Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yearly Bird Count In Hendry County

Join Birders For The Annual Bird Count In Rural Hendry County

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is joining with the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society as the group conducts its portion of the 110th Christmas Bird Count in Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 5 in southeastern Hendry County. This is the Hendry-Glades Audubon's third year conducting the count at STA-5.

The data collected during the annual counts ­ which span North America and beyond ­ are critical to studies of the long-term health and status of bird populations. Such data is used to protect birds and identify environmental issues with implications for people as well, according to Audubon. The STAs, managed by the SFWMD, also provide the public with a variety of recreational opportunities, such as hiking, biking and excellent bird watching.

During the 109th Christmas Bird Count, Audubon teams in STA-5 and the surrounding area documented 112 species and more than 92,600 birds.

The event will be Saturday, January 2, 2010 beginning at 7 a.m. The gate at STA-5 is located on Blumberg Road in Hendry County, 12 miles south of the intersection of Blumberg and County Road 835. Blumberg Road ends at the gate after 10 miles of asphalt and 2 miles of dirt.
Information: Margaret England:

New Florida Boating Regulations This Year

Education Course Required For All Born In 1988 Or Later

LABELLE, FL. -- Boating-safety education requirements change in Florida beginning January 1. Boat operators who were born on or after Jan.1, 1988, must pass an approved boating-safety course and possess photographic identification and a boating-safety education identification card issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to legally operate a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or more.

There are a few exceptions. For instance, a person born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, who operates a boat within 90 days after purchasing it, does not need a boating-safety education identification card if a bill of sale, which meets the requirements of Florida law, is onboard. After the 90-day period ends, the boat operator needs to meet the educational requirements.  Those who possess a current United States Coast Guard license also are exempt.   

For course information and educational requirements, visit and click �boating,� then click �boating safety.� For inquiries, contact FWC�s Division of Law Enforcement at 850-488-5600, or e-mail questions to the FWC at .  

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Florida's Top Consumer Complaints

Phone Sales Calls, Auto Parts Among ComplaintS This Year

LABELLE, FL. -- Unwanted telephone sales calls continue to be the top gripe for Florida residents, with more than 6,500 complaints filed with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2009.  Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has released the top 10 list of complaints and the state's "Do Not Call law continues to generate the most activity.  In fact, there were 1,500 more written complaints filed by people on the "Do Not Call" list than in 2008.

The department's Division of Consumer Services is the clearinghouse for consumer complaints in Florida.  The division regulates 11 industries but also attempts to mediate problems consumers have with unregulated businesses.  Complaints about industries that fall under the regulatory authority of another agency are referred to that agency.  There were about 38,000 written complaints filed in 2009, slightly more than the 37,227 filed in 2008. 

Telemarketing complaints not involving the "Do Not Call" law ranked second this year with 3,609 complaints.  Travel/vacation plans dropped to third place with 2,781 complaints, a decrease of more than 800 from 2008.  Fourth on the list was credit/banking with 2,774 complaints and rounding out the top five was communications with 2,302 complaints.

"People can save themselves a lot of trouble and probably money if they check out companies before they do business with them by calling our consumer helpline," Bronson said. "Consumers can find out if a regulated business is properly registered and check the complaint history of any company."

Problems with motor vehicle sales and accessories (such as truck tool boxes, bedliners and other items sold in auto parts stories) generated 1,644 complaints putting motor vehicle sales sixth on the list.  There were slightly fewer complaints, 1,625, against motor vehicle repair shops which took the number seven spot.  The eighth category on the list was medical issues, prompting 1,543 complaints. 

Landlord/tenant disputes continue to be in the top 10, this year at number nine with 1,523 complaints.  The final category in the top ten was complaints against real estate brokers/salespersons with 1,197 complaints.

Bronson encourages consumers to file a complaint if they feel they have been wronged by a business by calling the department's helpline at 1-800 HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352) or 1-800-FLAYUDA (1-800-352-9832) for Spanish-speaking operators. 

The department was able to obtain nearly $5.9 million in goods, services or cash refunds for consumers in 2009.  People can use those same helpline numbers to find out the complaint history of a business.  Consumers can also file complaints online by visiting the Division of Consumer Services website at

Hendry County Cat Shelter Closed

One Of Largest Cat Rescue Efforts In U.S. History

LABELLE, FL. -- One of the largest cat rescues in U.S. history came to an end Monday, December 21st, after the closure of a rural South Florida cat sanctuary led to the transfer of hundreds of thin and diseased cats to other agencies for rehabilitation.

Following a citizen's complaint regarding conditions at the sanctuary, a team of animal cruelty experts from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and the University of Florida Shelter Medicine Program accompanied La Belle Animal Control Director Doug Morgan on a surprise inspection of the facility on November 16.

After confronting sanctuary owner Maury Swee with their findings that unacceptable conditions at the sanctuary resulted in a high rate of illness and death among the cats, he stated that he was unable to make improvements and had insufficient resources to continue operating in its current state. The following day Swee elected to relinquish all of the cats to animal control and to close the sanctuary. An Animal cruelty investigation is ongoing.

Thirteen critically ill and suffering cats were immediately euthanized and submitted to the state's Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Kissimmee where necropsies revealed the emaciated cats suffered from severe anemia, infections, and organ failure brought on by parasitism, malnutrition, and untreated diseases. Swee said none of the cats had received veterinary care for their illnesses.

Morgan immediately recruited an interagency team of specialized volunteer responders from across Florida to help the nearly 600 cats remaining on the property. Responding agencies included experts in disaster animal sheltering led by the Bay Area Disaster Animal Response Team (DART), animal cruelty investigation led by the ASPCA Crime Scene Investigation unit, and animal triage and medical care led by the University of Florida's Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service and Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program.

Over a three-day period beginning November 23, the UF Shelter Medicine Program lead a team of veterinarians, veterinary students, and technicians in a triage operation to examine each cat, collect forensic documentation, test for feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and heartworms, implant identification microchips, and treat for internal and external parasites. During this initial evaluation phase 93 cats were identified by the veterinary team as having severe illness affecting quality of life. It was determined that the most humane choice for these severely ill cats was humane euthanasia.

Volunteers from Bay Area DART remained on site to assist LaBelle Animal Control with the disposition of the remaining cats. A plan was implemented to give cat owners a chance to reclaim the animals that they relinquished to the sanctuary, to transfer cats to shelters and rescue groups throughout the southeast, and for the public to adopt unclaimed cats. While the sanctuary owner did not make information available regarding who originally relinquished the cats, he was asked to personally contact former cat owners to give them an opportunity to reclaim their cats.

"We were heartened by the response from so many humane agencies," said Connie Brooks, Operations Director of SPCA Tampa bay/Bay area DART. 

"Even though infectious diseases were rampant throughout this facility and about half of the cats were feral, we were able to transfer the vast majority to other agencies. The entire humane community pulled together to create a happy ending for this sad story."

The record for the longest distance traveled went to 5 cats flown to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah for treatment of advanced medical conditions. The largest transfer was 46 cats sent to Animal Refuge Center in Ft. Myers. Each agency received a thorough background and reference check to assure that the cats would not be transferred from one unacceptable situation to another.

"The vast majority of cats sent to this sanctuary died within a few years of arrival and many of the survivors had substantial medical conditions and carried multiple infectious diseases," Morgan said.  "Some had even arrived as victims of previous cruelty and hoarding investigations. We knew we had to be sure these cats were going to new placements that were prepared to provide for their special needs."

The cat rescue project was made possible by more than $40,000 in grants and free diagnostic testing services, cat food, litter, crates, and other supplies from IDEXX Laboratories, Petsmart Charities, ASPCA, HSUS, and private donors. Thousands of volunteer hours were expended. 

After more than 4 weeks, the interagency task force that kept the sanctuary open after its owner gave up the cats had exhausted all leads for cat placements.

The final statistics tell a story of success and sadness. The closure of the 10th Life Sanctuary represents one of the largest cat rescues in US history. A total of 110 cats were euthanized in the first days of medical triage due to critical medical illnesses, including 17 that were euthanized immediately following the unannounced inspection. Of the remaining 485 cats, 75 of the ferals were euthanized when new placements could not be found for them. This 15% euthanasia rate for the savable cats is in stark contrast to the vast majority of large-scale feline cruelty impoundments in which mass euthanasia is the most common outcome.

-from the University of Florida, Veterinary Science School


Friday, December 25, 2009

Hendry ATV Crash Puts 2 Kids In Hospital

Two Youths Crash ATV - Taken To Hendry Regional

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Two children riding an ATV four-wheeler illegally on a roadway, failed to yield at a Montura Estates intersection in mid-Hendry county and crashed into a car Wednesday December 24 about 1:30 p.m.

Jose A Trevino, 13 driving a 2005 Honda ATV with passenger Felix A Quinonez, age 11 were riding illegally south on North Kennel Street in Montura and failed to yield at a stop sign at Bald Cypress. The ATV struck a 1999 Toyota driven by  Benjamin Rogriquez Ofray, 30 of Clewiston.

Trevino was taken by helicopter to Lee Memorial Hospital In Fort Myers with critical injuries and Quinozez was taken to Health Park Medical Center, also with critical injuries.

The ATV suffered $3,000 in damages and the Toyota driven by Ofray ran up against some trees and had $10,000 in damage. Driver Ofrey suffered no personal injuries according to the Florida Highway Patrol report prepared by Trooper Travis Parks.

It is illegal under Florida law to drive ATVs on public roadways or on private property without the permission of the owner.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I-75 - State's Largest Road Project Opens

$430 Million I-75 Two-Year Long Project Open

FORT MYERS, FL. – Governor Charlie Crist has applauded the successful completion of the Interstate-75 Road Expansion Project (iROX) at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new third southbound lane at the I-75/Daniels Parkway rest area.  Six lanes of I-75 in the 30-mile stretch from the Golden Gate Parkway interchange in Collier County to the Colonial Boulevard interchange in Lee County also opens Wednesday evening, a year earlier than initially projected and six years ahead of schedule.

The project is also making improvements to the I-75/Immokalee interchange in Collier County and completion by April 2010 is anticipated.  iROX is the largest single construction contract ever awarded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).  The project cost an estimated $430.5 million and is part of the FDOT's new design/build/finance (DBF) approach to road building.  The DBF strategy offers an incentive to contractors for finishing projects ahead of schedule.

The DBF approach – the first in Florida's history – allowed construction crews to work alongside areas of the project that were still under design.  When started in October 2007, the I-75 improvements were expected to be completed five years ahead of schedule.  In reality, the expansion has been completed six years sooner than expected.

The Governor was joined at the ribbon cutting ceremony by Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp, State Senator Garrett Richter, State Representative Gary Aubuchon and Stann Cann, district secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

418 Hendry-Glades Area Jobs Available

Florida Giving Help To Unemployed And Businesses

LABELLE, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist this week announced that the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, in partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Workforce Florida Inc., and the Regional Workforce Boards, are launching a new program designed to bolster businesses and create jobs for as many as 25,000 Floridians.

Within a 25 mile radius of LaBelle there are 418 paid and volunteer jobs available according to a website developed by Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation. Job seekers can visit for Florida Back to Work employment opportunities as they become available. The database includes many volunteer opportunities as well as paid employment. Searches can be customized for area, pay scale, as well as many other search criteria.   

Programs are now available so that public and private employers can enter into contracts with local Regional Workforce Boards to cover nearly all of the salary costs for employees.  The program will pay up to 95 percent of the salary cost for each employee.  For example, if an employee earns $12 an hour, the Florida Back to Work program pays $11.40 and the business pays sixty cents. 

Additional Florida Back to Work job sites will be locally coordinated through Florida�s 24 Regional Workforce Boards, which will link local businesses with eligible employees.  Businesses interested in participating in the program should contact the local Regional Workforce Board in their area.  Their contact information can be located at

Hendry Foreclosed Properties Bring Prices Down

Low Hendry House Prices A Great Deal For Some

LABELLE, FL. -- The abundance of bank owned properties after foreclosures continue to force bargain prices in low priced home in the LaBelle area of Hendry county.

From November 24 to December 15 there were four homes sold in the west Hendry county area for an average price of $87,250. All were in Port LaBelle except one property on Main Street in the city of LaBelle.

The properties sold in the last two weeks included:

1) $34,000 on Rainbow Circle
2) $65,000 on E Briarwood Circle
3) $30,000 on E Sunflower Circle
4) $220,000 on S Main Street

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hendry DUI Checkpoint Nets 15 Arrests

Four-Hour Late Night Checkpoint Nabs 15

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry county Sheriff's Deputies made some Saturday night arrests on State road 29 South during a unannounced traffic checkpoint set up just south of the city of LaBelle.

On Saturday night, December 12, 2009 between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning, December 13, 2009, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden and members of the Hendry County Sheriff's Office conducted a DUI Sobriety Checkpoint near the intersection of State Road 29 and Wilson Road, just south of LaBelle.

During the 4-hour period of the DUI Checkpoint, deputies made 10 arrests of drivers with no valid driver's license, four Driving Under The Influence arrests, and one arrest of an individual with an outstanding warrant.

Immokalee Tech Center Growing

Immokalee iTech Now Offers Bachelor Degrees - Free Tuition For High School Students

IMMOKALEE, FL. -- Edison State College and Immokalee Technical Center (iTECH) have partnered to offer college courses leading to an Associate or Bachelor degree from Edison State College, right in Immokalee. 

The partnership began fall 2009 with two courses offered at the iTECH Collegiate Center, Psychology and English I, serving a total of 24 students.  Based on inquiries received during the course of the fall semester, Edison has now doubled its course offerings for spring 2010, offering 4 additional courses with a potential to serve 80 to 100 students. 

An added benefit of the partnership is the opportunity for Immokalee High School students to dual enroll taking courses for college credit while still in high school.  High school students who dual enroll in Edison State College courses at the iTECH Collegiate Center do not pay fees or tuition.  High school students wishing to register for courses at iTECH Collegiate Center may do so by contacting their high school guidance counselor.

Adult students pay Edison State College fees and tuition, a bargain compared to other institutions.

Spring 2010 courses are offered from Monday through Thursday and meet once per week from 6:00 - 8:40 p.m.  The course schedule is as follows: Monday - Human Growth & Development; Tuesday - US History to 1865; Wednesday - Composition I; Thursday - College Success Skills.

Glades-Hendry Motorists Urged To Call *347

How To Report Drunk, Aggressive And Dangerous Drivers

LABELLE, FL. -- According to the Florida Highway Patrol, drunk driving is one of the deadliest crimes in Florida. In 2008, 1,169 people died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. That is 39 percent of all traffic crash fatalities in the state. Rural counties like Hendry and Glades county seem to have a higher percentage of drunk drivers than urban counties.

Motorists are urged to contact FHP or local law enforcement officials to report an impaired, aggressive or dangerous driver by dialing *FHP (*347) from a cell phone. Callers may remain anonymous. Motorists who experience car trouble on the highway or otherwise need assistance from the FHP are also encouraged to call *FHP.

The Florida Highway Patrol will use zero tolerance enforcement strategies to target impaired drivers, as well as those violating other traffic laws that put themselves and other motorists at risk. Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians who comply with our state�s traffic laws and use sound judgment can help make the holiday period safer and less stressful.

Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Crist proclaimed December to be Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. As part of the state�s focus on safe highway travel during the holiday season, the Florida Highway Patrol will join thousands of other law enforcement and highway safety agencies across the nation to take part in Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest. The nationwide campaign aims to crackdown on impaired driving through January 3, 2010.
According to the FHP, if a trooper catches you drinking and driving, he/she will arrest you. Violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver license, higher insurance rates, attorney fees, time away from work and dozens of other expenses. So do not take the chance. Remember, if you are over the limit, you are under arrest.
Every sworn member of the Florida Highway Patrol will work a shift this month to target those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In addition, FHP Auxiliary and Reserve troopers will augment the Patrol during the heightened travel period.

How's Your Hendry County Water?

Tests Show Some Surprises For Hendry County Drinking Water

LABELLE, FL. -- Water quality tests made available by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection lists the chemicals and other substances that may be in your drinking water in Hendry county from water plants around the county from Clewiston to LaBelle.

The city of LaBelle has incurred 10 EPA water quality violations over the period surveyed, Port LaBelle Utilities only 1. South Shore Water Association in Clewiston had 3 violations, Whisper Creek RV Park in LaBelle, 3 violations, and Riverbend Motor Coach Resort in western Hendry county, 4 EPA violations. The city of Clewiston has a fairly clean record compared to nationwide averages, and only had one bacteria monitoring failure in 2006 according to the report.

Drinking water quality reports now available online show results of 5 years of tests conducted by the area's water utilities as provided to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The drinking water statistics are part of EWG's national database that includes 47,667 drinking water utilities and 20 million test results. Water utilities nationwide detected more than 300 pollutants between 2004 and 2009. More than half of these chemicals are unregulated, but legal in any amount. Despite this widespread contamination, the EWG says the federal government invests few resources to protect rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater from pollution in the first place.

The information found online for Hendry county summarizes test results for each utility company and lists potential health concerns. At the website click on your water utility company's name to get five years of water pollutant details and any EPA violations incurred during the period studied.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama - We Must Think Anew About Just War And Peace

Barack H. Obama Nobel Prize Lecture - December 10, 2009

OSLO, NORWAY --  U.S. President Barack Obama accepted the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo today and in a prepared lecture speech says the world must find new ways to think about the concept of just war and a just peace.

Excerpts from the speech text, released by the President's Press Secretary:

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics, and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God.

Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations – total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of thirty years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.
Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, and children scarred.
...Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing na├»ve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation... I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

... peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.  I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence.

... the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach – and condemnation without discussion – can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.
...we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.
...a just peace includes not only civil and political rights – it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.  And that is why helping farmers feed their own people – or nations educate their children and care for the sick – is not mere charity.
Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.
We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that – for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Clewiston Murder Suspect Turns Self In

Clewiston Murder May Bring Additional Arrests

CLEWISTON, FL. -- On Friday morning, December 4, 2009, at approximately 6:25 a.m. Hendry County Sheriff's Deputies responded to the area of 10th Street and Kentucky Avenue in the Harlem subdivision of Clewiston, Florida after receiving a call that someone had been shot.

(Photo: Murder Suspect Timothy Arthur Rumph) 

Once Deputies arrived on scene they immediately saw a man known to them as 35 year old Gee Gee Gary of 1220 Harlem Academy Drive lying on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound.  Medics arrived and transported him to Hendry Regional Hospital where he later died. 

Investigators with the Hendry County Sheriff's Office immediately began searching for witnesses and were able to locate one individual that saw the entire incident occur.  After speaking with several witnesses, Investigators were able to request an arrest warrant for Timothy Arthur Rumph for the charge of 2nd Degree Murder. 

On December 5, 2009, at approximately 4:45 p.m., 20 year old, Timothy Arthur Rumph turned himself in to Hendry County Deputies.  He was then placed under arrest and is currently being held in the Hendry County Jail on $250,000 Bond. 

Investigators acknowledge this is an ongoing investigation and additional arrests may be forthcoming.

Update: Trial is scheduled for May 23, 2011 at 9 a.m. in LaBelle.
Update2: The case was dismissed on January 30, 2012, and Rumph was released from jail.

Hendry Deputies 'Drug Warrant Roundup'

Eight Arrests On Drug Related Warrants

LABELLE, FL. -- On November 23, 2009, members of the Hendry County Sheriff's Office Special Operations Team conducted a county-wide warrant roundup arresting eight individuals on drug related warrants throughout Hendry county. 

The warrants stemmed from undercover drug buys and previous investigations by the Sheriff's department.  Two additional arrests were made in Highlands County and Lee County.

Those arrested were 30 yr-old Jose Gonzalez, sale and possession of cocaine, 34 yr-old Jaime Perle, cultivation and trafficking in marijuana, 42 yr-old Irenia Sariol, cultivation and trafficking in Marijuana, 45 yr-old Robert Peterson, sale and possession of cocaine, 48 yr-old Anthony Lyons, sale and possession of cocaine, 39-yr old Roberta Moxley, sale and possession of cocaine, 30 yr-old Alexander Roman, violation of probation, possession of cocaine w/intent to sell, possession of firearm by convicted felon, and 18 yr-old Brandon Mejias, Possession of cocaine and marijuana. 

Arrested in Highlands County on HCSO Warrant, was 46 yr-old Angel Martinez on charges of cultivation and trafficking in marijuana, and in Lee County, 68 yr-old Alfonso Maldonado charged with sale and possession of cocaine.

Marijuana Mail Sent To LaBelle Man

11 Pounds Marijuana Mailed From Texas To Hendry County

LABELLE, FL. On November 20, 2009, Hendry County Sheriff's Office was contacted by the U.S. Postal Service after intercepting a suspicious mail package that was later found to contain approximately 11 pounds of marijuana.  The package was sent from Alamo, Texas and addressed to a Robert Perez of Alice Street in the city of LaBelle. 

(Photo: Jose Pedro Vasquez)

On November 24, 2009, members of the Hendry Sheriff's narcotics division, special operations division along with U.S. Postal Service employees responded to the address on the package. 

An individual later identified as Jose Pedro Vasquez entered the driveway of 1191 Alice Street and got out of his vehicle.  Sheriff's deputies watched Vasquez for approximately one hour.  An undercover employee with the Postal Service, posed as a postal carrier pulled into the driveway to deliver the package.  

Before getting out of his vehicle Vasquez walked out to meet him.  After the undercover postal employee asked the man if he was Robert Perez, to which Vasquez stated he was, the package was then delivered to Vasquez.  Vasquez then placed the package inside of the vehicle he was driving and left the residence.  Sheriff�s office members followed Perez.  After witnessing him run a stop sign they initiated a traffic stop. 

Deputies were then able to verify the identity of the man, after he produced a Mexico Identification Card as Jose Pedro Vasquez.  It was then determined through a routine drivers license check that Vasquez did not have a valid Florida drivers license.  After additional questioning by authorities 33 year old Jose Pedro Vasquez was placed under arrest and charged with Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, Possession of Marijuana over 20 grams, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Driving without a Valid Driver's license.  

Vasquez is currently being held in the Hendry County Jail on a $31,500 bond.

Monday, December 07, 2009

110 Miles Through Hendry Farm Country

28th Annual Farm Tour Shows Rural Hendry To 300

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County City-Farm Tour Council hosted hundreds of visitors Saturday for the 28th Hendry county farm tour visiting cattle ranches, citrus groves, a packing plant, a storm water treatment area, and an organic vegetable farm.

(Photo: Gene McAvoy, Hendry Agricultural Extension Director holds up some fresh vegetables at a south Hendry county packing house.)

Six busloads of people from Lee, Collier, and Hendry county were shown how agriculture affects everyone's life from the food they eat to the clothing they wear.  Agriculture in Hendry county saw nearly half billion dollars in sales last year from beef, citrus, vegetables, nurseries, sod, and sugarcane,

Citrus and vegetable growing make up most of Hendry's farm revenues, with sugarcane and beef cattle following. Cattle however take up the most Hendry county acreage of all by far, at 403,000 acres.

Tour leaders this year included Gene McAvoy, Les Baucum, Mongri Zekri, Kelly Morgan, Fritz Roka, Jack Johnson, Lindsey Wiggins, Chuck Obern and Butch Wilson.

Stops on the 110 mile round trip journey from LaBelle to Clewiston included Mobley Plant World in LaBelle, Duda Farms, Alico Ranch (one of southwest Florida largest landowners), Storm Water Treatment Area #5, Southern Gardens Citrus (owner of Florida largest contiguous citrus grove at 35,000 acres) and C&B Organic Specialty Vegetable Farm. A steak lunch was provided by the Hendry Cattlemen's Association at the Hendry County Fairgrounds in Clewiston.

One of the most interesting stops for many was Chuck Obern's C&B Farms. Obern started farming in Southwest Florida in 1986 with 10 acres and now farms over 1000 acres in the Devil's Garden area of southern Hendry. Producing 36 different vegetables including ethnic and specialties from arrugula to zucchini.

Another unique feature of the C&B Farm is a 40-acre composting operation where waste products are composted to produce high quality soil amendments to the naturally poor sandy soils.

Obern is one of a handful of family owned and operated vegetable farms in southwest Florida, and one of an even smaller number where the farmer lives on the farm. He and his wife typically work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day along with his Mexican farm workers.

At the conclusion of the tour, all had a greater appreciation of how agriculture is a vitally important part of the Hendry county economy and all left with full stomach after the great lunch, and a bag of specialty vegetables courtesy of C&B Farms.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hit And Run In Clewiston's Harlem

Man In Critical Condition

CLEWISTON FL. -- The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a hit and run that left pedestrian 32-year old Timothy Baulkman in critical condition Friday morning about 5:30 a.m. A 2003 Mazda sedan struck Baulkman on Harlem Academy  Avenue at 11st Street in Clewiston's Harlem subdivision.

According to FHP Trooper Travis Parks, Baulkman was walking on the paved shoulder of the road when the vehicle turned and struck him, propelling him several feet in the air. Baulkman was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers.

The hit and run vehicle was later found in Belle Glade at 1326 NW 13th Street.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Shook Murder Decision-Guilty Says Hendry Jury

Four-Day Trial Ends With 6-Member Jury Finding Guilt

LABELLE, FL. -- A five-female, one-male member jury begins deliberations at the Hendry County Courthouse in LaBelle this afternoon after hearing the State Attorney's arguments seeking a murder conviction of Joseph Shook.

After a little more than an hour, the jury found Shook guilty of the murder of his wife.

Shook was accused of murdering his wife Melissa Shook in 2007, and then burying her in a shallow grave on the Hendry-Lee county line just east of Alva, Florida. Prosecutors displayed evidence to the jury including duct tape and a shovel found at the Shook home which were said to be used by Joe Shook in the grisly murder/burial.

While Shook lived in Lee county, he was given a choice to stand trial in Hendry or Lee county. Shook only spoke once during the trial, telling the court he was not going to testify in his defense. His attorney put no defense witnesses on the stand during the trial. The state rested it's case Thursday, while the defense ended it's arguments Friday.

Jurors came in with a guilty verdict after deliberating about an hour after finishing a late afternoon lunch break. During deliberations, they had asked the judge for a magnifying glass, but the request was denied by Circuit Judge Cristine Greider.

Snake Hunters Welcome In South Florida

OK to take �big game snakes� during small-game seasons

LABELLE, FL. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds hunters that they may continue to take Burmese pythons and all other reptiles of concern within four South Florida wildlife management areas (WMAs).

An FWC executive order, which went into effect Aug. 29, gives all properly licensed and permitted hunters authority to harvest pythons and other reptiles of concern (Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard) on Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land, Rotenberger and Big Cypress WMAs during specified hunting seasons.

Besides Big Cypress WMA, small-game seasons are going on in the other three management areas, continuing through March 7.  On Big Cypress, general gun season is in, immediately followed by the area�s small-game season, which goes through Feb. 1.  In all four WMAs, only a Florida hunting license and management area permit are required to hunt reptiles of concern from now through the end of the small-game seasons.

With the exception of the small-game season in the Deep Lake Unit of Big Cypress (where only bows and muzzleloaders are allowed), hunters may use shotguns, rimfire rifles and handguns to take pythons.  Nets and snares also may be used, but no matter the method of take, all reptiles of concern must be euthanized on site.

Reptiles of concern may not be taken out of the wildlife management areas alive and must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or going to and selecting �Burmese pythons� in the �Quick Clicks� menu.  However, any reptile of concern taken from Big Cypress must be checked in at one of the area�s six check stations.

Hunters may do what they wish with the reptile�s skin and meat. However, according to the National Park Service, mercury testing on two dozen captured Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park revealed extraordinarily high levels of mercury in the meat - well above levels considered safe to eat in freshwater fish and alligators.

Officials estimate there are thousands of Burmese pythons in the wild in South Florida.  The FWC�s goal is to contain the spread of these pythons in the wild and prevent establishment of other reptiles of concern.  Data collected by hunters on these state-managed lands will assist in preventing their northern movement.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

LaBelle Man - Graduates Army Training

In The Service

LABELLE, FL. -- Army Pvt. Martin M. Gomez has graduated from basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Columbus, Ga.
During the nine weeks of training, the soldier received training in drill and ceremonies, weapons, map reading, tactics, military courtesy, military justice, physical fitness, first aid, and Army history, core values and traditions.  Additional training included development of basic combat skills and battlefield operations and tactics, and experiencing use of various weapons and weapons defenses available to the infantry crewman.
He is the son of Melissa Gomez of N. Oak St., LaBelle, Fla. Gomez is a 2009 graduate of LaBelle High School.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hundreds Of Hendry Cats Need Help

Homes For Cats Wanted In LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- The City of LaBelle Animal Control department has taken custody of hundreds of cats rescued from the closed cat rescue shelter on State Road 80 east of LaBelle.

According to the latest news release from the city and the University of Florida who has been helping the city in this emergency situation, 525 cats are needing adoption quickly At this time there are approximately 200 healthy friendly cats, 150healthy feral cats, and 175 sick cats in need of placement. 

Here's what you can do:

Rescue / adoption groups: transfer cats to your agency
Original guardians: reclaim your cats
Private individuals: adopt and provide new forever homes for cats

With this number of animals, there is great need.  The rescue agencies hope you'll find a way to join the effort on behalf of these cats.  There are many very friendly felines that crave attention; some cats are declawed, they say. 

These cats find themselves looking for something to be thankful for this holiday – please submit your transfer request or adoption/reclaim application.

Return your completed form to: Fax: 863-675-0037

If you have questions, contact the City of LaBelle Animal Control at 863-675-3381. Also Diane Sheppard at LaBelle's Animal Rescue ( a no-kill shelter) has many cats available for adoption at her LaBelle location at 703 North Bridge Street. Phone 863-612-0228.

Watch Out For Non-Registered Charities

Check Out Charity To Determine If Following Laws

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is urging consumers to check on the registration status and funding history of charities before agreeing to donate any money.  Many charities collect about half their annual contributions in the months of November and December during the holiday season.  But Bronson says it is prudent to take time to investigate a charity and ensure the money is being spent wisely.

There are several local organizations soliciting funds in Hendry and Glades county that are not registered with the Florida Consumer Services department including Lucy's Angels, soliciting locally for breast cancer. Although the group raised about $10,000 last year and gave a grant to the Sarasota Health Department, it is not properly registered with the state, so no financial records are available publicly. 

Florida law requires most charities soliciting in Florida to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services each year and provide financial information about income and expenses.  Religious, educational and government-based charities are exempt.  Registered charities are also required to disclose how much they raised the previous year, how much is spent on administrative costs including salaries, rent, etc., how much goes toward fundraising, and the amount that actually is spent on the charitable purpose.  There are more than 14,000 charities registered with the department, up from 10,800 charities just five years ago.

"Consumers can find out if a charity is following state law by checking on its registration status," Bronson said.  "But beyond that, they can also find out if the charity they are considering supporting is spending the donations in a prudent manner.  If an organization spends a small percentage on services, consumers may want to think twice about donating."

Consumers can find out if a charity is registered by calling the department's helpline at 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352), or 1-800-FLAYUDA for Spanish-speaking operators, or by visiting They can also check the complaint history of an organization.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lucky 13 LaBelle Home Sales?

Sales May Be Picking Up In Hendry County

LABELLE FL. -- From October 27 to November 24, there were 13 homes sold in the LaBelle area of western Hendry county for an average price of $77,615. The homes sold were a mixture of Port LaBelle resales and homes in Hendry county and the city of LaBelle.

The  LaBelle area real estate sales this month include:

1) $100,000 on 6th Ave in LaBelle
2) $195,000 on County Road 78 in Hendry County
3) $100,000 on Euclid Pl in LaBelle
4) $47,000 on Fort Keis Ave in Hendry County
5) $34,000 on Hendry St in LaBelle
6) $71,000 on Kumquat Cir in Port LaBelle
7) $69,000 on Nobles Rd in Hendry County
8) $130,000 on Pollywog Pt in LaBelle
9) $60,000 on Ramrod Cir in Port LaBelle
10) $40,000 on N Edgewater Cir in Port LaBelle
11) $50,000 on S Davis St in LaBelle
12) $83,000 on S Edgewater Cir in Port LaBelle
13) $30,000 on W Crow Cir in Port LaBelle

Hendry Deputy Branaman Saves Life

Allegedly Drunk Woman Saved From Canal

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Due to the quick actions of Hendry County Sheriffs Deputies, their success in extricating a female driver from a sinking car may have saved her life. 

During the early morning hours of Friday, November 20, 2009, Hendry County Agriculture Deputy Blake Branaman was patrolling the area of Flaghole Road outside of Clewiston, when he witnessed a vehicle exit the west side of Flaghole Road and enter a canal that parallels the roadway. 

Acting quickly Deputy Branaman immediately called for assistance and exited his vehicle.  After notifying sheriff's office communication dispatcher, Lori Rodriguez, Branaman told them he was entering the canal in an effort to rescue the driver as the vehicle was quickly sinking. 

Upon making contact with the driver, later identified as Robin Jones, Branaman struggled with her to get her out of the vehicle as she was uncooperative and resisting his efforts.  Moments later additional Sheriff's Office personnel arrived on scene and were able to assist Branaman in removing Jones from the vehicle unharmed. 

Clewiston towing was then called to remove the completely submerged vehicle. 

Once Jones was removed from the vehicle she was transported to Hendry Regional Medical Center and later released.  At the time of her release Jones was transported to the Clewiston Sub Office where she was interviewed. 

It was at this time that deputies determined that Jones was in fact intoxicated.  She did submit to a breathalyzer to determine her blood alcohol level which measured .140, nearly twice the legal level.  Jones was placed under arrest and transported to the Hendry County Jail and later released on a $750 bond.


Sheriff Whidden stated ''I am very proud of the efforts of Deputy Blake Branaman, Sgt. Larry Preece, Deputies Clifton Green, Shannon Bell and Brian VanFleet.  Their heroic efforts and selfless action are an example of the risks that law enforcement officers around the nation may be called upon to take each day while protecting its citizens.''

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

At The Glades County Commission Meeting

What's Happening In Glades County

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- At Monday evening's Glades County Commission Meeting, Commissioner Donna Storter announced the dedication service for Ortona Community Park would be held Tuesday December 8 following the BoCC meeting.
Commissioner Giesler stated Mr. Ritter had informed him that the Pearce Canal dredging project is within one mile of completion.  He thanked the Muse Community Association for the Thanksgiving Dinner enjoyed last week, and introduced Rogel Brown, President of Buckhead Ridge Home Owners Association.
Commissioner Echols relayed the message from Mrs. Claudie McPherson that she is beginning the fund drive for Toys for Tots to buy bicycles for local children to be distributed December 19.  The bicycles cost from $60 to $70 and checks of any amount are to be made to Toys for Tots and may be left with Jennifer Hopper in the County Manager�s office for Mrs. McPherson. 

Echols noted that funds sent directly to Toys for Tots may not be distributed locally, but would be, if sent thru Mrs. McPherson.  If you know of a deserving needy child who could use a bike, contact Mrs. McPherson at 863-946-0561.
Commissioner Beck reported on recent meetings concerning Curry Island and the desire of the county to basically provide a wilderness park with improvement for habitat.  He proposes the county consider executing a 50-year lease of Water Management approximately 200 acres between SR7 and Curry Island. He said LOHA was getting the lease of the old Parker place. 
He said he had met with Boy Scout representatives and though they liked the Curry Island property for a new campsite, they need 600-1000 acres but may consider creating a satellite camp on Curry Island because of its central location and proximity to both coasts.  Beck said he was told they have up to 5,000 campers per weekend.

600 Hendry Cats Needing Homes

University Of Florida Organizing Massive Cat Rescue Effort

LABELLE, FL. -- The City of LaBelle Animal Control department has accepted custody of approximately 600 cats following the closure of the Tenth Life Sanctuary in Hendry County located off State Road 80 east of LaBelle.

Maury Swee, the operator of the cat shelter is reportedly cooperating with authorities but has not allowed media to view the rescue operation. Swee reportedly took possession of the cats from individuals or groups with the understanding that Swee would take care of the animals in return for a payment by the cat owners, and that experiments may be performed on some of the animals.

A team of veterinarians from Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida will examine all of the cats on November 23rd through the 25th. The UF VETS program in collaboration with partners from HSUS, ASPCA, and other regional humane agencies have already performed a preliminary assessment and will set up a field hospital to triage and treat the large number of cats.

Although many of the cats are ill, the team hopes to save as many as possible finding capable placement partners that can take them in.

All cats have been spayed or neutered and microchipped. They will be vaccinated, treated for parasites, and tested for FeLV and FIV prior to transfer to other agencies. Several important infectious diseases, including herpesvirus, calicivirus, giardia, cryptosporidia, and tritrichomonas have been identified in the population, so appropriate isolation capacity must be available at the receiving agency.

Many of the cats are feral and require placement in highly enriched confinement or a free-roaming situation. Relocation of feral cats is especially challenging and requires a careful acclimation plan.

Transfers will begin on Tuesday November 24. The friendliest cats will be available for immediate transfer on that day, while remaining cats will likely require treatment. If an agency can provide a second chance for these cats, they may print and complete this application and submit it as soon as possible. More information will be available following processing of the application.

Officials say any group or individual that brought animals to the Hendry Tenth Life Sanctuary may reclaim them by submitting an application. Private individuals interested in adopting can contact the city of LaBelle Animal Control at 863-675-3381.

Help Needed At LaBelle's Animal Rescue Shelter

Hendry county has two other animal shelters including Animal Rescue of LaBelle, Inc., Hendry/Glades county's only non-profit 'no kill' shelter that has many healthy cats available to the public for adoption or for foster home care pending an adoption. Volunteers are always much needed to socialize the animals and for clean-up at the rescue shelter, located on the north side the LaBelle bridge just north of the Handy Store.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Florida Wildlife Commission Meeting In Clewiston

Hendry County - Site Of December FWC Meeting

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet in Clewiston Dec. 9 and 10 to vote on and discuss numerous inland and marine issues. The Wednesday and Thursday sessions at the John Boy Auditorium, 1200 South W.C. Owen Ave., will begin at 8:30 a.m. both days and are open to the public.

The Dec. 9 meeting focuses on inland issues. The Commission will consider the final rule that would allow use of peregrine falcons for falconry in Florida, consistent with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Commissioners will discuss draft rules that would change deer hunting seasons and zone boundaries. The purpose of these changes is to align season dates with the rut (a time of peak white-tailed deer activity), and thus increase hunter satisfaction.

Commissioners also will consider draft rule proposals pertaining to hunting on about 150 wildlife management areas, wildlife and environmental areas, mitigation parks and miscellaneous areas.

The first day�s full agenda also includes a discussion of a draft rule change for taking or removing nuisance wildlife, adding the possibility of allowing off-site relocation under specific conditions, rather than euthanizing the wildlife, and requiring trap and snare inspection at least once every 24 hours.

Other proposed rules would require a permit to import nonnative wildlife on the conditional list, including the Northern largemouth bass. Another proposed rule would prohibit importation of quagga mussels.

Commissioners will consider draft rules revising Florida�s listed-species process. The proposed changes would create one Florida list for imperiled species that includes any species listed at the federal level as well as Florida-designated listed species. The new draft rules concentrate on sound management strategies to ensure no species goes extinct in Florida. 

Commissioners will hear a request to continue consideration of changes to manatee zones in Sarasota County and discuss potential changes to the permits available to commercial fishers and professional fishing guides for higher speed operation in some manatee zones statewide. Land acquisition and management issues will also be discussed. Commissioners will wrap up the first day with election of a new chairman and vice chairman for 2010. 

Presentations during the second day of the meeting include a report on options for future action for reptiles of concern, including the Burmese python. Also on Dec. 10, the Commission will hold a final public hearing on proposed federal consistency rules to address overfishing of grouper in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.  These rules would decrease the aggregate daily recreational bag limit for all grouper in Atlantic and Monroe County state waters from five fish to three fish per person, prohibit the captain and crew of for-hire vessels from retaining any species in the aggregate grouper bag limit, and decrease the aggregate recreational bag limit for gag and black grouper from two fish combined to one fish in Atlantic and Monroe County state waters.

The proposed federal consistency rules also would prohibit all recreational and commercial harvest of shallow-water groupers (including gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper and tiger grouper) from Jan. 1 through April 30 in Atlantic and Monroe County state waters. 

In addition, a final public hearing will take place on a proposed federal consistency rule that would require dehooking tools to be aboard commercial and recreational vessels and used as needed when fishing for reef fish in Atlantic state waters. 

Another final public hearing will take place on proposed new rules that would be compatible with an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission management plan for Atlantic coastal sharks and enhance current FWC protective measures for sharks that inhabit Florida waters. These rules would prohibit harvest of sandbar, silky and Caribbean sharpnose sharks from state waters; establish a 54-inch fork-length minimum size limit for all sharks, except Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, bonnethead, finetooth and blacktip sharks and smooth dogfish; prohibit removal of shark heads and tails at sea; allow only hook and line gear to harvest sharks; and make other technical shark rule changes.

A final public hearing will also revolve around proposed rule amendments that would automatically allow use of new designs of bycatch reduction and turtle exclusion devices in shrimp trawls in state waters when new designs are certified for use in adjacent federal waters; restrict the use of the Florida fisheye to inshore and nearshore Florida waters, where trawls are limited to 500 square feet; and delete a provision that allows use of the extended funnel in state waters.  Technical changes to turtle-excluder device rules are also proposed.

In other marine fisheries action, the Commission will receive reports on permit and bonefish management issues; consider draft rules that would prohibit harvest of lemon sharks from Florida waters and extend the expiration date of the moratorium on new spiny lobster commercial dive permits from July 1, 2010, until July 1, 2015; review and discuss various federal fishery management issues; and receive reports on goliath grouper and the Marine Recreational Information Program.

Before adjourning the two-day session, Commissioners will also examine draft rules updating boating-restricted areas along the Florida Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway portion in Palm Beach County.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Florida Shoppers Urged To Use Caution

Holiday Shopping Tips For Floridians

LABELLE, FL. -- With the holiday shopping season getting under way, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is encouraging consumers to shop wisely, know their rights and keep track of purchases.

"Whether you shop by telephone, catalog, in retail stores or online, it pays to be a savvy consumer," Bronson said. "Being smart about shopping and exercising a little care can be the difference between having a happy holiday season and a disastrous one."

Among the tips for shopping wisely:

-- Get the best deal. Comparison shop and research merchants' pricing policies, as some will match, or even beat, a competitor's price. Where applicable, check shipping and handling fees and don't forget to factor those into the cost of the item.

-- Can you get your money back? Check out a merchant's refund and return policy before you buy.

-- Check delivery dates. When shopping by phone, from a catalog or online, find out how long it takes for the item to be delivered. Be sure to order merchandise early enough to make sure that it arrives on time.

-- Protect your privacy and know who you are dealing with. Provide personal information, such as a credit card number, home address or telephone number, only when necessary and make sure that you know the merchant with whom you are dealing. If you have never heard of the seller, check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau or with the Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELPFLA before you decide to make a purchase.

-- Track your purchases. When shopping online, keep printouts of the web pages with details about the transaction, including any warranties, or return and refund policies. When shopping by phone or from a catalog, keep records of your order, including the company's name, address, telephone number, date of your order, and item number or description of the merchandise you ordered.

-- Keep receipts. You might need them to return an item or reconcile a credit card statement. When purchasing a gift, ask for a separate gift receipt.

Gift cards are becoming an increasingly popular choice for holiday gifts as they enable the recipient to choose whatever he or she wants and eliminate the guesswork about sizes, styles and colors of merchandise. In 2007, the Florida Legislature enacted a law that prohibits gift cards from a retail store from having an expiration date or imposing monthly service charges, dormancy fees or account maintenance fees. However, those restrictions do not apply to general-purpose gift cards, including ones from American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa, which are also sold at stores and honored by establishments that accept those forms of payment. Therefore, consumers should carefully examine the terms and conditions of such cards and weigh whatever fees, if any, they impose against the flexibility of giving a gift card that is widely accepted by retailers throughout the country.

For additional consumer information or to file a complaint against a business, Floridians can visit the department's Division of Consumer Services web site at or call 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Million U.S. Workers To Be Hired

Got Your Application In For A Census Job?

LABELLE, FL. -- Congressman Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) announced today that the U.S. Census Bureau is accepting applications for temporary employment.

In preparation for the 2010 Decennial Census, the Bureau will be hiring as many as one million people across the country.  Primary recruiting for census workers will take place throughout the fall and winter of 2009 with the bulk of hiring to occur in the spring of 2010.

''A reliable and accurate count in the 2010 census is extremely important for Florida," said Rooney.  ''The Census Bureau needs capable and dedicated workers to carry out the mission of the 2010 census."

Available positions include census takers who conduct personal interviews with respondents in their communities, crew leaders who train and supervise census takers, crew leader assistants, census clerks who perform administrative duties in local census offices and recruiting assistants who help spread the word in their communities about employment opportunities.

For most positions, hours vary and do not exceed 40 hours per week.  However, working evenings and weekends may be required.  Employment with the Bureau usually lasts five to 10 weeks.

For more information and to apply for a position, please call 1-866-861-2010.  Additional information can be found at:

LaBelle's Ruiz Graduates

Randy Ruiz Basic Training Completed

LABELLE, FL. -- Army Pvt. Randy Ruiz has graduated from Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma.
During the nine weeks of training, the soldier studied the Army mission and received instruction and training exercises in drill and ceremonies, Army history, core values and traditions, military courtesy, military justice, physical fitness, first aid, rifle marksmanship, weapons use, map reading and land navigation, foot marches, armed and unarmed combat, and field maneuvers and tactics.
Ruiz is the son of Raul Ruiz of E. Sunflower Circle, Port LaBelle, Fla. He is a 2009 graduate of LaBelle High School.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LaBelle School Bus Crash - Two Injuries

Bus Hits Tree - Two Injured In LaBelle

LABELLE, FL. -- A 2005 Bluebird school bus crashed around 7 a.m. in LaBelle at Fraser Avenue and Hall Street according to FHP Trooper Travis Parks. The bus was driven by 61-year old Pamela A. Nelson who was not injured.
The school bus was traveling in the eastbound lane on Fraser Avenue when it then departed the roadway and began to travel east on the south shoulder of the roadway. The right front of the bus struck a tree, and came to final rest against a tree on the southeast corner of Hall and Fraser Street.

Two of the 29 passengers were treated for minor injuries on scene. No medical transports were made.

Hendry/Glades County Savings On Twitter

Follow Twitter For Latest Hendry/Glades Area Bargains

LABELLE, FL. -- Looking for bargains in Hendry or Glades County? Sunday Morning News/Southwest Florida Online will post the latest store sale bargains on Twitter for the cities of LaBelle, Clewiston, and Moore Haven.

Don Browne, publisher of the Sunday Morning News and Southwest Florida Online will add area best shopping buys he's found on his Twitter page at . Twitter readers are encouraged to send their own local bargain tips in as well.

Local merchants in Hendry or Glades county are welcome to email their weekly specials for inclusion on the twitter page at no cost.

Follow local store sale specials at: 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Would You Pay More Gas Tax?

Hendry - Glades Counties Missing Out On Fuel Tax Money

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry and Glades county may be missing an opportunity to collect extra taxes from motorists. State law allows county governments the authority to impose up to 12 cents of local option fuel taxes via three separate levies. Local option fuel tax impositions shall be, according to state law, levied before July 1st of each year to be effective January 1st of the following year.

Hendry county currently levies nine cent per gallon of fuel raising an estimated  $1,805,188 in fuel taxes this year. Glades county levies seven cents per gallon raising about $392,967. All neighboring counties are taxing the maximum 12 cent per gallon, including Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and Palm Beach county.

Hendry county could raise an additional $398,098 by taxing the extra three cents per gallon allowed by law, while Glades county would raise an additional $152,971 by taking advantage of the additional five cents in fuel taxes allowable.

According to law, the fuel tax proceeds shall be used for transportation expenditures needed to meet the requirements of the capital improvements element of an adopted comprehensive plan or for expenditures needed to meet the immediate local transportation problems and for other transportation-related expenditures that are critical for building comprehensive roadway networks by local governments.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hendry Annual Farm Tour Coming

Tour Hendry County Farms December 5th

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County Farm-City Tour Council will be holding its 28th annual farm tour of the Hendry County agricultural industry, Saturday, December 5, 2009.  Tickets for the tour cost only $60.00 per person and the participants will be able to catch a modern air conditioned tour bus at the U-Save Supermarket Center on Palm Beach Blvd in Fort Myers or at the Hendry County Extension Office in LaBelle.
You will then be transported with knowledgeable tour guides to various stops around the county where you can get a close up look at some of the most efficient farmers in the world. 
Hendry County is one of the largest agricultural counties in the state and is largest producer of oranges in Florida with over 75,000 acres of groves.  In addition, Hendry County is the second largest producer of sugarcane, third largest in vegetable production and fifth largest in beef cattle.
This year's tour will feature a variety of interesting stops at some of Florida's most sophisticated agricultural operations including vegetable transplant and ornamental nurseries, citrus, sod, sugarcane and vegetable production as well as one of the largest beef cattle ranches in the state.  There will also be fresh Florida orange juice breaks at strategic stops along the way.
As an extra-added attraction, lunch will feature a delicious melt in your mouth steak lunch with all the trimmings served by the Hendry County Cattlemen's Association in a rural country setting.
In addition to the opportunity to see Florida agriculture up close and personal – you will tour some of the most unspoiled wild lands in all of southwest Florida where each turn of the road will reveal natural splendor and a chance to see a variety of wildlife.  All attendees will be given a free bag of mixed vegetables and citrus fruit from the agricultural producers of Hendry County to take home with you
Deadline for ticket sales is November 27th, 2009.  For additional information about the tour and how to purchase tickets for the tour, stop by Hendry County Extension Service Office, which is located at 1085 Pratt Blvd, LaBelle, Florida.  You may also contact the office as follows:

Phone: (863) 674-4092
ax:                  (863) 674-4637
Letter:              Hendry County Extension Service
                        PO Box 68
                        LaBelle, FL   33975-1085
Make checks payable to:  Hendry County City-Farm Tour

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Glades Health Department Facility On Way

Glades Commissioners Appoint Construction Manager

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Glades County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday approved the contract negotiated with Wright Construction to provide Construction Management of the proposed Glades County Public Health Facility with costs covered by a $5.1 million federal grant. 
Hendry-Glades Health Deptartment Administrator Pat Dobbins thanked the Board, Staff, Legislators and others for perseverance in advocating for this large county building project. Dobbins said it would increase the ability of the Health Department to serve the health needs of everyone in the County. 

Dobbins told the commissioners features of the new clinic are not available in the current facility, including ADA compliance, complete patient confidentiality, while information technology improvements and video conferencing will be possibilities in the new building.  The facility will include a back auditorium that will also be available for community meeting use.  Ms. Dobbins is providing instrumental input with the construction planning.
Ms. Dobbins also noted that recent financial analysis revealed that 80% of the patients at Glades County Health Department were non-payers.  She said the increase in uninsured and under-insured clients is because patients from other counties without public health primary care physicians are coming to Glades County.  Public Health units decline service to no one. This increased patronage has strained the health department budget.
Fred Edman, President of Wright Construction, expressed his pleasure in providing construction management services for the project, stating he will be working pre-construction assisting the architect with level of design and specs to reduce costs.  He said a direct benefit of construction management would be in the lower maintenance costs because of the implementation of sustainable design factors.

Glades County Hog Farm Approved

Zoning Changes Allow Formerly Illegal Hog Farm To Continue

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Glades County Commission approved this week a zoning change allowing a pre-existing zoning violation to continue at a hog farm south of Moore Haven on US Highway 27.

The A.C.L. Group, Inc. gained a requested zoning change to 3 acres of a 20-acre parcel on US 27 south of Moore Haven, from Industrial Heavy ID2 Zoning to Open Use Agriculture. The change was approved based on recommendations of the Glades County Planning Commission, and county staff.  The Motion carried 4-1, with Commissioner Donna Storter dissenting. 
The public hearing Tuesday morning was continued from the October 26 commission meeting upon request of ACL Group, who has now complied with code enforcement directions by removing the animals (but not farm equipment and facility) from an on-site swine operation, which was not allowed in the current zoning.  The agricultural zoning will now allow the swine farm operation on three acres in the east [back] end of the property.
Such use has drawn opposition from adjoining landowners and other concerned citizens.  Weight to be given testimony of expert witnesses was discussed by the Commissoners, as the County Planning Commission members were designated as 'expert witnesses.' 

The Glades County Planning Commission met September 8, 2009 with a quorum of members, and voted 3-2 to recommend the zoning change, stating the change is consistent with the county�s future land use plan and compatible with existing neighborhood zoning. 

The Glades County Planning Commission members are Jack Wilson, Ellen Beers, Mike Lee, Shannon Hall, Greg Margerum, Steve Dobbs and Sam Griffin.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shannon Loftin At LaBelle's Flora And Ella's

Book Signing At Flora and Ella's

LABELLE, FL -- On Saturday, November 28th, Shannon Paul Loftin will have a book signing at Flora and Ella's restaurant in downtown LaBelle from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Shannon writes "We had just finished another wonderful dinner; every dinner my grandmother prepared was wonderful. She sat in her chair with her legs and her arms crossed, looking as if she was thinking very seriously about something, and she was­dessert."

''Too often in life we become so focused on material things that we lose sight of the true gifts that are given to us.''

Just a Touch is a collection of the 'gifts' she received from her grandmother, representing stories, family traditions, and memories her family have shared for years.

For example, the ''coconut cake recipe is something her grandmother would make every year for Thanksgiving, and she would make it two days before Thanksgiving to be sure it was good and moist.''

BA brought Shannon a coconut cake when she went to visit her in Miami, holding it on her lap the entire train ride. The coconut cake became more popular throughout the years.

Loftin graduated from LaBelle High School class in 1997 and is the Granddaughter of Bob and Margaret Paul, and daughter of Bryan Paul. Shannon's book is Just a Touch, Recipes from B.A.'s Kitchen.

Immokalee Man Dead In Hendry Crash

Car Enters Hendry Canal West of Clewiston

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Charles William Guffey 53, of Immokalee died in a crash on Hendry County Road 833, one and one-half miles south of State Road 80.

His 2004 Nissan Altima was traveling north on County Road 833. For reasons unknown it traveled off the roadway and onto the east grassy shoulder, and continued to travel north on the shoulder. Guffey, while traveling on the east shoulder over corrected and traveled back onto the roadway.

The vehicle traveled across the roadway and onto the west grassy shoulder and continued to travel north and west on the west shoulder of the roadway.

The front collided with a canal that is located on the west shoulder of County Road 833. After it collided, it entered a water filled
canal, and drifted south. It came to final rest in the water filled canal on the western edge of the ditch facing north. Guffey remained seat belted while the car was submerged.

The use of alcohol is being investigated.

LaBelle State Road 29 Plan Comments Wanted

State Soliciting New Bridge And Roadway Comments Until November 16

LABELLE, FL. -- The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) conducted an alternatives public workshop for the new S.R. 29 Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study on November 5, 2009 at the LaBelle Civic Center, 481 Highway 80 West, LaBelle, Florida.

The workshop was a 2-hour open house and presented a continuously running video that provided an overview of the proposed improvements to S.R. 29 including three options for four-laning the roadway from Cowboy Way (Alternate SR80) north to U.S. Highway 27in Glades county.

The first option is to widen the existing SR29 through the city of LaBelle. The second option routes SR29 east to Forrey Drive (formerly City Ditch Rd.) and then north over the river with a new bridge and roadway to connect with the current SR29 in Glades county.

The third option is to route SR29 more eastwardly to Birchwood Drive, splitting Port LaBelle in two, and a bridge running over the Port LaBelle Marina area across the Caloosahatchee River and the roadway connecting to SR29 in Glades county.

No funding is allocated currently in the state's 5-year plan and an option to not build a new roadway, but to maintain the current SR29 roadway, is still open.

The graphic materials presented at the workshop as well as the video have been uploaded to the state DOT web page. Click on the link below to view the video, project handout and the graphics that were on display at the workshop.

Your comments are very important to help the state make final decisions on which route if any will be chosen for a new highway and bridge route. Please review the alternatives shown and tell the FDOT which alternative(s) you like, or don't like and why. You may send your comments via the Comments page on the web site by November 16, 2009 so that they can be considered in the selection of the alternative(s) that will be carried forward in the PD&E study.  - SR29 Road and New Bridge Workshop Video and Plans

Friday, November 06, 2009

In The Service - Clewiston's Perez Graduates

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Army Pfc. Beatriz J. Perez has graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C.

During the nine weeks of training, the soldier studied the Army mission, history, tradition and core values, physical fitness, and received instruction and practice in basic combat skills, military weapons, chemical warfare and bayonet training, drill and ceremony, marching, rifle marksmanship, armed and unarmed combat, map reading, field tactics, military courtesy, military justice system, basic first aid, foot marches, and field training exercises.

She is the daughter of Quirino Perez of Montura Ave., Clewiston, Fla., and niece of Silvia Perez of N. Church St., Mount Olive, N.C.

Perez is a 2009 graduate of Clewiston High School.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

In The Service - LaBelle's Leonardo Acosta

Acosta Graduates From Basic Training

LABELLE, FL. -- Army Pvt. Leonardo Acosta has graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C.
During the nine weeks of training, the soldier studied the Army mission, history, tradition and core values, physical fitness, and received instruction and practice in basic combat skills, military weapons, chemical warfare and bayonet training, drill and ceremony, marching, rifle marksmanship, armed and unarmed combat, map reading, field tactics, military courtesy, military justice system, basic first aid, foot marches, and field training exercises.
He is the son of Ignacio Acosta of Navaho Ave., Labelle, Fla. Acosta is a 2009 graduate of Labelle High School.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hendry Ag Director Receives Award

LABELLE, FL. -- Gene McAvoy, a Certified Crop Advisor and Hendry County Extension Director, is the 2009 winner of the Florida Excellence in Crop Advising Award sponsored by the Florida Certified Crop Adviser Program and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.

As Florida�s Certified Crop Adviser of the Year, McAvoy received a plaque and a $500 cash award.

Babcock Ranch Receives Award


TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Section of the Society for Range Management announced that Babcock Ranch will receive the first Grazing Lands Stewardship Award. The society and the Florida Grazing Lands Coalition jointly give this award. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to the ranching community in the areas of grazing and wildlife management.

"It is especially gratifying that Babcock Ranch has been chosen for this award," Bronson said. "The accomplishment of producing an outstanding ranching operation while providing enhanced wildlife habitat for unique South Florida wildlife is an example of outstanding public private partnership."

Babcock Ranch is a unique public-private partnership designed to enhance the wildlife and aesthetic values of the old Florida Ranch lands with sustainable management goals.

"This ranch is designed to show the look of old cracker cattle operation, while using the best ecological techniques from the 21st century," Bronson said.

The award was given at the fall meeting of the society on October 29, 2009, at the Babcock Ranch headquarters.

Free Computer Classes In LaBelle

Free Computer Classes - Each Monday

LABELLE, FL. -- The LaBelle Assembly of God at123 Fraser Avenue in LaBelle (across from the Edward Upthegrove Elementary School) will offer classes each Monday morning beginning November 9th.

Pastor Cliff Avery will be teaching a one hour computer class for beginners and people interested in typing, photo editing, movie making, e-mailing and searching the web. Computers are provided for the class or if the student has a laptop they can bring their own. This a hands on class. The only things you need for the class are a note pad and pen. 

To reserve a place in the class call (863) 675-0900.

Biofuels Center Coming To Hendry County

$1 Million To Produce Biofuels

LABELLE, FL. -- Edison State College and the University of Florida�s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has received a nearly $1-million grant to produce biofuels in Hendry County.

The purpose of the grant is to begin shaping the emerging biofuel industry in the area and to bring much needed economic development to the rural areas of Florida. Biofuel is defined as a fuel, such as methane, produced from renewable biological resources like plant biomass and then converted into energy.

''As the College began to plan for our recent expansion in LaBelle, we carefully evaluated the possible areas for economic growth,'' said Dr. Kenneth P. Walker, President Edison State College.  ''Biofuels is part of the national trend toward sustainable initiatives.  We believe Hendry and Glades counties offer an ideal location to become leaders in biofuel production.''

The partnership calls for Edison State to develop the curriculum to train agro-environmental technicians and to assist in educating the community relative to the project�s goals. The University of Florida is charged with developing a profitable, sustainable process for the production of biofuels to assist in environmental sustainability.  The entire amount of the grant is $950,000, of that Edison State College will receive $150,000.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Home Sales Up Again In LaBelle

More Homes Sold - One Million Dollar Sale

LABELLE, FL. -- From October 13 to October 27, there were 10 homes sold in the LaBelle, Florida area for an average price of $182,000. A home on River Blossom Lane sold for $1.2 million. The home sales, with nearly all being in the Port LaBelle community are:

1) $30,000 on Anchor Ln
2) Unknown price on Dustin Dr
3) $82,000 on Penny Cir
4) $40,000 on Rainbow Cir
5) $1,215,000 on River Blossom Ln
6) $61,000 on Riverbend Dr
7) $210,000 on Riverbend Dr
8) $32,000 on School Cir
9) $70,000 on Tide Cir
10) $80,000 on E Briarwood Cir

Monday, October 26, 2009

Positive Numbers For Florida Real Estate

Sales Up - Buyers Going For Lower Priced Homes

LABELLE, FL. -- Statistics released by the Florida Association of REALTORS® on September 2009 sales of existing homes and condominiums indicate that sales were up overall statewide while median prices overall were down statewide. 

Existing home sales in Florida for September 2009 versus September 2008 were up 34% statewide, with median sales prices down 19%, although some areas experienced significant differences.  Existing home sales in Fort Myers were up 77%, with median sales prices down 37%, while home sales in Tallahassee were up only 1% with median sales prices up 2%.

Existing condo sales in Florida for September 2009 were up 77% statewide compared to September 2008, with median prices down 33% statewide.  Orlando showed existing condo sales up 302% with median prices down 51%, while Melbourne showed condo sales up 10% with median sales prices down 22% compared to September 2008. 

30 Hour LaBelle Music 'Event' Cancelled

County Nixes Rodeo Grounds Concert After Discussion With Promoter

LaBelle, FL ­ The 30-hour musical event, Solace, originally announced to be in LaBelle on November 7-8 at the LaBelle Rodeo Grounds, has been postponed according to concert producer Joseph Stubblefield, of Team Jesus Wins. ''Unforeseeable circumstances'' were the reasons stated by Stubblefield.

The Hendry Recreation Board had given permission for the use of the grounds without cost,  not knowing that Stubblefield was intending to sell camping spaces for up to 120 24' x 24'  sites at $45 to $55, and sell admission tickets from $8 to $15. Stubblefield,  who runs the for-profit company Team Jesus Wins, apparently got free use of the rodeo grounds by not telling county officials the full details, and by associating the event with a local church ministry.

The event was to be ''sponsored'' by Bull Pit Outreach Ministry of LaBelle, according to a previous press release. A ''portion'' of the proceeds was to benefit the American Red Cross, he said. Stubblefield's press release said the LaBelle Rodeo Grounds can host 3,000 in the arena, and the first 1,000 War Veterans to show a Military ID card were to get in free.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Log Cabin BBQ Opens - 6 Food Safety Violations

BBQ Restaurant Gets It's First Food Safety Inspection

LABELLE, FL. -- The state of Florida's Division of Hotels and Restaurants is required to do periodic inspections of restaurants, hotels and motels each year, and publishes the results of each inspection online for the public. The local restaurant Log Cabin Barbeque of LaBelle re-opened in LaBelle recently, and it's first state inspection resulted in six critical food safety items to be addressed by the new owners, including no evidence of required employee training.

The restaurant is at 480 State Road 80 in downtown LaBelle, owned by Glenn Schofield operating as Log Cabin Barbecue of LaBelle LLC. Schofield has been active in real estate investments in the area for a number of years.

A summary of the violations found during the inspection are listed below. The department cites violations of Florida's sanitation and safety laws, which are based on the standards of U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. In general, critical violations are those that, if not corrected, are more likely to contribute directly to food contamination, illness or environmental damage. Although we use the industry-standard term "critical", varying degrees of severity and potential risk to the public require inspectors to assess each situation in determining the appropriate action.

In addition, while an establishment may have multiple violations, the inspectors' training and judgment formulate the overall result of the inspection to ensure the public health and safety. While most establishments correct all violations in a timely manner (often during the inspection), the division's procedures are designed to compel compliance with all violations through follow-up visits, administration action or closure when necessary.
Violation    Observation
02-13-2    Critical. Required consumer advisory for raw/undercooked animal food not provided.
22-17-1    Critical. Observed soiled reach-in cooler gaskets.
32-04-1    Critical. Bathroom not enclosed with tight-fitting, self-closing doors.
32-08-1    Critical. No waste receptacle provided at handwash lavatory with disposable towels.
32-16-1    Critical. Hand wash sink lacking proper hand drying provisions.
53B-08-1    Critical. No proof of required employee training provided. All public food service establishments must provide the division with proof of employee training upon request, including, but not limited to, at the time of any division inspection of the establishment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Florida To Keep Criminals Out Of Care Facilities?

Concerns Over Caregiver Criminals In Facilities Sparks Review

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist has announced he will convene select state agencies charged with reviewing legal requirements for screening individuals to work in facilities that provide care to children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The group's findings will be presented to the Governor by November 2, 2009.

Hendry county has several group homes and child care facilities who have convicted felons working at them, including one child care facility owner who has a current criminal case pending against them.

''When it comes to the safety and security of Florida's vulnerable populations, we must make every effort to ensure that their professional caregivers do not have criminal histories,'' Governor Crist said.  "I want to thank the members of the media and especially the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – for examining the current practice of background screening to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable individuals."

Currently, certain employees of child day care centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other residential care settings must pass a criminal background check as a hiring requirement. The agencies will review the use of criminal background checks, the process for granting exemptions, and the process that allows employees to begin working before background checks are completed. The group's findings will be presented to Governor Crist to improve the safety of Florida's children and vulnerable adults by using available technology to streamline procedures and revisiting the process of granting exemptions.

The following state agencies will participate:

·         Agency for Health Care Administration
·         Agency for Persons with Disabilities
·         Florida Department of Children and Families
·         Florida Department of Education
·         Florida Department of Elder Affairs
·         Florida Department of Health
·         Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
·         Florida Department of Law Enforcement

Upon learning of the recent news reports, Governor Crist ordered a complete review of current background-screening policies. At the Governor's direction, Deputy Chief of Staff Dave Foy first met with agency representatives on August 21 to begin gathering information, which has continued during the past two months. The agencies will meet for the first time Thursday at 4:00 p.m. in the Governor's Large Conference Room.

Previous Story On Hendry's Caregiver's Criminal Histories -

Two Arrests In Hendry's Montura Burglaries

Two Men Caught In Burglary

CLEWISTON, FL. -- On October 18, 2009, deputies with the Hendry County Sheriff's Office responded to 208 Pine Lane, in Montura Ranch Estates, a rural community west of Clewiston, after receiving a report of a burglary in progress. Once deputies arrived they made contact with two men, 24 year old Ralph Herbert Landrum (photo left) and 21 year old Ben Milton Wilson who were repairing a flat tire on a silver truck they were driving.

Deputies were told by Landrum that the owner, his stepfather, had given him permission to be on the property. Based on the complaint received from a witness, deputies contacted the property owner, William Burkett, who did tell deputies that he had not given anyone, including his stepson, permission to be on his property nor had he given them permission to remove any property.

Deputies walked around the rear of the home and found the rear window open with the screen torn off and a green plastic chair next to the window. The suspects, Ralph Herbert Landrum and Ben Milton Wilson were then taken into custody and placed under arrest.

Deputies found, located inside the silver truck that was being driven by Landrum and Wilson, miscellaneous items that had been removed from the home, to include prescription medication that was later returned to its owner. It was further found that a tire and rim that the suspects were going to use to replace their flat tire belonged to a neighbor. The suspects had taken it from the porch area of the neighbor�s home and it was also returned to its owner.

Landrum, a convicted felon, and Wilson were arrested and charged with Criminal Mischief, Unoccupied Dwelling Unarmed, Trespassing in a Structure or Conveyance, Larceny, Synthetic Narcotic Possession, and Drug Possession of a Controlled Substance without a Prescription.

Landrum is currently being held in the Hendry County jail on $16,000.00 bond and Wilson is being held on $11,500.00 bond.