Friday, May 31, 2013

Mother Dismembered, Buried By Son

Mother Killed By Son, Dismembered, Put In Garbage Bags, Buried In Swamp  

TITUSVILLE, FL. -- The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office culminated a two week investigation with the arrest of 45‐year‐old, Francis Riccio, for the homicide of his mother, 70‐year‐old Maureen Riccio, whose remains were discovered in Micco on May 14, 2013.

The investigation determined that Francis Riccio killed his mother during a violent argument. Francis bludgeoned his mother to death in a residence bedroom. After the death, Riccio purchased tools and cleaning items at a local store and then dismembered and transported the remains away from the death scene.

Francis Riccio, who was located in New York, was arrested early Thursday morning by arrest warrant, charging him with First Degree Premeditated Murder and Abuse of a Dead Human Body. The Brevard County State Attorney’s Office is currently working with authorities in New York to arrange for extradition back to Brevard County.

The investigation was initiated on May 14, 2013, when skeletal remains were discovered by a maintenance employee during a service call to the cellular tower located on Willowbrook Road in Micco, a small Brevard County community, said Major Todd Goodyear of the Sheriff's Department. 

The witness stopped along the roadway, whereupon he observed what he at first believed was an animal carcass decomposing in the drainage ditch. He immediately notified the Sheriff’s Office who responded and determined that the remains were human. Investigators processed an extensive crime scene, excavating the skeletal remains along with other items of suspected evidence.

As the agents awaited the results of the autopsy, efforts were made to identify the victim who had been dismembered, placed in refuse bags and dumped in a swampy drainage area. The autopsy conducted by the Medical Examiner concluded that the victim died as a result of blunt force trauma and classified the death as a homicide. 

Identification of the victim was eventually accomplished, and the investigation determined that the victim, who is a native of New York, moved to Brevard County Florida in late 2012. Her last known address was located at 319 Patrick Circle, Melbourne, which she shared with her son, an adult female and three children. 

Based on the evidence, the agents believe the victim was killed in late March at the residence and then transported to the secluded area. The family then abruptly moved from the residence in early April, advising neighbors and the landlord that they needed to return to New York due to a death in the family.

Homicide Agents were able to determine that the suspect had moved to New York and traveled there this week to further investigate the incident. The Agents coordinated efforts with Homicide Detectives from NYPD Brooklyn. 

The investigation is ongoing with the possibility of additional charges, said Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey. The Sheriff stated, “Homicide investigations are very time and resource consuming. This particular case presented very unique challenges that were literally buried to avoid detection and victim identification.”

Anyone with information about the investigation is urged to call the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit at 321‐633‐8413 or CRIMELINE at 1‐800‐423‐TIPS (8477). All calls to CRIMELINE are confidential, and callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward for information leading to an arrest.

Pregnancy Discrimination Still In Florida?

Guest Editorial On Florida's Discrimination Statute

By Gilbert Singer, Chair, Florida Commission on Human Relations

The State of Florida, through Florida Statute 760, provides vital protection against discrimination for individuals on the basis of several categories including sex, color, and religion. One category of individuals noticeably missing from such beneficial protection is pregnant mothers. In contrast, Federal law has afforded them protection since 1978. Over the last decade there have been multiple attempts to amend Statute 760 to include pregnant women as a protected class. To date, including this past legislative session, all such attempts have failed.

The main issue that appears to prevent the amending of the statute is the apparent ambiguity within Florida’s Civil Rights Act. Legal opinions from throughout the state are far from conclusive in their interpretation of this Act, and in many instances, contradictory. While some courts afford pregnant women remedies for being victims of discrimination, such as job reinstatement or promotions, other courts completely deny pregnant women any protection under the Act.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations fully supported this year’s proposed legislation entitled the “Protect Our Women Act”. The priority within this legislation was to clarify the state law by expressly including pregnancy as a protected class in the instance of discrimination. This legislation would ensure women who are pregnant or have children are given protection and remedies should they face discrimination. Senator Geraldine Thompson (D, Orlando) and Representative Lori Berman (D, Boynton Beach) worked diligently to move the proposed legislation through numerous legislative committees. In the final days of the 2013 session, requests were made to have the legislation withdrawn from a final committee of reference and instead heard on chamber floors. These requests were denied.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations feels strongly on the subject of this proposed amendment to Florida Statute 760, and intends to file similar legislation for the next session. It is essential that all persons vulnerable or at risk of being discriminated against as a result of being members of a specific class are guaranteed protection not only on a Federal level, but by Florida as well.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's New At the Museum

LABELLE, FL. -- Former LaBelle Heritage Museum president and returning director Addison Austin installed Lynda Rider-Smith, also a former LHM president, as a three-year director. as well as the returning president and vice-president Joe Thomas and Elinor Jones along with newly elected treasurer Ron Zimmerly, who brings his years in both Hendry County and City of LaBelle Finance Departments to the office, and secretary Martha Ratliff, who brings over thirty years experience as a paralegal in Fort Myers and LaBelle to the museum.

In his remarks covering the museum's accomplishments during the 2012/2013 program year Thomas revealed that LaBelle Heritage Museum is closing on a loan that will finance moving the historic 1905 George Aiken house that also served as home to Paul Eddy, LaBelle's first newspaper editor and Hendry County's first school superintendent before becoming the home of the H. A. Rider family for well over forty years and covering Rider's time as county attorney, county judge, and mayor of LaBelle. 

Thomas also singled out H. L. Bennett for donating his time and service as both professional engineer and building contractor to effect the move of the Rider buildings from 150 South Lee Street to 3t60 North Bridge Street where they will join the 1912 William H. Poole store and residence as the LaBelle Heritage Museum Complex. 

Stephen Risley of Oak Electric is donating both time and materials involved in changing electric service from Lee Street to Bridge Street. Risley's late father Joe Risley, Jr., was a stalwart in LaBelle Heritage Museum for many years.

(photo by Jayne Lofton Gourley)

National Trails Day - June 1

Get Outside And Celebrate Says Florida Fish And Wildlife Officials

June 1 is the day to get outside and celebrate National Trails Day® with outdoor enthusiasts across the nation.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has lots of places where people can do this, from forest trails to rivers for paddling to sites for birding and wildlife watching.

Folks can visit hundreds of forested trails on the FWC’s wildlife management areas (WMA), including the Florida National Scenic Trail, which passes through several WMAs.

The FWC manages the WMA system to sustain the widest possible range of native wildlife in their natural habitats. These lands are more rugged than parks, with fewer developed amenities, but rich in wildlife viewing and picturesque scenes.

To find out more about these natural areas, go to and select “Wildlife Management Areas” then “Explore by Location.”

If paddling is your pleasure, the FWC can guide you in that direction too. Florida is blessed with an abundance of waterways and paddling opportunities for everyone, regardless of experience. A quiet, observant paddler can enjoy excellent wildlife viewing from an on-the-water perspective. For links to some of these opportunities, go to and select “Paddling Trails.” Don’t forget to refresh your memory about safe boating tips

For those who prefer studying wildlife – with binoculars and/or a camera – the FWC has a program for that, known as the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. At its core is a network of 514 sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent birdwatching, wildlife viewing or educational opportunities. This 2,000-mile, self-guided highway trail is designed to conserve and enhance Florida's wildlife habitats by promoting birding and wildlife viewing activities, conservation education and economic opportunity.

Go to for details about where you can find these locations marked with special signs.

Lastly, check local media for National Trails Day® events in your community.

Then get out there and enjoy. This is the American Hiking Society’s 21st National Trails Day®. Attendees will be hiking, pedaling, horseback riding and paddling through some of America’s most beautiful areas as part of the celebration. National Trails Day® is devoted to appreciating America’s trails and the hard-working individuals who build and maintain them. 

To find an event near you, you can also go to the American Hiking Society’s website:

Margaret Whatley Dies

LABELLE, FL. -- Margaret W. Whatley, age 93, of Fort Myers, passed away May 29, 2013 in Lehigh Acres. She was born May 23, 1920 in Duncan, MS, to the late Albert Sidney Williams Sr. and the late Etoil (Williams) Williams.

She served as a Nurse in the Army during World War II. Margaret was a longtime resident of LaBelle and worked as a Real Estate Broker and Realtor in LaBelle and the surrounding area for over 45 years. She was a member of First Baptist Church in LaBelle.

Survivors include her nieces: Margaret Ann "Tracy" Schneider of Deltona, Patricia Williams of Omaha, NE; Debbie Simicich of Clewiston, Rennie Martin of Lehigh Acres and nephew: Barry Williams of CA; adopted family, Judy McClure and Donna Kane of LaBelle. She was also preceded in death by her husband: James Edwin Whatley, brothers: Tiddle Williams and Albert Williams, Jr. and niece: Kathi Nolan.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 11:00 am at First Baptist Church of LaBelle with Rev. Frank Deerey Jr. officiating. The graveside committal and Military Honors will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Fort Myers Memorial Gardens in Fort Myers. Visitation will be Wednesday for 1 hour prior to the funeral service at First Baptist Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be sent to Hope Healthcare Services, 1201 Wings Way, Lehigh Acres, FL 33936

Those wishing to send a card to the family may do so at the following address: c/o Judy McClure, P.O. Box 2936, LaBelle, FL 33975.

Photo credit (right): Riverside Real Estate

Bomb Threats Received By Businesses

Information Sought By Sheriff On Bomb Threats

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County Sheriff's office said late Wednesday night it has received several reports from local businesses reporting they have received bomb threats.

According to the department's latest release on Wednesday, May 29 at 11:04 p.m., investigators are "aggressively seeking to identify everyone involved in this crime."

At 8:44 p.m. Wednesday night, a comment was posted on a Southwest Florida Online April 23, 2009 news story about a bomb threat at the now closed U-Save Supermarket in LaBelle. The anonymous post said, "4 bomb threat in one day for labelle, wow labelle on the map now."

It is not known if there is any connection with this comment and the crime committed. Reportedly, there were threats made to the LaBelle Middle School, BP Station, and Winn-Dixie.
Anyone with information involving persons making bomb threats is asked to contact the Hendry County Sheriffs Office as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Firehouse Theatre's New Season

2013-2014 SEASON LINE UP!!

LABELLE, FL. -- The Firehouse Theatre in LaBelle is offering a new line up of five entertaining plays this coming season. Season tickets will be available soon.

November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 2013 - New Wrinkles, written by Rita Abrams, Morris Bobrow & Gerald Nachman and directed by Martha Pierce. This is our first production of the season.
About: New Wrinkles is a musical comedy about the trials and situations of growing old. The pains, perils, and poignancies of aging are served up in hilarious and heartfelt style in this clever, crowd-pleasing musical revue. Who knew angst could be so entertaining?

December 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 2013 - Dashing Through The Snow,by the playwright trio Jones, Hope, Wooten, and directed by Maureen Doucette. Dashing Through the Snow is this year's holiday offering."Dashing thru the snow is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.”
About: The play takes place in the Snowflake Inn in Tinsel, Texas where it's Christmas 365 days a year. It's four days before Christmas and a parade of eccentric guests arrive at the Snowflake Inn and deck the halls with holiday hilarity. Trina, the harried yet upbeat innkeeper of this B&B, has more than she can handle coping with these nuttier-than-a-fruitcake lodgers.

January 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 2014 - Real Women Have Curves,written by Josefina Lopez and directed by Joel Hawkins. "Real Women Have Curves is presented by special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing, Woodstock, IL."
About: Set in a tiny sewing factory in East L.A., this story is the outrageously funny story of five Mexican-American women who are racing to meet nearly impossible production deadlines in order to keep their tiny factory from going under. This play, a microcosm of the Latina immigrant experience, celebrates real women's bodies, the power of women, and the incredible bond that happens when women work together.

February 21, 22, 23, 28, March 1, 2, 2014 - Lend Me A Tenor, written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Deb Kik. “Lend Me a Tenor is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, Inc."
About: Lend Me A Tenor is the Winner of 3 Tony Awards and 4 Drama Desk Awards. In 1934, the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is primed to welcome world famous, Tito Morelli, "Il Stupendo", the greatest tenor of his generation, to appear for one night only as Otello. The star arrives late and, through a hilarious series of mishaps, is given a double dose of tranquilizers and passes out. In a frantic attempt to salvage the evening, stand ins are called upon and eventually there are two Otellos running around in costume! This madcap, screwball comedy is guaranteed to leave audiences teary-eyed with laughter.

March 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, 2014 - "Thanks for the Memories" - directed by Nick Fidanza and features the Firehouse Singers.
About: Nick Fidanza and the Firehouse Singers are ready again to entertain us with a look at World War II via a USO show. Celebrities like Bob Hope rallied many singers, actors and comedians to follow him into the War Zones to entertain our troops. The Firehouse Singers will be presenting several of these famous memories and help recapture some of our fondest memories from the "greatest generation".

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty - $110 Million Penalty To Be Paid

Three Criminal Cases Against Wal-Mart Closed Today

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty today in cases filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States. 

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company also pleaded guilty today in Kansas City, Mo., to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores across the country.

As a result of the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Wal-Mart will pay approximately $81.6 million for its unlawful conduct. Coupled with previous actions brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct, Wal-Mart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, from a date unknown until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level – including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system – or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.

“This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than 2 million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart’s contract. Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws. Additionally, Wal-Mart’s community service payment will fund important environmental projects in Missouri to help prevent such abuses in the future.”

Wal-Mart owns more than 4,000 stores nationwide that sell thousands of products which are flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic or otherwise hazardous under federal law. The products that contain hazardous materials include pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols and cleaners. Once discarded, these products are considered hazardous waste under federal law.

Wal-Mart pleaded guilty this morning in San Francisco to six misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act. The six criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco (each office filed three charges), and the two cases were consolidated in the Northern District of California, where the guilty pleas were formally entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. As part of a plea agreement filed in California, Wal-Mart was sentenced to pay a $40 million criminal fine and an additional $20 million that will fund various community service projects, including opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help retail stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.

In the third criminal case resolved today, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri to violating FIFRA. According to a plea agreement filed in Kansas City, beginning in 2006, Wal-Mart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Mo., where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Wal-Mart employees failed to provide adequate oversight of the pesticides sent to Greenleaf, regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients, or use information, which constitutes a violation of FIFRA. Between July 2006 and February 2008, Wal-Mart trucked more than 2 million pounds of regulated pesticides and additional household products from its various return centers to Greenleaf. In November 2008, Greenleaf was also convicted of a FIFRA violation and paid a criminal penalty of $200,000 in 2009.

Pursuant to the plea agreement filed in Missouri and accepted today by U.S. District Judge John T. Maughmer, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a criminal fine of $11 million and to pay another $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which will go to that agency’s Hazardous Waste Program and will be used to fund further inspections and education on pesticide regulations for regulators, the regulated community and the public. In addition, Wal-Mart has already spent more than $3.4 million to properly remove and dispose of all hazardous material from Greenleaf’s facility.

In conjunction with today’s guilty pleas in the three criminal cases, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty that will resolve civil violations of FIFRA and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Gas Higher Than Month Ago

Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have risen 0.7 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.46/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 8,237 gas outlets in Florida. This compares with the national average that has fallen 2.3 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.65/gallon.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were unchanged compared to the same day one year ago and are 4.2 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 16.8 cents per gallon during the last month and stands unchanged compared to this day one year ago.

"Memorial Day weekend is now over, and believe it or not, many areas saw gasoline prices declining ahead of the long weekend," said Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan. "The U.S. national average dropped nearly three cents per gallon in the last week, while some areas saw an even bigger decline. The best news for motorists is that June typically brings some relief at the pump compared to where prices peaked in May, so for many areas across the country, prices will likely continue to decline," DeHaan said.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ringing In Ears Cause Found - Pill May Prevent It

Biologic Mechanism Found That Causes Noise-Induced Tinnitus and Drug That Can Prevent It

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have found an epilepsy drug shows promise in an animal model at preventing tinnitus from developing after exposure to loud noise. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as reported this week in the early online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is revealed for the first time the reason the chronic and sometimes debilitating condition occurs.

Dr. Tzounopoulos and his team tested whether an FDA-approved epilepsy drug called retigabine, which specifically enhances KCNQ channel activity, could prevent the development of tinnitus. 

“Such a medication could be a very helpful preventive strategy for soldiers and other people who work in situations where exposure to very loud noise is likely,” Dr. Tzounopoulos said. “It might also be useful for other conditions of phantom perceptions, such as pain in a limb that has been amputated.”

An estimated 5 to 15 percent of Americans hear whistling, clicking, roaring and other phantom sounds of tinnitus, which typically is induced by exposure to very loud noise, said senior investigator Thanos Tzounopoulos, Ph.D., associate professor and member of the auditory research group in the Department of Otolaryngology, Pitt School of Medicine.

“There is no cure for it, and current therapies such as hearing aids don’t provide relief for many patients,” he said. “We hope that by identifying the underlying cause, we can develop effective interventions.”

The team focused on an area of the brain that is home to an important auditory center called the dorsal cochlear nucleus. From previous research in a mouse model, they knew that tinnitus is associated with hyperactivity of DCN cells — they fire impulses even when there is no actual sound to perceive. For the new experiments, they took a close look at the biophysical properties of tiny channels, called KCNQ channels, through which potassium ions travel in and out of the cell.

“We found that mice with tinnitus have hyperactive DCN cells because of a reduction in KCNQ potassium channel activity,” Dr. Tzounopoulos said. “These KCNQ channels act as effective “brakes” that reduce excitability or activity of neuronal cells.”

In the model, sedated mice are exposed in one ear to a 116-decibel sound, about the loudness of an ambulance siren, for 45 minutes, which was shown in previous work to lead to the development of tinnitus in 50 percent of exposed mice. Thirty minutes into the noise exposure and twice daily for the next five days, half of the exposed group was given injections of retigabine.

Seven days after noise exposure, the team determined whether the mice had developed tinnitus by conducting startle experiments, in which a continuous, 70 dB tone is played for a period, then stopped briefly and then resumed before being interrupted with a much louder pulse. Mice with normal hearing perceive the gap in sounds and are aware something had changed, so they are less startled by the loud pulse than mice with tinnitus, which hear phantom noise that masks the moment of silence in between the background tones.

The researchers found that mice that were treated with retigabine immediately after noise exposure did not develop tinnitus. Consistent with previous studies, 50 percent of noise-exposed mice that were not treated with the drug exhibited behavioral signs of the condition.

“This is an important finding that links the biophysical properties of a potassium channel with the perception of a phantom sound,” Dr. Tzounopoulos said. “Tinnitus is a channelopathy, and these KCNQ channels represent a novel target for developing drugs that block the induction of tinnitus in humans.”

The KCNQ family is comprised of five different subunits, four of which are sensitive to retigabine. He and his collaborators aim to develop a drug that is specific for the two KCNQ subunits involved in tinnitus to minimize the potential for side effects.

Co-authors of the paper are Shuang Li and Veronica Choi, both of Pitt’s Department of Otolaryngology. The project was funded by U.S. Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, UPMC and The Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh.

Photo credit: Frmir

Memorial Day Crash Kills One

Car Overturns After Being Struck By Truck

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- A Memorial Day morning crash on U.S. 27 in Glades county, Florida took the life of a Clewiston man about 8:10 a.m. May 27.

Luis Alberto Gonzalez-Pacheco, 48 of Clewiston was traveling south on US 27 in the outside lane in a 2008 Honda Accord. David Wayne Pirtle, 28 of Haines City, driving a 2008 Kenworth semi-tractor  was also traveling south on US 27 in the outside lane and was approaching the Honda from the rear.

Pirtle failed to recognize the Honda's slow rate of travel, and the right front of the truck struck the left rear of the Honda.  The Honda was then propelled southwest from the impact, left the roadway on the right side while rotating clockwise, and overturned once before coming to final rest on the grass shoulder upright and facing northwest.

The semi began to rotate counterclockwise after the impact while traveling southwest, and left the roadway on the right side while continuing to rotate counterclockwise before coming to final rest near the right side of the roadway, upright and facing east-northeast.

The Honda's driver, Mr. Luis Alberto Gonzalez-Pacheco was pronounced dead at the crash scene. His passenger, Mr. Leonardo Palenzuela, 29 of West Palm Beach was flown to Lee Memorial Hospital for treatment of serious injuries sustained in the crash. He was not wearing a seat belt.

The investigation continues and charges are pending. FHP Trooper J. Mulhern and Cpl. Michael Michaud said it is unknown if alcohol was a factor for the Honda driver. Alcohol was not involved for the truck driver, they said.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

ATV Driver Dead In Crash

Two ATVs Collide - One Driver Dies At Scene

CLEWISTON, FL. -- A man was killed Saturday night about 8:05 p.m. in a crash of an ATV in Montura Ranches in central Hendry county. A second ATV driver suffered minor injuries.

A Polaris Trailblazer 250, driven by James E. Wood, 47 of N. Kingstown, R.I. was traveling southbound on Hacienda St. N. as Misael A. Rivera, 37 of N. Smithfield, R.I. was traveling southbound on Hacienda St. N ahead of Wood in a Yamaha Raptor 660.

Rivera slowed and attempted to make a right turn. The front right tire of the Polaris struck the rear left tire of the Yamaha . Both vehicles overturned ejecting both drivers.

James E. Wood sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased at the scene. Rivera sustained minor injuries and refused treatment. Both drivers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash.

Both vehicles were ATV's (4 wheelers) owned by Misael A. Rivera, according to FHP Trooper Cpl. Martin Hernandez, Jr. and homicide investigator Cpl. George Kantor.

Note: It is illegal to drive ATVs anywhere other than private property. They may not be legally driven on public roadways.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Obituary - Boyd Lee Fisher

Boyd Lee Fisher, 79, of Lehigh Acres, peacefully passed away on May 21, 2013. Boyd was born in Benton, Tennessee. He was preceded in death by his parents, George T. and Rosa Lee Cloer Fisher, his paternal grandparents, Leander and Lillian Fisher, his maternal grandparents, George and Matilda Cloer, his brothers, Charles, Ralph, and Jerry Fisher, his sisters Helen Fisher and Mary Fisher Lang, and his oldest son, Ricky Lee Fisher.

Survivors are his wife, Emmie Sue Fisher and her children; his sisters, Ruth Ann Fain, Elaine Miller, and Veta Waldrop, his brother Jack Fisher, his former wife Violet Smith Prat, his daughters, Bernice Raymond and Karen Wills, and his son Terry Fisher. he had seven grandchildren: Jennifer, Christopher, Ami, Terry Lee, Dustin, Justin, and Sarah, and nine great grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews.
He served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps for two years, and retired after 20 years with U.S. Army with rank of Sergeant First Class. He served two tours in Vietnam and was especially proud of his service in the military and being part of the First Calvary. After his time in the military, he worked in maintenance at Mallory/Duracell Battery in Cleveland, TN, later owning a resale shop also in Cleveland, TN, and lastly working as a welder for Florida Aluminum and Steel in Fort Myers, Florida.
He loved fishing, gardening, and woodworking. He made much of his own furniture as well as items for others. He loved the outdoors in general and his dogs. He also loved family gatherings at his home where he enjoyed cooking for them.
He will be terribly missed by all of his family. He set great examples on how one should live and carry out their lives and walked in shoes that none of us could dream to fill. If he was here right now, he would say that everything is GREAT!
Visitation will be from 1-3 pm, Sunday, May 26, 2013 in Akin-Davis Funeral Home - Fort Myers. Funeral services will following in Fike Funeral Home in Cleveland, TN, and interment with military honors will take place in Boanerges Baptist Cemetery in Old Fort, TN.

Governor Visiting Small Town LaBelle

"Office Hours" To Meet Governor - Private Appointments Being Made

LABELLE, FL – Representative Matt Hudson (R-Naples) has announced that Florida Governor Rick Scott will be joining him in LaBelle on Friday, June 7, 2013. LaBelle, Florida with a population of about 8,000 is the county seat of Hendry County, a rural agriculture based part of Southwest Florida.

 “I am very honored to have the Governor holding office hours in my district. The citizens of District 80 will have the Capitol come to them and the opportunity to share their concerns about their community and state,” said Representative Hudson.

Rick Scott and Representative Hudson will be holding "office hours," an opportunity for citizens to present legislative suggestions and ask questions at the Hendry County Courthouse, 25 East Hickpochee Avenue (the corner of State Road 80 and SR29).

The Governor and Rep. Hudson will be taking advance appointments for June 7th starting at 8:30 a.m. at 15 minute intervals in order for citizens and organization representatives to have a private conversation with the lawmaker and Governor. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

If you cannot attend, but have a compliment, comment, or concern, please feel free to contact the Citizen Services team at (850) 488-7146.

To request an appointment, please contact Kim Hamilton at (863) 675-5267 or

Potluck Dinner Under The Oaks

LABELLE, FL. -- Former LaBelle Historical Museum president Addison Austin will install museum officers and one three-year director at the annual potluck dinner to be held at the museum's headquarters at 360 North Bridge Street on Thursday, May 30, starting at 6 o'clock in the evening.

Members and friends of LaBelle Heritage Museum planning on attending are asked to bring an entree or casserole, vegetables, salads, hors d'oevres, or desserts to feed their party and at least four others.  Provisions have been made for extra tables and chairs but do suggest those with folding chairs to bring a few "just in case".

The dinner and installation will be under the oaks at the rear of the building. There will be no formal program other than the installation of officers for the 2013/2014 program year and one three-year director. The officers are Joe Thomas, president; Elinor Jones, vice-president; Ron Zimmerly, treasurer; and, Martha Ratliff, secretary, who will be joined by three-year director Lynda Rider Smith. Returning directors are Irene Doub and Addison Austin. 

President Joe Thomas will highlight some of LHM's accomplishments over the past year and give a glimpse of what they hope to accomplish during the coming year.

Membership application/dues renewal forms will be available for those who have not renewed dues as well as for museum friends wishing to become members as we look forward to the future’s challenges and our opportunities for growth. Your support and participation to preserve the rich history of Hendry County’s pioneer families and make the museum a valued resource of information concerning local culture and history are needed now more than ever.

"I look forward to seeing you here at 360 North Bridge Street this next Thursday evening at 6 o'clock to help us start a new year for LaBelle Heritage Museum," said President Joe Thomas.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Stephen David Williams, age 56, of LaBelle, passed away May 20, 2013 in Lehigh Acres. He was born Apr. 20, 1957 in Miami, FL, to the late Leon Milford and the late Mary Helen (Husky) Williams.

Survivors include daughters: Maryea Enriquez of LaBelle, Amber-Lee Williams of Fort Myers, and Tara Williams of LaBelle, brother:: Christopher Lee Williams of Ocala, Grandchildren, Hailee, Antonio and William Enriquez, Ayden and Camden Barrier

Cremation Arrangements by Akin-Davis Funeral Home - LaBelle.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gigantic Python Captured

128 Pound Female Snake Killed In Miami

A Miami man has caught and killed the longest Burmese python ever captured in Florida: 18 feet, 8 inches. The python was a 128-pound female that was not carrying eggs, according to University of Florida scientists who examined the snake. The previous record length for a Burmese python captured in the wild in Florida was 17 feet, 7 inches.

On May 11, Jason Leon was riding late at night in a rural area of southeast Miami-Dade County when he and his passenger spotted the python. About 3 feet of the snake was sticking out of the roadside brush. Leon stopped his car, grabbed the snake behind its head and started dragging it out of the brush. 

When the snake began to wrap itself around his leg, he called for assistance from others and then used a knife to kill the snake. Leon once owned Burmese pythons as pets and has experience handling this nonvenomous constrictor species.

“Jason Leon’s nighttime sighting and capture of a Burmese python of more than 18 feet in length is a notable accomplishment that set a Florida record. The FWC is grateful to him both for safely removing such a large Burmese python and for reporting its capture,” said Kristen Sommers, Exotic Species Coordination Section Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Leon reported his python capture to the FWC’s South Region office, which connected him with 888-IveGot1(888-483-4861), the FWC’s hotline for reporting exotic species. Cheryl Millett of The Nature Conservancy’s Python Patrol Program helped coordinate the response, and Jeff Fobb of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Program arranged to pick up the snake from Leon. 

Finally, the python was turned over to the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, where UF staff experienced in working with Burmese pythons performed the necropsy.

“With the help of people like Mr. Leon and our ongoing partnerships with other agencies, the FWC is advancing what we know about Burmese pythons in Florida,” Sommers said. “This event highlights how the Exotic Species hotline allows the public to help us obtain more information about Burmese pythons, so we can improve management of this invasive species. It also reflects the cooperative efforts of the FWC and its partners to address python sightings by the public.”

The public is asked to report sightings of exotic species to or 888-IveGot1. There is also a free smartphone app: IVEGOT1.

The Burmese python is an invasive species that has negative impacts on the Everglades ecosystem and its native wildlife. The FWC actively coordinates with local, state and federal partners, including university researchers, native tribes and nongovernmental organizations, on the research, management and capture of pythons.

What's Coming For Gas Prices?

Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have fallen 0.4 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.45/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 8,237 gas outlets in Florida. This compares with the national average that has increased 8.9 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.67/gallon.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 7.8 cents per gallon lower than the same day one year ago and are unchanged versus a month ago. The national average has increased 16.6 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 3.0 cents per gallon lower than this day one year ago.

"The last seven days have delivered some shocks at the pump for motorists in the nation's Midwest," said Analyst Patrick DeHaan. "I don't believe I've ever seen gasoline prices in the Midwest surpass California- areas of Nebraska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, and Kansas- have done that. Gas price records in these areas aren't being quietly replaced, they're being blown out of the water. I don't believe I've ever seen such crazy trends in gasoline prices occur all at one- prices spiking in one area, falling in another, and holding steady in others. What we're seeing today is certainly rare," DeHaan said.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Motorcyclist Dies In Crash

U-Turn In Front Of Oncoming Cyclist

NAPLES, FL. -- A 26-year old motorcyclist died after being hit by a 2007 Honda Odyssey Saturday afternoon at 3:57 p.m. in Collier County, Florida

84-year old Mary L. Griffith of Naples was traveling west on CR886 (Golden Gate Pkwy) in the left turn lane in as Urbeil S. Hernandez was traveling east on Golden Gate Pkwy in the outside through lane on a 1998 Honda CBR900RR motorcycle.

Griffith attempted a U-turn in front of the oncoming motorcycle. The front of the cycle collided with the right side of the car in the outside through lane of Golden Gate Pkwy, east of 68th Street SW. 

As a result of the collision, Hernandez was thrown from the motorcycle and collided with the right side of the car. He traveled to the right, off of the roadway and collided with the sidewalk on the south shoulder and continued to traveling to the right and came to final rest in the grass on the south shoulder. 

The car was at final rest facing northwest straddling the eastbound right turn lane and the sidewalk on the south shoulder. Griffith had minor injuries and was taken to NCH Downtown.

The motorcycle was at final rest lying on its right side straddling the eastbound right turn lane and the sidewalk on the south shoulder.

FHP Trooper Sean R. Ellis and homicide investigator Corporal Robert Ellis said Hernandez was wearing a helmet and charges are pending completion of the investigation. Alcohol was not a factor in the crash.

One Dead In Canal Crash

Popular DJ Dies In Tragic Crash

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- A Saturday afternoon crash left the driver dead as his car overturned and ended in a canal.

At 5:18 p.m., according to Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kenite Webb, Sheldon Hamilton Martinez, 43 of Orlando, Florida was westbound on State Road 25 (US 27) in Glades County in an unknown lane of travel. 

Martinez allowed his 1998 Buick Century to travel into the grass median where it continued to travel in a southwest direction and crossed both eastbound lanes of State Road 25.

The car traveled onto the south grass shoulder of State Road 25 and over turned into a canal, coming to final rest on the south shoulder of State Road 25, in the canal, on its roof. 

Martinez was transported to Hendry Regional Hospital by Glades County EMS. He suffered fatal injuries as a result of this crash, according to FHP homicide investigator Corporal R. Ellis. 

It is unknown at this time if alcohol was a factor according to the FHP report.

Update: Martinez, also known as "DJ Saxwell", was a popular musician, entertainer and DJ, and studied music at Florida's FAMU from 1988 to 1992 and was in the famous FAMU 100 marching band. He had also lived in Trinidad and Washington, D.C.

He had been on Twitter Thursday night to announce appearances over the weekend including a Friday night FAMU National Convention in Weston, Fl., a Saturday night event in Lakeland, Fl, and on Sunday at the American Legion in Orlando.

His many friends have set up a Facebook Tribute Page. Friends can email tributes and condolences to:

A viewing will be Friday, May 24 from 4 pm to 6 pm at Mitchell's Funeral Home Chapel in Orlando. The funeral service will be May 25 at 12 pm at Faithworld Church, 7601 Forest City Rd, Altamonte Springs, FL 32810 and burial at Washington Park Cemetery.

Photo: Twitter

Saturday, May 18, 2013

3 A.M. Prowler Caught On Video

Ski Masked Prowler Caught At Door Of Home

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County Sheriff would like any information about this masked male subject who was caught on camera about 3 a.m. Friday morning, May 10th, apparently prowling around homes in a west Hendry county neighborhood.

If you think you may know this person, wearing light colored baggy shorts, light shirt, dark tennis shoes, a ski mask, and gloves contact the Sheriff's department. Note: the video is using an  infrared camera so the colors appear only in black and white.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Consumer Alert - Tree Services

Unlicensed "Tree Service" Knocking On Doors

LABELLE, FL. -- Area residents may be hearing knocks on their door in coming weeks and lots of business cards left at the door. Unlicensed tree service workers are out in force trying to get odd jobs trimming trees and hauling away yard debris.

Unfortunately for customers, there's no way to protect yourself if you hire any of these "have chainsaw - will cut"  people. Being unlicensed, there's no way to track them down if there's a problem. If an accident happens on your property, you will be liable. Not only do they not have a business license or even a registered business name, they won't have insurance.

If you get a flyer or business card with no business license number or full name of the company or person, you're probably seeing an unlicensed contractor.

This week's unlicensed outfit is "S & N Tree Service." They give two Fort Myers area phone numbers on their card and the name "Noe." They are knocking on doors and leaving cards, dressed in a new bright t-shirt with the name on it driving a pickup truck with small trailer. There's no record of the name on the Florida Secretary of State website.

We'll be keeping track of the unlicensed people we see here. Send us names of any you come across and we'll check them out and publish names.

Hunger "Summit" In Fort Myers

FORT MYERS, FL. -- The 2013 Hunger Summit will be held May 31 at Hodges University in Fort Myers. Hunger continues to be evident throughout Southwest Florida, and the 2013 Hunger Summit will focus on that face.

All Harry Chapin Food Bank partner agencies in Southwest Florida, their guests, and the public are invited to participate in the Summit on Friday, May 31, at Hodges University, on Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers, to develop collaborations and new ways to help our neighbors in need.

The day of learning will include sharing best practices. The summit will feature a diversity panel, which will be moderated by Gail B. Williams, MBA. Workshops will include information on addressing burnout, choice pantries, school pantries and food bank 101.

The summit is being offered through the auspices of the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The one-day event begins with a continental breakfast at 8:00 a.m.; the program begins at 8:45 and concludes at 1:30 p.m. A box lunch will be provided on the premises.

There is no charge for attending the Summit, but it is important to register. To register or for more details please contact Katie Schweikhardt at 334-7007 ext. 200, or

Truck Overturns Multiple Times - Driver Seriously Injured

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- A 9:26 a.m. crash Thursday morning left the driver in serious condition as his truck overturns multiple times.

Joseph Raymond Navarro II, 26 of Lehigh Acres was traveling north on CR 731 in Glades county as his 2007 Ford F-150 pickup truck ran off the right side of the roadway while negotiating a left hand curve. 

FHP Trooper J. Mulhern said the driver then over-corrected and the truck ran off the roadway on the left side and overturned multiple times, causing the driver to be ejected. 

Navarro is in serious condition at Lee Memorial Hospital.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fake Pot Drugs Illegal Starting Today

DEA Makes Three More “Fake Pot” Drugs Temporarily Illegal Today
Today the United States Drug Enforcement Administration made the synthetic cannabinoids UR-144, XLR11, and AKB48 Schedule I, illegal drugs under the Controlled Substances Act for the next two years. These cannabinoids are often seen in so-called “fake pot” products that are falsely marketed and sold as “herbal incense” or “potpourri” products on the Internet and by a variety of retail stores.

Synthetic cannabinoids refer to a family of substances that act on the brain similar to delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis. The actual chemical names of today’s controlled cannabinoids are:

· (1-pentyl-1H-indol-3-yl)(2,2,3,3-tetramethylcyclopropyl)methanone (UR-144);

· [1-(5-fluoro-pentyl)-1H- indol-3-yl](2,2,3,3-tetramethylcyclopropyl)methanone (5-fluoro-UR-144, XLR11); and

· N-(1-adamantyl)-1-pentyl-1H-indazole-3-carboxamide (APINACA, AKB48).

This action is based on a finding by DEA’s Deputy Administrator Thomas Harrigan that the placement of these synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule I of the CSA is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety. The DEA published a notice of its intent to do this and issued a press release about it on April 12, giving makers, sellers, and other possessors of these drugs a month to rid themselves of their current stocks and to cease making or buying more.

Over the past three years, smokable herbal blends containing synthetic cannabinoids have been marketed under the guise of being “legal” and have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults. These products consist of plant material that has been laced with these cannabinoids. These substances have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption or for medical use. The long-term physical and psychological effects of these substances and their associated products are unknown but are potentially severe, and psychotic and violent behavior has been observed in short-term users of these products.

During the next two years, DEA will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to determine if these chemicals should be made permanently illegal.

Doctors Indicted For Offshore Bank Concealment

Husband And Wife Caught By IRS With Undeclared Offshore Bank Assets
FORT MYERS, FL. -- Doctors David Leon Fredrick and Patricia Lynn Hough, of Englewood, Fla., were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Myers, Fla., for conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by concealing millions of dollars in assets and income in offshore bank accounts at UBS and other foreign banks, the Department of Justice and IRS announced today.

According to the indictment, Fredrick and Hough, married doctors, served on the Board of Directors of two Caribbean-based medical schools – one located on Saba, Netherlands Antilles, and one located on Nevis, West Indies. Fredrick had an ownership interest in the medical school on Nevis until 2007, when both medical schools were sold.

The indictment alleges that Fredrick and Hough conspired with each other and with Beda Singenberger, a citizen and resident of Switzerland who is under indictment in the Southern District of New York, and a UBS banker to defraud the IRS. 

They carried out the conspiracy by creating and using nominee entities and undeclared bank accounts in their names and the names of the nominee entities at UBS and other foreign banks to conceal assets and income from the IRS, including the sale of real estate associated with the medical school on Saba and shares they owned in the medical school on Nevis. 

The real estate was sold for more than $33 million, all of which was deposited into one of their undeclared accounts in the name of a nominee entity.

It is alleged that Fredrick and Hough caused funds from the medical schools’ undeclared accounts to be transferred to undeclared accounts in their individual names or in the names of nominee entities. Fredrick and Hough then used the funds in their undeclared accounts to purchase an airplane, two homes in North Carolina and a condominium in Sarasota, Fla. Fredrick also transferred more than $1 million to his relatives.

Fredrick and Hough were also charged with four counts of filing false tax returns for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The indictment alleges that Fredrick and Hough filed false tax returns which substantially understated their total income and failed, on Schedule B, Parts I and III, to report that they had an interest in or signature or other authority over bank, securities or other financial accounts located in foreign countries.

A trial date has not been scheduled. An indictment is merely an accusation, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, said the Justice Department today.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The false return charges each carry a maximum potential penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Caryn Finley of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and was investigated by IRS – Criminal Investigation.

Billy And Caroline Giving Away Huge Kia Deals?

World's "#1 Kia Dealer" Spending Million On Promotions

FORT MYERS, FL. -- William "Billy" Fuccillo and Caroline Renfro are probably Southwest Florida's most recognizable personalities, pitching cars hundreds of times daily on radio, TV, and through direct mail promotions.

In April, the duo gave away an advertised million dollars, at $1,000 for each new car purchase or lease. In May, Fuccillo has charted an "entire Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship!" says his ads. The cost is reportedly $1.5 million.

But, can the average car buyer get those "Huuuge" deals offered? Probably not.

This month's 34" by 22" gigantic mailing piece promotes the Kia line of cars at Fuccillo's Cape Coral, Florida dealership, enticing prospective customer to lease a car with $0 down and as low as $179 monthly on a 2013 Kia Soul.  Or hop up to a near top of the line $0 down, $279 monthly Sorento LX.

To get customers into the dealership, Fuccillo is offering 25 winners, $1,000 each, prizes including iPads, a Kindle Fire, Nintendo Wii, and $1,000 Target gift cards.

Fuccillo says "You could be the instant winner of a 2013 Kia Soul" as an extra bonus. And this month, a five-day "Majesty of the Seas" cruise for "2,248 of their closest Kia customers" by purchasing or leasing one of the dealership's "1,000 new Kias available."

What You'll Likely Receive...

It's very unlikely customers will qualify for the low payments advertised, say automobile consumer watchdogs, and unlikely to get any of the high dollar gifts offered. Instead visitors can expect a $5 gift card to Target.

The primary kicker is the customer must quality for certain rebates for those prices, including rebates for military personnel, college graduates, and "owner loyalty." a discount for current Kia owners. Most customers, of course are not going to qualify for those.

A look at the very small print at the bottom of the mailing, and the disclaimers below each car price discloses the low price is after rebates, discounts, and then added to the payment will be taxes, tags, and "additional equipment."

The prices are also for "well-qualified buyers," those with great credit ratings. Don't expect the average person to qualify. And don't expect "no down payment" if your credit is not stellar.

What About Those Gift Drawings?

The promotions offered by Fuccillo Kia Of Cape Coral is sponsored in conjunction with American Hole'n One. American offers contest "insurance," paying off when customers actually win an expensive prize. Not that the odds of winning are great. They aren't.

To cut way down on the odds, winners of the electronic gifts, the $1,000 Target card, and the new Kia must have received "an original mail piece...addressed to you." We determined that the mailing list being used by Fuccillo and American Hole'n One has names and addresses that are at least 11 years old. The name on your mailing piece may not even have your name on it. You can't win if that's not your name.

"Submitting a mailer addressed to another person or on behalf of another person is prohibited." says the disclaimer's fine print.

The fine print goes on to say winners have to pay their own federal, state and local taxes, registration fees and insurance. A big surprise in the very unlikely event you win a $16,000 car and immediately have to figure how to pay taxes due on it.

And those prizes for just showing up? Two iPad minis are theoretically available. Odds of winning? One in a half million. The same odds for the one $1,000 Target gift card, the Nintendo game system, and the Kindle Fire, and the 2013 Kia.

But, the odds get better for smaller gift cards. One in 50,000 for the $100 card, better odds but chances are you aren't going to win even that.

So what will you really win if you show up in person?  Odds are you'll get a $5 Target card. The odds are 499,986 to 500,000. Everyone wins.

And note "unclaimed prized will not be awarded." So, it's very likely no prizes will be given out except those $5 gift cards.

And the $1,000 cash to 25 lucky winners? The catch is here: you have to sign up with a registration form during the month, then you have to be physically present at the dealership on May 31, when the 25 winners will be randomly drawn. You must be present to win, says the small print.

And winners, be ready to pay the tax on that as an  IRS W-9 miscellaneous income form will be submitted for your signature. After going through all this, you'll get that lucky check in seven days.

About The Cruise

The five-day cruise for Kia buyers (or leasers) leaves Miami on December 9th at 4:30 p.m. arriving in Nassau, Bahamas the next morning. The next day it goes to Coco Cay, a private island, and then the Key West the next day, and docking back in Miami at 7 a.m. December 13. There's no substitutions allowable, only the Kia customer and a guest can go.

Prices for interior or outside staterooms in December for a Royal Caribbean 5-day, 4-night cruise normally cost between $220 and $579 per person.

Billy And Caroline - A Huge Advertising Partnership

Fuccillo started in the car business back in 1980, two years after attending Syracuse University on a football scholarship. He started buying car dealers' trade-in vehicles, reconditioning them and selling them at dealer auctions for a nice profit splitting it with the dealership he worked for.

Having saved a large nest egg from his car sale profits, he bought a Dodge dealership in 1989 in Adams, New York, with $125,000. He bought a second dealership in 1990, beginning a string of dealership purchases all over the country. He says he liked to buy a dealership cheap, and then sell it two years later for a big profit.

He's owned automobile dealerships in California, Nevada, New Mexico, and the Carolinas. His base, however is New York. He started his Fort Myers area store two year ago and as luck would have it high gas prices, and a shall we say "huge" inventory of Kia vehicles have done well for Fuccillo.

Caroline Renfro, the gal who never gets to finish the TV commercials before Billy says, "It's HUGE, Caroline, It's HUGE," has been acting in the Fuccillo commercials for many years. Originally from North Carolina, Caroline met Fuccillo when had a dealership there. His son also attended school there for a while.

She worked for JTA Talent in Charlotte, N.C., and has done other car dealership commercials other than the "huge" ads for Fuccillo, including ads for a Greensboro, N.C. Kia store.

Update July 2013: Where's Caroline? Caroline has been conspicuously missing from the TV and radio advertising this month. Billy says on the commercials that Caroline is looking for another cruise ship. Fuccillo is holding a Huge Cruise 2 promotion for new car buyers in July and supposedly Caroline is in South Florida somewhere negotiating to book another 1,000 or so cruise ship rooms for the second Kia cruise. (The first cruise is scheduled for December.)

More Fuccillo Stories On Southwest Florida Online

Special Needs Community Gathers At Camp

LABELLE, FL. -- Twenty Southwest Floridians with special needs made lifelong friends during the second session of Trailways Camp in LaBelle. Trailways camp is a partnership between Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida and The Robert V. and Benjamin G. Miller Fund.

The session, which ran from May 6 through May 9, included fishing, campfire roasts, a visit by Special Equestrians, swimming, a talent show, a luau, and more. The camp was held at the Riverside Retreat Center in LaBelle.

“Many of our campers had never flown a kite, held a fishing rod, danced on stage, or won an award in their lives,” says Jesi Cason, camp counselor and skills trainer at Goodwill. “At camp, everyone got a chance to create unforgettable experiences and make lifelong friendships with people who understand what it is like to have a disability.”

The Trailways Camp mission is to remove the social isolation often felt by people with disabilities by providing opportunities for fun, friends and support. Through outdoor activities, group exercises, crafts, and more, campers have the opportunity to develop recreational skills and build relationships.

“An act as simple as sitting down for a meal with friends, or roasting marshmallows over a campfire can, and has, changed lives for people who otherwise would not have the opportunity,” explains Cason. “The campers will always remember the feeling of accomplishment and acceptance they experienced when they lead a group of campers in song, or challenged their friends to an epic water noodle fight!”

Trailways Camp will host another session October 7 through 11, 2013. For more information regarding Trailways Camp visit or contact Todd Ryan at (239)995-2106 ext. 2285.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baby Panther Rescued

Injured Panther Kitten Found In Golden Gate
NAPLES, FL. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and partners rescued an approximately 9-month-old female Florida panther in the Golden Gate Estates area of Collier County on Monday.

The FWC received a call about a panther kitten dragging its rear leg. A homeowner noticed the injured panther earlier that morning as he was leaving for work. When he returned home and saw the panther a second time, he notified law enforcement.

FWC panther biologists and law-enforcement officers, deputies with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and staff from the Golden Gate Animal Clinic responded to the area where the panther was last seen. They located the panther in thick brush and sedated it.

After an on-scene assessment of the panther’s condition, FWC biologists transported the panther to the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida. Veterinarians at the hospital determined that the panther had a compound fracture in her rear right leg, rib fractures and bruising around the lung, all of which were likely caused by a vehicle collision. That evening they performed surgery, using a steel plate to mend the bone together.

With the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the panther was taken to the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, where she will receive care until she has fully healed from her injuries and is ready for release.

“We are pleased with what appears to be a successful surgery with no complications,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader. “Thanks to the help of our partners, this panther has a very good chance of returning to the wild. With only 100 to 160 adults and subadults remaining in south Florida, every panther plays an important role in the population.”

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Luke Herrera infant son of Daniel and Melissa (Ransom) Herrera was stillborn on May 12, 2013 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Other survivors include, brother; Daniel Herrera, Jr., paternal grandparents Armando and Domitila Herrera; maternal grandparents, Rex and Mary Lou Ransom; aunts and uncles, Michelle (Sonny) Ralston, Randy (Jamey) Ransom, Jeff (Helen) Ransom, Albert (Cheryl) Herrera, Margie (Terry) Pruitt, and Jeannette Crespo.

Graveside will be held on May 15, 2013 in Ridgelawn Cemetery at 11:00 am with Father Jiobani Batista presiding.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doctor Cassandra Etgeton Dies At 60

Dr. Cassandra Ann Zehntner Etgeton, Ed. D., passed away at Lee Memorial Health Systems Health Park on May, 8th at the age of 60. 

Dr. Etgeton was born in Punta Gorda, Florida in June 1st, 1952. She graduated valedictorian of LaBelle High School in 1969 and went on to earn a Bachelor's in Mathematics Educations from Florida State University in 1972, a Master's in Administration and Supervision from Florida Atlantic University in 1981, and her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Central Florida in 2004. 

She started teaching in 1972. She worked as Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Florida from 2005 - 2013. 

Dr. Etgeton enjoyed volunteering and was a member of several organizations, including ABWA, Delta Kappa Gamma, NCTM and many others. She was also an avid reader and loved books such as Harry Potter, and TV shows such as Downton Abbey and NCIS. She also enjoyed playing the clarinet and volunteered with the LHS Band for several years. 

She also enjoyed cooking and made amazing pies.
Dr. Etgeton is predeceased by her husband of 34 years, Robert John Etgeton Jr., who passed away in 2008. They were married in LaBelle, FL on March, 21th, 1974.

Dr. Etgeton is lovingly remembered by her daughter, Bonita Elizabeth Etgeton, her son, Robert John Etgeton III, her brother, David Reinhart Zehntner, and mother, Mary Joe Zehntner. 

The celebration of life will be held at Carlson Memorial United Methodist church, 310 Campbell St LaBelle, FL on May 17th at 4 pm. Cremation to follow at Akin-Davis Funeral Home. A reception dinner will take place at Fellowship Hall following the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions in her memory be sent to the University of North Florida Foundation designated to the College of Education and Human Services Math Education Scholarship Fund, 1 UNF Drive, Suite 57/3610, Jacksonville, FL 32224. All checks should be made payable to the UNF Foundation with a memo line specifying Cassandra Etgeton Memorial.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gas Prices Hovering This Week - Up From Last Week

Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have risen 3.1 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.45/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 8,237 gas outlets in Florida. This compares with the national average that has increased 6.2 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.57/gallon.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 15.3 cents per gallon lower than the same day one year ago and are 5.7 cents per gallon lower than a month ago. The national average has increased 5.0 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 15.4 cents per gallon lower than this day one year ago.

"The national average has perked up again in the last seven days across the nation," said Patrick DeHaan. "Many motorists remain skeptical of the so called reasons that we blame higher prices on: refinery production and maintenance, tightening supply, and the now completed switch over to EPA mandated cleaner summer gasoline. Tight gasoline supply exists especially along the West Coast, and other factors are coming into play in some of the bigger metro areas where more expensive reformulated gasoline has hit pumps," DeHaan said.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Multitaskers Are Mental Misfits Says Psychologist

How long can you go without checking email, or glancing at your smartphone? Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today's nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves—and he says there's evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too.

-from NPR Talk of the Nation

Another Motorcyclist Dead In Crash

NAPLES, FL -- Another motorcyclist died this week, this time in Collier County after a 2002 Ford Mustang made an improper turn into the bike's path at 10:24 p.m. Saturday night.

Tammy Lehua Headrick, 29 of Naples was northbound on Collier Blvd., in the left lane, approaching the intersection of Golden Gate Parkway. 

The motorcycle driven by Dimas K. Maldonado, 39 was southbound on Collier Blvd in the left turn lane approaching the intersection of Golden Gate Parkway as Headrick executed a left turn on a green traffic signal (not a green turn arrow) and traveled directly into the path of the motorcycle. 

Maldonado attempted to take evasive action by braking, but was unable to avoid the Mustang. The motorcycle struck the right front fender of the car with the front of the 2011 Harley Davidson. 

Maldonado was pronounced deceased on scene. A blood alcohol test is pending on Maldonado. Headrich was charged with making an improper left turn in front of approaching traffic.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Motorcyclist Dead After Crash

PORT CHARLOTTE, FL. -- Motorcyclist Max Andrew Price, 24 of Port Charlotte is dead after a crash with a truck Friday afternoon at 5:15 p.m.

Curtis Wayne Sanders, 40 of Punta Gorda was traveling northeast on David Blvd approaching the intersection of Dayton Lane in a truck. Price, on a 2001 600cc Kawasaki motorcycle was traveling southwest on David Blvd approaching the intersection of Dayton Lane.

The truck driver then made a left turn from David Blvd onto Dayton Lane and crossed over the southwest lane of David Blvd, The motorcycle struck the rear right portion of the truck. The cycle overturned and Price was ejected from the motorcycle.

The truck was at final rest on Dayton Lane facing north west and the motorcycle and driver were at final rest on the east grass shoulder of David Blvd.

Price was transported to Peace River Medical Center where he was pronounced deceased at 6:06 p.m. by hospital staff according to FHP Trooper Anthony Esposito and homicide investigator Cpl. Michael Michaud.

Charges are pending investigation and a blood alcohol test of Price. Price was not wearing a helmet. Alcohol was not a factor in Sanders, who had no injuries, said the FHP.

Car Crashes Into Trees And Rocks, Driver Dead

FORT MYERS, FL. -- Johnny Grigger Roberts 20, of Immokalee is dead after a crash in Lehigh Acres Friday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. FHP Trooper Danny Diaz reports Roberts hit at least four trees and two large rocks as the car overturned numerous times.

His 2004 Chevy Cavalier was traveling north on Homestead Road South, south of Sunrise Street and had just exited an "S curve" and the FHP says was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit and lost control.

Roberts began to travel in a northwest direction while the vehicle was rotating counter clockwise, traveled through the southbound lane of Homestead Road South and onto the west shoulder. While facing west and rotating counter clockwise, the front of the car collided with a tree.

It continued traveling in a northwest direction while rotating counter clockwise and overturning, then collided with a large rock. It continued traveling in a northwest direction while rotating and overturning and then collided with another tree, then continued traveling in a northwest direction while overturning and rotating.

Subsequently, it collided with another large rock, continued traveling in a northwest direction. collided with two large trees while traveling in a northwest direction. and continued to rotate and overturn. The
left side of the vehicle collided with a tree while overturning.

It came to final rest facing east on its top portion with it left side resting against a tree.  It is unknown whether the crash was alcohol related.

Passenger Ladarria McKenzie, 21 of Immokalee had minor injuries as did passenger Jiris Manns also 21 of Immokalee.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Motorcyclist Dead After Being Dragged 3 Miles

Hit And Run Driver Arrested After Bizarre Crash

FORT MYERS, FL. -- A crash on Thursday night at 9:53 left one dead after a driver crashed into the rear of a 2005 Harley Davidson motorcycle and dragged it and the victim for three miles.

A 2006 Lexus GX470 was traveling north on US 41 and made a U-turn at Constitution Blvd into the southbound inside lane of US 41, according to the FHP report. 

Carl Edward Patrick 54, of Punta Gorda was traveling on a motorcycle south on US 41 in the inside lane when Donna Lynne Brown (photo above), 54 of Estero failed to observe the motorcycle. 

As a result, the front of her vehicle struck the rear of the motorcycle. After impact, she failed to stop at the crash scene and continued to travel south on US 41 dragging the motorcycle and the Patrick for approximately three miles. 

A deputy from the Lee County Sheriff's Office witnessed sparks coming from the undercarriage of the Lexus as it fled the scene. The LCSO initiated a traffic stop on the Lexus in the southbound outside lane of US 41 just north of Corkscrew Rd.

The motorcycle and victim came to final rest facing west in the southbound outside lane of US 41, just north of Corkscrew Rd. 

Patrick was pronounced deceased on scene. He was not wearing a helmet according to the FHP report.

Brown was arrested and booked into the Lee County Jail. She has been charged with DUI Manslaughter, DUI Property Damage, Hit and Run with death, DUI and Careless Driving. A blood alcohol content test in pending. She was wearing a seat belt and had no injuries. She was released from the Lee County Jail after spending 21 hours, her bond on all charges was set at $70,000.

Brown lives at 20740 Pine Tree Lane, Estero, Florida. Her next court date is June 10th.

The investigation is ongoing according to FHP Trooper Specialist Richard M. Verbiest and homicide investigator Corporal Juan Quintana.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

New County Manager Welcomed

Col. Thomas Corbitt New Manager
MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- The Glades County Economic Development Council will host a social Wednesday, May 15 beginning at 5 p.m. at First Bank to welcome new Glades County Manager Thomas R. Corbitt. For more details, please see the flyer attached.

Mr. Corbitt lives in LaBelle with his wife Linda Clark Corbitt, and retired after 43 years in US Air Force 2003 as Colonel in 2003.

In his interview for the position, Corbitt likened his work as support group commander in Europe, in which he was over civil engineering, security, logistics, housing and general morale/welfare of 5000 personnel to being a county manager. 

He emphasized empowering staff to do their jobs and pushing decision making down to realize value-added improvements.

He said based on what he’s read and what he’s heard, he wants to continue the successes we’ve had; that he’s excited about our logistics initiative, and that he would like to see us marry the objectives of Americas Gateway and Airglades to maximize the opportunities. 

Mr. Corbitt served 7 years on the Hendry County Local Planning Agency, recently serving as Chair and is very familiar with development issues.

Heritage Festival Comes To Town Again

Fun In LaBelle - Talent Show, Food, And Dancing

LABELLE, FL. -- The annual Black Heritage festival for 2013 starts Friday, May 10th with a Teen Dance at the James Singleton Center, and then on Thursday May 16 with the Old Timers Dinner at the Center.

On Friday, May 17 Friday a talent show will be at the Upthegrove Elementary School in LaBelle followed by a  '70s Ball at the Singleton Center.

On Saturday, May 18th the festival  goes all day with lots of fun activities and food in the Ford-Sunset neighborhood at the Alton "Kid" Jones Park in LaBelle including a B-Ball tournament..

Music, a basketball tournament, games, entertainment and food let the whole family find something enjoyable to do for the weekend.

Nora Fagin-Ned helps put together each year's activities along with many volunteers from the Ford-Sunset community in LaBelle.

(Video: games and food vendors at the park during a past year's Festival)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Harry Richard Smith, age 75, of LaBelle, passed away May 5, 2013 in Lehigh Acres.

He was born May 21, 1937 in Martin County, FL, to the late Woodrow and the late Mary Lee (Boone) Smith. He worked for the Florida Department of Transportation for many years as a Heavy Equipment Operator. He was a member and faithfully attended Life Ministries Church in LaBelle for several years.

Survivors include two sons: Harry Smith, Jr, Kenny Smith and two daughters: Sandra (Aaron) Alexander, and Linda (James) Johns, he also has eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Funeral services were held Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm at Life Ministries, LaBelle with Pastor Jorge Rodriguez officiating. Interment will be 10 am Thursday, May 9, 2013 in Port Mayaca Cemetery, Canal Point.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Roll Over Crash On I-75 Takes Life Of Passenger

One Injured - One Dead In Crash
Port Charlotte, Fl. --  A passenger is dead of injuries after a rollover crash on I-75 Monday at 8:19 P.M.

A 2006 Ford Escape was traveling south on I-75 just south of the 154 mile marker in Charlotte county in the right travel lane and attempted to change lanes into the left travel lane and was nearly struck by an unknown vehicle that was also traveling south in the left travel lane. 

Driver, Frank A. Zaccone, 48 of Deerfield Beach lost control and veered to the east onto the median. The vehicle overturned and came to final rest upright in the median, facing in a northwesterly direction. 

Mr. Zaccone was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital via Medstar helicopter in serious condition. 

Passenger Judy A. Hanna, 51 was transported to Charlotte Regional Medical Center by Charlotte County EMS.  She was pronounced deceased at Charlotte Regional Medical Center at 9:39 p.m. by emergency room staff.

FHP Trooper Luis Navarro said a blood alcohol test is pending on the driver, who was not wearing a seat belt.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Gas Prices In Florida Now 28 Cents Lower Than Year Ago

Average retail gasoline prices in Florida have fallen 1 cent per gallon in the past week, averaging $3.41/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 8,237 gas outlets in Florida. This compares with the national average that has increased 1 cent per gallon in the last week to $3.51 a gallon.

Including the change in gas prices in Florida during the past week, prices yesterday were 28.1 cents per gallon lower than the same day one year ago and are 16.5 cents per gallon lower than a month ago. The national average has decreased 7.8 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 26.8 cents per gallon lower than this day one year ago.

"The national average has begun to tip-toe higher in the last week, led by states in the Great Lakes and West Coast where gasoline prices have crept up considerably in some areas over the last week," said Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan. 

"Oil prices have rebounded, and with the recent strength in stocks trickling over to commodities, I do expect retail gasoline prices to inch up in the weeks ahead. The biggest increases will be along the West Coast where gasoline supply remains at an ultra-tight status, but prices will also increase in many other areas, led higher by the rally in crude prices we've witnessed in the last week," DeHaan said.

Sheriff's Office Employees Honored

OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- Six employees of the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office were recognized for the first quarter of 2013. There are four categories for which employees may be recognized: administration employee, citizen volunteer, Detention Deputy and Law Enforcement.

The recipients of the award are as follows:

Administrative Employee – Amy Fisher
Citizen Volunteer – Chaplain Joe Bishop
Detention Deputy – D/D Karen Greene
Law Enforcement-Sgt. Rob Coleman, D/S Matt Crawford, D/S Joe Gracie

Amy Fisher was nominated by Captain Bell. “Amy has been a great asset to road patrol during the transition to the new Spillman system. She has put in countless hours and has answered all questions with help provided to everyone that has asked. She has definitely made the change a lot easier.”

Chaplain Joe Bishop was nominated by Juanita White, for Volunteer of the Quarter. “Joe is there no matter what time of the day or night, not only for his law enforcement family but for families that are victims of crimes. He never turns down a call. He lifts our spirits every Wednesday morning with his lessons on how to handle the times we live in today by using scenarios from the Bible and comparing them to the situation in our lives today. By doing this, he shows us how we can handle circumstances and stay true to God.”

Karen Greene was nominated by Lt. Scott Deloney, who stated, “Ms. Greene has displayed a positive attitude and is a hidden gem to the department. Karen is in charge of the laundry and makes sure it is passed out in a timely manner. In addition, she also assists me in selecting trustees. She is a great asset not just to me, but to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office. She takes pride in her work and settles for nothing less.”

Sgt. Rob Coleman, D/S Matt Crawford and D/S Joe Gracie were all nominated for Deputy Sheriff of the Quarter by Captain Bell. 

"On February 16, 2013, Martin County had a homicide and the suspect was in route to Okeechobee County, still armed. Law enforcement from both agencies pursued the suspect. The suspect’s vehicle landed in Henry Creek. The suspect would not comply with orders given. The listed deputies entered the water to gain control of the suspect and rescue two juvenile females, the suspect would not turn over to deputies. Subsequently, the suspect was apprehended and the juveniles were rescued unharmed. I know what it’s like to enter water to apprehend a suspect and I can assure you it is not pleasant. These deputies show that they have what it takes to carry out a mission and not complain . This is most certainly a job well done.” 

Sheriff May said of these employees, “I am very proud of these employees. Day in and day out they perform their duties in an outstanding manner. I appreciate them dedicating themselves to Okeechobee County when most of them could go to an adjoining County and make more money. They never cease to amaze me on just how dedicated they are.”

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Animal Avoidance Crash Causes Multiple Injuries

Car Hits Tree - Three Injured In Early Morn Crash

ALVA, FL. -- A 1998 Honda Accord was traveling west on Old Olga Road in Alva, Florida about 2:53 a.m. Saturday morning and  according to statements from the occupants, the driver Sergio Humberto Colindres Campuzano, 21 of Fort Myers swerved right to avoid an animal crossing the road.

As a result, the car entered the north shoulder and struck a tree head-on with it's front end. After striking the tree, it rotated in a clockwise direction and came to final rest facing southeast. The driver had minor injuries and was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital. 

There were two occupants transported prior to the arrival of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Specialist Richard M. Verbiest. Transported was Joshua Soto, 15 of Fort Myers in serious condition and Urian Garcia, 20 in critical condition.

Both of those occupants sustained serious bodily injury per medical staff at Lee Memorial Hospital and Lehigh Regional Medical Center.

Additional passengers Adrian Salinas, 21 and Javier Noe Herrera Campuzano, 16 had no injuries.

The blood alcohol content of the driver is pending tests.

Hendry-Glades Obituaries

Rita Faye (McHan) Richardson 58, of Naples, FL, passed away peacefully on May 1, 2013 after a long and courageous battle with cancer, surrounded by her loving family. 

Rita was born August 12, 1954 to Thaddeus Doyle (T.D.) McHan and Maxine (King) McHan in Hartselle, AL and was a longtime resident of Immokalee. Rita enjoyed being outdoors and loved animals.
She is survived by her son: Lane Price (wife, Jenn), daughter: Kristin Green (husband, Alton), mother: Flora Maxine McHan, sisters: Patricia Tillis (husband, Jimmy) and Tammi McCormack, stepdaughters: Lorrie Helmick, Donna Coomes and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Rita was preceded in death by her husband: Ronald Richardson, father: T.D. McHan and sister: Carolyn Hogan.
The visitation was held Friday, May 3, 2013 from 5-7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of LaBelle. The funeral service will be held Saturday May 4, 2013, 11:00 a.m. at First Baptist Church of LaBelle with Rev. Frank Deerey, Jr. officiating. Internment will follow at Fort Denaud Cemetery in LaBelle.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Unmarried Mothers Increasing

40% Of All Florida Births To Unmarried Moms

The percentage of U.S. births to unmarried women has been increasing steadily since the 1940s and has increased even more markedly in recent years. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was 80% higher than it was in 1980 and increased 20% between 2002 and 2007. 

In 2011, 4.1 million women reported that they had a birth in the last year. Of these women, 35.7% were unmarried at the time of the survey. Over the same time period, it is estimated that there were 82,756 births in Florida where the mother reported being nonmarried, equating to roughly 40% of all births.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Largest Hospice Chain Sued By U.S.

Hospice Chain Allegedly Billed "Tens of Millions" for Ineligible Patients and Inflated Levels of Care
NAPLES, FL. -- The United States has filed suit against Chemed Corporation and various wholly owned hospice subsidiaries, including Vitas Hospice Services LLC and Vitas Healthcare Corporation, alleging false Medicare billings for hospice services, the Justice Department announced today. 

Vitas operates hospice services in Collier, Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties in South Florida, and most of the counties along the east coast and Orlando area. In Collier county they operate in Immokalee, Marco Island, and Naples. 

Vitas is the largest for-profit hospice chain in the United States and provides hospice services to patients in 18 states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia.

Vitas employs 2,537 hospice aides, 4,417 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses, 334 social workers, 334 chaplains and 496 physicians.

Chemed, which is based in Cincinnati, Ohio and also owns Roto-Rooter Group Inc., a national drain cleaning and plumbing service company, acquired Vitas in 2004.

The Medicare hospice benefit is available for patients who elect palliative treatment (medical care focused on providing patients with relief from pain and stress) for a terminal illness, and have a life expectancy of six months or less if their disease runs its normal course. When a Medicare patient receives hospice services, that individual no longer receives services designed to cure his or her illness. 

How Hospices Operate "Crisis Care"

Medicare reimburses for different levels of hospice care, including continuous home care, also called crisis care, which is available for patients who are experiencing acute medical symptoms resulting in a brief period of crisis. Crisis care is available when a patient’s acute medical symptoms require the immediate and short-term provision of skilled nursing services in order to keep the patient at home. 

The reimbursement rate for crisis care services is the highest daily rate a hospice can bill Medicare, and hospices are paid hundreds of dollars more on a daily basis for each patient they certify as having received crisis care services rather than routine hospice services.

The government’s complaint alleges that Chemed and Vitas Hospice knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims to Medicare for crisis care services that were not necessary, not actually provided, or not performed in accordance with Medicare requirements. 

According to the complaint, the companies set goals for the number of crisis care days that were to be billed to Medicare. The companies also allegedly used aggressive marketing tactics and pressured staff to increase the numbers of crisis care claims submitted to Medicare, without regard to whether the services were appropriate or were actually being provided. 

For example, the complaint contends that Vitas billed three straight days of crisis care for a patient, even though the patient’s medical records do not indicate that the patient required crisis care and, indeed, reflect that the patient was playing bingo part of the time.

In addition, the government’s complaint alleges that Chemed and Vitas knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims for hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill. The companies allegedly paid bonuses to staff based on the number of patients enrolled in the program and based on patients who were admitted for longer lengths of stay, and took adverse employment actions against marketing representatives who did not meet monthly hospice admissions goals. 

According to the Complaint, these business practices resulted in the admission of patients who were not eligible for hospice care. As an example, the Complaint alleges that Vitas admitted a patient to hospice who showed no signs of a terminal condition and was described in Vitas’ own records as, “very healthy given her age.”

As a result of the conduct alleged in the complaint, the government contends that Chemed and Vitas violated the False Claims Act and misspent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars from the Medicare program.

“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide patients nearing the end of life with pain management and other palliative care to make them as comfortable as possible,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. 

“Too often, however, we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by using aggressive marketing tactics to push patients into services they don’t need in order to get higher reimbursements from the government. The Department of Justice will take swift action to protect taxpayer dollars and make sure that Medicare benefits are available to those who truly need them.”