SCOTT’S SLOW START
Gov. Rick Scott has been criticized, and justly so, for not providing access to the press. The governor’s website, which former Gov. Jeb Bush had built into a user-friendly hub of access and information for the public and media alike, has now been dismantled, it seems. Former Gov. Charlie Crist improved on Bush’s effort but for some reason the site has disappeared under Scott. When visiting the Press Office page on his site this week, visitors were met with a “Coming Soon” message. When I called the governor’s press office to find out what was going on, a staffer advised me to e-mail my concerns and someone would get back to me. When I informed her that I had called and e-mailed for weeks without any response, she asked that I e-mail again and refused to give the contact information for the press secretary. It remains unclear if the lack of information on the governor’s website is intentional or an oversight but, in any event, it’s an unacceptable and disappointing start for Scott.
William and Blanchi Dugatkin of Boynton Beach are under investigation for allegedly operating a debt collection scam. The Dugatkins are accused of misrepresenting themselves as attorneys to consumers who, they claimed, owed medical bills. The couple operates the Stone, Colman & Gonzalez Arbitration firm which has filed hundreds of debt collection lawsuits around the state. Collier County Judge Vince Murphy became suspicious after noticing they filed numerous court documents with misspelled words. They are also being investigated for allegedly submitting fake court orders from federal judges that had the names of President Barack Obama, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, FBI Director Robert Mueller and others misspelled. Murphy then dismissed 155 debt collection cases the couple filed in that county and referred the matter to the Florida Bar. The couple is now the target of a criminal investigation.
PONZI SCHEMER SENTENCED
Ronnie Bass Jr., 37, of Delray Beach was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $4 million in restitution for running a Ponzi scheme. Bass duped Haitian-American investors out of $14 million in South Florida and New Jersey by luring them to invest in his Homepals Investment Club. Two other people who participated inthe scam were earlier sentenced to five years after agreeing to cooperate in the investigation.
VALENTINE’S DAY SMILES
Dr. Robert Adami of Designer Dental in Delray Beach offered up smiles on Valentine’s Day. Adami provided free emergency dental care to all comers on a first-come first-served basis. It was a sweetheart of a deal. Adami said he wanted to offer assistance to struggling residents in these difficult economic times. He also operates a dental care blog, http://blog.dentistdelraybeachfl.com
Charlotte G. Durante, 66, was the first black ever elected to the Delray Beach city commission. Since May 2010, she has been sitting in the Palm Beach Main Jail, where she is in failing health. She was charged with 59 counts that include larceny, fraud and money laundering. The charges stemmed from her alleged involvement with investors who also provided funds for the Boynton Beach-based Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History. The museum was founded by her daughter, Lori J. Durante, in 1999 and was originally located in Delray Beach. Durante’s bail was set at $503,000 but has since been reduced to $253,000, which, family and friends say, is still too high and is intended to keep her behind bars. Durante has a long history of community service and no prior criminal history. Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes has refused to reduce her bond any further. Supporters have set up a website to help raise money for her defense: CharlotteLegalDefenseFund.org.
CALLOUS CUTS PENDING
Deerfield Beach officials are moving forward with plans to privatize some city operations, which assuredly will mean more layoffs. A good percentage of Deerfield Beach residents work for the city and if they lose their jobs it could lead to more foreclosures within the city, which will ultimately impact its tax base. The first areas under consideration for privatization are the predominantly black and lowest paid grounds maintenance and janitorial positions. Commissioner Sylvia Poitier is said to support this privatization plan, which is perplexing since a majority of those impacted workers live within the district she represents.
Anson Joachin, 39, of Parkland has been sentenced to more than three years prison time and must pay $2.3 million in restitution. The penalty was handed down by a federal judge for his role in a multi-million-dollar mortgage scheme that operated in Broward, Palm Beach and Lee counties. Joachin and four co-defendants were convicted of submitting false loan applications to lenders that resulted in $2.35 million worth of fraudulent mortgages being issued. The four others, who were previously sentenced, are John Fisher, 35, of Jupiter; Tracey Balli, 35, of Pembroke Pines; Justina Bryan, 35, of Hollywood; and Delano McLennon, 33, of North Lauderdale. Their restitution payments range from $450,000 to $2 million.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office ended a six-month street-level drug sting by targeting 70 suspects accused of selling drugs to undercover detectives in Dania Beach. All of the suspects were videotaped selling drugs and most have been taken into custody.
Luther LaPaix, 25, of Miami has not been seen since Feb. 1, when he left his home. He was wearing black pants and a white shirt. He is described as 5-foot-9, with brown eyes and weighing 167 pounds. Police are asking anyone with information to call Miami-Dade Police Detective M. Caceres at 305-418-7200.
Johanna Beltran has once again been arrested for allegedly taking thousands of dollars as down payments from unsuspecting people she rented homes to without authorization. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office says Beltran placed “For Rent” signs in front of vacant homes and then collected down payments and rent. Beltran was arrested in May and June 2010 for allegedly running the scam. If convicted of the latest charges, she will be able to live rent-free for up to 30 years …in state penitentiary. Book’em, Danno!