Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World. Show all posts

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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President Obama, Tiger Woods play golf in Florida

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — That was a big-time ringer in President Barack Obama's golfing group Sunday in Florida.

Famous pro golfer Tiger Woods joined the president at the Floridian, a secluded yacht and golf club on the state's Treasure Coast.

The White House says the group also included Jim Crane, the Houston businessman who owns the resort and baseball's Houston Astros and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Obama is spending the long President's Day weekend at the Floridian and is expected to return to Washington on Monday.

First lady Michelle Obama and daughters, Malia and Sasha, are on an annual ski vacation out West.

On Saturday, Obama received some instruction and played a few holes with Butch Harmon, Woods' former swing coach.

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Hard road, cheap pay, for South Florida school bus drivers

If you think driving a car with a couple of children fussing and fidgeting in the back seat can be distracting, consider the plight of school bus drivers.

They maneuver a bulky, boxy vehicle through busy streets while shouldering responsibility for dozens of otherwise unsupervised students.

It’s a full-time job with irregular hours. The pay? Generally less than $20,000.

At a time when the state is looking to ramp-up security in schools, some point out school buses have not been a part of the conversation.

In Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest school district, which has more than 1,300 drivers, none of the school buses have security cameras, a situation that was underscored not long ago when a 15-year-old student brought a loaded gun onto a bus and it accidentally discharged, hitting a 13-year-old in the neck, killing her.

In New York City, where about 9,000 school bus drivers recently went on strike, close to $7,000 is spent annually for each student passenger. Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, spends about $1,000 for each school bus passenger.

Parents like Robin Godby of Pembroke Pines say school bus drivers should just be in charge of driving students safely — that there ought to be an aide on board watching students to make sure they’re behaving and are safe.

“I don’t think they get the support,” Godby said of bus drivers. “They have to deal with kids who have disciplinary problems and they have to drive a vehicle.”

She knows what it’s like to try to discipline her two daughters from the driver’s seat.

“It drives me nuts,” Godby said. “Especially if they start fighting or bickering. It’s distracting.”

School bus drivers in Florida’s larger districts can have close to 90 students behind them.

Ronda Martin, with the Office of Labor Relations for Miami-Dade public schools, says bus drivers are paid for the 191 days when students are in school. But she says many of the drivers work overtime and weekends to earn extra money.

“I try to do overtime at least every day, five days a week,” said Sharayne Milton, a school bus driver for Miami-Dade schools. “And if they want me to work on the weekend, I will.”

Milton takes students on field trips and waits to transport students who have after-school sports and activities. Her day starts at 4 a.m. and can end at 10:30 p.m., with about four unpaid hours in between while students are in class.

In Miami-Dade, about 75 percent of school bus drivers are female, which can make it difficult to discipline older, male students.

When fits fly

Driver Gwendolyn Tillman says she won’t get in between fighting students.

“Usually if there are some other guys on the bus and the guys have respect for the bus drivers, the other young men on the bus will pull them apart,” Tillman said.

If nobody pulls the kids apart, bus drivers are instructed to call the district dispatcher — and not the police.

“Our drivers do not take actions against individual students,” said Jerry Klein, who is in charge of school transportation in Miami-Dade County.

“There is a process for them to fill out a report and then the schools deal with it like any other misbehavior in the schools.”

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Charlie Crist's wife loses custody of two teenage daughters

The ex-husband of former First Lady Carole Crist has been granted full custody of their two daughters, after alleging that she abandoned them and hasn’t returned messages in nearly two years.

“She’s completely abandoned them,” Todd Rome said of his former wife of 14 years in a brief telephone interview Friday.

He said Mrs. Crist, married for four years to former Gov. Charlie Crist, has not seen or spoken to her 14- and 16-year-old daughters since June 8, 2011, and that even simple tasks like getting her signature on documents has become a challenge.

Mrs. Crist and ex-husband Rome had joint custody until Feb. 1, when a family court judge in New York granted him temporary full custody. Rome said he may seek full custody permanently.

“She probably will not fight it, because she didn’t fight this one,’’ he said.

Neither Charlie nor Carole Crist could be reached for comment Friday, and a local lawyer for Mrs. Crist said they would have no comment.

“This is a domestic situation, which is private,” said Sam Heller, her lawyer. “Unfortunately, Mr. Rome has been untruthful throughout this process.”

The court records in New York are not public record, and Rome, CEO of Blue Star Jets in Manhattan, declined to provide a copy of the custody order. He did, however, read the judgement of the phone to the New Times in South Florida, which first reported the ruling.

“The children’s needs haven’t been met,’’ Rome’s New York lawyer, Mark Heller, told the New Times. “She won’t answer calls. Her lawyers won’t answer calls. And we had no choice but go to family court.”

Reached by phone as he was driving with his daughters, Rome said he has no explanation for why Mrs. Crist, 43, cut off contact with his daughters. He then passed the phone to his wife of four-plus years, Vanessa Rome.

“Anything that needs a co-parent signature becomes a complete ordeal, because she doesn’t answer,’’ Mrs. Rome said of Mrs. Crist. Mrs. Crist used to visit her daughters every other weekend in New York City.

Mrs. Rome said Mrs. Crist had no patience for the girls any time they complained about something.

“She doesn’t like to discuss anything or be called out, so if they say anything that rocks the boat she’ll say, 'Okay, bye. I have to go,’ and hang up.”

The former governor has in the past spoken warmly of his stepdaughters — he called them “our children” in 2009 — but Mrs. Rome said “he wanted no part of them.” When in Florida during 2010, the girls constantly found themselves bored at political fundraising events with no one to talk to. Mr. Crist, she said, also had no tolerance for any hint of unpleasant teen behavior.

“He would say, 'I’m not coming to dinner with you with that attitude,’” she said. “Often they were left alone in the hotel room to order room service.”

Mr. Rome has been outspoken in his criticism of his ex-wife’s parenting and in 2011 sued her for failing to pay support. The New York Post wrote about one late-2011 court hearing attended by the Crists. The Post quoted a judge noting that their divorce agreement requires no child support for the daughters living in Manhattan and, “I also can’t make her visit her children.”

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Jackson Health System dismisses trauma petition

Jackson Health System announced Thursday it has filed a notice to voluntarily dismiss its petition for a state hearing that included a suggestion that the state revoke the provisional license for the trauma center at the Kendall Regional Medical Center.

The Florida Health Department is trying to craft a new statewide standard for determining how many trauma centers an area needs.

In a memo to county political leaders, Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya called it “a strategic decision on the future,” meaning it will focus instead on the Florida Health Department’s plan to craft a new statewide standard for determining how many trauma centers an area needs.

The Health Department is holding a hearing next Wednesday in its offices in Doral to get South Florida feedback on how much need there is for trauma centers.

In January, Jackson filed a petition with the state demanding a hearing on why the state had turned down its request for additional trauma centers at Jackson North and Jackson South while the state had granted provisional licenses to facilities like Kendall Regional — licenses that a judge had ruled were granted improperly.

Some county commissioners expressed concerns that Jackson was opposing the Kendall operation.

The state responded on Jan. 31 that Jackson’s petition was invalid and demanded that Jackson show cause by Feb. 14 why the petition shouldn’t be dismissed. Jackson instead decided to voluntarily dismiss it.

In his memo sent Wednesday, Migoya said that Jackson will focus on drafting the new rules. “We intend to provide the medical evidence, expert advice, written testimony and community support to buttress the positions that will best serve our residents.”

Jackson has consistently maintained that the region is best served by having only one trauma center — its Ryder center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The HCA hospital chain, which owns Kendall Regional, has been aggressive in applying for new trauma licenses and has received several provisional certifications.

On Thursday, the Health Department notified another HCA facility, the Orange Park Medical Center near Jacksonville, that that it “did not meet the standards” for a provisional center and ordered its trauma operations to cease immediately.

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It’s a whodunit as Internet feed from Pakistan dies in Miami terrorism trial

On Tuesday morning, the Internet connection linking a suspected Taliban soldier who was testifying in a video call from Pakistan to a Miami federal courtroom suddenly went dead.

Was it a communications glitch at the Islamabad hotel? Or did the Pakistani government kill the feed because of the witness’s alleged Taliban ties?

The 12 jurors were left in the dark, as U.S. District Judge Robert Scola excused them after saying, “We have lost our transmission.”

Perhaps the most befuddled in the bunch: Miami imam Hafiz Khan, 77, who is standing trial on charges of sending thousands of dollars to the Taliban terrorist organization, sworn enemies of the U.S. and Pakistan governments. Khan was the leader of the Flagler Mosque, 7350 NW Third St.

Despite safety concerns, the judge had allowed Khan’s defense attorney to travel to Pakistan to take live testimony from 11 witnesses so the defendant could receive a fair trial. Prosecutors opposed allowing the testimony and refused to make the trip.

Everything seemed to be going pretty well until about 11:20 a.m., or 9:20 p.m. Tuesday in Islamabad — with 8,000 miles separating the two cities. The flat-screen televisions and video monitors in front of the judge, lawyers and jurors suddenly lost signal and flashed “disconnected.”

Khan’s defense attorney, Khurrum Wahid, explained to the judge by phone that there was “absolutely no problem” until a prosecutor in Miami mentioned the name of the Serena Hotel, where the testimony was being taken, during cross-examination. He noted the hotel staff said “there were some intelligence operatives in the business center here, and they were taking pictures of us and our witnesses.”

Added Wahid: “I’ve been told by the hotel staff that it’s from outside the building and that ... the IP address has been blacklisted by the Interior Ministry, I’m sorry, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.”

Scola was not amused. He reminded Wahid that he allowed him to travel to Pakistan to take the live testimony of defense witnesses — including three defendants who had been indicted along with Khan — as long as he obtained the approval of the Pakistan government. Wahid told the judge that he had received verbal approval, but the government refused to put it in writing.

“They’re supposed to know about it,” the judge told Wahid. “The whole purpose of this was that I wanted it to be open and notorious. I didn’t want to do something behind the back of the Pakistani government.”

The judge wondered aloud about possible solutions: If the problem is purely technical, it could be fixed and testimony could resume Wednesday morning. If it’s an “intentional act by the government of Pakistan,” there probably wouldn’t be any more live testimony from Islamabad.

Then, Wahid suggested that Skype might work as an alternative to the Internet video-conference feed.

Scola seemed flabbergasted: “I’m not going to do that. I’m not creating some kind of international incident. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid.”

Then, Wahid pointed a finger of blame at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami for killing the Internet connection: “I’m of the belief at this point that our government, through the prosecutors, is attempting to derail this process.”

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Melgen lawsuit a glimpse at intersection of business, love life

A politically connected South Florida eye surgeon under investigation by the FBI filed a lawsuit against his former lover in a case centered on a dispute about whether he gave her close to a million dollars for a joint business venture or, as she testified, because “he wanted me to live like royalty.”

In late January, federal agents raided the offices of West Palm Beach eye surgeon Salomon Melgen in an investigation about Medicare billing. The FBI is separately examining his relationship with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez a New Jersey Democrat, and the trips they took on Melgen’s private plane to the Dominican Republic. Through his lawyers, Melgen has denied wrongdoing.

In 2000, after his love affair with Yudehiris Dorrejo ended, Melgen filed a lawsuit on behalf of his company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, against Dorrejo in an attempt to get his money back. A Palm Beach judge dismissed the case two years later, citing jurisdictional issues in the dispute that involved no written contract.

An attorney for Melgen, Alan Reider, told The Miami Herald in an email: “The legal dispute with Ms. Dorrejo concluded over a decade ago. Dr. Melgen believed at the time and continues to believe that he had a valid legal claim. Beyond that, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Depositions of Melgen and Dorrejo taken in 2001 read like a trashy romantic tale gone bad, with a business twist. It’a story laced with bizarre allegations from death threats to consultations with witch doctors.

The depositions show the wealthy Melgen lavishing his girlfriend with a Mercedes-Benz , private airplane flights and a cash-stuffed bank account. Melgen testified that he gave her money to launch a clothing store together, though she testified they never had a business relationship.

Melgen said that he first met Dorrejo in 1998 through a friend in Santo Domingo, the city he’s originally from. Melgen told her that he was single, but when she found out he was married they broke up, she testified. She would have been about 28 at the time. He was in his mid 40s.

Later that year in October, she said Melgen sent for her to meet him at a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in West Palm Beach “to propose the conditions for our romantic relationship,” she testified.

Melgen proposed that they get back together and said he was divorced. “He showed me divorce papers, which were falsified, I later found out,” she said.

Melgen then set up a bank account for her for whatever she needed. “He wanted me to live like royalty, that I would have no problems of any kind,” she testified

At the time, she worked for a store in the Dominican Republic called Vestimenta that she had formed with her mother in 1996. In 1999, Vestimenta entered into a franchise or distribution agreement with the clothing store Vertigo, according to Dorrejo’s testimony. At the time of the deposition, the store operated under the Vertigo name at the Diamond Mall in Santo Domingo.

Melgen testified that he had pitched the business idea one day when they were “in bed just talking” at the Ritz-Carlton.

“And I said why don’t you ask for the franchise of Vertigo and we go into a joint venture....” he said. He had hoped to establish an absolute right to Vertigo in the Dominican Republic, he said.

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Everglades python haul low, but scientists envision wealth of new data

The numbers are relatively benign, and they didn’t change much in last weekend of the Florida Everglades great python hunt, but event sponsors are calling it nothing short of a great success.

Reports as of Friday were that 50 Burmese pythons had been captured during the month-long chase that ended at midnight Sunday, and Sunday evening, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said he wasn’t aware whether the total had increased.

Still, he called ridding the Everglades of any of the hugely invasive predators that have caused havoc with the ecosystem, and which have been seen challenging top-of-the-food-chain alligators for supremacy, nothing short of fantastic.

“We’ll have a better handle on the exact numbers by late Monday or Tuesday,” Pino said. “But undoubtedly for us, it’s a complete success. You can argue it’s not a huge number, but its 50 pythons not in the ecosystem causing havoc.”

Hunters had to register with the wildlife commission, take a quick online course, and follow specific humane rules the commission determined were best fit to kill the Southeast Asian native monsters that can grow to close to 20 feet long. The pythons can be legally killed only by a gunshot to the head or by beheading with a machete.

Hunters have until 5 p.m. Monday to turn in what they have captured. They can keep the skins to do with as they wish. Prizes of up to $1,500 for the most pythons caught, and $1,000 for largest python captured, will be awarded at Zoo Miami on Saturday.

No one knows exactly how the Burmese python made its way to South Florida, but it has been around for decades, and multiplying at an alarming rate. It’s not uncommon to find females carrying dozens upon dozens of eggs. The largest python caught to date was 17.5 feet long and weighed 164 pounds, though six to nine feet is more typical in the Everglades.

Scientists estimate there are now tens of thousands of slithery reptiles — that used to be common as pets — in the wild. Though they are large, they are extremely difficult to spot, often hiding among weeds or in dark water.

Last year the Obama administration banned the importation of four species of constrictor, including the Burmese pythons. It is also illegal to keep them as pets unless you can produce paperwork showing you had the creature prior to July 2010.

Pino said by Monday night his agency should have a better feel for the totals, but, he said, that really doesn’t matter.

“The data we’ll get will be unbelievable,” he said.

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