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Corrections Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit, Attorney Says it Could Have Cost State Less

November 30th, 2016 by flanews

Whistleblowers who tried to expose a cover up in the states department of corrections and claimed to be retaliated against will be getting a hearty pay day. As Matt Galka tells us, the price tag is on the backs of Florida taxpayers….and could have been *a lot* cheaper.

In 2010 – Franklin Correctional Institution inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died in his cell.  The Department of Corrections said it was natural causes – but internal investigators alleged there was a potential cover up and that Jordan-Aparo was gassed to death.  The investigators then claim they were retaliated against.

“It’s been three years of hell for my clients,” said attorney Ryan Andrews.

Andrews handled the investigator’s whistleblower claim. The department settled for $800,000 dollars.

The settlement comes as the department is trying to fill critical staffing needs at prison’s around the state. The average correctional officer makes around $30,000 grand, and with more than $320,000 of tax payer money being used on the settlement, that could have filled 10 positions for one year.

The remaining part of the settlement will be handled by insurance.  But here’s the rub for taxpayers – Andrews says the lawsuit could have been settled for around $25,000 last year.

“Eventually they said look, just transfer us to another agency and let’s see, we’ll be happy to do that, keep our same rate of pay – no harm no foul. DOC was hoisted on their own petard, they were trying to to transfer people who they tarnished with bogus internal affairs investigations, and nobody wanted them,” said Andrews.

Franklin Correctional had a prison riot that forced a lockdown at the prison on the same day the settlement was filed.

We reached out to the Department of Corrections and asked about the settlement and if it could have been settled for less last year – we are awaiting their response.

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Enterprise Florida funding could spark trouble between Governor, House Speaker

November 30th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Enterprise Florida is the state’s economic development arm. It is holding more than 150 million dollars in cash to pay out if companies meet employment goals after relocating here, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, legislative leaders are balking at putting any more state cash into what they are calling corporate welfare.

Governor Rick Scott says the state’s job growth is a direct result of enterprise Florida closing deals to bring companies here, But Scott urged its high profile board members to strong arm lawmakers if they want to keep jobs growing.

“If we are not politically active with the legislature about the importance of job creation for every family, it won’t continue”  Scott told EFI board members meeting in Sandestin today.

The public-private agency is sitting on more than 150 million in state cash. Most of it is earmarked for companies who live up to job creating commitments.


But that pile of cash was a big reason lawmakers said no to another 250 million for the agency this spring.

“It provides no allocations” said Rep. Jim Boyd when explaining the bill.

Scott will scale back his request for 2017. But, House Speaker Richard Corcoran calls the payouts:

“A horrible, horrible use of taxpayer dollars.”

If he gets has his way, there will be nothing for EFI.

“People in this case, one percent of the world’s wealth get this money, and that is nothing less than defects socialism, and we don’t believe in socialism” says the House Speaker


In 2015, Florida put on a full court press to try and lure General Electric’s Headquarters here. Instead it chose high tax, high amenity Boston.

“The way you make your state attractive  to people is you have the number one education system, you have the best infrastructure” says Corcoran.

But Scott says no cash for a second year would be a disaster,

“Those deals are not going to happen. They are not going to happen in this state” lamented the Governor.

The clash could derail next years legislate session before it ever begins.

Lawmakers say spending money that would have gone to corporate incentives on schools and roads is a better way to attract high paying jobs.

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Crime Rate Drops, but Violent Crimes Rise

November 29th, 2016 by flanews

Florida’s crime rate looks like it will decrease year over year again, but as Matt Galka tells us, violent crimes are on the rise.

When you hear the numbers, things sound good.

“The crime rate is lower by just over 3 percent,” said Gretl Plessinger with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE released a mid-year report showing that the first six months of 2016 were safer than last year.

“It’s really driven down by crimes like aggravated assault, larceny, and burglary,” said Plessinger

But it’s not all good news. Murder is up more than 15 percent and rape increased by 2 percent.

The 561 murders accounted for in the report included the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

“That could factor into the increased murder rate,” said Plessinger.

New Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil – who formerly served as Florida’s Department of Corrections Secretary – says the numbers are concerning.

“Very much so, very much so. And that’s something that we’ve all got to work on. We’ve got to sit down in each community across the state of Florida. We’ve got to look at the demographics and people being released back into our communities, often times those circumstances fuel crimes in our communities as well. Those persons don’t have opportunities,” he said.

McNeil’s new job means he inherits the county with highest crime rate in the state for two years running according to FDLE. It’s based on crimes reporter per 100,000 people.

If the dip in crime rate holds, it will be a 46 year low for the state.

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Grand Jury hears from admitted hit man in FSU Law Professors death

November 29th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda
A grand jury in the state Capitol has issued a first degree murder indictment for a 31 year old mother of 2. Katherine Magbanua (Mag-Bon-a Wah)  is accused of being the  go between in the murder for hire of an FSU law professor. And, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, prosecutors hope the indictment will lead to others responsible for the professors death.

Renowned FSU law professor Dan Markel was shot point blank in the head as his sat in his car in an upscale Tallassee neighborhood. The was two and a half years ago. In June, two men were charged with the crime.

One of them, Luis Rivera, cut a deal.

“In this you agree that you are going to cooperate and testify truthfully.  Do you understand that?’  asked Circuit Judge Jimmy Hankinson in October. “Yes sir” responded Rivera.

Rivera’s cooperation led to charges against Katie Magbanua. She’s the mother of alleged hit man Sigrid Garcia’s children and the former girlfriend of Charlie Adelson, the brother in law of the slain professor.

Prosecutors hope that indicting her on first degree murder charges will convince her to cooperate as well.

“That’s the only person we are asking them to consider today” prosecutor Georgia Cappleman told us.

Q:’ And she’s the key to further arrests in this case in your mind?”

“She could be” responded the prosecutor.

grand-jury00000006Rivera agreed to tell his story to grand jurors. In police video he testifies he, Garcia, and Magbanua split a hundred thousand dollars for the hit.

He is heard to say “That’s when he said we were coming to kill somebody.”

State Attorney Willie Meggs leaves office in January.
“I don’t know where it will go, but we will follow it where ever it goes” says Meggs.

Police say the motive for the hit was a bitter custody fight over the couples two children.

In addition to the admitted hit man, grand jurors heard from a police investigator and an FBI agent who conducted phone taps on katie Magbanua and accused hit man Sigfredo Garcia.

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Film Incentives driving film growth in Georgia, FSU Film School Dean to leave

November 28th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Remember Flipper? Or Miami Vice? Florida used to be the place to film…But now as Mike Vasilinda tells us, few movies are filmed here because the state doesn’t offer filmmakers any incentives.

The sign at the state line says Florida is “Open for Business”, but that’s not necessarily true when it comes to making movies.

“Steam it live or on demand” says a promotion for MacGyver, shot in Georgia.

Hundreds of Florida film professionals are leaving the sunshine state for  Georgia. That’s because Georgia offers filmmakers a 20% rebate of everything they spend.

The result: Suburban Atlanta now boasts one of the largest film complex in the country. Pinewood Atlantas has hired FSU Film School Dean Frank Patterson to be it’s President.

“The film industry has had a six billion dollar impact last year on the state of Georgia.  And it’s just fifteen minutes north of here, the film school, for my students to go to” says the FSU dean, who will remain on the film school faculty when he takes over Pinewood in January.

Florida used to play in film. 250 million was set aside in 2011, but it was quickly gobbled up.In one of the few studies of film credits in Florida, a University of West Florida economist found that for every dollar it put up, it got a dollar forty four back in tax revenue.

But Florida isn’t going to be funding film anytime soon. Newly elevated House Speaker Richard Corcoran is a vocal critic of corporate welfare, including film incentives.
“It is a horrible, horrible use of taxpayers dollars and there is no return on investment.  And as a person who is finally charged with protecting the taxpayers money, I’m not going to waste it by giving it to Hollywood producers. They can go elsewhere if they want to, but the reality is Florida is Florida” says Corcoran.

Case in point:; Moonlight, In theaters now. Shot in Miami, but its budget…just five million.

The New speaker says better schools and infrastructure will still attract quality companies and films. Florida is one of the few states not offering film incentives.

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Gun Sales Increase on Black Friday

November 28th, 2016 by flanews

Black Friday isn’t just for deals on appliances and electronics. As Matt Galka tells us, guns are a hot seller and this year is no different.

Black Friday business at Folmar’s pawn was steady.

“We had a lot of people looking for what they were thinking about getting,” said owner Mark Folmar.

Folmar isn’t surprised that gun sales went up.

“A lot of people have money in their pockets, a good amount of people are employed,” he said.

The Florida department of law enforcement ran 10,122 background checks on the big shopping day. It’s almost two thousand more than last year’s 8,251.

And the state could be getting more gun friendly with a legislator gearing up to propose some controversial legislation.

New state senator and former house member Greg Stuebe plans on again proposing guns on campus legislation – it would allow concealed carry on college campuses. A key senator who’s blocked the bill in the past is no longer in the chamber.

“The Senator that held up the bill in committee is gone. A lot of House members who voted for it in the past are now in the Senate,” he said.

But not everyone’s on board.  New House Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith – who represents the area where the Pulse nightclub shooting happened – said the party will fight against some of the gun friendly proposals.

“We are going to have to play defense. We will have a lot of bills pushed by the gun lobby, the guns on campus legislation, these proposals move the state in the wrong direction,” he said.

FDLE has already run more than 95 thousand background checks this month – almost 15% more than November in 2015.

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House Speaker Bashes Teacher’s Union Right Out of the Gate

November 23rd, 2016 by flanews

A bitter fight between public school teachers and school choice advocates got new life thanks to the Speaker of the Florida House. As Matt Galka tells us, the teacher’s union says their school choice lawsuit isn’t going away, they’re looking for an apology.

If there were any questions about how new House Speaker Richard Corcoran felt about a lawsuit against private school tax credit scholarships, he answered them.

“The teachers union is fixated on halting innovation and competition on education. It is downright evil,” Speaker Richard Corcoran said while addressing the legislature.

He furthered the point when he spoke with reporters.

“”On every possible metric, what they’re defining as fair, is not fair. That’s some subjective crazy-ass notion that they have that is completely false,” he said.

The scholarships help mostly low-income minority students go to private schools. But the state’s largest teachers union says the speaker owes them an apology.

Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall says the legislature approved program is unconstitutional.

“First and foremost he owes us an apology. And second of all if he’s going to be the leader of the house, he should be reaching out to people who can make a difference,” she said.

She even took to social media tweeting the speaker her number and inviting him to talk about what’s best for students in the state.

“I do not expect that phone call but I would hope he’d be big enough to do that but if we truly care about the kids in this state it’s incumbent upon him to pick up the phone and give me a call,” she said.

The lawsuit is now in the hands of Florida’s Supreme Court and both sides are waiting to see if they will hear or dismiss the case.

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State Legislature organizes, elects new leaders

November 22nd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Hours after their election was made official, 160 members of the state legislature were sworn in today, and along with them, as Mike Vasilinda reports, were new leaders promising tough reforms.

It was a day of ceremony, not policy.

“Who broad strips and bright stars” sang the Boys Choir of Tallahassee.

Three of every ten members sworn in are new to the legislature.“so help me god.”

Newly elevated House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Pasco county is proposing a drain the swamp approach when it comes to lobbyists.

“We can make this a moment off greatness, and push back and tell the people of Florida  that we will fix their broken system” Corcoran told members.


On the other side of the legislature, Senate President. Joe Negron of Stuart is proposing less ideology and more spending for education, particularly colleges and universities.


“Every student should be able to attend the University to which he or she is admitted. that doesn’t mean you go for free” says the new Senate President.


There are 46 new members here in the House,. 18 across the hall int he Senate. that bumper crop makes the legislative leadership even more powerful.”

The two control the temperament of the legislature, especially in the heated finally days when budget negotiations put everyone on edge.  This year could be more problematic than many. That’s because new house rules pushed by Corcoran will forbid the House from taking up any spending added in the final hours of negotiation.

“Keep in mind here, we’re talking about projects. we’re talking about earmarks. We’re talking about pork belly fat. We’re not talking about stuff that makes the trains run on time” the new Speaker told reporters afterwards.

One safety valve in the heated process? Lawmakers can waive the strict rules with a 2/3rd vote.

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Legislative Net Worth

November 22nd, 2016 by flanews

Politics and money usually go hand-in-hand, and it’s no different in Florida’s legislature. As Matt Galka tells us, even though net worth has dropped slightly in Florida’s capitol, there’s still plenty of money flowing for the people elected to serve.

The total net worth of the Florida legislature took a small dip with a new class of lawmakers getting elected. But there are still 53 millionaires getting ready to write laws for people in all tax brackets.

Freshman Republican Senator George Gainer takes the top wealth spot – reporting $27.9 million dollars.

Gainer’s a successful businessman who owns car dealerships in the Florida panhandle and says he can still relate to the average Floridian.

“I was a county commissioner for 18 years and I guarantee that will teach you what the people are thinking and that will have you understand what the needs of the people are and what you can do over here and what you can’t. I intend to do everything I can and not worry about the rest of it,” he said.

The average state senator is worth $3.5 million. The average state house member, almost $1.5 million.

 Newly elected House Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith says there’s still a lot of work to be done in the Capitol to better represent the people of the state

“The reality is, legislators are paid $29,000 per year so the outcome is we have lawmakers who are peronsally wealthy, who are the only ones who can afford to take time out of the year to come up here and make laws, and as a result we aren’t passing good policy, he said.

And when it comes to which party is wealthier – Republicans in both chambers are banking more than the Democrats on average.

Eight Florida House members and two Senators are on the opposite ends of the financial spectrum with ten total lawmakers entering the chambers in debt.

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New State Senate Chamber dedicated

November 21st, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The State Senate this afternoon dedicated it’s remodeled chamber. Gone are a 1970’a era of light wood, replaced by maghony emblazoned with the words in God We Trust. There’s a new 120 HD TV and a sophisticated new voting system. The cost, six million, but outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner says the facelift was long overdue.

“After four decades of use with only minimal updates, out chamber was showing it’s age. The worn carpet had become a safety issue. we needed a new ac unit. We needed ti incorporate current building codes and we wanted to improve accessibility for those with unique abilities” said Gardiner as hundreds looked on.


Gardiner says the timelessness of the design, which incorporates some features of the 1948 chamber, which was demolished when the new Capitol was built in the 1970’s,will require few modifications in the future.

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State Touts Decreases in Smoking

November 21st, 2016 by flanews

Ten years ago, Florida voters took a stand against tobacco at the polls. As Matt Galka tells us, a decade of Tobacco Free Florida is paying off.

21 percent of adults in the state were smoking in in 2006. Nearly 11 percent of children 11-17 were also puffing on cigarettes. That’s when Floridians voted for a constitutional amendment creating tobacco free Florida.

The amendment allowed money from big tobacco settlements to be used to create Tobacco Free Florida education and prevention programs, and it’s working.

“The youth smoking rate has gone down an amazing 71 percent since that time, we’ve also seen the adult smoking rate go down to 15.8 percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been,” said Shannon Hughes with the state’s Department of Health.

With the decrease in cigarette use, health costs are also going down.

“We have seen approximately 17.7 billion dollars in healthcare savings costs,” she said.

But even though an estimated 450,000 Floridians have quit since the program started, the state’s Department of Health says the battle is far from over.

“We’ve seen in an alarming increase in the use of these alternative products such as e-cigarettes and all the flavors that are offered. They’re not approved by the FDA,” said Hughes.

DOH says there are still 7400 people picking up smoking each year, a number they’d like to see go down to zero.

If you’re trying to kick the habit, visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com for help on how to quit smoking.

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State sues Feds over unpaid Savings Bonds

November 18th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The state is currently holding a million dollars worth of US Savings bonds left unclaimed in safety deposit boxes, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the state is suing the Federal Government because as much as billion dollars in the bonds could be owed to Floridians.

US Savings Bonds are how average Americans helped pay for World War II.

“The bonds we bought before bought the bombs that won the war, and now we’ve got another bomb to buy” sang Bing Crosby in 1945 in a movie trailer produced by the Treasury.


The baby boomers were brought up buying stamps in school that were later redeemed for bonds.

“The first thing you’ll know, you’ll have enough for a savings bond, just like your dad buys from the payrolls savings plan at work” said George Reeves, the original Superman character in a tv spot.


So now, a million dollars in savings bonds, left unclaimed in safety deposit boxes have been turned over to the state. But there’s a problem. The Federal government won’t redeem them says Ashley Carr from the Dept. of Financial Services.

“The money doesn’t belong to the Federal government. Ultimately it belongs to the individual who purchased that bond, sometimes even years ago. So what we want them to do, you know, is if the Federal government isn’t going to look for these individuals, this is what we do,a nd we happen to it pretty well Mike!” says Carr.

Indeed, Last month alone, more than 35 million was returned to Floridians.

The state has filed suit. It wants to redeem the bonds it holds, but also to gain access to an estimated one billion in unredeemed bonds that were bought by Floridians

“But they feel differently. they want to hold on to those funds, and that’s where we stand. we’re looking forward to the spring where we’ll have our day in court, where we’ll present our case. We fell like we’re on the right side of this fight” says Carr.

Until then, the promise of a better life through buying government bonds will remain unfulfilled, for some.

“Our country stands for law and order in the world. the right of free people to live and work in peace” said John wayne in a 1952 movie trailer.

You can check on the web at FLTreasureHunt.org to see if any of the bonds belong to you or a relative, or if any other unclaimed property such as a utility deposit is ready to be claimed. There is no deadline, the money will always be available to the rightful owner or their heirs.

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Rick Scott in NYC, fueling speculation of job offer. Attorney General Pam Bondi more likely to leave

November 17th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott was in New York City today meeting with Donald Trump. The meeting continues to fuel speculation that Scott will be offered a position in the administration, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it is more likely an offer will be made to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is celebrating her 51st birthday today.

Rick Scott’s twitter page says he went to the big apple to congratulate the President elect and offer his help. Still, the trip continues to fuel speculation Scott will be offered a job. He told us last week he wasn’t interested.

“I’ll do anything I can to help President elect Donald Trump to be successful. But I like this job and I want to finish this job” Scott said the day after trump’s victory.

And a top advisor says he hasn’t changed his mind. Melissa Sellers Stone is Scott’s Former Chief of Staff.

“I think the Governor has been clear, he has the job he wants, but he is very excited for America and the future of our country” says Stone.


Scott this week acknowledged what has been speculated for more than a year. He is eyeing the US Senate seat up for grabs in 2018.

While Scott has a path to another statewide office. Attorney General Pam Bondi may not. making a DC appointment more likely.

If Pam Bondi were to take a job with Trump, Rick Scott would name her replacement.

“I think the Attorney General does a wonderful job” the Governor told us when asked if trump should consider appointing Bondi.

Three names are surfacing as a potential replacement for Bondi. In a text, Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran told us flat out no, he doesn’t want the job. Incoming Senate President Joe Negron did not return our call.

The third name and likely frontrunner is a trusted Scott former appointees. Jesse Panuccio was a lawyer for Scott , then ran his jobs agency during the recession. Panuccio left that job last year saying he wasn’t gone forever.

“I think in the future there will be a role in public service.” Panuccio went on to tell us last December that he didn’t know what or when he would return to public service.

Panuccio is currently practicing law in Miami.

More names for Attorney General will likely surface if and when a Bondi appointment in the Trump administration moves forward. The 51 year old Attorney General met with Trump at Trump Tower yesterday.

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Marijuana Could Be Cash Crop

November 17th, 2016 by flanews

The business of medical marijuana is getting ready to boom with the passage of Amendment 2.  As Matt Galka tells us, some are predicting big bucks for the industry.

Florida’s future cash crop could be medical marijuana.  Researchers with New Fronteir Data – a cannabis market research company – are high on the cash projections for Florida Cannabis.

Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl, founders of the Florida Medical Marijuana Business Association, aren’t surprised now that amendment 2 has passed.

“This business is definitely emerging,” said Sharkey.

The New Frontier Study says that by 2020, medical cannabis could be a 1.6 billion dollar industry in Florida. That’t also good for the state’s bottom line.

“Seven percent sales tax so it’s going to certainly generate some sales tax revenue for the state,” said Sharkey.

The legislature still has a role in implementing Amendment 2. What’s there next move? It’s a burning question


“We will defend and protect the people’s right and they’ve spoken loudly and clearly and overwhelmingly, the second thing we’ll do is protect the state,” said incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran.


“The legislators want to say ‘let’s do this right, let’s do this so it’s safe, accountable, it’s also available and affordable,” said Sharkey.

Because of the state’s population and the expanded patient pool, Florida could make up nearly 10 percent of the legal cannabis market in the United States.

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21-Year-Old Ready to Serve in House

November 16th, 2016 by flanews

What were you doing when you were 21 years old? As Matt Galka tells us, a UCF student now in the Florida House will be voting on legislation ranging from guns to insurance and everything in between.

She’s barely able to legally drink alcohol…but 21-year-old Amber Mariano will be voting on state policy at the Florida Capitol.

“I’ve been waiting for that day when I can walk in, see my name on the plaque, that’s when it’s going to really sink in I think, it’s a dream come true,” she said.

Mariano campaigned while attending UCF and knocked on doors in between writing papers and taking tests.

The Pasco County Republican narrowly defeated Democrat Amanda Murphy by 699 votes.  She now hopes to make a splash by focusing on water issues.

“I really want to work hard to bring some money back to my district to fix all the flooding issues. It’s really bad where I’m from. After a simple rainstorm, we flood out,” she said.

And the youthful house member already has some senior support.

“Diversity is always good, and I actually know Amber well because she’s from my county. She grew up in a political family, her father’s been a county commissioner. I think if there’s a 21 year old out there that is prepared, she probably fits the bill,” said House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran.

While Mariano represents the youngest of the incoming Florida House lawmakers, the oldest Freshman member will be only 46 years older than her.

Other notable young elected officials – Doyle Conner was elected at age 21 to the Florida House and went on to become Agriculture Commissioner for three decades. Current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was elected to the Florida House at 22.

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