos of the girl, including 20 in which she was bound.

    Detectives on Thursday added a fourth charge against Andrews, promoting sexual performance by a child, after discovering that Andrews also uploaded those photos to a website for people with bondage and other fetishes, according to reports.

    "(Investigators) can't discuss how they found out about the website and posting of the pictures, because it's still an ongoing investigation," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor said Friday.

    Andrews never bailed out of the Pinellas County Jail after his initial arrest. Bail on the newest charge was set at $20,000, bringing Andrews' total bail amount to $95,000.

    The Times left a message Friday afternoon for Andrews' attorney, Joseph Uccello.

    Detectives said Andrews had been a friend of the girl's family for decades. Her encounters with Andrews came to light after she complained to her mother that she had not been paid for a recent photo session. The mother contacted authorities.

    Police interviewed Andrews' girlfriend, who led them a Clearwater storage unit where Andrews had stored a trunk full of costumes in various sizes, including a pirate, ice skater, Snow White, the Wizard of Oz's Dorothy and a pink cheetah. Authorities also recovered rope, handcuffs and two leather ball gags.

    Detectives said the woman had no knowledge of Andrews' alleged contact with the 12-year-old.

    Multiple postings on Andrews' MySpace page detail his "thing" for females in spandex and costumes: "Its not quite a fetish, more like an obsession i guess and it is but isnt a sexual thing. I used to figure skate as a kid only becasue of the girls and there costumes," he wrote.

    Last month, investigators said they were interviewing "dozens" of other potential victims who came forward after news of Andrews' arrest broke.

    A sheriff's spokeswoman said callers included women who described events from as long as eight years ago and caregivers of teens who say they've observed suspicious behavior by Andrews.

    The tips, she said, extend beyond the types of photos reported in the case of the 12-year-old. However, officials wouldn't disclose specifics, citing the ongoing investigation.

    Andrews' arrest, days after beloved longtime Dunedin pipe band director Sandy Keith died, dealt a blow to the city's tight-knit Scottish community, in which Andrews was a well-known bagpiper and drummer.

    Pinellas school officials said his volunteer duties with the bands at Dunedin Highland Middle and Dunedin High schools were immediately suspended.

    After his arrest, Andrews was fired from Tampa's Children's Nest Day School, where he briefly worked part-time as an after-school teacher.

    The 2000 Dunedin High School graduate's previous employment includes a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy as a yeoman seaman, doing administrative work, a military spokeswoman said.

    His former stepfather, John Whalen of Dunedin, said he helped Andrews' mother raise him from age 11 to 18. Whalen said Andrews was an average student who enjoyed model trains and bagpiping: "When he was in school he never got in trouble, and teachers complimented him on being an honorable person."

    Whalen said he has been in contact with Andrews "off and on" in recent years. He said he is "disappointed" in Andrews if the allegations are true. But Whalen has always known Andrews, whom he said received an honorable Navy discharge for medical reasons, to "be a good citizen."

    "What he did was wrong. I can't condone that," Whalen said. "But as far as I know, this is his first conflict with the law. If he made a mistake, it's a bad mistake, but it doesn't make him a bad person. . . . It's unfortunate, at best, for everyone involved — both for the child and him."

    Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.


    0 0

    Times Staff
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    TAMPA — A federal jury convicted a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers employee of using the Internet to arrange sex with a minor.

    Brian Weiss, 39, of Tampa, once worked as a luxury suite sales manager for the NFL team. He was arrested in June 2011 as part of a sting in Clermont that netted 32 men. Prosecutors said Weiss met an undercover detective online whom he believed to be a 14-year-old girl and through web chats and phone calls arranged a sexual encounter.

    Weiss was indicted in September on the charge of using a facility of interstate commerce to persuade, induce, entice and coerce a child to engage in sexual activity. The conviction carries a minimum 10-year federal prison sentence.

    Weiss' sentencing is scheduled for June 7.


    0 0

    By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    LARGO — The murder trial of Arunya Rouch, who is accused of fatally shooting a coworker in the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs Publix two years ago, was postponed at a hearing Friday afternoon. Rouch's trial on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder of law enforcement officers had been scheduled to begin March 13. Instead, a judge scheduled a hearing for March 15 to determine whether Rouch is competent to stand trial. Rouch is accused of shooting Gregory Janowski, 40, whom Rouch blamed for getting her fired from her job at Publix. After the shooting on March 30, 2010, she exchanged gunfire with Tarpon Springs police, authorities said.


    0 0

    By Jessica Vander Velde, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Two years ago, Air Force mortuary director Quinton Keel ordered embalmers to saw off a fallen Thonotosassa soldier's arm, according to a federal investigation. This week, Keel resigned.

    Sgt. Daniel Angus' parents are glad Keel no longer works at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, but they wish he had been fired, a family spokesman said.

    They hope Keel will face criminal charges.

    "In the end, nothing will change what happened," the family's attorney, Mark O'Brien, said in an email. "This is not a happy day for them."

    Kathy and William Angus buried their son in January 2010.

    Within a few weeks after the funeral— and without their knowledge — federal officials launched an investigation.

    After 18 months, a report concluded the U.S. Air Force had mishandled troops remains and sawed off a part of Sgt. Angus' left arm without his family's permission.

    Though the Air Force declared an end to such practices, it concluded the military did nothing wrong by removing part of the sergeant's arm so he could be dressed in uniform.

    Angus' parents and sister disagreed. It was mutilation, they thought, and it led to a fresh wave of grief, O'Brien said in December.

    Angus graduated from Armwood High and joined the military in 2003. He was twice deployed to Iraq and was serving his third tour, this time in Afghanistan, when, on Jan. 24, 2010, a blast killed him and two other Marines in the Helmand province.

    He was 28. He left a young daughter, a wife, his parents and a sister.

    Angus' limbs were devastated by the blast. His face was recognizable, but the remains of his upper left arm were fused perpendicular to his torso.

    Still, in February 2010, Keel decided his body was viewable and should be dressed in military attire.

    Several others at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary disagreed. They said the body was not viewable and should be encased in a full cloth wrap, according to a report from the Office of Special Counsel, a federal watchdog agency.

    But Keel insisted, according to the report. An embalmer who refused took his complaints to supervisors.

    Though the Angus family hopes for criminal charges, O'Brien doesn't think that's likely. Either way, the family doesn't plan to file a lawsuit.

    "This is not about lawsuits," the attorney said. "It is about right and wrong."

    Keel's resignation, he said, was a step in that direction.

    Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.


    0 0

    By Brittany Alana Davis, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — On this, believe it or not, Tampa strip club king Joe Redner and conservative firebrand Sen. Ronda Storms agree:

    Welfare recipients should not be allowed to use government-issued debit cards in strip clubs or casinos.

    After years of bitter clashes over Redner's Tampa strip club empire, Redner and Storms are oddly aligned in favor of a bill that would prohibit people from accessing government cash at places like Redner's Mons Venus strip club or the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

    "I don't think the people who are getting money from the government for their kids should be able to use their damn cards in strip clubs," Redner said. "It's expensive! I charge $20 to get into Mons Venus."

    Storms' bill, SB 1658, made national headlines for its attempts to regulate where and how people could spend their government assistance.

    The House this week scrapped a part of the bill that banned food stamp recipients from using federal dollars on junk food.

    But, by a 92-23 margin, it kept in place language that prohibits welfare debit withdrawals out-of-state as well as at strip clubs and casinos.

    Storms, R-Valrico, hopes the Senate will approve both the strip club and junk food language before the legislative session is scheduled to wrap up Friday, and that she can broker a compromise with the House.

    Gas stations, grocery stores and food manufacturers such as Kraft Foods have lobbied against the junk food ban. Storms said she will be disappointed if the bill passes without it.

    "It would be like being in a softball game and hitting a home run, but still losing the game," she said.

    During Thursday's House debate, some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill would prevent welfare recipients near the Georgia border from using their cards freely.

    Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, called the bill an "unnecessary intrusion."

    Yet, several lawmakers praised the proposal's promise to protect families and taxpayer dollars.

    "The idea that someone could take monies from the taxpayers of this state to use it in a gambling hall, I can't imagine anyone in this chamber would think that's a good idea," said Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

    Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, railed against those who said it would be a hardship on welfare recipients.

    "What's mean spirited about taking care of kids?" he said. "How do we make sure this money isn't stuck in the garter of a stripper or stuck in a slot machine?"

    Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.


    0 0

    Times staff
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    TAMPA — Leaking gas lines have closed a small stretch of Nebraska Avenue until at least 8 p.m., Tampa police said.

    Drivers are asked to avoid N Nebraksa Avenue from E Waters Avenue to E Sitka Street as crews repair the leak.

    All lanes are closed and detours will be in place throughout rush hour.


    0 0

    By Sue Carlton, Times Columnist
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    What a concept — letting people decide for themselves who they want seeing to them in a crisis, next to their hospital beds, getting the call if something terrible happens.

    Imagine. Not the government. Not the self-appointed alleged moral leaders. You, me, him, deciding for ourselves.

    Well, duh, you're saying. Hasn't this always been so? Hasn't my significant other always been the one allowed to be there for me? The one making decisions if I can't? To take that terrible call in the middle of the night?

    Sure, it's pretty much a given, as long as you're a man married to a woman or vice versa.

    But how about a couple living together, whether they are straight or gay, which by the way is an increasing and significant element of the American population?

    Sorry, but the matter of the rights of your partner in times of crisis can be much less clear.

    In a move that sounds suspiciously progressive, the Tampa City Council recently voted on an idea so basic and fair it boggles the brain. With two council members absent, they agreed 5-0 to explore establishing a registry to let unmarried couples make clear their wishes in worst case scenarios.

    The city is using as its model a recently established registry in Orlando to give domestic partners basic rights down to making funeral arrangements should one of them die, or taking a role in the education of a partner's child.

    And while I'm not in love with the word "registry" — it has the creepy sound of a tool for making sure we know just where They are, whichever They is being demonized at the moment — it is a movement pure at heart.

    How could anyone argue against allowing each of us to decide these personal, private and difficult matters ourselves?

    Oh, wait. Because when it comes to personal and private — think abortion rights — this is what we do.

    So I was surprised to hear from the office of City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who proposed the registry, that reaction so far has been largely positive. Emails said things like "proud of my city." One came from a man whose marriage is not recognized here, another about a couple who chose not to marry because of their "current circumstances."

    And not a peep from our self-appointed I-Know-What's-Best-For-Everyone crusader David Caton, a former porn addict. (Hey, don't blame me for bringing it up — the man once wrote a book about it.)

    This is a surprise, because Caton has in the past been Johnny On The Spot when there was any chance we might be pushing forward in treating gay people pretty much like anyone else.

    Then again, Caton and his ilk have been awfully busy of late demonizing Muslims, and really busy cowing Hillsborough County school officials into embarrassing themselves over the nonissue of a Muslim speaker at a high school.

    For the record, council member Capin has said she doesn't see the registry as a step toward legalizing same-sex marriage, and the Orlando ordinance is careful to say it's not about "treating a domestic partnership as a marriage."

    Okay, but it's a step, a proposal both sensible and sensitive.

    Hopefully, a steady-as-she-goes City Council will focus on one thing when they take it up at their March 15 meeting: Not politics, not the same anti-gay chest-pounding we have heard before, just basic fairness that says we each get to decide for ourselves whom we want with us for the worst of it.


    0 0

    By Toluse Olorunnipa, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
    Friday, March 2, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers approved a plan to allow random drug tests of state employees Friday, while rejecting an amendment that would require similar tests for themselves and the governor.

    The proposal, which has been clouded over questions about its constitutionality, passed the House, 79-37, with Republicans backing the measure amid outcry from Democrats.

    "There were over 141,000 (drug-related) arrests last year," said Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, who is sponsoring the bill. "This is not to do drug testing because they're state workers. This is to do drug testing for one problem: drugs in Florida."

    The bill, which also passed its final Senate committee on Friday, would allow state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their workforce once every three months. It would also allow agencies to fire employees the first time they test positive. Current law only allows random drug testing for "safety sensitive" positions and prohibits agencies from firing workers who test positive once, requiring treatment programs instead.

    Smith called the push to include elected officials in the drug-testing program "political theater," and has claimed the Supreme Court has already ruled against the practice.

    "It was found to be unconstitutional to drug test elected officials because it prevents us, as citizens, from having that First Amendment right," Smith said last week.

    That has drawn criticism from fellow lawmakers, who called the position "hypocritical."

    "I have to conclude that this is an elitist legislative body not prepared or courageous to lead by example," said Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who was behind the amendment. "Shame on you."

    A Senate committee voted to move the plan forward on Friday, with some lawmakers arguing that leadership already has the authority to create a drug-testing plan for elected officials. While several legislators have voiced support for testing politicians, no such plan has been adopted.

    Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said he supported drug testing for elected officials but voted to freeze the amendment on constitutional grounds.

    "I think it's sad that a court has ruled that elected officials and the governor cannot be drug tested, and that's why that amendment wasn't put on," he said. "But I think we should be drug tested."

    But the courts have also questioned whether testing state workers randomly and without suspicion is a violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal search and seizure.

    After Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order last year requiring random drug testing at some state agencies, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued him, and the case is pending in federal court.

    Last month, a federal judge in Miami said she had "trouble understanding the circumstances under which the executive order would be valid."

    Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, was among a group of Democrats arguing that the plan amounted to unconstitutional government intrusion, calling it legislative "bullying."

    "Why don't we just pass a law that says we'll go out and we'll go into public workers' homes and go in their bathrooms?" he said in a sharp-tongued floor speech to his colleagues.

    "You'd be okay with that, but you don't want to do it to the governor, you don't want to do it to us. I'll tell you what you're doing, you're being bullies."




older | 1 | .... | 109 | 110 | 111 | (Page 112) | 113 | 114 | 115 | .... | 529 | newer