Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Arrests In Hendry ATM Thefts

Four Men Arrested In LaBelle ATM Thefts

LABELLE, FL. --   According to Hendry County Sheriff Ronnie Lee, on December 28th Investigator Robert Archer located a stolen truck on Old Muse Road in Glades county that allegedly was involved in the theft of several bank automatic teller machines in Hendry county and other nearby Florida counties.  

Sean Thomas Abbott allegedly was the driver of the truck involved, and another suspect, Jose Angel Lopez, were arrested and charged with auto theft. 

As Deputies continued the investigation into the theft of several automatic teller machines, they obtained enough evidence to charge Angel Lopez and Juan J. Diaz with the theft of an ATM from the La Mexicana store located south of LaBelle on State Road 29.  Lopez and Diaz were also charged with criminal mischief for the damage to the store when the AMT was stolen. 

During the past few weeks several automatic teller machines have been stolen in Hendry and adjoining counties.  A truck was stolen from the Kiwanis in LaBelle on December 27th and allegedly used in the theft of one or more automatic teller machines.

Sheriff Ronnie Lee praised the Hendry county investigators and deputies for "an outstanding job on this investigation" and said more arrests are forthcoming. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rewards For Reporting Animal Fighting

Will This Eliminate Hendry And Glades County Animal Fighting?

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Hendry and Glades county residents as well as all Floridians can now report animal fighting and be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000 by calling The Humane Society of the United States' animal fighting tip line at 877-TIP-HSUS (847-4787). The rural areas around Clewiston, Moore Haven, and LaBelle have been popular locations for illegal animal fighting for many years, and Florida is the location of many major dogfighting operations, according to authorities.

 "Animal fighting is a cruel and criminal behavior often associated with gang activity and other violence," said Attorney General McCollum. "Now Floridians will have an easy, anonymous way to help make their neighborhoods safer and perhaps receive a substantial reward for their efforts."

Once tips are authenticated, investigators work with law enforcement agencies to inspect, arrest and prosecute animal fighters. Callers' identities are protected, and if a caller's tip leads to the arrest and prosecution of an animal fighter, the caller becomes eligible for a reward of up to $5,000 from The HSUS.

The HSUS animal fighting tip line was first established in the wake of the Michael Vick case so Georgia residents can easily report illegal animal fighting to authorities. Since its inception in January 2008, the Georgia tip line has received more than 1,000 calls, leading to seven raids and 11 arrests.

Last May, the Florida Attorney General announced The HSUS's $5,000 reward program to combat animal fighting in Florida and strongly supports this latest phase in the efforts to find and prosecute those involved in the crime. The HSUS estimates that Florida is one of the top three states in which major dogfighting operations exist.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Clewiston Woman Dies In Canal

Victim Discovered Trapped In Car

CLEWISTON,. FL -- A 57-year old Clewiston woman was discovered dead in a canal after in a crash this week in a Hendry county canal. The Florida Highway Patrol reports Betty Ramsaran was driving a 2004 Ford Taurus on County Road 833 1.5 miles south of County Road 835 when the vehicle left the road and went over a dike, landing in a small canal.

The vehicle landed on its roof with the driver trapped inside. The driver had been reported as missing by relatives on December 22. The vehicle was found by the Big Cypress Seminole Tribe Police Department's Air Unit.

The FPH report says Stacey Lynn McPherson, 25 of Moore Haven was a passenger, suffering serious injuries and was taken to the Hendry Regional Hospital.

Investigation continues on any alcohol or drug use by the driver.

LaBelle Real Estate Sales For December

Lower Priced Homes Selling As Prices Drop

LABELLE, FL. -- Prices for homes have shown record drops this year all over the country. More sales are now taking place in the $100,000 market than ever before records show. In the LaBelle area for the month of December there were seven homes sold for an average price of $97,286.

1) $127,000 on Bucknell SW Road
2) $117,000 on Crawford Street
3) $80,000 on Hardee Street (Port LaBelle)
4) $59,000 on Kumquat Circle (Port LaBelle)
5) $123,000 on Lady Lane (Port LaBelle)
6) $79,000 on Lady Lane (Port LaBelle)
7) $96,000 on S Balsam Circle (Port LaBelle)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Florida Taxpayers Get Plenty Back From Feds

Direct Payments From Federal Government High In Florida

LABELLE, FL. -- According to a new study from the Florida Legislature, in 2007, federal direct expenditures, or actual funding outlays or obligations of the federal government, to Florida totaled $147 billion or $8,059 per capita, based on the state�s 2007 population estimate of 18.3 million. Florida had the 4th largest expenditure of all states, unchanged from 2006. However, on a per capita basis, Florida ranked 29th among the states, down from 25th in 2006.

Florida 2nd Highest In Retirement And Veteran Benefits

Direct payments for individuals for retirement and disability constituted the largest category of federal direct expenditure. This category includes Social Security payments, federal retirement and disability payments, and veterans� benefits. Florida�s direct payments for retirement and disability totaled $55.6 billion, or $3,044 per capita, and accounted for 38% of the state�s total federal direct expenditures. Florida had the 2nd largest expenditure total of the fifty states, unchanged from 2006, and ranked 7th on a per capita basis, unchanged from 2006.

Hendry County - Highest Unemployment Again

Slowness In Agriculture And Construction To Blame

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry County, at 11.9 percent, has the highest unemployment rate in Florida in November, followed by Flagler County (11.1 percent); St. Lucie County (10.4 percent); Hernando County (10.2 percent); and Hamilton and Okeechobee counties (10.0 percent each). Hendry County�s high jobless rate is due mainly to seasonal slowness in agriculture and related industries with the other areas being impacted by construction and manufacturing declines.

In November 2008, Alachua and Liberty counties have the state�s lowest unemployment rates (4.9 percent), followed by Walton County (5.0 percent); Sumter County (5.1 percent); Leon County (5.2 percent); and Franklin County (5.3 percent).

Florida�s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November 2008 is 7.3 percent. This represents 680,000 jobless out of a labor force of 9,311,000. The unemployment rate is 0.3 percentage point higher than the October rate of 7.0 percent and is up 2.9 percentage points from the November 2007 rate. Florida�s November 2008 unemployment rate is the highest since June 1993, which was also 7.3 percent. The state�s current unemployment rate is 0.6 percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.

Body Recovered From Immokalee Lake

Fisherman's Body Found In Lake Trafford

IMMOKALEE, FL. --A Florida Fish And Wildlife Commission officer has recovered the body of a missing fisherman on Lake Trafford, a lake on the northwest corner of Immokalee, Florida, according to
the FWC public information coordinator for the south region Gabriella Ferraro.

The missing fisherman's body was recovered just after 8 a.m. this Wednesday and has been identified as 70 year old Foster Jackson of Ft. Myers. The body was found on the south end of Lake Trafford, a popular fishing area near Immokalee. 

The Lee County medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the body to determine the cause of death.

New Hendry Hunting And Birding Facility

Everglades Bird Watching And Hunting Possible For Disabled

CLEWISTON, FL. -- In an effort to honor our nation�s veterans while also making public conservation lands more accessible to all, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) constructed a waterfowl hunting and bird watching platform in the Everglades in Hendry County for the disabled and residents alike.

The platform itself is a large wooden boardwalk that can accommodate two wheelchairs. For hunting, the structure can be set up with camouflage netting and other tools of the sport. Two additional, higher platforms accomodate visitors for wildlife viewing at other times.
The SFWMD and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sponsored the first hunt on December 21, when several hunters lent their hunting permits to disabled veterans so they could enjoy the new platform located in Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 5 in Hendry County. Bird watchers will also benefit from the increased access, says the SFWMD.
Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas, which are planted with native vegetation, use �green technology� to reduce phosphorus levels in stormwater runoff. To date, the District has converted more than 52,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee to STAs. An additional 12,000 acres are now being designed as part of the District�s ongoing effort to improve Everglades water quality.

In addition to their role in improving Everglades water quality, the massive treatment wetlands have become a haven for South Florida wildlife, particularly wading birds and migratory waterfowl. Many of the STAs have been opened to the public for recreation such as hiking, biking and bird watching.
The District has long sponsored a hunting recreation program, and all of the District�s STAs are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The SFWMD took several steps to improve recreational opportunities throughout South Florida in 2008 including:
In October, outdoor enthusiasts gained another spot to enjoy a host of recreational activities with the opening of the 3,700-acre Chandler Slough in Okeechobee, an addition to the Kissimmee River Public Use Area.
In July 2008, the SFWMD outfitted Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 1 West, located in central Palm Beach County, with a new parking area leading to a 200-foot viewing platform and gazebos overlooking the watery expanse. The three-mile trail along a section of the levee surrounding the 6,670-acre STA offers hikers, bicyclists, photographers and bird watchers vast views of nature and wildlife such as great blue herons and mottled ducks.
Also in July 2008, hikers, campers and horseback riders were given access to apply online for recreational use licenses for activities on more than a dozen sites managed by the District. The online application is at www.sfwmd.gov/sul .

SFWMD Governing Board Member Michael Collins and SFWMD Everglades Recreation Program Manager Jerry Krenz talked about the project and the improved public access. [] Audio Interview

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Home Prices Still A Disaster

Falling Prices - 53% Price Decline In Fort Myers

LABELLE, FL. -- Statistics released by the Florida Association of REALTORS® on November 2008 sales of existing homes indicate that home sales were up overall statewide and existing condominium sales were down overall statewide, but median prices overall still showing a downward trend especially in Lee county. 

Existing home sales in Florida for November 2008 versus November 2007 were up 4% statewide with median sales prices down 27%, although some areas experienced significant differences.  Existing home sales in Marco Island were up 79% with median sales price down 48% and home sales in Fort Myers were up 64% with median sales price down 53%, while existing home sales in Gainesville were down 41% with median sales price down 21%.

Existing condo sales in Florida for November 2008 were down 8% statewide compared to November 2007, with median prices down 30% statewide, although Ocala showed existing condo sales up 50% with median prices down 12%.  Tallahassee showed condo sales down 86% with median sales prices down 27%, and Gainesville showed sales down 61% with median sales prices down 9% compared to November 2007.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Four Convicted Of Farm Worker Slavery

Prison, Fines, And Deportation For Agricultural Labor Crimes

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- Four defendants were sentenced Friday December 19 in federal district court in Fort Meyers, Fla., after pleading guilty to a scheme to enslave Mexican and Guatemalan nationals and compel their labor as farmworkers, the Justice Department announced.

Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete were each sentenced to 12 years in prison and held jointly and severally liable, along with other co-defendants, for $239,882.46 in restitution payable to the victims. Defendant Ismael Michael Navarrete was sentenced to 46 months in prison, and Defendant Villhina Navarrete was sentenced to time served.  Both Ismael and Villhina were also joined in the order of restitution. All defendants will be removed from the United States following the completion of their sentences.

This case was investigated by agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and investigators from the Collier County Sheriffs Department. Victim assistance was provided by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Florida Freedom Partnership. This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Susan French and Adriana Vieco of the Justice Department�s Civil Rights Division and Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy of the Middle District of Florida.

A total of six defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme.  All defendants pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented foreign nationals for private financial gain and related felonies.  Defendants Cesar Navarrete and Geovanni Navarrete also pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining and locking workers in trucks to force them to work as agricultural laborers, in addition to other related crimes. According to documents filed in court, the defendants were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving them into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid to the Navarrete family.

"These defendants used physical coercion and abuse to force the victims to work for their own financial benefit," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This case further demonstrates the Justice Department�s committed to vigorously prosecuting all those who engage in human trafficking."

"This case shows that human slavery is not a thing of the past, but an ugly crime that still continues to afflict our communities," said A. Brian Albritton, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. "We encourage those who learn of such mistreatment to report it to local, state or federal authorities."

The prosecution of human trafficking offenses is a top priority of the Justice Department.  Since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, human trafficking prosecutions brought by the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys Offices have resulted in a 455 percent increase in defendants charged, and a 581 percent increase in convictions and guilty pleas as compared to the prior eight-year period.  In Fiscal Year 2008, the Department filed a record number of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking cases.

Big Hendry County Lottery Winner?

Winning Ticket Sold In Clewiston

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Florida Lottery announced Sunday that two players matched all five winning numbers in the Saturday, December 20, FANTASY 5® drawing and will share a $270,569.24 top prize. One of the lucky winners bought a ticket in Clewiston. The winners will each receive $135,284.62.

The winning FANTASY 5 numbers were: 10 - 28 - 29 - 30 - 32. The winning tickets was sold at the following locations:

State Line Gift Shop - Quick Pick (Free Ticket)
11208 U.S. Highway 97
McDavid (Escambia County)

Tropical Village Market - Quick Pick
1450 E. Sugarland Highway
Clewiston (Hendry County)

These retailers will receive a bonus incentive of $500 for selling the top-prize winning tickets. More than 112,000 other FANTASY 5 players won cash prizes or a free Quick Pick ticket for matching two, three or four numbers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sheriff Lee Sued For Sex Discrimination

Pregnant Woman Demoted And Pay Cut...U.S. Justice Department

LABELLE, FL. -- The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Hendry County Sheriff Ronnie Lee and the Hendry County Board of County Commissioners, alleging that the Hendry County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) is engaged in a pattern or practice of sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The complaint alleges that HCSO discriminated against female officers by adopting and maintaining an unlawful policy that requires all pregnant employees to take light duty regardless of their ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs.

The complaint also alleges that HCSO discriminated against Tonya Shaw, a former deputy sheriff, by demoting her and reducing her pay when it learned that Ms. Shaw was pregnant, and by placing her on a mandatory light duty assignment without evaluating her ability to perform the essential functions of her job after she gave formal written notice of her pregnancy.

"Title VII protects pregnant women from employment discrimination," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department is committed to vigorously enforcing all of the federal civil rights laws under its jurisdiction."

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, seeks an order enjoining HCSO from continuing to maintain its mandatory light duty policy for pregnant employees and requiring HCSO to adopt a policy regarding light duty that is lawful under Title VII. The complaint also seeks monetary damages and other relief for victims of sex discrimination by HCSO.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Plattner Auto Dealership Sued By State

Area Car Dealer Accused Of Deceptive Practices

BELLE GLADE, FL. -- Attorney General Bill McCollum has announced his office has filed a lawsuit against a auto dealership and its owner, alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices related to vehicle advertisements. The Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division has been investigating Plattner's Belle Glade Dealership and owner Doug Plattner since 2004 for numerous advertisements in which the price of the vehicle did not include dealer fees. Dealer's fees can be several hundred dollars.

Being sued is Belle Glade Chevrolet-Cadillac-Buick-Pontiac-Oldsmobile, Inc. d/b/a Plattner's Belle Glade and Plattner's Clewiston located at 1700 East Palm Beach Road, Belle Glade. The allegations is a violation of a prior Attorney General order AG#L04-3-1153 and of Section 501.976(16), Fla. Stat. (2007) by advertising prices for vehicles which fail to reflect "dealer's fee." The office handling the case is the Economic Crimes Division in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In March 2005, Plattner's Belle Glade Dealership signed a settlement agreement stating it would disclose dealer fees in the price of its vehicles and refrain from any misleading advertisements. Additionally, it agreed that any future violations within four years of the settlement would result in penalties and sanctions against the dealership. Since the time of the settlement, Plattner's has run more than 100 advertisements which violate the settlement and Florida's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices statute.

The Attorney General's lawsuit has requested injunctive relief to prevent Plattner's from running any more misleading advertisements. The lawsuit also requests civil penalties under the statute of $10,000 per advertisement and reimbursement of attorneys' fees and costs.

Plattner also owns local automotive dealerships in LaBelle, , Clewiston, Ft. Myers, and Lehigh Acres, including LaBelle Chrysler Dodge Jeep and a General Motors dealership in Arcadia, Fl. In the past, all the Plattner dealerships had added "dealer fees" that were not disclosed up front to customers or disclosed in advertising. Currently, Plattner has been running TV ads promoting "no dealer fees."

U.S. Sugar Corp Sale Not Done Deal?

VP Robert Coker Says Company Will "Shop" For Better Deal

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Robert Coker, senior vice president, public affairs at U.S. Sugar Corp responded to Tuesday's agreement to sell it's land holdings to the South Florida Water Management District and claims this is a sale to best serve company stockholders, but says the company is still open to better offers.

Coker says BMO Capital Markets, U.S. Sugar�s financial advisor, will begin a 60-day period to "shop" the Company and give other interested purchasers a chance to make a better offer. This includes the Lawrence Group, which has indicated an interest in the Company through correspondence and an aggressive media campaign but not yet made a legally binding offer.

"During the next 60 days, we will seek and consider any legitimate, bona fide offers and make sure that we have the best deal for our stockholders," Coker said.

Coker also said in a press release Tuesday, "This has been a time of uncertainty, but now that the agreement has been signed, it should provide a greater degree of certainty for our employees, our stockholders and our communities," Coker said. �We believe this deal serves the best strategic, long-term objectives of the Company and its stockholders."

"Some have criticized the transaction as not providing a sufficient return to U.S. Sugar stockholders while others have criticized the transaction as being too generous to U.S. Sugar stockholders. Without a doubt, we would not be doing this if we didn�t believe it was a fair deal for our stockholders,� Coker said. "In addition, this is a tremendous opportunity for our state and her people, and the government would not be doing this if they did not feel it was fair to them. This is a monumental opportunity to save the Everglades, and after many months of negotiations, we can now move forward."

Although the Company will continue to farm the land and operate its businesses for at least seven years as defined in the contract, Coker said U.S. Sugar intends to work quickly and diligently with state and federal interests to put together an economic transition plan for the local communities.

U.S.Sugar Land Contract Accepted

Purchase Agreement Subject To Funding

CLEWISTON, FL. -- After extensive deliberation, due diligence and public input, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today voted 4 to 3 to accept a proposal to acquire more than 180,000 acres of agricultural land for Everglades restoration from the United States Sugar Corporation, contingent upon a specific amendment to the negotiated purchase and sale contract.

The transaction, subject to financing and U.S. Sugar's concurrence with the revised contract condition, would provide water managers with the opportunity to store and treat water for the benefit of the Everglades's "River of Grass", Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries. The proposed purchase is the largest public land acquisition in Florida's history and the single most important action to protect the Everglades since the designation of Everglades National Park sixty years ago, say the Water Management District officials.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for restoration. The immense environmental benefit of these lands and their value to Florida's unique Everglades ecosystem cannot be overstated," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. "Without losing sight of Governor Crist's bold vision for restoration, the Board has evaluated the details of the proposed acquisition and listened carefully to the input of Floridians, the Florida Legislature and local elected leaders. Amending the contract before us is an important step for delivering an agreement that not only meets South Florida's environmental needs but also better protects the interests of the taxpayers. This is good government and the public process at work. We are hopeful that U.S. Sugar will agree to this essential and necessary improvement to the contract and accept the Board's revision."

The District would take ownership of a minimum of 180,000 acres land and its improvements for a purchase price of $1.34 billion.
Under a separate agreement, U.S. Sugar would lease and manage the land for agricultural operation for seven years, avoiding more than $40 million in land management costs to the District over the life of the lease.

The lease arrangement would allow the release of the first 10,000 acres of property to the District at any time after the first year with appropriate notice. An additional 30,000 acres may be released in year six, on or after December 30, 2015. The lease agreement would also allow for the release of up to 3,000 acres in connection with land transfers to municipalities or other governmental entities. The company would retain ownership of its major assets, including a sugar mill, refinery, railroad and citrus processing plant.

Subject to court validation and suitable market conditions, the District would issue certificates of participation to fund the land acquisition. The parties must close on the purchase within 90 days of bond validation and no later than September 25, 2009.

To protect the agency's core mission in light of a fluctuating and challenging economic climate, the Governing Board strengthened financing conditions within the purchase and sale agreement offered by U.S. Sugar. Before closing, a newly proposed clause would allow the Governing Board to review the most current economic conditions – including interest rates and revenue streams – and verify the District's capacity to finance the purchase and accomplish its existing statutory mandates and legal obligations.

The District's extensive due diligence included multiple land appraisals, environmental assessments and engineering evaluations over more than 180,000 acres. The in-depth reports and data associated with the acquisition were presented to the Governing Board during a series of monthly public meetings and made available through the District's Web site at www.sfwmd.gov/riverofgrass as part of the public proceedings and deliberation.

The Everglades once covered almost 11,000 square miles of South Florida. Just a century ago, water flowed down the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, then south through the Everglades to the Florida Bay – the ultimate destination of the pure sheet flow. Because of efforts to drain the marshland for agriculture, development and flood control, the Everglades is today half the size it was a century ago.

The Everglades is home to more than sixty threatened and endangered species, including the Florida panther, American crocodile, snail kite and wood stork. The mix of salt and freshwater makes it the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas In Port LaBelle

An elaborate Port LaBelle Christmas display on Springview Circle in Laurel Oaks

Tranny Man Busted In Scam

Repair Shop Scam Closed Down

INDIANTOWN, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has announced the arrest of a Martin County businessman for defrauding numerous customers who purchased rebuilt auto transmissions but never received them.

Investigators with Bronson's Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement made the arrest Monday evening following a two-month investigation triggered by complaints to the department's toll-free hotline.

The defendant, Edward J. Lukas, 50, of Indiantown, was charged with four counts of grand theft and three counts of credit card fraud, which are all third-degree felonies.  Investigators claim that the man defrauded consumers through his website at http://www.transpowerfactory.com.

During the course of the probe, authorities located six victims throughout the country who claimed to have paid Lukas for rebuilt transmissions but never received them.  The business refused to issue refunds after customers called to complain, and phone calls, voicemails and e-mails to the business went unanswered, investigators allege.

Lukas was booked into the Martin County Jail on $525,000 bond, but as a result of a violation of probation charge stemming from an unrelated 1999 arrest, he will not be released.

Consumers who want to check the complaint history of a business or a file a complaint against one can do so by visiting the Florida Consumer Services Division website at http://www.800helpfla.com or by calling 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352).       

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hendry County Live Video - USA TODAY

Watch Live Florida Sunsets And Much More Says USA TODAY

LABELLE , FL. --  Hendry county, Florida live video broadcaster, and Sunday Morning News publisher Don Browne was mentioned this week in an article in USA Today about live video webcasting.

Writing in USA TODAY, tech writer Jefferson Graham says live video broadcasts are "taking off" on numerous web sites. The article says you can find most anything being broadcast live, from a live video view of Christmas lights to an amateur Italian band rehearsing in a basement.

Graham says, "If those offerings on Ustream.tv don't grab you, there's always the Florida sunset from contributor Don Browne's patio on Justin.tv, or tech blogger Robert Scoble's video test of a new Nokia phone, streamed from his cellphone in Barcelona."

Justin.tv,  less than two years old, had 11 million views on its hundreds of live video channels in the month of November. Although YouTube's pre-recorded video had 71 million views in November, Justin.tv has a lot of eyeballs watching everything from live sports to office cams. Don Browne's live video channel ( http://justin.tv/kq4ym) from LaBelle, Florida has had over 300,000 viewers.

The USA TODAY story: "Live video takes off on sites like Justin.tv and Ustream.tv" : http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/hotsites/2008-12-09-live-video_N.htm

Friday, December 12, 2008

Governor Crist Wants To Help

Public Assistance Help Online

Governor Charlie Crist this week announced the creation of My ACCESS Account, a system that allows food stamp, temporary cash assistance and Medicaid applicants and recipients to check the status of their case online, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

More Floridians are applying for and receiving public assistance than ever before. In November, 1.7 million people received food stamps; 91,000 people received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash benefits; and 1.8 million individuals received Medicaid.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that Florida has experienced the highest food stamp caseload increase in the nation, now 45% above the April 2007 level.

Individuals who wish to apply for assistance can call 1-866-76ACCES (1-866-762-2237). They can also apply online at www.myflorida.com/accessflorida, or visit one of the program�s 3,300 community partner sites. For more information about the Department of Children and Families� ACCESS Florida program, visit http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/ess/.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hendry County Cocaine Bust

Search Warrant Brings Two Cocaine Related Arrests

LABELLE, FL. -- On December 9, 2008 Hendry County Sheriff's Office Narcotic Investigators executed a search warrant at 801 Suwanee Avenue in LaBelle.

Sheriff Ronnie Lee said Deputies located powder and crack cocaine within the residence. Charles Lamont Covington, age 27, and Tedaryl Ardell McKinnon, age 35, were both arrested and charged with Sale of Cocaine. McKinnon was also charged with Possession of Cocaine.

No bond has been set and both remain in the Hendry County jail.

Stolen Truck Recovered In Hendry County

Daniel Hurtado Arrested For Auto Theft

LABELLE, FL. -- On December 6th, shortly after 9:00 a.m., the Hendry County Sheriff''s Office received a report of a stolen vehicle. A truck belonging to Everglades Farm Equipment in Immokalee, was parked at 2839 S.R. Road  80. The driver allegedly stopped at a yard sale and left the keys in the truck.

The driver, Adrian Sanchez, heard a door slam shut and turned to see the truck being driven away by a Hispanic male. A short time later, the manager of Everglades Farm Equipment saw the truck headed south on S.R. 29. He followed the truck to the Mexican convenient store in Felda where the suspect fled on foot behind the store.

The suspect was later apprehended by Deputy George Elver in a wooded area near Church Road. Daniel Hurtado, age 27 of Barbara Street in LaBelle, was arrested and charged with Larceny and Auto Theft.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hendry May Get Criminal Warrant Alerts

New System Checks Outstanding Warrants Nationwide

LABELLE, FL. -- Metatomix, Inc., a leading provider of semantic solutions to justice and public safety, financial services, manufacturing and life sciences organizations, this week announced that Lee County, Florida has implemented an Active Warrant Alert System to identify defendants appearing before the court who have open local, Florida, out-of-state or federal warrants, enabling court and law enforcement personnel to take appropriate action. 

The Active Warrant Alert System is a computer software program that queries and delivers correlated results from 13 state and national data sources empowering criminal justice personnel with real-time information. These solutions were developed by Metatomix in cooperation with the Florida Office of State Courts Administrator. The company's other court software is currently in use in all 67 counties across the state, with over four million search queries processed each month.

Lee County is the first county in Florida to integrate the Active Warrant Alert System, which flags warrants for any subject appearing for court events such as arraignment, pretrial, bond, motion, case management or traffic hearings. The technology provides court officials with access to warrant information from sheriff's departments and attorney's offices across local, state and national information systems. Previously, bailiffs were required to log in to numerous computer systems to acquire information on a subject's criminal history as well as any local, Florida, out-of-state or federal warrants.

Within the first seven days of implementation in Lee County, the warrant detection system identified 141 warrants that led to 16 arrests.

"Metatomix's JIS solution will play a critical role in ensuring public safety in Lee County," said Chief Judge G. Keith Cary of the 20th Judicial Circuit in a press release from the company. " The project is the first of its kind and could be expanded to the four other counties within the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida including Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades Counties.

New Administrator - Glades Health Department

LABELLE, FL. -- The Board of Commissioners of Glades county has approved recommendations to appoint Patricia Dobbins as the new administrator of the Glades Health Department. The Glades Health Department works jointly with the Hendry Health Department.

The Glades commissioners at this week's meeting said Ms. Dobbins "has always been responsibly responsive to Glades County�s public health needs." It is expected that Dobbins will also be approved this week by the Hendry County Board of Commissioners as administrator of the Hendry Health Department. Dobbins will be the first non-physician to have ever headed the area's Health Department.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Port LaBelle Inn Changes Hands Again

Hendry Motel Sold A Fifth Time For Only $900,000

LABELLE, FL. -- Port LaBelle's only motel/hotel property has changed ownership for the fifth time in five years. One of Hendry county's best known motels is now owned by Ed J. Yasechko of Hubbard, Ohio. Yasechko's new company, Port LaBelle Inn LLC took over the three story building and five acres on September 30, and then purchased the adjoining three vacant acres on November 15.

The 1980s half-hundred room motel property was originally sold off at auction as part of the old 27 holf golf course in June 2003 by Double Eagle Limited Partnership to a partnership owned by Richard and Dottie Seibel of LaBelle for $715,000.

The Seibel's then sold it to Michael J. Lafferty of Arizona for $4,000,000, the Seibel's taking back a large mortgage to finance the sale. This sale was in November 2005.

After Lafferty had some difficulties with keeping the hotel afloat, letting maintenance lapse, while Maine's Best Restaruant's failed reportedly to pay any lease payment to Lafferty, the Seibels started to foreclose on Lafferty, and Lafferty agreed to deed the property back to them in August 2007. Lafferty still owns the acreage to the south of the motel along State Road 80, which has been in foreclosure since July.

After repairing the hotel rooms and bringing it up to presentable condition over the last two years, the Seibels put the property back on the market and sold it to Yasechko. Yasechko, an experieced real estate operator in Ohio had been in negotiations over the last several years to purchase the motel and felt the new sales price of $900,000 for the hotel and its eight acres was a good buy.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Two Panthers Killed On Area Roads

Panther Deaths Spur Caution To Motorists

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- Two endangered Florida panthers, one each in Lee and Collier counties, met a sad fate in collisions with motor vehicles over the Thanksgiving holiday, and that has wildlife officials concerned.

On Nov. 26, at approximately 6:30 p.m., an otherwise healthy male panther met an untimely death on Alico Road near Devore Lane in Lee County.  In Collier County, a female panther eventually died from injuries sustained at about 4:50 p.m. on Nov. 29 in a collision on Oil Well Road, one mile east of Camp Keis Road. 

So far in 2008, 10 Florida panthers are known to have succumbed to collisions with motor vehicles.  In 2007, 14 panthers were known to have died on state highways.  Though the two panthers killed recently were not struck in posted panther speed zones, motorists are cautioned to be on the lookout for the large cats near wild areas near panther zones, especially near sundown. Panthers tend to be more active during the hours between dusk and dawn, when most automobile strikes occur.   

To avoid collisions with roaming panthers, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urges motorists to obey posted speed limits and remain on guard for panthers crossing roadways as daylight fades.

To help protect the large cats from increasing traffic threats, the FWC along with sheriff's deputies and the Florida Highway Patrol actively enforce panther speed zones in Lee and Collier counties.  Panther speed zones are well-marked, with speed limits reduced at night to 45 mph.

Collier County has four panther speed zones: two on State Road 29 and two on U.S. 41, including the newly posted zone through Collier-Seminole State Park. 

In Lee County, there are three panther speed zones: one each on Corkscrew Road, Daniels Road Extension and Alico Road.

Though Florida has experienced a significant increase in panther numbers, up from an estimated 30 animals 20 years ago to about 100 today, Darrell Land, FWC biologist and panther team leader, cautions that the species is far from recovered. 

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Alva Doctor Reappointed By Governor

Alva Doctor - Chief Medical Examiner

ALVA, FL. -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist this week announced the reappointment of  Rebecca A. Hamilton, 43, of Alva, as chief medical examiner for District 21 in Southwest Florida. Dr. Hamilton has been reappointed for a term beginning December 4, 2008, and ending July 1, 2011.

LaBelle Home Sales Last Month

8 Real Estate Parcels Sold In November

LABELLE, FL. -- From November 4 to December 2 there were 8 homes sold in the LaBelle Area for an average price of $140,750.  The parcels sold include:

1) $60,000 on Bishop Circle - Port LaBelle
2) $165,000 on Dania Circle - Port LaBelle
3) $120,000 on Dolphin Circle - Port LaBelle
4) $43,000 on Favor Avenue - LaBelle
5) $173,000 on Green Circle - Port LaBelle
6) $140,000 on Hardee Street - LaBelle
7) $190,000 on Springview Circle - Port LaBelle
8) $235,000 on Trader Rd - Hendry County

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Warning To Seniors About Free Lunches

Free Lunch Seminars May Lead To High Pressure Sales Pitch

LABELLE, FL. --  Attorney General Bill McCollum and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary E. Douglas Beach this week issued a consumer advisory urging senior citizens and their loved ones to think twice before taking advantage of so-called financial planning seminars or estate preservation workshops that use a "free lunch" to lure seniors to attend.

The Attorney General's Office has received complaints from seniors enticed to attend a free meal that actually turned out to be a high-pressure sales pitch for investments that may be entirely inappropriate for the individual based on his or her age and financial circumstance.

The invitations to the free meal often arrive via phone or mail and promise tips on earning great financial return with minimal risk, eliminating taxes or avoiding probate. After a high-pressure presentation, salespeople then try to schedule follow-up visits in the homes of those who attend so they can continue the pitch. In addition to losing money, consumers who complained to the Attorney General's Office reported being badgered by multiple unsolicited phone calls and frustrated by misrepresentation of the
seminar's purpose.

AARP and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recommend that seniors do not purchase anything or open an account of any kind at a free-meal seminar. Seniors should also consider asking the following questions of any investment proposal:

-     What are the risks of this investment?
-     How much does it cost initially to purchase the investment?
-     What, if any, additional or ongoing costs will I have to pay?
-     How liquid is this investment? If I need to sell or cash in the
investment, how readily can I do so?
-     Will my investment be tied up? If so, for how long?
-     What happens if I decide to sell or cash in my investment? Are there
surrender charges or other fees?
-     For what type of investor is this investment a good idea? For what
type of investor is this investment a bad idea?
-     Is the investment registered? If so, with which regulator?
-     Are those offering the investment opportunity willing to give
information to me in writing?

Collier Ambulance At Fault But Not Charged

Crash Injures Four Including Ambulance Patient

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- A Collier County ambulance collided at a red light with a unmarked Collier Sheriff's Ford SUV November 28 at 7:42 a.m. Because the ambulance driver was fulfilling her duties she was not charged, although at fault according to the Florida Highway Patrol investigation.

Kristopher Sutton, 34 of Naples was driving an unmarked Collier County Sheriff's Department vehicle, traveling north on Kings Way approaching the intersection of SR 84. Eva Weeks, 56 of Naples in a marked Collier County ambulance was traveling west on SR 84 approaching the intersection of Kings Way. The SUV when entering the intersection,  struck the ambulance in the left rear axle. Sutton suffered minor injuries.

After being struck,  the ambulance was knocked onto its right side, and continued to travel in a westerly direction on its side, struck a raised curb with its front and rotated in a counterclockwise direction and finally coming to final rest on its right side facing north on SR 84.

The ambulance had an EMS worker, Rebecca Wilson, 33 of LaBelle as a passenger and a patient, 70-year old Phyllis Robinson  on board. The patient was being transported for medical reasons to a local hospital for treatment. Driver Wilson suffered minor injuries. Patient Robinson suffered critical injuries and passenger Wilson serious injuries. Sutton and Weeks were taken to Naples Community Hospital, and Wilson and Robinson to Lee Memorial Hospital.

Crash Investigator Sergeant Dwayne W. Cooper of the FHP explains, "It should be noted that both drivers stated that they had the green light. The witnesses have similar statements. Based on the totality of the crash investigation it is determined that vehicle 2 entered the intersection on a red light. Witnesses stated that they saw emergency lights but heard no sirens for vehicle 2. Even though the emergency lights were activated, vehicle 2's driver is required by Florida Statute to yield to vehicles that have legally entered an intersection and shall have the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highways. Furthermore, with no siren and the ambulance not stopping, vehicle 1's driver did not have much if any warning."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Florida Holiday Hunting Tips

By Tony Young

There's finally a chill and a certain festiveness in the air as most of us try to take time off from work to enjoy spending quality time with family and friends and reflect on the passing year. Children will be out of school on winter break soon, and while the holiday season's upon us, so are several traditional hunting opportunities.

The second phase of waterfowl and coot season comes in statewide Dec. 6 and runs through Jan. 25. In addition to the usual hunting license and permit requirements, duck hunters also must have a Florida waterfowl permit ($3) and a federal duck stamp ($15).

The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but you need to know your ducks before you pull the trigger, because there are different daily limits for each species. For instance, within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck, one fulvous whistling-duck and one pintail.

Only two of your six-bird limit can be redheads and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks, and canvasback season is closed.

This year, the daily bag limit on scaup has changed, and you may take only one through Jan. 5; then you can take two from Jan. 6 until waterfowl season ends Jan. 25. The daily limit on coots is 15, and there's a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.

When hunting waterfowl, hunters may use only non-toxic shotgun shells. In fact, it's illegal for hunters even to possess lead shot when waterfowl hunting. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten-alloys are permissible.

For something different, try woodcock hunting. Woodcock season runs Dec. 20 – Jan. 18. Woodcocks are excellent game birds because they hold well for pointing bird dogs and provide a challenging shot when flushed. The daily bag limit is three.

The third phase of mourning and white-winged dove season opens Dec. 13 and runs through Jan. 11. The daily bag limit's been increased this year to 15 birds.

From November on, shooting hours for all migratory birds are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. You must get a no-cost migratory bird permit where you purchase your hunting license before you hunt any of these birds, though.

The only firearm you're allowed to hunt migratory game birds with is a shotgun, no larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined). Bows also are legal.

Retrievers and bird dogs can be useful in hunting migratory game birds. Artificial decoys, as well as manual or mouth-operated bird calls, also are legal and essential gear for duck hunters.

You may hunt migratory game birds over an agricultural field, as long as the crop's been planted by regular agricultural methods. However, don't even think about "sweetening" the field by scattering agricultural products over it – or anywhere near it – or you could wind up in serious trouble. It doesn't matter if you aren't the one who scattered the bait. If you knew or should've known that such bait was present, you're accountable under the law.

Some other things you can't do while hunting migratory game birds include using rifles, pistols, crossbows, traps, snares, nets, sinkboxes, swivel guns, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosive substances, live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds or electrically amplified bird-call imitations. Shooting from a moving automobile or boat and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also are against the law.

Bobcat and otter hunting season is Dec. 1 – March 1, and there's no daily bag or season limit on either species.

Like foxes, bobcats may be chased year-round with dogs, but possessing firearms during the closed season between March 2 and Nov. 30 is prohibited. On a few wildlife management areas, bobcats and otters may not be taken, so please consult the specific area brochure before you hunt.

Whether upland bird hunting with friends and family, shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab or taking that big bobcat as he slips up behind an unsuspecting fawn, December has the hunting opportunities you're looking for.

Here's wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season. If you can, remember to introduce someone new to our great sport. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we'll see you in the woods!