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7 posts from June 9, 2014

June 09, 2014

Florida judge: ex-Rep. David Rivera broke ethics laws with ‘corrupt intent’

@MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei

Showing “corrupt intent,” former Florida lawmaker and current congressional candidate David Rivera double-billed taxpayers and his campaign for travel — and also failed to properly file complete financial-disclosure forms for years, a state administrative law judge has ruled.

Judge W. David Watkins also indicated that he didn’t believe much of the scandal-plagued Rivera’s defense, calling some of his testimony “non-credible.”

In his 37-page recommendation to the Florida Commission on Ethics, Watkins found Rivera violated three state ethics laws, one of them every year between 2005 and 2009, when Rivera appeared to be living off campaign money but failing to report his income properly.

The judge also suggested evidence had been destroyed, a check had been “improperly” backdated and Rivera had failed to properly report a secret payment from a casino.

Rivera has long denied wrongdoing. And he made much of the fact that, of the 11 potential violations the commission slapped him with in October 2012, four had been dropped, including one alleging a conflict of interest over a gambling vote. The judge dismissed another in his recommendation Friday.

“I’m very pleased that this process has resulted in the majority of allegations being dismissed, and I look forward to the remaining allegations being dismissed soon,” Rivera said Monday.

If the commission finds him guilty, however, the Florida House of Representatives has jurisdiction over civil penalties, if any. Regardless, Rivera faces fines but no jail time.

More here.

Hundreds of new patients wait 90 days or more for doctor appointments at Miami VA

@dchangmiami

Nearly 770 new patients at the Miami VA Healthcare System have waited more than 90 days to see a doctor, according to WFOR-CBS 4 News — some of the more than 8,500new patients that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday have waited three months or longer for initial appointments at six VA hospitals and clinics in Florida.

In an audit report issued Monday, the VA said the longest waits in Florida were at the Gainesville facility, where more than 1,200 new patients have waited more than 90 days for treatment. Nationally, more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments — information that was supplied only after reports emerged that some veterans may be dying while waiting for healthcare.

The VA’s goal is for first-time patients to see a doctor in 14 days — a target that the audit deemed “not attainable” due to poor planning and veterans’ growing demand for healthcare.

Of the six VA facilities cited for further review and investigation in the region that includes Florida, three were in the Sunshine State: Gainesville, Bay Pines and Lake City.

At the Miami VA, many new patients have waited longer than three months for their first appointment with a doctor, according to CBS 4, which obtained information gathered during an internal review of the Miami VA showing there were 769 new patients waiting more than 90 days for care.

More here.

Scott calls on rail project to listen closely to residents

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday called on developers of a private railroad project to take more steps in response to questions and concerns of residents living who may be affected by All Aboard Florida, the first passenger train service on Florida's east coast in five decades.

Scott wrote to project president Mike Reininger on the same day that the Times/Herald published a story detailing the intense level of resistance including formal opposition by Martin and Indian River counties.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 trains daily beginning in late 2016 between Miami and Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. His office has received a flurry of critical mail from constituents about the venture. Scott's press office put this headline on the news release about the letter: "The Voices of Our Communities Must be Heard."

"In response to local communities' questions about All Aboard Florida, we must ensure that there is a detailed conversation about this new rail service. Many families are worried about how these additional trains will affect their neighborhoods and their concerns should be heard," Scott wrote.

Scott said he has asked state transportation secretary Ananth Prasad to meet with community leaders and legislators about the project "and ensure their voices are heard" by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the lead agency on the project and the agency that All Aboard Florida has asked for a $1.5 billion federal loan. He also asked that All Aboard Florida extend the public comment period on the project from 75 to 90 days to give residents "more opportunity to have their specific concerns addressed."

Scott's letter is a formal acknowledgement of the high level of concern among residents in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast counties of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River. The governor last week indicated that he wanted the train venture to be "successful," but he emphasized that the company should listen closely to residents' concerns.

Martin and Indian River are medium-sized and reliably Republican counties that favored Scott in 2010. St. Lucie is a larger Democratic county that opposed Scott in 2010 and Palm Beach, the state's third-largest county, is strongly Democratic.

In his letter, Scott specifically cited the effect the trains could have on boat traffic because of their impact on railroad drawbridges over the New River, St. Lucie River and Loxahatchee River. He concluded by telling Reininger to "please be sensitive to the impact of additional rail traffic in the rail corridor to our communities, their home values and public safety." The full text of the governor's letter is here.

Judges says Rivera violated ethics laws by double-dipping on expenses

David RiveraFrom the News Service of Florida

An administrative law judge is calling for Florida's ethics commission to find that former state Rep. David Rivera improperly received state travel reimbursements and did not adequately disclose financial information.

Judge W. David Watkins issued a 37-page recommended order Friday that delved into Rivera's personal finances and his use of political campaign funds. The recommendation goes to the state Commission on Ethics, which will make a final determination.

Rivera, R-Miami, served in the state House from 2002 to 2010, before getting elected to Congress. He served one term in Washington and lost a re-election bid to Democrat Joe Garcia amid numerous ethics-related questions. Rivera is running this year to try to regain the Congressional District 26 seat.

Watkins wrote that Rivera, on numerous occasions, received reimbursements from the state for travel expenses that were paid by his campaign accounts. The judge wrote that Rivera commingled personal expenses, political expenses and state House expenses on multiple credit cards, rather than having a designated credit card for his official legislative duties.

Continue reading "Judges says Rivera violated ethics laws by double-dipping on expenses" »

Dems' new web ad attacks Scott for taking Fifth; GOP responds

Florida Democrats launched a new 30-second web ad Monday that attacks Gov. Rick Scott on issues of trust and credibility on a subject that was used repeatedly to pummel Scott in 2010 -- when he won.

The ad uses still numerous frames of Scott from a 2000 deposition in which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times. The Democrats called the ad "a bit of a throwback for us" but an issue that voters need to be reminded about.

"Frankly, Rick Scott doesn't have any credibility on matters of trust," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.

Arceneaux said the ad is part of a strategy to counter Scott's efforts to "change the narrative" with saturation TV advertising aimed at building trust between Scott and Florida voters.

The ad is narrated by a woman and shows a generic frame of an officer with "POLICE - FBI" on his jacket and a frame that says "Gov. Scott's Finance Chair Wins Billions in Medicaid Contracts."

Scott's former finance co-chair, Mike Fernandez, won billions in state Medicaid contracts. He and Scott's campaign say the contracts were won through competitive bidding, not favoritism, and Fernandez resigned his post in March following the leaking of emails in which he harshly criticized the direction of Scott's re-election effort.

Here's the ad text: "Seventy-five. That's now many times Rick Scott took the fifth to avoid incriminating himself while his company was under investigation by the FBI. Scott's company pled guilty, fined nearly 2 billion dollars for Medicare fraud. Taxpayers got cheated, while he walked away with millions. Now we find out Scott's office steered billions in state contracts to contributors. Medicare fraud. Contracts to contributors. Taking the fifth 75 times. We just can't trust Rick Scott."

The Republican Party of Florida responded with a new web ad of its own that repeatedly uses a Crist line -- "It was the right thing to do" -- to explain his support for 15 percent annual tuition hikes and for Obamacare. State GOP Chair Leslie Dougher issued a statement with the ad's release that said: "Charlie Crist continues to try and gloss over his failed record by saying that raising tuition and raising taxes was ‘the right thing to do.’ We have news for Charlie - putting college out of reach and raising taxes on Floridians is never the right thing to do. And continuing to support Obamacare, which has caused seniors to lose their doctors, will never be the right thing for Florida."

Scott signs 'Dreamer' tuition bill, starts campaign swing

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed legislation that allows students who are undocumented immigrants to qualify for less expensive in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities. The bill (HB 851), sponsored by Rep. Jeannette Nunez, R-Miami, was one of the most intensely debated during the 2014 legislative session in Tallahassee.

Scott signed the bill as he embarked on a week-long campaign swing focusing on his support for keeping higher education affordable in Florida, whille criticizing Democratic opponent Charlie Crist for having supported tuition hikes when he was a Republican governor. Scott plans stops in Fort Myers, Boca Raton, Miami, Orlando and Pensacola.

The immigrant tuition bill passed the House 84-32 but was stalled in the Senate until Scott enlisted the public support of two former Republican governors, Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez, both of whom called on the Senate to take action. "Dreamer" students, dressed in orange mortar boards, were a freqent presence in the Capitol Rotunda this past spring as they rallied support for the measure.

Early on in the session, Scott was careful to express his support for the bill only because it also freezes tuition at current rates. But crafty legislators tied the tuition freeze to the more controversial provision that grants residency for tuition purposes to undocumented students. Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater maneuvered the legislation to a successful floor vote, and while Senate President Don Gaetz personally opposed the bill, he did not stop it from being considered.

Only the University of Florida and Florida State University have the flexibility to impose tuition increases, and the bill lowers it from 15 percent to 6 percent at both flagship universities.

Herald poll: Miami-Dade voters evenly divided over David Beckham's downtown MLS stadium

@PatriciaMazzei

David Beckham, who was in Miami over the weekend campaigning for a Major League Soccer stadium, may have to make return trips now that a new Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald poll shows Miami-Dade County voters are evenly divided over the proposal.

By 45-43 percent, Miami-Dade voters said they were against the retired English footballer’s idea to build a 20,000-seat stadium on the downtown waterfront, the wide-ranging survey by Bendixen & Amandi International shows. That is essentially a tie, given the poll’s error margin of 4.3 percentage points.

The poll also asked respondents about other sports deals and about the county mayor’s administration.

Young voters are more likely than older ones to favor turning over the city of Miami’s deep-water Florida East Coast Railway boat slip and a portion of Museum Park to Beckham and his investors, with 54 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 backing the site, compared to 60 percent of voters 65 or older who say the opposite.

It’s older voters who are more likely to cast ballots, especially in midterm elections. Miami Beckham United is aiming to put a potential stadium deal before city voters in November’s election.

More here.