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16 posts from March 14, 2013

March 14, 2013

Legislators scramble to distance themselves from operations and cash of Internet cafes

Florida sheriffs have pleaded for years with the Legislature to close the loophole that fueled the fastest expansion of illegal gambling in decades — so-called "Internet cafes."

Legislators squabbled. Bills languished or failed. But the delay paid off — for lawmakers and the industry.

Threatened with being shut-down, the owners and operators flooded lawmakers with campaign cash and hired a stable of lobbyists with money that police now say was illegally obtained. Among the biggest contributors was Allied Veterans, the purported charity organization that authorities said this week secretly operated electronic slot machines at Internet cafes at 49 gaming centers across Florida.

Allied and related companies donated $2 million to the lawmakers’ campaigns and committees over at least three years, police say.

An analysis by the Herald/Times found that Allied, however, was not alone in writing large checks to political candidates. Another chain of gambling centers, run by Arcola Systems of Florida, layered at least $864,000 in checks on legislators in the last two years. Arcola and none of its representatives are included or named in the investigation of Allied.

With federal and state investigators now preparing indictments on racketeering and corruption charges, the same politicians who have quietly accepted industry checks are prepared to pass a bill to ban Internet cafes.

The House Gaming Committee will take up a bill to ban the gaming centers on Friday, a similar bill will be taken up in the Senate on Monday. Legislative leaders said they hope to get a bill on the governor’s desk by the end of the month.

“We are finally seeing what an epidemic this is that as elected officials we’ve closed our eyes to,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, sponsor of the House bill. “Seeing the amount of money these institutions made and stole from some of the most vulnerable in our state is really sad.” More here. 

Here is a breakdown of some of the top takers in Tallahassee's Internet gambling gold rush 2011-12:

Continue reading "Legislators scramble to distance themselves from operations and cash of Internet cafes" »

Another LG name surfaces from Miami: School Board's Raquel Regalado


Young. Hispanic. Female. Republican. South Floridian. An education figure.

The descriptors for Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado make her a natural fit for Gov. Scott to consider as a replacement for Jennifer Carroll, who just resigned her post as Lieutenant Governor amid a scandal connected to an internet-gambling company.

Word of Regalado being approached rippled through Miami City Hall today where her dad, Tomas Regalado, is mayor. Raquel Regalado, who was initially approached Thursday to see if she wanted to be considered, didn't return calls for comment. It's quite a surprise, considering that Regalado supported Alex Sink, Scott's Democratic opponent, in the 2010 governor's race. Months later, Regalado said Miami-Dade would consider suing Scott over his education budget (more about that farther down).

So either bygones are bygones or there's some serious head-faking going on.

In addition to Regalado, Miami state Sen. Anitere Flores is also under consideration. She, too, has education roots, is Hispanic, female and Republican.

See a pattern?

Continue reading "Another LG name surfaces from Miami: School Board's Raquel Regalado" »

Charter school bill wins approval of House Budget Committee

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a sweeping charter school bill that would, among other things, require traditional public schools to share empty classroom space with charter schools.

The bill from Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, would also require the state Department of Education to adopt a model charter school contract that could not be amended by the school or the district. 

The debate over charter-school funding is expected to be among the most contentious of the legislative session. Like other public schools, charter schools receive taxpayer dollars for things like teacher salaries and educational materials. But they do not receive money for construction and maintenance. 

Moraitis said his proposal would ease the financial burden on charter schools.

Continue reading "Charter school bill wins approval of House Budget Committee" »

Scott appoints ex-Pinellas school board member to FAMU board

Glen Gilzean was considered a controversial pick when Gov. Rick Scott selected him to fill an empty seat on the Pinellas County School Board last year. Several people complained that there were far more established community leaders would have been better replacements for Lew Williams, who had passed away.

Now, Scott has appointed Gilzean to an even higher profile position: the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees. His term is scheduled to begin today and and end Jan. 6, 2018, as long as the Florida Senate signs off.

In the process, Scott declined to reappoint trustee Charles Langston, a retired business executive living in Tampa, to another term. And he also passed over four other applicants including FAMU alum Keith Clickscales, a former executive at ESPN who helped launch VIBE magazine, and attorney Daryl Parks, a former FAMU student body president who served as a trustee until Scott replaced him in 2011.

Gilzean joins a board trying to steer FAMU through troubling times. The school is still dealing with the effects of the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion and was put on a yearlong accreditation probation.

Continue reading "Scott appoints ex-Pinellas school board member to FAMU board" »

Another Charlie Crist donor headed for jail

U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill announced that today that Lee County real estate broker Greg Eagle, who is the father of state Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, pleaded guilty to four counts of bank fraud, one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud. 

Greg Eagle faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison on each of the six counts, and a fine of up to $1 million. He will also be ordered to pay back money he ripped off his victims.

in 2006, Eagle put $1-million into a third-party political group, Floridians for a Better and Brighter Florida, before the September primary. The money later was transferred to another group that helped Crist secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Eagle joins Scott Rothstein, Jim Greer, and Alan Mendelsohn as other high-profile bundlers of campaign cash for Crist who now face jail time. Crist and Eagle were close. The former governor stayed at his Useppa Island home. Eagle's son, Dane, was a travel aide for Crist.

Dane Eagle, 29, ran for the state house last year and won. On Thursday, he released this statement:

“While I cannot control the actions or choices of those around me, I am deeply saddened by the circumstances facing my father,” Eagle said. “We are hopeful his cooperation in the ongoing investigation will help to bring closure to everyone affected by this case – including my family. As the State Representative for House District 77, I remain committed to serving my constituents and earning the trust they have placed in me.”

Continue reading "Another Charlie Crist donor headed for jail" »

Ex school board member Bev Gallagher released from prison

Former Broward School Board Member Bev Gallagher was released from prison March 8, according to online Federal Bureau of Prison records.

Gallagher was arrested in 2009 on corruption charges. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 37 months. Last year, she was transferred to a Miami-area halfway house to serve out the remainder of her term. Gallagher took bribes from undercover agents posing as contractors -- stuffing some money in a doggie bag at a restaurant.

Call it the circle of (corruption) life in Broward: Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson will likely be the next ex-politician to land behind bars.

On Monday, Hutchinson is expected to enter a guilty plea in her 2011 third-degree felony case. Prosecutors say she supported a developer's project as he did handyman work on her home -- including installing a toilet and changing lightbulbs. Hutchinson, a 56-year-old who served three terms, is expected to get four months jail.

Internet gaming interests in lieutenant gov. scandal showered Tallahassee pols with $1.3m


Republicans who control the Legislature sure are against gambling. Unless they want a gambling company to bet on their political future.

Just look at all the cash that was contributed by and on behalf of Allied Veterans, the internet gambling company that resulted in nearly 60 arrests in two states along with the resignation of Florida's Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

The Orlando Sentinel ran some numbers:

An Orlando Sentinel analysis of the 112 entities revealed through the Allied probe identified at least $1.3 million in contributions to dozens of state candidates, Florida political parties and other funds legislators control during the past four years. Those tendrils have sent both the state Republican and Democratic parties scrambling to identify how much money they accepted and what to do with it.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry said his party "is examining financial contributions that may be connected to any entities affiliated with the investigation and we are reviewing the most appropriate options."

A Democratic Party spokeswoman said they were doing the same. "We will determine how to move forward once that is completed," FDP spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said.

It's not just the parties, though RPOF clearly has received the lion's share, with at least $233,000 coming from the main company, International Internet Technologies; FDP only received $67,000. In big checks and small checks, top lawmakers have received cash from the companies, which have contributed to their main campaign accounts or their political committees.

So while House Speaker Will Weatherford got a puny $500 from International Internet Technologies, Senate Ethics and Election Committee Chairman Jack Latvala received $40,000 in two big checks cut to his Florida Leadership Fund. Future House Speaker Jose Oliva of Hialeah received $5,000 in his Conservative Principles for Florida committee and Senate budget chief Joe Negron hauled in $25,000 with his Florida Conservative Action Committee.

Gotta love the use of "conservative" in hauling in all the dough from gambling interests.

2012 election campaigns topped $6 billion, watchdog group reports

The Center For Reponsive Politics has tabulated the cost of the 2012 elections and they report its a record. 

The 2012 Election: Our Price Tag (Finally) for the Whole Ball of Wax

"With the final 2012 campaign finance reports, and their amendments, all in (well, mostly), the Center for Responsive Politics calculates that the elections cost at least $6.3 billion -- more than we previously estimated. The final figure cements 2012's status as the most expensive election cycle ever."


Dolphins lobbyist says Super Bowl L is a '$500 million economic impact' to Florida

Supporters of a bill that would allow the Miami Dolphins to pursue tax break subsidies for a $400 million stadium renovation say it will make Miami a more attractive host city for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016.

That Super Bowl will generate a lot of economic benefits, they say.

In a recent committee hearing on SB 306, Long-time Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book put the estimate beyond a normal Super Bowl's expectations.

"Super Bowl L by everybody's estimation is a $500 million economic impact to the state of Florida," Book said.

That’s a pretty strong claim that "everybody" estimates a half-billion impact from a single Super Bowl. Is there widespread agreement on that number?

PolitiFact Florida reviewed the evidence. The verdict? It's False. Read the story.

Miami-Dade hotel group endorses Dolphins stadium renovation plan

Miami-Dade’s top hotel group endorsed raising hotel taxes to help fund a roughly $400 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium, provided some of the new revenue goes to a tourism advertising campaign for the county.

The vote by the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association gives the Miami Dolphins a key endorsement as the team prepares for a referendum needed to enact the financing plan.

As a group that lobbies for the hotel industry, the hotel association represents businesses that would see their customers pay slightly higher taxes if the Dolphins get the plan approved.

The Dolphins’ plan would increase taxes on mainland hotels to 7 percent from 6 percent, but leave hotel taxes unchanged in Miami Beach, Bal Harbour and Surfside.

A higher hotel tax would generate about $10 million a year now, and the Dolphins have not said publicly how much of that money the team wants for an upgrade that would include new VIP seating and a partial roof. When the plan was unveiled in January, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said the team might request only a portion of the revenue generated by the higher tax each year.

The trade group’s resolution cites the value of an upgraded Sun Life continuing to host Super Bowls and college football championships, along with other major sporting and entertainment events.

"It’s imperative that the stadium’s amenities remain competitive,’’ the association’s chairman, Raj Singh, said in a statement. Raj is general manager of the Sea View Hotel in Bal Harbour.

More from Douglas Hanks here.