A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 419

A.G. Gancarski


Senate gaming bill promises ‘attainable reform’

The Florida Senate is about to tackle gaming issues again.

Sen. Travis Hutson‘s latest bill (SB 840) is less ambitious in scope than previous efforts, focusing on four topics: fantasy contests, greyhound and horse racing decoupling, slot machine taxes,  and designated player games at pari-mutuel card rooms.

“I am excited to take the lead on gaming for the 2018 Session and grateful for the opportunity to build on the efforts of previous leaders on this issue, in particular Sen. (Bill) Galvano,” Hutson said in a press release Thursday. “Thanks to the solid foundation left by him and others, I am able to offer a gaming bill more narrow in scope than in the past but no less thorough in detail.”

Hutson chairs the Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee, which handles legislation and policy related to gambling.

“I am confident this bill offers a focused starting point on a limited number of issues from which attainable reform can be enacted and look forward to working with the House of Representatives, the Governor, stakeholders and the citizens of Florida to achieve that goal,” added Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican.

The bill defines fantasy sports as being driven by player performance rather than team performance, and as long as someone isn’t “commissioner” of more than ten leagues, he is exempt from regulation.

As well, the Hutson bill allows race track operators to downgrade or eliminate their racing schedules and keep licenses for other types of gambling.

If they have conducted a “full schedule of live racing” for ten straight years after FY 1996-7, they can specify in their application for an operating license that they wish to curtail racing.

The bill also seeks to lower taxes on slot machines, which are currently 35 percent of revenues. By July 2020, they would be just 25 percent.

The bill also authorizes “designated player games,” a point of contention over the years. However, they can’t constitute more than half of games in a cardroom.

After a request for comment, Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said in a text message, “Thanks for asking, but the Tribe doesn’t comment on bills that may or may not become law.”

The tribe has exclusive rights from the state to offer blackjack at its casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa. Controversy over designated player games playing too much like blackjack has long caused headaches for state and tribal leaders, leading to a federal lawsuit that was finally settled this year.

Corrine Brown prosecutors recommend prison time, decry ‘culture of fraud’

Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators, Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley, may want to avoid prison time for their One Door for Education hustle.

But federal prosecutors don’t appear to be moved, per a 50 page sentencing memorandum dropped on Thursday.

The feds contend that in the history of “public corruption” cases involving former Reps. Richard JeffersonChaka FattahJesse Jackson Jr., and Rick Renzi, that “no court sentenced any of these defendants to a probationary sentence.”

The government also has tabulated the cost of restitution, offering a “conservative estimate” of $452,515.87, itemized per donor.

The stentorian 50-page memo is blunt from the outset: “Society expects courts to punish convicted and corrupt politicians. If the legal system does not do so, our system of justice loses credibility, and the public is left with the impression that there are some citizens who are truly above the law. This cannot be the case.”

Central to the government’s case for an actual sentence here: the fraud was ongoing.

“The tax fraud scheme spanned three election cycles. Brown’s fraud, scheme to make false statements, and tax
fraud convictions illustrate that her entitlement disposition transitioned into criminal conduct that persisted for years. Brown’s culture of fraud became more brazen over time and culminated in the One Door For Education fraud, which was the primary focus of the government’s prosecution,” the sentencing memo asserts.

Prosecutors lambaste Brown for her rhetorical rodomontade, singling out a statement made in which she “ridiculed the American system of justice and rule of law” by conflating her investigation with the feds’ failure to stop Omar Matteen from the Pulse massacre.

“I represent Orlando. These are the same agents that was not able to do a thorough investigation of [Omar Mateen] and we ended up with fifty dead people, and over forty-eight people injured. Same Justice Department. Same
agents. And with that, I will see you in court,” Brown told media last July.

“Brown stooped so low as to state that if the Jacksonville FBI had not spent resources investigating her fraudulent conduct, then the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando on June 12, 2016 would not have occurred,” prosecutors assert.

The memo also charges Brown with fraudulent charges of racism, saying they were “a complete fabrication meant to distract the public – and no doubt potential jurors – from the very serious allegations against her.”

Key to the hardline position: lost opportunities.

“The real travesty of this case is what One Door could have been. Corrine Brown had the power, willing donation base, and clear opportunity to transform One Door into a life changing charity,” the Feds assert. “Brown, Simmons, and Wiley not only squandered this opportunity, they abused it for their own benefit. The victims in this case are the students who received nothing.”

The feds also note Brown’s flippancy on the stand, including when she was asked about money transfers.

“I had birthdays. I had Christmas. You know, and sometimes I had boyfriends. So I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brown quipped about money received one January.

“None of this money could be attributable to her birthday (which is in November) or Christmas, and it is highly unlikely that this money entirely consists of annual exclusion gifts or cash gifts from boyfriends,” the Feds remark.

Deceit is a leit motif in the memo, with the feds coming back over and over again to brazen fabrications from Brown: “Corrine Brown’s trial testimony was replete with material falsehoods. After taking an oath to tell the truth, Brown treated the witness stand in this Courthouse as a kind of political pulpit to say anything – no matter the degree of falsity.”

Brown’s attempts to pin the blame on Simmons, her former chief of staff, are described as one manifestation of a “common defense strategy to discredit a testifying co-defendant.”

The memo’s descriptions of serial perjury, coupled with the defense’s inability to score a single win in this case, suggest that sentencing for Brown next week will be brutal.

Gwen Graham tops $4M raised

Though the committee of Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is winning the money race, Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Gwen Graham is not cash poor.

Per a press release from her campaign Thursday, Graham has raised $4 million total.

“From Pensacola to Key West, Floridians are fed up with Trump-style politics and they are engaged like never before. Floridians are fed up with Tallahassee’s education industry. Floridians are fed up with the attacks on our clean land and water. And they are fed up with politicians who divide our communities,” Graham said.

“Our campaign is building a coalition of Floridians from every part of this state and every community. That’s how we won in 2014 and that’s how we’re going to turn Florida blue in 2018,” Graham said.

Graham brought in $180,000 for her campaign and another $165,000 for the “Our Florida” political committee.

Both Graham and Levine are winning the money race against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum going away

October saw Gillum bring in $80,000 in hard money, while his political committee, “Forward Florida,” has a mere $30,000 on hand after another month of spending more than it raised.

House bill would nix questionable foreign court money judgments

A new bill filed in the House would provide shelter for Florida principals who had a questionable foreign court issue a cash judgement against them.

HB 623, filed by Northeast Florida Republican Cord Byrd, offers additional circumstances in which an out-of-country foreign judgment need not be recognized.

Among those circumstances: “substantial doubt about the integrity” of said foreign court, and a court proceeding that contravenes due process.

Byrd’s bill conforms with the Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act, passed by 32 states, including Florida.

Per the American Bar Association website, “foreign judgment is not considered enforceable if it was ordered under a system that does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law.”

$111K October for Ag Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell

Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Rep. Matt Caldwell reports a strong month of fundraising in October, with $111,000 brought in between his committee and campaign accounts.

Caldwell brought in $45,235 in hard money. “Friends of Matt Caldwell” will report $66,000 raised.

All told, $1.37 million has been raised — and nearly $1 million of that is cash on hand.

Caldwell vows “to work tirelessly as we travel the Sunshine State, engage with Floridians and build our grassroots campaign.”

“As we visit rural and urban parts of our state one thing is clear,” Caldwell adds, “Floridians are looking for a trusted conservative that will fight for critical issues overseen by the Commissioner of Agriculture on day one.”

The Ag Commissioner race is shaping up to be an expensive proposition.

Denise Grimsley had, at the end of September, roughly $415,000 cash on hand in her campaign account.

However, the clubhouse leader is still Baxter Troutman who has $2.51 million on hand, with $2.5 million of that self-financed.

Troutman brought in $23,500 in October.

$1M+ October for Philip Levine political committee

Though he’s in single digits in most polls of the field of Democratic Gov. candidates, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is bringing in the kind of money that ensures he will be a factor down the stretch.

Levine’s political committee, “All About Florida,” brought in over $1 million in October, per a press release from his campaign, giving the committee a total of $5.78 million.

Levine has been pouring his own money — $2.66 million of it — into the committee’s coffers. Yet what is clear is that the donor class in the Miami and New York City areas supports his play, as most of the external contributions come from those locales.

“This month’s numbers further confirm: Philip’s message for Florida, and his track record for getting things done, are inspiring the level of support we need to take back Tallahassee next November,” wrote Senior Advisor Christian Ulvert in a press release Thursday.

“In the year ahead––as more Floridians learn about Philip and his progressive vision for our state––we believe voters will continue to provide us with the necessary resources to take our message to every corner of the state, from the Panhandle down to the Keys,” Ulvert added.

Levine’s strong fundraising comes at a time when better known opponents are not raising money at the same pace.

Gwen Graham, the frontrunner in the race, reported $170,000 raised for her political committee last month.

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum brought in $80,000 in hard money, while his political committee, “Forward Florida,” has a mere $30,000 on hand after another month of spending more than it raised.


House Dems gear up for redistricting

One of the eternal issues in Florida — fair districts — is poised to come up again soon. And Florida House Democrats are forming a working group to get ready.

The goal, per a press release: to “allow the caucus to be fully prepared to present the citizens of our state with the fair maps they deserve.”

Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Dania Beach, will chair the group — which also includes Ramon Alexander, Loranne Ausley, Tracie DavisBen Diamond, Nicholas Duran, Al Jacquet, Amy Mercado, Emily Slosberg, and Carlos Guillermo Smith.

These are newer members of the House, expected to be in office through 2020 or 2022.

The group will be subdivided into working groups of three, allowing specific focus on Congressional, State Senate, and State House maps.

“Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy and the people of Florida deserve to have confidence that their electoral maps are being drawn to their benefit, not the benefit of the legislators doing the drawing,” Jenne asserted.

 “With the next round of redistricting just around the corner, House Democrats feel it is important to begin putting in the work now so that we do not get caught flat-footed when the process begins. Let’s end the political sleight of hand that has driven reapportionment in the past and focus on giving Floridians the fair districts they deserve,” Jenne added.

Fair districts have been a bone of contention between Republicans and Democrats, with the Florida Supreme Court approving the current district lines in late 2015 — lines drawn by the League of Women Voters and other groups.

“Our opinion today — the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment — should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,” the Supreme Court wrote at the time.

Not every Democrat supported the court-approved lines, however.

Former Rep. Corrine Brown, before her indictment on fraud charges, challenged the redrawn Congressional District 5.

The east-west configuration of the district, she contended, ignores the African-American “communities of interest” in the previous district, which ran from Jacksonville to Orlando in what was one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering in the country at the time.

Brown contended that the redrawn district wouldn’t elect an African-American to Congress.

However, Rep. Al Lawson proved her wrong, winning a general election handily against African-American Republican Glo Smith.

CFO hopeful Jeremy Ring spends more than he raises in October

Jeremy Ring, the only Democrat in the race for CFO, appears to have a clear path toward his party’s nomination.

However, ho-hum fundraising coupled with spending led to him finishing October with less cash on hand than he had at the month’s beginning.

Ring raised $16,976 from 104 contributors, while spending $21,552 in October, giving him $193,000 on hand.

Unusually for a statewide candidate, Ring had a number of small-dollar donations — including several $3 contributions.

Ring’s all-but-certain general election opponent, incumbent CFO Jimmy Patronis, entered the race this month and has filed no campaign finance reports as a result.

Patronis’ primary opponent, Antoanet Iotova, entered the race in September, but has yet to file any campaign finance reports.

Al Lawson, Congressional Dems demand answers on Veterans’ hunger issues

Some sobering news ahead of Veterans’ Day: if you are a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity as the average American.

A group of Congressional Democrats is seeking to remedy that, and that group includes a North Florida Congressman.

Rep. Al Lawson was among a group of Congressional Democrats who wrote Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin Wednesday, demanding answers on food scarcity issues for military veterans.

The V.A. just started collecting information on food scarcity issues for veterans this month; the goal, per the letter, is to get a yearly accounting starting next November from the V.A. to Congress on “hunger screenings” and ways that hunger is being remedied, such as SNAP benefits.

The letter notes that food scarcity for veterans doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

“Sadly, some veterans who have risked their lives for the freedom and safety of our country face high rates of disability, significant medical problems, and mental health conditions that may complicate their ability to maintain gainful employment. These men and women are also at greater risk for food insecurity.”


Corrine Brown co-conspirator wants to avoid prison time

Rat on the kingpin, and avoid prison.

That’s the strategy in a sentencing memorandum from Carla Wiley, one of the co-conspirators with Corrine Brown in the One Door for Education case.

Wiley, along with her former boyfriend Ronnie Simmons (Brown’s erstwhile chief of staff), is to be sentenced along with Simmons next Wednesday — a day before the sentencing of Brown herself.

Wiley testified for the prosecution in the Brown trial, outlining how a doomed love and circumstance led to fraud on a felony scale.

She outlined something key to the prosecution case: a narrative that Brown had a key role in orchestrating the scheme.

Wiley’s charity and consulting business served as a pass-through for One Door donations, which went to lavish travel for herself and Simmons.

When asked if she engaged in “fraud” for One Door, Wiley said yes – and that Brown and Simmons did also.

Brown and Simmons were the rainmakers, raising all but “two or three thousand dollars” of the $800,000 brought in, she said. Wiley got her cut though: spending $140,000.

“Immediately after being confronted by investigating agents, Ms. Wiley obtained counsel and quickly began providing truthful cooperation in the Government’s investigation,” the memo asserts, describing her cooperation as “early and significant, leading to the indictment of a then-sitting member of Congress and her chief of staff, and ultimately to the plea and cooperation of Mr. Simmons, her testimony and his testimony at trial and the conviction of Corrine Brown.”

The memo asserts that Wiley’s “significant role” in the scheme that went on for three years is outweighed by her cooperation. Also asserted: that Wiley has “no significant risk of recidivism.”

Notable: one of Wiley’s attorneys, Justin Fairfax, will be the next Lt. Gov. of Virginia, elected in the Old Dominion’s anti-Trump wave Tuesday.

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