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10 posts from May 7, 2013

May 07, 2013

IG Report finds irregularities, but not retaliation in firing of Citizens Insurance investigators

Last October, four corporate investigators at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. were called into a conference room, asked to sit down, and told their services would no longer be needed.

The bearer of the bad news was one of several company executives who had been implicated in a six-month investigation into corporate misbehavior, large severance packages and sexual harassment at the state-run insurer.

The employees claimed that their abrupt firing was an act of revenge but a new report from the state’s chief Inspector General did not find direct evidence of retaliation.

“Based solely on the evidence, the evidence did not support a conclusion that retaliation was the reason for the decision to disband OCI,” wrote Melinda Miguel, chief inspector general of Gov. Rick Scott, in a draft report obtained by the Herald/Times.

Citing the high standards needed to prove retaliation, Miguel's report said the fired investigators did not have enough clear evidence to do so.

It does point out, however, that the allegations of poor performance Citizens used in firing the investigators appeared to come out of the blue. The investigators, who made up the Office of Corporate Integrity, were not accused of poor performance until after their inquiries led to the abrupt resignation of a top executive, tough interrogations of several others and several policy changes.

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Miami-Dade mayor sees no voter 'animosity' toward him over short-lived Dolphins stadium redo deal

@PatriciaMazzei

The Miami Dolphins’ short-lived quest for a subsidized stadium renovation could have turned out a lot worse for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez: Voters could have handed him a resounding political defeat at the polls had they rejected the deal he negotiated.

But the Florida House of Representatives effectively canceled the referendum, for now shielding the mayor and county commissioners from much of the fallout.

Without a public vote, the politicians who supported the stadium deal cannot declare victory. But they also don’t face the prospect of seeking reelection after a potential loss.

“There’s no animosity toward me,” Gimenez said in an interview shortly after lawmakers concluded their annual legislative session Friday without taking up the bill necessary for the special election to take place.

Gimenez required the referendum, which club executives had hoped to avoid. He also forced the team to make a nearly $4.8 million nonrefundable payment to cover election costs. The county will get to keep the more-than $1 million left over.

But despite those concessions, merely negotiating with the Dolphins has tarnished Gimenez’s reputation among some former supporters who liked him in part for stridently opposing public financing for the Miami Marlins’ ballpark.

More here.

Miami-Dade delays putting affordable-housing developer on vendor list, citing federal probe

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade commissioners delayed a decision on Tuesday to certify 11 affordable-housing developers because one of the firms, Carlisle Development Group, is under investigation by a federal grand jury.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration cited a Miami Herald report on Sunday that revealed that prosecutors suspect Carlisle of defrauding the U.S. government of tax subsidies to build low-income rental apartments.

“One of the firms that is on that pre-qualified pool is now the subject of a federal investigation, so we need to take a look at that a little bit longer,” he said.

The board had been scheduled to approve Carlisle as one of its pre-qualified vendors to develop affordable housing on county-owned public housing sites. Qualifying for the pool does not guarantee future work, but implies that the vendor has “successfully demonstrated its qualifications” for projects in the pipeline.

More here.

Miami Dolphins owner promises to give away most of his fortune to charity

via @doug_hanks

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pledged Tuesday to give away to charity the bulk of his estimated $4 billion fortune once he dies, joining a list of prominent billionaires in the so-called “giving pledge.”

In his message on the Giving Pledge website, Ross touted his upbringing in a middle-class Detroit neighborhood as teaching him the value of “giving back.” “I am delighted, grateful and honored to join this important effort in the hope that collectively we can leave the world a little bit better place than we found it,’’ wrote Ross, who turns 73 on Friday.

Billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates helped make the pledge a favorite cause of the nation’s wealthiest, and Ross mentioned both of them by their first names in his announcement, along with Gates’ wife, Melinda.

The announcement comes on the heels of Ross failing to win tax dollars to fund about a third of a $350 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium, and in the midst of renewed focus in how Ross plans to spend his money and what will happen once he dies. In pushing for the tax money, Ross said he wouldn’t move the team but that his children will not inherit the team and that he can’t vouch for future owners. “I can’t rule from the grave,’’ he said last month.

More here.

Bondi enlists businesses to help fight sex trafficking in Florida

Attorney General Pam Bondi is turning to Florida businesses to expand her “zero tolerance” campaign to crack down on human trafficking in the state, which has seen an increase of teen runaways, the homeless and immigrants as prime victims.

Bondi met with a handful of business leaders who joined her at a press conference Tuesday to discuss a public-private partnership, with a “tool kit” to help train employees at all levels to recognize signs of  human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a “$32 billion business that exploits women and children,” Bondi said, with 27 million people enslaved worldwide. “Human trafficking consists both of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. And sadly it’s happening right here in our state.”

Florida was ranked third in the number of trafficking calls received on the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2011.

Businesses, Bondi said, “are uniquely positioned to help stop human trafficking” with “eyes and ears that they don’t even know they have.”

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Marco Rubio pushes back against Jim DeMint/Heritage Report

@learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio, who kept silent yesterday as the Heritage Foundation released a study asserting massive costs under immigration reform, sharply pushed back today and offered up his parents as evidence of the immigrant contribution.

"Their argument is based on a single premise, which I think is flawed," Rubio told reporters. "That is, these people are disproportionately poor because they have no education and they will be poor for the rest of their lives in the U.S. Quite frankly, that’s not the immigration experience in the U.S. That’s certainly not my family’s experience in the U.S. The folks described in that report are my family. My mother and dad didn’t graduate high school and I would not say they were a burden on the United States

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Democrat leader Darryl Rouson leaves Morgan & Morgan, rumors fly

@MarcACaputo

So much for getting cushy high-paying jobs once you get in the state Legislature.

St. Petersburg Democrat Rep. Darryl Rouson is out of work at the heavy-hitting trial lawyer firm Morgan & Morgan because he needs to focus on politics right now, said John Morgan, the firm’s founder.

“It’s hard to be a trial lawyer if you’re not in trial. It’s hard to be in a Tampa court room if you’re always in Tallahassee,” Morgan said.

“I think the world of Darryl and I’d welcome him back with open arms after this,” Morgan said. “He’s a great lawyer. But right now, this isn’t the right fit.”

A major Democratic donor and President Obama fundraiser, Morgan acknowledged he broached the topic with Rouson, but he said the separation is amicable and that rumors to the contrary are just that: “false” rumors. Morgan, for instance, supports a medical-marijuana initiative. Rouson opposes it and passed a bill this session that tries to crack down on the sale of pot pipes.

Rouson couldn’t be reached.

Continue reading "Democrat leader Darryl Rouson leaves Morgan & Morgan, rumors fly" »

Political leaders fill Allied Veterans' defense witness list

From the Associated Press:

Some of Florida's top political and law enforcement leaders are named as defense witnesses for a Jacksonville lawyer charged with being the mastermind behind a veterans' charity that prosecutors say was actually a gambling operation.

Kelly Mathis' witness list filed Tuesday includes former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former state Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson, former Florida Democratic Party chair Scott Maddox and a several prosecutors and sheriffs.

Mathis' defense attorney says the politicians and law enforcement officials are listed because they had analyzed the law which he says shows that his client did nothing wrong.

The filing came on the same day that the 57 defendants charged with running the gambling operation had the arraignment before a judge. The defendants had earlier entered written guilty pleas and weren't present in court.

FAMU hires new band director, but Marching 100's return still uncertain

Florida A&M University announced that alum Sylvester Young will be the new director of the school's Marching 100 band. Young is a 1969 FAMU graduate who once marched in the esteemed but now embattled band.

With the selection of a new director today, in addition to a recently hired compliance officer and anti-hazing czar, FAMU now has all the pieces in place to allow the band to return in the fall. The band has been off the field ever since the November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

Interim President Larry Robinson said today there are still policies that need to be finalized and there is no timeline for the band's comeback, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The Democrat also reported that Young pledged to have zero tolerance for hazing.

“There’s no room for that type of activity,” he said in that report. “We can come out of this being an icon for other universities.”

Young will begin working at FAMU on June 14 and earn $105,000 a year. He currently serves as band director at Ohio University and has also led marching bands at Hampton and Lincoln universities.

During the final round of interviews, Young told the search committee that he could have the band ready by the first football game, the MEAC-SWAC Challenge in Orlando on Sept. 1.

Miami-Dade mayor to commissioner: 'Thank me later' for leftover Dolphins election cash

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade commissioners refrained from referring to the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday in the board's first meeting since Florida lawmakers ended the team's effort to upgrade Sun Life Stadium.

But the renovation plan, negotiated over several late nights by Mayor Carlos Gimenez and approved by a majority of commissioners, came up anyway -- obliquely.

During a discussion over a vending-machine contract, Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo lamented that the contract had come up at two previous meetings "for nothing," because his colleagues and the administration were now changing their minds.

"I sympathize with that," Gimenez said. "I just went through a process for nothing also."

Commissioners, understanding the Dolphins reference, chuckled. Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa joked that Bovo, who had opposed the stadium-renovation deal, should say no more. But he did.

"We're much richer because of it," Bovo said.

The Dolphins made a nearly $4.8 million nonrefundable payment to the county for a referendum that was ultimately canceled. Miami-Dade expects more than $1 million will be left over to spend elsewhere.

Said Gimenez: "You can thank me later for that."