Thursday, May 31, 2007

Belle Glade Clinic Operators Arrested

Nine Arrested In Health Care Fraud Scheme

BELLE GLADE, FL. -- Attorney General Bill McCollum today  announced the arrest of nine south Florida residents for their role in a multi-county health care fraud scheme that also involved criminal racketeering, money laundering and grand theft. The arrests were the result of a joint investigation by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Office of Statewide Prosecution and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services into allegations of fraudulent Medicaid and Medicare billing by Belle Glade Family Health Group, Inc., a Belle Glade clinic located in Palm Beach County.

"This was a sophisticated and complex organization that clearly required deliberative thought and development to carry out its criminal activities, one that required hard work and determination to bring to an end," said Attorney General McCollum. "Whenever taxpayer-funded programs are defrauded, our citizens end up paying the price. This case is an excellent example of how diligent investigation and cooperative efforts can benefit Floridians in the long run."

Arrested today was clinic owner Hortensia Escoto and her husband, Ricardo Escoto, as well as Blanca Marquez, Emelina Marquez, Zoraida Bayon, Maria Ponceleon, Dinorah Mateu and Luis Diaz of Miami-Dade County and Mary Lucey of Palm Beach County. The arrests were made by law enforcement officers with the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with assistance from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department.

The investigation revealed that from October 2004 to October 2005, the defendants ran a sophisticated criminal organization that fraudulently billed the Medicaid and Medicare programs for HIV infusion treatments and drugs. The investigation further revealed that the defendants laundered the proceeds of their scam through a check cashing store, a durable medical equipment company and diagnostic center in Miami-Dade County, and a medical transportation company in Palm Beach County. They also used these businesses to provide cover for the organization's racketeering activities. Investigators estimate that the defendants fraudulently billed more than $5 million to the Medicaid and Medicare programs over a 12-month period.

Eight of the defendants are being held at the Miami-Dade County jail awaiting extradition to Palm Beach County while Lucey is being held at the Palm Beach County jail. Clinic owner Nieves Delgado and her husband, William Alvarez, are still at large as is a twelfth defendant, Jacqueline Reigosa. Each will be charged with multiple counts of racketeering, organized fraud, money laundering and grand theft. If convicted, each individual faces up to 105 years in prison. The case will be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Delgado, Alvarez, Hortensia, and Escoto were arrested by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in July 2006 on separate charges and are currently awaiting trial in Palm Beach County.

Glades Commissioners To Meet About Property Tax

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Glades County Board of County Commissioners will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, June 6, 2007, at 5:00 PM in the County Commission Meeting Room, Glades County Courthouse, 500 Avenue J, Moore Haven, Florida. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss Ad-Valorem Tax Relief, the topic for the Special Session of the Legislature. All interested parties are invited to appear and be heard.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

N.R.L.L. Offering Low Prices To Lot Owners

LABELLE, FL. -- Property owners around Hendry and Glades county are receiving letters again from N.R.L.L, East, LLC, a California real estate company offering very low cash prices to anyone foolish enough to sell to them at way below market values.

A letter received this week by a Pioneer Plantation property owner said that "after analyzing your property" the company is willing to pay $4000. The parcel is two and one-half acres and worth many times what the company is hoping to buy it for. The letter from "Mark Raymond" adds "please let me know your decision as I have set money aside for this purchase."

N.R.L.L. Inc., a holding company in Irvine, California has been soliciting land owners for many years especially in Florida and California. NRLL buys land at very low prices, then transfers title to the names of one of its other associated companies, and then holds auctions in large cities around the country, reselling the lots at much higher prices, and sells them "as-is."

In Hendry county, NRLL has offered Port LaBelle lot owners prices that seemed to be reasonable at first. One owner reports that an offer was made to buy a lot for $26,500 several months ago by NRLL. On contacting the company they wanted the owner to sign a sales contract that did not provide any closing date, so the company could theoretically close whenever they wanted. After the seller objected, they sent a contract that did provide for a 90 day closing, but that still didn't get a quick sale either.

The contract "was subject to inspection" and sure enough, NRLL contacted the seller and said they weren't interested at the contract price after a so-called "inspection" of the property, but would "maybe" buy for $10,000 instead of $26,500. The seller elected not to go for what he believed to be a scam.

More recently, NRLL is sending solicitations to owners in Pioneer Plantation, again offering a "quick sale." When contacted at their 800 phone number, the company takes your information, and says because they are "so busy," someone will call back in about a week.

Actual prices paid by NRLL to lot owners in Hendry county recently have amounted to just several thousand dollars per lot, according to county courthouse records. But their re-sales prices of land they bought cheaply is a different matter. A Port LaBelle lot sale by a N.R.R.L. company to a Pompano Beach man was $26,500 recently. NRLL gets their mailing lists from the county tax assessor's records, which are public records.

The bottom line: Unless you want to "give away" your vacant lots, knowing the company will soon auction it off for a much higher price soon, don't bother responding to such junk mail offers and wasting your time.

Big Development - Big Power Plant Needed

Commentary by C. Curry

I've read with some interest about all the environmental groups that are jumping on the bandwagon to condemn the proposed FPL Coal Plant.  While I don't understand the entire process involved with the plant, nor do I really expect to understand it all, but what I do understand is that as long as development continues there will be a need for power. 

As long as power is needed, FPL (or other electric companies) will see the ability to make money - the reason they are in business.  So, being the very simple minded person I am, wouldn't these groups be wiser and get more accomplished if they went after the developers?  These are the folks that are making all the money and not having to worry about providing the services needed for new developments and the people they will bring in.  Seems to me money would be much wiser spent on trying to rein in the development and urban sprawl which would in effect stop the need for more power plants. 

It also stands to reason that the more we develop the more water is needed.  And, correct me if I'm wrong, but water seems to be lacking all over the state, especially in the southern portion.  Why keep allowing more and more development when we don't have the resources to support it? 

When you ask most of the folks moving into the smaller rural interior counties the reason for the move, most of them will say to get away from the 'rat race' on the coasts.  Give them a few months and they want to start changing the small communities into the communities they just left on the coasts.  I find it very irrating that our local small town governments keep giving in to these demands for bigger and better things (in their eyes) for us small town folks. 

You know what, if I wanted a shopping mall on every corner, a grocery store every quarter mile, a theater every other mile, I'd move to the coast where most everything natural has been destroyed!  I enjoy a nice ride from the country to the city for my shopping.  When you get home it makes you appreciate the natural beauty of small towns even more - that is if you open your eyes.  Don't keep moving here to change my life for the better (by your standards). Until the development is curtailed and resources are allowed to sustain growth, fighting FPL is a moot point.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Drug Arrest Made At Restaurant Parking Lot

LABELLE, FL. -- On May 24, 2007, at about 9:00 a.m., Deputy Jesus Olvera and Deputy Christian Buchhofer were dispatched to Michelle's Restaurant located on South Main Street in LaBelle. Two men were reported to be acting as if they were on drugs or intoxicated. Upon arrival, Deputies observed a marijuana cigarette on the center consol of the vehicle occupied by the two men.

A search of the vehicle resulted in Deputies locating Marijuana, Drug Paraphernalia, and approximately 14 grams of Methamphetamine. Sheriff Ronnie Lee said both men, Lazaro Enrique Obarrio age 20 of 4219 Whidden Cemetery Road, Lake Wales, Florida and Floyd Rideau age 34 of 27 West crystal Avenue, Lake Wales, Florida, were charged with Possession of Methamphetamine, Possession of Methamphetamine With Intent to Deliver or Distribute within 1000 feet of a Church, and Trafficking Methamphetamine. Lazaro was also charged with D.U.I. and Driving While License Suspended. Deputies also seized $600.00 in U.S. currency.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lester Baird Still Looking For Job

Baird Loses Bid For Another City Manager Job

LABELLE, FL. -- Former Hendry County Administrator Lester Baird lost his bid to become the city manager of Key West, after being among the final six that had been chosen by the city commission. Baird made it to the final six out of 144 initial candidates for the well paying United State's southernmost city manager job.  Baird had recently also lost the bid to be city manager of Brooksville, Florida near Tampa.

The six finalists went through a final question and answer interview this week, the commission then chose Jim Scholl, of nearby Cudjoe Key, a range systems manager of the Key West Tactical Air Crew and former commanding officer of Naval Air Station Key West from 2003 to 2006. Scholl answered a question from one commissioner about allowing gays in the military and said, "Anybody who wants to serve their country should be able to serve their country."

Another finalist, James Malloy, the town administrator of Sturbridge, Mass. when asked about diverse life styles, said people in Sturbridge "don't even bat an eye" when it comes to same-sex marriages.

Baird had been described as "folksy" and "enjoyable to speak with" by one Key West news reporter who interviewed Baird. Baird, during his city commission appearance this week. noted his experience dealing with affordable housing in Hendry County and the 600 families who became homeless after Hurricane Wilma.

The candidate with the lowest score on a grading scale by the Key West commissioners was the winner Jim Scholl receiving 10 points. James Malloy and Lester Baird received the worst scores of the six finalists at 33 each.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Port LaBelle District Meeting Attracts Crowd

LABELLE, FL. -- After many years of non-attendance at Port LaBelle Community Development District meetings, the residents came out in standing room only numbers to the district office's small meeting room on Dellwood Terrace Thursday evening. On the agenda were controversial items including what to do after longtime office manager Ralph Nicholson retires in September and details on a long standing chemical spill investigated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Hendry Building and Zoning.

District Chairperson Bill Dunbar was a no-show at the meeting, leaving inexperienced Vice-Chair and new board member Suzanne Gee in charge of the meeting. As this was her virgin attempt chairing a meeting, Gee floundered not knowing the procedures to be followed calling motions, discussions and votes. The board's attorney interrupted, calling many procedural shots and dominated discussion of many issues. Unfortunately the board's attorney, $190 an hour Robert Pritt from Naples, is also a newcomer serving the board, and although prepared for the meeting with documents given him, did not have knowledge of the history of most issues and not having read prior attorney's opinions expressed in years past on some issues presented at the meeting.

Ralph Nicholson, probably the best authority on Port LaBelle issues in the county, has worked for the Development District for 17 years, and in the county for 25, and will be retiring at the end of September. Nicholson also manages the Barron Water Control District which owns the offices and actually pays Nicholson's salary. The Development District pays $50,000 a year to Barron Water Control for Nicholson's part-time management duties for the Development District. He splits his time between the two entities. And there lies the rub according to new elected member of the board Sue Reese. Reese read a prepared statement advocating not renewing the interlocal agreement between Barron Water Control and the Development District that calls for the sharing of one manager between the two boards, and the inferred control that Barron Water Control has by hiring and paying the salary of the manager while "lending" him out to the Development District and collecting a large yearly fee and office rent from them.

Long time treasurer board member Scott Wegschied stood up for keeping the current management arrangement for practical reasons, saying it's worked for many years and there's not much time left to be searching for an independent manager for the PLCDD, and such a move would surely be more expensive in salaries and costs for the district. Port LaBelle resident and CPA Andy Higginbotham spoke from the audience and confirmed the costs that may be involved.

Near the end of the four-hour rambling public meeting, Wegscheid moved to continue the management arrangement with Barron Water District, with Pat Whidden voting yes, Sue Reese against, and Suzanne Gee "abstaining" from voting for unknown reasons. With Gee's abstention, the motion passed.

It seemed clear to some observers that the new board members are going to have to "get up to speed" quickly to get future business done for the Development District expeditiously and efficiently. The board's 2007-2008 budget process is beginning and must be completed in July.

Port LaBelle Chemical Spill Cover Up?

Colony Helicopter Company Leaks Chemicals Into Ground

LABELLE, FL. -- Has the Port LaBelle Development District and the Barron Water Control District attempted a "cover up" of a significant pesticide chemical spill behind their offices on Dellwood Terrace in Port LaBelle? Some area residents and possibly one new Development District board member thinks so.

An anonymous letter by a "concerned citizen" was sent out to some Port LaBelle area residents last week asking why a chemical spill in October 2005 during Hurricane Wilma was not cleaned up for many months, and not until complaints were made to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Hendry Building and Zoning, the wrecked building not being cleaned up for a year afterward.

The letter claimed that Barron Water Control District which owned the building containing 150 fifty-gallon drums of pesticides and herbicides of which several were damaged and leaked their content into the ground.  The letters continues saying the spill was not cleaned up for 13 months after Barron Water Control was "caught" by the Florida DEP investigators after a presumed complaint and claiming gross negligence by Barron Water Control and manager Ralph Nicholson, and the Board's Directors.  The letter claimed some collusion between the Chairman of the Board as he was believed to be a manager for Duda Farms, for which the chemicals may have been used in aerial spraying applications.

Nicholson, at a meeting of the Port LaBelle Development District Thursday, after an inquiry by new board member Suzanne Gee, said the wrecked building was leased to Colony Helicopters, and the Barron Water Control District had to resort to filing an eviction suit to get access to the building as Nicholson said it was surrounded by a locked fence and the District attorney said not to enter the site without going through an eviction process.  Colony, Nicholson said, claimed that they could not do anything to clean up the site pending insurance company and FEMA settlements, and stalled any efforts by the District to get it cleaned up.

After the DEP and Building and Zoning eventually got involved, Nicholson says Colony cooperated in the cleanup and paid all the costs.  Colony's helicopters stopped flying several years ago and the company auctioned off its equipment and helicopters in August of last year. The large auction billboard sign is still illegally laying on the ground at the southeast corner of Birchwood Parkway and State Road 80 despite complaints to the auction company and Hendry Building and Zoning officials.

The Dellwood Terrace site behind the Board's office will remain under water and soil test observation by the DEP for some time to monitor any safety issues.

Colony Helicopters operated at two different Dellwood Terrace sites for decades and observers say there is most likely other chemical contaminations of the ground and water all along Dellwood Terrace which may have spread to the Eucalyptus Village community to the west, and the sewage plant grounds just south of Dellwood. Colony for many years rented an office building from the Port LaBelle Development District on Dellwood. Colony experienced alleged fraud by one of its employees several years ago, losing a significant amount of money they claimed. Colony's large vacant warehouse building is now up for sale.

Home Sales In LaBelle Area

Large Inventory Remains Of Unsold And Uncompleted New Homes

LABELLE, FL. -- From May 1 to May 22, there were eight homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $192,250. All were in unincorporated Hendry county and the Port LaBelle community. New home building in the area has come to a standstill with only one new home hookup to utilities in the last three months. There is an extensive builder inventory of unsold new homes and uncompleted building shells scattered throughout Port LaBelle. Some builders have uncompleted homes having undergone no work for almost a year with building permits for those homes issued nearly two years ago.

Sales for the last three weeks:

1) $214,000 on Case Rd
2) $175,000 on Fort Denaud Rd
3) $210,000 on Patton Rd
4) $310,000 on Quail Run
5) $194,000 on Quail Run
6) $95,000 on Schooner Dr (Country Village Port LaBelle)
7) $197,000 on N Obisbo Cir (Port LaBelle)
8) $143,000 on S Balsam Cir (Port LaBelle)

Family Suing Milk Company

Law Firm Says Milk Truck Driver At Fault In Death

OKEECHOBEE, FL. – Sheila Roysdon, an Okeechobee resident was driving her Chevrolet van northbound to her home on State Road 15 around 6 p.m. on March 6 of this year when  a McArthur Dairy truck operated by Jose Melecio-Torres-Ramirez allegedly ran the stop sign at the intersection of NW 208th Street and State Road 15, colliding with Sheila Roysdon's van, causing her death.
The law firm of Ricci~Leopold is claiming negligence and has filed a suit for damages againt McArthur Dairy. Ted Leopold of the firm says: "The pursuit of public safety requires that citizens of our communities are entitled to have trucks on the roadway that are properly maintained and are run in a safe condition.  Also, we are all entitled to expect that when those trucks are out on the roadway that the drivers have been properly hired, supervised and trained.  Unfortunately, McArthur does not believe in this form of safety.  McArthur breached their responsibility to our community and Sheila Roysdon is dead as a result,"

"We are confident in our belief that not only was the 1998 International 9100 series truck improperly maintained and in violation of various regulations, but that Mr. Torres-Ramirez was not properly trained to nor capable of operating a truck of this size.  Any company assumes liability if it allows an employee to operate a vehicle that is unsafe and that vehicle is driven by someone in a dangerous manner.  This poorly maintained truck became a killing machine that took the life of a vibrant and loving woman," Mr. Leopold added.

"Our intent is to show the facts to a jury and to obtain a full measure of justice for Mr. Roysdon, while protecting the public from incidents like this in the future," he concluded.

Move It! Preventing Traffic Jams

Vehicles Should Be Moved After Traffic Accident

LABELLE, FL. -- Yes, you can move your vehicle out of the way after traffic accidents. In fact, Florida law states that you must make every reasonable effort to move a disabled vehicle or have it moved so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic, as long as the vehicle is drivable and there are no injuries. Police and insurance companies will not penalize you for moving your vehicle off the road.

Florida law requires (F.S. 313.061) that if a damaged or disabled vehicle is obstructing traffic, the driver of the vehicle must make every reasonable effort to move the vehicle or have it moved so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic. If he or she cannot move the vehicle alone, they should solicit help and move the vehicle. Motorists involved in a traffic incident or attending a disabled vehicle are required to move their vehicle off the roadway when the vehicle is moveable and there are no injuries.

Moving your damaged vehicle off the roadway helps clear accidents quickly, reduce congestion and improve safety conditions for responders.  Traffic safety experts say follow these guidelines:

Assess. Check for injuries. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately and wait for emergency responders.
MOVE IT...Yes you can! Determine whether the vehicles are moveable. Move vehicles off the road to the nearest safe location.
Notify. If there are no injuries, call 911 to alert them of the accident and your location and follow the instructions of the dispatcher.
Report. Exchange driver, vehicle and insurance information. Report the incident as instructed by law enforcement and your insurance provider.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Conservancy To Fight FPL Power Plant

Group Fights Largest Proposed Coal Power Plant In U.S.

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- Two new coal-fired plants are proposed in Glades County to be operated by Florida Power and Light within the environmentally sensitive Everglades ecosystem, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is not taking the plans lightly.  On June 5th, lawyers representing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other environmental groups will go to trial, seeking to defeat FPL's Glades County Power Plant Siting Application.  FPL has proposed constructing two new 980 MW coal-fired electrical generating units at a 4,900 acre site five miles northwest of Moore Haven in Glades County, within yards of Lake Okeechobee, creating the largest new coal-fired generating units in the United States and the first major coal-fired power plant in South Florida.  The plants would be located less than fifty miles from the Big Cypress Preserve and less than sixty-five miles from Everglades National Park, both lying to the south of the location.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida challenged the land use consistency determination by Glades County in the Florida Power and Light Glades Power Park siting process, a lengthy administrative process for considering the siting of a power plant such as the one proposed. According to Andrew McElwaine, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, "These two new coal-fired units would emit more than 180-200 pounds of mercury per year, making them the single largest source of mercury in South Florida. The FP&L plan for Glades County follows an unsuccessful attempt to build similar power plants in St. Lucie County.  We will pursue all legal options to prevent the proposed plants.  The Everglades are already under a fish consumption advisory for mercury covering some 2 million acres of South Florida."

 "The two new coal-fired units would be the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in Florida at a time when it is increasingly evident we need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2.)  Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising dramatically making Florida particularly vulnerable to the dual effects of global warming and climate change which may contribute to sea level rise and more intense hurricanes."

"The timing is critical," explains Andrew McElwaine.  "It is likely carbon dioxide regulations will be enacted during the next 5 years making the selection of conventional coal burning technologies, like the FP&L plant, a risky proposition for electricity customers, who will bear the burden of higher prices from future carbon regulation.  Energy efficiency and renewable energy sources are alternatives to reduce the need for a major coal-fired plant and have not been pursued aggressively by FP&L."

"The amount of truck, barge and rail traffic required to transport the coal to the plants is astonishing.  We�ll experience major congestion, more roadways, wetland reduction and air pollution into an Everglades system we are spending millions on to restore.  This is a circular logic we do not  understand.  Worse yet, the plants will use pulverized coal which will emit coal dust during transport."

"Governor Charlie Crist and the Cabinet will have final approval for siting any new power plants in Florida.  While Governor Charlie Crist has made climate change a priority for his administration and has stated that he is unhappy with the proposals for new coal-fired power plants in Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida encourages everybody to contact him and thank him for raising concerns about coal-fired plants and the need to pursue clean, renewable energy sources," urges McElwaine.  "We need to ask for help to protect the Everglades, the Caloosahatchee River system and coastal lands vulnerable to the negative impacts of a sea level rise by denying this pulverized coal plant in the Everglades." 

The public trial will be presided over by Judge J. Lawrence Johnston and will be begin at 1 p.m., June 5 at the Doyle Connor Center in Moore Haven, Glades County, Florida.  It will likely continue all day June 6 and 7, group representatives say.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

22 Governors Ask For Gas Price Probe

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist joined 21 other Governors in calling for a congressional inquiry into the sudden, unexplained spike in gas prices.  The bipartisan group of Governors sent a letter yesterday to Congressional leaders, asking for federal hearings and an investigation into the rising price of gasoline. The record-high cost of a gallon of regular gasoline is averaging $3.10 in Florida, according to the American Automobile Association, compared to $2.91 a month ago and $2.86 a year ago.  Nationally, the record-high average price is $3.18, compared to $2.86 a month ago and $2.90 a year ago.

In 2005 as Attorney General, Charlie Crist conducted a detailed examination of gasoline pricing in Florida, eventually concluding that two factors besides high crude oil prices were the primary contributors to price spikes.  Those two factors were the gasoline industry's practice of intentionally keeping inventories low and a shrinking number of suppliers within the industry.  Fewer suppliers exist due to mergers of larger companies and reduce consumer choice.  For instance, over the recent past, eight companies have become four with the creation of ExxonMobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco and Conoco-Phillips.

The Governors' letter to Congress says in part: " The reasons for these massive increases do not appear to be tied to any recent changes in geo-political events or a weather crisis. While there have been reports regarding problems with refinery capability, even this explanation raises more questions than answers. Reliability, capacity and supply issues have been at the forefront of federal energy policy for years. It is difficult to understand how oil companies can be making record profits each quarter without making capital investments in refineries that would address reliability issues.

Families and businesses across the nation are straining under these uncontrollable prices. The economies of our states – as well as the national economy – are likely to suffer because of these continually spiraling prices. We are all affected by rising gas prices and it is not yet Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer driving season.  Many industry-based and other observers are predicting that gas prices may hit $4 a gallon by late summer.

We believe Congress has the authority and the unique ability to conduct a thorough investigation into gas pricing.  This is not a simple "supply and demand" issue because gasoline is not a simple commodity. It is a basic necessity.  With specific regard to the refinery issue, legislative or regulatory remedies may need to be explored.  It is our hope that Congress can help obtain and provide answers to the circumstances and issues pertaining to these unexplained price escalations."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Harlem Arrest After Traffic Stop

CLEWISTON, FL. -- On May 17, 2007, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Hendry County Sheriff's Office Deputy Nathan Kirk stopped a vehicle for a traffic law violation at the corner of 10th. Street and Carolina Avenue in the Harlem community. The driver, Kerry Bakari Moseley, age 22 of 1107 Virginia Avenue, was arrested for D.U.I. As a result of the arrest, Deputies searched Moseley and his vehicle locating an electronic scale, a .38 caliber pistol, and approximately 83 grams of marijuana. In addition to the D.U.I. charge, Moseley was charged with Carrying A Concealed Weapon, Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Narcotic Equipment.

Two Arrests Made For Cocaine

CLEWISTON, FL. -- According to Sheriff Ronnie Lee, the Hendry County Sheriffs Office and the Clewiston Police Department, conducting a joint investigation into Illegal Drug Trafficking, led to the arrest of two Hendry County men. On May 18, 2007, a vehicle, driven by Juan Manuel Aragus, was stopped on Cowboy Way in Labelle for a traffic offense. A passenger, Hector J. Deltorre, exited the vehicle and several plastic bags, containing cocaine, fell from his pants leg. Torres was arrested for possession of the cocaine, however, it was later determined that the cocaine allegedly belonged to Aragus.

A search warrant was signed by a Judge and later executed at the residence of Juan Manuel Aragus and approximately 140 grams of cocaine was located inside the man's Clewiston premises. Juan Manuel Aragus, age 32 of 1840 Old US 27 lot 38, Clewiston, Florida, was arrested and charged with Possession of Cocaine With Intent To Sell, Trafficking Cocaine, and Possession of Narcotic Equipment. Hector J. Deltorre, age 44 of Clewiston, was arrested and charged with Possession of Cocaine With Intent to Sell, Trafficking Cocaine, and Possession of Narcotic Equipment. More charges are pending.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Clewiston Man Murdered At Home

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Hendry County Sheriff's Office is not releasing much information as they investigate the murder of a Clewiston man at his home in the Sherwood subdivision southeast of the city of Clewiston. Deputies are investigating the Saturday night murder of John Irvin Tull from a gunshot wound. The 44-year old was found at 570 Fleetwood Street about 10 p.m. May 12.

Witnesses said a small car with two people inside was seen leaving the area at the time of the incident. Tull owned the modest single-wide mobile home since September 2000, and had been off and on living in a travel trailer at the rear of the double sized lot after recent hurricanes badly damaged his home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Controversy Stirs At Barron Water Control District

Meeting May 24 To Discuss Severing General Manager Duties

PORT LABELLE, FL. -- Some Port LaBelle residents are fighting for better management at the Barron Water Control District which is now managed by the same full-time manager as the Port LaBelle Community Development District. The Development District pays out of its annual budget $50,000 to the Barron Water Control District for the management duties of Ralph Nicholson and his small staff.

There have been allegations that the Water Control District allowed a pesticide chemical spill on their grounds to remain for 13 months along with a hurricane damaged metal warehouse that was blown down behind the District office on Dellwood Terrace in Port LaBelle. Observers are blaming then Board of Directors Chairman Mr. Colbert, and board members Mr. Mouthaan, and Mr. Rockers for the hazard that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ordered cleaned up.

The next meeting of the Development District is at 6 p.m. May 24 at 3293 Dellwood Terrace in Port LaBelle.

Florida Legislators To Speak At Luncheon

Fort Myers, Fl. -- Six members of the Southwest Florida Legislative Delegation will be the guest speakers for a luncheon with regional business leaders on Wednesday, May 30th in Fort Myers. Legislators will make remarks about results of the General Session and the anticipated outcome of the June Special Session to deal with property tax reduction measures. The luncheon is hosted by Edison College and Florida Power and Light in partnership with The Chamber of Southwest Florida.

Steve Tirey, President of The Chamber of Southwest Florida stated today, "Property Tax and Insurance Reform are high priority issues for many of our members. There is still some skepticism among our members and the general public regarding the effectiveness of recent insurance reforms in the legislature. Additionally, business is keenly interested in the outcome of efforts to modify Florida's property tax structure."

Members of the delegation confirmed to attend include: Florida Senators David Aronberg and Burt Saunders. Florida House members Garrett Richter, Gary Aubuchon, Nick Thompson, and Trudi Williams have also confirmed participation. J. Keith Arnold, former Florida House Member will moderate the session.

Senator Aronberg stated today, "With so many different property tax reform proposals before the public, I think it is very important that legislators meet with their constituents before special session so we can provide them with information about the different proposals and take their input."

The Chamber of Southwest Florida confirmed today seats are available. The luncheon event will be held on Wednesday, May 30th in the Taeni Hall, Room S-106, Edison College Campus, Fort Myers, Florida. Registration for the luncheon begins at 11:30; event program runs from noon to 1:30 pm. Cost for the luncheon is $40. per person. A limited number of "corporate tables" are available. Advanced reservations are required and may be made by calling The Chamber at 239-278-4001 or online at Seating for the event is limited and will be confirmed on a first come basis.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wanted: Farmer For 'Bachelor' TV Series

LABELLE, FL. -- The CW network (formerly called The WB & UPN) is looking for a farmer or rancher to star in the next series of its network romantic reality show "The Bachelor." The casting directors say ideally the person chosen will have actual farming or ranching experience such as working a farm/ranch, been in the rodeo circuit or even an heir to a ranch or farm empire. They can be the son or daughter of a rancher or farmer as long as they have the basic knowledge of the lifestyle.

Requirements include being single, age 23-30 and in decent physical shape and "be able to charm the ladies." If interested email the casting director with your experience and how you fit the rancher/farmer/cowboy description. along with 5-10 photos, including "one with the shirt off" to: Alicia Good, Senior Casting Director -

Filming will begin in July and last three weeks with a stipend paid for participants.

Pioneer Homeowner Arrested With Counterfeit Bills

LABELLE, FL.-- Hendry County Deputies arrested Loris D. Carvayeira, also known as Loris C. Suarez, Saturday after a traffic stop. The man lives in and owns a 24-year old single-wide trailer at 4735 Hendry Isles Boulevard in Pioneer Plantation. Deputies say he was in possession of counterfeit currency and instruments to make fake money, as well as in possession of a vehicle with altered identification numbers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Farm Safety Day June 2

LABELLE, FL. -- The 17th Annual Farm Safety Day will be held on Saturday June 2 at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Reseach and Education Center in Immokalee off State Road 29. Gene McAvoy, agricultural agent at the LaBelle Agricultural Extension Office in LaBelle invites all farm operators to attend saying, "Safe and competent equipment operators are important to you as an employer. Accidents, which cause damage, injury or death to employees, equipment and crops are costly. All types of accidents can be reduced with proper employee training. The training provided at the Farm Safety Day has been designed to help your employees perform better, operate safely to prevent accidents, fulfill necessary training requirements and build pride in themselves and their company."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fatalities In SR80 Morning Crash

LABELLE, FL. -- An early morning crash between two vehicles on State Road 80 east of LaBelle has left an unknown number of fatalities. Hendry County Sheriff's office dispatchers sent out a call to fire rescue, Pioneer first responders, and deputies from both sides of the county to rush to a two vehicle crash, with both vehicles fully engulfed in flames near the Magnolia Packing Plant offices on State Road 80 about two miles east of the Pioneer Shell store.

A Chevrolet Camero was eastbound and crossed into the westbound lane to pass and ran into a Chrysler minivan head on. Both vehicles exploded into flames while both the Camero driver and the minivan driver and a passenger were inside. Victim names have not been released by the FHP.

The call came in about 6:15 a.m. and Hendry deputies were on the scene within about ten minutes to this mid-county location. Units were sent from both Clewiston and LaBelle as this area is at the dividing line between east and west Hendry county fire and rescue services. Visibility was estimated at only about one-half mile in smoke, fog, and haze, most likely a contributor to the crash. The location is near the bend in State Road 80 at Everhigh Acres Road and straddles the Hendry and Glades county line. Florida Highway Patrol had been called but were unavailable.. Two FPL troopers arrived on scene almost two hours later, and took several hours to clear the accident and open the two-lane road to traffic with the crashed vehicles moved out around noon.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Port LaBelle Water Use Restricted

LABELLE, FL. -- Ron Zimmerly from Hendry County Emergency Management has released a statement on the latest water use restrictions that are part of a five-page set of fairly complicated rules for water use.  Zimmerly says:
"The Hendry County Board of County Commisioners has enacted Phase III water restrictions for customers in the Port LaBelle Utility System (PLUS) service area. If you are served by PLUS, you are restricted to water usage as outlined in 40E-21.541 Phase III Extreme Water Shortage rules. A copy of the rules are posted at Essentially, yard irrigation is cut back to one day per week, from 4 am to 7 am. Customers with odd addresses are permitted to irrigate Saturday and even addresses or no address are permitted to irrigate on Sunday."

Dancing Coal And Other FPL Myths

Commentary by Steve Hein

Most Glades County residents not up to date on ozone , particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and all that spews from a coal burning power plant, believe that FPL's new proposed Glades Power Park for Moore Haven is "clean" and safe.. FPL is spending lots in marketing to promote it so. "Clean Coal " is the new buzz word. Who else has seen the new television commercial of a  dancing lump of coal being followed by a happy group of people through the streets of town? I believe it was made by General Electric who will probably end up manufacturing many of the components needed for the plant.
How do you balance the local economic need of a poor county such as Glades when such an offer comes to town promising millions to local government? Money thrown around like a drunken sailor is how. Give money to local community associations, museums, promises of new fire trucks, even buy some cows from the youths livestock- that's how it is done . Simple bribes that is all it takes, in simple little Glades and yes, the dancing lump of coal. Don't worry folks because part of FPL's request is for you the customer to finance this latest venture anyway. This would most likely encompass all the good faith money being thrown around the county at present also. What other for profit business can have it's customers finance their latest expansion, by simply raising your current electric rate. What a deal. Yes sir, Moore Haven will be a company town, FPL's, just ask Okeechobee who can't get them to pay their tax bill.
Simple Glades County is going through its own Scopes Trial at the present. Just switch the term "Global Warming" for "Evolution" ant the current situation is aptly presented. Glades Commissioners have openly stated that they don't believe in Global Warming and Climate change. It is no wonder they can't see the big picture: of how the Glades Power Park will be a contributing factor in the planets ultimate demise. They see money and just don't get it any way. Lack of education, ignorance and poor leadership on the local level is not an excuse for bad decision making. Take the money and run, and don't ever look back, this is Glades County, future home of one of the largest polluting power plants on the planet.
Steve Hein is a long-time Muse resident and  former Glades County planning and zoning board member for nine years, and is a member of Save it Now Glades!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lester Baird Looking For Key West Job

LABELLE, FL. -- Former Hendry County Administrator Lester Baird has an application in for the city manager job in Key West. Baird recently was passed over for the same position in Brooksville, Florida.

Key West is apparently a highly desirable place for city manager applicants. A selection committee of the United States' most southern city has pared down 123 applicants to seven. Baird is included in the latest list along with a retired commander of the Key West Naval Air Station, Jim Scholl. The nine-member committee gave Scholl a top rating in preliminary scoring of applicants.

A former Key West City Manager, Felix Cooper didn't make the smaller list. The city commission will now take over the final selection for what may be a $200,000 a year job. The previous city manager Julio Avael earned about $132,000 a year and the city commission is upping the ante to get a new person. Avael will reportedly stick around to help the new manager get up to speed.

Yard Waste Burning Banned

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson today announced that, due to the severe wildfire threat, he has instructed the Division of Forestry to stop the burning of all yard waste by homeowners. Bronson wants to reduce the potential for additional wildfires until weather conditions improve.

Bronson said that he is taking the action as a result of a significant increase in the number and severity of wildfires. It follows a May 3 Executive Order by Governor Charlie Crist declaring a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought and danger of wildfires.

Unless prohibited by the local city or county, homeowners living in single- or two-family dwellings are normally allowed to burn yard waste (grass clippings, brush, leaves, tree limbs, palm fronds, etc.) on the premises in a non-combustible container, or pile less than 8 feet in diameter, without any specific authorization from Bronson's Division of Forestry. It is that activity that is being temporarily halted.

Yard waste can be used as mulch, left for curb-side pickup if that is available, or simply piled for burning when weather conditions improve. In Florida, the Division of Forestry regulates all outdoor burning, including burning of agriculture crop residue, silviculture burning and pile burning. Authorizations for those activities already have been drastically curtailed due to the dry conditions.

In a typical year, Florida has about 5,000 wildfires that burn approximately 200,000 acres. Since January 1 of this year, 1,875 wildfires have burned 166,247 acres. For more information on Florida's outdoor burning laws, homeowners should contact the local office of the Division of Forestry or the local fire department.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Insurance Bill May Save Homeowners

LABELLE, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist today commended the Florida House and Senate for continuing the work of lowering property insurance rates by passing Senate Bill 2498.  The bill ensures affordability and consumer choice within Florida's insurance market.

"The Florida House and the Senate have been working very hard to bring relief to our homeowners, and I am grateful for their dedication," said Governor Crist. "The people have pleaded for relief, and the good men and women of the Florida Legislature have answered the call. This is the right thing to do."

 In summary, Senate Bill 2498 provides the following changes to Florida's insurance law:

·        Extends the rate freeze for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation rates until January 1, 2009;

·        Lowers the qualifying threshold by 10 percent so that consumers can purchase insurance from Citizens when comparable coverage from private insurers is more than 15 percent higher than Citizens rates;

·        Requires nationwide insurance companies to report their national profits when filing for rate increases;

·        Eliminates new Florida-only subsidiaries, or "pup" companies.

"We are giving the insurance industry the tools, but we must remain vigilant," said Governor Crist.  "We must hold the industry's feet to the fire and ensure that once this relief is provided that the companies pass this relief on to Florida homeowners."

Governor Crist also praised the Legislature for appropriating $100 million for Everglades restoration; $54 million – double current funding levels – to expand Lake Okeechobee's water-storage areas and treatment marshes; and $40 million to improve the environmental health of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which are important estuaries that affect the quality of life and economy of nearby communities.

Air Pollution Growing

Power Plants To Blame

LABELLE, FL. -- For the first time, data reveal a split picture along either side of the Mississippi River, as particle pollution (soot), the most dangerous pollutant, increased in the East but decreased in the West, while ozone (smog) decreased nationwide from peaks reported in 2002.

The number of counties scoring an A grade for ozone levels increased from 82 in 2000 to 145 this year, but particle pollution levels show an ominous trend, with F grades nearly doubling in just one year.

Higher soot levels in the East are linked to an increase in electricity generated by heavy polluting power plants. In the West, by contrast, soot levels continue to drop even in areas that rank historically high in particle pollution. California showed the most improvement with 32 counties dropping their year-round particle pollution levels. Ozone pollution dropped thanks to a late 1990s requirement to clean up emissions of the raw ingredients of smog, as well as cooler summers in 2003 and 2004.

Reductions in the nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants that were in place by 2004 kept smog levels down, even when the heat returned in summer 2005 in much of the East. In the West, particularly in California, aggressive measures to reduce emissions from a wide range of air pollution sources (cars, trucks, and other mobile sources) contributed to fewer high ozone days.

Reports Says Educated Women Earn 70% Of Male's Pay

LABELLE, FL. -- A report by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation says women make only 80% of the salaries their male peers do one year after college; after 10 years in the work force, the gap between their pay widens further. Ten years after college, women earn only 69% of what men earn.

Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the study found that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained. Women's scholastic performance was not reflected in their compensation. Women have slightly higher grade point averages than men in every major, including science and math. But women who attend highly selective colleges earn the same as men who attend minimally selective colleges.

Nationwide, the median income for a woman with a four-year college degree was $46,000 a year compared to $62,000 for college-educated male workers, an earnings gap of 74%. Florida ranks 44th among states with an earnings gap. College-educated women in the state earn a median salary of $42,401, a pay gap of 70% between them and their male peers.

From The Governor

LABELLE, FL. -- Attached is the weekly radio address from Florida Governor Charlie Crist.  The weekly radio address gives the Governor another avenue to communicate with the citizens of Florida and an opportunity to share this vision and priorities for the state. Topic this week: The Governor request input from citizens regarding lowering property taxes before the special legislative sessions beginning in early June.

Click To Listen (2 minutes)

Edison Graduates 15 Area Students

LABELLE, FL. -- Fifteen area students will be among 1,000 students receiving diplomas and certificates this week from Edison College. The total includes 174 students from Charlotte County, 83 students from Collier County, 15 students from Hendry and Glades counties, and 693 from Lee County.

On Friday, May 4, the college holds two commencement ceremonies­in Charlotte County beginning at 6 p.m. at the Center for Performing Arts and Education, 701 Carmalita St. in Punta Gorda and in Lee County beginning at 7 p.m. at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall on the Edison campus, 8099 College Pkwy. in Fort Myers. The final commencement ceremony will be in Collier County on Sunday, May 6, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, 851 Golf Shore Blvd. N. in Naples.

Hendry and Glades county area students graduating: Abbie Elena Diaz, Alexandra Perez, Angela Kay Hester, Brianna Gutierrez, Carhen Torrealba, Cyril E. Clayton, DoriAnn B. Dyess, Heidi Ann Parson, Joshua L. Hagan, Liz Yaneth Perez, Luz M. Marines, Marilu Sanchez, Patricia Lee Mace, Priscilla Jo Canales, and Regina B. Singer.

Home Sales In LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- From April 10 to May 1, there were only six homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $145,500 at what may be the lowest average prices in the last few years.

1) $140,000 on 6th Ave (City of LaBelle)
2) $103,000 on Elizabeth St (City of LaBelle)
3) $160,000 on Springview Cir (Port LaBelle Laurel Oaks - Hurricane damaged )
4) $115,000 on Steamboat Cir (Port LaBelle Country Village)
5) $155,000 on N Obisbo Cir (Port LaBelle)
6) $200,000 on W Briarwood Cir (Port LaBelle)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Baird Loses Brooksville Job

LABELLE, FL. -- The Brooksville City Council voted this week to bypass former Hendry County Manager Lester Baird application to manage the Tampa area city, in favor of a more local man. Baird was questioned about his departure from Hendry county and candidly told the commissioners that four Hendry commissioners decided it was time for him to leave after 11 years serving as administrator. Mitchell Bobowski ended up with the job which will most likely pay about $70,000 a year.

Formal interviews before the city commission took place Tuesday with only a handful of local residents attending the public meeting.

Cocaine And Cash Seized

Arrest Made On U. S. Sugar Property

CLEWISTON, FL. -- On Tuesday, May 1, 2007, Hendry County Sheriff�s Deputies, along with U.S. Sugar security officers, apprehended four men riding motorcycles and trespassing on U.S, Sugar property located off Lewis Boulervard.  James Yarnell Addison, age 26, Darnell Downs, age 22, and Nicholas Theophilus Love, age 25, were arrested and charged with Trespassing.  Sheriff Ronnie Lee said Arvis Donta Daniels, age 20 of 934 Della Tobias Avenue Clewiston, was charged with Trespassing and Possession Of Cocaine With Intent To Distribute.  Deputies seized approximately 19 grams of Crack Cocaine and $628.00 U.S. currency.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

LaBelle Bicycle Ride Of Silence

LABELLE, FL. -- LaBelle bicyclists will join cyclists worldwide in a silent slow-paced ride (max. 12 mph/20 kph) in honor of those who have been injured or killed while cycling on public roadways.

On May 16, 2007, at 7:00 PM, the Ride of Silence™ will begin in North America and roll across the globe. In LaBelle, cyclists will take to the roads in a silent procession from the Barron Library on Main Street at 7 p.m. to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways. Although cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the motoring public often isn't aware of these rights, and sometimes not aware of the cyclists themselves.

In 2003, Chris Phelan organized the first Ride Of Silence in Dallas after endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz was hit by the mirror of a passing bus and was killed. The Ride Of Silence is a free ride that asks its cyclists to ride no faster than 12 mph and remain silent during the ride. There is no brochure, no sponsors, no registration fees and no t-shirt. The ride, which is held during Bike Safety month, aims to raise the awareness of motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways. The ride is also a chance to show respect for those who have been killed or injured.

Glades Stories To Become Musical Theater

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Core Ensemble (cello, piano, and percussion) has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Florida Humanities Council to create a new music theatre piece, A Harvest of Glades Voices. The Lake Worth-based ensemble, a nationally-touring "chamber music theatre" company will collaborate with Dallas, Texas-based actor and playwright Akin Babatunde, to collect stories from Glades County residents. The stories will be woven into a one-man play with music. For the past several years, the Core Ensemble has performed educational programs for students at West Glades School and Moore Haven Jr.-Sr. High School.

Florida History scholar Andrew Frank of Florida Atlantic University will oversee the collecting of stories from interviews. Babatunde will shape them into a theatrical work with the Core Ensemble�s members, cellist Tahirah Wittington, pianist Hugh Hinton and percussionist Michael Parola. The actor is looking for stories from a wide range of Glades County residents, and is hoping to cull histories from people of all lifestyles and backgrounds as well as tales from those who remember the city�s original pioneers. Performances will be held in August, 2007.

The Core Ensemble has produced nine music theatre works and has toured for the past ten years to every region of the United States. International touring has brought the ensemble to venues in Australia, Russia, Ukraine, the Caribbean and England. The Core Ensemble is the recipient of many grants, awards and prizes, including the Eugene McDermott Award for Excellence awarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Glades County residents who have stories to share about their lives, their heritages, or the history of the community are encouraged to participate in the upcoming story gathering phase of A Harvest of Glades Voices. For more information, call Core Ensemble Managing Director Margot Emery, 561-582-0603, or email,