elgin_jones_web_13.jpgLAST FLASH

CPI Corporation, the St. Louis, MS.-based company that has operated portrait studios in more than 3,100 stores, including Walmart and Sears, for more than 60 years is shutting down.

Company officials say competition from consumer digital cameras contributed to its decision. Advances in digital technology have led to cell phones and consumer cameras being able to take professional quality photographs, which hurt CPI’s business.

AT&T will hire 300 people statewide to fill existing vacancies and the telecommunications company will also hire an additional 350 people in newly created jobs. Many of the new positions will be at call centers in South Florida for AT&T’s Project Velocity IP (VIP) initiative, which is a three-year improvement and expansion of its broadband networks. In related news, Dish Network CEO Joseph P. Clayton confirmed the satellite TV provider has made an offer to buy Sprint Nextel for more than $25 billion. If regulators and stockholders approve the deal, it will position a combined Dish/Sprint company to compete with Verizon and AT&T in the exploding wireless market. The new company would also be able to provide twice as much bandwidth as those two companies.

Palm Beach County

Eco Neurologics Inc., a pharmaceutical company, has been formed to develop drug therapies developed at Florida Atlantic University. The company, which is based at FAU’s Research Park, was awarded a sponsored $353,000 grant to the college to conduct research on
epilepsy, migraine, brain injury and stroke therapies developed at the college. The research is intended to develop drugs to treat or manage the conditions. FAU assistant professor Ken Dawson-Scully will head the effort.

In 1978, Charlotte Durante, 68, became the first black woman ever elected to public office in Delray Beach. This week, the former elected official was convicted on fraud charges related to a $1.8 million Ponzi scheme authorities said she operated. Prosecutors said she collected money from at least 83 Haitian immigrants that was supposed to be invested in real estate, promising an 18 percent return on the investment. Instead, the money was used for personal items. Durante says she has been railroaded and that the immigrants did not fully understand how the money would be used. She faces up to 60 years in prison. Sentencing is set for June 21.

Broward County

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee C. Miller is accusing the Broward Inspector General’s office of misinterpreting Florida statutes related to how Community Redevelopment Agency funds may be used.  Broward County investigators issued a scathing 10-page report after auditing the city’s CRA over the past year. The report cited “gross mismanagement” of the agency and said that millions of dollars in loans and grants were improperly issued to businesses and nonprofit organizations.

With the support of Mayor Jack Seiler and other city officials, Walmart is planning to build a Neighborhood Market grocery store on Sunrise Boulevard near Fort Lauderdale’s Progresso Village neighborhood. Plans are also in the works for a Walmart to be constructed at West Broward Boulevard and Northwest 27th Avenue. The stores will be the first WalMarts in Fort Lauderdale.

Miami-Dade County

The popular family-owned Diaz Supermarkets stores have been shut down by authorities citing more than $35 million in alleged fraudulent transactions. The stores were located in Homestead, Naranja and Opa-locka. They were opened in 1976 and have been run by Pinecrest residents John Diaz, 45, and his wife Mercedes Avila-Diaz, 44. The couple also owns Diavila Enterprises Inc., an Opa-locka tax preparation and money transfer services business. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said in a news release that $640,000 in cash and three vehicles were seized when the couple was arrested. The Diazes are charged with money laundering, organized scheme to defraud and workers’ compensation fraud. The couple faces up to 95 years in prison if convicted on all charges. The arrests were part of “Operation Dirty Money” which involves the Division of Insurance Fraud, the Office of Financial Regulation, Miami-Dade police, the Broward and the Palm Beach County sheriff’s offices. Book ‘em, Danno!

Natoya Mashea Handy, 30, of Miami has been convicted of stealing Social Security numbers of inmates and using them to obtain tax refunds fraudulently. Prosecutors said she filed 17 tax returns in 2011 in the names of people who were or had been incarcerated in Florida prisons. She was convicted on five counts of aggravated identity theft.

The Miami Heat has begun its “White Hot!” campaign for the team’s 2013 playoff opening game against the Milwaukee Bucks where starter Chris Bosh, Dywane Wade and LeBron James are expected to shine. No word on how much it will cost but this year’s sponsor of “White Hot!” is the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming casino, which will get lots of international exposure. The NBA Playoffs begin Saturday, April 20.

Monroe County

Local and federal authorities determined a package containing a threatening letter and white powder discovered at the Key West post office may have been a hoax. The post office was put on lockdown and vacated as authorities investigated. The package was addressed to the Postal Service and the suspicious substance turned out to be baking soda.

Beachgoers reported finding a bomb in the surf in Key West near the U.S. Naval Air Station. Munitions technicians determined it was a World War II-era bomb. The device, which was not active, was taken from the beach and destroyed.

There may not be any more building allocations approved in the Florida Keys so Monroe County Mayor George Neugent and other officials are looking for funds for future projects. A penny sales tax and increasing the hotel bed tax are among proposals that may be implemented to buy private land from owners denied the right to develop. County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley is heading up the controversial effort.