FL Reps. Buchanan and Rivera make Judicial Watch “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” List

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today released its 2012 list of Washington’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians.” The list, in alphabetical order, includes:

Dishonorable Mentions for 2012 include:

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL):

In July 2012, the House Ethics Committee, after a haphazard investigation, reported that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) had omitted information on his financial disclosure forms over four years. However, the ethics committee took no action because once caught, Rep. Buchanan evidently corrected the “errors.” What, exactly, were the errors? In his disclosure statements for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Buchanan failed to report all of his positions or ownership interests in six entities and income received from the entities.

In a separate matter, the committee continues to investigate findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics, Congress’s independent ethics review board, that there is “substantial reason to believe that Representative Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of a witness in a proceeding before the FEC [Federal Election Commission].”

The alleged violation occurred during an FEC probe of Buchanan’s former business partner, Sam Kazran. According to Kazran, during the FEC probe, Buchanan offered him a $2.9 million settlement in a separate lawsuit if Kazran would lie about his role in a campaign cash laundering scheme involving Buchanan’s Florida car dealerships.  CNN reports that the FBI is now conducting its own investigation into possible federal witness tampering.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu:

The final decisions on Solyndra were mine,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Committee on November 17, 2011. And this should be his political epitaph. Chu’s decision to pour $528 million tax dollars into a failing green energy boondoggle that went belly-up in 2011 is indefensible and corrupt, especially in light of the fact that Solyndra’s key investor (Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser) also happens to be a major Obama campaign donor.

On March 12, 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Energy and Oversight Committee exposed the full extent of Chu’s incompetence and corruption in a report citing “numerous examples of dysfunction, negligence and mismanagement by DOE [Department of Energy] officials, raising troubling questions about the leadership at DOE and how it has administered its loan guarantee programs.”  The report accused Chu’s DOE of having “turned a blind eye to the risks that have been glaringly apparent since the inception of the program.”

Whether Chu indeed made the “final” decision on Solyndra, or is simply protecting the president and his donor, this is a scandal of a major magnitude. And yet, it is only the tip of the iceberg. As Peter Schweizer, author of the book Throw Them All Out wrote, “According to the Department of Energy’s own numbers … In the 1705 government-backed-loan [green energy] program, $16.4 billion of the $20.5 billion in loans granted … went to companies either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers—individuals who were bundlers, members of Obama’s National Finance Committee, or large donors to the Democratic Party.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice lied about the events surrounding the Benghazi massacre. Hillary Clinton, the only First Lady to have been the subject of a grand jury investigation, is a regular visitor to our Most Corrupt list, while this is a first-time appearance for Ms. Rice.

One day after the attack, on September 12, 2012, Sec. Clinton said the following: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear — there is no justification for this, none.” She then joined President Obama in taping a television ad apologizing to the Muslim world for the obscure video, spending a reported $70,000 in taxpayer funds on the ad buys.

And then Rice repeated the Benghazi lie, over and over again on every major television news network. Hillary Clinton’s and Rice’s lies about one of the most significant terrorist attacks since 9/11 are, perhaps, the scandal of the year out of this administration. Little wonder that in his October 2012 testimony Eric Nordstrom, a former a top security official in Libya who was criticized for seeking more security in Benghazi, felt compelled to tell the House Oversight Committee that conversations he had with people in Washington led him to believe that it was “abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?”

He said he was so exasperated at one point he told a colleague that “for me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

Attorney General Eric Holder:

A regular on our annual Top Ten Corrupt list, Holder shamelessly operates the most blatantly politicized Department of Justice (DOJ) in a generation. And, with the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, it is no exaggeration that his agency has blood on its hands.

Fast and Furious was a reckless DOJ/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-running” scheme in which guns were sold to Mexican drug cartels and others, apparently in the hope that the guns would end up at crime scenes. Well, they did – and it appears that the guns were involved in the deaths of hundreds of Mexican citizens, as well as the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a shootout with Mexican criminals in December 2010. On December 5, 2012, CBS News reported that 17 DOJ and ATF officials had been faulted in an Inspector General investigation of the Fast and Furious scandal. But, the man at the top remains unscathed, even after becoming the first attorney general in history to be cited for criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to divulge documents about DOJ lies to Congress about Fast and Furious.

Every day that Eric Holder remains at the helm, the Department of Justice sinks further into the abyss of cronyism, corruption, and deceit. And it is well past time for him to go.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL):

On November 21, 2012, Rep. Jesse Jackson resigned from Congress in disgrace, acknowledging in his statement that he had made his “share of mistakes.” This may well be the understatement of year. Jackson has been under federal investigation for alleged campaign finance improprieties, including reportedly using donor dollars to remodel his home and purchase personal gifts, a potential criminal violation. Add to that the fact that Jackson was one of the major figures implicated in the massive scandal involving jailed former Illinois Governor Rod “Blago” Blagojevich, who was brought to justice in 2011 for a number of crimes, including his efforts to “sell” President Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. The evidence strongly suggests Jackson was one of those bidders.

Because Jackson refused to resign before the November elections, Illinois taxpayers will now be faced with costs of a special election: estimated to cost $5.1 million.

The late great Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko famously said that the official motto of Chicago should be “Ubi Est Mea — Where’s mine?” Clearly, Jackson and his cohorts have taken this motto to heart.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ):

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joins the Judicial Watch’s list of Washington’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians for 2012” in what might be considered a sort of “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

As far back as 2007, Sen. Menendez was investigated by a federal grand jury for illegally steering lobbying business to his former chief of staff Kay LiCausi, with whom he was also romantically linked. In just a few years, her firm reported $1.3 million in business with nearly $300,000 coming from a New Jersey medical center that was later awarded government funding thanks to a push from her former boss and lover.

In 2010, Menendez and his colleague in corruption, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), allocated $8 million for a public walkway and park space adjacent to upscale, waterfront condos built by a developer whose executives have donated generously to their political campaigns. The veteran legislators have received about $100,000 in contributions from the developer, according to federal election records. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the developer’s Washington D.C. lobbyist was a longtime senior aide to Menendez.

And to top it all off, in October 2012, The Daily Caller broke the story that two women from the Dominican Republic claimed that the senator had procured their services while on Spring Break at the luxurious Casa de Campo. Then in mid-December, the Associated Press revealed that Menendez employed an illegal immigrant as an unpaid intern in his Senate office who was a registered sex offender.

President Barack Obama:

Were there a “Hall of Fame” for broken promises, here is one that would get in on the first ballot: “Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency” (President Barack Obama, January 21, 2009). Instead of transparency and the rule of law over the past four years, we have witnessed the greatest expansion of government in modern political history and, consequently, an explosion of government secrecy, scandals, and abuses of power. Among the low-lights:

  • Illegal recess appointments: Perhaps former Attorney General Ed Meese and Todd Graziano summed it up best in their January 5, 2012, Washington Post guest commentary: “President Obama’s attempt to unilaterally appoint three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (after the Senate blocked action on his nomination) is more than an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the Senate’s advice-and-consent role. It is a breathtaking violation of the separation of powers and the duty of comity that the executive owes to Congress.”
  • Illegal immigration: In mid-June, Obama announced that by executive decree – and in apparent violation of his oath of office – his administration would stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. According to The AP, “the policy change … bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan …” Lest anyone doubt that Obama knew he was overriding the law of the land, in March, 2011, he said, “There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.”
  • Unprecedented secrecy: Judicial Watch has had to file almost 1,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and nearly 100 lawsuits against the Obama administration on issues ranging from Obamacare to the continued funding of the criminal ACORN network; from tracking Wall Street bailout money to the unconstitutional use of czars; to White House visitor logs; to the attacks on the integrity of our nation’s elections.  This president touts transparency but condones law-breaking of open records laws by his administration.
  • Unconstitutional czars: As far back as 2009, Reuters reported, “Name a top issue and President Barack Obama has probably got a ‘czar responsible for tackling it.” By the time the Judicial Watch Special Report President Obama’s Czars was published in October 2011, the number of Obama czars had skyrocketed to 45. Largely unconfirmed by and unaccountable to the Senate, many of Obama’s czars are often outside the reach of FOIA.  Some of these czars exercise unprecedented and unconstitutional control over major aspects of government policy and programs. And a number of the czars have been linked to scandals, thefts and kickbacks, flagrant and offensive statements, conflicts of interest, and radical leftist political ideologies and policies.

The list could go on ad infinitum – with Benghazigate, bailouts, abusing the perks of office for luxury vacations for his family, and, of course, his personal involvement in the Solyndra scandal. But the bottom line is this: The federal government under Barack Obama is off the rails and out of control. And now, with Obama having been given the “flexibility” of a second term, it can only be expected to get worse.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV):

A July 30, 2012, headline in the Las Vegas Review-Journal alerted Nevadans to Sen. Harry Reid’s latest influence-peddling scandal – this one involving ENN Energy Group, a Chinese “green energy” client of the Nevada law firm of which Reid’s son, Rory, is a principal.

As Reuter’s reported on August 31, 2012, “Reid has been one of the project’s most prominent advocates, helping recruit the company during a 2011 trip to China and applying his political muscle on behalf of the project in Nevada. His son, a lawyer with a prominent Las Vegas firm that is representing ENN, helped it locate a 9,000-acre (3,600-hectare) desert site that it is buying well below appraised value from Clark County, where Rory Reid formerly chaired the county commission.”

“Well below appraised value” is a considerable understatement. The deal Rory Reid put together for the firm his dad brought to town saw ENN purchase the site for just $4.5 million – a mere fraction of separate appraisals that valued the property at $29.6 million and $38.6 million. Even with all of that, however, the project has failed to move forward as rapidly as Harry and Rory Reid would like – for the simple reason that there is currently no market in Nevada for the green energy ENN claims it could produce.

But, of course, funneling money to the Reid family is nothing new for the Senate Majority Leader. As the Washington Postreported in a February 7, 2012, story titled “Public projects, private interests:”

In 2004 and 2005, the Senate majority leader secured $21.5 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River, linking the gambling resort town of Laughlin, Nev., with Bullhead City, Ariz. Reid owns 160 acres of undeveloped land in Bullhead City.

And according to Peter Schweizer, writing for Fox News on December 12, 2012, “Sen. Reid has sponsored at least $47 million in earmarks that directly benefitted organizations that one of his sons, Key Reid, [RW1] either lobbies for or is affiliated with.

Needless to say, the well-entrenched Sen. Reid has been a repeat Top Ten offender.

Rep. David Rivera (R-FL):

On October 24, 2012, the Florida ethics commission found “probable cause” that Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) had committed 11 violations of state ethics laws during his time in the Florida legislature. This comes amidst reports that Rivera remains under federal investigation over his personal and campaign finances. And, in a separate matter, the congressman is under investigation by the FBI for secretly funding the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a candidate running against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Garcia defeated Rivera in the November election.

The “probable cause” findings stem from an investigation by the FBI and the IRS regarding Rep. Rivera’s dealings with the Flagler Dog Track, now known as the Magic City Casino. The basis for the investigation relates to payments reportedly totaling as much as $1 million made by the casino to Millennium Marketing in the guise of a consulting contract. Most of the money is said to have been paid in 2008. Millennium Marketing is owned by Rivera’s mother and godmother, and Rivera supposedly benefited from the arrangement, and is thus the subject of a tax evasion inquiry.

For a long time, Rep. Rivera denied ever receiving any income from the dog track, but just before heading to Congress, Rivera admitted receiving $132,000 in “undisclosed loans” from Millennium. He claims he paid the money back. Investigators are also taking a close look at Rivera’s campaign spending, including $75,000 he paid in 2010 “to a now-defunct consulting company owned by the daughter of a top aide.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

On September 12, 2012, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius became the first member of the President’s cabinet in U.S. history to have been found guilty of violating the Hatch Act when she campaigned for the reelection of Barack Obama in her official capacity of Secretary of HHS. According to Politico, “During a speech to the Human Rights Campaign Gala in North Carolina in February, Sebelius . . . outlined the Obama administration’s accomplishments so far and said, ‘One of the imperatives is to make sure that we not only come together here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years.’”

After the speech, Sebelius tried to cover her tracks by reclassifying the event from “official” to “political,” and claiming her appearance was in her personal capacity. The scheme didn’t work.

According to the official statement put out by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel: “The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent findings to the President today from its investigation of complaints of prohibited political activity by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. OSC concluded that Secretary Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity on February 25, 2012.  The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.”

Thoroughly unapologetic, Ms. Sebelius justified her transgression by informing the OSC that she simply “got a little caught up in the notion that the gains which had been made would clearly not continue without the president’s reelection.” In other words, her Obamacare agenda took precedence over the law. Normally, when a government official is found violating the Hatch Act, the punishment is termination.  How did President Obama respond? There was no punishment whatsoever.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC):

On May 31, 2012, a jury in the corruption trial of former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and presidential candidate John Edwards said that it could not agree on a verdict for five of six counts, and U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles was forced to declare a mistrial. But, while Edwards may have been partially exonerated (he was acquitted on one count), he was certainly not vindicated.

John Edwards conducted an illicit affair with campaign employee Rielle Hunter that resulted in the birth of their daughter. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Edwards reportedly persuaded his former political aide Andrew Young to claim that he was the father of the child, and not Edwards. The ruse failed and Edwards was forced to admit to the whole sordid mess. The focus then shifted to whether Edwards unlawfully diverted campaign funds to hide the affair.

Edwards denies the claim, but according to witness testimony Hunter and Young received nearly a million dollars in “hush” payments from philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Texas billionaire Fred Baron, two campaign donors who did not want to see the scandal derail Edwards’ pursuit of the White House. According to an excellent analysis by Hans Von Spakovsky at the Heritage Foundation, the money paid to Edwards’ mistress was “dishonest, dishonorable, and illegal:”

“Federal law…prohibits the conversion of campaign funds to any personal use (2 U.S.C. §439a). Most important, FEC regulations state that the payment of a personal expense by any person other than the candidate is considered a contribution to the candidate, unless the payment would have been made irrespective of the candidacy (11 CFR 113.1). As the FEC said in a prior advisory opinion (AO 2008-17), the key question is, ‘Would the third party pay the expense if the candidate was not running for Federal office?’”

In short, John Edwards may have eluded the reach of the law. But, in the courtroom of public opinion he remains one of the “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” for 2012.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY):

Though Staten Island’s Rep. Michael Grimm managed to eke out a reelection victory on November 6, it wasn’t because he had failed to supply his opponent with serious issues of campaign corruption. During the race, Grimm was the subject of an FBI investigation into allegations that his 2010 congressional campaign had accepted contributions over the legal limit and from noncitizen donors via Ofer Biton, a former aide to a prominent Israeli rabbi, in exchange for helping Biton obtain a green card.

According to ABC News, “In early 2012, the New York Times reported that Grimm, a devout Catholic and former agent for the FBI, allegedly accepted illegal donations from members of an Upper East Side rabbi’s congregation. Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen and a top aide to the prominent Orthodox rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, came under investigation by the FBI over allegations that Biton embezzled millions of dollars from the congregation. It is said that while campaigning with Biton, the Grimm campaign collected over $500,000 in campaign contributions.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano:

According a Gallup Poll, a full 62 per cent of the American people believe that stopping illegal immigration should be a top priority of the U.S. government. Unfortunately for the American people, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is not numbered among that 62%. And she is the person who is supposed to be enforcing the law. Last year, Napolitano opened the floodgates of illegal immigration by having the Department of Homeland Security review all cases then before the immigration courts with an eye towards halting the deportation of many illegal immigrants allegedly with no criminal backgrounds. (JW uncovered records demonstrating this to be an utter lie. Many of the illegals let off the hook were convicted of violent crimes.)

Not satisfied with skirting the law in 2011, Napolitano decided to abandon it altogether in 2012. Accordingly, on June 15, 2012, she announced: “By this memorandum, I am setting forth how, in the exercise of our prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should enforce the Nation’s immigration laws against certain young people who were brought to this country as children and know only this country as home.”

In short, this amounted to blanket “temporary” amnesty for illegals under the age of 30. With her single statement, she simply declared upwards of one million illegal aliens entirely legal. Just like that. No legislation. No debate. No votes. No court rulings. The Constitution of the United States notwithstanding. And, in so doing, she violated the Oath of Office she had taken when sworn in as secretary of Homeland Security on January 21, 2009: “I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Gen. David Petraeus:

General Petraeus was forced to resign after news leaked of his long-term extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, a writer and military analyst who penned a Petraeus biography. Compounding the scandal are questions involving whether Petraeus’ mistress had improper access to classified information from the nation’s top spy. At the University of Denver on July 28, Broadwell said, “I had access to everything, it was my experience not to leak it, not to violate my mentor, if you will.”

There is also a major question about whether Petraeus misled Congress about the Benghazi attack in his initial congressional testimony. On September 14, just days after the attack on the consulate, Petraeus briefed congressional intelligence leaders, reportedly telling them he believed the attack was spontaneous and not carefully pre-planned. Yet on Friday, November 16, in private hearings before Senate and House intelligence committees, Petraeus changed his story. According to Fox News: “Petraeus’ testimony both challenges the Obama administration’s repeated claims that the attack was a “spontaneous” protest over an anti-Islam video, and according to [New York Rep. Peter] King conflicts with his own briefing to lawmakers on Sept. 14. Sources have said Petraeus, in that briefing, also described the attack as a protest that spun out of control.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

Judicial Watch uncovered evidence that Elizabeth Warren gave false statements under oath regarding Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) activities when she served as the agency’s interim director. According to the records, Warren and the CFPB were intimately involved in brokering a 50-state settlement underway with the nation’s largest mortgage lenders related to alleged improper foreclosure procedures. This evidence seems to contradict Warren’s statements before Congress suggesting her office responded to requests for advice, but did not seek to push its views.

During a March 16, 2011, hearing of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, Ms. Warren downplayed her agency’s involvement in the state settlement negotiations: “We have been asked for advice by the Department of Justice, by the Secretary of the Treasury, and by other federal agencies. And when asked for advice, we have given our advice.”

But this does not come close to telling the full story.

Emails obtained by Judicial Watch from several states suggest her agency’s participation was far more intense and aggressive. Warren called emergency meetings by phone and in person with attorneys general nationwide to contribute unsolicited input on the matter. The documents also indicate that Warren’s office insisted on keeping its contact with the state attorneys general secret. For example, in a February 25, 2011, email to the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), Iowa Assistant Attorney General Patrick Madigan wrote: “Elizabeth Warren would like to present the CFPB’s view on loan modifications.” Two weeks earlier, a similar email was distributed to NAAG’s Loss Mitigation Subgroup on Warren’s behalf. In an email on February 15 regarding that meeting, Madigan points out that “The CFPB wanted me to stress the confidential nature of this briefing.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA):

In early December, Democrats chose the scandal-plagued Rep. Maxine Waters to be the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee despite her many transgressions over the years. The influential congresswoman has helped family members make more than $1 million through business ventures with companies and causes that she has helped, according to her hometown newspaper.

In August 2010, Waters’ influence peddling earned the attention of a subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee which charged Rep. Waters with three counts of violating House rules and ethics regulations in connection with her use of power and influence on behalf of OneUnited Bank. After a highly controversial investigation, plagued by accusations of impropriety and corruption, on September 12, the committee failed to hold Waters to account for steering a $12 million to OneUnited, in which she and her board member husband held shares.

The Financial Services Committee, among other responsibilities, has jurisdiction over all issues pertaining to; you guessed it, the banking system.


On July 24, 2012, Judicial Watch released President Tom Fitton’s groundbreaking book THE CORRUPTION CHRONICLES: Obama’s Big Secrecy, Big Corruption, and Big Government. Termed “highly readable, informative and entertaining” byWashington Examiner Executive Editor Mark Tapscott, the book comprehensively details how the Obama administration, which promised to be one of the most transparent, could prove to be the most secretive in a generation. THE CORRUPTION CHRONICLES debuted at #6 on The New York Time Best Sellers Nonfiction Hardcover List and quickly became the Number 1 best-selling nonfiction hardcover book in the country, hitting Number 1 on BookScan’s nonfiction hardcover list for the week ending July 29. The book was also featured in the lead story earlier this week on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel.

On October 26, 2012, Judicial Watch and Victory Film Group released their documentary film, “The District of Corruption” which puts the spotlight on the organization’s epic battle against government scandal, secrecy and corruption through the last three presidential administrations (see trailer here). The film was written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, the writer/director of “Occupy Unmasked” and the Sarah Palin film “The Undefeated,” and produced in association with Constant Motion Entertainment.

Time to Privatize Florida’s Libraries

In September 2004 a report was published titled “Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries: Summary Report“. The survey based report done by the University of Pennsylvania states, “In 2003-4, an estimated 11.8 million people visited Florida public libraries in person.  Adult Florida residents form the majority of visitors, but tourists form a surprising 29 percent of in-person visitors to the libraries, although they account for only 5 percent of visits as they tend to visit just once. Over half of Florida’s adult resident population and over a third of all Florida children make in-person visits to Florida’s public libraries.  Approximately 13 percent of adult Florida residents and an unknown number of Florida children connect via the Internet to the public library.”

The report justifies taxpayer financed public libraries.

Recent experiences with privatized libraries may make the findings of this report null and void. Scott Reeder from Watchdog.org writes, “Public libraries are near sacred institutions in our communities but in a time of escalating municipal debt they have become increasingly vulnerable as local governments look for places to cut. A common refrain among municipal officials is: How can the same of service be offered for less money?”

“A smattering of cities across the nation has turned to private firms as a solution. The results are intriguing,” states Reeder.

Reeder found, “Santa Clarita, Calif., saw its annual cost to operate a public library drop from $6.2 million per year to $4.2 million when they hired a private firm rather than have public employees operate the city’s three libraries, said Darren Hernandez, the city’s deputy city manager. Before a private firm took over day-to-day operations, Santa Clarita’s three libraries were operated by the Los Angeles County Library system.”

Reeder reports that during the first two years of the public/private partnership, significant improvements in service were experienced:

  • The materials budget – for books, magazines and other items – has expanded almost 10-fold to $2 million annually.
  • Library operating hours have more than doubled.
  • Circulation of library materials has increased 15 percent.
  • Participation in library-sponsored events such as children’s reading programs has increased.

This all occurred because the City of Santa Clarita did not have to pay the pensions of librarians. Reeder reports, “By hiring a private firm, the city was able to avoid paying public pensions to library workers, [Santa Clarita City Manager] Hernandez said. He added that California public employees have some of the most generous pensions in the nation.”

Given the growing pressure on the Florida legislature to find savings, perhaps it is time to look at the Santa Clarita experience. Taxpayer funded libraries may be found at the city, county, school board and state college/university levels throughout Florida.

A new look at privatization may be in order.

Senators Nelson and Rubio Vote Against 4th Amendment Protection of Electronic Communications

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the evening of December 27, 2012, the U.S. Senate voted on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, H.R.5949, including one introduced by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The amendment, known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act extends Fourth Amendment guarantees to electronic communications and requires specific warrants granted through FISA courts in order to obtain this information.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Paul spoke on the floor, urging his colleagues to support his amendment. The amendment failed, 79-12.

Who Voted For and Against our Fourth Amendment Rights – Here is the link to the Senate roll call vote; below is the list grouped by vote position:

YEAs —12
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Heller (R-NV)
Lee (R-UT)
Merkley (D-OR)
Paul (R-KY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Webb (D-VA)
Wyden (D-OR)
NAYs —79
Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Brown (R-MA)
Burr (R-NC)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Coons (D-DE)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Durbin (D-IL)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hagan (D-NC)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (D-SD)
Johnson (R-WI)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lugar (R-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCain (R-AZ)
McCaskill (D-MO)
McConnell (R-KY)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Moran (R-KS)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Portman (R-OH)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Rubio (R-FL)
Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Shelby (R-AL)
Snowe (R-ME)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)
Udall (D-CO)
Vitter (R-LA)
Warner (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wicker (R-MS)
Not Voting – 9
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
DeMint (R-SC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Kirk (R-IL)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Sanders (I-VT)

Is Government Transparency Dead?

Two recent reports question government transparency. It appears the federal government and Florida legislature do not want the people to know how they spend taxpayer dollars. Waste, fraud and abuse are common in governments at every level.

Transparency is key too discovering where the government is wasting money, fraudulently hiding information and abusing taxpayers. The less transparency the more fraud, waste and abuse. President Obama ran on a platform of transparency as did Governor Rick Scott.

Want to find corruption? Then follow the money.

According to Knowledge@Wharton:

While all eyes are turned to the U.S. government’s enormous debt, few have given equal attention to the massive costs and risks embedded in another of the government’s financial functions: its role as lender rather than borrower. One group that has been analyzing the federal government is the the Financial Economists Roundtable (FER), a group of prominent academics that since 1993 has produced an annual statement based on financial analysis of a critical policy issue. In October, the FER published its 2012 statement, Accounting for the Cost of Government Credit Assistance. The FER is administered by the Wharton Financial Institutions Center.

According to FER:

Flaws in the way the government accounts for its loans and credit guarantees understate the costs that taxpayers are bearing with student loans and other credit programs totaling more than $2.5 trillion, plus more than $5 trillion in mortgages backed by the federally owned companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, a proper accounting — like that required of most businesses — would make the government’s budget deficit even larger than the officially reported amount.

“The federal government is the world’s largest financial institution, but policymakers and [government] managers are handicapped by an accounting system that is seriously deficient.  The accounting standards that the government sets for private financial institutions require far greater transparency than the rules that it imposes on itself,” says Deborah J. Lucas, finance professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and author of the FER statement.

Student loans and mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, among more than 100 other lending programs, contain potential losses that are much more costly than what current accounting suggests, according to the FER.

The Florida legislature created the TransparencyFlorida.gov website. The Florida Legislature created TransparencyFlorida.gov, and made it available to the public in January 2010. Its purpose is “to provide the public with unprecedented access to state government spending information by posting Florida’s operating budget and associated expenditure records online.”

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an organization that has been protecting and advancing open government in Florida for over 25 years, and Integrity Florida (IF), a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group released a report “Budget Transparency in the Sunshine State December 2012“.

According to FAF and IF, “Corruption does not like sunlight and disclosure is the key to accountability.”

FAF and IF assessed the Transparency 2.0 website developed by Spider Data Services and conclude that Florida would save millions of dollars and would receive an A grade for public access to government spending on future report cards if the site is allowed to publicly launch with a multi-year commitment from the State to invest in site maintenance and real-time data.

Version 2.0 of the TransparencyFlorida.gov website is at risk.

Version 2.0, “[W]ould allow Florida Governor Rick Scott to achieve his goal of Accountability Budgeting. By making each state agency set annual goals for every dollar they spend, those goals could be captured in the Planning module of the Transparency 2.0 site. Performance of state agencies would be easily measured against those goals and the public and policymakers could hold agencies accountable for their outcomes. Transparency 2.0 would allow all state officials and employees to justify the expenditure of Floridians’ tax dollars.”

FAF and IF strongly recommend that the Transparency 2.0 website be allowed to launch publicly to provide a globally competitive level of budget transparency and public access to information.

Without these watchdog groups government transparency would be dead. Only via transparency can government be held accountable and the people demand fraud, waste and abuse be stopped.

Failing Government-Owned Networks Examined

Fiscal pitfalls with government-owned networks are well-known here in Florida.

In 2003, the City of Quincy, Florida spent $3.3 million to build a fiber optic network known as NetQuincy. The system brought in $415,000 in 2005, less than 60 percent of its $710,000 in expenses. The City of Orlando experienced similar trouble with its free, public Wi-Fi program created in 2005. Built to support a mere 200 users, a scant 27 people actually used the service each day. The city kept the system running for 17 months – well passed the planned six-month trial period – and eventually decided the low usage rates did not justify the $1,800 per month price tag to taxpayers.

The latest Coalition for the New Economy report outlines past failures and questions the economic implications of GONs for taxpayers.

The Coalition for the New Economy today released a micro study by Dr. Joseph P. Fuhr Jr., professor of economics at Widener University in Chester, PA, that examines MI-Connection, a failing government-owned network in North Carolina.

“Five years ago, despite concern and skepticism from other nearby communities, the cities of Davidson and Mooresville, N.C. purchased a broadband network,” explained Fuhr. “Today, at the very point the system was to be profitable, officials in Davidson and Mooresville are contemplating how to get rid of the network, which has been a significant drain on the town’s resources and has piled loads of debt upon taxpayers.”

In the last three years, Davidson and Mooresville have provided $14 million in subsidies to MI-Connection, which Dr. Fuhr points out, has been a significant drain on the towns’ other priorities. For example, officials in Davidson have admitted the town cannot achieve financial stability until its commitment to the network has been reduced. Meanwhile, Mooresville officials have said they will have to tap the city’s general fund balance to meet its obligation to MI-Connection – which could mean fewer dollars for everything from education to public safety.

“This network represents some of the basic problems with government-owned broadband systems,” Fuhr said. “Government officials generally have zero experience running such sophisticated networks, which means they overestimate the revenues cities will receive from them and underestimate construction and maintenance costs. In 2007, officials in Troutman, Cornelius and Huntersville, N.C. realized these pitfalls and opted not to obligate themselves to MI-Connection. Their caution was the correct approach, which is why today Davidson mayor Laurie Venzon is on record saying other towns should not make the same mistake her town did.”

The MI-Connection micro study is the first in a series of three by Dr. Fuhr. In the coming weeks, CNE will release papers on the UTOPIA network in Utah and Burlington Telecom in Vermont.

The micro study can be viewed in its entirety on the CNE website.

The Coalition for the New Economy (CNE), which commissioned Fuhr’s study, is dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to innovative technologies and that policies are fair, fiscally responsible and will allow for increased access and adoption.

Update: Massive Voter Fraud in St. Lucie County, FL Called into Question – 141% Turnout

Click on the link below for the official St Lucie County, FL 2012 election results. Only one precinct had less than 113% turnout. The unofficial vote count is 175,554 registered voters 247,713 vote cards cast (141.10% ). The National SEAL Museum, a St. Lucie county polling place, had 158.85% voter turn out, the highest in the county.

When asked about the 141% Supervisor of  Elections Gertrude Walker stated, “They may have had something like that in Palm Beach County, but we’ve never seen that here.”

Statement of Votes Cast St. Lucie County 2012 General Election November 6, 2012*

Supervisor Walker has posted this notice on her official website:

THE CANVASSING BOARD MEETING SCHEDULED FOR THE RECOUNT ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2012 AT 7:00 AM HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2012 AT 7:00 AM AT THE SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS OFFICE, 4132 OKEECHOBEE ROAD MALL ENTRANCE 2.

It appears that Allen West is justified in asking for a lock-down on the ballot boxes and machines in St. Lucie County. According to the November 7th Supervisor of  Elections report Allen B. West garnered 52,625 votes in St.Lucie county and Patrick Murphy 65,896 votes.

*SOVC For Jurisdiction Wide, All Counters, All Races UNOFFICIAL RESULTS WITHOUT PROVISIONAL

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 11, 1012

We at Watchdog Wire – Florida appreciate the large number of comments to this post.

Some of the more recent comments call into question the definition of “cards” versus ballots.

According to Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, “Cards are pages, ballots are the full ballot consisting of both pages.”

The 2012 Presidential Ballot in Florida consisted of two pages. Both pages were two sided giving voters the opportunity to vote for candidates for public office on page 1 and 11 Constitutional ballot initiatives on page 2. The issue being correctly discussed is: Does each ballot consist of two cards? If yes, then there would be two times the number of cards as votes cast or in the case of St. Lucie County 175,554 times 2 there would be an expected 351,108 cards (two page ballots) cast.

However, according to the SOE there were 247,713 or 141.10% of cards cast. A valid question is what happened to the other 58.9% of cards cast? The SOE will be recounting ballots on November 13th and is required to submit her certification of the election on November 15th. We will update this post then with the final results.

In 2010 Florida experienced problems with long ballots, it may be this issue has returned in 2012.

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 12, 2012

Tim Edson, Campaign Manager for the Allen West for Congress campaign stated in an email:

“Today the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections, after promising to recount all early votes, counted only ballots from the last three days of early voting, netting Allen West over 500 votes. The problem is those aren’t the first three days of early voting—the days the Supervisor of Elections originally said were compromised by faulty data cards in the machines.

We will continue to fight for a recount of all early votes. In addition, we will ensure that the public is able to view the poll book sign-ins to ensure the number of early votes cast match the numbers of voters who checked-in to vote.

Nothing coming out of Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker’s office adds up, stories are constantly changing, and the hostile attitude of the Supervisor is disturbing. What originally looked like dangerous incompetence is looking more and more like a willful attempt to steal an election.”

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 15, 2012

Tim Edson, Campaign Manager for the Allen West states in an email:

On Sunday the St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections conducted a partial recount of early voting. As a result of that count, the total number of votes dropped by 799. Then on Monday the Supervisor of Elections explained the drop by saying 3,650 votes were double counted on Election Night and 1,950 were not counted at all. Basic math tells us that removing 3,600 double counted votes and adding 1,950 does not add up to a drop of 799 votes, but rather a drop of about 1,700.

Of course, the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections could clear up a lot of this fuzzy math if she would simply release the poll sign-in books so Floridians could see if the number of voters who checked into vote corroborates the number of votes cast. She refuses to do so.

TRUE THE VOTE STATEMENT REGARDING ONGOING RECOUNT ISSUES IN THE FL-18 CONGRESSIONAL RACE

HOUSTON, TX. November 15, 2012― True the Vote (TTV), the nonpartisan election integrity organization, today commented on the ongoing dispute over vote counts in St. Lucie County, potentially affecting the outcome of the Florida 18th Congressional District’s election.

“True the Vote commends Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s decision to dispatch auditors to St. Lucie County,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said. “Between Florida’s recent election history, questionable vote counts, misinformation and partisan emotion, total transparency is the only solution for all parties involved.

“Florida voters deserve a full, unfiltered explanation of the facts. One cannot know whether all the numbers add up if poll books are kept from public inspection. Understanding precise voter check-ins and corresponding ballots cast will answer many questions.

“Secretary Detzner, Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have shown great leadership on a national scale in promoting election integrity. The State of Florida takes great care in ensuring that voter rolls are maintained in accordance with federal election laws and has also committed to prosecuting interstate voter fraud.

“True the Vote is watching these recount proceedings very closely, as should every American who values the sanctity of their vote. We encourage citizens in the district to volunteer as poll watchers and to remain engaged until all vagaries have been resolved. Total transparency should be agreeable to all parties involved; if not, one must question why.”

True The Vote (TTV) a nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization focused on preserving election integrity is operated by citizens for citizens, to inspire and equip volunteers for involvement at every stage of our electoral process. TTV empowers organizations and individuals across the nation to actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation. For more information, please visit www.truethevote.org.

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 16, 2012

GOP leaders back West’s call for recount

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 17, 2012

ST. LUCIE COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD ORDERS RETABULATION OF ALL EARLY VOTES IN ALLEN WEST RACE

Election Official: Mistakes Have Been Made in Allen West Race

RELATED COLUMNS:

West challenges results as Florida declares vote-tally over amid recounts and irregularities

ELECTION FRAUD…FLORIDA STYLE

St. Lucie County election results posted, after hours of delay.

‘WE HAVE SOME VERY SERIOUS CHALLENGES TO MAKE’: ALLEN WEST CAMPAIGN LAWYER SAYS ‘ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE OF CONCESSION’

 Video: Angry crowd reacts to ‘misleading recount’ in Allen West race

IG Probes Hiding of Records by Florida Department of Elder Affairs

In September 2012, the State of Florida opened an investigation by the Inspector General’s Office, Department of Elder Affairs, into allegations that the State’s top official overseeing the nearly 1,000 registered professional guardians practicing in Florida conspired with public guardians to conceal hundreds of records in a guardianship abuse case.

Florida is well known for its large population of elders, more than any other state. As such, it is the perfect place for perfect crimes against those aged persons who are put by the courts under the absolute control of the State, so that they are deprived by law of every civil right.

In 1987, a committee formed by Congress to examine abusive guardianship practices concluded that the typical Ward has fewer rights than the typical convicted felon.

The committee found that, not only could the alleged incapacitated person “no longer receive money or pay [his or her] bills,” but courts give guardians “the power to choose where [the alleged incapacitated person] will live, what medical treatment they will receive and, in rare cases, when they will die.”

In sum, the congressional committee saw guardianship as “the most severe form of civil deprivation which can be imposed on a citizen of the United States.”

What happens when a state turns its back on its own laws and on its most vulnerable citizens? The State of Florida can answer this query, based upon newly-revealed e-mails in which the State’s highest official overseeing thousands upon thousands of guardianships of incapacitated elders concealed from a Ward’s estate hundreds of documents from a public guardianship agency under her supervision.

For a Ward, it is a court-appointed guardian who is legally entitled to control every aspect of the Ward’s life and every asset he owns, personal possessions, money and real property. It is a court appointee who is legally permitted to exercise every decision for the Ward – where he lives, what he eats, his doctors and medical treatments, access to his family members, and how much of his own money can be spent on him or, instead, on the guardian and his attorney.

In Florida, the statutory qualifications for the invasive authoritarian position of professional guardian do not include any educational degrees, specific skills, prior relevant experience, or academic qualifications.

In sum, after reaching 18 years old, staying out of trouble with the law, taking 40 hours of guardianship training and passing an exam, anyone can obtain absolute power over a completely-helpless human being, with no capacity to protect himself from abuse or exploitation, and over millions of dollars of wards’ assets.

Any professional guardian or agency may totally control the lives of hundreds of Wards and assets of hundreds of millions of dollars, without ever personally knowing their Wards through more than occasional brief visits, which are not even documented with photographs or videotapes to evidence how the Wards are faring under state control.

Guardianship agencies are licensed by the State by submitting minimalistic corporate papers that require brief time to prepare. To become a public guardianship agency in Florida, the agency must sign contracts with the State, which contracts specifically require every agency to keep meticulous paper and electronic records on each of its Wards for at least six years, but what happens when all of an agency’s records on a Ward disappear well before the six-year period has ended?

Holocaust Survivor Al Katz’s family knows the answer to this question. In seeking the records from his public guardianship agency that controlled his life and assets for months, Al’s family was told all of his records had been shipped to the State capital, Tallahassee, and none (except for two pages) had been retained by the agency, Aging Safely of Bradenton, Florida. Likewise, the agency claimed that it never kept a single electronic communication concerning Al and his guardianship.

When Aging Safely’s attorney, Erika Dine, was served with a subpoena by Al’s family for her records, she immediately sought to quash the subpoena, claiming that the hundreds of documents (including Al’s medical records) she had were either confidential from his family or irrelevant with respect to his care while he was in the complete control of the public guardians. Starkly, Ms. Dine was not only Aging Safely’s attorney during its troubled guardianship of Al Katz, but was also a Board Member of the corporation and the law partner of its current attorney and registered agent. In addition, she holds the role of Vice President of the Manatee County Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Inc. In court, Ms. Dine’s lawyer, James Essenson, repeatedly described Al’s daughter as “crazy” and her subpoena for Al’s guardianship records as “harassment.”

It is believed that Al Katz’s case is the first one in the nation to have indisputable evidence that high-level state officials actively obstructed justice and covered up crimes against a state Ward.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE AL KATZ STORY:

Individuals with substantial financial means who need guardianship services are at risk. They may fall prey to dishonest individuals who are willing to act on behalf of the person with diminished capacity in order to gain access to the latter’s finances for their own personal benefit.

Often, a petitioner sues for guardianship of the person and of the property. This gives the guardian total control over the alleged incapacitated person and his or her property.

When the Manatee County public guardians, Directors of Aging Safely, filed their petition in court on September 18, 2009, to become Al Katz’s temporary plenary guardian of his person and property, Al was an 89-year-old mobile and verbal successful businessman, who had spent his winters in Bradenton for more than 25 years. Over 32 years earlier, he had lost his wife and was losing most of his peers by attrition. Al was lonely, vulnerable, and prosperous. Manatee County in September 2009 was suffering severe financial losses, and Al’s assets would be a boon for a variety of professionals, businesses, and agencies, if only they could be accessed.

Al’s temporary guardianship was granted immediately to the public guardians, and his life lost the steady direction it had taken since the Holocaust had ended 64 years before. His road had always been arduous, but he had remained a survivor in every way.

During Al’s temporary public guardianship, Ms. Dine fiercely opposed the appointment of Al’s daughter, Beverly Newman, to be his permanent guardian. Her vehement opposition to Dr. Newman’s appointment was so deep-seated that she vociferously objected to Dr. Newman’s efforts to visit her infirm, distraught, aged Father in a Bradenton nursing home, where he was kept by Aging Safely thousands of miles away from any family members except for his daughter.

On September 18, 2009, just hours before the Jewish Sabbath and New Year, Al Katz was made a Ward of the State of Florida by a judge who knew that Al did not qualify in any way under Florida law to be placed in public guardianship, which is intended for indigents domiciled in Florida whose families either cannot or will not care for them. The surprise guardianship hearing was not attended by any of Al’s family or by Al himself. In fact, Al’s daughter, Beverly, already had an active guardianship case for her Father in Indiana, where he was domiciled; nevertheless, Al’s Florida guardianship was granted to total strangers without any opportunity for Beverly to oppose it.

Simply put, Al’s family was already on record as willing and qualified to care for him without any governmental intervention by the State of Florida.

Although Beverly was never notified of the temporary guardianship hearing, in violation of Florida law, the guardianship petition of Aging Safely was granted in 15 minutes, as Al’s life went from complete adult independence to forced institutionalization at the hands of the State. Al lost every right of a citizen in the United States in one quarter of an hour.

ASSETS JUST FOR THE TAKING

Numerous studies and media articles across the country have documented cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of persons with diminished capacity and their estates by their court-appointed guardian.

Petitions are sometimes initiated by organizations and individuals who may have a conflict of interest—professional guardians, guardians ad litem, administrators of long-term care facilities and hospitals, and family members who stand to benefit financially.

When Aging Safely was appointed Al’s plenary guardian of his person and property, with immediacy, it set into motion a purposeful series of actions in its own interests, beginning with hiring a local locksmith to open Al’s house for Aging Safely’s Officers, Jonene Eisch and Ashley Butler, to enter and to take anything inside – papers, valuables, personal possessions, legal documents, and whatnot.

In Florida, a person totally unknown to a new Ward of the State is lawfully permitted, as a guardian, to raid the Ward’s home without supervision or any documentation; remove any amount of items without listing, identifying, or photographing them; store them anywhere; and change all of the locks so that neither the Ward nor his family can enter thereafter without the presence or the permission of the State-appointed gatekeeper.

Individuals with substantial financial means [as Al Katz] who need guardianship services are at risk. They may fall prey to individuals who … are willing to act on behalf of the person with diminished capacity in order to gain access to the latter’s finances for their own personal benefit.

From that point on, the State often operates in secrecy. “Once a guardian is appointed, the guardian rarely consults with the Ward before making a decision.” Virtually all decisions, even life and death, are made by strangers to the Ward and his family. In Al Katz’s case, he was shipped off to live in a neglectful nursing home, against the express wishes of his family and despite his explicit wishes written multiple times in his various advance directives, “in no event shall I ever be placed in a nursing home facility….” These words were as if written on the wind, written, dismissed, and discarded by strangers who personally benefited by their actions against the will of their Ward and of his family.

From the Bradenton Casa Mora nursing home, Al’s life took a horrible turn to institutionalization in a lock-down unit at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where Al’s guardians arranged to put him into a Baker Act involuntary commitment. Within just a few days of time, Al had been moved from his home in Bradenton to a hospital, then to a nursing home, and into a second hospital, all without his understanding why he was being transferred from one institution to another. Neither Al nor Beverly knew where he would be taken next, for what purpose, or for how long.

HOW HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS SUFFER FROM INSTITUTIONALIZATION

The wrong guardian or an inappropriate or premature guardianship can be the very act that triggers a chain of events leading to the unnecessary or premature institutionalization, causing the ward to give up hope. It may be the event that hastens death.

A famous Holocaust Survivor, Roman Kent, explains the plights of Survivors in the final fight for their lives:

In our old age, gruesome memories come back to haunt us, and we relive that period in our lives. In a way, we are the same as any old, sick person. But we have undeniably experienced more pain, more bad memories, more suffering. We witnessed evil first-hand and are understandably more suspicious. To top it off, we feel a greater sense of loneliness because we remember being abandoned. Sometimes we can’t help feeling we are being abandoned once again.

Al Katz’s sense of abandonment was intense and pervasive, as he languished for three weeks in the Manatee Memorial Hospital lock-down unit, with a no-contact order on him, and then for three more weeks in Casa Mora’s lockdown unit, never knowing why he was there and why his daughter could not take him home (since the court order that allowed Beverly to visit with her Father only three hours per day, specifically forbade her to explain to Al any of the legal matters regarding his guardianship and his daughter’s visitations with him). Al was thereby totally shut out of his own legal case and the myriads of decisions being made about his life.

As a Holocaust Survivor, everyday is inextricably linked with the past of horrors. “Auschwitz is much more than just a part of me — it is all of me. The same holds true for each and every survivor.”

Roman Kent, one of the most outspoken and eloquent voices of the Survivors, explains the trepidations and penetrating emotions of Survivors:

… [over] 60 years after the liberation of the camps, not too many of us are still alive. None of us is a youngster anymore.

… Now in our old age, we constantly and vividly relive our wartime experiences, and have ailments caused by the suffering endured decades ago.

We suffer from physical and emotional distress at higher rates than the elderly population as a whole. Prolonged malnutrition under the Nazis has affected our health…. There are particularly high rates of dementia and schizophrenia among Jewish victims of Nazism. Many of us are alone as a result of having lost our entire family during the Holocaust.

It is unfathomable how much Al suffered in months of institutional lockdown apart from his family, confused and alone, reliving the Holocaust, and wanting nothing more than to go home with his family.

We survivors are adamant about remaining in our own homes rather than entering a nursing home. To someone who endured incarceration by the Nazis, the prospect of institutionalization is frightening. It triggers memories and even induces panic. Home care, therefore, has emerged as one of our most pressing needs.
At the end of their days, Survivors want most of all the familiarity and security of their own homes and families. Al Katz’s guardians were oblivious and impervious to his deepest needs as a human being who had suffered the worst of mankind’s brutality inflicted against others of his own kind. The guardians never let their guards down in preventing Al from returning to his beloved home and family. His fate in their hands was a certain death sentence meted out in placements in multiple institutions week after week, month upon month, until he would meet his end.

In lock-down at the Manatee Memorial Hospital, under the guardians’ directives, a complicit physician issued a no-contact order on Al to have no communications of any kind with his family and friends. Al was held behind large electronically-controlled doors in this state of incommunicado, as a murderer might be punished, for three weeks in the dingy, secluded basement of a large urban hospital. Against the law, Al was sequestered for two-and-a-half weeks after the maximum Baker Act detention period of three days had expired, having been given no (mandatory) court hearings for the entire three weeks. Al was a prisoner in the hands of a state guardianship system run amuck. One 81-year-old Florida Ward summed up her time in guardianship, “It was awful. They robbed me of money, time and dignity.”

In his involuntary confinement incommunicado, Al suffered all of the predictable effects on a Holocaust Survivor of isolation and institutionalization – extreme episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, confusion, grief, intense anxiety, and feelings of abandonment. Although his family waited for him day-in and day-out outside of his barricaded quarters, Al had no idea of their whereabouts or even of his own. For weeks, Beverly filed motions in court for Al’s release, none of which was ever heard. Al had been sentenced to death by institutionalization, to the extravagant benefit (hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by taxpayers and by Al Katz) of his guardians, a host of attorneys, his nursing home and hospitals, and the Manatee County courts. The pie of money and assets that Al represented was thick and ample for many.

THE DEATH-MOBILE

On October 12, 2009, Al was abruptly released from Manatee Memorial Hospital lockdown, without notice to his family, and transferred to his new lock-down unit at Casa Mora nursing home, still completely incommunicado and confused about his past, present, and future whereabouts. For three weeks, he had rarely and barely slept, wandering the hospital hallway interminably, and wanting desperately to go home. His wants were his guardians’ immediate rejections.

Casa Mora specialized in fattening Al’s waist from a size 40 inches to a size 50 with steady useless in-takes of sugars and in secluding him from congenial and happy elders. Instead, Al’s lot was intentionally cast with women whose voices were heard in endless screams, men whose mouths never uttered an intelligible word, and one man, in particular, whose daily gear entailed a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads designed to buffer his bouts of physical contact with elders a fraction of his size, like Al.

In mortal fear, Al lived in his latest lock-down unit selected by his court-appointed guardians, paid at taxpayer expense, and approved by his court-appointed attorney, paid by Al’s dwindling assets. Indeed, attorney Ernie Lisch’s bill for legal services to Al, that never included a single motion filed in his behalf or even one visit to Al’s confinement quarters at the hospital, was an astounding amount of nearly $25,000.00, which was immediately approved by the court that appointed him.

“[T]he American legal system may treat [Wards]… worse than murder suspects …..[T]he legal system also has contributed to a pattern of grievous abuses [against Wards]…,For most people a declaration of mental incompetence is an irrevocable life sentence….Incompetency declarations rarely are reversed, ….”

Al’s vehicle to death was indubitably institutionalization, which he had dreaded all of his adult life following his more than seven years of slave labor in the Holocaust and a death march that he barely survived. He would be certain to die in involuntary placement at Casa Mora, where his living quarters consisted of a bed tucked in the back corner of a drab room at the very rear of the nursing home behind layers of electronic locks and coded metal doors. From involuntary confinement for three weeks in a hospital lockdown unit incommunicado, Al was sent by his guardians to a nursing home lock-down unit, again without any communications permitted by his guardians for Al to have with his family.

Predictably, within days of his institutionalization at Casa Mora, Al was hospitalized with extreme pitting edema and cellulitis. Although the guardianship court had just recently granted Beverly the right to visit her Father after two days of contested hearings, in which Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, and their attorney Erika Dine demanded that Beverly should have no visitations with her Father, Al once more was placed under a no-contact order by his new receiving hospital, Blake Medical Center, sited 50 feet from Casa Mora.

THE “TOXIC CASE”

By an e-mail dated October 12, 2009, sent well before dawn, Ashley Butler contacted attorney Michelle Hollister, the Executive Director of the Statewide Public Guardianship Office (responsible for the oversight of all of Florida’s public guardianship offices as well as for appointing and contracting with existing and potential public guardians), seeking help with the Al Katz guardianship, which Ms. Butler described as “a very toxic case.” The date and time of Aging Safely’s pre-dawn e-mail were significant since its Officers had finally been ordered by a judge to a hearing, to take place that same morning, on Al’s prolonged involuntary confinement, which, by law, should have terminated on September 27. It was now October 12, and Al had been unlawfully sequestered by Aging Safely in lock-down for weeks.

October 12, 2009, was a seminal day in Al’s life; for he was finally going to have a court hearing to determine where he would be allowed by the State of Florida to live. Of course, Al had no idea before the hearing that it was going to be held or afterwards that it had been held, and he had not a single person to advocate for his fervent desire to go home.

Tragically and predictably, Al’s numerous taxpayer-paid representatives (Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, Erika Dine, Dr. Gregory Onderko, two public defenders, and one state’s attorney) all joined ranks in the fateful decision to send Al directly from the Manatee Memorial Hospital lock-down unit to the Casa Mora lock-down unit. Neither Al’s written advance directives, held by Aging Safely, forbidding his placement in “a nursing home facility” nor his family’s pleas for the same were ever mentioned by anyone at the hearing or considered by the presiding judge, Paul Logan, or by his magistrate, Susan Maulucci.

What role did Michelle Hollister, a top Florida state bureaucrat administering a multi-million dollar budget, play in the events of October 12, 2009?

Ms. Hollister did not demand that the wishes of Al and his family should be advocated and advanced by Aging Safely at the momentous hearing. Likewise, Florida’s top official for the protection of the State’s tens of thousands of Wards did not insist that Al’s public guardianship be reversed due to Aging Safely’s wanton violations of laws in taking guardianship of Al, a non-resident of Florida and non-indigent, without notice to his daughter, who already had an open guardianship case for her Father in his home state of Indiana.

Contemporaneously, when Beverly had sought the help of Michelle Hollister in rescuing her Father from his illegal guardianship under Aging Safely, no assistance whatsoever was provided to her. Although Ms. Hollister became familiar with the “very toxic [guardianship] case” of Al Katz from both Beverly and Aging Safely, the State of Florida never relented in its efforts to keep Al Katz institutionalized and sequestered from his daughter, who had left Indiana to care for him in Florida.

Shortly after Aging Safely’s communication with Ms. Hollister and the subsequent court hearing that morning, Al was shipped off to Casa Mora, four minutes from his home, without explanation or notification to his family. Behind and before every decision made for Al and against his interests were Aging Safely’s attorney and corporate Director, Erika Dine, and her clients, Jonene Eisch and Ashley Butler; yet Dine and her clients claimed and continue to claim that every record of Al Katz’s guardianship was no longer in their possession, irrelevant to Al’s care, or confidential from his own family, including his medical records.

WARD RECORDS SEQUESTERED BY THE STATE

Just as the State of Florida had sequestered Al Katz from his daughter for weeks in September and October 2009, it concealed Al’s guardianship records from Beverly, as the Personal Representative of his estate, for years.

Beginning in early 2010, Beverly, in her capacity as her Father’s newly-appointed Guardian of the Person, began requesting Al’s guardianship records from Aging Safely and from Erika Dine, none of which records was ever provided through these requests. Two years later, in February 2012, Beverly served four subpoenas for Al Katz’s guardianship records upon Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, Aging Safely, and Erika Dine.

Five days after, Jonene Eisch contacted attorney Yolanda Siples, who had replaced Ms. Hollister, advising Ms. Siples that Aging Safely had found several of the subpoenaed items that had not been sent to Siples previously and telling her that attorney Erika Dine wanted to talk to her.

Just minutes later, Ms. Dine followed up on this e-mail, seeking advice from Ms. Siples as to how her office “wanted to handle the subpoena.” Two days afterwards, Ms. Eisch confirmed by e-mail that she sent more subpoenaed documents to Ms. Siples “per [her] request.” This e-mail was copied to attorney Christopher Smith, who is Erika Dine’s law partner, the registered agent for Aging Safely, and the attorney representing Aging Safely and its Directors in the matter of the subpoenas for Al Katz’s guardianship records served upon them.

Once all of the subpoenaed records had been secreted to Ms. Siples in Tallahassee, Mr. Smith sent an e-mail to Beverly’s attorney informing him that “… all records pertaining to Mr. Katz were previously turned over to the State of Florida, Department of Elder Affairs, upon the resignation of the public guardian [in 2011]. None of the Recipients kept copies of her documents.”

Just days later, Ms. Dine filed a motion in court for a protective order with respect to the subpoena she had received from Beverly, claiming that Al Katz’s guardianship documents were all either irrelevant to his care in the nursing home, where she had him placed, or were confidential. At the hearing on Ms. Dine’s motion for protective order, her attorney repeatedly advised the court that Beverly and her accusations about Ms. Dine’s role in secreting subpoenaed documents, in violation of the law, were “crazy.”

The court ruled in Ms. Dine’s favor despite the overwhelming objective evidence, in the form of multiple e-mails to and from Ms. Dine detailing her active involvement with the Statewide Public Guardianship Office in concealing from Beverly her Father’s guardianship records, showing abuse, exploitation, and neglect of Al Katz while he was in the complete control of the State of Florida.

Citizens Want Florida Forever’s Land Grab Stopped

On October 11 and November 5, 2012 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Acquisition and Restoration Council are holding open house events to allow the public to comment on how Florida Forever projects should be prioritized. The Department and the Council develop an annual ranking of statewide land acquisition projects to prioritize the distribution of funds. The ranking is under review and includes more than 100 projects on the Florida Forever priority list, as well as the new Florida Forever proposals.

Karen Schoen, a proponent of individual property rights, in an email states, “Florida Forever owns/controls enough land costing the taxpayer billions yearly. We must Stop Florida Forever and the artificial land grabs. Florida Forever will have 2000 people at the poles for a petition drive to get more money to buy more land. We must do the same.”

Schoen offers draft legislation to stop the funding of Florida Forever. The proposed act begins, “Relating to public policy, due process, and private real property; to strongly reject United Nations Agenda 21 and its ancillary programs; to prohibit the State of Florida and all of its political subdivisions from adopting and developing environmental and developmental policies that, without due process, would infringe or restrict the sovereignty of the State of Florida and private property rights of the owner of private property.”

“According to its Web site Florida Forever manages 9,900,000 acres already (owning 2.5 million acres which were purchased costing the taxpayer lost tax revenues) Florida Forever owns or controls 10% of the land in Florida. The Florida Forever map on their web site looks like the Agenda 21 bio-diversity map,” notes Schoen.

Diane Ross in her March 2011 column “The Florida Story” states, “Spread the word and expose corrupt conditions such as exist in Miami Dade County. Property owners in the remaining part of 8.5 square mile area, Hialeah and South Dade in Dade County, Florida have been subjected to attacks on their private property rights by the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) along with … Local Governments for Sustainability and various government officials.”

Ross stated, “Property owners are understandably distrustful of government using the arm of DERM (which is funded through taxpayer dollars, fees, fines and grants) to potentially confiscate their property. DERM declares people’s property a ‘wetlands’ without supplying documentation of soil tests and other criteria that are stated on their website. The documents have been requested from DERM but so far DERM has never presented any.”

“The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI ) has a commitment to ‘sustainable development’ throughout the world which in essence results in a private property land grab veiled in warm and fuzzy terms. ICLEI comes up with regulations and other ideas that restrict property owners from using their land. Their regulations include the Endangered Species Act, wetland regulations (as in Dade County) and a myriad of other laws governing the use of plants, animals, air, water, land and sea. ICLEI has infiltrated local governments in the USA and around the world,” reports Ross.

Ross found, “Harvey Ruvin, Miami Dade Clerk of the Court, was Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of ICLEI, a non-elected position. He is also Chair of the County’s Climate Change Advisory Task Force (CCATC). He, with the Mayor of Miami Dade County appoints the Financial Director. He also serves on the Executive Council of CCOC (Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corps) which discusses budgetary business for the 67 clerk offices in Florida. He has the power and contacts to help implement United Nations Agenda 21 policies that take people’s rights away in the name of the “environment.”

Pam Evans says, “Miami Dade County is run by a government that is proud to be a model city for ICLEI – a United Nations program implemented through local town councils, planners, mayors….”

Those unable to attend the public hearing are invited to provide their comments in writing via email to Jim.Farr@dep.state.fl.us or via US mail to Mr. Jim Farr, ARC Staff Director, Division of State Lands, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, MS 140, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. For more information about the ARC and current Florida Forever projects, visit:  http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/arc.htm.

TRUE THE VOTE: NEW EVIDENCE OF CROSS-STATE ABSENTEE VOTER FRAUD

True The Vote (TTV), the nonpartisan election integrity organization, today released preliminary research findings that already show evidence of 31 cases of absentee ballot fraud in New York and Florida. The Office of Florida Secretary of State, the New York State Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice were formally notified of ballots cast simultaneously in both states for federal elections.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” True The Vote President, Catherine Engelbrecht said. “This is further evidence of just how susceptible our election system is to voter fraud. Earlier this year, Pew Research found more than 2.75 million people nationwide are registered to vote in more than one state. These early findings put a name, face and potential motivation behind that startling statistic. True The Vote calls on Florida, New York and federal officials to investigate and confirm our citizen research.”

True The Vote began the process of identifying potential absentee voter fraud by accessing Florida’s complete voter registration roll and cross-referencing it against 10 percent of New York’s comprehensive list. Preliminary audits indicated more than one million Florida voters claimed New York mailing addresses. Over 1,700 people were found with voter registrations in both states. Today 31 voters were turned over to state and federal election authorities after being matched based on full name, birth date, reciprocal mailing addresses and voting history demonstrating ballots cast in both states during the same federal election cycle.

In each case, federal and state laws were potentially violated as a result of these activities. Both New York and Florida require voters to cast ballots corresponding with their permanent residential addresses. Federal law, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(e) clearly states that voters cannot cast more than one ballot in the same election.

“This should serve as a warning to any individual considering committing voter fraud in this year’s election,” Engelbrecht said. “True The Vote enjoys cooperative relationships with these states and many more. These findings are only the beginning of our effort. As today is National Voter Registration Day, it’s important to remember that no candidate or cause is worth a felony conviction.”

ABOUT TRUE THE VOTE

True The Vote (TTV) a nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization focused on preserving election integrity is operated by citizens for citizens, to inspire and equip volunteers for involvement at every stage of our electoral process. TTV empowers organizations and individuals across the nation to actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation. For more information, please visit www.truethevote.org.

The Case Against Energy Subsidies in Florida

State Rep. Scott Plankton

State Representative Scott Plankton and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam have been pushing for government subsidies to grow Florida’s economy. According to James M. Taylor, J.D., from Florida Political Press, reports, “Digital Domain Media Group Inc. closed its taxpayer-subsidized film studio Tuesday and filed for bankruptcy protection, just a few short months after State Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) told skeptical Tea Party leaders that the Florida film industry provides a sterling example of why government officials should hand over taxpayer dollars to politically connected renewable energy companies.”

According to Taylor, “Between 2009 and 2012, Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature and various local governments handed over $135 million in taxpayer subsidies to Digital Domain. Those subsidies included prime real estate and a lavish headquarters building in addition to direct cash payments.

“$135 Million Wasted,” notes Taylor.

“In an April conversation with Tea Party leaders unhappy about legislation giving renewable energy companies $100 million in taxpayer subsidies, Plakon said state subsidies for film companies such as Digital Domain demonstrate why it is good for government to generously subsidize politically connected companies and industries,” writes Taylor.

Another effort to use government money to subsidize energy in Florida is the Energy Economic Zone (EEZ). There are two EEZ pilot projects currently underway, one in Sarasota County and another in the City of Miami, Florida.

Why an Energy Economic Zone, why now and for what purpose?

Dennis Cauchon, writer for USA Today, in his column “Household electricity bills skyrocket” points out, “Electricity is consuming a greater share of Americans’ after-tax income than at any time since 1996 — about $1.50 of every $100 in income at a time when income growth has stagnated, a USA TODAY analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data found. Greater electricity use at home and higher prices per kilowatt hour are both driving the higher costs, in roughly equal measure. . .”

It makes sense for households, businesses and government to find ways to save on their electric bills. But is the creation of a government subsidized EEZ the way to do that?

One of the driving forces behind the creation of an EEZ in Sarasota County is the building of a methane power plant at the county landfill. According to Gary Bennett from Sarasota County, “County staff will be recommending that a private developer be allowed to design/build/operate a landfill gas to energy facility at the Central County Landfill in Nokomis. Staff believes the project is feasible. The estimated cost would be roughly $5-6 million dollars for a 3.2 megawatt facility based on cost estimates we have seen. Permitting is extensive. Includes both state and local. [The] Developer would pay the cost. Power would be fed to the power grid so no back up needed. This project once approved takes roughly 18 months to permit and complete.”

County staff was asked if a feasibility study was conducted.

According to Gary Bennett, “We did look at costs if the County would build a facility but it was looked at in a very simplistic manner. It was not feasible for the County when the price of renewable energy that would be paid the County dropped from about 7 cents a kilowatt hour to around 5 cents a kilowatt hour. Since this would be a developer driven project with all the financial risk on the developer, they will determine whether the project is feasible. The County would be looking for the developer to pay the County revenue for the landfill gas supplied to their facility.” Floridians currently pay 11.44 cents per kilowatt hour.

The two developers involved in the pilot EEZ are Hugh Culverhouse and Henry Rodriguez.

There is a key problem. EPA studies show a landfill must have trash rates over 1 million cubic feet/year minimum to produce enough methane for a plant. Sarasota County falls well below this level of trash rate per year. What will determine whether a generation unit can be successful are the percent of methane (usually 35-50 %) and the cubic feet per minute for each well. As the methane is collected it is sent thru scrubbers to clean and purify the gas prior to burning it to produce steam for a turbine or used in modified vehicles like buses or trash trucks as fuel. If not enough is available at a high enough concentration or pressure it is unlikely that Sarasota County landfill is a good candidate. Additionally, being a public/private utility it could be tax exempt and thus its inclusion in the EEZ is not needed.

The EEZ pilot projects are the first step in a process to create energy subsidies in all 67 of Florida’s counties and many cities for an questionable return on the taxpayers investment. After all saving energy is in everyone’s best interest. Do Floridians really need government stepping in to help?

Will the EEZ become Florida’s version of Solyndra?

Sarasota County’s 2009 Jobs Plan – An Analysis

Jobs are top of mind during the 2012 election cycle. Elected officials from President Obama on down are touting their pro-economic growth records and job creation skills. Sarasota County is no exception. It is appropriate to review their on going efforts to “create jobs” in Sarasota County, FL.

In April 2009 Sarasota County released its Five-Year Economic Development Strategic Plan. The Five-Year Plan states, “Community and business leaders have made it clear that a shotgun approach will no longer work. This proposed plan is based on five guiding principles: Promote the growth/health of existing businesses; Create an environment that promotes homegrown businesses and innovation; Diversify the economy through platforms that build on our unique assets; Make strategic plays in emerging markets; ƒ Leverage resources and investments to grow capacity to pursue economic opportunities.”

The plan may be characterized as the County Commission’s “jobs bill”. The strategic plan, now in its third year, recognized that the recession had hit Sarasota. 

Based upon the strategic plan, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners on September 15, 2010 passed Resolution 2010-199. It created a goal to “promote economic activity in the County by providing economic incentives that will encourage diverse new businesses to relocate to Sarasota County and current businesses to expand.” One of the things created was an “economic development fund” and an incentives or awards program. One of the purposes is to attract new or help expanding companies that “provide an above-average wage to its employees”.

The resolution goes into great detail to lay out a series of “Economic Development Factors” that “shall be applied when the Board makes its determination on ad valorem tax exemptions to a requesting business”. But what about guidelines for the “economic development fund”? This question is germane as the fund has already given out $4,482,303 with an additional $5,527,797 in awards remaining to be paid. The $10 million for this “fund” came from the sale of foreclosed properties and collection of unpaid County property taxes. Click here to view the 2012 Economic Development report to the County (slides 65-68).

Jeff Maultsby, Manager of Business and Economic Development, Steve Botelho and Lisa Damschroder from the Office of Financial Planning and Joan McGill, Vice President of Business Development at the Economic Development Corporation, said there is no system in place to select the best candidates to meet the goals established by the County Commission. As of now there is no way to accurately determine any return on investment to the County from these awards (staff indicated the purchase of a software program may to help address this).

Here is an analysis of the County economic development efforts to date:

Of the $4.48 million awarded, PGT received $600,00 and Tervis Tumbler $450,00 (two awards) given since 2010, for a combined total payout of $1,050,000 (23% of all awards to date). These two companies actually added the following: PGT – 432 jobs, Tervis Tumbler – 413 jobs. PGT and Tervis Tumbler added 845 or 80.6% of 1,048 jobs created to date under this awards program.

This would seem like a big win for the County until one drills down a little deeper.

As Resolution 2010-199 states the County Commission wants to attract and expand businesses with an “above-average wage”. The average wage for all industries in Sarasota County according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research is $38,660.

According to County staff the actual average wages are: PGT $24,335 (initially projected average wage of $29,500), Tervis Tumbler $26,572 (initially projected average wage of $31,500). Both companies fell well short of the existing County average wage of $38,660: PGT 38% lower and Tervis Tumbler 31% lower. If the County wanted above-average wages they did not get them with these two companies. Even the “projected average wages” for each company were below the County average wage.

If the goal is above-average wages then why give money to any company projecting below-average wages?

Would these jobs have been created without the County awards? According to PGT President Rodney Hershberger the company was planning to close its plant in North Carolina in the 2006-2007 time frame due to the housing slump. The greatest concern was a lack of land and buildings. In the middle of 2010 PGT began looking at options to move the equipment and employees to Florida, with Sarasota, Jacksonville and Miami as possible sites. PGT primarily serves customers in Florida with impact (hurricane) windows and the North Carolina plant was half impact and half non-impact windows. The plant would be closed and operations moved closer to its Florida market. The intent was to move employees to Florida. However, due to deep family roots at the NC plant only 30 employees actually relocated to Sarasota County. Sarasota was always the top choice because this is where PGT was founded and its the central home location, which best serves its impact windows market. Rodney said of the newly hired employees about 70% live in Sarasota, 10% in Manatee County and 20% in Charlotte County. According to Tim Graham, VP of Human Resources for Tervis Tumbler, “Through the assistance provided to Tervis by the EDC grant we were able to substantially increase our production capacity and employment at Tervis.” PGT used its award to off set the cost of moving equipment. Tervis used its two awards to off set impact fees.

Why did Sarasota County taxpayers invest over $1 million in two well established local companies?

Let’s take a look at the remaining 203 jobs “created” to date. Forty-one had an average wage below the County average. The remaining 162 jobs had an average wage of $52,496 or 36% higher than the County average. This average wage increase was offset by the 886 below-average wage jobs.

There remain award commitments of over $5.5 million for the creation of a “projected” 1260 jobs. Will these create more above-average wage jobs? According to the County spreadsheet the companies yet to produce jobs have a “projected average wage” of $50,232. The “actual average wage” of jobs created by these companies to date is $43,368 or 14% lower than the currently projected wages. Another issue is most of the money given to date was given up front before any jobs were created. The current contracts give companies anywhere from 1 to 6 years to actually create the jobs. It should be noted that only recently do the contracts with the County state that the awards will not be made until after the jobs are created. I believed they learned a harsh lesson from $650,000 awarded to Sandborn Studios on September 2, 2010 with no jobs created to date.

Finally, there are nine awards listed on the Economic Development Incentives spreadsheet to either other governments (e.g. City of North Port Economic Development Study, City of Sarasota Newtown Business Assistance Program) or non-profit agencies (e.g. SCOPE – Institute for the Ages, Rev 3 Triathlon). How does a triathlon attract companies offering above-average jobs you may ask? The monies allocated to these governmental and non-profit entities total $3.84 million or 70% of all remaining awards. This allocation of funding is interesting for two reasons 1) there is no system to measure jobs created by inter-governmental transfers and 2) there is already in place a competitive system to allocate funds to non-profit organizations run by the same office that runs this business incentive awards program. This system has been totally bypassed using these “business” awards to non-profits. The awards may violate the intent if not the verbiage of the County Resolution 2010-199 “to relocate and expand existing businesses”. I did not know the County wanted more non-profits who don’t pay taxes to the County!

The Sarasota County Commission took money owed to taxpayers and redistributed it to a stimulus program that: lacked strict/measurable criteria for awarding the money, created jobs that by enlarge offer below-average wages and has no accurate way to measure any return on the taxpayers investment to the County.

The Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 voted unanimously to repeal and replace Resoluton 2010-199 related to economic incentives provided for businesses that relocate to the county.

David E. Merrill, Sarasota business owner and former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, in a September 8, 2012 email to the County Commissioners stated, “So that you don’t look as foolish as Charlie Christ and the city and county commissioners in St. Lucie, I urge you to stop giving ‘corporate welfare’ checks to companies in the name of economic development, and, instead, focus on building a really great community through wise urban design and a focus on aesthetics and quality-of-life issues.  Let the bankers and investors fund private businesses, not our governments.”

Government does not create jobs, profits do. The more products produced the more profit generated. As demand rises, profits rise and more workers are needed to provide the product or service offered. Without profit there can be no job growth. Government must take profits from one company and redistribute it to another to meet government’s goals.

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Is Project Water Boy a Wash?

Digital Domain closing Florida production office

Digital Domain CEO Textor resigns: Is “heartbroken” by Port St. Lucie closing – Chicago Tribune

Watchdog Wire Interviews Blaise Ingoglia, Sheila Krumholz and Marjorie Dannenfelser

Watchdog Wire interviews three citizens who are doing extraordinary things. Each heads their respective organization and tells the truth about the issue that is top of mind with them and their organization. Each organization is non-profit and issue oriented.

LISTEN TO THE EXCLUSIVE WATCHDOG WIRE INTERVIEWS WITH INGOGLIA, KRUMHOLZ AND DANNENFELSER.
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Our guests appear on the Podcast at the time noted below:

11:00 to 11:20 Blaise Ingoglia, www.GovernmentGoneWild.org. Blase speaks to government spending that is out of control and discusses his latest video “One Nation, Under Water”.

11:20 – 11:40 Sheila Krumholz, www.OpenSecrets.org. Sheila describes the influence of money on elections and how both political parties have focused on fundraising as the way to get elected, perhaps to the detriment of the election process.

11:40 to Noon Marjorie Dannenfelser, www.SBA-List.org. Marjorie describes the differences between the Democrat and Republican political platforms on the issue of the sanctity of life. She explains the history of the Susan B. Anthony List and its impact on statewide and Congressional elections.

Each guest provides special insights into why this election is so very important to them and their organization.

UPDATE:

This is a video released by SBA-List.org addressing what Marjorie discussed during her interview with Watchdog Wire – Florida:

Citizens Insurance Under-fire for Rate Increase

Hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners are receiving notices from their insurance carriers stating, “You are paying more for your policy due to an emergency assessment from Florida Citizens.”

Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is the state-run insurer that provides insurance to individuals who are unable to secure coverage through other insurance carriers. Those covered are often in high-risk or coastal areas. The emergency assessment is “necessary to enable Florida Citizens to pay claims they received from past hurricane seasons.” The emergency assessment is for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF). The rate increase was passed in July, 2012. According to SunSentinel.com, “Personal residential policies would receive a 10.2 percent statewide average increase, including 10.5 percent for homeowners and 9.7 percent for renters.”

For one homeowner who contacted Watchdog Wire – Florida the emergency assessment on their $160,000 home was $200 per month or $2,400 a year.

Florida has many senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, have seen their investments dwindle and property values drop. A rate increase of this magnitude is problematic for many others who have homes in Florida but live in other states.

To make matters worse it appears that senior officials at Florida Citizens have been spending lavishly while passing on the costs to Florida homeowners. The Florida Citizens website states, “We will demonstrate steadfast adherence to our values and ethical code of conduct.” However, after combing through hundreds of expense reports from the last three years, a team of writers from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald found executives at the state-run insurance company were living the high life on the company’s dime.

According to investigative reporters Susan Taylor Martin, Jeff Harrington and Toluse Olorunnipa from the Times/Herald, “Chief financial officer Sharon Binnun spent at least $70,000 on travel from January 2011 to June 2012. During trips to Manhattan, Binnun stayed at hotels that cost up to $500 per night. In an April business trip to Bermuda, she upgraded to ‘gold’ status at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, bringing the cost of her room to $633 per night.”

“Former Citizens president Scott Wallace, general counsel Dan Sumner and board chairman Carlos Lacasa indulged in meals that often cost three times the limit put on rank-and-file staff. Wallace flew first-class to London for a meeting with insurers. Travel costs for Citizens — a government corporation run by a board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and other state leaders — are projected to more than double this year, from $1.5 million to $3.4 million,” note Martin, Harrington and Olorunnipa.

Florida Senator Mike Fasano is having none of these shenanigans. He has sent a letter to Governor Scott and the cabinet asking for an investigation of Florida Citizens. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “Citizens’ top executives and board members have been shameless in the way they lavishly spend tax dollars on travel and related expenses,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. “While crying poor mouth they stay in posh hotels, eat expensive meals, and engage in international travel. While so many of their customers are struggling to cut their personal budgets so they can pay their ever increasing premiums, Citizens’ higher-ups are living high on the hog on the public dime.”

This prompted a letter from Barry Gilway, the new President/CEO and Executive Director of Florida Citizens, stating, “As a government entity operating in an international industry, Citizens walks a fine line between fiscal stringency and the need to conduct business internationally on behalf of all Floridians. We also recognize that there is always is room for improvement and that we have a duty to achieve efficiencies in everything we do, whether in Tallahassee or London.”

The next Cabinet meeting chaired by Governor Scott is scheduled for September 18, 2012. Some have questioned the fiscal soundness of Florida Citizens should a major hurricane hit the state.

CFO Jeff Atwater Endorses Five for Florida Plan

Americans for Properity – Florida (AFP-FL) announces that Florida CFO Jeff Atwater endorsed Five for Florida plan.

“I am pleased to announce my endorsement of Five for Florida. The most important issue facing the State of Florida currently is creating and maintaining jobs, and the Five for Florida plan will create a better economic environment and spur job creation,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

He continued, “Candidates, regardless of party, should be supporting this plan because it speaks to government accountability, transparency and job creation. I am confident that if the policies outlined in Five for Florida are implemented by the Legislature, we will save the taxpayers money while encouraging economic development in our state.”

CFO Atwater joins 90 other Florida elected officials and candidates in endorsing Five for Florida and showing their commitment to a better Florida. Citizens all around the state have been endorsing the plan as well, supporting government transparency, financial accountability, the end of cronyism, increased school choice, and the elimination of barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.

A recent poll shows Florida voters across party lines support the reforms in Five for Florida. A recent poll of “likely” voters showed that there is broad-based support for the reforms in the Five for Florida plan amongst Floridians.

SEE SUMMARY OF THE POLL HERE

The poll shows a majority of Floridians, regardless of party affiliation or cultural background, think that Florida’s government can do better and that the reforms proposed in our Five for Florida plan have broad based public support and should be enacted in the next legislative session.

“Candidate’s who ignore these survey results are doing so at their own peril,” said Slade O’Brien, Execitive Director of Americans for Prosperity in Florida. “They have a choice, they can continue to serve the special interests and those that feed at the public trough or they can side with a public that clearly wants more economic opportunity, transparency, accountability and educational choice,” O’Brien noted.

State Attorney Asked To Investigate Potential Absentee Voting Fraud

MIAMI, Aug. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Paul Crespo, candidate for the Florida Republican House of Representatives, sent a formal letter to Miami Dade County State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle asking for a full and immediate investigation into irregularities in the recent absentee voting process in House District 105, specifically focused on electoral precincts in the city of Sweetwater.

A copy of this letter was also sent to Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz; Collier County State Attorney, Stephen Russell; Commissioner Gerald Bailey, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); John Boynton, Director of the Florida Division of Elections; Joseph Centorino, Executive Director of the Miami Dade Commission on Ethics; and the United States Attorney for Florida’s Southern District, Wifredo Ferrer.

 This letter provides detailed information pointing to disturbing patterns of irregular absentee voting in this race that could potentially include voter fraud.

 Based on the raw voting data evaluated by our election consultants and attorneys, we believe we have identified significant statistical and anecdotal evidence of serious irregularities in absentee voting that may have dramatically altered the election results in this race.

According to the Crespo campaign serious irregularities in Sweetwater mirror those recently exposed in the nearby city of Hialeah, which have resulted in various arrests.

 “The vote percentages for absentee ballots in Miami Dade County in House district 105 are totally out of line with the early and election day voting numbers, and even more out of line with the voting results in Collier and Broward counties,” said Crespo campaign consultant Emiliano Antunez, “We will be investigating these major discrepancies and reporting any evidence we uncover to all relevant state and federal governing law enforcement agencies.” 

Following the precedent set by the 1997 lawsuit for absentee voter fraud which successfully overturned that year’s City of Miami mayoral election, we are considering taking action against the Carlos Trujillo campaign shortly.

“I am very disturbed by the information I have been shown pointing to potentially serious irregularities in absentee voting performed by my opponent’s campaign,” said former Marine Corps Captain Paul Crespo. “I served 12 years in the US Marines defending our country and our political system. We cannot allow the integrity of our elections to be undermined.”

Link to Paul Crespo Campaign
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