"Flashing badges, federal agents descended on Florida's Capitol this week to question at least six senators and staff members about indicted political player Alan Mendelsohn and former Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale."
Mendelsohn has pleaded not guilty to a 32-count indictment. Federal prosecutors said they plan to add more charges and defendants before the case goes to trial in May in Fort Lauderdale. ..."Feds swoop into Tallahassee over fraud". See also "FBI questions legislators about Mendelsohn case" and "".
In the last three days, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service and FBI and a Department of Justice prosecutor questioned at least seven senators -- including Senate President Jeff Atwater -- and at least three Senate staff members. Some sources say more than 10 current and former senators have spoken with investigators.
"Can't risk the riff-raff showing up on your beach"
Mark Lane: "Imagine -- and this is a pleasant thing to imagine -- that you own land next to a beach. A beach house or a condo unit."
Imagine further that after a hurricane washed away nearby shoreline, the state and county came in and pumped a bunch of sand and created a wider beach in front of your erosion-threatened property."High court ponders beach lines".
What would you do?
Why sue everyone involved, naturally. And take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. You can't risk the riff-raff showing up on your beach.
That's what a half-dozen Walton County property owners did and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last week. The outcome could have big effects on beach renourishment projects. It could even change customary rights to beach access.
"The intra-party Republican fight in Florida between Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio is full of fireworks."
Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said, "The Republican Party's long had different wings on cultural issues, but that's a very different kind of fight than the GOP experienced in New York 23 and that the party's having in Florida right now, where economic issues, such as taxes and spending, are crucial to the bitterness."GOP facing more bitter battles".
"First New York 23, and now Florida, are unique in the level of animosity that's built up, not over social issues but over fiscal matters," Rothenberg added. "I don't think we're going to see that many GOP splits elsewhere, because on issues of taxes and spending, most Republicans are on the same side of the ball."
The AFL-CIO deal
"Inside his spacious Capitol office, Senate President Jeff Atwater lost his cool as he worked feverishly to save major rail projects and keep a special legislative session from becoming a political disaster."
The union guarantee couldn't be added to the bill without setting up a showdown with the House, which refused to legislate union protections. Atwater wanted a side agreement to save the jobs — in the hope it would placate the state AFL-CIO enough to win over a few Senate Democrats."Angry Atwater pushed to make Florida rail deal". More: "The letter that allowed the rail deal".
One of the most even-tempered people in the Legislature, Atwater "lashed out" in a phone conversation with state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos — according to Senate Democratic leader Al Lawson, who was in Atwater's office at the time. Kopelousos herself was weary of endless negotiations, and her cell phone mailbox was full and couldn't accept Atwater's frantic messages.
"You will do this!" Atwater told Kopelousos, according to Lawson's recollection. "What are you trying to do? I've given everything I had on this. Day and night, I haven't been sleeping, and you are screwing me around. … If you don't do something, I'm going to lose this whole deal."
Kopelousos did write a letter to Atwater, released Wednesday, in which the Department of Transportation commits in writing to "(1) eliminate the signal work from the scope of the current contract, (2) separately procure the signal work and (3) require that the bidders for the signal work be 'rail employers' under the Federal Railroad Retirement Tax Act." ...
With the letter — and what the AFL-CIO says are much larger verbal assurances from the DOT on union jobs on South Florida's Tri-Rail system — the union withdrew its opposition to the rail legislation Tuesday afternoon.
"The Legislature again may ask the Florida Supreme Court to keep off the 2010 ballot two citizen initiatives designed to limit gerrymandering in congressional and legislative redistricting, a pair of House and Senate leaders said Wednesday." "Fla. redistricting proposals may get new challenge".
Floridians seek yet more federal help
"Floridians are watching closely to see whether lawmakers debating a longer life for some popular tax breaks agree to extend the federal income tax deduction for sales taxes."
Under legislation drafted by the House Ways and Means Committee, the sales tax deduction would be extended to 2010 at a cost of $1.8 billion. That’s important to residents of Florida and other states that don’t collect state income taxes."Senate key to sales tax deduction".
The House approved the extenders package 241-181 Wednesday, but prospects in the Senate are unclear. The lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee who deal with taxation also deal with health care, and they’re focused on that debate.
Senate legislation to extend the tax breaks could be lumped into a massive package of spending bills, particularly because of interest in extending the current rate for the estate tax. But extending tax breaks also could be pushed into next year.
"The tax breaks are supported by Democrats and Republicans alike and are routinely extended each year, but there are big disagreements over the tax increases that would pay for them. The dispute, combined with the Senate's prolonged debate on health care, makes it unclear whether the tax package will be enacted this year." "Fla. sales tax deduction among federal tax breaks".
"Wildlife officials say an endangered whooping crane was fatally shot in western Indiana during its migration south."
The agency says the bird and its mate were among 19 whooping cranes migrating from their summer grounds in Wisconsin to Florida."Migrating whooping crane fatally shot in W. Ind.".
Agency official John Christian says that killing one of only about 500 whooping cranes left in the world "shows a lack of reverence for life."
Cuban smuggling ring
"Authorities dismantle Cuban smuggling ring in Fla.".
"Who killed attorney Melissa Britt Lewis?"
Plantation police say she was strangled by the ex-husband of one of her colleagues at the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm. Tony Villegas has been sitting in the Broward County Jail for the past 21 months, awaiting trial for first-degree murder."Who really did it?: Questions raised about murder of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler attorney".
On Internet message boards though, there's an outspoken chorus of doubters and conspiracy theorists who question whether Lewis' March 2008 death may be part of something larger. Lewis' boss, now disbarred attorney Scott Rothstein, has been charged with running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme out of the now bankrupt firm — a scandal that has rocked Broward County's political, legal and nonprofit communities.
For years, Tony's ex-wife, Debra Villegas, had been at Rothstein's side, rising from a paralegal job to becoming chief operating officer of his 70-attorney law firm.
Plantation police are standing firm that they have arrested the right person in Lewis' murder. Alberto Ribas, the prosecutor on the case, said he cannot discuss a pending legal matter.
However, one of Tony Villegas' attorneys said the federal charges against Rothstein have the defense team re-examining the murder case. If convicted, Villegas could face the death penalty.
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "On board with SunRail". See also Pamela Hasterok's "All aboard: Rail rolls ahead".
Nelson at work
Jim Saunders: "In another boost for the proposed SunRail commuter-rail system, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that federal budget negotiators have agreed to set aside $40 million for the project. ... The state also is expected to spend $432 million to buy the route from CSX." "Nelson: U.S. Senate to provide $40 million for SunRail start". The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Rail legislation will put economy back on track". More: "SunRail may get development rolling".
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Florida's signature fish, red snapper, has been overharvested for years in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Grouper hasn't fared a whole lot better. But recent changes to the law governing federal fisheries have had the salutary effect of improving at least the red snapper's recovery." "Protect Florida's fish".
"The Florida Legislature's vote to launch the SunRail commuter system this week was an act steeped in political calculation, with congressional, gubernatorial and even U.S. Senate aspirations on the line." "Amid dealing on SunRail, many had eye on 2010 elections".
"Too good to be true"
Joel Engelhardt: "An obscure municipal finance director has found a way for cash-strapped cities to pay for projects and suffer none of the consequences normally associated with spending."
Instead of investing the city's long-term reserves the old-fashioned way — in safe, low-interest-bearing accounts — Mr. Sherman advocated lending money to another arm of the city at a higher rate of return. There's no cost to such a loan, Mr. Sherman explained to city commissioners in September. It's just unused money that could be invested anywhere or anyhow the city chooses.
Yeah, right. If this approach is so good, why isn't every city doing it? ...
It sounds too good to be true because it is.
Call the approach championed by West Palm Beach's Randy Sherman "free money.""Shell game over $6 million in West Palm".
"Politicians around money are like Tiger around cocktail waitresses"
Mike Thomas: "Thank goodness the anti-spending, anti-government conservatives in Tallahassee overcame liberal opposition so we can build our socialist commuter train that will run on $100 stimulus bills shoveled into the firebox by AFL-CIO engineers." "Cavemen, just wait: SunRail will succeed".
"County GOP chairman blasts his own party for rail spending".
"Misstep from 'an overzealous mom"?
Florida Republican State Senator Ana Maria Monte "Flores chalked it up as a misstep from 'an overzealous mom.' 'She’s not familiar with all the rules,' Flores said." "State Senate campaign asked donors to pre-date checks before start of fundraising ban". Ahem ... ain't she a lawyer?
Alleged journalists Josh Hafenbrack and Aaron Deslatte, employees of the scab supply store a/k/a The Orlando Sentinel, want you to know,"Here's what the AFL-CIO got: Eight jobs protected?"
Putting aside the blatant misrepresentation, so what if it was only "one" job that was saved? Isn't that what union members want their unions to do for them ... save their jobs?
Hafenbrack and Deslatte apparently think it is perfectly OK for this rail work to be done by contract employees without health insurance or pensions, who take their sick kids to public hospital emergency rooms for "free" medical care.
This is not a joke
"When Secretary Linda South took over the Department of Management Services, she called ex-Gov. Jeb Bush's mammoth personnel outsourcing project 'a big ugly pig.'"
Wednesday DMS signed a five-year, $248 million renewal of its contract with Convergys Corp. with a promise of system improvements and $45 million in savings."Convergys contract renewed by DMS".
The Tallahassee Democrat editors: "Detailed news reports this year on the apparent abuse of travel money by state officials might have made voters' blood boil. But until a citizen took the initiative to bring a formal complaint, there was not a thing the Florida Commission on Ethics could do about it." "Enforcing ethics".
"When Las Vegas-style slots and blackjack arrived at the Seminole Tribe's Florida casinos in 2008, the tribe's successful gambling empire was poised to become an even bigger powerhouse." "With Vegas-style slots, Seminole casinos are on a roll".
"Florida surpasses Calif. in foreclosure rate; now only Nevada is worse". See also "After brief respite, Southwest Florida sees a rise in foreclosures" But see "Tampa foreclosure pace improves for second month".
Eggelletion to plead
"A suspended South Florida politician is expected to plead guilty to a money laundering conspiracy. Josephus Eggelletion is scheduled to change his plea Thursday in federal court in West Palm Beach." "Suspended politician to plead guilty to conspiracy".