Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshal

Nikki Yeager Leads LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival Parade As Grand Marshal

LABELLE, FL. -- LaBelle's Nikki Yeager has been named as the 2012 Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshal and will carry out her duties on Saturday February 25th leading LaBelle's annual parade.

A registered nurse and active real estate broker, Nikki Yeager has an extensive background in business, including teaching gymnastics. She was even installed in the Texas Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1991. 

In Florida, she turned her talents toward real estate and has been devoting many hours to civic activities. This Texas transplant wasn’t shy about jumping into LaBelle activities. She just rolled up her sleeves and got to know other folks who make good things happen. 

Nikki credits her mother with raising her to understand that she “can do anything she wants to.” For Nikki, that means putting out the effort to be of help and to encourage others to do what they can for the community.

This special lady attributes her participation in so many activities to her high energy level. “It’s what keeps me going the way I am,” she explained. She continues by saying that money has never been a prime motivator for her. “I just see what needs to be done, and I do it.”

Nikki is a natural born organizer. Case in point – setting up delivery routes for the American Legion’s Community Christmas dinner that served over 600 meals on Christmas Day.

Her favorite activities, though, are the ones where she can get her hands in the dirt. As a member and past president of the LaBelle Garden Club, Nikki has helped beautify the City of LaBelle, Aqua Isles and Bob
Mason Park. 

She even arranged with Ace Hardware to donate aging and excess plants for her to distribute to those who would like to have them.

She became certified as an Emergency First Response Team member, expanding on her knowledge and experience as a Registered Nurse.

Nikki’s love of children and animals inspired her participation in many activities for children and her support for the Caloosa Humane Society for homeless and abused animals.

This newly-chosen Grand Marshal is no stranger to the Swamp Cabbage Festival, having worked at many festivals, providing service to previous dignitaries.

Nikki has been a Kiwanian, serving as a director and as president. Her big heart has led her to be a major participant in planning the annual Relay For Life, raising funds for cancer research.

She has a long association with LaBelle Woman’s Club and has been active with the LaBelle Heritage Museum, serving as a volunteer hostess; and has been a major contributor to the Old Timer Dinners.

Nikki volunteers with the Firehouse Community Theatre and the Gourmet Dining Club where she assists in scheduling the rotating gatherings.

City and county affairs have not escaped her notice and she keeps abreast of what’s happening through the many meetings she attends.

She has even taken up the mantel for her significant other, Paul Roser, in many Rotary Club events, spaghetti dinners for schools, Nature Park cleanups, etc., as his health is failing. She is also his primary caregiver.

The time is short, though, for Nikki to share her considerable talents with LaBelle. She and Paul are packing up to tour in a motor coach. They plan to visit relatives and friends they haven’t seen for quite a while. Still, they’re not completely breaking their ties, keeping in touch via computer and expect to visit LaBelle now as snowbirds and stay active in real estate.

It may be time for a change for Nikki and Paul, but this 2012 SCF Grand Marshal has surely left her mark on LaBelle and its residents’ hearts.

VW Stolen From LaBelle Courthouse Recovered

Michael Dean Vahle Arrested After Vehicle Theft

LABELLE, FL. -- A LaBelle man with a long criminal history going back to 2001 has been arrested on theft and drug charges.

On January 13, 2012 Hendry County Deputies met with Marilu Sanchez and Christopher Griner who reported their 2011 Silver Volkswagen stolen.

Sanchez reported that when she arrived at work on Friday, she locked her car, dropped her keys into her purse and went inside to her office located on the first floor of the Hendry County Courthouse. When she left work at 5:00 pm, and retrieved her purse she was unable to find her keys. Sanchez returned to the parking lot area in the rear of the Courthouse and discovered her vehicle gone.

On January 20, Hendry County Investigators spoke further with Sanchez about the vehicle and reviewed the surveillance video from the courthouse. Investigators were able to identify the suspect.

On Saturday, January 26, 2012, Hendry County Narcotic Investigators contacted Investigators working the stolen vehicle case. They reported that they had received information from a witness that the stolen Volkswagen could be found at 689 Carter Street, a vacant residence. The vehicle was located and returned to Sanchez and Griner.

In the evening hours of January 26, 2012, Narcotic Investigator along with Deputy Leverenz located and arrested 29 year old Michael Dean Vahle (photo above). He was charged with Vehicle Theft, Larceny, and Marijuana Possession. He is currently being held in the Hendry County Jail on $31,500.00 bond.

Hendry Sheriff Arrest Reports - Drugs & More

Courtney Cypress Flees And Leads High Speed Chase
In the early morning hours of January 29, 2012, Hendry County Deputies arrested 19 year old Courtney Taylor Billie-Cypress after she was attempting to flee law enforcement. While on routine patrol in the area of Olympia Ave and Georgia Avenue K-9 Officer Nathan Kirk had to take evasive action to avoid being struck from behind by another vehicle.

Deputy Kirk attempted to stop the driver of the vehicle, later identified as Cypress. The driver continued at speeds reaching 60 mph in a residential area. Cypress ran stop signs and red lights at different locations throughout the city. At one point Cypress was forced to take evasive action herself to avoid crashing into another vehicle.

Deputies apprehended Cypress when she lost control of her vehicle and crashed into a guardrail.

She was charged with DUI, Fleeing and Eluding Law Enforcement and No Valid Driver’s License. She was later released on $2,000.00 bond.

Hendry County Deputies arrest 10 in 9 Days on Drug Charges

Hendry County Investigators, Deputies and K-9 Interdiction Team have arrested ten individuals since January 24, 2012 on numerous unrelated drug charges.

On January 23, 2012, Hendry County Narcotics Investigators arrested 58 year old Marcellous Charles Mitchell of LaBelle, on charges of Sale of Oxycodone and Possession of a Controlled Substance without a prescription. Mitchell is currently held in the Hendry County Jail on $57,500.00 bond.

January 24, 2012, K-9 Deputy Kirk arrested 39 year old Alton Grimsley, of St. Petersburg, Florida on charges of Possession of Marijuana and Possession of Cocaine. Grimsley was released on $4,500 bond

On January 24, 2012, Hendry County Narcotics Investigators arrested 34 year old William Thomas Smiley, Jr, (photo left) of 4017 School Cir., Port LaBelle, on charges of Trafficking Oxycodone, Sale of Oxycodone and Possession of controlled Substance without a prescription. Smiley is currently being held at the Hendry County Jail on $110,000.00 bond.

On January 24, 2012, Hendry County Narcotics Investigators arrested 34 year old Cory Jay White, of Belle Glade, on charges of Sale of cocaine within 1000’ of a Church. White was released on January 28, 2012 on $50,000.00 bond.

On January 24, 2012, Hendry County Narcotics Investigators arrested 19 year old Sonny Cisnero, of LaBelle on charges of Possession of Controlled Substance without a prescription and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Cisnero was released on January 24, 2012 on $7,000.00 bond.

On January 28, 2012, K-9 Deputy Kirk arrested 20 yar old Christopher Miranda, of Clewiston, on Possession of Marijuana charges. Miranda is currently being held on $500.00 bond.

On January 30, 2012, Hendry County Narcotic Investigators arrested 36 year old Juan Marquez, of Labelle, on numerous drug charges of Marijuana and Cocaine Sale. Marquez is currently being held in the Hendry County Jail on $185,000.00 bond.

Hendry County Deputy Brawner arrested 23 year old Antwon Davis, of Belle Glade, on January 30, 2012. Davis was charged with Marijuana possession. Davis is currently being held on $1,500.00 bond.

On January 31, Hendry County Deputy McVey, arrested Herschel Lewis, 37 years of age, of Clewiston, on Cocaine charges with intent to Sell and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Lewis is currently being held in the Hendry County Jail on $5,806.00 bond.

Hendry County Sgt. Woods arrested a 14 year old juvenile on Misdemeanor Marijuana charges. The juvenile was later released to their parent.

Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team Recovers Stolen Vehicles and Airboat

After investigating a report of submerged vehicles in Pine Lake located in the Montura Estates community, Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team successfully recovered two vehicles and one airboat.

One of the vehicles was an Isuzu Rodeo registered in Hendry County and reported stolen to Hendry County Sheriff’s Office. The other was a Toyota passenger car reported stolen through the Doral Police Department. The Isuzu was intact while the Toyota had been stripped.

The 20 x 8 Diamondback airboat had been stripped, however, the hull was intact and was in good condition. This boat had been reported stolen through the Glades County Sheriff's Office in October.

Hendry Sheriff Holding Concealed Weapons Class

Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden will be will holding classes for individuals interested in obtaining a Concealed Weapons Permit. This will be a 4 hour course which consists of both classroom and firearm range instruction.

Classes will be held at the Hendry County Gun Range and taught by Hendry County Sheriff’s Office State of Florida Certified Firearms Instructors. Students will need to bring their own handguns and at least fifty (50) rounds of ammunition, holster, both eye and ear protection. There is a $25 per person fee payable at the time of classroom instruction. You must be at least 21 years of age to participate. Concealed weapons applications are available at the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office.

All interested citizens should contact Lt. Susan Harrelle at either (863) 674-5604 or by e-mail at sharrelle@hendrysheriff.org. Class participation is based on a first come /first serve basis. Participants will be directly contacted by the Sheriff’s Office to arrange for date and time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miami Men Continue Running LaBelle's Front Porch

Country Place LLC Evicted - New Miami Men Now Run Restaurant

LABELLE, FL. -- The restaurant saga continues at the old Flora and Ella's Restaurant location on the west side of LaBelle. A new sign with an unregistered fictitious name advertises a third business operating in the building in the last year.

After Flora and Ella's went out of business after decades of service to the food eating public, "A Country Place Restaurant and Bakery" moved in. In reality there never legally was a "Country Place Restaurant and Bakery" because no such name was licensed by the Florida Secretary of State's office as a fictitious business name.

The restaurant was operated by Norberto Daniel Mazzarello and his new wife Sherry. The Mazzarello's got the keys to the "Country Place Restaurant And Bakery," an unregistered fictitious name, on April 3rd. It opened for business July 9.

The restaurant shut it's doors December 16th after Country Place LLC was sued by the building owner for eviction.

The restaurant was actually owned and licensed as A Country Place LLC, whose officers were Carlos A. LaBeau, Pedro Alvarez, and Antonio Coletta, all of northwest Miami. They incorporated in March 2011.

Mazzarello was sued by Country Place LLC in Hendry's Circuit Court on September 8th over an operating agreement dispute. The case is still pending before Judge John Duryea.

LaBeau and Alvarez had interests in Miami's Capeda Corp. and LaBeau in Brown Cafe LLC, and Cafe Con Leche At Westland, Inc.

After allegedly not paying rent, Fred J. Burson got a default judgment and writ of possession served against the trio's restaurant December 15, 2011.

About the week of January 16th a new sign replaced the Country Place sign now reading "The Front Porch Restaurant."  There is actually no legal company with that name either. The corporation actually running the restaurant is a new one called The Heart Of LaBelle LLC.

A Miami duo, Alfonzo J. Cutillo and Nestor R. Colon started the company December 12, 2011 at about the same time the previous owners were being evicted. Coincidentally both corporations have the same registered agent in northweast Miami, Osvaldo Martinez. Martinez has been involved with 145 Florida corporations over the years.

Cutillo owns Avanti World Rental Car LLC in Miami with the three owners of A Country Place LLC, LaBeau, Alvarez and Colleta. Colon owns Cursor Computer, Inc. in Miami.

Neither the Florida Secretary of State's office or the Florida Department of Regulation's Hotel and Restaurant Division have any record of the name "The Front Porch Restaurant." No application for such a fictitious business name has been received records show.

The Hotel and Restaurant Division says no one has applied for a change of restaurant ownership from the Country Place LLC to The Heart of LaBelle LLC either.

The Hendry tax collector's office says they issued a LaBelle and Hendry county business license to The Heart of LaBelle LLC, after the new owners said they were owners of the Country Place LLC company, which turns out to not be true, at least as far as the official records indicate.

No one at the city or county so far says they have any responsibility to verify if company signs and advertising indicate a real or fake business name or not.

Update: As of February 9, according to the division of restaurants and hotels, operators of the "Front Porch Restaurant," The Heart of LaBelle LLC have not applied to the state's hotel and restaurant division for a license. The only state license existing for the restaurant is A Country Place LLC, closed in December. The company has also apparently failed to register with the Florida Secretary of State's office the fictitious business (dba) name "The Front Porch Restaurant."

Update: On March 7th, the state's food safety inspector paid a visit and found 9 violations of food safety and sanitation codes, including 8 labeled as "critical" violations. The restaurant had still apparently not changed ownership and new name records with the state. On March 13th, a sign on the front door indicated the restaurant was "Closed."

Gas Prices Rising This Week - Watch For Fake Prices

Shell Stations Still Advertising Price Deception

LABELLE, FL. -- Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have risen 7.4 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.54/g yesterday. This compares with the national average that has increased 4.5 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.39/g, according to gasoline price website FloridaStateGasPrices.com.

Still a continuing problem for motorists are gas stations including Shell and Marathon, who show large pricing signs that aren't exactly the true price.

The above photo shows a LaBelle, Florida Shell station today advertising $3.40 for regular. However, the actual price, and only shown on the pump itself, is $3.45.

To get the discounted price you have to go inside and pay cash, or use a Shell credit card.

But today was even more deceiving. After putting a credit card into the slot and being approved, the pump would not pump gas at all. Trying a different pump with a credit card brought an on-screen message to go inside and see the cashier.

It turns out the Shell station was entirely out of regular gas. Not only were they advertising an extremely low price compared to others ($3.55 at the BP down the street) but they couldn't sell it at the advertised price anyway.

Customers were forced to either drive away or pay 25 cents above the posted price for premium gas. Most elected to pay the extra quarter a gallon, although a few frustrated customers drove off after learning there was no regular gas.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 45.7 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 24.4 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 13.5 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 30.4 cents per gallon higher than this day one year ago.

"Late last week we saw wholesale gasoline prices rise dramatically on some refinery issues, which leads me to believe that retail gasoline prices will rise in response," said GasBuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan. "We continue to also watch how Iran responds to EU sanctions- there are some concerns that they may cut oil to the European region before the sanctions are to take effect to cause these countries hardship when they can't find new sources of oil quickly enough. That in itself could draw crude oil prices higher quickly at a moments notice," DeHaan said.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How To Find A Florida Boat Ramp

Florida Database Makes Finding Boat Ramp Locations Easy
Finding a convenient boat ramp has just become easier for Florida visitors and residents. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a new feature allowing boaters to view and search a database of Florida boat ramps.

Boaters can now locate and get details for more than 1,600 publicly accessible Florida boat ramps and thousands more private launching sites. Ramps can be found by county, street address or GPS coordinates. Maps and details are shown along with photos of some ramps.

The FWC says "The database was created from an inventory conducted for the Statewide Boating Access Inventory and Economic Assessment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided funding through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration’s Boating Access Program."

Click here to access the database. To help the FWC improve and update this database, the public is asked to email BoatRamps@MyFWC.com to report errors or new information.

Boca Grande - SW Florida Weekend Retreat

Where To Go For A 'Grand' Weekend - Boca Grande

Boca Grande Village on Gasparilla Island in Lee and Charlotte counties, on the Gulf coast has been the home to the wealthy for decades. The village was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

It's reachable by boat or via the $5 toll bridge connecting the island to Charlotte county's mainland.

Visitors and residents agree that the charming island is a bit of paradise just miles from Fort Myers and Port Charlotte. The island has no stoplights or franchise food outlets. Structures are limited to two stories in height. There was no road access until 1958 when the bridge was built.

From a small fishing village in 1870 to a booming commercial port in the early 20th century, Boca Grande is now a tourist destination and second home for hundreds of millionaires.

Many structures are now placed on the National Register of Historic Places including the rail station, lighthouse, Gasparilla Inn, and marina.

There are quaint shops, two grocery stores, two banks, a school, and hair salons. There is no gas station or chain stores. A bike path runs most of the length of the island and golf carts are the preferred method of transportation.

Visitors are free to use wire-less internet at the Community Center 24/7 or the Johann Fust Library. The Boca Grande Reference Room at the Center has automated book check out as part of the Lee County Library system.

The Gasparilla Inn & Club has had guests including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and the George H. W. Bush family, as well as many other notable celebrities.

At the southern tip is Gasparilla Island State Park, a popular beach location and home to one of six Florida lighthouses open to public.

Visitor Tip: Pick up an excellent free Visitor's Guide published by local newspaper the Boca Beacon for everything one should know about the island.

From the video:

Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Keeper's House Museum - Built 1890
Amory Memorial Chapel - once the Shiloh Baptist Church for the African-American community
Pilot's House - About 1898, now privately owned residence
Boca Grande School
Boca Grande Community Center - auditorium and community meeting place (author Amy Bennet-Williams giving a talk about the Caloosahatchee River)
Banyan Road
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church
Hudson's Grocery's Pink Gas Pump
Whidden's Marina - Built 1926, former dance hall now a small museum. Pet goats.

20th Annual Sour Orange Festival In Lakeport

Special Report By Susan Etchey
LAKEPORT, FL. -- The harvest of the rare sour orange is cause for a yearly celebration in a small fishing resort on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. Sour oranges are prolific in this remote wilderness region, the ancient trees growing wild in cattle pastures and homesteads. The tropical fruit once grew all over the state but due to development was purposely destroyed. Only in pastoral Florida will you find so many of these treasured trees.

If you love sour oranges, this is the place to be. You can taste and purchase sour orange pies, sour orange BBQ sauce Caribbean style, and sour oranges at Lakeport's Sour Orange Festival on Saturday, February 11th from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prepare yourself for a simple festival in a tree-shaded park. The commercialism and noise of most festivals is absent. It is more akin to an old-fashioned community picnic where half the people in attendance know each other. Long time residents meet up here after not having seen each other for a time; local politicians are out slapping backs; snowbirds living in local RV parks bring their folding chairs to sit in the community park and listen to local bands play from the outdoor stage.

You can wander casually through a few rows of vendors and encounter hard working artisans selling their own special handmade products, or talk to members of civic groups who get a space for free.

In 1992, locals decided to celebrate the origins and unique culinary uses of the sour orange with this one-of-a-kind annual festival as a fundraiser.  The original Sour Orange Cookbook, published by the Lakeport Community Association in 1992, speaks of the traditional uses of sour oranges by the Gladesmen who hunted the wild hogs in the hammocks near Lake Okeechobee.  "There are two traditions that must be observed when roasting wild hog in Lakeport," it states. "First it is considered to be a man's job (and the men definitely hold bragging rights to how well they can cook pork); second, basting of the hog with the juice of the Sour Orange is essential." However, locals have found basting fish and chicken with the juice is very satisfying, too. In fact recipes using lemons can be substituted with sour oranges.

Brought here by the Spanish in their colonial period, sour orange trees have historical roots. Sour oranges were once the original rootstock for the creation of the sweet oranges that created the huge citrus industry in Florida.

Sour oranges are still grown commercially in Spain to make marmalade in Britain, sour orange peels make candies in Puerto Rico and the Mojito of Cuba is a zesty mixture of sour orange juice, garlic and other herbs, according to the cookbook. Liqueurs such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Curacao are made with sour oranges.

During the day, fun contests and games for both children and adults take place keeping the restless busy.  The Sour Orange Bake-off and the Sour Orange Pie Eating contest are traditions, as well as a raffle of many intriguing items, including the winning pastries, jellies or specialty foods.

Tourists who happen to see a flyer about the festival or read about it in a local paper, come out of curiosity to taste the sour orange. They also get a taste of the friendly folks of old Florida. Nothing hectic, no crowds, just real laid back and simple entertainment making it a lovely no-headache day.

Lakeport is on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee on Hwy 78 between Moore Haven and Okeechobee City.  The event is at the community center on Old Lakeport Road. To find the Lakeport Community Association festival follow the signs. There is a parking fee of $1.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kiwanis Kid's Day At LaBelle's Barron Park

Kid's Day 01-14-12 043.jpg LABELLE, FL. -- It may have been rather chilly, but that didn’t keep families from enjoying the annual Kiwanis Kid’s Day!

 The bounce houses kept kids active, the food kept everyone’s hunger satisfied, Mary the Clown greeted kids with balloons & candy and the Kiwanis Thrift Store provided enough stuffed animals so that every child had a chance to take one home! Saturday, January 14th, might have been some of the coldest temperatures we have seen in a while, but it was another successful Kiwanis Kid’s Day at Barron Park!

There seemed to be hundreds of kids and families spread throughout the park enjoying the free activities. This year, there was a hula hoop contest, a scavenger hunt and a relay race. To the delight of the children, Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and the Crash Dummies made an appearance in the park!

One of the popular attractions for parents was the Masonic Lodge #379 Free Child ID Program. The Florida Masonic “Child ID Program” provides free identification kits for children. The kit included a digital photo of the child, digital finger prints, and a full description of the child which is all placed on a CD for easy access.

Each year the Kiwanis Club of LaBelle sponsors a fun-filled day for children and their families, but the Kiwanis Club of LaBelle really appreciates the support of the many local businesses, community agencies,
partners and volunteers that came out to help make the event such a success.

Raffle tickets were sold for only 50-cents a ticket for the chance to win a boy’s or girl’s bicycle (donated by
Ace Hardware), a tricycle (donated by Cecil Akin of Akin Davis Funeral Home) and a movie night gift basket donated by RCMA.

LaBelle Homes From $6K To $550K

Home Sales This Week - From Mobile Home To Mansion

LABELLE, FL. -- Home prices are all over the place this week.  The least expensive, a mobile home south of LaBelle at $6,000.  And most expensive, a waterfront home on Fort Denaud Road west of LaBelle.

From 1/17/2012 to 1/24/2012, there were 9 homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $124,889. The homes prices and locations included:

1) $95,000 on 2nd Ave
2) $43,000 on Berwick Cir
3) $35,000 on Caloosa Loop
4) $550,000 on Fort Denaud Rd
5) $60,000 on Fraser Ave
6) $215,000 on River Blossom Ln
7) $49,000 on Schooner Dr
8) $6,000 on State Road 29 S
9) $71,000 on Trader Rd

Traveling Gold Buying Company In LaBelle - Caution Warning

Newly Formed Company Wants Your Gold - "Inadequate" Prices Some Say?

LABELLE, FL. -- A company formed in Florida just last October to buy gold is in LaBelle next week. One of  many outfits renting hotel rooms for a few days around Florida to attract gold sellers, "International Gold, Silver, and Diamond Buyers" registered with Florida as a fictitious business name October 12.

UPDATE: In new local ads this week they have changed their name in the two page ad to "THR's Treasure Hunters Roadshow" and an ad for "International Collectors Association" which claims "members are looking for the following types of items."

The company lists wanting just about every kind of collectible imaginable including coins, gold, silver, jewelry, toys, trains, dolls, military items, and advertising items.

Treasure Hunters Roadshow is a Florida fictitious business name registered to Jennifer Parsons of Athens. Il. The International Collectors Association is not registered in Florida.

The actual owner of the gold and valuables buying company is THR & Associates, Inc. of Springfield, Il. which is owned by Jeffrey and Jordan Parsons of Springfield. Jacob Parsons is also associated with the company. The company had a storefront location in Huntsville, AL.

The company travels the country under dozens of different names, and does not make appraisals, but offers to buy gold and silver and other valuables. Reportedly, they operate 120 transient shows each week around the country, many times without obtaining permits from the city or county.

The Hendry county tax collector says they have issued no permit for the company, although reportedly the company representative contacted the office and told them it was a one-time event, and the tax office waived their application for a permit.

An Oregon newspaper reports the company has set up their operation 7 times in Eugene, OR in the last 18 months.

Their local ads says they provide "an economic boost to each region it visits" and they "project to pay out $350,000 at each event." But that may well be advertising puffery if not an outright false statement.

On January 11, 2012 the BBB in Southeast Texas challenged that advertising claim made by International Gold, Silver & Diamond Buyers (IGSDB), which was published in the Tyler County Booster on Friday January 5, 2012.

The company sells the items it buys from around the country on eBay or puts them up for auction at Heritage Auction House in Dallas, TX. Obviously, gold and jewelry sellers could put items on eBay themselves and reap the extra dollars if they didn't sell to THR for a fraction of the real value.

A show by THR & Associates was shut down in Brainerd, MN when the company failed to get a peddler/transient/solicitor or a second hand goods license from the city after they failed a background check. The company tried to operate anyway and the police had to intervene to close them down.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports the company received an F rating from the BBB.

The company was sued in 2010 by PBS's Antique Roadshow to prevent the company from using the "Treasure Hunters Roadshow" name and treasure chest logo. The suit said THR is no more than a "scrap metal" dealer and pays customers "pennies on the dollar" for valuables.

They agreed to make a $150,000 charitable contribution to WGBH and to use the word “roadshow” in a strictly limited circumstances and also agreed to pay $25,000 for violations of the agreement after they had violated it.
Jeffrey Parsons was also sued in Federal court for bouncing 140 checks. He admitted that was true at one period in 2010 due he says to a business giving him a check that bounced. Parsons had a failed outdoor vending machine business around 2007.

THR is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois. That group has given the company a B+ rating and notes they had issues with the company's advertising.  There have been 16 complaints in the last three years and 5 in the last 12 months. 7 were for product and service issues, and 6 for advertising and sales complaints.

The BBB says "Consumers contacting the BBB expressing sellers remorse. Consumers state that after selling their items to the company, they felt the offer they accepted was inadequate."

Other names the company operates under: Treasure Hunters Roadshow, Ohio Valley Gold & Silver Refinery, International Coin Collectors, National Gun Collectors Association, International Vintage Guitar Collectors Association, Cash for Tools, FINE ART COLLECTORS ASSOCIATION, Fuller Roadshow, The Traveling Roadshow, Premiere Estate Buyers, International Gold, Silver and Diamond Buyers, J. Parsons, Mississippi Valley Gold and Silver Refinery

To check customer comments and press reports on the company behind the gold buying check this link: "THR Associates complaints." Search results on the fictitious business name "International Gold Silver Diamond Buyer" hides the true news, bringing up lots of results of small newspapers they buy ads from, overshadowing any news reports and complaints.

Links to some complaints about THR & Associates:

Disclosure and Recommendation: One of Southwest Florida Online's advertising sponsors is Gold & Guns, Inc. at 123 Riverbend Dr. in LaBelle. Check with a reputable licensed gold buyer before making a decision.

We advise knowing the value of your gold and valuables before accepting an offer from a traveling gold buyer, who may not have a local license to do business. Bring a video camera and film the offer, if they allow it and we bet you'll get a better deal! Ask to see their local business license or permit.

Hendry-Glades Area Free Events

It's Time For Free Art Shows, Festivals, Meetings, And More!

LABELLE, FL. -- It's that time of year when community groups put on their local art shows and festivals throughout Hendry and Glades county.  Here's listing of what you can see and do through February:

Art in the Park in Moore Haven, Saturday, January 28, 2012, 9 AM to 4 PM. 

Ortona's February 4, 2012 Cane Grinding Festival, Larry Luckey Indian Mound Park (fee)

The Arts of the Inland festival, "Arts in the Park" Saturday, February 4, 2012 in Barron Park in LaBelle.

Fort Myers Art Fest - February 4th, 5th

Family Fun Day, Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at the Picayune Strand State Forest Field Office – 2121 52nd Ave. South in Naples

20th Annual Sour Orange Festival - Lakeport in Glades county,  February 11, 8-4 p.m.

2nd Annual South Florida Ag Expo on Friday, February 17th at the old airstrip in Clewiston next to the Clewiston Country Club

Tuesday, February 21st from 5 pm to 8 pm, the third annual "LaBelle Night On The Town" on Ft. Thompson Avenue, between Bridge and Main Streets. Sponsored by the Hendry County EDC and the Greater LaBelle Chamber of Commerce.

"17th Annual Old Timer's Dinner" Thursday, February 23rd at the LaBelle Civic Center, sponsored by the LaBelle Heritage Museum. Tickets $15.00

Swamp Cabbage Festival - LaBelle, Parade 10 a.m. February 28 and activities in Barron Park through the 29th

(Video: Scenes from 2011 Swamp Cabbage Festival and Parade in LaBelle.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Artfest Fort Myers Combines Good Food And Art

One Of Southwest Florida's Largest Free Art Festivals

FORT MYERS, FL. -- The River District is hosting the 2012 Fort Myers Artfest along the harbor and waterfront in downtown Ft. Myers the weekend of February 4th and 5th.

Hundreds of artists and food vendors from far and near will lend color to the city streets of Fort Myers for the city's annual show normally the first weekend each February. The show will be on Edwards Drive along the waterfront near Centennial Park.

(Video: Scenes from the 2011 Art Festival)

Amy Bennett Williams At Boca Grande

Local Author Gives Talk On Life Along The Caloosahatchee

BOCA GRANDE, FL. -- Author Amy Bennett Williams introduced to a Boca Grande audience her new book "Along The Caloosahatchee" at the Boca Grande Community Center on Gasparilla Island Monday morning.

Fort Myers journalist, author and editor of Tropicalia magazine tells tales about the ancient mastodons roaming the shores of Southwest Florida and 19th century entrepreneurs and celebrities who visited the Caloosahatchee river basin.

Williams, a resident of Alva discovered many until now unpublished photographs of the river and it's inhabitants including a rare photo of the "waterfalls" on the river east of LaBelle where Lake Flint once was.

(Video: Williams reads from "Along The Caloosahatchee")

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hendry Officials' Afternoon Visit To New Sheriff's Annex

New Pubic Service Communications Center And Sheriff's Substation

LABELLE, FL. -- Tuesday afternoon, dozens of visitors, elected and government officials helped Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden celebrate the opening of the new Sheriff's Substation Annex in Port LaBelle.

(Video: Vistiors and Officials Visit New Annex)

The building purchased from CHL Homes is located on Raintree Boulevard, just south of LaBelle Middle School and about 5 miles east of the Sheriff's main office in the City of LaBelle.

It was due to the generosity of the Port LaBelle Community Development District and the residents of Port LaBelle, whose taxes paid for the building, and allowed installation of new radio equipment for the Sheriff, EMS and Fire Department.

The Development District had originally provided land for a new office to be built near Dellwood Terrace, but when CHL needed to sell their unneeded new office building on Raintree, the county bought it. 

The Sheriff’s Office has occupied the building for the past year and members of the Road Patrol, Investigations, and Crime Scene Divisions have been operating at their full potential at the new location.

Also remaining from the office building sale by CHL is a fully equipped weight and training room for the Sheriff's personnel.

Due to the impending federal mandate to narrowband existing radios or move to the 800 MHz band by January 1, 2013, Sheriff Whidden decided to go with the state law enforcement's 800 MHz system and centralized the Communications Division at the new location.

The new radio system is digital and encrypted so no one can monitor what's being dispatched to deputies or hear what deputies are saying back to dispatch while in their patrol cars or on their mobile radios. The system is very expensive, about $5,000 for each hand held mobile radio used by a deputy. 

The Fire and EMS radios are still using analog VHF frequencies, and not encrypted and still can be heard by the public using a scanning radio.

A dedication plaque was unveiled during the ceremony and tours of the new facility followed along with light refreshments.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Christine "Christel" M. Howard White, age 73, of LaBelle passed away Sunday, January 22, 2012 in LaBelle, FL. Christine M. White was born August 25, 1938 in St. Wendell, Germany. She is the daughter of the late Karl and the late Martha (Manz) Hey.

She is survived by her husband: Dewitt White; one son: Leroy Howard of LaBelle, FL; three daughters: Donna (Neal) Bower of Lehigh Acres, FL, Carline Kenney of Bartow, FL, Tammy (Fred) Landrum of LaBelle, FL; six grandchildren; four great grandchildren; three step sons: Ronnie White, Don White and Dennis White all from Tennessee; uncle August Hey of Germany; aunt Else Dietrick of Germany and many cousins in Germany.

She was preceded in death by husband Morris "Mock" Lee Howard. A graveside service was held 2:00 pm on Tuesday, January 24 at Fort Denaud Cemetery, 1170 Cemetery Road, LaBelle, FL with Chaplain Don Goodwin officiating.

Patricia Ann Rudd Newby, age 79, of Clewiston died Saturday, January 21, 2012, at Hendry Regional Medical Center of Clewiston, FL. Patricia was born May 7, 1932, in Okeechobee, FL. She is the daughter of the late James and Naomi (Johnson) Allen. She married James T. Rudd, Sr. he preceded her in death on December 22, 1976.

She is survived by her children: Bonnie Johnson and husband Wayne, James T. Rudd and wife Jane Miller, William "Frankie": Rudd, Marshall "Wren" Rudd; six grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, sister; Peggy Passmore Parsons.

The funeral service is to be held 11:00 am on Wednesday, January 25, at First Baptist Church Of Clewiston, 102 East Ventura Avenue, Clewiston, FL with Rev. Todd Buck officiating. Interment was in Evergreen Cemetery, Okeechobee on Wednesday, January 25, at 2:30 pm. Visitation from 6-8 p.m. January 24, 2012, in Akin-Davis Funeral Home.

Caridad Del Carmen Prado, age 83, of Clewiston passed away Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at home in Clewiston. Caridad was born May 24, 1928 in Cuba . She is the daughter of the late Jose and the late Concecion (Miranda) Prado.

She is survived by her husband: Teobaldo Lopez ; two daughters: Maria Gonzalez and Senovia Lopez; one son: Jose Luiz Lopez; she also has seven grandchild and 1 great-grandchild.

Hendry Gun Safety Course Offered

Free Classes This Weekend At Gun Range

LABELLE, FL. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will host a free hunter safety course Saturday, Jan. 28, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Hendry County, Fl.

Students will learn about hunting laws, safe gun handling and hunter ethics/responsibility, among other topics, before taking the final test. The course also includes live-firing instruction on a shooting range.

The course is at the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Shooting Range, between Clewiston and LaBelle, 0.7 miles down Witt Road off State Road 80, 9 miles west of U.S. 27. Take the first road east of the Pioneer Shell Gas Station.

You may sign up by calling the FWC’s South Region office at 561-625-5122 or going toMyFWC.com/HunterSafety.

People seeking certification must successfully complete the online portion of the course prior to taking the classroom course. To receive certification, they must bring a printed copy of the final Web report to the FWC classroom course on Jan. 28. The Web report does not need to be notarized.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course in order to purchase a Florida hunting license. Parents or legal guardians must accompany children under 16 years of age to all classes. To participate in the live-fire exercises, children under 18 years old must present a parental release form signed by a parent or legal guardian.

Hendry-Glades Gas Price Finally Equal Rest Of Florida

Hendry-Glades Prices Now Lower Than State Average

LABELLE, FL. -- Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have risen 2.8 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.47/g yesterday. This compares with the national average that has increased 0.6 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.34/g, according to gasoline price website FloridaStateGasPrices.com.

Hendry and Glades county prices, after having been at least 10 to 15  cents higher than Florida averages are for the first time in years back to "normal." At some local stations in LaBelle, prices are actually a few cents lower then Lee county, at $3.45 at LaBelle's BP station. 

Motorists are still making some complaints about some gas retailers whose pump prices are actually five to seven cents higher than posted on street signs. The catch buyers find, is one has to pay cash or use the gas company's credit card to get the posted "low" price. Shell and Marathon seem to be the Hendry and Lee county companies pulling this trick.

The Florida legislature is considering changing sign laws statewide to mandate signs agree with the price at the pump when purchasing gas with any credit card.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 35.4 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 23.7 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 11.8 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 25.3 cents per gallon higher than this day one year ago.

"We saw oil prices fall gently late last week as tensions with Iran seemingly have cooled somewhat," said GasBuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan. "I'm certainly hopeful that the recent easing in tensions between Iran and the West continues in coming months, but there are certainly no guarantees and few expectations of such. Having said that, I expect gasoline prices to move very little in the next week, and in some areas of the U.S. gasoline prices may fall this week," DeHaan said.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Alex Charles Stiles, age 71, of Clewiston died Thursday, January 19, 2012, at home in Clewiston. Alex was born December 25, 1940, in Oklahoma City, OK. He is the son of the late Alex Charles and the late Halley Cleo (Ballard) Clark. He married Patsy Sutton.

He was a teacher in Oklahoma and Clewiston for over thirty-one years before he retired. He loved to fish.

He is survived by his wife of forty-seven years; Patsy of Clewiston and many extended family members and friends both in Clewiston and Oklahoma.

Gathering of Family and Friends was held Saturday, January 21 from 3-5p.m. at Akin-Davis Funeral Home, 438 E. Sugarland Hwy., Clewiston, FL. Cremation followed with burial of cremains in Oklahoma at a later date. Cremation arrangements were handled by Akin-Davis Funeral Home - Clewiston.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Three LaBelle Restaurants Close

Hard Times Hit Area Eateries

LABELLE, FL. -- Three local restaurants in downtown LaBelle have shuttered their doors within the month. Closed are the Chalkboard Deli, A Country Kitchen and Bakery, and Nuttin' Fancy Cafe.

A Country Kitchen and Bakery was evicted by the landlord for non-payment in December. The restaurant had attempted to make a success of the space vacated by long-time LaBelle restaurant Flora and Ella's. A landscape worker outside the closed restaurant today said he heard that a new owner was planning to re-open in the space soon.

Nuttin' Fancy Cafe, operated by a family from Lehigh has closed. Rumor has it that the family will attempt to open a restaurant in Lehigh Acres.

Chalkboard Deli was a popular small restaurant and could not get above water, competing with the numerous other restaurants in town. The store got off to a bad start after the owner sustained a medical injury delaying the opening.

None of the failed restaurants did any extensive advertising, but tried to rely on word of mouth to gain customers. As is the case with most restaurant failures, attribution for the early closings may be made to a lack of sufficient financial reserves to carry through slow business times, and lack of research and planning before leaping into the new venture.

Why File Share Site Megaupload Was Shut Down

Justice Department Turns Off  Web Sites Having 50 Million Daily Visitors

The U.S. Justice Department and FBI acted this week to shut down and charge Megaupload.com with organized crime charges. The company is incorporated in Hong Kong, although it did not operate there.

Law enforcement executed more than 20 search warrants in the United States and eight countries, seizing approximately $50 million in assets and targeted sites where Megaupload has servers in Ashburn, Va., Washington, D.C., the Netherlands and Canada. 

In addition, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., ordered the seizure of 18 domain names associated with the alleged Mega conspiracy. Megaupload has been reported as among the top three websites for "digital piracy." They reportedly held about four percent of the world's daily internet traffic.

The Department has charged seven individuals and two corporations with running an international organized criminal enterprise saying they are responsible for "massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works," generating more than $175 million in proceeds from advertising and selling memberships and causing more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners.

As a result, the protest group of internet activist group "Anonymous" shut down for a time the Justice Department and FBI web sites, along with recording and motion picture industry web sites. Users of the sites found them either inaccessible or slow to retrieve pages on Thursday. 

The sites had been previously been blocked in Hong Kong, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and Malaysia.

In a controversy last month involving Megaupload and well known pop performers, a Wikipedia article says, " On December 9, 2011, Megaupload published a music video titled: "The Mega Song", showing artists including Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys and will.i.am endorsing the company. 

The music video was also uploaded to YouTube, but was removed following a takedown request by the record company Universal Music Group. Megaupload said that the video contained no infringing content, commenting: "we have signed agreements with every featured artist for this campaign".  The video was later put back on the video site.

Megaupload is accused of allowing public storage and facilitating distribution of intellectual property and copyrighted material, including video and software. The government's action is among the largest copyright cases brought by the United States.

Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, 2012, and charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.

The companies are operated by Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, 37, a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand, says the indictment.

Also charged: Finn Batato, 38, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the chief marketing officer;
Julius Bencko, 35, a citizen and resident of Slovakia, who is the graphic designer; Sven Echternach, 39, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the head of business development; Mathias Ortmann, 40, a citizen of Germany and resident of both Germany and Hong Kong, who is the chief technical officer, co-founder and director; Andrus Nomm, 32, a citizen of Estonia and resident of both Turkey and Estonia, who is a software programmer and head of the development software division; Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, a Dutch citizen and resident of both the Netherlands and New Zealand, who oversees programming and the underlying network structure websites.

Dotcom, Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk were arrested Thursday in Auckland, New Zealand, by New Zealand authorities, who executed provisional arrest warrants requested by the United States. Bencko, Echternach and Nomm remain at large.

The indictment says the companies reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies – often before their theatrical release – music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment software on a massive scale. 

Megaupload.com, is advertised as having more than one billion visits to the site, more than 150 million registered users, 50 million daily visitors and accounting for four percent of the total traffic on the Internet.

The sites used third-party linking sites to publicize content so the conspirators did not need to publicize such content on the Megaupload site, thus keeping a low profile. The indictment says they manipulated the perception of content available on their servers by not providing a public search function on the Megaupload site and by not including popular infringing content on the publicly available lists of top content downloaded by its users.

The investigation was initiated and led by the FBI at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), from efforts begun by Attorney General Eric Holder's IP Task Force. 

The FBI had assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. 

Assistance was provided by the New Zealand Police, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ), the Crown Law Office of New Zealand and the Office of the Solicitor General for New Zealand; Hong Kong Customs and the Hong Kong Department of Justice; the Netherlands Police Agency and the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Serious Fraud and Environmental Crime in Rotterdam; London’s Metropolitan Police Service; Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt and the German Public Prosecutors; and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Federal Enforcement Section and the Integrated Technological Crime Unit and the Canadian Department of Justice’s International Assistance Group. 

Authorities in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Philippines also provided assistance.

UPDATE: The website for the Justice Department was not operating on Friday afternoon when last tested, and links to news via it's news websites were not working.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Woman Dead In Hendry Early Morn Truck Incident

Woman Passenger Exits Moving Truck

CLEWISTON, FL. -- A 2:15 A.M. Thursday morning road incident on Hendry County Road 846 two miles south of CR833 resulted in the death of Carmen Diego, 41 of Immokalee.

Texas Billie 64, of Clewiston was operating a 2006 Ford 150 pickup north on County Road 846 approaching a curve in the roadway and for reasons unknown at this time, Diego exited the truck while it was in motion via the passenger side door.

She landed on the roadway (northbound lane) and continued to travel along the roadway coming to final rest on the east shoulder of County Road 846.

Diego sustained fatal injuries as a result and was pronounced deceased at the scene. The accident is under investigation for possible alcohol use.

Four other passengers were in the truck: Ray Osceola, 49 of Clewiston, Louise Jim, 52 of Ochopee, and Alphonso Galindo-Reyes, 20 of Immokalee, and one other unknown passenger.

Hendry Motels - Not Always Up To Par?

Violations Found In LaBelle And Clewiston Motels

LABELLE, FL. -- Recent inspections by the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants found expired licenses, holes in ceiling, rat droppings, flammables stored near boilers, and other violations in area motels.

At the LaBelle Motel at 170 W. Hickpochee, an inspection January 17th found the motel's license was expired, along with a repeat violation of a hole in the ceiling over the motel's clothes dryer in the laundry room along with soiled utensils and a dirty microwave plate. The inspector notes a follow up inspection is required.

The motel has had two inspections resulting from complaints in the last year, including one for no hot water, and one other follow up inspection was required.

Betty's Apartment Motel at 597 Hickpochee, owned by Elizabeth Harrell has apparently been operating without a license for over two years, according to the inspection reports. The motel has been warned numerous times, and follow up inspections have been required twice in the last year for the no license situation.

River's Edge Motel, on the north side of the river in LaBelle had one critical violation when the inspector found live ants in room 6. On a previous inspection a build up of lint was found in the laundry room.

The Clewiston Inn had two critical violations in an October inspection report. Found were, flammable materials, 30 wooden chairs stacked within 8 inches of the boiler in the boiler room, and an exit pathway blocked by chairs and plastic foliage at the top and bottom of steep stairs.

The Holiday Inn in Clewiston had one critical violation in a November inspection. Flammables were found in the boiler room, old mattresses.

At the Haden Motel at 820 E. Sugarland in Clewiston, an inspection noted a mold like odor or growth and dark build up on the shower curtain in room 110 due to inadequate ventilation.

The Plaza Travel Inn at 621 E. Sugarland had six violations in October including three critical, with rodent droppings in the laundry area. A second inspection the next day, cleared all the violations.

At the West Express Inn at 433 W. Sugarland, five violations were found including 3 critical on December 28. Mold growth and room odor was found in room 107 and sanitation problems in 106.

At Uncle Joe's Fish Camp on Hwy. 720 northwest of Clewiston in Glades county, a missing faucet handle was noted in a bath in room 8A on a January 13th inspection.

All other Hendry and Glades county motels passed inspections with no violations or any violations were corrected immediately during the visit.

Obama Seeks Streamlined Tourist/Business Visas

President Addresses Crowds At Disney World On Tourism

Disney World, Main Street USA -- President Barack Obama visited Disney World Thursday afternoon where he announced an executive order and new initiatives "aimed at significantly increasing travel and tourism in the United States."

The President wants to make the United States the number-one destination for international tourists, marking tourism as a great job creator. When foreign travelers come to the United States, they spent on average $4,000 per person here.

Press Secretary Jay Carney announced on Air Force One on the way to Disney, "As I’m sure you’re aware, the U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment. It represents 2.7 percent of GDP and 7.5 million jobs; that was in 2010. With international travel alone, the United States supporting 1.2 million jobs.

"The industry, the travel and tourism industry, estimates that more than 1 million jobs could be created over the next decade if we increased our market share of the international tourism market -- share of the international tourism market.

The President is calling for a national strategy to make the United States the world’s top travel and tourism destination and is targeting visitors from emerging economies with growing middle classes such as China, Brazil and India. The tourist and business visitor increase is projected to grow by 135 percent, 274 percent and 50 percent respectively by 2016 compared to 2010.

The President has signed an executive order tasking the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to co-lead an interagency task force to develop recommendations for national travel and tourism strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities. 

 He has tasked the Departments of State and Homeland Security with increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012, and ensuring that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.

(Video: Obama At Disney World, Florida)

Your Home Is Worth At Least 20% More Than In 2000

While Prices Have Dropped Drastically, Values Still Above Dozen Years Ago

LABELLE, FL. -- Home prices as we all know have taken a big dump in the last five years, but looking back to historical values, on average, Southwest Florida home values are about 20% higher then they were in the first quarter of 2000.

According to housing price indexes compiled by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the highs in real estate were reached nationwide about the first quarter of 2007 and have dropped like a rock since then, but values are still above those in 2000.

An average U.S. $100,000 home in 2000 climbed in price to sell at a high of $166,000 in 2007. But, in southwest Florida (the Cape Coral/Fort Myers market) that $100,000 home would have sold for even more at it's highest point for $266,000 in 2007.

But even with the drop in price from 2007 levels, home prices are still well above 2000 prices everywhere.

That average $100,000 home is still worth about $120,000 in SW Florida. Other areas have done better, as the U.S. average value (of a $100,000 home purchased in 2000) is now at $140,000 and on the east coast in the Miami area the 2011 value is at $156,000, and $149,000 in Ft. Lauderdale.

Price appreciation since 2000 on a $100,000 home in SW Florida: (high point is 2007)

HPI Plot

To find out how your home has fared from the date you purchased it, the FHFA has a convenient calculator. Click here to calculate your home's appreciation compared to any past date.

The calculator does not project the actual value of any particular house. Rather, it projects what a given house purchased at a point in time would be worth today if it appreciated at the average appreciation rate of all homes in the area. (The actual value of any house will depend on the local real estate market, house condition and age, home improvements made and needed, and many other factors.)

The House Price Calculator uses the FHFA Purchase-Only House Price Index for all states, including the District of Columbia, and for the largest 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Divisions. For all other Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Divisions an Index using purchases and refinances is used.
The FHFA calculated appraisal values from millions of home sales and refinances to come up with the indexes which are compiled and published monthly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

LaBelle Plumbing Corp. - LaBelle, Florida

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Google Blacks Out Logo In Protest Over SOPA

Black Banner In Protest Over SOPA Anti-Piracy Legislation

Google has blacked out it's familiar logo on all it's search pages today in protest over possible legislation in the U.S. that would censor the internet in efforts to prevent piracy of copyrighted materials on web pages.

Other prominent web sites are also protesting today including Wordpress and Wikipedia. Wikipedia users will not be able to search for any information until 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning, January 19th.

A page is shown when users attempt a search with the headline "Imagine A World Without Free Knowledge" and a link to find your congressional representatives to express your views on the anti-piracy proposed legislation.

Google explains it's position saying, "Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA."

Google urges readers to sign an online petition saying, "The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late."

Harvested Tomato Fields Possible Danger

Florida Requires Destruction Of Abandoned Tomato Fields

LABELLE, FL. -- Abandoned tomato fields where plants exist after harvests can serve as a source of diseases and insects, say Florida's agricultural experts.

Commercial tomato growers are required to chemically destroy remaining plants with paraquat or diquat desiccant agents, soon after harvest to prevent insect and disease spread from the old plants.

Under Florida law, abandoned tomato fields that have not been destroyed within five days after final harvest are subject to an immediate final order (IFO) per Rule Chapter 5B-59.003, Tomato Plant Destruction.

You can report abandoned tomato fields by sending an email to the Division of Plant Industry describing the physical location of the property. The divison's first route of destruction would be to make contact with the growers and request compliance, if this does not occur an IFO is issued in which the grower has 10 days to correct the problem.

Contact Tyson Emery, Florida's Chief of the Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection if you have any questions.  352.372.3505 ext. 154

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia Shutting Down In Protest Of Censorship

Internet Web Site Shuts Down Thursday Over SOPA Controversy

Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, a source of reliable neutral information for students, business, and millions of individuals will be shutting down in protest of possible government restrictions to the internet.

The site will shut for on Thursday for 24 hours beginning at midnight eastern time. Other well known sites including Google and Wordpress will protest using black banners on their pages over their respective logos with links to information about the protests.

Wikipedia, a non-profit foundation, explains it was a difficult decision to shut down the site because of it's unique online philosophy of neutrality, and non-interference with political agendas and the non-commercial aspect of Wikipedia and it's articles.

Sue Gardner, Wikipedia Foundation Executive Director explains, "The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate—that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

Wikipedia says unlike most internet sites people go to, "It’s not aiming to monetize their eyeballs or make them believe some particular thing, or sell them a product. Wikipedia has no hidden agenda: it just wants to be helpful."

"We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe in a free and open Internet where information can be shared without impediment," says Gardner in an open letter the the world.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Florida Gas Prices Rising - Higher Than National Averages

Prices In Florida 18 Cents Higher Than Month Ago

Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have risen 1.1 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.44/g yesterday and ten cents higher than national average prices. This compares with the national average that has increased 1.1 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.34/g, according to gasoline price website FloridaStateGasPrices.com.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 33.4 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 18.4 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 10.3 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 27.2 cents per gallon higher than this day one year ago.

"Gasoline prices have slowed their rise in the last week as oil prices have temporarily stabilized," said GasBuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan. "I'm sure this leveling off in retail price won't last terribly long as tension mounts with Iran. I still expect 2012 to be a nasty year for the typical motorist, which is what our recently released 2012 gasoline price outlook also states," DeHaan said.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Katherine Jean (Wright) Keller, age 54, of Muse died Thursday, January 12, 2012 In Muse. Katherine was born April 14, 1957 in Bradenton, FL, the daughter of the late Julius Ray Wright and the late Mary Frances (Deese) Barnes.

She is survived by her husband: Donnie Ray Keller of Muse, sons: Bobby Edward Keller and Donnie Ray Keller II of Muse, daughters: Tammy Danielle (Chad) Kay of LaBelle, Mary (Donny Warn) Conner of Muse, Sisters: Tammy (Bill) Ragan of Muse, brothers: Tommy (Susan) Barnes of LaBelle, Jimmie Wright of Georgia and Ricky Barnes of LaBelle and seven grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her brother, Frank (Tuffy) Wright

Calling hours are Monday, January 16, 2012 from 6-9 p.m. at Akin-Davis Funeral Home, 560 E. Hickpochee Ave., LaBelle, FL. Cremation Arrangements by: Akin-Davis Funeral Home-LaBelle

Rex Paul Brown, age 55, of LaBelle passed away Thursday, January 12, 2012 in Lehigh Acres, FL. Rex was born March 16, 1956 in Albany, GA. He is the son of William and Burie (McCurdy) Brown.

Rex was originally from Raleigh, N.C. He served in the Navy from 1975-1979, was an active member of LaBelle Revival Center and Gathering of Christian Men. Rex also loved Harleys and being free in the outdoors.

He is survived by his wife Susan P. Harrison-Brown; one daughter: Sawyer Lynn Brown and her partner Garrett Miller; his father William Brown; his mother Burie (McCurdy) Brown; sister: Cheryl Godwin and husband Butch; grandchild: Halle Miller; Nieces: Ashley Spencer and husband John, Emily Godwin and special friend, Diane Crowl and lifetime friend Vic Hancock and wife Donna.

A memorial service will be held 1:00 pm on Thursday, January 19 at Aqua Isles Community Center, 900 Aqua Isles Blvd., LaBelle, FL with Pastor Lester Grant officiating.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Hope Hospice, 9470 HealthPark Circle, Fort Myers, FL 33908 or LaBelle Revival Center, 3025 County Road 78 West, LaBelle, FL 33935

As Rex would say, "It's five o'clock somewhere".  Cremation Arrangements by Akin-Davis Funeral Home - LaBelle

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hendry-Glades Health Department Helping Out

Boxes Of Food Delivered To Community Homes
LABELLE, FL. --  Every year during the holidays, many people think about the hunger issue in our county. Boxes for food donations appear at the entry and exit doors of many offices and agencies. 

Holiday Help 002.jpg(photo: Peggy Baxter and Gracie Urias from the Hendry County Health Department – Healthy Start Program)

The thought of someone going hungry during the holidays and the reality that children might not have a family meal inspired many Hendry County Health Department employees to dig deeper into their pockets and their pantries to help local families. 

Through the initiative of the Healthy Start program, the health department was able to help 36 families this holiday season.

Healthy Start staff members worked hard to gather and deliver food to families that may not be able to access the local food pantries. Many of these families do not have transportation to travel back and forth to get the services and help they need.

There are lots of families in our community that are struggling to make ends meet. More and more “regular” people with jobs are finding themselves in need of assistance. Any one of us could find ourselves in that situation someday.

-from Hendry-Glades Health Dept.

Driver Critically Injured In Hendry Crash

Vehicle Overturns - Alcohol Investigated As Cause

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Charges are pending against Jaime Vilorio, 44 of Clewiston after his 2000 Dodge Ram pickup truck overturned on US27 at Airglades Boulevard west of Clewiston.

Vilorio lost control of the vehicle at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday and the truck overturned in the grass median of U.S. 27.

He was critically injured and taken to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers. His passenger 62-year old Dolores Torres of Clewiston suffered minor injuries and was taken to Hendry Regional Hospital in Clewiston.

Both were wearing seatbelts but an investigation is underway for alcohol use by Vilorio.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How You & Friends Can Quit Smoking Now

Free Florida Resources And Classes Available 

Tobacco Free Florida is encouraging smokers in the state to use the program’s free and convenient quit resources to start the year smoke-free and increase their chances of staying smoke-free for good. Evidence-based cessation counseling and FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies (NRTS) provided by the program can double to triple your chances of successfully quitting.

Seven out of 10 adult smokers report that they want to quit completely. Last year, about half of them tried to quit. Yet, few (6.2 percent) were successful. 

If you weren’t able to quit in years past, do not be discouraged. Most former smokers made several attempts before finally quitting permanently. The average smoker attempts to quit between eight and 11 times before succeeding.
Nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals. The current design and contents of cigarettes make them more attractive and addictive than ever before. Today, cigarettes deliver nicotine more quickly from the lungs to the heart and brain. Poor preparation and a quit plan that’s not entirely right for you can make quitting even harder. While quitting is difficult, it is not impossible. In fact, there are more former smokers in Florida than current smokers.

“Every year, many Floridians try to go it alone as they resolve to quit smoking,” said Dr. Frank Farmer, Florida’s State Surgeon General. “While quitting cold turkey may work for some, every day there is mounting evidence that counseling and medication have been proven effective and can greatly increase your chances of not just quitting, but staying tobacco free for good.”

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S. Cigarette use results in an estimated 28,600 deaths in Florida each year. Despite the known dangers of smoking, more than 2.5 million Floridians, or 17.1 percent of the adult population, are current cigarette smokers.

Free Quit Smoking Resources
Tobacco Free Florida offers a number of free and convenient resources to help Floridians quit using tobacco.

· Phone: Call the Florida Quitline at 1-877-U-CAN-NOW to speak with a Quit Coach who will help you assess your addiction and help you create a personalized quit plan.

· Online: Enroll in the Web Coach®, which will help you create your own web-based quit plan that’s right for you, visit https://www.quitnow.net/florida.

· In-person: Visit the Florida Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Network’s website,http://ahectobacco.com, to locate your local AHEC and sign up for Quit Smoking Now group classes.

Three Florida Panthers Dead - Two By Vehicles

3 Florida panthers die in early 2012

Florida panthers are off to a rough start in 2012, with three deaths documented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission so far this month.

Already, in just the first week of 2012, there were two documented deaths of panthers hit by vehicles on highways in Collier County, where the greatest concentration of panthers in the state is found. 

The third fatality was caused by a fight with another panther. 

Among the 24 documented panther deaths in 2011, nine deaths, or more than a third, were due to collisions with vehicles.

Last year, 24 Florida panther deaths were recorded, but FWC biologists also observed 11 radio-collared females giving birth to 32 panther kittens. Overall, the known number of newborn panthers in 2011 appears to have offset the known number of panther deaths.

Today, an estimated 100 to 160 adults of this federally endangered species live in Florida. Panthers almost disappeared from the wild in this state when their numbers fell to fewer than 30 in the 1970s. Since then, their population has been increasing.

Collisions with vehicles continues to be the greatest source of human-caused mortality to this long-tailed cat that can weigh up to 160 pounds and grow to 6 feet or longer.

“Florida panther deaths are most often the result of one of two things: collisions with vehicles or aggression from other panthers,” said Kipp Frohlich, head of the Imperiled Species Management Section at the FWC. “We can’t control panthers fighting when they are defending their territory; that is a part of nature. But we can do something about human-caused panther mortalities.”

“People who slow down and drive carefully in rural areas, especially where panther crossings are identified, can make a difference in conservation of this endangered species. It is especially important to slow down and keep a careful lookout at dawn or dusk, when panthers are most likely to be on the move,” Frohlich said.

The FWC continues to work with many partners to conserve and increase habitat available to panthers on both public and private lands. This is a critical step to ensuring the survival of panthers, the official state animal of Florida.

Sears Craftsman CTX Tractor Debuts At Auto Show

What's New At The Detroit Auto Show? Lawn Tractors!

Is what must be the slowest vehicles at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, Sears is offering a 30 h.p. garden tractor with electronic fuel management that can reach speeds of 8 m.p.h.

With models ranging from $3,000 to $7,000, the Craftsman CTX line of lawn mowers offer power steering, 18' turning radius and a cup holder.

Craftsman has even added automatic traction control and differential lock to this high end line of grass and weed whackers. Just like your SUV and car.

Gentlemen, start your engines. At least they may be good for neighborhood lawn racing.

The CTX line of tractors is available now only in California from Sears.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Arthur Franklin Fry, age 73, of LaBelle passed away Monday, January 9, 2012 in Lehigh Acres, FL. Arthur was born February 13, 1938 in Dyer County, TN. He is the son of the late Melvin and the late Jane (Mathiney) Fry.

Arthur moved to LaBelle 20 years ago after retiring from Delta Airlines. He started selling real estate and worked for a number of the real estate agencies in LaBelle over the years. He was a member of the American Legion No 130. He was also a supporter of the Caloosa Humane Society. Arthur will be missed by the many friends he made over the years.

He is survived by his cousin Elbert Petty. Cremation Arrangements by Akin-Davis Funeral Home

Seth Wyatt Garvey, age 20, of Moore Haven passed away Friday, December 30, 2011 in Palmdale, FL. Seth was born April 16, 1991 in Fort Myers, FL. He is the son of Everett William and Betty Kay (Browning) Garvey III.

He is survived by his father Everett William Garvey III and mother Betty Kay (Browining) Garvey; two brothers: Jesse Alan Wallace and Cole William Garvey and grandmother Sharon McCormick.

Seth was quick to smile and will be missed by his family and friends.

The funeral service was held 12:00 pm on Wednesday, January 4 at First Baptist Church Of Moore Haven, with Rev. Sherrill Tillery and Pastor Earl Cline officiating. Interment was in Ortona Cemetery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Timeshare Scam Alert - Transfer Smart

Getting Rid Of Your Vacation Time Share Will Cost Thousands

LABELLE, FL. -- Mailings are going out by the thousands to mailboxes around the area from a company called Transfer Smart of Torrence, California making an offer that sounds like they will purchase vacation timeshare condo units from owners.

The letter signed by Cindy MacMillan, founder of Transfer Smart claims she will "get you out of your Timeshare Forever!"

Not said is that you will be charged thousands of dollars for "transfer fees" to give away your time share apartment or condo to the company.

Not said also is that only certain properties will be eligible and there must be no payments due, including maintenance fees or taxes on the unit.

The letter invites a call to (888) 349-4412 "to reserve your appointment with one of our Consumer Advisors." Adding, "We are accepting a limited number of Timeshares. Space is limited...."

The company will set up a meeting at a local hotel where high pressure agents await you to write a check.

The company Transfer Smart LLC, started in February 2010 by Cindy and David MacMillan also operates as Timeshare Relief Inc. The company address is listed as 2241 West 190th Street, Suite 100, Torrence, CA 90504.

Many organizations are trying to take advantage of timeshare owners, asking large fees from those who have been unable to sell their units due to the very large inventory of units that are on the market for sale or being unused.

Timeshare owner groups recommend not to pay anyone to sell or dispose of a timeshare, instead advising to literally give away for free any unwanted condo, and pay an attorney a hundred dollars or so to do the paperwork. The owner's groups say it is unnecessary to ever pay anyone thousands of dollars to dispose of a timeshare or to pay a "listing fee" to place it on the market.

Florida Gives Sweet Deal To Harris Corp For Secret Digital Radios

Digital Radio Deal With State Bringing Secret Communications To Florida

LABELLE, FL. -- Wondering why police communications are being digitally encrypted by county sheriffs, city police, state highway patrol, and state law enforcement agencies? The answer may lie in a deal Florida made with a large communications company, Harris Corporation.

The state of Florida has entered into a monopolistic contract with the Harris Corporation to use Harris digital communication radios for all state agencies. The radios provided by Harris are digitally encrypted so no one without the "key" can hear what's being said over the air.

Anyone with a radio "scanner" can no longer hear law enforcement radio transmissions from agencies using the secret codes.

The FCC regulates radio frequencies and radio transmissions in the U.S. and does specifically allow the public to own "scanners," radio receivers capable of monitoring or listening to any radio communication. The only exception is manufacturers may not sell radios that are capable of listening to cell phone conversations in the 850mhz and 1900 mhz bands.

But now, the State of Florida is gradually shifting from inexpensive analog radios, capable of being monitored by the public with inexpensive radio scanners, to radios transmitting in the 800mhz band and coding the transmissions so they are not available to be monitored by the public.

Update: Many agencies are finding lots of problems with the new digital communication systems including the apparent failure of Oakland, California's $18 million system that repeatedly went offline during the visit of President Barack Obama on July 23, 2012. Police officers were unable to reach dispatch and other officers during the visit and during protests that were taking place that day. Oakland's digital radios went online in June of 2011 replacing it's analog radio system.

And because of the monopoly created by the agreement between the State of Florida and Harris, other agencies are persuaded to purchase Harris equipment in order to standardize protocols and theoretically be able to communicate with state agencies when necessary, since all agencies would be using the same encrypted system.

Unfortunately for the public, news agencies, and the public safety, all Harris equipment used by the state, and county agencies is encrypted, making all communications secret and not available to be listened to by any radio available to the public.

Although the new radios are digital, and much more expensive than previous analog radios, they do not have to be encrypted. But Harris makes an additional $1,000 per radio unit by selling the encryption feature to the State, counties and other agencies.

The State Law Enforcement Radio System mandates an encrypted radio system for all users, costing about $1,000 extra for each individual radio used by law enforcement agencies throughout Florida. The cost of an un-encrypted radio package according to a Harris price list is $3,130. The encrypted radios cost $4,271.

Now using the digitally encrypted radio is the Florida Highway Patrol, all State agencies, U.S. Marshall, Glades County Sheriff, Hendry County Sheriff, Okeechobee County, and many other agencies throughout the state.

While Glades county switched to the system several years ago, Hendry county switched to the "secret" communication system in December 2011. Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden says each portable radio carried by a deputy costs about $5,000.

In response to complaints around the state by newspapers and TV and radio stations, some agencies have allowed "leasing" of the radios to news media in order for monitoring of police and fire radio transmissions. But the latest trend is for agencies to deny use of the encrypted radios by anyone outside the agencies.

Florida's Department of Management Services explains the funding of the Harris radio equipment this way:

In order to implement SLERS, DMS entered into a "public/private partnership" with Harris Corporation (formerly Tyco Electronics).

For providing the services in the contract, Harris was paid a $40 million advance payment. Additionally, the company receives an on-going proceeds from a motor vehicle and vessel registration surcharge (approximately $15 - $18 million annually) less certain stipulated expenses incurred by the State. 

This revenue stream to Harris provided the initial system infrastructure (communications towers, system equipment, and dispatch consoles) and ongoing system maintenance.

In return for the conveyance of selected State-owned communications tower and tower assets, Harris extended $26.4 million in credits to the State for radios, radio equipment and accessories.

In addition to these credits, Harris provided additional credits to replace 6,000 radios formerly used by the State.

The Department of Management Services receives funding to improve and enhance SLERS under Section 318.18(17) Florida Statues which provide revenues from certain criminal offenses and moving traffic violations. These funds are apparently going to the Harris Corporation.

The Harris contract provides for revenue sharing in two ways: After the initial term, the State will receive 50% of all net revenues received from third-party tenants on communications towers conveyed to Harris from the State for an additional 30 years; For any SLERS Partners (like Harris), the State receives 5% of the gross revenue.

Joint Task Force Agencies provides Harris radios for their users and the remaining dispatch center facilities, equipment and expenses.