Month of February 2011

 
 

Watchdog Report Vol.11 No.40 February 27,2011 Est. 05.05.00 – I go when you cannot

CONTENTS

Argus Report: U.S. Sen. Rubio goes low key at Lincoln Day dinner, Rep. Rivera still in the spotlight, though fighting back, but clouded the affair

Florida: Gov. Scott holding firm on no for $2.4 billion federal train money calling it “boondoggle,” still crossing swords on power of branches of Fl government

Miami-Dade County: And they’re off; Mayor Alvarez & Commissioner Seijas on Mar. 15 ballot; turnout & absentee ballots could be key factor in race

Miami-Dade Public Schools: Eight M-DC Public schools named National Magnet Schools of Merit

Public Health Trust: BCC Chair Martinez is speaking to Steward; organization did not know county commission local final say to any sale

City of Miami: Will April mid year budget adjustment be a $28 million shortfall, things not coming up roses

City of Hialeah: Four people charged in multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme

City of Miami Beach: Successful South Pointe CRA is the gift that keeps on giving; administration costs 2.8 %, one of the lowest of 12 CRAs, Mgr. executive director one reason

Coral Gables: Three fine mayoral candidates in Cason, Korge, Slesnick, but verbal dukes are up at Rotary debate, incumbent Slesnick defends past decade in office

South Miami: Proceeds of Mayor’s state of city entry charge go to charity, but not quite sure why Mayor Stoddard writes

Miami Lakes: local accountant sentenced 52 months in federal prison on $31 million bank fraud

Sunny Isles Beach: Seven members of Romanian organized crime group charged in international wire fraud scheme

>>> Other stories around Florida

Broward County: Local attorney Sindaco sentenced to 48 months in prison for stealing trust funds

Palm Beach County: Foot doctor gets 21 months for violating exclusion from Medicare program

Community Events: March 1st Kickoff for Women’s History Month – The Women’s History Coalition will launch Women’s History Month honoring Julia Tuttle — A Special Tribute Celebrating the Legendary Cole Porter – March 19

Editorials: The dye is cast for Mayor Alvarez & Commissioner Seijas, Mar.15 election goes down, let the debate begin to recall or not to recall them both

Letters: Reader corrects WDR on Columbia/HCA founder and later role of Gov. Rick Scott — Reader supports state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla who has matured — Reader on the WDR, not interested in politics before, now she is awakening

Sponsors - Publisher’s mission statement & Subscription information is at the bottom of this issue

>>> Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you. –Pericles (430 B.C.)

>>> If you wish to be deleted, just e-mail me with that message and you are free to e-mail this on to friends.

>> The Watchdog Report publisher would like to thank the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation www.knightfoundation.org for funding the University of Miami’s Knight Center of International Media http://knight.miami.edu within the University’s School of Communication www.miami.edu to financially support and maintain my webpage.

>>> If you think it is important to have someone watching your public institutions consider becoming a supporter or sponsor. For there is no trust fund and I do have to live. I almost did not write this week because of my financial condition. And while I as so many others are facing tough times. I hope you or your organization will consider helping in a small or larger way and help keep another voice on line and in the media. A convenient form is at the bottom of this week’s Watchdog Report with all the instructions on how to support this newsletter and news service that will start its

12th Anniversary on May 5.

>>> I was on WPBT Channel 2 Issues hosted by Helen Ferre over the weekend and the discussion was on how new Gov. Rick Scott is doing and the Florida legislature. > to see the show go to >>> This Week on Issues – 2/25 & 2/27 >>ISSUE ONE: Recall Election Ruling: On Friday, a judge ruled against Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s effort to stop the recall special election, saying the petition pieces had been handled and processed in accordance to the law.  Norman Braman, the person behind the Mayor’s recall effort, joins us on the program to discuss this and the start of early voting next week. Guest: Norman Braman, Braman Management Association

>>> ISSUE TWO: Scott and the Legislature: The Florida Legislature will convene in March with a Republican majority in the state house, senate, and cabinet.  But Republican Governor Rick Scott has already been facing opposition from members of his own party.  How will Scott’s agenda play out in Tallahassee?
Guests: Sean Foreman, Ph.D., Barry University; Daniel Ricker, Watchdog Report
Charles Zelden, Ph.D., Nova Southeastern University

ARGUS REPORT – Heard, Seen on the Street

>>> U.S. Sen. Rubio goes low key at Lincoln Day dinner, Rep. Rivera still in the spotlight, though fighting back, but clouded the affair

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL got a decent profile in www.miamiherald.com since he took office in the world’s most exclusive club as the state’s junior senator in early January. He has been working in a low-key manner learning the unique structure of the legislative body and his temporary office is in the basement. He has been absent from media interviews unlike other Republicans like also newly elected Senator Ron Paul who is popping up all over the airwaves. The man with a boyish face and 39 is an attorney and former speaker of the Florida House and to say he was a long shot when he first decided to run is an understatement given that Gov. Charlie Crist was considered the 800 lb gorilla in the race, that Crist ended up losing as an independent, after Rubio’s success with Republican voters drove him out of the GOP.

Rubio attended the Miami-Dade Republican Party’s 63rd Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday night and www.miamiherald.com says he was low key at the affair and part of that manner is the cloud over his long time friend that he helped politically, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami. Rivera is under a number of state investigations as has been extensively reported but the newly minted freshman in an interview last week on the west coast stuck to the message that he is innocent and working hard to represent the residents of Congressional District 25. One person that heard the interview said Rivera “stayed on message” noting he filed the congressional financial disclosure forms early, though these are not yet public, in an abundance of caution to dispel the critics concerns. However, until these ongoing investigations end the congressional representative is on the defensive and people are holding their breath what his ultimate fate will be when the matter is concluded but it put Rubio in an uncomfortable spot. Since he was the featured speaker that propelled many of the local newly elected Republicans into the House and Senate in Florida, given the local energy and high party turnout in the race of a young Cuban American defeating the establishment candidates for the Senate seat.

What about his early years?

Rubio began his political career after first being elected to the West Miami Commission in the 1990s, a time when its mayor was Rebeca Sosa, now a county commissioner. She and Rubio for years had their district offices in the same building, he was elected to the House in 2000, and he was described by Democrat Dan Gelber who won his own election to the House the same year as “the pick of the [legislative] litter,” in reference to the other new Republican lawmakers elected at the time. Rubio worked hard in the early years in Tallahassee and was politically adept to be picked as the head of the House from 2006 to 2008 and Rivera got the plum job of chair of the rules committee where any legislation is given life or death. Rubio also benefited from being a friend of then Gov. Jeb Bush who during the investiture ceremony gave the newly minted speaker a sword and this act seemed to seal the deal between the two and Bush in Rubio’s nascent Senate race was always behind the scenes helping the young candidate, that has Rubio now being discussed as a potential vice president candidate or even the White House.  However, Rubio was also under scrutiny for how he used a Republican Party charge card during the race but he was like Teflon and none of the controversial charges stuck with voters.

>>>PAST WDRs: U.S. Rep. Rivera & U.S. Sen. Rubio headline Lincoln Day dinner, but will controversy follow new congressman?

U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami (Net worth $301,000) and the local Republican Party is rolling the dice when it comes to the party’s 63rd Lincoln Day Dinner being held Feb. 26 at the Miami Airport Hilton and the event features newly minted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL (Net worth $8,351) along with another special guest states the invitation that was mailed out. Rivera has been under a cloud with multiple investigations looking at some of his past deals as a political consultant, and the role of his mother, godmother and political strategist Esther Nuhfer in receiving money to promote the expansion of gaming at some of the local dog tracks or for his numerous political campaigns. He has been the subject of investigative stories in the www.miamiherald.com and www.cbsmiami.com along with other stations over the past few months. He says he is innocent of the charges but even long time friends are keeping their distance until the issues are resolved or he steps forward and clears the air, though he has lawyered up. Rivera stepped up to the congressional plate after U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami decided to run in his older brother’s congressional district after Lincoln did not run again last year leaving the congressional District 25 seat open. Rivera originally had his sights on the Florida senate but changed course and beat back Democratic Party challenger Joe Garcia in a rough and tumble viscous race last November, but all through these months. There were questions being raised about his sources of income, and the question is will anymore negative stories come out running up to the event being run by local Republican Party Chair state Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami (Net worth $330,000) who followed Rivera as the head of the Miami-Dade GOP.

Anything new come up?

I wrote the above Saturday and today www.miamiherald.com investigative reporters Scott Hiaasen, Patricia Mazzei and Marc Caputo ran out another scathing story on Rivera and his relationship with Esther Nuhfer a political consultant to his campaigns who received some $250,000 in that activity states the general circulation newspaper. The story details his and her subsequent rise in influence as he went up the political food chain, first being named chair of the rules committee by his friend Rubio, speaker of the house at the time. To his then chairing the Florida House Budget Committee his last two years in state office. The paper reports that Nuhfer’s consulting firm Communication Solutions over the past five-years has gotten $817,000 from different Rivera political campaigns, including spending way more than his potential rivals when he ran for Republican State Committeeman for Miami-Dade County in 2008, a fairly obscure party post except allowed someone to be a delegate when it came to presidential conventions held by Republicans. At the time, he beat back challengers state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami (Net worth $31,643) and state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-South Miami (Net worth $661,000) for the post, and I got some of that impressive campaign material at the time. It was top-notch and reflected his spending around $250,000 for the campaign says the paper.


Fresen

Rivera

Rubio

>>> PASTWDR: What about U.S. Rep. Wilson?

U.S. Rep. Fredericka Wilson, D-Miami (Net worth $405,000) has yet to contact the Watchdog Report or amend her financial disclosure forms for 2008 and 2009 where she lists multiple properties including a duplex at the old inflated value found in 2006 and lists no rent from any of the homes. >>> Past WDR: At a second swearing in on Monday with the rest of the South Florida Congressional delegation, the Watchdog Report approached Wilson after the event while she was getting photos taken with supporters and friends. However, I did not want to rain on her parade so I gave her a miss, but she has a simple solution, with little downside. If she just updates her financial disclosure forms to reflect the past two years economic downturn in her assets and amends these required financial disclosure reports on file with the state Ethics Commission, for I will continue to dog this issue until there is a resolution to this financial discrepancy.


Wilson

>>> MIA hits all time passenger high in Jan., airport top capacity is 80 million; Dir. Abreu hopes 48 million will come to cover $400 million debt starting in 2013

Jose Abreu, the director of Miami International Airport (MIA) spoke at a Downtown Bay Forum Luncheon on Wednesday and while passenger traffic is at an all time high, it must be, with a $400 million debt payment per year looming in 2013 for the $6.3 billion expansion begun in the early 1990s. He said the new South Terminal was opened in 2007, and the twice as large North Terminal is operating but still has a small section where work still has to be done. He said that expanding an operating airport is like “retiling a bathroom while taking a shower” and LAX and Chicago are also attempting this same expansion in the future but are behind what MIA has achieved. The former FDOT secretary said the construction burns through $4 million a month, American Airlines accounts for 70 percent of the carrier traffic and 35.7 million passengers went through MIA in 2010, he said. Abreu said January was a record year in traffic and while “the airport’s niche is Latin America traffic.” They are seeing a up tick when it comes to Asia and in 2009 cargo flights to the region was nine a week and that has now jumped to “19 cargo flights to Asia,” he said.

The new facility he said is built for a much higher level of passenger and cargo business saying MIA maximum’s capacity in the years ahead is 80 million passengers but the goal is 48 million passengers. MIA’s budget is $750 million and it gets around $100 million in federal grants for a host of activities including dealing with the heightened security systems required by federal authorities. He said there is $600 million in retail, and the overall model for MIA was Hong Kong’s international airport “where you can buy a car there,” he said. The affable Cuban American engineer said they work closely with federal officials and workers are trained in “behavior pattern recognition” and the amount of people busted with counterfeit money was around 300 people he said. He believes Miami is ahead of other big international airports and there is an estimated $90 billion needed to upgrade capital improvements of these facilities around the nation. He closed by saying the sprawling facility with an over 13 mile baggage belt system has an A stable rating when it comes to its credit rating.

What about the past?

Back in 1999 and 2000, then MIA director Gary Delappa used to tell Miami-Dade Commissioners after he brought forward the first $1.2 billion cost overrun for the expansion started earlier in the decade. At the time Delappa, a former county budget analyst before this assignment kept telling commissioners to relax about the escalating costs since it wasn’t “county money.” He kept repeating that mantra “It’s not county money” and at the time, I was going bananas about his reference since it was causing the rapid rise on landing fees, now edging toward almost $20 per passenger coming to the airport. The director was finally called on this matter when then Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez after hearing the remarks sternly said. “Well Gary its someone’s money and you had better find out whose it is,” said Martinez.

>>> White House press release: Statement by the President on the Anniversary of the Death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

One year ago today, the selfless and tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo galvanized the world’s attention to the ongoing mistreatment of those unjustly held by Cuban authorities for bravely standing up for the rights of the Cuban people. The attention brought to the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners by Zapata’s courageous act and by the peaceful protests of Las Damas de Blanco has helped free a number of his fellow activists through the good offices of the Catholic Church in Cuba.  Today, I join the Cuban people in marking this anniversary by again calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba. Sadly, the harassment and detention by Cuban authorities of Zapata’s mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo and others across Cuba, as they sought to commemorate her son’s death, underscores how much of his dream remains unfulfilled.

Since taking office, I have reached out to the Cuban people to support their desire to freely determine their future and enjoy liberty and justice.  Today and every day, the Cuban people must know that their suffering does not go unnoticed and that the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to defend the inalienable right of the Cuban people to enjoy the freedoms that define the Americas and that are universal to all human beings.

>>> Press release: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today invited her constituents from her South Florida Congressional district to submit questions that they would like her to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Committee hearing THIS TUESDAY, March 1.  Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“The House of Representatives is truly the People’s House, and I believe that it is extremely important for Members to always be reaching out to their constituents for their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and input. “When I was chosen to be Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I made a promise to my constituents and my colleagues that we would open up the Committee process in new ways to allow for the American people to be involved and have a say in the Committee’s proceedings. In order to provide an opportunity for the American people to make their voices heard, I am excited that our Committee has introduced a first-of-its-kind feature on our website which will allow people to submit the questions that THEY would like to see our witnesses answer.

“Secretary Clinton will testify before the Foreign Affairs Committee this Tuesday, March 1, and I am very pleased to extend an invitation for South Floridians to tell me what they would like to ask the Secretary.  During hearings, all Committee Members have five minutes for a question and answer session with the witnesses.  As Chairman, I am also able to make an opening statement during which I can raise further questions..  I look forward to using part of my time at the hearing to ask Secretary Clinton a question submitted by an individual from South Florida. “I would like to urge all of my constituents to visit the Committee’s website and submit their questions so that they can make their voices heard by telling the Committee about the questions and concerns that they would like to raise with Secretary Clinton.” NOTE: To submit a question, please visit the Foreign Affairs Committee website at www.foreignaffairs.house.gov

>>> All photos in the Watchdog Report are taken from public government sites, and the Report goes on line at www.watchdogreport.net on Monday sometime during the day usually. >>> If you believe it is important to have someone watching your public institutions consider supporting the Watchdog Report for I am a low cost news service yet I do have to live, thank you! Further, I have been honored over the years by being named a WFOR-4 Hometown Hero in 2000, being profiled in a major way by The Miami New Times, The Miami Herald, and the Orlando Sentinel which ran as a nationwide story on me in the Tribune papers on Jan. 2003 and UNC Chapel Hill naming me one of the top columnists in Florida in a  multi-state study of the media back in 2004. I also thank Joseph Cooper for the opportunity to be on the WLRN/NPR showTopical Currents on www.wlrn.org since 2000, including yearly election coverage since then, and also numerous times over the past decade.

FLORIDA

>>> Gov. Scott holding firm on no for $2.4 billion train money, still crossing swords on power of three branches of Fl government

Gov. Rick Scott is getting flack for continuing to resist accepting $2.4 billion in high-speed rail from the federal government and other states, Ca. and NY are eagerly awaiting taking the money if it is freed up. The newly minted Republican governor elected in a close race is also in state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales sights for the selling of the state planes and how the funds were left over were deposited believing the governor is disregarding the legislature and its role in setting state policy.

Scott is a former healthcare executive who spent over $72 million for the race where he dispatched Republican candidate Bill McCollum and then Alex Sink a Democrat in the November race. He has been slow in filling some top state spots with appointments and a number of these people have already left the fledgling administration after some problems with their past. This issue is important because the governor in the course of their four-year term will appoint some 4,000 people to a wide variety of state and county boards after former Gov. Jeb Bush got state voter approval to consolidate the executive branch and reduce the Florida Cabinet.

Anything unusual on his daily schedule?

On Saturday after meeting earlier in the week with other state governors at the nation’s capital.  Scott went to a reception at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington D.C. and he is expanding his contacts in the business and diplomatic world.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

>>> And they’re off; Mayor Alvarez & Commissioner Seijas on Mar. 15 ballot; turnout & absentee ballots could be key factor in race

And they’re off, County Mayor and commissioner Natacha Seijas will be on a March 15 ballot-asking voters if the two leaders should be recalled. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Barbara Areces gave her blessing to the election finding the challenges were not valid, the process getting the required signatures was valid, the election should proceed with early voting starting Feb. 28, and absentee ballots are going out. Alvarez and Seijas had been trying to challenge the recall process spearheaded by auto magnate Norman Braman, a billionaire, in the courts but judges did not buy their attorneys arguments. Further, Seijas last week dropped her challenge to the election and sent out a county press release on the subject. The mayor, a former county police director and elected mayor in 2004 and given strong mayor powers by voters in 2007 continued in his legal efforts but now the campaign is own. Braman in an interview with Helen Ferre on WPBT Issues over the weekend (See the link at the opening of the WDR) will begin airing ads on television, radio and print advertising, he said on the show. He and his supporters have already sent mailers to absentee voters and there is a new email campaign called ‘Vote Yes to Recall Mayor Alvarez,’ states www.miamiherald.com .

Alvarez is said to be meeting with his advisors wrote the daily paper that included some senior county employees and department heads including James Loftus, Director of Miami-Dade Police Department, county Fire Chief Herminio Lorenzo, Harpal Kapoor, the head of county transit and the mayor’s communication Chief Victoria Mallette. He and Seijas have also brought in former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami to handle the gathering of absentee voter’s state’s www.miaminewtimes.com last week done by veteran reporter Francisco Alvarez and the former senator knows how to run a campaign. The former politician ran as a Republican state committeemen in 2008 running against state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-South Miami and then state Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami and part of the reason say a few people was to test the name recognition for his older brother Miguel. If he ran in a state senate race to replace Alex in the Florida senate, which Miguel did win in November. Alex being involved highlights the fluidity of politics and alliances since Miguel lost his two bids to be the county mayor after losing to Mayor Alex Penelas in 2000 and Alvarez in 2004.

The Watchdog Report further brings this up because Alex is no novice at getting the vote out for candidates but he also has had controversy and once was fined over $300,000 for elections violations over the decade in elected office that was later reduced to under $20,000. But even then, it took him years to pay off the fine, and he used to list on the required financial disclosure forms that he still owed his defense attorneys their legal fees despite their success in court in getting the fines reduced.

>>> PAST WDR: What about Alvarez’s State of the County speech Wednesday?

Mayor Alvarez, with the potential recall cloud over his head had the awkward opportunity to make one last pitch in mass to county residents that he should not be recalled at the annual speech, and he gave it to a friendly audience in the county commission chambers that was broadcast live on the county’s cable station www.miamidade.gov and he is standing by his past decisions when it comes to the new Florida Marlins baseball stadium and more recently supporting along with some commissioners the setting of the roll back tax rate for property taxes.


Alvarez

Seijas

What about the mayor using county resources to fight back

Alvarez must no longer use county people and assets for his anti recall effort and a press release from his office a few weeks ago already raised the question on the commingling of public dollars with a political issue and a campaign, which is verboten under state law and why candidates cannot generally campaign in public buildings.

>>> How does next year’s county budget look?

County Manager George Burgess in a conversation with the Watchdog Report said he is being told the shortfall for next year’s budget will be roughly $250 million less than the current year and that will be added to the almost $1 billion in cuts by the county over the past four years since the economy tanked.

>>> Onslaught of 37,000 animals to county shelter overwhelms staff, because of this, 56 percent of the animals are euthanized

The Miami-Dade County departments are coming to the office of Strategic Budget and Management to discuss the organizations upcoming 2011-2012 budget, and any frills in their request for funding were verboten given the anticipated $250 million shortfall in revenue streams funding the county as it is. Miami-Dade over the past four years has pared about $1 billion in administrative and service cuts and savings as the national economy tanked and sent south Florida property values into a tailspin. The Watchdog Report attended the Resource Allocation Meeting (RAM) for the county’s Animal Services department that has recently caught press and criticism for how animals at the county’s shelter are euthanized.

The department budget is roughly $9.9 million for the current year, but that amount is not keeping up with the need that is exploding in animals coming to the shelter from 28,000 two-years ago to 37,000 animals being taken in now. And while a active adoption program is being aggressively pursued with 865 of them adopted last month, that is just a drop in the bucket and unfortunately given the size of the population “56 percent of the animals will be euthanized,” said department Director Sara Pizano, DVM and a Cornell University grad veterinarian who came from Broward County where she was widely praised.

What abut the new animal shelter?

The county has $7 million in the 2004 $2.9 billion GOB allocated for a new animal shelter since the current one is very old and needs to be replaced. Further, its sale is expected to generate $3 million and Medley where the site is located is interested in acquiring the old site said Pizano. A suitable building has been identified, but needs substantial renovations and the build out and opening is expected to take at least “12 to 18 months to build out the plan.”

What about  large stray animals like horses and cattle?

Pizano discussed the problem the SPCA is having keeping a facility open for large animals found roaming around Dade that the county uses as well since it is in foreclosure with lenders. She said it was a state requirement to have a place for the animals to reside, but warns if the SPCA, which gets $100,000 of its $300,000 budget from the county goes down. “I am very nervous since there is no plan B,” she told county budget staff. She noted there are currently “60 stray horses” and cattle at the facility and much of this large animal population comes from the South Dade area she said and is trying to get a item through the BCC to help the SPCA buy a suitable property they have identified and wants the county to help in some way to buy the property.

What about advertising the need for animal adoptions?

Pizano noted at the present time there is no out reach or advertising budget to get the word out about adopting animals (though she admitted many people get discouraged because of the long wait “is in hours” to adopt and “people get upset,” and that factors into the adoption rate.  Though overall “our goal in life is to reduce the intake,” of the animals, the veterinarian said to county staff. For more information go to http://www.miamidade.gov/animals//


Dr. Pizano

>>> Press release: The February release of our Monthly Economic Indicators report is available for downloading. This release provides data on short-term economic indicators available through December 2010. International trade and tourism activity continue to provide positive momentum for Miami-Dade’s economy. Taxable sales near the end of 2010 also began to exhibit signs of expansion as well with 4th Quarter sales up 6.3% over 4th Quarter 2009. Sales of existing homes continue to rise, but median transaction prices continue to decline. Home prices indexes based on repeat-sales of existing homes also show a decline in prices from December to December, but of a much smaller magnitude than indicated by median transaction prices. Local unemployment rates remain high, and total (private and public sector) payroll employment growth in recent months continues to be very modest. Bureau of Labor Statistics measures of employed residents, which include self-employed workers, show only a little more strength than the payroll employment numbers.

MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

>>> Eight M-DC Public schools named National Magnet Schools of Merit

Press release: Eight Miami-Dade public schools are among the 133 schools nationwide that have been named winners of the prestigious Magnet Schools of America (MSA) Merit Awards.  MSA established the Merit Awards to recognize magnet schools that show a commitment to high academic standards, curriculum innovation, successful desegregation/diversity efforts, specialized teaching staffs and parent and community involvement. The MSA Merit Awards are granted in two categories: Schools of Excellence and Schools of Distinction. Listed below are the winning Miami-Dade schools for each category.

>> Schools of Excellence: Coral Reef Senior High, Design & Architecture Senior High, George Washington Carver Middle, North Dade Center for Modern Languages

>> Schools of Distinction: Ada Merritt K-8 Center, Air Base Elementary, Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center, John F. Kennedy Middle

All the winning schools will be recognized at a luncheon at MSA’s 29th National Conference on May 15-18 in Indianapolis. MSA was founded in the 1980s in response to educational inequity. The organization offers support and leadership to innovative educational magnet school programs. The magnet programs promote diversity, equity and academic excellence. For more information, contact Ms. Marie Mennes, Schools of Choice, 305-995-1922.  For information about Magnet Schools of America, please visit www.magnet.edu/.

PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST

>>> BCC Chair Martinez is speaking to Steward; organization did not know county commission local final say to any sale

Miami-Dade loves a savoir coming to our rescue, and in the case of Jackson Memorial Hospital, a possible suitor is making a $1.1 billion non-binding offer from a hospital system in New England to take over the ailing Jackson Memorial Hospital system. While the idea is intriguing, much has to be fleshed out and the immediate problem with the hospital is its cash runs out in July.  The health trust goes through roughly $4.5 million in cash daily and why 15 to 17 days of cash on hand is such an important number given the around $85 million monthly payroll, that is being hammered further by a drop in paying patients, with uncompensated care patients going through the roof. A joint meeting between the trust and the Miami-Dade Commission Feb. 17 laid the groundwork for the seriousness of the issues facing the healthcare system and its need for around $1 billion in infrastructure, of which $300 million would just bring up the sprawling campus up to code, said the Chair of the PHT Faculties Committee Martin Zilber at the time.

However, earlier this week the news of Steward Health Care System, www.miamiherald.com in articles by veteran reporter John Dorschner were revealed to the general public, and since then. I have been peppered with emails and questions about what I thought of the offer, that has a tight 90 day time line attached to the discussions, with the organization looking at the books for 60 days exclusively, that would then be followed by a firm offer, and others would have 30-days to look at the books after to see if they wanted to bid on the public hospital. Further, any deal would have to be approved by the county commission, would probable make a countywide revote on the half-cent sales tax dedicated to Jackson since 1991 necessary (bringing in about $180 million). And at the state capital, legislation is being proposed for the upcoming legislative session that when it comes to the selling off of any of the state’s public hospitals, that the deal will have to be signed off by the Florida State Attorney General, and have been competitively bid and sold at a fair market price.

What about the Steward principles?

Steward is headed up by Ralph de la Torre M.D., a heart surgeon and believes he change the way healthcare is being done by offering a low cost brand of medicine like ‘Southwest Airlines’ and the mission for the Cuban American surgeon was ‘My goal is to fix healthcare,’ he told The Boston Globe last fall and is being quoted in The Herald. Torre comes from Miami and will definitely have a handle on the dynamics of Miami in many ways. However, Torre has another Miami connection with Ruben King Shaw, Jr., a man that once worked at JMH in the late 1980s to 1993 as the director of the organization’s health plan. He would then rocket up the political food chain becoming the head of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) under then Gov. Jeb Bush and later was part of the George W. Bush administration where the paper says he was a senior administrator for Medicare. He is an investor in Steward and on the organization’s for profit board. He is considered a significant figure in this deal that is being funded by Cerberus Capital Management that financed Steward’s $895 million earlier deal to acquire six Catholic Hospitals into for profit hospitals and they have added two more hospitals to the system. The health system has 1,565 licensed beds, but is smaller than the 2,100 at the Jackson system.

What about the 500,000 to 600,000 uninsured Miami-Dade residents?

The real issue is what happens to the hundreds of thousands of Miami-Dade residents that do not have health insurance and the one thing I know for sure is the demographics are not the same for Stewart in New England. Here some say we will have to provide a form of social triage medical care and could involve keeping patients only stabilized, as is the law when they present at emergency rooms versus the current attitude at Jackson of wanting to not only stabilize patients, but also try to heal them with a single level of care. Further, while Steward executives did turn around a $20 million loss into a $30 million surplus, the health trust’s losses dwarf those numbers with Jackson losing $244 million in 2009 and over $100 million in 2010.

What communiqué came in from Miami-Dade BCC Chair Martinez on the matter?

On Friday the Watchdog Report emailed Miami-Dade Commission Chair Joe Martinez about the deal and an ordinance he is sponsoring that all agenda items the PHT board is to discuss must first come to the commission before the meeting.  He wrote the talks with Steward must be done with the county, not the PHT volunteer board as has occurred with PHT Chair John Copeland, III taking the lead when he first contacted King-Shaw looking for a way to finance capital projects. Since then, the issue has grown stronger and county commissioners are jumping head first into the debate, and are in fact taking over the discussions. Martinez in an email back Saturday wrote, “The ordinance yes [that PHT agendas go to the BCC first before any vote by the board]. I may hold back on the resolution as [Ralph] De la Torre called me and asked to meet and it may not be necessary. I will meet with him next week. He advised that he had been forwarded my memo to the PHT and had not realized that they did not have the authority to enter into such deals. Since then, I have been contacted by various organizations that want to buy the debt, buy the hospital. Etc. Nothing even remotely concrete, just talk,” wrote Martinez in his second term as BCC chair over the past decade and a future county mayoral candidate.


BCC Chair Martinez

>>> Here is the ordinance on the Mar. 1 BCC agenda — 4C 110397  Ordinance, Joe Martinez, Prime Sponsor — ORDINANCE AMENDING CHAPTER 25A OF THE CODE OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA; PROVIDING FOR FURNISHING OF AGENDAS PRIOR TO VOTE AT REGULAR MEETINGS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST; PROVIDING SEVERABILITY, INCLUSION IN THE CODE, AND AN EFFECTIVE DATE PDF   Tentatively scheduled for a public hearing before the Public Safety & Healthcare Admin Committee Hearing Date: 4/12/2011

>>> Press release: Mayor Alvarez’s statement on Steward Health Care System proposal

It is encouraging to see that independent healthcare providers understand the value of Jackson – both the medicine its physicians practice and the role it plays in our community.  The most important priority must be the preservation of Jackson’s public mission to serve the wide range of people who live in and visit Miami-Dade County.  We only learned of the offer Tuesday, but any serious proposal that keeps that commitment sacred should be reviewed by the hospital’s administration, the Public Health Trust, the Board of County Commissioners, and ultimately, the people of Miami-Dade.

>>> State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera R-Miami, Chairman, Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation, scheduled a special meeting of the Miami-Dade Delegation on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 2:30 p.m. in the Board of County Commission Chambers, located at the Stephen P. Clark Center, Second Floor, 111 N. W. First Street, Miami, Florida 33128.  The purpose of the special meeting is to discuss Jackson Health System.

CITY OF MIAMI

>>> Will April mid year budget reduction be $28 million shortfall, things not coming up roses

While the commission on Thursday deferred on modifying a state retirement program called DROP that might have saved the city $6 million in the coming year, another issue is looming in the background. The mid year budget adjustment to ensure the city will end out the year with a balanced budget as required by state law is coming up in April. The number being tossed around is possible $28 million or so, and the city with depleted revenue reserves faces some challenges in closing this gap. The Watchdog Report for instance carped last year that an $8 million revenue stream after red light cameras were installed at key interchanges budgeted would not pan out and I expect that to continue to be true. The city’s budget brought forth by former Miami Manager Carlos Migoya last September appears to be to optimistic in its revenue projections for the year as the months play out. The Miami Parking Authority for example had suggested one revenue funding number with the city, but was asked to pump it up, and at a previous commission meeting, the authority’s administrators got an ear full from the commissioners. However, the MPA is not the issue but how across the board Miami revenues are not growing back as anticipated, that also has the county with a much bigger property tax base facing another $250 million in cuts in next years budget as well.

What about the MESA special meeting Thursday?

The Miami Exhibition and Sports Authority had a special meeting Thursday afternoon and awarded Constance Margulies a grant to help put on the Wynwood Art Fair, being held on Oct. 21 to 23. And all the proceeds are going to Lotus House Shelter http://www.lotushouseshelter.org/ , that has expanded to the point of receiving up to 100 women and children a day now, said Margulies to authority members. She said the areas growth as a arts center has reached the point it would sustain such an event that “still is a costly event to produce” and the city’s $25,000 contribution makes it a lead partner and able for the organization to more easily draw other contributions. The area’s Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is also in support of the grant that originally started at $5,000, then $10,000 after Mayor Tomas Regalado doubled the number and Sarnoff bumped it to $25,000 said authority board member Nathan Kurland at the meeting.

The Wynwood area is 95 percent in Sarnoff’s commission district and five percent in Commissioner Richard Dunn, II District 5 and Regalado noted, “She and her husband [Martin, a successful developer, philanthropist and major art collector] are putting their money where their mouth is.” Further, Commission Chair Wilfredo Gort noted in the old days, Wynwood was totally different than now. “Given Wynwood today, anything we can do to help the city” will be well worth it. He noted the benefits such events have to the city saying, “Look at the boat show” and its related business infusion to the city in just the past few weeks.

>>> Commission elections are moving up to Nov. 1, saves city money and coincides with other municipal elections in the county

The upcoming general election for commission candidates will be held Nov. 1 not Nov. 8 as originally planned to reduce the cost of the activity and to bring it in line with Miami Beach and other municipal election days said county Elections Director Lester Solis to commissioners Thursday at their commission meeting. Moving up the date saves the city between $45,000 to around $75,000 and makes it much easier for the election department to hold multiple elections around the county, yet reduce the costs. The commission will vote in March on the legislation making the date change an ordinance for this upcoming election.

>>> Readers should stay tuned and catch the meeting on the city’s cable station channel 77. >>> Stream Channel 77, for all City of Miami meetings, (Commission, PAB,CIP, Code, etc. hearings)    http://videos.miamigov.com/

CITY OF HIALEAH

>>> Four people charged in multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, Henry Gutierrez, Postal Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Jason Moran, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging Angel Puentes, a/k/a Salvatore D’ Angelo a/k/a D’Angelo Salvatore, 37, of West Palm Beach, Dania L. Aleman, 45, of Hialeah, Angela M. Frye, 47, of Miami, and David R. Burgos, 40, of Hialeah, with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; 14 counts of substantive wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343; and 8 counts of substantive bank fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1344.  Through this scheme, the defendants allegedly defrauded three financial institutions of approximately $10.5 million in fraudulent mortgage loans.  If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment for the conspiracy and each of the bank fraud counts and 20 years’ imprisonment for each of the wire fraud counts…According to the indictment, Puentes and Aleman would cause the creation of two different HUD-1 Statements, one given to the lender and the other to the seller.  In one of the forms, they  would falsely inflate the sales prices and amount of the loans that could be obtained from the lenders.  Puentes, Aleman and their co-conspirators also failed to record the necessary title and mortgage documents with the county authorities.

This allowed Puentes, Aleman and their co-conspirators to induce other lenders into issuing double first mortgages on particular properties.  In this way, the conspirators illegally syphoned off additional profits from the mortgage proceeds for personal use. Once the property was purchased, Puentes, Aleman, Frye and their co-conspirators would arrange to make the payments until they could resell, or flip, the property at an inflated purchase price.  With the profits made from flipping the properties to other straw purchasers, the defendants continued to buy properties and pay outstanding mortgage payments for properties bought during the scheme. Eventually, the defendants stopped making the loan payments and the properties fell into foreclosure.  The foreclosures resulted in significant losses to WMC Mortgage, Countrywide Home Loans, JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. and other lenders. >>> An indictment is only an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.

CITY OF MIAMI BEACH

>>> South Pointe CRA is the gift that keeps on giving, administration costs 2.8 %, one of the lowest of 12 CRAs, no executive director one reason

Jorge Gonzalez, the Miami Beach manager along with Mayor Mattie Herrera Bower attended a county commission committee workshop Tuesday chaired by Commissioner Lynda Bell. The former Homestead mayor wanted to hear from representatives along with other committee members what was going on with the county’s 12 Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA), some of which have performed to plan and others failed to accomplish much of what was originally intended. The Miami Beach CRA for South Pointe was a major success for the city, but in the Beach’s case. The local CRA does not have extensive staff and offices and Gonzalez said he is the director and one staff member works on the organization he told county commissioners and the administrative lean staff translates to a 2.8 percent administrative fee for the agency. When questioned by Bell about the debt being carried. Gonzalez noted the initial debt of $91.2 million the CRA is carrying is being paid down, was the seed money that got the redevelopment started and currently the organization is doing very well, and some of the future money will go to the Miami Beach Convention Center for its “expansion and enhancement of the convention center,” Gonzalez told county commissioners. He also noted there were still some areas of South Beach that qualified as having slum and blight, even though much of it is doing well. He said it was this area that had the four recent fires of historic buildings and why the CRA needs to continue to stay in place. Bell holding her first workshop since being elected in Nov. to the District 8 seat closed the conversation with Gonzalez saying it was a “very good presentation,” as he left the podium.

>>> Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club – PRESS RELEASE: Meeting Date:       Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 – Meeting Time: 8:30 AM -Meeting Place: David’s Café, 1654 Meridian Ave., South Beach

Dave Crystal, a candidate for the Mayor’s seat in the November 2011 Miami Beach elections, will be the guest speaker at the March 1st meeting of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club. Mr. Crystal is one of two young candidates who have emerged to challenge Miami Beach’s incumbent Mayor and former City Commissioner, Matti Bower.  Mr. Crystal is a cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania , where he received honors in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.  A resident of Miami Beach for the last seven years, Mr. Crystal has served as Secretary of his condo association, President of the Bay Drive Association, and a Director of the city’s Leadership Academy Alumni Association, and is a volunteer tutor for Miami Beach Senior High. There is no charge and everyone is welcome to attend. David Kelsey, Moderator for the Breakfast Club>.For more information, contact David Kelsey.  To be placed on the Breakfast Club’s mailing list, contact Harry Cherry.  Both can be reached at www.TuesdayMorningBreakfastClub@Yahoo.com

CITY OF CORAL GABLES

>>> Three fine mayoral candidates in Cason, Korge, Slesnick; but verbal dukes are up at Rotary debate, incumbent Slesnick defends past decade in office

Mayoral Candidates Jim Cason, Tom Korge and incumbent Mayor Donald Slesnick spoke their mind at a Rotary Club luncheon on Thursday and with challengers after a decade in office, Slesnick tried to correct criticism at him defending the many good things done during his tenure, but Cason and Korge kept hammering the mayor. Cason a former diplomat and Ambassador to Paraguay and Korge a tax attorney kept after Slesnick, a labor attorney and Vietnam veteran who retired as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army. Korge citing the scandals in the city’s building and zoning department called it “dysfunctional” and thought, “things were out of control” in the City Beautiful. Cason noted it took a local resident “56 permits to change a staircase” saying “something’s just don’t make sense.” Slesnick in response said the building and code department “is the most disliked by residents in the county or cities.” However, he noticed in his capacity as mayor he has to hear about bringing homes up to city code which is important to the city’s overall image, saying he “hears from neighbors upset with a neighbors garbage,” all the time trying to blunt the attack. Slesnick held out before deciding a final run and had given the impression that he would not seek one last term. But he has said local voters urged him to go for it one more time where any candidate has to only win by one vote, and while Korge leads the fundraising race with over $100,000 in his campaign war chest. Slesnick, who entered the race late, has name recognition and has about half the cash with Cason trailing third when it comes to campaign fundraising.

Slesnick who faced criticism during the debate about the back rent for the Biltmore Hotel after it stopped payments in April 2009 and now is about $5 million behind told the Watchdog Report after the debate that the anticipated PriceWaterhouseCoopers study of the Biltmore, long awaited and not made public yet. He said during the coming weeks up to the election on April 12 during the commission meeting Patrick Salerno, the city manager would be giving an update on the matter. The mayor asserted this ongoing dialogue at commission meetings on the issue would keep city residents informed about what was happening with the historic hotel (and the report is expected in a couple of weeks but will have redactions of confidential information in it, state’s www.miamiherald.com) . Further, Korge said the hotel is carrying “$43 million” in other debt that would be paid before the city’s obligations. Slesnick later said he is also proud of the civility on the commission over the past decade. He said this is why sometimes he is the fourth vote on the five member body because many times a super majority is necessary to pass something and is his way of working with the other commissioners that usually has Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, Jr., being the only lone no vote on the dais. He carped that the super majority requirement for passage of some items is something he disagrees with and may be skewing how he is voting on certain issues, he thought.

>>> Candidate forum for six candidates running for Commission Seat 4

“Keeping you abreast of the pressing issues affecting Coral Gables.” -The Ponce Business Association is sponsoring three Candidate Forums for the upcoming Coral Gables City Commission election on April 12, 2011.

Our second Candidate Forum, for City Commission Seat 4 will be on Tuesday, March 1st at the Church of the Little Flower (Comber Hall – 1251 Palermo Avenue).  The doors will be open to the public at 7:00 pm.  From 7:00 pm to 7:15 pm audience attendees will be given cards with which they can write a question that can be directed to the panel or individual candidates.  The questions must be signed by the audience member to be accepted. The Forum will begin at 7:15 pm and the Moderator is WCBS4 news anchor Eliott Rodriguez. If you wish to attend this event please RSVP at poncebusiness@gmail.com : Editor’s note.: The candidates are Jackson Rip Holmes, 920 Sevilla Avenue, #206, Coral Gables, FL 33134 – (305) 338-5000, Richard W. Martin II, 1234 South Dixie Highway, Suite 156, Coral Gables, FL 33146, Frank C. Quesada, 355 Alhambra Circle, Suite 801, Coral Gables, FL 33134, Brad Rosenblatt, 2700 Ponce De Leon Blvd. Coral Gables, FL 33134, Gonzalo Sanabria, 944 San Pedro Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33156 -(305) 785-4239.

SOUTH MIAMI

>>> Proceeds of Mayor’s state of city entry charge go to charity, but not quite sure why Mayor Stoddard writes

After last week’s story on the mayor’s state of the city address and it costing money to attend. Mayor Philip Stoddard emailed me with an update of why it was being an event with a charge. He wrote, “Some relevant details bear mentioning:

1. All proceeds will support two public benefits for area kids:  summer camp scholarships and the Miami Strings Project.

2. Video recording of the speech will be made available to the public at no charge either via public access television or the city website when the new Granicus software is installed,” wrote the FIU professor. The Watchdog Report responded back to Mayor Stoddard, having the proceeds going to charity is good, but I just have never seen this before since the speech is your shining moment to residents and voters about where you want the city to go in my opinion. Just an observation,” I wrote.

However, he wrote back “Me neither. Staff told me it was required, so I naturally assumed it was by ordinance.  When your note came out in the Watchdog Report, I looked in the Code of Ordinances to see and saw no mention. Perhaps it’s some kind of South Miami tradition, perhaps it’s supported by resolution – I have to wait for our Clerk to return from visiting her new grandchild in Europe to find out,” wrote the mayor about this potential legislative mystery.

TOWN OF MIAMI LAKES

>>> Miami Lakes accountant sentenced 52 months in federal prison on $31 million bank fraud

Press release: Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael K. Fithen, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami Field Office, and Miguel Exposito, Chief, City of Miami Police Department announced today’s sentencing of Berta Sanders, a 61 year old Certified Public Accountant from Miami Lakes.  Sanders was sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Paul C. Huck to 52 months’ imprisonment, 5 years of supervised release, and restitution in the amount of $31 million.  From approximately November 2005  through March 2008, Sanders conspired to submit false loan applications to Wells Fargo Bank (formerly known as Wachovia Bank) in order to obtain approximately $12 million in commercial lines of credit.  Sanders promoted herself as someone who could help borrowers get approval for the lines of credit by preparing their loan applications…

Sanders prepared fraudulent loan applications on behalf of the borrowers,  which contained false information about the borrower’s business income, assets, and accounts receivable.  Sanders also prepared false tax returns, bank statements, and personal financial statements in connection with the line of credit applications.  As compensation for preparing the false loan applications that were submitted to  Wachovia Bank, the borrowers paid Sanders a fee of approximately 10% of the loan amount.  Sanders then paid a portion of these fees to a Wachovia bank officer as compensation for his assistance in preparing and processing the fraudulent applications. During this scheme, Sanders, conspired to obtain approximately $12 million in lines of credit from Wachovia Bank, which has resulted in approximately $10 million in losses to the bank.  Sanders also admitted in court that between 2005 and 2008 she prepared additional fraudulent loan applications that have resulted in $19 million in losses to Wachovia.  In total, Sanders is responsible for approximately $31 million in losses to the bank proceeds for victims of financial crimes.  >>> A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.

SUNNY ISLES BEACH

>>> Press release : Seven members of Romanian organized crime group charged in international wire fraud scheme

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announced the filing of an indictment, charging seven members of an organized crime group based in Romania with offenses arising from a wire fraud scheme.  Charged in the 21-count indictment are defendants Pedro Pulido, 41, of Pembroke Pines, Ivan Boris Barkovic, 19, of Sunny Isles Beach, Beand Dorsainville, 19, of North Miami Beach, Sergiu Petrov, a.k.a. “Serogia,” 27, of Moldova, Oleg Virlan, 32, of Moldova, Marian Cristea, 22, of Romania, and Andrian Olarita, 23, of Sunny Isles Beach.  Defendants Vadim Gherghelejiu, 24, of Moldova, Anatolie Bisericanu, 24, of Moldova, Jairo Osorno, 21, of Surfside, and Jason Eibinder 21, of Sunny Isles Beach, were previously separately charged in connection with this fraud.   Three defendants (Petrov, Virlan, and Cristea) remain at large and are considered fugitives.  Photographs of the fugitives are attached.

According to the indictments in this case, these defendants and other unnamed co-conspirators conspired to engage in a wire fraud scheme targeting individuals seeking to purchase goods and merchandise on the internet.  Co-conspirators based in Romania would post items for sale, such as cars, on the internet and would instruct individuals who wanted to buy those items to wire transfer the purchase money to a fictitious name using a money transmitter service.  The funds would be picked up by defendants and co-conspirators using false identification documents in the fictitious names.  Additionally, some of the funds were sent by wire to bank accounts in the United States maintained by the defendants or co-conspirators.  Defendants, who operated in the United States as “arrows,” would receive text messages from their co-conspirators overseas detailing the transaction sent by the victims and providing instructions on how to retrieve and distribute the money after retrieval. Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, stated, “These defendants were part of an international wire fraud ring that used the internet to target unwitting victims who sought to buy legitimate goods on-line.  This type of fraud will not be tolerated.”…

>>> An indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty. >>> A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

>>> OTHER STORIES AROUND FLORIDA

BROWARD COUNTY

>>> Local attorney Sindaco sentenced to 48 months in prison for stealing trust funds

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Henry Gutierrez, Postal Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection ervSice, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, and J. Thomas Cardwell, Commissioner, State of Florida Office of Financial Regulation, announced today’s sentencing of Joseph Sindaco, 63, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, on a mail fraud charge in connection with his embezzlement of funds from clients’ trust account.  U.S. District Judge James Cohn sentenced Sindaco to 48 months in prison and ordered Sindaco to pay more than $3,879,896 in restitution to the victims.  Sindaco had previously pled guilty in December 2010. According to the criminal information and statements made in court during today’s sentencing hearing, Sindaco practiced law from 1980 through August 2010 at his law firm in Fort Lauderdale.  As an attorney, he handled real estate closings for clients, mortgage lenders, and the administration of estates in state court.  During that time, Sindaco misappropriated more than $3,879,896 of his clients funds.  Sindaco was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court on August 26, 2010. >>> Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, and the State of Florida Office of Financial Regulation.  Mr. Ferrer also thanked The Florida Bar for their assistance in this investigation.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey H. Kay and Larry Bardfeld. A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

>>> Thank you for using the Broward County Commission Agenda E-mail Notification System. A new Broward County Commission Agenda is available. Point your browser to http://www.broward.org/commission/welcome.htm to view the new agenda.

PALM BEACH COUNTY

>>> Foot doctor gets 21 months for violateing exclusion from Medicare program

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, and Christopher B. Dennis, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigation, announce yesterday’s sentencing of defendant Arthur C. Haspel, 65, of Boca Raton, on two counts of filing false Medicare claims.  On February 24, 2011, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan sentenced Haspel to 21 months’ imprisonment, followed by 2 years of supervised release, plus $324,491 in restitution. Defendant Arthur C. Haspel was a podiatry physician.  In 2002, Haspel was sentenced for unlawful distribution of hydrocodone.  As a result, in June of 2003, Haspel was excluded from participation in the Medicare Program.  Nonetheless, according to court documents, from January 2005 to January 2009, Haspel continued to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries at various offices he shared with other physicians.  Haspel billed Medicare for the services he provided.  The claims falsely stated that the services were provided by other physicians.  After receiving payment from Medicare, the other physicians would kickback  a portion of the collected amounts to Haspel. This investigation began after a whistle blower filed a civil false claims complaint against Haspel and the other doctors under whose names Haspel billed Medicare.  In that case civil case, the United States obtained a consent judgment against Haspel for double damages, $775,364.  The other doctors through whom Haspel billed Medicare also settled the civil matter. >>       A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

COMMUNITY EVENTS

>>> March 1st Kickoff for Women’s History Month – On Tuesday, March 1st at Noon, the Women’s History Coalition will launch Women’s History Month with a celebration of the life of Julia Tuttle, mother of Miami.  It will be held at the Miami City Cemetery, 1800 NE 2nd Avenue, Julia’s final resting place.  The event will be opened by a Girl Scout flag detail with a welcome by Miami mayor, Tomas Regalado.  Highlights of Julia’s life and Miami’s history will be presented by noted historian Paul George with an appearance by Penny Lambeth in the persona of Julia. Refreshments will be served. The event is open to the public. >>> The Women’s History Coalition, founded in 1983, is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history and accomplishments of women in Miami-Dade County and has published two books, Julia’s Daughters and Beyond Julia’s Daughters, to that end.  The Coalition also honors six Women of Impact annually, choosing outstanding women who have made significant contributions to the community.  The awards banquet will take place on March 3rd.  For further information, visit the website: www.womenshistorycoalitionmiamidade.org.

>>> Check out the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce monthly Luncheon on Mar. 2 at Jungle Island: http://www.miamichamber.com/cwt/External/WCPages/WCEvents/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=2700

>>> Press release: Virginia Key, FL – The University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science is proud to announce it is now accepting entries for its annual Underwater Photography Contest.  Since its inception in 2005, the contest has drawn several thousand entrants from across the globe, who have submitted more than 400 images per year. The deadline for submitting the images is midnight on Monday, March 28. Judged anonymously by a panel a marine photographers and professors, photographs are divided in three separate categories: Fish or Marine Animal Portrait, Macro, Wide Angle, and the School will also recognize the best UM Student Submission and the Best Overall submission. The top prize is a trip on Blackbeard’s Cruises, departing from Freeport, Bahamas. (Trip prizes do not include gratuities, port taxes, Bahamas Underwater National Park Fees, gear rental, etc., and are subject to availability.) There will also be monetary awards for those finishing in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each of the categories. This underwater contest is open to all amateur photographers who earn no more than 20 percent of their income from photography. Eligible photos must not have been published or accepted for publication and must be the original work of the submitter. No pool or aquarium shots will be accepted. The winner will be announced this year at the Rosenstiel School’s popular Sea Secrets Lecture on April 20. Sea Secrets is a free lecture series open to the public.  Kenny Broad, a professor at the Rosenstiel School, will talk about his global cave diving expeditions, a unique insight into fascinating and thrilling journeys. A reception and exhibit immediately after the lecture will take place on the Rosenstiel campus to recognize the winners of the 2011 Underwater Photo Contest. To view past contest winners and complete contest rules, visit: http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/outreach/underwater-photography/

>>> A Special Tribute Celebrating the Legendary Cole Porter – March 19, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets $50 – $125 – John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall – Now celebrating its Fifth Anniversary Season, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County proudly presents the return to the Adrienne Arsht Center of the famed Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, under the baton of renowned conductor Keith Lockhart, on March 19, 2011 at 8 p.m. in the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. The program will honor the marvelous Cole Porter in celebration of the 120th anniversary of his birth. Porter’s saucy style will come to life with special guests Kelli O’Hara, who recently starred in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of South Pacific, and Jason Danieley, who most recently starred on Broadway in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Highlights of the tribute, entitled You’ll Get a Kick Out of Cole, include Porter’s iconic songs: “Night and Day,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “Begin the Beguine,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” plus much more. Works by Berlin, Bernstein, Gershwin, and Rodgers will also be performed. >>>

The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra is the third engagement of the new four-concert 2010-2011 Signature Pops Series as part of the John S. and James L. Knight Masterworks Season. Tickets range from $50 to $125 and may be purchased through the Adrienne Arsht Center box office by calling (305) 949-6722, or online at www.arshtcenter.org.

EDITORIALS

>>> The dye is cast for Mayor Alvarez & Commissioner Seijas, Mar.15 election goes forward, let the debate begin to recall or not to recall them both

Now that the Miami-Dade recall election of County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas has been set for March 15 with early voting Feb. 28 county voters need not only vote but also ask themselves is this the best way to send a message to elected leaders that county government must change and the Watchdog Report is divided in how I feel about this effort. I covered the 2000 and 2008 charter review committees created by the county commission and saw how the bulk of their thoughtful suggestions went down in flames when the legislation hit the county commission. Norman Braman and former 2008 county charter commission Chair Victor M. Diaz, an attorney and former Miami Beach commissioner have now come up with a compact with the people that would reduce commission terms to eight years, reduce the commission size from 13 to nine, with two countywide elected leaders and pay them a decent salary, but also limit their outside income, which invariable gets elected leaders in trouble, sometimes criminally. These are all things I could support and believe would help the current governance situation insulated by independent local districts that allow a few in many cases to manipulate issues and agendas the commission ultimately supports with contracts and developments many times.

Having watched this government in action since 1997 in a serious way I have written about the culture and how some county workers work long and hard and are smart. Another 50 percent of the county’s workers are what I call standard issue bureaucrats but there are about 20 percent at all levels “just doing my time” before they retire and they are so casual about that fact even in front of the press. Further, some are so self-absorbed that their job is so safe they make fun of others in the public who are weaker in status, not being paid on a bi-weekly basis and they probable have no health insurance because life is good in their valley. I have become more sensitive to these comments and people since last year in February when my life was saved by a vascular surgeon at South Miami Hospital, causing even less money coming in, and now after 14-years my benevolent landlord that used to give me a rent break has to sell because of windstorm insurance costs and that is a major blow as well.

I include the last paragraph because that is what so many people are experiencing in the community and for many in government they just don’t seem to get it, and the mayoral recall is manifestation of this community frustration. Under normal conditions, a political science scholar would say having another Charter Review is the way to go but after covering the two past ones (which were like a work program for the press). I think it is up to the people to decide by voting because people like Braman are rare and it takes money to put together such an initiative with such broad ramifications for the 2.4 million county residents, and how the vote goes will set the tone for the years ahead politically and the chance of any future charter changes in the future. The question is will you be part of this great debate by voting, or will you just sit back and be an armchair quarterback carping about how your local government is run?  >>> Editor’s note: to read “A Covenant With The People of Miami-Dade for Reform of County Government” as it is being called go to www.recallmayoralvarez.org

LETTERS

>>> Reader corrects WDR on Columbia/HCA founder and later role of Gov. Rick Scott

A note of correction re: Rick Scott and HCA.  Rick Scott was not the founder of HCA. As  I recall Senior Dr. Frist (Bill, I think) was the founder of HCA.  Senator and Dr.  Bill Frist’s bother, Dr.  Tom Frist, was CEO in the 1980′s giving way to Scott.   Tom Frist resumed leadership when Rick Scott and David Van de Water lost their jobs due to Medicare Fraud.  This obviously did not hurt Rick Scott’s finances. I believe Van de Water is in jail.

John

Miami

>>> Reader supports state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla who has matured

Always love your excellent commentary and observation of our wonderful interesting and diverse corner of the world. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is the real thing. A bright dedicated and important politician. Yes, like most family men, he needs to support his brood. But I have watched him mature into an outstanding and well-informed public servant. Hope he is around for the long haul. Keep up the good work. And your eye peeled for the good ones.

Richard

Miami

>>> Reader on the WDR, not interested in politics before, now she is awakening

I just wanted to thank you for all that you do for the people of Miami-Dade! I had the pleasure of meeting you a few times in the past. I have to admit though; I was not as interested in politics and the state of our government then as I am now. You could say, in the past year or so I’ve had an awakening in many areas. I have been reading your e-mails and I am so very grateful to have a man like you watching out for us. Your efforts are tireless, and I am sure not very appreciated at times. I just wanted you to know that I really admire your drive and determination. You do what no one else does and you do it all for us. Thank you so very much and please keep going! We need you!

Holly

>>>The Publisher’s Statement on the mission of the Watchdog Report and the special people and organizations that make it possible:  Government Subscribers/Corporate Subscribers/Sustaining Sponsors/Supporting Sponsors

***** LIFETIME FOUNDING MEMBERS & Initial sponsors since 2000

ANGEL ESPINOSA – (Deceased) owner COCONUT GROVE DRY CLEANER’S

HUGH CULVERHOUSE, Jr.

THE MIAMI HERALD     www.miamiherald.com (Not current)

ARTHUR HERTZ

WILLIAM HUGGETT, Seamen Attorney (Deceased)

ALFRED NOVAK

LINDA E. RICKER (Deceased)

JOHN S. and JAMES L. KNIGHT FOUNDATION  www.knightfoundation.org

THE HONORABLE STANLEY TATE

***** Watchdog Report supporters – $2,000 a year

FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT www.fpl.com

RONALD HALL

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY www.miamidade.gov

UNITED WAY OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY www.unitedwaymiamidade.org

***** Watchdog Report supporters – $1,000 a year

RON BOOK

LEWIS TEIN  www.lewistein.com

LINDA MURPHY: Gave a new laptop in Oct. 2001 to keep me going.

WILLIAM PALMER

SHUBIN & BASS     www.shubinbass.com

***** Public & Educational institutions – subscribers at $1,000 or less

CITY OF MIAMI www.miamigov.com.

CITY OF CORAL GABLES www.coralgables.com

CITY OF MIAMI BEACH www.miamibeachfl.gov

GREATER MIAMI CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU www.miamiandbeaches.com

THE STATE OF FLORIDA www.myflorida.gov

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY  www.miamidade.gov

MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD www.dadeschoolsnews.net

PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST & JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM www.jhsmiami.org

THE BEACON COUNCIL   www.beaconcouncil.com

THE CHILDREN’S TRUST www.thechildrenstrust.org

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA    http://www.firstgov.gov/

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI             www.miami.edu

The Watchdog Report covers a few of the meetings attended weekly. It remains my belief that an informed public will make better decisions. Therefore, I go to meetings, make the presence of an informed citizen known, and bring the information to you.   The Watchdog Report is in the fourth year of publication and it has been an honor to be able to send this information to you. It is sent to readers in Miami-Dade, Florida, the U.S. and the world. The Watchdog Report is sent to thousands free and while readers have been prodded to subscribe the results have been mixed. Over 250 reports and Extra’s have been sent since May 5, 2000 and over one million words have been written on our community’s governments and events.  The report is an original work based on information gathered at public meetings, interviews and from documents in the public domain.

LETTER POLICY

I welcome letters via e-mail, fax, or snail mail. Letters may be edited for length or clarity and must refer to material published in the Watchdog Report.  Please see address and contact information. Please send any additions and corrections by e-mail, fax or snail mail. All corrections will be published in the next Watchdog Report. If you or your organization would like to publish the contents of this newsletter, please contact me. Please send your request to watchdogreport1@earthlink.net

Daniel A. Ricker

Publisher & Editor

Watchdog Report

Est. 05.05.00

Copyright © of original material, 2011, Daniel A. Ricker

>>> Watchdog Report is expanding as a new service and this content is now available to other news media, no longer exclusive to The Miami Herald

The Watchdog Report is no longer exclusively with The Miami Herald, and excluding the one story a week that is printed in the paper on Monday in the Metro & State section by me. The rest of the 20 or so news stories weekly sent out Sunday in the Watchdog Report are now available to television stations web pages, and all the newspapers and other media in South Florida if the publishers have an interest to run part or all of the stories. Further, in 2000, I used to have some paper’s running the report in the Spanish press, that option is available again, and publishers should contact me.  The news content will not be free, but you can pick and chose the stories of interest, edit them if necessary but you must still keep the general story intact.  If you are a news outlet and would like to learn more about, the Watchdog Report and this offer contact me at watchdogreport1@earthlink.net for further information.

>>> Here is what past newspapers have written about the Watchdog Report publisher including a survey and regional study done by the U. North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the media in the southeast United States.

>>> The Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel & Sun-Sentinel articles on the Watchdog Report publisher over the years. >>> Published on September 9, 1999, Page 1EA, Miami Herald, The (FL) CITIZEN ADVOCATE’ KEEPS TABS ON POLITICIANS >>> Published on January 3, 2000, Page 1B, Miami Herald, The (FL) MIAMI-DADE WATCHDOG WILL BE MISSED >>> Published on January 20, 2003, Page 1E, Orlando Sentinel, PAPERWORK TIGER, Miami’s citizen watchdog piles up government files in his quest to keep the “little people” informed.

>>>Watchdog Report publisher named ‘Best Citizen’ 2003 by the Miami New Times  –The publisher would like to thank the weekly alternative paper Miami New Times for bestowing their 2003 Best of Miami, ‘Best Citizen’ award to me and I am honored.  Thank you. To read the full story go to http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/2003-05-15/citylife2.html/1/index.html

From the spring of 2003:  U. North Carolina, Chapel Hill:  Southeast U.S. Media Report lists Watchdog Report publisher as leading Florida commentator >>> Selected excerpts from the report on Florida’s media sources

Those who do read the newspaper in Florida have a bevy of options for state government and political coverage. The dominant newspapers in the state are Knight-Ridder’s The Miami Herald (Acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006) and the Poynter Institute’s St. Petersburg Times. Both papers endorsed Gore in 2000 but split on the 2002 gubernatorial race, with the Herald endorsing Republican incumbent Jeb Bush and the Times backing Democratic challenger Bill McBride.

Daniel Ricker of The Miami Herald also writes an influential column as well as an email newsletter called the Watchdog Report that goes out to more than 100,000 subscribers. FEBRUARY 2004 – Florida: Columnists in Abundance –ERIC GAUTSCHI, graduate student, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, UNC-Chapel Hill – D) LEADING COMMENTATORS – Resource Commentator Organization Type Web site –Steve Bousquet St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/bousquet.shtml -“First Friday” WPBT TV (Miami) TV Show www.channel2.org/firstfriday/issues.html –Lucy Morgan St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/morgan.shtml –Daniel Ricker Miami Herald/Watchdog Report Newsletter -www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/columnists/dan_ricker/ >>> Readers who would like to read the complete University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Southeast United States Media Report go to view the complete report or download all the data used in this study. >>> Watchdog Report Editor’s note to the NCU/CH study: The subscriber number referenced is incorrect and applies to readership.

General subscriber’s names will not be published in the Report. To subscribe to the Watchdog Report please use the form below as a subscription invoice.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

Watchdog Report Supporters Invoice-Form

NOTE: Invoice is for Yearly supporter/sponsorship Rates: Thank you.

Supporting Sponsors $5,000

Sustaining Sponsors $2,000

Corporate Sponsors $1,000 (All levels above will be listed in the report with web-site link if desired)

Large Business Supporters $500

Small Business Supporters $250

Individual Supporter $150

Student Supporter $ 75

Any amount $

Name & Address

Please make checks payable to: Daniel A. Ricker

Send to: 3109 Grand Avenue, #125

Miami, FL 33133

Fax 305-668-4784 -To contact the Publisher please e-mail watchdogreport1@earthlink.net