FORGOTTEN AND OVERLOOKED
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has confirmed her support for an emergency bill that would add an extra 13 weeks of benefits to the unemployed. This is a good move, but far too little and too late for the millions of people who have been unemployed for the past two years and are no longer on the unemployment rolls. It could also be a distraction from the broader issue of millions of people and small businesses that desperately need help. Pelosi and the members of Congress should begin working on an economic stimulus package, in the form of direct payments to individuals, immediately. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 that was passed by Congress and signed by then-President George W. Bush gave $300 checks and tax cuts to nearly every American. While it was clearly a pittance, it was at least something. Since that time, countless people and small businesses have lost everything, while nearly $2 trillion has been approved for Wall Street firms and major corporations. Yet the economy still lags. The time has come for Congress and President Barack Obama to turn their attention to the people, and implement a major and substantial package for individuals. If not, next November could mark a sad election cycle for the mostly Democratic incumbents.
STIMULUS MONEY AWARDED
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced the recipients of $100 million stimulus fund awards from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Two South Florida proposals were among them. Palm Beach County’s Palm Tran will get $320,000 to purchase thermal fans for its diesel-operated buses. The work is expected to improve efficiency and lower fuel costs. Broward County Transit will get $2 million to replace cooling fans in buses with semi-hybrid, electric-powered systems. That move is expected to save fuel and reduce emissions.
GAMBLING WELFARE PACKAGE
South Florida pari-mutuel facilities such as dog and horse racing tracks and jai alai frontons, are seeking a special session of the state Legislature for what amounts to a welfare package. These facilities face decreased revenues. They say a pending deal with the Seminole Indian Tribes to allow casino gambling at their facilities could be fatal. State Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, supports a special session. The gambling facilities are seeking 24-hour operations that would include poker and other card games, a lower tax rate, and other concessions.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, visited Fort Lauderdale on Monday, Sept. 21. He met with Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, and the leaders of social services organizations, at the United Way of Broward County offices. The focus of the meeting was on the increase of prescription drug abuse. Good move, but there was no mention of the hoards of people arrested for possession of small amounts of drugs or paraphernalia. That is strangling the judicial system and straining the resources of social service agencies. At present, the court system is in near collapse, and prison beds that should be available for violent criminals and drug sellers are overcrowded with mostly homeless people who were caught smoking crack cocaine. During any return visits here, or future stops elsewhere, Kerlikowske must address this critical issue. If not, is there any point to his returning here?
WRONGFUL CONVICTION SETTLEMENT
The Broward Sheriff's Office has reached a $2 million lawsuit settlement with Jerry Frank Townsend, a mentally impaired man who was wrongly convicted and spent 22 years in prison for several murders that DNA proved in 2001 he didn’t commit. Townsend, 57, was paid $500,000 earlier this year and will receive $300,000 per year over the next five years. Last year, his lawyers reached a $2.2 million settlement with the city of Miami over the same incident. The lawsuit alleged that Miami police arrested him in 1979 on a rape charge, then turned him over to Broward Sheriff’s Office detectives. Officers from both agencies coerced confessions out of him, and charged him with six murders. He has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old.
FRAUD FUGITIVE SENTENCED
Alcides Garcia, 44, of Pembroke Pines, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison on Monday, Sept. 21 for Medicare fraud. In 2008, Garcia was charged with filing $10.7 million in false claims, and collecting $2.2 million for A&Y Medical, his Hialeah-based medical supply company. While free on $200,000 bond last year, he fled to Mexico, then Spain, and to the Canary Islands on a false Mexican passport. He was eventually caught and returned to the U.S. Garcia pleaded guilty to one count of defrauding Medicare. In addition to giving him prison time, Judge Marica Cooke ordered him to repay the money.
BANK FRAUD FINE
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday, Sept. 21 fined Regions Bank $1 million for its role in a fraud scheme carried out by Regions and its predecessor company, Union Planters Bank. The SEC alleged in a federal lawsuit that Regions and its predecessor were a selling point for unregistered brokerage companies: U.S. Pension Trust Corp. and U.S. College Trust Corp., both of Coral Gables. The SEC alleges that Regions allowed the companies to sell investment plans since October 2001 using the bank's name, which gave investors the impression that the plans were secured. The scheme led 14,000 people to be bilked out of $255 million.
GUNMAKER NOT LEAVING
Brevard County, Florida and the states of South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia have all offered incentive packages to Taurus International, a gun and weapons manufacturer in Miami Gardens. They are seeking to convince the company's owners to relocate operations to those areas. The company’s CEO, Bob Morrison, has confirmed that the company will not be relocating after all, and plans to add 123 new employees over the next three years. The company also plans to make a $7.8 million capital investment, while renovating and expanding its 59,500-square-foot-facility near the Palmetto Expressway by another 26,500 square feet. If the company meets these goals, it could be in store for $73,800 from Miami-Dade County and $295,200 in state dollars and other incentives.
NO LAUGHING MATTER
Adonis Losada, 45, who is better known by his Doña Concha stage name, is a comedian on the Spanish-language Univision network's variety program, "Sabado Gigante." He was arrested on Monday, Sept. 21 on possession of child pornography charges by Miami Beach police. A Boynton Beach detective tracked Losada as he downloaded child pornography from an Internet social networking site. Police obtained a search warrant, and found 18 of the images on a computer inside his Miami Beach apartment. Book'em, Dano!
Palm Beach County
Be careful what you text. In 2006, former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley was pressured to resign his congressional seat amid an FBI investigation into sending sexual text messages to an underage male assistant in 2006. On Tuesday, Sept. 22, he debuted as a radio talk show host. His program, Inside the Mind of Mark Foley, airs 6 p.m. weekdays, on WSVU-AM 960 in northern Palm Beach County. The format is current events, and – of course – politics.
OUCH! WHAT A BUDGET
Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Jeff Koons and the other county commissioners approved a 15-percent tax increase as well as service reductions. They also eliminated 600 positions to balance the county’s $4.1 billion budget. Department heads were all required to cut their budgets by 10 percent, and residents will pay more for basic services, starting Oct. 1.