Florida grand jury urges new laws to fight corruption

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A statewide grand jury impaneled by Gov. Charlie Christ has proposed making punishment more severe for public officials found guilty of misusing their positions, and other ethics violations. The grand jury’s 127 page report was issued Wednesday in advance of lawmakers heading back to Tallahassee for the spring session.

The grand jury recommended that state legislators enact new legislation to deal with political corruption after a large number of public officials were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to corruption charges in recent years.

Among its recommendations, the grand jury proposed harsher sentences and the formation of an independent state Office of Inspector General that would supervise the inspector general offices of other state agencies. Also recommended was expanding the definition of public employee to include private contractors hired to perform government services.

Saying that cadets at the nation’s military academies take oaths not lie, steal, cheat or tolerate those that do, the grand jury said that public officials should be held to the same standard.

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Miami cop arrested for stealing 10,000 Bluetooth headsets

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A Miami cop, already under investigation for two fatal police shootings over the summer, was arrested on Thursday for receipt and possession of stolen goods.  Ricardo Martinez, 40, faces 10 years in prison if convicted on the charge.

Martinez is a 12-year veteran of the force. A Miami police spokeswoman, Kenia Reyes, said that Martinez was suspended with pay while the investigation is pending.

Officials say that Martinez stole the headsets off a truck that was transporting the merchandise from Chicago to Miami. The company handling the shipment is owned by Martinez’s wife.

Martinez had teamed up with a man who at one time was incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, where Martinez formerly worked. FBI agents approached the man on Wednesday, and he agreed to be a confidential source. While agents met with the man, Martinez called several times discussing possible buyers for the merchandise.

The man told agents he had “an agreement with a MPD officer to steal a shipment of 10,000 Bluetooth headsets” and that they planned to sell them for $10 each. Martinez was planning to make about $40,000 on the deal.

On Thursday, the informant and Martinez drove to a house where they loaded the headsets into a vehicle provided by the FBI.  Agents on the scene arrested him.

The Miami Herald

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Florida Congressman-elect tied to secret $510,000 payment from dog track

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David Rivera, the Congressman-elect from Florida’s 25th congressional district, has been named in an investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, according to a story in The Miami Herald. State lawyers are looking into payments totaling $510,000 that were paid to a company closely tied to Rivera, which was managed by his 70 year-old mother,  Daisy Magarino, and owned by his godmother, Ileana Medina.

Investigators are trying to determine if Rivera personally received the monies, and if the transaction was illegal. Since 2002, Rivera has been a member of Florida’s House of Representatives.

Rivera worked for 16 months on Flagler's behalf, but claims he received no compensation.

The company, Millennium Marketing, was hired by the Flagler Dog Track in October 2006 to manage a campaign to win voter approval for Las Vegas style slot machines at racetracks in Miami-Dade County. According to the 2006 contract, Rivera was to be the campaign’s “top leader of chain of command of all campaign consultants and campaign activities.”

Flagler’s lawyer, Roberto Martinez, said that Rivera first approached the company in 2006, suggesting that he work on the slot machine campaign, and that it be contracted through Millennium. Records show that Millennium was incorporated on Sept. 25, 2006 by Medina, a longtime business partner of Magarino.

Martinez said his clients wanted the personal services of Rivera, and company executives never dealt with Magarino or Medina during the term of the contract. The Flagler contract was signed by both Rivera and Medina.

The contract required that Rivera spend 75 percent of his time managing the slots campaign to win voter approval. A similar measure was defeated by voters in 2005.

His duties were spelled out in the contract: gaining support of city leaders and unions, the “identification and neutralization of opposition” including competing gambling operations, animal rights groups and “the Hispanic community.” The contract was executed by both Rivera and Medina. Martinez said that his clients wanted the personal services of Rivera, and company executives never dealt with Magarino or Medina during the term of the contract.

Earlier this year, a Flagler executive, Isadore Havenick, painted a markedly different picture about Rivera’s duties. Havenick said that the company had no deal with Rivera and that “he gave us advice, but he was never hired by us.” Martinez defended Havenick’s statement saying that it wasn’t incorrect since the monies were paid directly to Millennium, not Rivera.

Flagler made its first payment of $50,000 to Millennium on Nov.1, 2006, shortly after the contract was signed. The slot machine referendum was passed by voters on Jan. 29, 2008; another payment of $210,000 was made on February 26, 2008, and one for $250,000 on March 31, 2008. Four days after the final payment was received, documents were filed naming Rivera’s mother, Magarino, a Millennium corporate officer.

Despite his involvement with Flagler and Millennium managing the slots campaign for 16 months, Rivera did not report any income from either organization between 2006 and 2008 on financial disclosure forms filed with the state ethics commission.

Instead, besides his $30,000 stipend received from the state as a member of Florida’s House of Representatives, Rivera claimed to be a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In October 2010, the Miami Herald reported that the agency confirmed that Rivera had never worked there. Shortly thereafter, he changed his financial disclosure forms omitting any reference to USAID, after a lawsuit was filed seeking to bar him from running for public office for filing false disclosure forms.

Rivera, Magarino and Medina have all refused to be interviewed by the Miami Herald to discuss whether any of the monies were paid to Rivera, which would be required to be publicly disclosed.

Rivera was elected to Congress on Nov. 2.

The Miami Herald

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Broward County deputies charged with felonies for misbehaving in jail

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Three sheriff’s deputies from the Broward County sheriff’s office have been arrested charged with third-degree felonies in connection with contraband and sex at a Broward County jail.

The deputies involved include Salisia Pascoe, 29, Kiara Monet Walker, 21, and Roderick Lorenzo Lopez, 29. The three were all charged with introducing two-way devices, meaning cellphones, into the facility, and official misconduct.

Pascoe was additionally charged with one count of sexual misconduct with an inmate. She admitted to having sex in a storage room with one of the jail’s male inmates. Pascoe has been with the department since 2004.

The three were released from jail on Thursday evening. If convicted on all counts, each defendant could face up to five years in prison for each offense.

The Miami Herald

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Former Florida cop is dumbest bank robber of the year

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You’d think that someone who used to be a cop could do a better job of robbing a bank. Not so for former Hialeah, Florida police officer Rolando Bolanos, who pleaded guilty on Wednesday to strong arm robbery.

Last year, Bolanos, 38, walked into a Bank Atlantic branch and slipped the teller a note demanding cash. After the teller handed over $2,389, Bolanos walked out, hopped in the getaway car and took off. Unfortunately, Bolanos didn’t put too much thought into the robbery.

A bank employee ran outside, and jotted down the license plate number of the car, a black Mercedes, which was registered to Bolanos. The bank’s video surveillance camera captured images of Bolanos’ distinctive wardrobe, which police later matched to clothing that he was wearing in home videos.

Police detectives also immediately suspected the former co-worker because of a distinctive mole on his neck that was described by witnesses. The bank that Bolanos robbed happened to be in the same city in which he was formerly employed.

Phone records also put Bolinas in the exact geographic location of the bank at the time of the robbery, although he tried to create an alibi by calling in a phony tip claiming to be in a distant location. Within 20 minutes of the robbery, Bolanos made a deposit at his own bank for $2,200.

After realizing the evidence was too much to overcome with a jury, Bolanos pleaded guilty and received a one-year jail term. It doesn’t sound like much jail time, but perhaps his father put in a good word for him; dad Rolando Bolanos Sr. was Hialeah’s Police Chief for over 20 years.

The Miami Herald

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Florida agency pushing $1.5 billion trash deal without getting competing bids

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Broward County Commissioners are either a bit too complacent to get competitive bids on the county’s massive trash contract, or they don’t understand how competition works. Either way, it’s not a good development for county residents.

At issue is a proposed new trash disposal contract that’s being recommended by the county for the 26 cities in South Florida that banded together in 1986 and formed the Broward Solid Waste Disposal District.  The commission is pushing a pre-negotiated long-term deal with the incumbent trash hauler, Wheelabrator, a subsidiary of Waste Management.

The $1.5 billion deal would start in 2013 and cover a period of at least ten years, and is contingent on a majority of the cities in the coalition agreeing to it. Hoping to convince the many financially-challenged cities to make an early decision and forgo the opportunity to bid the work out to competitors, Wheelabrator is offering up-front bonuses to those municipalities who sign up before Dec. 31.

While 13 cities have already agreed to the new deal, several others aren’t so sure that it makes sense to act so quickly. Officials in Oakland Park think that they should be able to save at least a half-million dollars per year if they bid it out to the several other companies that have expressed interest in handling the work. The city’s head administrator, John Stunson, also questioned the legality of the upfront cash payment.

“I’m outraged that 20 years have gone by without a bid, and they want to do it again for another 10 years? And another 10 years after that? You tell me how that’s in the best interest of the residents of Broward County,” said Oakland Park Vice Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue.

The city of Miramar agrees, even if it means turning down a $725,000 signing bonus. “This is a very rare opportunity for us to test the free market for solid waste disposal service that could return greater benefits to the city,” said Miramar Public Works Director Thomas Good.

The head of the Resource Recovery Board, the governing body of the BSWDD, and the party responsible for the no-bid deal, is not happy with the potential defection of some of the cities interested in at least looking into other options to save money. RRB Executive Director Ron Greenstein summed it up by saying “We are far cheaper than anyone else because of our economies of scale.”

If that’s the case, one might question the need for signing a new contract over two years in advance, and the requirement to close the deal by year’s end. And then there’s those bonuses.

The Miami Herald

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Florida’s teachers union unhappy about lawmakers watching “Waiting for Superman

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Despite critical acclaim for the recently-released documentary, Waiting for Superman, there’s one group who has little enthusiasm for the film: the Florida Teacher’s Union.

Florida House and Senate leaders have bought out a theater, and scheduled a private showing of the film which promotes the charter school concept, and takes aim at the union-controlled public school system. Many critics blame the nation’s teachers unions for escalating costs and consistent decline in the quality of education in public schools over the last 30 years.

Michelle Rhee, the former school chancellor in Washington D.C. is featured prominently in the film clashing with the teachers union as she attempts to overhaul teachers’ pay structure to reward effective educators.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association said predictably, “it’s a terribly skewed view of education, but I’m sure the members will enjoy it immensely.”

There are others who also take a dim view of the film, saying that it’s no more than right wing propaganda, trying to make the current system look bad. Perhaps so, although none other than President Obama has also given thumbs up to the documentary.

Miami Herald

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