The freshman 15: South Florida’s newest lawmakers

The youngest is 28, the oldest 66. They are teachers, real estate agents, attorneys, entrepreneurs and farmers. And in their spare time, they fly planes, play guitar, raise sheep, write screenplays and go to their kids’ ball games.

These are the faces of the 59 new members of the Florida Legislature (15 from South Florida), which begins its regular session on Tuesday.

The freshman House class of 44 members is tied for the second-largest ever since term limits took effect in 2000. (There were also 44 new members in 2010 and 2008, and the record is 63 in 2000.)

The freshman Senate class of 15 members, meanwhile, ranks in size behind only the freshmen classes of 2002 and 2010.

In total, the new group of legislators includes nearly the same number of Democrats and Republicans, though 10 of the 15 new senators are Republican.

“We’re a broad range of ages and backgrounds,” said Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, who like the majority of new representatives is serving in elected office for the first time.

Pasco County businessman and egg farmer Wilton Simpson holds a special distinction: He was unchallenged in his first bid for Senate and was elected without a vote.

Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, said his desire to serve derives from his role as a middle-school science teacher. “I want to extend that and make a difference. There’s a lengthy priority list,” he said, citing issues from creating a homeowner’s bill of rights to addressing local transportation issues.

Another new legislator, Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, notes that he, and likely other officials whose homes are hundreds of miles from Tallahassee, “feels a little like college freshmen on their first semester away from home.”

José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is serving in his first elected office, said chief issues for South Florida involve Citizens Property Insurance, healthcare and education.

“Property insurance, if not at the top, comes close to the top of the list that brings most of us together.”

He also said that he’s been surprised by the expectation of “conformity” in the Legislature. “Asking tough questions definitely rattles people,” said Rodríguez. “Often people expect you to play along, which I find shocking, especially for those of us who ran to shake things up a little bit.”

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Modern Family Stars Get Stuck in Crowded Elevator

No good deed goes unpunished.

PICS: Candid Celeb Sightings

While on their way to a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City on Friday night, three stars of ABC's hit sitcom Modern Family were trapped in a crowded elevator for almost an hour, ABC News reports.

Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson took pictures together during the ordeal, which Ferguson posted to his Twitter account.

"This is us right now. 45 minutes stuck in this elevator," Ferguson wrote, captioning the snapshot from the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel's third floor.

The actors were an hour late to the event after the Kansas City Fire Department rescued them, but they maintained a good sense of humor about their plight, reportedly joking about the ordeal on stage.

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Chad says its troops killed Algeria attack mastermind Belmoktar in Mali, but doubt is cast on claim


Chadian soldiers hold up their weapons as they cheer next to tanks and army vehicles ahead of their deployment in Mali. The African country said its troops killed Moktar Belmoktar, the terrorist behind the deadly attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria.

N'DJAMENA, Chad — Chad's military chief announced late Saturday that his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Moktar Belmoktar, the terrorist who orchestrated the attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria that left 36 foreigners dead.

The French military, which is leading the offensive against al-Qaida-linked rebels in Mali, said they could not immediately confirm the information.


This is believed to be terror big Moktar Belmoktar, who Chadian army officials say was killed by troops in Mali.

Local officials in Kidal, the northern town that is being used as the base for the military operation, cast doubt on the assertion, saying Chadian officials are attempting to score a PR victory to make up for the significant losses they have suffered in recent days.

Known as the "one-eyed," Belmoktar's profile soared after the mid-January attack and mass hostage-taking on a huge Algerian gas plant. His purported death comes a day after Chad's president said his troops had killed Abou Zeid, the other main al-Qaida commander operating in northern Mali.

If both deaths are confirmed, it would mean that the international intervention in Mali had succeeded in decapitating two of the pillars of al-Qaida in the Sahara.

"Chad's armed forces in Mali have completely destroyed a base used by jihadists and narcotraffickers in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains" of northern Mali, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue said in a televised statement on state-owned National Chadian Television. "The provisional toll is as follows: Several terrorists killed, including Moktar Belmoktar."

The French military moved into Mali on Jan. 11 to push back militants linked to Belmoktar and Abou Zeid and other extremist groups who had imposed harsh Islamic rule in the north of the vast country and who were seen as an international terrorist threat.

France is trying to rally other African troops to help in the military campaign, since Mali's military is weak and poor. Chadian troops have offered the most robust reinforcement.

In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said that he had "no information" on the possibility that Belmoktar was dead. The Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny the report.

A spokesman for Chad's presidential palace did not immediately return a request for comment.

In Kidal in northern Mali, an elected official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said that he did not believe that Belmoktar was dead and waved off the claim as an attempt by Chad to explain the loss of dozens of their troops to a grieving nation.

"These last few weeks, the Chadians have lost a significant number of soldiers in combat. (Claiming that they killed Belmoktar) is a way to give some importance to their intervention in Mali," said the official, who keeps in close contact with both French and Malian commanders in the field.

Belmoktar, an Algerian, is believed to be in his 40s, and like his sometimes partner and sometimes rival, Abou Zeid, he began on the path to terrorism after Algeria's secular government voided the 1991 election won by an Islamic party.

Both men joined the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, and later its offshoot, the GSPC, a group that carried out suicide bombings on Algerian government targets.

Around 2003, both men crossed into Mali, where they began a lucrative kidnapping business, snatching European tourists, aid workers, government employees and even diplomats and holding them for multimillion-dollar ransoms.

The Algerian terror cell amassed a significant war chest, and joined the al-Qaida fold in 2006, renaming itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Belmoktar claims he trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s, including in one of Osama Bin Laden's camps. It was there that he reportedly lost an eye, earning him the nickname "Laaouar," Arabic for "one-eyed."

Until last December, Belmoktar and Abou Zeid headed separate brigades under the flag of al-Qaida's chapter in the Sahara. But after months of reports of infighting between the two, Belmoktar peeled off, announcing the creation of his own terror unit, still loyal to the al-Qaida ideology but separate from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

It was this group that launched the fatal attack on a BP-operated natural gas plant in southeastern Algeria in retaliation for the French-led military intervention in Mali.

In the attack and in the subsequent rescue attempt, 37 people, all but one of them foreigners, were killed inside the complex. Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the attack within hours, immediately catapulting him into the ranks of international terrorists.

In addition to the alleged killing of Belmoktar, Ngobongue said that Chad's military had also nabbed 60 of the jihadists' cars, electronic equipment and weapons. "The raid is still ongoing," he said.

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When the latest layoff story is about you

It’s an odd feeling reading in the newspaper about losing your job. I didn’t learn about being fired in the newspaper but the story of losing my position was there. Why I lost my job (along with more than a dozen of my colleagues) was the lead story in the business section of The Miami Herald on Feb. 22. It even had a picture of me right next to the paragraph describing how we lost our jobs with the public television program Nightly Business Report.

What’s nice about sharing your employment woes with the entire community is the outpouring of support you get. I received dozens of emails from friends, fans and colleagues across the country, expressing sympathy and pledging to help any way they could. It is humbling to hear how you have impacted people’s lives, especially those you don’t know directly. The range of emotions you feel when you face a job loss can be overwhelming, but a short email or voicemail from an associate can lift your spirits, giving you the strength to press on. The medium of the messages does not matter. A tweet of support, LinkedIn endorsement or text message of sympathy fuels the encouragement to face the anxiety of joblessness.

After news of my job elimination was in the newspaper and blogosphere, there were compassionate glances from fellow parents on the sidelines of the kids’ weekend soccer games. I didn’t have to break the news — most had already read about it. A pedestrian on the sidewalk stopped me in mid-stride to express his disappointment. The inevitable questions came: What are you going to do? Will you stay? Do you have anything you’re working on?

I am lucky my employment status was on the business front page. Thousands of other people are treated as statistics. As a business journalist, I have been guilty of that. Company layoffs numbering in the dozens as ours did rarely demand attention. The cuts have to be in the thousands to have any hope of getting much media attention. Even then, it’s only a number. The names of those losing their jobs are known only to their HR departments, in order to fill out the paperwork. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the nature of job loss. Each job cut is a story that begins en masse in boardrooms and offices but plays out individually in kitchens and living rooms across America.

In January, there were more than 1,300 mass layoffs of U.S. workers. A mass layoff impacts at least 50 people from a single company. More than 134,000 individuals were involved in such action, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. My job loss and that of my colleagues won’t show up in February’s report. There were too few of us. Some of us will appear in other employment data, but we will be just statistics. Each of those statistics has groceries to buy, bills to pay and hope for a new opportunity.

In a $16 trillion economy, it’s understandable that we become statistics. The stakes are just too big to pick up the noise from any of our individual unemployment stories. The weekly and government reports I have spent my career reporting on don’t ask why. They don’t ask who. They only ask how many. It’s our friends and family and colleagues who ask, “How can I help?”

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Possible grenade empties Broward sheriff’s building

A Broward sheriff’s office building in Pembroke Park was evacuated at 2 p.m. Friday after a woman walked in with what appeared to be a grenade.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dani Moschella said the woman told officers she brought the grenade to the sheriff’s office at 3201 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd. to get rid of it safely.

“We don’t know yet if it’s real,” Moschella said. “The evacuation was as a precaution.”

The woman said the grenade had belonged to a relative who died.

A bomb squad sealed off the building to determine whether the grenade is real and contains explosive material, Moschella said.

No charges have been filed against the woman.

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Five Fun Facts About 'Jack the Giant Slayer' Star Nicholas Hoult

Nicholas Hoult plays the lead in the new action adventure movie Jack the Giant Slayer and about a month ago debuted his zombie love story Warm Bodies. Here are five things you probably don't know about this rising Hollywood star.

1. Born December 7, 1989 in the English town of Wokingham -- his father is a pilot and his mother a piano teacher.

PICS: Star Sightings

2. Made his professional acting debut at age 7 in the 1996 film Intimate Relations.

3. Was once injured during filming of a stunt that required him to be tied to a chair and suspended 20 feet off the ground while a double-decker bus came within inches of his body. Luckily, he escaped the incident with only a bruised head.

VIDEO: Jack Cast Evaluates Rising Star Nicholas Hoult

4. Appeared in the Tom Ford film A Single Man in 2009 -- alongside Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. After the movie he was named the face of Tom Ford's eyewear for the spring 2010 collection.

5. Told Interview magazine that if he could take a look into another person's memory it would be the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. "I just think he was a really talented guy. It would be intriguing to see. Everyone wants to be a rock star as well -- that would be cool."

RELATED: Warm Bodies Tops Weekend Box Office 

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Sauce for concern: Pizza poll ranks New York City behind Chicago & Providence

It’s enough to curdle your Mozzarella.

A nationwide survey of readers of Travel + Lesiure magazine ranked US cities for best pizzas — and only placed New York third, behind Chicago and even Providence, R.I.

Rhode Island pizza?

“Whoever did this survey doesn’t know anything about pizza,” said Dan Taormina, general manager of Grimaldi’s, the celebrated pizzeria near the Brooklyn Bridge.

“I went to Providence College. So I had my experience with Providence pizza,” he said. “In Providence when you order pizza they give you a side order of blue cheese.”

“Blue cheese. To cover up the taste,” he said.

Of course, New York is where restaurant pizza was born in America.

But Travel + Leisure — which cited Grimaldi’s as among the go-to places here— defended its high rankings of the top two cities by citing their uniqueness.

Providence “offers an only-in-Providence pie, grilled pizza where the dough is cooked on one side, then flipped before the toppings are added,” the magazine said.

Chicago was ranked number one because it offers such a variety of pie experiences, including its own deep-crusted version.

Taormina scoffs at the Windy City’s deep-dish pie.

“I don’t even consider that pizza,” he said. “That’s a tomato-and-cheese what? I don’t know. Cake?”

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Florida class-action case takes aim at Citizens’ reinspection program

Thousands of Florida homeowners buffeted by higher windstorm premiums have sued state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to recover potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in “back-door” rate increases driven by “arbitrary” reinspections of their residences.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed in Broward Circuit Wednesday, aims to halt Citizens’ reinspection program, claiming it has illegally stripped discounts from homeowners who had earned them under a 2007 inspection program approved by the Florida Legislature. Their original inspections were supposed to be valid for five years.

But in 2010, Citizens violated the due-process rights of homeowners, who had submitted official inspection forms, by arbitrarily reinspecting their properties to boost lost revenue that the agency could not generate lawfully through premium hikes, the suit said.

Lawyers who filed the suit, whose class representative is a Broward homeowner, said Citizens violated the due-process rights of its policyholders, costing each higher premiums averaging upwards of $1,000 — and possibly more — a year.

The collective cost to homeowners throughout Florida exceeds more than $100 million, said attorney Todd Stabinksi, whose Miami law firm, Stabinksi & Funt, filed the suit with Farmer, Jaffe of Fort Lauderdale and Kula & Samson of Aventura. They gathered Thursday for a press conference outside the West Broward County Courthouse in Plantation.

“Citizens got the benefit of lowering their risks, but Citizens’ policyholders did not get the benefit of lower premiums,” Stabinski said. “It should have been a mutually beneficial bargain.”

Consumer advocates have accused Citizens of using the reinspection program to impose “massive” rate hikes on homeowners. Citizens has denied the charge, saying that it is simply trying to get accurate information about the homes it insures.

“Since at least 2010, Citizens has used a wind mitigation reinspection program to systemtically deprive policy holders of legitimate wind mitigation credits,” said a nonprofit group, Florida Association for Insurance Reform, which praised the legal action.

A spokesperson for Citizens said the company has been operating under the law, and that the reinspections came after regulators changed the mitigation criteria. “Our position is Citizens’ reinspections were conducted under statutory authority afforded any insurer to verify, at the insurer’s expense, the accuracy of inspection reports submitted for a mitigation discount,” said spokesman Michael Peltier.

Discontent has been widespread among Citizens’ policyholders, who spent large sums of money on roof, window and other upgrades to earn windstorm mitigation discounts while protecting their homes against potential hurricane damage. In response, Citizens unveiled major changes to its home reinspection program last August, after consumers expressed outrage over media reports about a staggering $137 million in premium increases generated by the unpopular program.

Under its new plans, homeowners who lose insurance discounts because of a reinspection can receive a second inspection free of charge. They will have new tools to dispute the findings of the first reinspection. That decision could impact more than 200,000 property owners, who have already seen their premiums go up by an average of about $800 after the initial reinspection.

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Florida’s Turnpike shut down in Northwest Miami-Dade due to tractor trailer fire

All lanes of traffic in a section of Florida’s Turnpike in north Miami-Dade has been closed due to a large tractor trailer fire during Thursday’s rush-hour.

The fire engulfed the cab of a southbound tractor trailer following a collision with another truck at around 5:30 p.m., the Florida Highway Patrol said

No one was injured in the fiery collision.

All north and southbound lanes of traffic at around Northwest 210th Street and Hallandale Beach, near Calder Race Track, have been closed as firefighters use foam to battle the blaze.

By 5:45 p.m., the fire was under control, but traffic was stopped. Southbound traffic was backed up to Hollywood.

This article will be updated as more details are known.

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Hannibal Full Trailer NBC 2013

Every since it was announced last May, NBC's Hannibal has been high atop my must-see list -- and this just-released trailer for Bryan Fuller's latest small screen endeavor does not disappoint!

RELATED - TV's Most Devastating Deaths

Starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale's Le Chiffre), Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas, Hannibal looks to be a dark, disturbing and dynamic reimagining of Thomas Harris' classic Hannibal Lecter saga.

Watch the bloody exciting trailer & tune in to the April 4 series premiere of NBC's Hannibal at 10 p.m.

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'Occupy' group urging straphangers to give away MetroCards in MTA protest

An Occupy Wall Street-affiliated group called “No Fare Hikes” is calling on unlimited ride MetroCard users to give away their swipes when they reach their final destination to protest looming subway fare increases.

The plan — which organizers dubbed “Swipe Back” — requires users to offer swipes to straphangers who pay per ride, thus depriving the MTA of revenue, according to the group’s website.

Activist and Occupy Wall Street protester J.A. Myerson is featured in a video on the group's website explaining why the MTA should not hike fares. It’s not illegal to give your swipe away.

Selling it, however, is.

In a flier calling for the protest, organizers said that they are trying to stop the hikes and call on the city to increase transit funding.

However, the state funds the MTA, not the city.

“If you use your unlimited card to swipe someone else in, then you’re effectively helping them boycott the fare hike, sort of like boycotting it forward,” reads a flier that the group is spreading.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, “If anyone thinks the best way to balance the MTA’s budget is to reduce the amount of money we collect from customers, then their math is as bad as their logic.”

Swipe Back Flyer by

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Don’t get too personal on LinkedIn

Have you ever received a request to connect on LinkedIn from someone you didn’t know or couldn’t remember?

A few weeks ago, Josh Turner encountered this situation. The online request to connect came from a businessman on the opposite coast of the United States. It came with a short introduction that ended with “Let’s go Blues!” a reference to Turner’s favorite hockey team in St. Louis that he had mentioned in his profile. “It was a personal connection … that’s building rapport.”

LinkedIn is known for being the professional social network where members expect you to keep buttoned-down behavior and network online like you would at a business event. With more than 200 million registered users, the site facilitates interaction as a way to boost your stature, gain a potential customer or rub elbows with a future boss.

But unlike most other social networking sites, LinkedIn is all about business — and you need to take special care that you act accordingly. As in any workplace, the right amount of personal information sharing could be the foot in the door, say experts. The wrong amount could slam it closed.

“Anyone in business needs a professional online presence,’’ says Vanessa McGovern, the VP of Business Development for the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs and a consultant to business owners on how to use LinkedIn. But they should also heed LinkedIn etiquette or risk sending the wrong messages.

One of the biggest mistakes, McGovern says is getting too personal — or not personal enough.

Sending a request to connect blindly equates to cold calling and likely will lead nowhere. Instead, it should come with a personal note, an explanation of who you are, where you met, or how the connection can benefit both parties, McGovern explains.

Your profile should get a little personal, too, she says. “Talk about yourself in the first person and add a personal flair — your goals, your passion … make yourself seem human.”

Beyond that, keep your LinkedIn posts, invitations, comments and photos professional, McGovern says.

If you had a hard day at the office or your child just won an award, you may want to share it with your personal network elsewhere — but not on LinkedIn.

“This is not Facebook. Only share what you would share at a professional networking event,” she says.

Another etiquette pitfall on LinkedIn is the hit and run — making a connection and not following up.

At least once a week, Ari Rollnick, a principal in kabookaboo, an integrated marketing agency in Coral Gables, gets a request to connect with someone on LinkedIn that he has never met or heard of before. The person will have no connections in common and share no information about why they want to build a rapport.

“I won’t accept. That’s a lost opportunity for them,” Rollnick says.

He approaches it differently. When Rollnick graduated from Emory with an MBA in 2001, he had a good idea that his classmates would excel in the business world. Now, Rollnick wanted to find out just where they went and reestablish a connection.

With a few clicks, he tracked down dozens of them on LinkedIn, requested a connection, and was back on their radar. Then came the follow-up — letting them know through emails, phone calls and posts that he was creating a two-way street for business exchange. “Rather than make that connection and disappearing , I let them know I wanted to open the door to conversation.”

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Friday is the deadline for homestead exemption applications

Friday is the deadline to apply for a homestead exemption or other property-tax break with the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.

Two new exemptions are on the books. One aims to cut the tax burden for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes more than 25 years. The other is for the spouses of police and fire-rescue workers who have died in the line of duty.

Homeowners can apply for homestead and other tax cuts at the Property Appraiser’s offices or by calling 305-375-4091 for forms.

Information and online filing for homestead exemption also is available at the Property Appraiser’s website at

A homestead exemption excludes $50,000 of the assessed value of a primary residence from taxation and caps the annual increase in a property’s assessed value at a maximum of 3 percent.

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Spike: The 'Spock' of 'Buffy'?

Fans of Avengers director Joss Whedon's campy ‘90s teen vampire show Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be hard pressed not to think of actor James Marsters' pivotal, genre-defying role as suave bad-boy vampire Spike when reminiscing about the series. But what did Marsters think of the character?

"In Buffy, I thought that I wanted to be the new Spock," he tells ET. "I was a little side character that no one really thought would be much, but I kind of turned the theme at a different angle so you could kind of look at it. …Spock was that side character that nobody thought would be much and he ended up kind of turning the theme on its head, ‘cause Star Trek really was about human beings perfecting a world view and then sharing it with the galaxy, and then Spock was just trying to figure out how to be human in the first place."

The now fifty-something star was just one of many sci-fi icons present at Creation Entertainment’s Grand Slam Convention: The Star Trek and Sci-Fi Summit in Burbank, CA, among other such notables as Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, and many more.

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fun! Giants on the Big Screen

Marsters went on to do a bit of reminiscing himself, eventually giving us his take on the differences between the more traditional, aggressive Buffy vampires of then and the softer, more melodramatic Twilight vampires of now. "In the world of Buffy, vampires were supposed to be ugly and very quickly dead. Joss used to say that he wasn't into the Anne Rice thing. He didn't want vampires to be romantic. That's why in Buffy when we bite people we become hideously ugly. Because in Buffy vampires are a metaphor for all the problems you face in adolescence. So, the vampires of today are very different. They're more in the Anne Rice vein. And that's cool too."

"I think every generation has their own take on vampires, and I think it's fabulous," he continued. "I think vampires, for some reason, they are the most malleable of all of the basic archetypes of horror. Like, wolfman has to be wolfman, has to be a good man or woman that's forced to do evil by the moon. If the wolfman is a jerk, it just doesn't work. Or, if the invisible man is not a jerk, it won't work. The reason the invisible man works is he's a real jerk and so the audience is terrified when he's invisible cause, what's he going to do now? If it's a really nice guy and he's invisible, who cares? But for some reason, vampires can almost be anything. You can use them to whatever ends that you want. Whatever the zeitgeist is in this decade, or whatever, vampires can morph to fit that."

Naked Fan's Encounter with 'Fringe' Star

When talking about Buffy creator Whedon, Marsters fondly referred to the man as a "true artist," though he recalled one encounter in particular that made him realize that even the most talented of artists suffer their creations. "I asked him one time, 'It must be wonderful to wind up the universe and just see how it plays out,’ and he was sweating. He was like, 'Yeah, the problem is I have to keep winding.' He was really killing himself to put the show out, and basically do a 48-hour movie every week, and so I got to see him under intense pressure."

"He's a genius," Marsters concluded, "so it's like, some days you'll get a huge amount of love, and some days you want to hide from him."

Creation Entertainment, the company behind the event, hosts a number of interactive film and television genre conventions throughout the year. For more information on upcoming events, CLICK HERE.

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Man who shot cop he found in bed with his wife indicted for attempted murder

The Staten Island man accused of shooting an NYPD detective he found in his estranged wife’s home has been indicted in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

A grand jury hit Robert Dunbar, 35, with attempted murder charges for allegedly grabbing the off-duty cop’s service weapon and firing of several shots, including one that hit the cop, Louis Pepe, in the back.

Dunbar's lawyer said the shooter found the cop in bed with his estranged wife Aug. 12, 2012, after the couple’s child complained about strange men in the Manalapan, N.J. home.

Dunbar dropped by and found his wife, Deborah, naked in the bedroom with the off-duty cop and both men reached for the detective’s service weapon, a .38 revolver.

Robert Dunbar, accused of shooting an off-duty New York City police officer in Manalapan, NJ.

Dunbar’s lawyer has said the shooting was accidental and the estranged husband didn’t realize the man in the house with the gun and his wife was a cop.

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Friday is the deadline for homestead exemption applications

Friday is the deadline to apply for a homestead exemption or other property-tax break with the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.

Two new exemptions are on the books. One aims to cut the tax burden for low-income seniors who have lived in their homes more than 25 years. The other is for the spouses of police and fire-rescue workers who have died in the line of duty.

Homeowners can apply for homestead and other tax cuts at the Property Appraiser’s offices or by calling 305-375-4091 for forms.

Information and online filing for homestead exemption also is available at the Property Appraiser’s website at

A homestead exemption excludes $50,000 of the assessed value of a primary residence from taxation and caps the annual increase in a property’s assessed value at a maximum of 3 percent.

Read More..

Escaped suspect turns himself in to Hollywood police

A man who escaped from police custody while in handcuffs Tuesday afternoon has turned himself in to authorities.

The man, identified as Marc Vega, was placed under arrest for a domestic dispute in front of Pediatric Associates at 4500 Sheridan St. about 2 p.m., said Sgt. Lester Cochenour.

The female victim suffered injuries to her face and other areas of her body including her legs, Cochenour said.

Cochenour said Vega, donning handcuffs, managed to pry open the back door of the police car.

The man, who was covering his handcuffs with a green shirt and wearing a white or gray T-shirt, headed south through several Hollywood neighborhoods before finding himself in front of the Hollywood Police Department and turning himself in, police said.

Cochenour said unmarked and marked police cars, K-9 units and a helicopter searched for the man.

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Stars Stay Peppy Through Wee Hours of Oscar Night

For those fortunate enough to be invited, Oscar Sunday is an all-day, non-stop event. ET caught up with the stars to get their tips on making it through the madness while maintaining their energy.

PICS: Awards Season Fashion

"This is just fun," said Academy Award winner Halle Berry. "I see all my friends and peers."

"You just gotta enjoy it and then have a good dinner at the Governor's Ball, because you probably haven't eaten today," said Oscar nominee Queen Latifah. "And then we hit the after parties."

John Leguizamo named caffeine as a primary source for his energy.

"It's a long night," the actor admitted. "But you get jacked up meeting all your heroes."

From the People's Choice Awards to the 85th Academy Awards, this awards season, ET's red carpet runs on Dunkin'.

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Senate confirms Hagel for defense secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate has voted to confirm Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary.

The vote Tuesday was 58-41, with four Republicans joining Democrats in backing President Barack Obama's nominee.

The vote ended a contentious fight over the president's choice for his second-term national security team.

Republicans opposed the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, casting him as out of the mainstream and overly critical of Israel. But Democrats stood together for Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran.

Hagel will succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their delay and allowed the nomination to move forward. The Senate vote to end the filibuster was 71-27.

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Foreclosure prevention counseling offered

Homeowners struggling to keep their homes can meet with mortgage company officials and housing experts to get personal advice and help at a free workshop this week in Miami.

The event will run 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the James L. Knight Center at 400 SE Second Ave., Miami.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, from Florida’s 24th Congressional District, and the U.S. Treasury Department are hosting the “Help For Homeowners” event, which is aimed at helping provide homeowners information on avoiding foreclosure, including topics like mortgage principal reduction, refinancing, loan modification, and short sales.

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Poll: 7 in 10 back FL medical-marijuana plan, could affect governor’s race

As many as seven in 10 Florida voters support a state constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana – more than enough to ensure passage and possibly affect the governor’s race — according to a new poll from a group trying to put the measure on the 2104 ballot.

Medical pot’s sky-high approval cuts across party and demographic lines, with Republican support the lowest at a still-strong 56 percent, the poll conducted for People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM, shows.

The outsized support of Democrats and independents brings overall backing of the amendment to 70 percent; with only 24 percent opposed, according to the poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

Regionally, voters from the Miami and Orlando areas, among the most socially liberal in the state, want medical marijuana the most.

Non-Hispanic white women, blacks and Hispanics — all Democratic leaning — are the most-likely to back the measure and could be more likely to turn out to vote in two years if the medical marijuana makes the ballot.

“Supporters of the proposed amendment are less certain to cast ballots in the 2014 governor’s race,” David Beattie, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s pollster, wrote in an analysis of the poll of 600 registered voters taken Jan. 30-Feb. 3 by his firm, Hamilton Campaigns.

If it made the ballot, the measure would draw even more attention to Florida’s nationally watched 2014 election in which Gov. Rick Scott will fight for his political life.

“The proposal to allow the medical use of marijuana could provide a message contrast in the Governor’s race,” Beattie wrote, “heightening its effectiveness as a turnout mechanism.”

But, Beattie warns PUFMM in a memo, “don’t frame turnout efforts on the passage of the ballot initiative in a partisan way.”

To that end, former-Republican-operative-turned-Libertarian Roger Stone is planning to join PUFMM’s efforts to give it a bipartisan feel.

A longtime backer of marijuana legalization, Stone, a Miami Beach resident, is seriously considering a run for governor, where he’ll likely advocate for the initiative called “Right to Marijuana for Treatment Purposes.”

On the Democratic side, former Nelson and Hillary Clinton fundraiser Ben Pollara, of Coral Gables, is signing up as the group’s treasurer. Pollara said they’ve had discussions with Eric Sedler, managing partner at Chicago-based ASGK Public Strategies, which he started in 2002 with former White House advisor David Axelrod, still a President Obama advisor.

“The poll numbers were very encouraging,” Pollara said. “But it’s still a Herculean effort.”

That’s because Florida’s Legislature and voters have made it tougher than ever to get measures on the ballot by citizen petition. PUFMM needs to collect the valid signatures of 683,149 Florida voters. That could cost up to $3.5 million.

Right now, PUFMM has raised just $41,000 and has collected only 100,000 signatures, not all of which are valid. Some might be too old because they were collected as far back as 2009.

PUFMM’s Florida director, Kimberly Russell, said the group hopes that this poll and the top-notch campaign minds could turn things around.

“If we get this on the ballot, we have a great chance of getting this passed,” Russell said. “The more these pass in other states, the more people support it everywhere else.”

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EXCLUSIVE PICS: Inside Vanity Fair's Oscar Party!

EXCLUSIVE PICS: Inside Vanity Fair's Oscar Party!

From Jennifer Aniston to Bradley Cooper to Sandra Bullock, Hollywood A-Listers came out in force for last night's Vanity Fair party following the 85th Academy Awards show. Click through to see our exclusive candid pics from behind the scenes at Hollywood's most glamorous party of the year!

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Swindler cops to stealing more than $300K from elderly dementia victim

A dapper but cruel swindler admitted today that he stole more than $300,000 as the "personal banker" of a dementia-plagued, 94-year-old Manhattan woman.

Edward Lewando, 52, of Holbrook, LI, spent his victim's money on himself at Bergdorf Goodman and Louis Vuitton, prosecutors with the Manhattan DA's Elder Abuse Unit said.

Lewando will serve a three to nine prison sentence and hasn't paid back a cent. The victim, Helen Korne, died ten months after his arrest -- fully aware, despite her other mental frailties, that her trusted banker had stolen her life savings.

"Financial abuse of senior citizens is the most common form of elder abuse," DA Cyrus Vance said after Lewando's plea and sentencing. Often, as in Korne's case, victims are preyed on by trusted caregivers, the DA said.

Lewando is the former employee of no fewer than six banks, met Korne when he worked at City National Bank. He talked the then-91-year-old's family into letting him consolidate her multiple bank accounts into one, and to letting him pay her bills.

Weeks later he lost his bank job -- but still made regular visits to Korne's home, setting check after check in front of her, often made out to cash, and telling her to sign them.

"He took advantage of his role as a private banker, and a trusted fiduciary -- to enrich himself and feed his lavish lifestyle," Elizabeth Loewy, who heads the DA's Elder Abuse Unit, told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cassandra Mullen.

"He exploited a woman in her early 90s who was living a happy and somewhat modest life -- and stole over $300,000 from her over a period of two years," she said.

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Miami medicine goes digital

About 10 years ago, Dr. Fleur Sack quit her practice as a family physician to become a hospital department head. Spurring her decision was the need to switch from paper records to electronic ones to keep her private practice profitable. “At that time, it would have cost about $50,000,” Dr. Sack recalled. “It was too expensive and it was too overwhelming.”

But times and technologies changed, and last year, Dr. Sack left her hospital job to restart her medical practice with an affordable system for managing electronic patient records. She agreed to a $5,000 setup fee and a subscription fee of $500 per month for the system. Her investment also qualified her for subsidy money, which the federal government pays in installments, and to date, her subsidy income has paid for the setup fee and about two years of monthly fees. “So far, I’ve got my check for $18,000,” she said. “There’s a total of $44,000 that I can get.”

That kind of cash flow is one reason why so-called EHR software systems for electronic health records have been among the hottest-selling commercial products in the world of information technology. EHR system development is a growth industry in South Florida, too. Life sciences and biotechnology are among the high growth-potential sectors identified by the Beacon Council-led One Community One Goal economic development initiative unveiled in 2012; already, the University of Miami has opened a Health Science Technology Park while Florida International University has launched a healthcare informatics and management systems program in its graduate school of business.

For many young businesses in the area’s IT industry, government incentives are paving the way. The federal government is pushing doctors and hospitals to use electronic health records to cut wasteful spending and improve patient care while protecting patient privacy — sending digital information via encrypted systems, for example, rather than regular email.

Under a 2009 federal law known as the HITECH Act, maximum incentive payments for buying such systems range up to $44,000 for doctors with Medicare patients and up to $63,750 for doctors with Medicaid patients. Hospitals are eligible for larger incentive payments for becoming more paperless. The subsidy program isn’t permanent; eligible professionals must begin receiving payments by 2016. But by then, the federal government will be penalizing doctors and hospitals that take Medicare or Medicaid money without making meaningful use of electronic health records.

“What the government did is, they incentivized, and now they’re going to penalize,” said Andrew Carricarte, president and CEO of IOS Health Systems in Miami, one of the largest South Florida-based vendors of online software service for physician practices. He said insurance companies also may start penalizing physicians for failing to adopt electronic health records because “the commercial payers always follow Medicare and Medicaid.”

It’s all part of the growth story at IOS Health Systems, which has more than 2,000 physicians across the nation using its online EHR system. Carricarte said many of the company’s customers buy their second EHR system from IOS after their first one flopped. “Almost 40 percent of our sales come from customers who had systems and are now switching over to something else,” he said.

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Miami security guard wounded in stabbing

A security guard was stabbed Sunday afternoon after an altercation with an unnamed subject.

Miami-Dade Police says the stabbing occurred at 5185 NW 29th Ave.

The subject is currently in custody and the security guard was transported to Ryder Trauma Center.

His condition is unknown.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Independent Spirit Award Winners 2013

The 2013 Film Independent Spirits Awards were handed out in Santa Monica, CA today and lots of Oscar frontrunners cemented their status by dominating in their categories once more.

Check out all the winners below:

Best Feature

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Keep the Lights On

Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook


Linda Cardellini, Return

Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed


Jack Black, Bernie

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On

Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe

Wendell Pierce, Four


Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister's Sister

Ann Dowd, Compliance

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere


Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere

Michael Pena, End of Watch

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths

Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom


Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom

Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks

Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

For the full list of winners, click here.

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Death of ex-Post employee 'suspicious'

The death of a former New York Post employee whose body was found in her Cobble Hill apartment Friday is being investigated as suspicious, sources said.

Elizabeth Borst, 55, was found on her kitchen floor after her husband, Gaetano Lisco, called neighbors and asked them to check on the victim because he couldn't reach her.

Although Borst's death has not been ruled a homicide, the autopsy on her was inconclusive, and the victim had several unexplained injuries, sources said.

Borst suffered broken ribs, a broken wrist, a ruptured spleen and a gash to her head, sources said. Toxicology reports have not been completed.

The victim called cops on her husband for a domestic dispute March 4, 2010 but no one was injured, records show. He was grilled by detectives after she was found dead but released.

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South Beach Wine & Food Festival changes Miami's culinary scene, impacts economy

For Miami restaurateurs, this is Showtime.

With dozens of top chefs — Bobby Flay, Todd English, Daniel Boloud and Masaharu Morimoto among the list — in town for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the pressure is on everywhere, from Michy’s to the new Catch Miami. The goal: Show everyone from around the country that Miami’s food scene has arrived on the national stage.

Chef Michelle Bernstein’s staff whipped up dishes designed to impress guests at Michy’s — like foie gras, oxtail and apple tarte tatin — while she juggled menus for multiple events. Bernstein kept her cellphone handy to make sure any chef friends could get a table, even though her namesake restaurant was sold out.

As always, Joe’s Stone Crab was a must-do stop for many, including Paula Deen and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer. Aussie Chef Curtis Stone attracted a string of admirers as he ate his way around town, with stops at Prime 112, Pubbelly Sushi and Puerto Sagua. Khong River House and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar hosted Meyer, The Food Network’s Anne Burrell and Chef Anita Lo.

Michael’s Genuine was another hot spot.

“This is kind of our coming out party for Khong and it’s our chance to knock it out of the park and wow people,” said John Kunkel, owner of Khong and Yardbird.

Prime 112 owner Myles Chefetz admits he’s a fanatic about checking plates when they come back from a chef’s table. And he’s always on the lookout for the table ordering 20 different items, because that’s usually a restaurateur doing research.

“If you have Jean-Gorges or Bobby Flay eating at your restaurant, you want to make sure he has a great experience,” Chefetz said. “You want to put your best foot forward because you know you’re going to get scrutinized.”

The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival is not just a forum for impressing the culinary elite. It’s among the top three tourist draws for Miami restaurants and hotels. In its 12th year, the festival draws more than 60,000 people to Miami Beach for a weekend of decadence, featuring more than 50 events spread over four days.

It is neck and neck with two of the area’s other most prominent weekends: Art Basel and Presidents’ Day (which coincides with the Miami International Boat Show).

There’s the immediate economic impact, of course, but the festival has made its mark in other ways: helping transform Miami’s food scene from a cultural wasteland to one of the country’s hot spots, one where top chefs all want to set up shop.

“Twelve years ago I don’t know if you could even name five really good restaurants. Now, you can’t think of where you want to eat because there are so many good restaurants,” said Lee Brian Schrager, festival founder and vice president of communications for Southern Wine & Spirits, its host. “What the festival can take credit for is introducing the culinary world to the great talent down here, and really highlighting South Florida as a great dining destination.”

There has been plenty of indulgence to go around. Flay finally broke his losing streak and took home top honors at the Burger Bash with his award-winning crunchified green chili burger. At the Q, barbecue lovers had their choice of Al Roker’s lamb ribs with baked beans or Geoffrey Zakarian’s smoked tagarashi crusted tuna, among other offerings.

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The faces of Florida’s Medicaid system

The tea party governor now says he wants to expand Medicaid. The Republican Legislature isn’t as sure.

Hanging in the balance?

Access to health care for 1 million or more poor Floridians.

Billions of dollars in federal money.

The state budget, which — already — pumps $21 billion a year into care. Florida’s Medicaid system today serves more than 3 million people, about one in every six Floridians. The decision whether to expand the system by a full third will be made by men and women in suits in Tallahassee’s mural-filled chambers this spring.

But the impact is elsewhere, in children’s hospitals in Tampa and Miami, in doctors’ offices in New Port Richey and in the home of a woman who recently lost her full-time teaching job.

The Suddenly uninsured

This was not how she envisioned her 60s.

Jean Vincent dreamed of turning her five-bedroom home into a bed and breakfast. She painted murals on walls, created mosaics on floors and let her imagination guide the interior decorating. There is a “garden” room, a “bamboo” room and a “canopy” room.

In 2010, Vincent lost her full-time job teaching in Citra north of Ocala. Her mother became sick with cancer and needed around-the-clock care before dying in August. Then, doctors began prescribing Vincent costly medications to treat osteoporosis and early-onset diabetes.

“I started getting a little behind with my mortgage,” said Vincent, 61. “All of a sudden, I found out I had to have an emergency retina eye surgery.”

Today, Vincent is searching for roommates to move into her home and help pay the bills. She begs Gainesville’s Sante Fe Community College and City College to schedule her for as many classes as she can handle as an adjunct geography professor; this semester’s four is the most she’s ever had.

But her biggest worry? Not having comprehensive health care.

Vincent —who is too young for Medicare — is enrolled in CHOICES, a health services program the Alachua County government created for the uninsured. It covers preventative care like her flu shots and helps with her drug therapy. But if Vincent ever got so sick she needed to go to the hospital, she’d be on her own.

Under current Florida law, adults with no dependents are not eligible to participate in Medicaid no matter how little they make. Vincent’s four children are all grown, which means even as her income has dwindled she can’t become eligible for the health insurance program run jointly by the federal and state governments.

If Florida decides to expand the Medicaid system, people in Vincent’s position for the first time could be covered.

The expansion would allow any single adult making about $16,000 a year eligible for Medicaid.

On the matter, Vincent has become an activist. She joined with patient rights group Florida CHAIN and traveled to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers.

“When I gave my testimony, that’s all I wanted them to do was see there were people out there that weren’t just trying to take advantage of the system,” she said.

This summer, she expects to only be assigned one class at Sante Fe. That will provide about $2,000 for her to live on for three months. Meanwhile, her retirement dreams are put on hold.

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Double Take Celebrity Lookalikes

Alice Eve and Brooklyn Decker

ETonline has found the lookalikes to the stars and, as it turns out,
it's their Hollywood peers. Click the pics and let us know if you think
these celebs bear a resemblance to one another.

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Bank moves to foreclose on Kiss guitarist

YORKTOWN — One of the founding members of the rock band Kiss is in danger of losing a New York home to foreclosure.

The Journal News newspaper reports that a bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on Feb. 15 on a Yorktown property owned by former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.

The three-bedroom house is in a wooded area off the Taconic State Parkway north of New York City.

U.S. Bank National Association said in a court filing that Frehley stopped paying his mortgage in 2011. The Yorktown tax receiver's office also lists liens for thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes on the house.


Singing the blues: former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley could lose his New York home.

Frehley was with Kiss in its 1970s heyday, performing in heavy makeup as a character known as the "Spaceman."

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The faces of Florida’s Medicaid system

The tea party governor now says he wants to expand Medicaid. The Republican Legislature isn’t as sure.

Hanging in the balance?

Access to health care for 1 million or more poor Floridians.

Billions of dollars in federal money.

The state budget, which — already — pumps $21 billion a year into care. Florida’s Medicaid system today serves more than 3 million people, about one in every six Floridians. The decision whether to expand the system by a full third will be made by men and women in suits in Tallahassee’s mural-filled chambers this spring.

But the impact is elsewhere, in children’s hospitals in Tampa and Miami, in doctors’ offices in New Port Richey and in the home of a woman who recently lost her full-time teaching job.

The Suddenly uninsured

This was not how she envisioned her 60s.

Jean Vincent dreamed of turning her five-bedroom home into a bed and breakfast. She painted murals on walls, created mosaics on floors and let her imagination guide the interior decorating. There is a “garden” room, a “bamboo” room and a “canopy” room.

In 2010, Vincent lost her full-time job teaching in Citra north of Ocala. Her mother became sick with cancer and needed around-the-clock care before dying in August. Then, doctors began prescribing Vincent costly medications to treat osteoporosis and early-onset diabetes.

“I started getting a little behind with my mortgage,” said Vincent, 61. “All of a sudden, I found out I had to have an emergency retina eye surgery.”

Today, Vincent is searching for roommates to move into her home and help pay the bills. She begs Gainesville’s Sante Fe Community College and City College to schedule her for as many classes as she can handle as an adjunct geography professor; this semester’s four is the most she’s ever had.

But her biggest worry? Not having comprehensive health care.

Vincent —who is too young for Medicare — is enrolled in CHOICES, a health services program the Alachua County government created for the uninsured. It covers preventative care like her flu shots and helps with her drug therapy. But if Vincent ever got so sick she needed to go to the hospital, she’d be on her own.

Under current Florida law, adults with no dependents are not eligible to participate in Medicaid no matter how little they make. Vincent’s four children are all grown, which means even as her income has dwindled she can’t become eligible for the health insurance program run jointly by the federal and state governments.

If Florida decides to expand the Medicaid system, people in Vincent’s position for the first time could be covered.

The expansion would allow any single adult making about $16,000 a year eligible for Medicaid.

On the matter, Vincent has become an activist. She joined with patient rights group Florida CHAIN and traveled to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers.

“When I gave my testimony, that’s all I wanted them to do was see there were people out there that weren’t just trying to take advantage of the system,” she said.

This summer, she expects to only be assigned one class at Sante Fe. That will provide about $2,000 for her to live on for three months. Meanwhile, her retirement dreams are put on hold.

Read More..

Former MIA hotel supervisor admits to overbilling county

A lengthy investigation into alleged overbilling by the group that runs the Miami International Airport Hotel caught a big break this week, when the hotel’s chief engineer and maintenance supervisor turned himself in to law enforcement and promised to cooperate with authorities.

Nestor Aznar, 61, an employee of MIA hotel operator H.I. Development Corp., showed up at the State Attorney’s office on Thursday afternoon, and pleaded guilty to a single count of organized scheme to defraud.

The state attorney and Miami-Dade’s Office of Inspector General claim that Aznar — and possibly others — ran up bills with false overcharges and were later reimbursed for those amounts from the county.

“This is an ongoing probe,” said Miami-Dade Inspector General Christopher Mazzella.

Aznar, reached at his Cooper City home Friday afternoon, directed calls to his attorney, Ayuban Antonio Tomas. Tomas confirmed the charge and that his client had agreed to work with prosecutors, but wouldn’t comment further.

Law enforcement officials believe there are more arrests to come, and say the scheme used to steal at least $500,000 of county money was relatively simple.

According to the State Attorney’s Office and the OIG, workers with H.I. Development, which has operated the hotel since 1989, would bill the county when work was completed, then the county would reimburse the money. The hotel has recently undergone an extensive renovation.

Aznar is alleged to have overbilled the county for items that include wallpaper, tiles, and carpeting by as much as $500,000 over the past year. None of his coworkers — four who were removed from the airport and relieved of duty last year — have been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

Airport Director Jose Abreu said about a year ago his staff noticed “irregularities” in billing, so he turned the bills over the airport’s chief financial officer. When the CFO couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on, the information was passed along to law enforcement.

The county’s inspector general said investigators later determined “there was some false invoicing of supplies purchased.”

Mazzella said under the plea agreement Aznar will cooperate with investigators, and that any agreed-upon sentence will be delayed until the case is closed. Aznar also agreed to pay restitution to the airport and cover the cost of the OIG investigation, Mazzella said.

The investigation came to light in early January when Mazzella told Abreu in a public memo that he couldn’t go into detail about the investigation. The unusual memo was prompted by an earlier letter from H.I. Development defending the company from Abreu’s criticism.

In that letter, H.I. Development President Andre P. Callen defended the employees Abreu and staffers had let go, saying none have been charged with any wrongdoing. The letter also made reference to what airport officials thought were questionable bills on bathtub and bathroom mirror projects, calling them “fully completed and properly billed.”

The county is now considering new bids from operators to manage the hotel. Before the process began, Abreu said he preferred bypassing the bidding process in case H.I. Development once again entered the contest. County commissioners and administrators chose to open the bidding process.

“Right now it’s up for bid,” said Abreu. “And H.I. could be one of the bidders.”

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Denise Richards House Tour

Denise Richards recently gave ET's Nancy O'Dell a personal tour of her home for her upcoming appearance on HGTV's Celebrities At Home, letting our cameras in to her intricately designed, spacious pad.

Richards' home is indicative of her personal tastes, including her super-feminine approach to design. Plush leopard seats, constant bedazzling and corset-inspired chairs in her closet are just some of the items you'll find in her swanky house.

Video: Denise Richards Defends Skinny Photos

An example of her dedication to detail?

She even replaced all her couch's buttons with crystals to make it "more unique to [her] personality."

"I bedazzled everything," she laughs. "Like I said -- everywhere I could put it, I did."

Related: Richards Says Working with Sheen Was 'Awkward'

Check out the video to see Richards' "sexy" entertainment room, wine room and closet, and to see why she might even be getting into a little trouble with Nancy regarding where she placed Nancy's Christmas gift to her!

Celebrities At Home airs Thursdays at 8.p.m./7 c on HGTV.

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Teens arrested over grade-school girls fight posted on YouTube


Two teens were arrested today for orchestrating a fight between two grade-school girls in The Bronx that was videotaped and posted on YouTube, police said.

The girls, 14 and 15, were charged as juveniles with child endangerment, police said.

The twisted viral video shows the two youngsters, 6 and 7, pulling each other’s hair and hitting one another at Poe Park on Jan. 3.

Older girls can be heard laughing and egging children on.

The fight allegedly stemmed from an early fight between two older girls over candy, police source said.

Police are still determining whether anyone else was behind the video. The video has since been taken off YouTube.

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Jorge Perez: Large upfront payments for condos only works in Miami

Financing condo towers with large upfront payments in the United States basically only works in Miami, thanks to foreign buyers who don't expect to borrow heavily for real estate, Related CEO Jorge Perez said Friday.

"It's a very local market," he told the University of Miami Real Estate Impact Conference. "It's for people who are used to paying cash for most of their second homes."

When condo loans dried up during the housing crisis, Perez and other developers turned to a financing model popular in Latin America where builders demand significant payments throughout the construction process. That's a big change from the boom, when buyers could secure condo contracts for only 10 percent down or less.

Perez said the new model does not work well with U.S. buyers or others who are used to small down payments. "We see resistance to that (Latin American) model in even the Canadian market," he said.


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Jackson Health System earns $5.5 million in January

Jackson Health System reported strong financial results in January, with a surplus of $5.5 million due to an influx of patients, rigid cost controls and good cash collections, Chief Financial Officer Mark Knight told the board on Thursday.

Days of cash on hand remained at a low 14.5 days, far below the benchmark of 175 days of cash that financially successful hospitals are supposed to have.

While the system has been struggling for more than a year with a steady decline in patient volume, January reversed the trend -- with $87.2 million in net patient revenue, compared to $82.6 million in January 2012.

Because the audit for fiscal 2011-2012 showed a surplus of $8.2 million, Knight said that Chief Executive Carlos Migoya earned a bonus of $219,000 on top of his $590,000 salary.

Migoya negotiated a bonus possibility with the board when he started in 2011, in return for accepting a considerably lower salary than the maximum of the $975,000 that the board could have offered. Last March, union fliers accused him of laying off 1,000 workers so that he could earn a hefty bonus. Migoya responded that he would donate any bonus received to the Jackson Memorial Foundation.

On Thursday, Migoya reiterated his intention to donate the bonus.

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Store Manager Offers Weed to Undercover Boss

Toby Bost, CEO of O'Neill Clothing, likes to keep loose reigns on his company, but one store manager takes this creedo a little too far on the next Undercover Boss.

PICS: Candid Celeb Sightings

While going undercover as a clerk at one of O'Neill's retail stores, Toby gets acquainted with manager Jesus -- a stoner who is a firm non-believer in the brand.

"Jesus had a ton of attitude and he had a lot to say," said Toby.

"You will never see me wearing an O'Neill shirt," promised Jesus, which breaks Toby's cardinal (and only) rule. "I'm just straight up lazy, man," Jesus later confessed. "[I] come in, smoke a bowl before work just to calm down."

Watch the clip to see how Toby reacts. Check out an all-new Undercover Boss Friday at 8pm ET/PT on CBS.

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Crook who fatally shot cab driver refuses to apologize to family, gets 30 years

A defiant career criminal was sentenced today to 30 years in prison for the 2009 shooting death of a Bronx livery cab driver who refused to hand over his hard earned cash.

Benny Delgado, 35, stood emotionless during the sentencing and refused to apologize to the family of Jose Pena-Segura, a father of four daughters, who died shortly after he was shot in the head with a .25-caliber revolver handgun near St. Mary’s Park in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

Delgado faced life in prison if convicted of murder but he agreed to plea to first degree manslaughter and gun possession in exchange for 30 years.

“It’s over for him (Delgado)” said Sugura’s wife, Natalia Espinosa, who clutched one of the cabbie’s daughters. “But it’s not over for us --- we have to live the rest of our lives without the person we love.”

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Experts offer advice to entrepreneurs

Do your research, be sure to network, pick partners who have complementary skills and make sure your product is amazing.

Starting or growing a business can be daunting for an entrepreneur. So have a plan, give only a sliver of your business away to investors, know how much money you need and how you will spend it, and demonstrate your passion when searching for capital.

Experts doled out that advice and more at The Miami Herald’s Small Business Forum on Thursday at Florida International University.

About 100 attendees — budding entrepreneurs, small-business owners and others — gleaned tips and inspiration during a series of panel discussions.

Matt Kuttler, co-president of, started three businesses with his business partner, who started as his high school friend.

“The background is trust,” he said, advising entrepreneurs to choose someone with similar values, and to ask themselves: “Can I work with this person? Can I respect them?” In that way, though they have had disagreements, “Ultimately, the mutual respect brings us back,” Kuttler said

Before founding, which the partners sold four months ago to a Baltimore company, Kuttler did lots of research and networked with everyone he could, asking questions.

Know what you want and what you don’t want when searching for a venture, he counseled. For example, if you don’t want to work nights and weekends, don’t start a restaurant. And be aware that even though you can have a thriving personal life, you will always be thinking of your business.

Alberto Perlman, chief executive and co-founder of Zumba Fitness, energized attendees with his tale of starting and growing the Miami business, which combines exercise with entertainment. Zumba classes are now found in 140,000 locations in 186 countries, and the company has sold 12 million DVDs.

“One of the biggest business lessons of Zumba,” said Perlman, the keynote speaker, “is that the product has to be magical. It has to be amazing.”

Other lessons he offered: only give investors or licensees “a sliver of the business” —only what they need. Always “give people more value than what they are paying for.” And spend the money to hire “A” players.

To find financing for a small business or start-up, get help putting together a business plan and a loan application from organizations like SCORE and Partners for Self Employment, their executives said.

Marjorie Weber, Miami-Dade chapter chair of SCORE, advised being careful not to borrow short term if your needs are long term.

And when you are asked, “ ‘How much do you need,’ never answer with ‘How much can you give me,’ ” said Cornell Crews Jr., program director at Partners for Self Employment. “Always know how much you need and how you are going to spend it.”

When pitching to potential investors, do your homework to see what they are interested in, and make a good first impression, said Darius G. Nash, co-founder of G3 Capital Partners, a mid-market and early-state investment company.

“Image matters,” he said.

To present your business, frame it in terms of a problem and a solution, said Melissa Krinzman, founder and managing director of Venture Architects.

“If you don’t have a problem you are solving for your customer, you don’t really have a business,” she said.

What’s more, show your passion and commitment, said Boris Hirmas Said, chairman of Tres Mares.

“I love clever ideas; I love clever people,” he said.

And find someone who believes in you, because the road ahead may be bumpy, he said. “You don’t want people to pull the plug on you.”

Finally, expert coaches critiqued entrepreneurs’ pitches so they could shine.

Among the tips: begin with a provocative sentence to explain why your business solves a problem. Go from ‘why’ to ‘what’ to ‘how,’ to ‘who,’ and always ask for something — like an investment or advice. Also, offer what experience you and your team have in your field.

Speak directly into the microphone and take your hands out of your pocket.

“Showing your hands shows you have nothing to hide,” said Michelle Villalobos of Mivista Consulting.

And share your passion, said David Suarez of Interactive Training Solutions.

“If you can make your audience feel what you are feeling,” he said, “you have done most of your job.”

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County shelter won’t accept pets the last Friday of the month

Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department will be closed for receiving pets — both strays and owned dogs and cats — the last Friday of every month starting immediately.

Cats in the TNG program (trap, neuter and give back) will be accepted based on space and surgery available.

All other services will be administered on regular days and hours.

The shelter is open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. It is located at 7401 NW 74th St., Medley.

The reason for closing the shelter the last Friday of the month is to allow Animal Services employees to carry out special projects, said spokeswoman Xiomara Mordcovich.

For more information on specific services or programs, call 305-884-1101 or visit

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Miranda Lambert Guest Stars on Project Runway

Miranda Lambert is flaunting her curves and looking all-around fabulous in this exclusive clip from Project Runway's brand-new episode Thursday, in which the remaining designers will be creating an outfit especially for the country cutie.

"I don't know if the fabric on me will be super-forgiving. Doesn't look like I can squeeze a Spank underneath that very easily," she laughs, giving her honest opinion on a contestant's tight-fitting creation.

Video: Bette Midler Nails Her 'Project Runway' Appearance

Though judge Nina Garcia begs to differ.

"With your curves, you're gonna rock this dress," she insists.

Video: Watch Susan Sarandon Have a Ball on 'Project Runway'

Check out the video to judge for yourself!

Project Runway featuring guest star Miranda Lambert airs on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 at 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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MTA veteran in $11K brass heist

An MTA worker with 31 years on the job was caught stealing $11,000 in brass subway parts, which he resold for scrap, officials said today.

Keith Barton, 62, was charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. He faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.

A supervisor who worked with him at the Coney Island rail yard noticed that several brass axel rings — which connect the axel to the wheels on subways — were missing.

That supervisor alerted the MTA, who launched an investigation.

Barton was caught loading the rings into his car on Saturday at 4:30 am.

He’d come in to steal the rings even though he wasn’t working, said MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger.

“The supervisor deserves the credit for catching him,” said Kluger.

Brass sells for about $4 or $5 a pound.

It’s unclear how much Barton made reselling the rings, which weigh 18 pounds each.

Barton declined comment.

Fifteen Long Island Rail Road employees were arrested last month for stealing copper wire from the MTA and reselling it for scrap.

The men stole more than $250,000 worth of copper, according to authorities.

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Heico Corp. says sales, profits increased in first fiscal quarter

Technology company Heico Corp. on Wednesday reported modest growth in sales and profits for the first fiscal quarter, though operating income decreased compared to a year ago.

The company, with headquarters in Miami and Hollywood, reported that net sales increased 2 percent to $216.5 million for the quarter that ended Jan. 31.

Net income increased 4 percent to $20 million. The company said net income for the quarter includes a benefit of two cents per diluted share from the retroactive extension of the research and development income tax credit.

Operating income dropped from $37.6 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 to $34.9 million.

“As expected, global economic uncertainty and domestic governmental spending reductions were principal contributing factors to the nominal sales growth and lower operating income reported in the first quarter of fiscal 2013,” the company said in a press release. But optimism remains for the rest of the year, Heico said in the release, noting that growth in airline capacity and maintenance spending is expected in the later part of the fiscal year.

The company, which makes components for the space, defense, communications, medical and computer industries as well as replacement parts for airplanes, raised estimates for the full fiscal year. Heico now expects 6-8 percent year-over-year growth in net sales and 9-11 percent growth in net income, compared to previous estimates of 5-7 percent growth.

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Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez coming to Freedom Tower in April

Famed Cuban dissident and blogger Yoani Sanchez, who was allowed to leave the island this week, will visit Miami on April 1.

She will speak at the historic Freedom Tower, Miami-Dade College announced on Tuesday.

Sanchez is currently on tour in Brazil.

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Pick The Winners with ET's Oscars Ballot!

Frazer Harrison/ Fredrick M. Brown/ Getty Images

The Academy Awards air live this Sunday on ABC, and ET wants you to pick the winners!

Sign up with your Facebook account to use our interactive ballot, and vote for who you think should win on awards night. You can even share your ballot on Facebook to see how your choices stack up against your friends.

From our Ballots Hub Page, you can see the trending favorites in each category, and even ballots from industry professionals including Nancy O'Dell, Rob Marciano, Rocsi Diaz, and Brooke Anderson!

PICS: 2013 Oscar Presenters

Then, come back during the ceremony on February 24, 2013 to view the results and see how your ballot scored in real time. ET will also be live-tweeting the results as they air.

Click here to fill out your ballot now and make your Oscar picks known!

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Ex-cop & killer Christopher Dorner 'did his homework' cops say

Rogue former cop Christopher Jordan Dorner “did his homework,” stalking potential targets, before he was named a murder suspect and went on the run, police said today.

Dorner killed four people during a 12-day terror spree that ended when who blew his brains out last week as cops cornered him in a burning mountain cabin.

The disgraced former officer killed the daughter of a former cop and her fiance on Feb. 3, before he was named a suspect on Feb. 6. But before Dorner’s name went public, he apparently checked out homes and neighborhoods of potential victims.

“We believe based on our investigation, Dorner did his homework," LAPD chief Charlie Beck said.

The LAPD fired Dorner in 2008 after concluding that he made up brutality allegations against a supervisor.

The termination sent Dorner into a tailspin. He wrote a lengthy manifesto, railing on racism within the LAPD and naming enemies.

Dorner was headed to one of his potential targets in the early hours of of Feb. 7 in Corona, Calif., where he was met by cops guarding the would-be victims.

Dorner survived a shootout before killing a defenseless Riverside city cop, who was stopped at a traffic light, moments later.

Before committing suicide on Thursday, Dorner killed a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy during his last stand.

"We hear threats all the time, but rarely so specifically, and that someone has already carried out in the most cowardly way," said LAPD Capt. Phil Tingirides, who along with his cop wife were under armed protection during Dorner’s bloody spree.

Capt. Tingirides was on the internal review board that fired Dorner.

Dorner’s first victim, Cal State Fullerton assistant women’s basketball coach Monica Quan, is the daughter of a cop-turned-lawyer who represented him during that review.

Sgt. Emada Tingirides said her family struggled to keep the threat off their minds as, cops stood constant guard in the family’s backyard during Dorner’s time on the lam.

"We shut the TV off after the first day," said Sgt. Tingirides, who is black. Capt. Tingirides is white.

Dorner died five days after the city of Los Angeles offered a $1 million reward for any tips that led to his capture and conviction.

Since Dorner was never captured or convicted, it wasn’t clear if anyone would get the money.

Chief Beck said donors -- including the city of LA, police support groups, private contributors and other local government agencies -- are huddling come up with a fair solution.

“It is my desire that the reward money be used," Beck said. "It isn't as easy as me coming out with a big check two days later.”

Several people could be in line for at least a cut of the seven-digit award.

Dorner was holed up inside a Big Bear Lake cabin when its owners walked in on him. He tied them up and stole their car, but they freed themselves to call police.

Moments before his last stand, Dorner carjacked a 61-year-old camp caretaker, who also called cops and directed them to the gunman’s direction.

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Best photo apps for Android devices

Whether you want to slap a simple filter on your photo or get granular and change attributes like color levels and saturation, we’ve got a list of the Android apps you’ll want to use.


The good: With its unique gesture-based interface, this offers an incredible level of control over its effects and filters.

The bad: The tools and interface aren’t intuitive, so it could take a while to get familiarized. Also, the lack of a zoom function makes it difficult to see finer adjustments.

The cost: Free

The bottom line: If you’re a serious mobile photographer looking for an app with which to fine-tune your photos, Snapseed is your best choice.

Pixlr Express

The good: Offers more than 600 effects that all work well and are easy to use. Auto Fix and Focal Blur (tilt-shift) are particularly effective.

The bad: The app doesn’t warn you before backing out, which can result in lost work. A Recent Files picker upon launch would be nice.

The cost: Free

The bottom line: One of the most powerful Android apps in its category. Despite its minor flaws, it should be your go-to mobile photo editor.


The good: An excellent way to turn mundane images into cool-looking photos you can share with friends. Mapping features mean people can easily browse all your geotagged shots.

The bad: Photo Map features default to showing all your geotagged shots, which could be dangerous under some circumstances.

The cost: Free

The bottom line: If you like taking retro-looking shots and sharing them, Instagram is tough to beat. Mapping features and frequent updates to the app mean your pictures will have a longer browsing life span.

Photo Grid

The good: Offers a huge menu of grid templates and a dead-simple interface for combining photos into framed collages.

The bad: The app unfortunately doesn’t let you customize the thickness of collage borders or the level of curvature on rounded panels.

The cost: Free

The bottom line: Even though it’s missing a couple of nifty customization tools other collage apps have, Photo Grid’s simple interface and outstanding menu of predesigned grids make it the best collage app on the market.

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At Miami Children’s Hospital, a heartwarming reunion: cardiac surgeons and patients

After several hours operating on the smallest of hearts, Dr. Redmond Burke threw on a blue suit coat over his green scrubs and hustled out to the courtyard at Miami Children’s Hospital. He and his comrade-in-sutures, Dr. Robert Hannan, had important guests to attend to: dozens of kids whose lives they saved over the years.

It was an, ahem, heartwarming scene as, amid handshakes, handslaps and hugs, Burke and Hannan posed for photos and videos with former patients and their forever-grateful parents. They came together under a tent for the hospital’s annual President’s Day reunion of cardiac patients and their surgeons, nurses and ICU docs.

“This doctor is the best and he’s a great human being, also,’’ said Janet Cuervo, who choked back tears as she embraced Burke and recalled the delicate operation eight years ago in which he closed a hole in her daughter Camila’s heart.

Now 14, Camila is a cheerleader and eighth-grader at Mater Gardens Academy in Miami Gardens and leads a fully normal teenage life. Like many of the now older kids at the reunion, she said she barely recalls the life-saving but traumatic surgery, probably not a bad thing.

For every one of the parents, though, it was something they cannot forget.

“This man is going to hold your child’s heart in his hands,’’ said Nancy Lasater, who said she researched Burke thoroughly before concluding he was the best for the job of repairing her daughter Kelsey’s congenital heart defect a decade ago — not just because of his expertise, but because he was warm and approachable and, as a windsurfer and father of three girls, personally well-rounded. “You could tell he was special. He put you at ease. He’s saved so many children’s lives, it’s incredible.’’

After driving down from home in Palm Beach Gardens, Lasater, Kelsey and her two brothers joined a long line of people waiting happily to spend a few minutes with Burke, who eagerly knelt down to greet kids and pose for pictures. Kelsey, now 15, gave Burke an envelope with a thank-you note inside.

“Isn’t this nice?’’ Burke, the hospital’s director of pediatric cardiovascular surgery, said to another young one-time patient. “Everybody’s smiling. There’s no stress.’’

Burke, well known in the field for minimizing trauma to children by devising instruments and procedures that allow complex operations with minimal invasiveness, said the reunion is part of the hospital’s continuum of care.

“Once the parents trust their kids to us, we feel responsible for the duration of their lifetimes,’’ Burke said. “It’s a real touchstone in their lives. We want to reduce that lifelong trauma, and not just for the patients but for their parents and their brothers and sisters. We want them to know we will be here for them.’’

In fact, some young cardiac patients will require lifelong follow-up, including those with artificial heart valves, which must be replaced as the child grows, and last only 10 years. The hospital has opened an adult cardiac surgical unit to follow those patients for life.

A few feet away, Litzandra Hernandez waited with her grandparents, Lydia and Tomas Cabrera, for Dr. Hannan to come out of surgery. Though she’s 20, Hernandez is a very recent Hannan patient.

She was a “blue baby,’’ born in Cuba with a rare confluence of heart malformations — a ventricular hole, a blocked valve and transposed arteries — that interfered with blood circulation, kept her blood oxygen levels low and gave her skin a tell-tale purple tinge. But she went untreated, severely limited in what she could do and at constant risk of heart failure, until she left Cuba in August to join her mother in Miami. Doctors in Cuba said she would live only a few more years without surgery they could not perform, the Cabreras said.

Because hers was a birth defect and she is medically and legally still a child, her adult cardiologist at Aventura Hospital, Robert Cubeddu, referred her to Hannan. In January, she had a risky surgery that’s usually performed on infants to create a bypass that allows blood to flow normally.

On Monday, an ebullient Hernandez, her skin a healthy hue, along with her grandparents, surrounded a smiling Hannan.

“He said he would treat me like his daughter, and he did,’’ she said. “And now I am super well.’’

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