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State Lawmakers Got More Than $1 Million From Opioid Manufactures in the Last 20 Years

May 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
An investigation conducted by the Miami Harold found Florida lawmakers accepted more than $1 million from 9 opioid manufacturers and distributors over the past two decades.
The discovery comes a week after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit against those same companies for their role perpetuating the opioid crisis.
“They were on notice as to what they were doing, yet continued to do it and market their products, in my opinion no different than a street level drug dealer,” said Bondi.
The investigation found Bondi herself has received $1,500 from companies listed in the suit.
Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida says while the individual donations were relatively small, that doesn’t mean their influence wasn’t felt.
“Florida has been slow among the other states in this country to address the opioid crisis and I think that can be directly attributed to the companies buying access and influence through campaign contributions,” said Wilcox.
Nine of every ten dollars contributed went to Republicans.
Government watch dogs say that’s to be expected since the GOP is in power.
Representative Jason Brodeur, Chairman of House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee received the most at $15,250.
“They’re not giving this money in the interest of good government,” said Wilcox. “They’re giving this money in the interest of government being good to them.”
Representative Brodeur denies the donations ever influenced his vote, noting they amount to less than 1% of the total contributions to his campaigns.
Governor Rick Scott, who has received $6,000 from companies named in the suit also held $300,000 in Johnson and Johnson stock.
Scott awarded the company $4.9 million in incentives in 2015.
Donations from Johnson and Johnson make up nearly half of the contributions to lawmakers.

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NRA Appeals Jane Doe Ruling

May 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The NRA is back in court tonight in its efforts to overturn a new state law banning firearm purchases to anyone under 21. The advocacy group is appealing a judges decision to deny two 19 year olds to enter the case anonymously. And without the 19 year old’s, the case could be difficult to win.

Five days before the age raising legislation was signed into law, it was a major point of contention for 19 year old Mason Bonowitz at this pro gun rally at the State Capitol.

“Why can’t you have the right to protect your own family?” He asked.

The ink on the Governor’s signature was barely dry when the NRA filed suit to stop the law. Bundles of threatening hate mail began flowing into the NRA’s capitol office.

 

“We consider some of them real threats” says veteran lobbyist Marion Hammer.

The group asked the federal court to allow two 19 year olds to join the suit anonymously. The judge said no. Now the NRA is asking an appeals court to stop the progress of the suit until the anonymity issue is settled.

Q:”Why shouldn’t she do it publicly?”

“Why should she have to be bullied, harassed, and threatened by hate mongers and gun banners to stand up and exercise her first amendment right” asks Hammer.

 

At this pawn shop, the impact of raising the age limit has been minimal.

“We had some transactions that we weren’t able to complete because of the changes in the law” pawn broker Alex Folmar told us.

 

 

18 year old Justin West had a hunting rifle on layaway when the law changed. 

“If you are 18 and have a hunter safety course and a current hunting license, you can still get a long gun at 18” West told us.”

If the courts don’t allow the 19 year olds to join the suit using a pseudonym, they’ll have to decide what’s more troubling…facing threats or losing their second amendment rights.

Without someone under twenty one  named as plaintiffs in the law suit, it would be difficult for the NRA to argue that someone’s rights were being harmed.

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Greyhound Breeders Sue Over Amendment 13

May 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Greyhound breeders have filed a lawsuit, trying to derail a a constitutional amendment that could put them out of business.
Greyhound Racing will be banned if voters approve Amendment 13 this Fall.
Breeders fear losing a tradition they’ve upheld for generations.
“Right now we probably have eight to 9,000 dogs in the state and many more that are being raised at this time and all of those will be put at risk,” said Florida Greyhound Association President Jim Blanchard.
Recent polls show it passing overwhelming, so breeders are attacking the ballot language.
In a lawsuit breeders argue the ballot language is misleading, in part because bets could still be placed on races in other states.
If the courts agree, there wont be a vote.
“Live greyhound racing grossed over $82 million on just live greyhound racing last year alone. It is good for Florida and it’s good for the greyhounds,” said Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association.
Kate MacFall, campaign cochair for Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 says breeders are grasping at straws.
“It’s pretty much dead on arrival. It’s a desperate attempt by the greyhound breeders to prevent Florida voters from having a voice on amendment 13, on whether or not greyhound racing should continue,” said MacFall.
Breeders also argue tax payers could be on the hook for reimbursing Greyhound breeders and tracks for lost profits.
“You’re talking about 12 greyhound tracks, you’re talking about 8,000 greyhounds, you’re talking about 3,000 Florida jobs directly and another 10,000 indirectly,” said Cory.
Breeders estimate reimbursing the industry could cost between $500 million and $1 billion.
Breeders say regardless of how lower courts rule, they intend to appeal the case for a final decision by the State Supreme Court.

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Smokable Marijuana Gets Day in Court

May 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Florida law allows medical marijuana to be consumed via oils, sprays, tinctures, and vaping. 
 
Edibles are also allowed, but no rules have been developed for their use. 
 
Wednesday, advocates had their day in court challenging a ban on smokable medical marijuana.
Cathy and Robert Jordan have been using marijuana to keep her ALS at bay for almost 30 years.
Cathy says doctors have never told her not to smoke marijuana.
“Never. An actually more interested in how healthy I am after having ALS for so long,” said Jordan.
“And even Cathy, we didn’t know she’d make it this But we got long. But we got our day in court. We believe…we’re very optimistic e’re going to win this thing because its medicine,” said Cathy’s Husband, Robert.
In the end, just three witnesses were called. None by the state.
 
The question before the court was whether lawmakers over stepped their authority when they banned smokable marijuana for patients.
“Kathy Jordan believes she is alive because she uses smokable marijuana,” said amendment 2 author Jon Mills.
But the state argued its job is to protect people..including patients from the dangers of smoking.
“And those harmful effects can occur, not the first time you do it, but certainly over a period of time,” said Senior Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen.
Medical Marijuana originator John Morgan filed the lawsuit.
”And if I was Rick Scott, I’d take a look of this video of this woman today, and I’d say enough is enough. Let’s stop the politics. Lets let these people live,” said Morgan.
The judge asked attorneys on both sides if they lose, to file speedy appeals, noting lives are on the line.
 
The Constitutional Amendment approved by voters mentions smoking just once, saying medicinal pot can’t be smoked in public. 
 

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SWAT Officer at Pulse Night Club Shooting Named 2017 Officer of the Year

May 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Eight officers were nominated for the 2017 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for going above and beyond the call of duty.
Fort Meyers Detective Wolfgang Daniel was recognized for his pivotal role in taking down 22 members of a gang known as the Lake Boyz.
“Detective Daniel was the foundation of this investigation,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Volusia County Deputy Justin Ferrari’s act of heroism came during a response to a domestic dispute where a woman had been shot by her partner.
“They could hear the female victim screaming for help,” said Bondi.
Ferrari’s darling rescue was captured on his body cam.
Jumping into the line of fire he pulled the injured woman and her three children to safety.
Taking home the title of the 2017 Offer of the year was Orlando Police Lieutenant Scott Smith for his actions during the Pulse Night Club shooting.
Smith organized and led a party into the club and exchanged fire with the gunman.
“SAWT team members including Lieutenant Smith returned fire, killing the monster,” said Bondi.
His advice to other officers… love what you do.
“Enjoy serving the public and helping people and that what it comes down to. It comes down to that desire to help people,” said Smith.
Special recognition was also given to five Florida police officers who’ve lost their lives since the start of 2018.
The ceremony comes just one day after Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry was laid to rest.
In 2017 nine Florida officers lost their lives in the line of duty.

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Bondi Responds to Gwen Graham Criticism of Opioid Lawsuit

May 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is responding to criticism from Gubernatorial Candidate Gwen Graham over the lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the state against opioid manufactures and distributors.
Graham, a Democrat said Bondi had stuck her head in the sand regarding the opioid crisis and took too long to file suit.
Bondi says Florida waited so it could build a stronger case.
“We have filed the most comprehensive lawsuit, I believe, in the country,” said Bondi. “So I think that was reckless, irresponsible and unnecessary without even looking at the facts. This is a bipartisan effort and to make something like the opioid crisis so partisan is sad.”
Bondi also pointed to other states, some Republican and some Democratic, which waited or are still waiting to file suit.

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No Smoke is a Joke Heads to Courtroom

May 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A Bradenton woman who says her suffering from ALS disease is decreased because of smokable medical marijuana gets her day in court tomorrow. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, she and other plaintiffs are challenging the states ban on smokable medicine.

As lawmaker debated the rules for medical marijuana, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was adamant.

“We don’t think there should be smokable marijuana” Gualtieri told lawmakers in January 2017.

 

Fast forward five months, and John Morgan, the man who bankrolled the amendment, filed his no smoke is a joke law suit. He argues people knew what they wanted.

 

“The vast majority, if not one hundred percent knew that smoke was included” Morgan told reporters.

The Constitutional amendment mentions smoking just once. It says smoking can’t be in public. In a January hearing, advocates argued that means it can be smoked in private.

Jon Mills is the Amendment Two Author. “There’s no question that  the definition of marijuana in this constitutional provision includes smokable marijuana.”

The state says otherwise. Rebecca Nordby was the attorney for the Department of Health. 

“There is no express requirement that smoking medical marijuana has to be allowed.”

 

Plaintiff Cathy Jordan and her husband Robert say that smoking marijuana has kept her ALS at bay for more than twenty years.”, “Noticeable difference” Robert told uswhen it cae to vaping or edibles.

Jeff Sharkey of the Medical Marijuana Business Association says it will likely come down to what doctors recommend.

“If the amendment didn’t say it was prohibited, then implicitly, it’s allowed.”

The same judge in this case recently ruled that a Tampa man could grow his own marijuana based on a doctor’s recommendation. The state opposed that, just as it opposes this.

And no matter how the judge rules, the loser is likely to appeal.

 

 

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Death of Deputy Raises Concerns Over Sate’s Probationary Program

May 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Nine days after he was fatally shot and killed, Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry is being laid to rest.
“They have to be prepared for every situation,” said Mathew Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
The accused cop-killer, Joseph Ables, was classified as a “Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern”.
He was severing a 4-year probation for aggravated battery.
“I don’t know what the deputy knew as he was going there, but he was called out to investigate this circumstance, a dispute between some neighbors,” said Puckett.
The State Department of Corrections says it followed the court’s supervision orders and until the shooting, Ables hadn’t violated his probation.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said in a statement, “The terms of Joseph Ables’ probation were determined by a court, not FDC… Any assertion that FDC is somehow responsible for this disturbed individual’s alleged actions is unfair and irresponsible. We strive every day to keep our communities safe, and when a brother or sister in uniform is killed, we are devastated.”
However, Able’s probationary status is resurfacing concerns over the state of Florida’s probation program.
Over the last decade, there’s been a reduction of hundreds of officers and an increase in less experienced officers.
“They haven’t had the experience yet,” said Puckett. “They haven’t seen everything that some of the offenders are going to offer.”
Police advocates say a lack of funding is to blame.
Now, other transitional programs like addiction and re-entry services are being cut by $29 million for the same reason.
“Hopefully we don’t have people being killed, but we’re going to have problems. We’re going to have re-offenses,” said Puckett. “We’re going to have recidivism. We’re going to have these offenders going out and not reintegrating into society because they can’t do it.”
Police advocates say funding at the Department of Corrections has escalated to a crisis level.
They say corrections should be at the top of the agenda in the coming gubernatorial race.

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Amendment 2 Could Save Florida Tax Payers $700 Million

May 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report says a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot could save Florida tax payers $700 million each year if approved.
Amendment 2 would make permanent a 10% cap on annual non-homestead property tax increases that was implemented by a constitutional amendment in 2008.
The current cap is set to expire at the start of next year.
While the exemption doesn’t directly benefit homeowners, its repeal could impact living costs for renters and seniors on a fixed income according to the report.
“You know a recession is when your neighbor’s out of a job, a depression is when you’re out of a job and so you say, well what is it going to affect me? Well, if it’s affecting someone and it’s on a fixed income, it affects them pretty bad,” said Florida TaxWatch President, Dominic M. Calabro. “So people will go, ‘oh don’t worry it’s only an extra $10 a month.’ For some people that’s very hard.”
Prior to the 2008 amendment’s passage non-homestead properties were subject to massive tax hikes.
In 2006 30% of non-homestead properties saw a property tax increase of 80% over the previous year.

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Parking Priorities over Drug Treatment

May 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

What do a parking garage for State Senators and substance abuse treatment programs have in common. Nothing, except as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the state is choosing one over the other.

28 million dollars in repairs to this parking garage for state senators and their staff are nearly complete.  The underground parking garage holds 210 cars…so the cost: One hundred thirty three thousand dollars per space. 

 

And just across the street, this parking garage, with room for a hundred cars, sits virtually empty.”

The spending is taking place as the Department of Corrections is cutting a like amount… 29 million, from substance abuse treatment. The cuts will close some programs and send some offenders to prison. 

 

Mark Fontaine is the Executive Director of the FL Alcohol and Drug Abuse Assn.

“And every community will be affected. Drug courts in particular. Veterans courts will lose very..well, will have a greatly diminished option” says Fontaine, a 40 year veteran in the fight against drugs.

 

DOC says the cuts are needed to fund inmate health care.

“Mental health is health care, but substance abuse is not. They are drawing a distinction. We don’t think there is a distinction” says Fontaine.

Q:” This is health care?”

“This is health care.”

State lawmakers could make budget amendments to save the programs before the cuts take effect a week from Friday, but so far, they aren’t budging. The treatment programs make up just one and a half percent of DOC’s 2.4 billion dollar budget.

“Its hard to imagine in a budget that you can’t find one point five percent” says Fontaine.

 

Senators say they will deal with the substance abuse funding in the fall or spring, But by then it may be too late for some of the programs to survive, and some receiving treatment will be behind bars.

The parking garage repairs were necessary for safety, but constructing  new, above ground parking would have cost less than half as much. The Drug Abuse Association’s Fontaine did not respond to a direct question about drug treatment being less of a priority than underground parking for elected officials. 

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Andrew Gillum Used Parking Perks for Campaign Travel

May 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Since announcing his campaign for governor last March, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has used his free city airport parking pass 96 times. With daily parking rates between 11 and 13. dollars for the average person, Gillum has saved more than $1,000.
“This line has been blurred here in this case,” said Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida.
Wilcox says the fact Gillum used the city perk for not only city business, but also campaign travel raises ethical questions.
“A public official is supposed to maintain a really bright line in between their public business and any campaign business,” said Wilcox.
Tallahassee International Airport Director David Pollard says the parking pass is a benefit given to many city officials.
“It’s somewhat typical. Not only at this airport, but several airports throughout the country,” said Pollard.
The airport doesn’t explicitly say Gillum can use the pass for only city business, but some political watch dogs say since it cuts costs for his campaign, it should be considered a campaign contribution.
Integrity Florida says at the very least, Gillum is treading a thin line.
“I don’t think the public likes to see public officials getting free stuff or stuff that they don’t get that kind of benefit,” said Wilcox.
In the meantime, the airport says it will review its current policy.
“We’re certainly looking at all the rules and all the regulations,” said Pollard.
Gillum has used the pass nearly four times more than other city officials over the same time period.
Gillum’s campaign spokesperson Geoff Burgan says while they believe Gillum did not violate any ethics standards, the Mayor will stop using the parking pass for campaign trips moving forward out of an abundance of caution.
Mayor Gillum simply used the airport’s parking system as the current rules allow,” said Burgan. “He’s kept up an active campaign schedule and that’s clearly what this shows. Moving forward, out of an abundance of caution, he’ll pay the regular fees even though he’s not required to.”

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Backlog Leaves the Door Open for Mentally Ill to Purchase Guns

May 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
As many as 57 hundred people adjudicated mentally ill may have been able to buy a gun anyway because Florida’s Clerks of Courts were late entering the name into a database used for firearm background checks.
Florida first began including the mentally ill in a background database used for firearm purchases in 2007.
If a person is found to be mentally unstable they’re supposed to be entered in the database within a month, but a 2016 audit shows the vast majority are entered within two months, but in some cases it can take more than a year.
The audit showed 17 percent, or nearly one in five of the records were entered in to the database late.
Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his guns legally, but the NRA says the backlog opens the door for a dangerous person to slip through the cracks.
“That information needs to go in within three hours or three days, not three months or three years,” said former NRA President, Marion Hammer.
Florida’s 67 clerks of courts are responsible for submitting the information to the Department of Law Enforcement, but no one is charged with holding them to the deadline.
“When they pass legislation and they don’t give specific oversight, then everybody says it’s not my job,” said Hammer.
Clerk of Courts say a major reason for the delay is a lack of funding.
Governor Rick Scott’s Office says it only recently learned of the problem.
“There was an expose on this very issue back in October of 2017. So anybody who says in government that they didn’t know about it is not paying attention,” said Hammer.
Clerks of Courts say they’re attempting to put together updated numbers to see if there’s been any improvement since the 2016 audit.
The problem has become an key issue in both the U.S. Senate and Governor’s race.
Senator Bill Nelson accused Scott’s administration for failing to address the backlog.
Scott’s Office responded saying, “FDLE will continue to identify additional grants and resources to provide even more assistance to the clerks.”

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Long Shot Gubernatorial Hopeful

May 10th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of candidates have until midnight to report their monthly fundraising totals. Gubernatorial candidates will be reporting six and seven figure numbers, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, one thirty year Capitol veteran is hoping for just a few thousand.

Tony Knox has shined the shoes of six of the last seven governors. 

“I started with Governor Martinez” he told us as we walked past portraits outside the Governor’s Office. 

 

He’s hoping to add another to the list after November, when he shines his own shoes. Knox filed the paperwork to run a year go this week.

“Why?”

“It’s time for a change”

He’s been shining shoes in the Capital City for 30 years

“Can you start a business with a hundred dollars right now?” He asked me. 

Q: “Because you did?”

“Yes. I started with five dollars and fifty-six cents.”

All the while supporting a wife and 8 kids.

“We have 8 out of high school. We have three out of college, and we have three in college.”

His politics are conservative.

 

“No more food stamps. Unless you are a senior citizen, handicapped, disabled, or working.”

Tony Knox knows he’s a real long shot, and he says if he’s not at the top of the heap when the ballots are counted November 6th, Florida will get what it deserves.

“It’s any given Sunday on the football field. Any given election, a man can win” says Knox.

And his slogan?

 

Q:” Donald trump wants to make America great again. You want to do what?”

“Make Florida shine again.”

If lightening does strike and he is elected…the first thing we would do is convene all the former Governor’s to be his advisors.

Next week Tony Knox hits the road,  down one coast and up the other to raise at least six thousand dollars to pay his qualifying fee. It’s due in mid June.

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Firefighters March to Improve Cancer Coverage

May 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Fire fighters face heightened risks for cancer.
It’s a reality that comes with the job.
But Florida’s fire fighters say there aren’t enough protections in place to cover medical bills associated with the disease.
31-year Orange County Fire Rescue veteran Tom Hill, or Bull as he likes to be called, began what has become known as the ‘March of the Bull’.
Starting at the southernmost point of Key West and ending at the State Capitol, he walked to honor two fellow fire fighters who lost their battles with cancer.
Although his journey began alone, over the 650 mile trek he’s marched along side thousands who have joined in support of his cause.
Hundreds showed up to complete the final 3 mile leg of the march.
Most all of them firefighters… Virtually all have lost a colleague to cancer.
“I’ve got Lieutenant W.C. Donaldson’s fire helmet in my hand right now. He passed away about two weeks ago,” said Sarasota Firefighter, Wayne Balcom.
The names of 915 fire fighters and the ashes of three have followed Bull throughout the march.
Most were victims of cancer.
Those left behind like Renee Donaldson who lost her husband to cancer in 2005, say Florida doesn’t do enough to help families. Who are often left in financial peril after their loved one passes.
“Basically what I got from the State of Florida was letters of condolence from my state representatives,” said Donaldson.
Marchers want firefighters cancer covered under workers comp.
This march comes two months before a new law requiring local governments to cover PTSD for first responders takes effect.
Some say it’s a step in the right direction… Bull says until he sees change, he’ll continue fighting.
“It’s not a start until they act like adults and do what’s right,” said Bull.
Cancer coverage for firefighters in Florida has been introduced in years past, but the bills died in committee.
Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis has vowed to make cancer coverage for Firefighters one of his top priorities in the 2019 session.

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Charges in 17 Year Old Murder

May 9th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The case of a Duck hunter gone missing 17 years in North Florida has taken a new twist. His widow and best friend have long been suspects, and  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the case appears to have come together after their relationship fractured.

Mike Williams loved to hunt. So when he went missing just before Christmas in 2000, it was investigated as an accident. Co-Worker Brett Ketcham. 

 

“We just assumed there was an accident in the lake”Ketcham told us.

Suspicions grew when no body was found. Williams was quickly declared dead, life insurance policies were cashed in.  And  within five years the widow and best friend, brian Winchester, married.

 

“And I know I deserve punishment” Winchester told a court in December.

The marriage unraveled completely after the best friend turned husband kidnapped Denise Williams in 2016. She asked a judge to jail him for life.

“It comes down to my life or his” she said at the time. 

Now Denise Williams has been indicted on first degree murder charges, conspiracy to murder and being an accessory after the fact.

“These are all punishable by life offenses” a judge told her during a first appearance.

She’s being held without bond. Ethan Way, her attorney, calls the charges “fiction”.

 

 

“Were gonna fight it and we’re gonna get acquitted.”

Q: “and he flipped?”

“I don’t know what he flipped. I think he made something up. There’s a  big difference because flipping and fiction.”

But Prosecutor Joh Fuchs says the defense doesn’t know what they know.

 

“To make comments on what the evidence is or is not is premature” Fuchs s told reporters. 

Mike Williams body was found at Lake Carr, not too far from the state Capitol, but 50 miles from where the grand jury says he was killed.

Co-worker Ketcham, says the arrest validates most people’s suspicions.

“I think we saw this day coming”

Q:It took a long time, though?”

“Absolutely.”

When asked if Brian Winchester would be indicted, Prosecutor Jon Fuchs had few words. “No comment.

Brian Winchester, the new husband is serving a 20 year sentence for kidnapping Denise Williams. This afternoon, the state opened an investigation to determine if the death was part of a scheme to fraudulently profit from his life insurance policies. More than 2 million was reportedly paid to the widow.

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