Amid news reports about his agency’s failure to act on more than 4,400 consumer complaints about the tactics of debt collection firms in 2009, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is finally moving. McCollum is asking the state Legislature for more power to investigate and penalize unscrupulous firms that harass consumers. It’s about time, but there must be more teeth in laws intended to protect consumers. It should be easier for the firms, and individual agents, to be sued and possibly face criminal charges for their abusive tactics. McCollum placed some of the blame on Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, which is nothing more than a regrettable political tactic. It’s McCollum’s department and duty to regulate and enforce laws covering debt-collection firms, and they dropped the ball. TAKING A GAMBLE
State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who was once an anti-gambling advocate, has joined other Republican legislators in the state House of Representatives in announcing support for a law that would allow private gambling operations to compete with Seminole Indian casinos to offer blackjack and other table games. Any such measure would effectively kill the deal Gov. Charlie Crist negotiated with the Indian tribe last year. Each county would decide if it wants to allow gambling. Additionally, Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, proposed creating a state gambling commission to regulate the new industry.
HOMESTEAD ELECTION ROUNDUP
Five of the seven Homestead council members were up for re-election on Tuesday, Nov 3. In a stunning house cleaning, Homestead voters ousted four of the five incumbents; Mayor Lynda Bell and council members Melvin McCormick, Nazy Sierra and Tim Nelson. The group ran as a slate. Residents complained about the direction of the city, and a 17.8 percent tax increase. There was also concern about the mean-spirited atmosphere that residents say permeated city hall and council meetings. Elected was Steve Bateman as mayor and the Rev. Jimmie L. Williams, Stephen Shelley, and Elvis Maldonado as city councilmen. Judy Waldman was the only incumbent re-elected to office, as vice mayor.
Former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Phillip Davis on Monday, Nov. 3 testified in his own defense. He is charged with fraud and money laundering. Davis is accused of padding expenses on state and federal grant applications in 2005 for the nonprofit Miami-Dade Resident College, which he founded. The school taught life and vocational skills to inner-city residents as a pre-trial intervention program. Davis is accused of pocketing more than $80,000 from the inflated grant funds that the school received. This week’s case takes place 16 years after Davis was acquitted on federal corruption charges. Nevertheless, he was removed from the bench in 1993, as a result of Operation Court Broom; a probe that targeted corrupt judges in Miami-Dade County.
MOVE OVER, LET ME IN
The smell of an open seat is in the air, and potential candidates are circling over the political carcass of District 9 Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion. Eggelletion is suspended from office after being indicted on federal money laundering charges. He is also the target of dueling public corruption investigations by federal authorities and the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Eggelletion is under pressure to resign from his seat to prevent Gov. Charlie Crist from appointing a Republican to represent the overwhelmingly Democratic and predominantly black district. Former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore is making no secret that he will be a candidate for the seat if Eggelletion resigns. If Eggelletion resigns, a special election will take place for his replacement.
The Mango Festival each June in Deerfield Beach was the premier black-oriented street gathering in South Florida. It featured some of the nation’s top entertainers, along with southern food, Caribbean dishes and Afro-centric crafts. Its competition was Delray Beach’s Roots Cultural Festival, Clewiston’s Sugar Festival, Pompano Beach’s Tiger Trail Festival, Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Historical Festival, and Miami’s Goombay Festival. The Mango Festival outdid them all. But now, it has fallen on hard times. This year’s event was canceled, and the festival’s future is bleak. Some of the problems have to do with the economy, but insiders say much of it is also pure and simple greed, fraud and mismanagement. For years, there have been whispers and rumors about kickbacks, and outright theft within the organization. Now, Deerfield Beach’s one-man watchdog operation, Chaz Stevens, has asked Deerfield Beach to conduct an audit and accounting of the more than $100,000 to $150,000 the city provided to the organizers of the event each year.
GETTING IT RIGHT
Last week, in error, I wrote here that attorney Kevin Tynan was a commissioner on the board of the North Broward Hospital District. Tynan is actually a member of the South Broward Hospital District’s board. He was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist last week and was sworn in this week on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to fill the seat of suspended Broward County School Board Member Beverly Gallagher. Tynan was also staff counsel for the Florida Bar, where he oversaw discipline of attorneys. He now defends attorneys accused of rules violations by the Florida Bar. When he got word of his appointment last week, he was in trial, representing a lawyer accused of wrongdoing in a racial discrimination case filed against the Broward School District.
Palm Beach County
HOUSING PROJECT REDEVELOPMENT
On Monday, Nov. 2, West Palm Beach commissioners voted unanimously to provide $3.5 million to the city’s Housing Authority to help demolish and then rebuild the controversial Dunbar Village public housing project. The project is expected to cost more than $50 million. Dunbar Village is a public housing development in the long-deprived and predominantly black Coleman Park neighborhood. The collection of two-story complexes that line a single street was built in 1940. The area is known for its crime, drugs and street gangs. In 2007, the project gained national attention when a group of teens beat and gang-raped a woman living there, and even forced her to perform sex acts on her son.
ANOTHER HOME INVASION
Boca Raton police are looking for as many as five armed and masked suspects who broke into a home in the 100 block of Manchester Street on Saturday, Oct. 31. They looted cash, electronics and other items, police said. The burglars brandished rifles and handguns at 3:30 in the morning. They fled in a truck, which was discovered a few blocks away. No one was harmed, and police are asking anyone with information to contact Palm Beach County Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 800-458-8477.
WOMAN STABS BOYFRIEND
Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Ted Booras ordered Irene Martinez, 46, of Lantana, held on $25,000 bond after she allegedly stabbed her boyfriend 10 times with a kitchen knife, according to police. The incident happened at the couple’s home on Saturday, Oct. 31, according to the police report. Martinez told police her boyfriend, Domingo Matas, tied her up in a bedroom and then beat and cut her with a pen knife over a two-day period. During one session, she was able to grab a kitchen knife and stab him, she told investigators. Martinez was arrested and treated for puncture wounds, scratches and bruises. Matas remains in critical condition at Delray Medical Center.