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11 posts from December 4, 2013

December 04, 2013

Federal grand jury in Miami has filed no charges against Sen. Bob Menendez in donor investigation


Federal agents descended on the clinic of a South Florida eye doctor close to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez last January — a dark-of-night raid that soon spiraled into a string of national news stories about trips on the physician’s private plane to the Dominican Republic and scandalous allegations of trysts with underage prostitutes.

Nearly a year later, the politically explosive allegations against the New Jersey Democrat have proved to be duds so far.

After subpoenaing records and witnesses, a federal grand jury in Miami has filed no charges against Menendez , a prominent Cuban-American lawmaker, or his friend and major campaign donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, according to several sources familiar with the probe.

But the grand jury is still reviewing evidence of Menendez’s intervening with U.S. government officials on behalf of Melgen regarding the physician’s billing dispute with Medicare and his port-security contract in the Dominican Republic.

And Melgen’s legal problems are also far from over. Only two months ago, agents with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted another search of Melgen’s West Palm Beach clinic, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants — a second raid stemming from a separate ongoing battle with authorities over his prolific Medicare billing.

More here.
This post and its headline have been updated.

Poll: Miami-Dade voters worried about crime, open to David Beckham's Major League Soccer stadium


Crime tops public corruption and taxes as the most important issue for Miami-Dade County voters, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The automated robopoll by Republican Armando Ibarra of A.I. Advisory, a Coral Gables firm, showed 42 percent of respondents chose crime as the most important issue in the wake of a recent rash of deadly shootings.

That number was up from July, when the same pollster found that 28 percent of respondents identified crime as their top concern.

The percentage of respondents who chose public corruption remained unchanged at 29 percent. Fifteen percent chose taxes, compared to 29 percent in the beginning of the municipal budget season in July.

The poll, which focused on local issues, surveyed 1,790 likely voters on Monday. It has a margin of error of 2.3 percent.

The poll also found that 51 percent of respondents support superstar David Beckham’s idea to build a Major League Soccer stadium on public land at PortMiami, if the facility is privately funded. Thirty percent opposed the proposal, which is still in its infancy, and 20 percent said they were not sure.

Continue reading "Poll: Miami-Dade voters worried about crime, open to David Beckham's Major League Soccer stadium" »

Jameis Winston will get results of investigation Thursday


State Attorney Willie Meggs said Wednesday that he will announce the results of his investigation into sexual assault allegations against Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston on Thursday.

"We're going to make an announcement tomorrow at 2,'' Meggs told the Herald/Times. "We'll reveal all that we can reveal."

Winston, who was named ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, is scheduled to fly to Charlotte, NC on Thursday evening for the ACC championship game scheduled Saturday. Under his leadership, FSU has been elevated to No. 1 in college football rankings and will play for the conference title. 

Meggs, who took over the investigation three weeks ago from the Tallahassee Police Department, said the timing of the team's departure did not factor into his scheduling of the announcement.

Winston, a Heisman Trophy candidate and red-shirt freshman standout, has been the focus of national media scrutiny since it was revealed that he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation stemming from a Dec. 7, 2012, incident at an off-campus apartment at FSU.

Many Heisman voters have refrained from casting their ballots as they await the results of Megg's investigation. The deadline for ballots to be returned is Dec. 9.

Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen of Tallahassee, said he is confident that the evidence Meggs reviewed will exonerate Winston.

"I don't know all the evidence that he has reviewed. We're not privvy to everything,'' Jansen told the Herald/Times. "We are confident that it will show that Mr. Winston did nothing wrong."

Jansen said he hopes to make Winston available to the media after Megg's announcement. "He will not answer specific questions but he will make a comment,'' he said. "It will depend on what Mr. Meggs does."

Although the woman identified Winston on Jan. 10, police did not obtain DNA evidence from Winston until Nov. 14. Jansen confirmed that Winston's DNA matched the evidence gathered by investigators on the night of the incident but said that the sex between Winston and the accuser was consensual.

Patricia Carroll, the lawyer for the 19-year-old woman who filed the complaint said in a statement that police had warned her that pursuing the allegation against Winston would subject her to ridicule and scorn in the football-dominant town. The police say they did not continue to pursue the case after the accuser and her lawyer stopped contact with them. The accuser's lawyer denied that characterization in a statement and blame the delay on the police's failure to pursue the investigation.

The case was turned over to Meggs last month after the Tampa Bay Times first inquired about it.

Photo: Phil Sears, Associated Press 


Obama, the NSA-spying Santa in Southern Strategy's 2013 (and best?) X-Mas card


Tis the season for Florida's lobbying powerhouse, Southern Strategy Group, to release its usually awesome Christmas card.

This year is no different, except that this might be the cleverest card. Not only is President Obama an NSA-spying Santa, that's German Chancellor Angela Merkel in background surveillance screen.



FL high court to hear medical-marijuana case

Tallahassee’s political establishment has repeatedly blocked legislative votes on medical marijuana and will ask the Florida Supreme Court Thursday to follow suit and keep the issue away from state voters in 2014.

Led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, opponents have raised a host of objections to the proposed state constitutional amendment, which they say could lead to de facto “unfettered” marijuana legalization under the guise of compassionate medicine.

“The proposal hides the fact that the Amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states,” says Bondi’s initial court brief,

The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, say opponents are twisting the truth and preventing the sick from legally obtaining help.

“Any statement that the initiative would allow unfettered use of medical marijuana would itself be misleading to voters,” wrote People United’s lawyer, John Mills.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/04/3796894/high-court-hears-medical-marijuana.html#storylink=cpy

November was Charlie Crist's $2.1 million month

Charlie Crist's newly-formed political committee, Charlie Crist for Florida, raised $2.1 million in its first month and, according to expenditures reported late Wednesday, spent only $137,538 -- most of it to the Florida Democratic Party, presumably reimbursing for consulting and fundraising expenses. 

The former GOP governor turned Democrat has had an aggressive fundraising schedule, criss-crossing the state as well as ducking into other states to collect funds, his aides report. On Tuesday, for example, when news broke that Crist's newly named campaign manager, Bill Hyers, was stepping down, the former governor was in New York City recording the audio for his book to be released in February -- and raising cash.

Crist's fundraising haul is interesting for several reasons. It includes a line-up of old-line Republicans as well as old-line Democrats. The donors also span industry sectors. There's the predicable allotment of trial attorneys, who traditionally align with the Democratic candidate, but there are also a host of equity fund managers, health care companies, real estate developers, a "Debt Sucks" guru, a yogi, and an interesting contingent of people who (our guess) may want to see the state's no-fault auto laws demolished -- or preserved.

Word is that next week, when Crist's campaign releases the fundraising totals for his campaign committee, the numbers could match these. By contrast, Gov. Rick Scott, who has not officially announced his re-election campaign, had an equally impressive month of November. His Let's Get to Work political committee amassed $4 million for November alone. 

The big question now: who is going to sustain it?

Meanwhile, curious about who is ponying up the big bucks for Crist? Here’s the Who’s Who of the top Crist donors for November:

Continue reading "November was Charlie Crist's $2.1 million month" »

Broward collects absentee ballots on the road

by @amysherman1

Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive to election supervisors last week stating that they “should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor’s office.” Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark plans to ignore the directive and continue to allow voters to return absentee ballots at drop-off locations during the upcoming election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young.

But what exactly meets Detzner’s definition of “any place other than supervisor’s office?”

In Broward, voters can submit their completed absentee ballots to an election staffer who drives the “Election Connection” van to various announced spots.

Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes told Naked Politics that she hasn’t talked to anyone in Detzner’s office about whether the van complies with his directive but she believes it does because it is “an office on wheels.” (We will post an update if we get a reply from Detzner’s spokeswoman about the van.)

The employee who drives the van registers voters, updates their information and collects absentee ballots.

“It is equipped like our office with most election functions...,” Snipes said.

In Broward, voters can’t submit their completed absentee ballots at early voting or election day polling sites, Snipes said. Voters are allowed to go to those polling sites and cancel their absentee ballot if they decide they would rather vote in person.

Snipes said it would create confusion to allow voters to submit completed absentee ballots -- along with those cancelled absentee ballots -- at already busy polling sites on election days.

“I don’t want to lose an absentee ballot,” she said.

Miami-Dade schools chief named Florida superintendent of the year


Alberto Carvalho, the chief of Miami-Dade’s massive public school system, was named the state’s top superintendent Wednesday by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Carvalho, who has run the district since the fall of 2008, has overseen a spike in graduation rates and a steady, overall uptick in scores on state assessments. Last year, the district won the Broad Prize, considered the nation’s top prize for large urban school districts.

With the honor, Miami-Dade has swept the state’s top honors for teacher, assistant principal and principal since the beginning of 2013. As Florida’s Superintendent of the Year, Carvalho will now represent the state in the running for the nation’s top award for school district chiefs.

“This has been a wonderfully gratifying experience, to be recognized for the work that I have so passionately enjoyed during my career with Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” Carvalho said Wednesday in a statement. “Our district has been successful because of a supportive, unified School Board, as well as the tireless efforts of teachers, staff, parents and volunteers, who all share in this superlative recognition.”


Obama launches defense of healthcare law critics


With repairs to the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov beginning to show promise, President Barack Obama on Tuesday attempted to change the narrative of the faulty federal online exchange and to push back against Republican opposition, with a defiant vow to make the Affordable Care Act — and its centerpiece online exchange — work even if it takes the rest of his term.

As Obama launched a new campaign to highlight the health law — with plans to emphasize a different benefit each day — he accused Republicans of being interested only in repeal without offering an alternative plan.

“My main message today is, ‘We’re not going back,’” Obama said in an afternoon address at the White House. “That seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare’s critics have.

“You’ve got good ideas? Bring ’em to me,” he said. “But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m president.”

Republican opponents of the law say the website troubles are a symptom of bigger problems.

“The American people have been learning about the impact Obamacare will have on individuals and families in the form of higher premiums, disrupted insurance and lost jobs,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “And they’re becoming increasingly aware of the fact Obamacare is broken beyond repair.”

The only fix, he said, is “full repeal followed by step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that drive down costs.”

More here.

Miami charter school’s $400,000 ‘grant’ to Doral College draws questions from auditors


Fledgling Doral College got a $400,000 windfall two years ago that helped the small start-up open its doors. The “grant” came from Doral Academy Charter High, a publicly funded school run by the same company.

The deal helped Doral College stay in the black and furthered a joint effort with the charter school to establish an in-house dual-enrollment program. But the transaction also caught the eye of Miami-Dade school district auditors, who have spent the last year questioning why and how a school funded by the state could hand hundreds of thousands of public dollars to an unaccredited, private college.

“The authority and legality of said expense is also not clear to us,” investigators wrote in an audit presented Tuesday.

Auditors say both the grant and a problematic lease they scrutinized are evidence of a larger issue created when the independent governing boards tasked with overseeing charters share close ties with the companies paid to run the public schools, often for a profit. In the Doral case, several board members of the school and college serve in various other capacities for charter school giant Academica, which manages both schools.

Academica president Fernando Zulueta declined to comment Tuesday when approached by a reporter.

But in a biting response to the audit, an attorney representing the school said the grant was a legitimate transaction between partners in education, which existed under the same company when the charter school first set aside the $400,000 for the college. The district’s critical audit, attorney Eleni Pantaridis argued, omitted crucial facts and was the flawed work of a biased investigator who “does not support the charter school system.”

More here.