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Markel Murder Trial: Magbanua Takes the Stand

October 9th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Wednesday would have been slain FSU law professor Dan Markel’s 47th birthday.

Instead, the defendant who had the most to gain from taking a plea deal took the stand in Markel’s murder trial.

Rumors swirled around the courthouse Wednesday morning.

A plea deal in the murder was in the works.

Those rumors were quashed when defendant Katherine Magbanua took the stand.

She’s accused of being the conduit between her co-defendat and ex-husband, and the family of the slain professors ex-wife.

“Did you have anything to do with the murder of Dan Markel?” Asked Magbanua’s attorney Tara Kwass.

“No mam,” Magbanua replied.

“Did you get the father of your two children, Mr. Garcia, to commit a murder on behalf of Mr. Charlie Adelson?” Kwass continued.

“No mam,” Mabanua again asserted.

Her lawyers tied to lay the defense that accused trigger man Sigfredo Garcia could have been selling drugs to Charlie Adelson and didn’t need her as a go between.

“Did Mr. Adelson ever do illicit drugs in front of you?” Asked Magbanua’s second attorney Chris DeCoste.

“Did Mr. Adelson? Yes,” replied Magbanua.

When it was the prosecutor Georgia Cappleman’s turn, she drilled down on why Magbanua might not have taken a plea deal.

“Isn’t it true you’ve been offered some kind of big payoff if you refuse to cooperate against Charlie Adelson?” Asked Cappleman.

“If I refused? No mam,” replied Magbanua.

“Has anybody offered you some money?” Asked Cappleman.

“No,” Magbanua replied.

“Do you remember telling anybody that you would be able to stay home after you get acquitted and have a tutor for your kids to be home schooled at the house?” Asked Cappleman.

“No,” Magbanua again replied.

The lawyer for Katherine Magbanua said it was her client’s decision to take the stand.

Wednesday was the first day Dan Markel’s parents have not been at the trial since it began as they observed Yom Kippur.

Before the jury went home Wednesday afternoon.

They were told to pack a bag.

Deliberations are expected to begin Thursday.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Federal Judge Considers Felons Voting Rights

October 8th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

After a day and a half of testimony, Federal Judge Robert Hinkle is considering whether or not to temporarily block the law requiring felons pay all fines, fees and restitution before becoming eligible for voting rights restoration under Amendment 4.

Civil rights groups like the ACLU argued the state of Florida is violating the US Constitution by barring voting rights restoration to those who cannot afford to pay.

“The Supreme Court has said over and over again that that’s fundamental, you can’t make it dependent on whether or not you’re rich or poor,” said Orion Danjuma, an attorney with the ACLU.

Danjuma also pointed out patchwork record keeping can make it incredibly difficult for many felons, like plaintiff Pastor Clifford Tyson, to determine what they owe in the first place.

“One paper says one thing, another one says another thing,” said Tyson.

Tyson needed help from attorneys to find he owes at least $50,000 from his past convictions.

“The system that’s in place is entirely broken,” said Danjuma.

The state argued Amendment 4 itself mandates the payment requirements and noted that it’s working to make it easier to determine eligibility.

The judge gave little indication of when or how he might rule, but he closed with a quote from President Ronald Regan: Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.

The words struck a chord with Pastor Tyson, who registered to vote before the law was passed, but would lose the right once again if the law stands.

“Because when I got released from prison, that was only the beginning, but it was like that statement took more shackles off of me and so that was was very very personal,” said Tyson.

Judge Hinkle did drop one hint.

He said if either side believes their completely right in this case, they’re fooling themselves.

A trial date has been set for April, but Hinkle suggested multiple times throughout the hearing that he hopes state agencies and the Legislature can work to address many of the systematic issues surrounding felons voting rights restoration without waiting for the courts to force their hand.

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Defense Fires Back in Markel Murder Trial

October 8th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The FBI agent who lead the investigation into the murder of an FSU law professor has taken center stage in the trial over most of the last two days.

Defense attorneys are questioning every move the FBI made.

FBI Special Agent Pat Sanford took the stand early Monday and finished shortly after noon on Tuesday.

He faced tough questions about whether the dead law professor’s ex wife’s family was involved in his murder.

“The Adelson’s wanted it to happen right?” Asked attorney for defendant Katherine Magbanua, Chris DeCoste.

“Correct,” replied Sanford.

The lawyers representing Magbanua and co-defendant Sigfredo Garcia are pushing the idea that the FBI overlooked the possibility that the third defendant, Luis Rivera who was facing the death penalty, was the sole perpetrator.

“He became your witness, right?” Asked DeCoste.

“Right,” replied Sanford.

“In exchange for that needle coming out of his arm, right?” DeCoste shot back.

The lawyers also probed whether the FBI came up with a conspiracy theory and sought to prove it rather than just follow the evidence, arguing Magbanua was arrested just a get to the Adelson Family.

“Charles Adelson was just using Katherine just to find out more information about what was going on with the bump, because she’s expendable. He can use her without any risk to himself?” Asked DeCoste.

“Totally disagree with that,” replied Sanford.

Then comments by attorney Chris DeCoste brought the judge’s ire.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation, right?” Asked DeCoste.

“Exactly,” replied Sanford.

“Not the Federal Bureau of Intimidation,” replied DeCoste.

“Mr. DeCoste!” Interjected Judge James Hankinson.

One of the unreported aspects of this trial is that this jury has tough questions of just about every witness.

The questions, asked by the judge on behalf of the jurors suggest the jury will also ask tough questions amongst themselves once they get behind closed doors.

Prosecutors have relied heavily on intercepted text and voice communications, and defense lawyers put an expert on the stand who testified that more than 2,000 text messages were missing from Charlie Adelson’s account.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Federal Judge Considers Blocking Payment Requirements for Voting Rights Restoration

October 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A federal judge is considering whether or not to temporarily block a law that prohibits felons from getting the right to vote back if they have outstanding fines fees or restitution.

Marching from the Federal Courthouse to a near by church, voting rights activists made their demands clear.

“Protect our vote,” activists chanted.

They’re hoping to overturn a law passed earlier this year, which requires felons pay all fines, fees and restitution before they’re eligible for voting rights restoration.

For many it’s a reminder of Jim Crow policy.

“Our state politicians have enacted a modern day poll tax,” said Melba Pearson, Florida Deputy Director of the ACLU.

An expert witness testifying in the case analyzed half a million felons’ statuses.

Eight out of ten still owed money related to their sentence.

Most between $500 and $5,000.

Rosemary McCoy, a plaintiff in the case, registered to vote before the law was passed.

“I have restitution, but guess what? I was able to register, I was able to vote,” said McCoy. “So how can SB 7066 come back and say the world’s going to end because she voted?”

While the payment requirements have spurred heavy opposition from some, a recent survey found three out of four voters support the law.

In its opening arguments the state pointed to similar laws in Arizona, Alabama and Tennessee that have been held up in court.

The state also noted the option in Florida’s law for fine and fees to be converted to community service if a felon can’t afford to pay.

If the judge does rule to block the law while the case makes its way through the courts it could allow those like McCoy to stay on the rolls, possibly long enough to vote in local elections next month.

“I was shackled. My hands and feet were shackled. Now today, I want to be free,” said McCoy.

Arguments are expected to bleed over into Tuesday.

The judge could issue a ruling at the conclusion of that hearing.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Markel Murder Trial: Wire Taps Played in Courtroom

October 7th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

More than four dozen tapes of recorded phone calls were played Monday in the trial of two people accused of murdering an FSU law professor for money.

The case had gone cold until an under cover agent slipped on of the suspects a note back in 2016.

In April 2016 the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel was almost two years old.

Phone taps on the two people now on trial revealed little.

Sgt. Chris Corbett with the Tallahassee Police Department testified in court the theory behind the case is that Markel’s ex-wifes family coordinated the hit.

The plan, called ‘the bump’, was to have an undercover FBI agent hand Markel’s ex-mother-in-law a note asking for money to help suspect Luis Rivera who was already in jail on drug charges.

“Just want to make sure you take care of what he is going through the way your taking care of Katie,” said the FBI agent in a video of the exchange.

“I think a few minutes after arriving to her condo she calls Charlie Adelson,” said FBI agent Paul Standford.

Charlie Adelson called Katherine Magbanua, the woman charged as being the point person between the hitmen and whoever called for Markel to be murdered.

“99 percent sure when I was talking to her she said it’s mentioned your name,” Charlie Adelson told Magbanua in the wire tap recording.

The next day Charlie Adelson meets with his mother.

“They were very cautious, looking around a lot. They were leaning in close to each other talking very low,” said Sandford.

Eventually, Katherine Magbanua calls Sigfredo Garcia, who is accused of pulling the trigger in the murder.

“You keep telling me you’re going to make a phone call,” Magbana says in the recording.

“I’m making that $%^&^ phone call… I’m going to take care of this %*#& problem,” Garcia responded.

Eventually the undercover number attached to the note given to the Adelsons was called.

“The number was called. They didn’t even pick up,” Charlie Adelson is heard saying in a wire tap.

In a later call Charlie reassures his mother.

“This fishing is all that’s going on and I wouldn’t worry about it at all,” said Charlie in the audio recording.

The two defendants are expected to present their witnesses all day Tuesday.

And the jury is expected to get the case on Wednesday.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Markel Murder Trial: FBI Agent Testifies

October 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

An under cover FBI agent took the stand Friday afternoon in the trial of two people accused of murdering an FSU law professor.

The agent was used to create concern among conspirators.

In an effort to find a smoking gun in this case and undercover FBI agent approached Donna Adelson.

She’s the mother of the slain FSU Law Professor’s ex-wife.

In April 2016, more than a month before the first arrest in he Markel murder, an undercover FBI agent approached Donna Adelson.

“We know that your family has been taking care of Katie and her friend for quite some time after your problem up north ad been solved,” said the agent a video of the encounter.

Police believe that she’s at the bottom of a conspiracy to kill her son-in-law, over his refusal to allow the couple’s two children to move to South Florida.

“And I want to let you know that my brother, he’s incarcerated, he helped your family with this problem that you guys had up north and we want to make sure that, he’s going through some rough times and we want to make sure that you take care of what he’s going through the way you’re taking care of Katie,” said the agent.

Friday the FBI agent took the stand.

“Well the purpose of a bump is to approach the target or the individual and try to start a conversation,” said the agent.

What happened next, say prosecutors was a series of conversations among the conspirators.

Those wire taps will be played on Monday.

No one in the Adelson family has been charged in this case and the family through its attorney denies any involvement.

The jury is expected to get the case next week.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Economists Mull Cost of Legal Marijuana

October 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

How much money would legalizing recreational marijuana generate for the state?

That’s the question before state economists as they consider the potential impacts of a proposed constitutional amendment that would regulate marijuana similar to alcohol.

Their job is to determine how much money it could generate or cost the state if it were to be approved by voters.

“This is a beginning point of all the different governmental things that you’re going to have to have in place for this to work,” said Don Kangston, who represents the Florida House on the Financial Impact Estimating Conference.

Steven Hougland with the Florida Sheriff’s Association testified to economists that legalizing marijuana would impose significant costs related to police K-9s.

“The safest thing to do would be to eliminate the dogs that search for marijuana, which is any drug dog,” said Hougland.

The Division of Business and Professional Regulation, which would be tasked with overseeing the legal cannabis market, also projected high startup costs.

“The staffing projection, that’s 225 full time positions,” said Thomas Philpot with DPBR.

But those costs could be offset by sales.

Economists estimate of the 2 million cannabis-using Floridians over 21, about half would enter the retail market.

However, Amy Baker with the Office of Economic & Demographic Research said the number of those who choose to continue purchasing on the black will largely depend on how heavily the Legislature chooses to tax marijuana.”

In other states the tax rate is between ten and 30 percent.

“If the Legislature comes in and chooses to do more you would probably have fewer people coming out of the black market,” said Baker.

The proposed amendment still has to receive approval from the State Supreme Court and gather more than 600,000 additional signatures before it could go before voters.

Even then, it would need 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the Florida Supreme Court to strike down the proposed amendment, because she believes it is too long and would mislead voters.

There are also two other competing ballot initiatives that would also legalize recreational marijuana.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Financial Records Analyzed in Markel Murder Trial

October 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Two people on trial for murdering an FSU Law Professor for money saw intimate details of their financial lives shared with the jury Friday.

For the last two weeks, the family of the slain FSU law professor Dan Markel has been in the courtroom, listening to every minute of testimony that the jury has been hearing.

They also listened to the nitty gritty as prosecutors try to prove who paid for the hit on their son.

Mary Hull is a forensic accountant who analyzed bank records for the three alleged conspirators as well as the Adelson family, which is suspected of funding the hit.

Of special interest is a Lexus transferred from Harvey Adelson to Katherine Magbanua.

“I could not find any record of a payment,” said Hull.

The records also show confessed hitman Luis Rivera changed his spending habits drastically after the 2014 murder.

“He was not relying on his payroll to provide cash for himself,” said Hull.

The biggest bombshell in those financial records: Katherine Magbanua’s cash deposits soared in the year FSU law professor Dan Markel was murdered and in the two years after..

A police officer also testified that Charlie Adelson, who dated defendant Katherine Magbanau, deleted all of her text messages after she was arrested.

No one in the Adelson Family has been charged and they deny any involvement.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Markel Trial: Stapled Cash and a Nervous Brother-In-Law

October 3rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Stacks of cash in a safe and paychecks for a job a woman accused of coordinating the murder of an FSU Professor didn’t have were topics of important testimony Thursday.

Prosecutors are pushing for evidence against the former in-laws of the slain professor.

Convicted murderer turned informant Luis Rivera testified he, Sigfredfo Garcia and Katie Magbanua were paid a $100,000 in cash for killing law professor Dan Markel.

Realtor June Umchinda dated Charlie Adelson, the brother of Markel’s ex-wife, for over a year.

She testified there were large amounts of cash in his bedroom.

“I mentioned he had staples on the hundreds before,” said Umchinada.

The scorned woman was still together with Charlie Adelson when she noticed a change at the time the first arrests were made in 2016.

“He was nervous, and worried, and just not himself,” said Umchinada.

Prosecutors spent a lot of time trying to prove that the alledged go between in the murder for hire got a lot of checks from the Adelson dental office without ever working there.

Dental office employees were visited by the FBI in 2015 seeking payroll records on Katherine Magbanua’s employment.

Assistant Erika Johnson spoke with Charlie in a call no one knew was being recorded.
“I wouldn’t give them anything,” said Johnson.

Then Magbanua’s friend since childhood Yindra Velazquez-Mascara, took the stand.

She testified she was never aware of Magbanua being employed at the Adelson’s office.

Velazquez-Mascara also testified she was asked to keep Magbanua’s kids the night before Dan Markel was murdered, but was never told their father, Sigfredo Garcia.

No member of the Adelson Family has been charged with a crime and the family denies any involvement in the murder of Dan Markel.

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Rebuild 850 Putting Spotlight Back on Hurricane Ravaged Panhandle

October 3rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Next week marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Micheal making landfall in the panhandle as a Category 5 storm.

The group Rebuild 850 is painting a bleak picture of the ongoing recovery as it attempts rally public support.

Video taken just days ago shows massive damage from Hurricane Michael still littering the ground.

“The further you get from North West Florida geographically, the less people know that Hurricane Michael even happened,” said Rebuild 850 coordinator Ron Sachs.

But forgetting for those in the panhandle isn’t an option.
“We still have people who are living under blue tarps that are rotting they’re that old,” said Sate Senator Bill Montford.

Shocking statistics including 5,000 homeless, 4,000 lost jobs, eroding tax bases, more than 20,000 outstanding insurance claims and more than $9 billion in uninsured losses barely scratches the surface of the situation in the region.

“When the wind starts blowing these elementary kids in particular start crying,” said Montford.

Rebuild 850 is hoping to put the spotlight back on the panhandle with the one year anniversary of Michael only a week away.

“If these solutions aren’t found in a relatively short period of time you could find yourself with a community that has a hard time ever looking like it did pre-Michael,” said Rebuild 850 co-chair and Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Former FEMA Director Craig Fugate said if homes aren’t repaired and rebuilt within five years it could be too late.

He added the onus falls on local, state and federal officials to act boldly and make the money available.

Fugate believes Housing and Urban Development funds are the best option and it’s been done before.

“Louisiana was able to get those dollars to go make direct repairs to damaged homes that didn’t have insurance,” said Fugate.

Locals fear recovery will continue be placed on the back burner if public support remains scarce.

Rebuild 850 has raised more than $600,000, which has been donated to Volunteer Florida to help with recovery efforts.

If you’d like to make a donation visit Rebuild850.org.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Markel Murder Trial: Star Witness Credibility Under Fire

October 2nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Defense attorneys for two people charged in the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel spent Wednesday in court trying to destroy the credibility of the state’s star witness.

They continue to point out the accomplice, Luis Rivera, who flipped will spend less than seven years behind bars for the murder.

Rivera dodged a possible death sentence by agreeing to cooperate.

Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia, the accused triggerman, have been friends for 30 years.

Riveria testified he was paid a total of $37,000 for making two trips to Tallahassee with Garcia.

Defense Attorneys asked why the payment was so high, when he claims he didn’t pull the trigger.

“You didn’t do the job you were hired to do,” said Garcia’s Attorney Saam Zangeneh. “You simply where like a chauffeur correct?

“Yes,” Rivera replied.

But it was Rivera’s gun that fired the fatal shot.

The defense is hoping to shift the blame to Rivera who is a member of the Latin Kings gang, but Rivera denies the gang was involved.

“Why you keep saying Latin Kings. They ain’t got nothing to do with this. You’re wrong man.This got nothing to do with no Latin Kings. This is about me and Garcia. No Latin Kings,” said Rivera.

Defense attorneys questioned changing stories on who was driving when, whether a picture of the law professor was in black and white or color, and how the arrangements to pick up the payoff were made.

We learned Luis Rivera has five children.

A partial explanation perhaps of why he said he couldn’t shoot the law professor in front of his kids.

Defense attorneys for Katherine Magbanua, who is accused of arranging the hit on the professor, asked for the second time that her case be separated from co defendant Sigfredo Garcia.

He’s the father of her children.

It was denied.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida May Follow California on College Athlete Compensation

October 2nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

College athletes aren’t allowed to be paid, but with more and more money being generated through college sports, attitudes are changing.

“It’s just becoming more and more of a business. I mean you have college coaches making close to ten million dollars a year,” said Dr. Jason Pappas, a Professor of sports management at Florida State University.

On Monday, California became the first state in the nation to require the NCAA to allow college athletes to hire agents and directly profit from endorsement deals.

But some, including Dr. Pappas, are concerned allowing players to profit may harm competition.

“We promote recruiting at such a high level now that it’s only going to perpetuate based on those institutions willing to and able to pay for those endorsements to be able to signify that they’re a Nike school or and Adidas school,” said Pappas.

Nearly identical legislation has now been filed in Florida.

Some big names in Florida athletics like FSU football coach Willie Taggart are behind the idea.

“I think that’s fair, I mean it’s a new time,” said Taggart.

As are players, like FSU running back Cam Akers.

“Me being bias, I’m a college athlete, but yeah I think so,” said Akers. “Why not?”

For or against, the passage of California’s law may have set a in motion an unstoppable chain reaction that Florida may have no choice but to join according to Dr. Pappas.

“You look at it and say, well if California does it, we need to do it in order to be able to stay at the level of high recruiting to be able to bring in the best athletes they possibly can in order to be competitive,” said Pappas.

The legislation still has a long way to go, so far there’s no companion bill filed in the Senate, but that could change before session starts in January.

If passed, the legislation here in Florida wouldn’t take effect until 2023, the same as the law signed in California.

We reached out to the NCAA for comment on this story, but did not receive a reply.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Ex-Lover and Hitman Testify in Markel Trial

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Tuesday brought explosive testimony in the murder trial of two people accused of killing FSU law professor Dan Markel in 2013.

Jeffery Lacasse dated Makel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson for about nine months.

Taking the stand, Lacasse said five days before the law professor was murdered in his garage Adelson told him something that made his stomach turn.

“She said that Charlie had explored all options to take care of the problem, and that he had looked into having professor Markel killed. It would cost about $15,000. And so I didn’t know what to make of it, my stomach kind of flipped. It was like a chilling statement,” said Lacasse.

The former boyfriend was also asked about a dinner two weeks after the murder.

“These are her words. She said Charlie and I went to what he described as a celebration dinner,” said Lacasse.

After lunch break in the courtroom Luis Riveria, the hitman who flipped in exchange for 19 year sentence, said he was told the hit was ordered because someone wanted their kids.

He described what happened as he and accused triggerman Sigfredo Garcia followed Markel into his driveway.

“Soon as I pulled in Garcia jumped out. He jumped out of the car and went around, not around, but infant of the car. Right behind his car and in front of the car I was driving. Went to the drivers side and shot him… Twice,” said Riveria.

Wendi Adelson testified on Friday that she did try to drive by Markel’s house about an hour after the murder.

A police officer on the scene said he’d been alerted to look for the make and model of her car.

Riveria confirmed he Grarcia and the third charged in the murder, Katherine Magbanua, were paid a $100,000 in cash on the day after the hit.

No one from the Adelson family has been charged with a crime and they deny any involvement.

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Stronger Firearm Background Checks May Be on the Table for 2020

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A Republican State Senator is looking to build support for legislation that would enhance the state’s firearm background check process.

It will be no easy feat, but the Senator believes the idea is gaining traction.

This year, the Senate President tasked a committee to formulate a response to the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings.

Kate Kyle with Moms Demand Action delivered 807 letters from Florida voters to Committee Chairman Tom Lee.

She said the number on ask is universal background checks.

“It is a policy solution we have in our toolbox that we haven’t tried here in Florida and I think it’s the most effective. I don’t think it tramples anyone’s rights,” said Kyle.

Lee seems to be listening.

“This seems like the most common sense thing to do is to see if there’s some holes in the background check system that could be tightened up,” said Lee. “I understand that there was about 9,000 people last year that applied for a background check… that were denied and ostensibly because they had a prior felony. Why aren’t those people being prosecuted?”

He said public response has been positive.

“Former police chiefs and law enforcement people from my area of the state, which is a pretty conservative area saying look, you know, this is not unreasonable,” said Lee.

The NRA, a powerful force in the Florida Legislature, has long held the position that enforcing current laws would be more effective than passing new ones.

Exactly what Lee might propose is unclear at this time.

“We’re just kind of peeling back the layers of the onion and trying to figure out how do we make the place a little safer for Floridians,” said Lee.

Lee said whatever the final product, bipartisan support will be critical.

At least eight unique bills aimed at increasing gun control have been filed for the 2020 session.

Last year, no gun control measures were passed.

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Gwen Graham Steps Down as Co-Chair of Rebuild 850

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Following a volley of Tweets criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis, former Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham was asked to step down as co-chair of Rebuild 850.

The nonpartisan group was formed after Hurricane Michael to aid recovery efforts in the panhandle.

Rebuild 850 coordinator and longtime friend of Graham, Ron Sachs made the decision to ask Graham to step down.

“Gwen, who has every right as a citizen to express strong opinions that are political in nature, but as volunteers with Rebuild 850, which is completely nonpolitical and nonpartisan, it’s not appropriate to take personal shots at the Governor or anybody. The Governor has made it a priority to focus on recovery in Northwest Florida and that’s our mission too at Rebuild 850,” said Sachs.

Since stepping down, Graham has been active on Twitter, posting support for the panhandle and Hurricane Michael victims.

If you’d like to donate to Rebuild 850 to help those struggling in the panhandle, visit rebuild850.org.

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