Ari Porth Bows Out Of Stacy Ritter Run

3 Jun

We’d heard wind that state Rep. Ari Porth has doubled back on his proposed bid to run against embattled and investigated Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter.

Today Porth confirmed to Local 10 that he was abandoning his idea to challenge Ritter. Instead he wants to be a judge and will vie for the seat on the bench being vacated by outgoing Chief Broward Judge Victor Tobin. Here’s the email Porth, who works as a truancy prosecutor, wrote me today after being asked about it:

Porth

Mr. Norman,

As promised, I wanted to keep you in the loop. Last night, the Florida Bar posted on it’s website @ flabar.org that Judge Tobin’s seat is open for appointment. I have decided to apply for that circuit seat.
My focus at the State Attorney’s Office over the last 15 years and in the Legislature over the last 7 has been on helping at risk youth. Continuing to work with that population on the delinquency or dependency bench has been desire of mine for many years, and I hope to be positively considered by the members of the nominating commission and the Governor should my name be recommended.
All the best,
Ari

Well, with this announcement, the world of Broward politics just got a lot less interesting. But you can bet Ritter — who has already filed to run for reelection — will be happy about it.

— Any moment now this mess of a blog — with its double scroll bars and jumpless monothilic page — will come to an end. In its place will be a new blog homepage that will have links to the ten most recent blog posts with a flash drive highlighting each one with a click. It’s a huge vast improvement — and those of you who are going to the WordPress version of the blog, it will die a quiet and welcome death. This is a good thing but there may be a couple of hiccups along the way. There is one clear downside: The comments made so far on this format will disappear. For that I apologize, but the new format is so much better that it’s more than worth it. If there are any classics you think must be preserved for posterity, and I know of a few myself, please copy them now.

Family Fortune Buys Psycho Killer Out Of Prison

3 Jun

Ryan LeVin walking out of jail

More than two years ago, wealthy heir Ryan LeVin plowed his white Porsche into two British tourists while speeding wildly on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, killing them both.

LeVin, now 36, fled the scene and repeatedly lied to authorities before they finally arrested him and charged him with two counts of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene last year. Today, he bought his way out of prison.

The severity of his crimes called for at least a 30-year sentence. But Broward Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy today sentenced LeVin — who was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to today’s court testimony — to two years house arrest, 1,000 hours community service, and ten years probation after he pleaded to killing the two men —  Craig Elford, 39, and Kenneth Watkinson, 48.

The families of Elford and Watkinson agreed to the incredibly light sentence in exchange for a piece of the LeVin fortune. The families, who are in England, said okay to confidential settlement with LeVin’s family, which runs a jewelry sales company called Jewels By Park Lane, that pays them a total of $4 million, according to a Local 10 source. In exchange for the money they agreed not to pursue the prison time.

Prosecutor Stephanie Newman, on behalf of the families, asked McCarthy to give LeVin, who also managed to escape severe punishment for serious brushes with the law in Illinois, a seemingly light sentence of ten years in prison. But the judge instead followed defense attorney David Bogenschutz’s request for no prison time at all.

Bogenschutz said after the sentence was handed down that the experience was a “real eye-opener” for LeVin and that he’d “learned his lesson.”

The Greatest No On Earth

3 Jun

I didn’t expect to write exactly that headline. Had to change a word.

Have you ever seen more awesome dunks in any NBA finals game than what Wade and LeBron did last night? Phenomenal is a word that comes to mind. Then came the eighth eighth of the game. Dallas surged, Miami wilted. Colossal comeback, miserable meltdown.

I couldn’t believe the Heat didn’t use the foul to give when Nowitzki was basically waiting for it on the perimeter. But the real blame might lie with the premature celebration in front of the Dallas bench after Wade’s three in the corner. After hitting the shot that put the Heat up 15 with seven minutes left. Wade held his follow-through up longer than Jordan did when he beat Utah. After the obligatory Dallas timeout, LeBron danced and play-punched Wade all the way back to the Miami bench. That’s just tempting fate. And Dallas is the ultimate veteran team that has kicked up a few other amazing fourth quarter turnarounds in these playoffs.

The only other NBA team that can storm back at the level Dallas can is … Miami. But now it feels like Dallas has the momentum. I don’t pretend to know what’s going to happen in this series. At about the time Wade hit that three, it felt like it might be a Heat sweep. Now it feels like Dallas has all the momentum and know-how (like 2006, only vice versa). I would expect Dallas to win Game 3 by pure inertia, but with Miami anything’s possible. There’s little doubt the series will come back to South Florida. It’s starting to feel like seven.

Sabean

— Sticking with the sports theme, did you hear what the off-base general manager of the San Francisco Giants said about Marlins’ rookie Scott Cousins? You’ll remember that Cousins made a crushing hit on Buster Posey in a collision at the plate last week (see video here) that broke the catcher’s leg. Just about every baseball expert agreed that, unfortunate as it was, Cousins’ play was clean — something that every ballplayer past Little League is taught to do. Giants GM Brian Sabean, though, is holding a grudge. On a radio show yesterday, he lashed out at rookie, calling the play “malicious” and “premeditated”.  “If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we’ll all be happy,” said Sabean, among other gems.

Nice. And this comes from a man who was warned about steroids in his dugout well before the Barry Bonds scandal broke — and did nothing about it. No class, no class at all.

— For a quick read in case you missed it, Local 10’s Roger Lohse had a nice scoop about a ruling on one of our (least) favorite topics: Red light cameras. Bottom line is that if a Broward County judge has found that it’s unconstitutional for police to give tickets for running red lights while the cameras are in operation. I bet Angelo Castillo didn’t see that one coming. Read the story to find out why.

Wall Street Drops School Board Credit Outlook To “Negative”

2 Jun

It’s always interesting to see Wall Street’s take on one of its best customers — the Broward County School Board.

The school board racked up roughly $2 billion in debt during its recent lobbyist-fueled building boom. As quick as the board could borrow the money, it was shoveled out the door to favored contractors. After its spree the board has another problem — tens of thousands of empty seats.

Fitch Ratings has  dropped the board’s credit rating outlook from stable to negative, citing “concerns about the district’s ability to accommodate substantial budgetary shortfalls with ongoing expenditure solutions while maintaining at least the current modest level of financial flexibility.”

That’s another way of saying the board looks like its in some deep shite, financially speaking.

The Fitch report, which maintains an “A+” rating on the existing board debt, lists the usual reasons for the board’s current financial problems: reduced state funding, less tax revenue due to the real estate downturn, the lack of federal stimulus money, etc.

“Officials plan to close a $141 million funding gap, equal to nearly 8% of spending, with a variety of recurring and one-time measures including meaningful reductions in teaching and administrative staff ,” Fitch tells us.

I guess they are “meaningful,” especially when you talk to one of the 1,400 teachers whose positions are being eliminated and the children who counted on them. The report goes on to talk about reduced district contributions to the Florida Retirement System, which is expected to save as much as $85 million a year.

Fitch also notes that the five-year capital improvement plan has a “sizeable” $1.3 budget. Then it notes perhaps the most dire news of all: Of that $1.3 billion, a whopping billion dollars of it will go to pay off the debt.

The report even addresses the scathing grand jury report that found the school board had wasted hundreds of millions of those dollars it now owes back.

Fitch reviewed the findings and district response to the Statewide Grand Jury report that was released in February 2011 which investigated the functioning of the school board and district staff. The Grand Jury and Florida Department of Law Enforcement found no specific violations of any criminal law and returned no indictments. Although the district has established an ethics committee that addresses many of the issues identified by the report, Fitch remains concerned about the findings’ indications of management and governance weakness.

As do we. Read the report here.

Fla Drug Testing Shows Tea Party’s “Freedom” Talk Is Phony

2 Jun

Don’t tread on me — but by all means force me to give you my urine anytime for testing.

Fort Lauderdale Tea Party organizer Gabe Carrera with his "Don't Tread" sign

The Tea Party is all about freedom from government, so why would they follow their fearless leader, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, into the Orwellian world of forced drug tests for government employees and government assistance recipients.

Where’s the “You can have this piss cup when you take it from my cold dead hands”?

Where’s the talk of an out-of-control Big Brother trying to get into the people’s precious bodily fluids?

Or the outrage at spending taxpayers’ money on a measure that attacks personal freedom?

It’s nowhere to be found. And that’s not surprising, considering that the victims of this new government program are welfare recipients and government employees, the bogeymen of the right.

But why would the Tea Party stand idly by while Gov. Scott adds another costly government program, another taxpayer’s burden? If these guys are really about rooting out government waste and corruption, shouldn’t they be jumping all over the fact that Solantic, the health clinic firm in which he reportedly sold his interest in April, is heavy into the drug test business?

Not gonna happen. The Tea Party and Rick Scott are locked arm-in-arm for good; they’ll go down with the ship together.

UPDATED: Mendelsohn Sentenced To Four Years In Prison

1 Jun

UPDATED: U.S. District Judge William Zloch sentenced Hollywood ophthalmologist and political operative Alan Mendelson with four years in federal prison for wire fraud today, 18 months more than his prosecutors had recommended as the maximum. Mendelsohn, who sources say is cooperating with federal and state officials in ongoing corruption cases, walked out of the courthouse a free man — he won’t have to start serving his sentence until January 2012.

The Sentinel quoted Zloch as saying at the time of sentencing: “Corruption in society is like a cancer – it spreads its tentacles. Corruption has become so common that its gravity is lost to many.”

The Hollywood ophthalmologist concealed over $600,000 in income, both from PACs from which he stole money and tax ripoffs he pulled off at his eye doctor practice.  

Mendelsohn

Mendelsohn, 53, spent about $200,000 of that money for a house and car for his mistress. He diverted $82,000 to the political camp of former state Sen. Mandy Dawson, who pushed his bills in the state legislature. And he engaged in a reprehensible plot involving huge amounts of money with Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger to persuade Gov. Charlie Crist to stymie a state investigation into Steinger’s crimes with his viatical company Mutual Benefits.

But Mendelsohn said when he pled guilty last year that he was a law-abiding guy who was helping to pass good laws with the Florida Society of Opthalmology and the Florida Medical Association until he met one man.That man: Russell Klenet, the lobbyist-husband of Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter. 

Klenet

Klenet was working Steinger at the time and enlisted Mendelsohn to help the Ponzi schemer try to squirm out of the state investigation. Here’s how Mendelsohn described it to Judge William Zloch when he pled guilty last year.  KlenetRuss Klenet had approached me to help him with his clients and unfortunately, your honor, it was these interactions with Russ Klenet which led me to a series of bad choices,” Mendelsohn declared. “It is these bad choices that I made is why I’m actually standing in front of you. … [Klenet] approached me with a handful of his clients. The deal was I would provide legistlative help to he and his clients and in exchange his clients would make generous contributions to those medical PACs that I worked so hard to raise money for. I think I did an excellent job helping fun the coffers of the PACs. But then, your honor, on his own initiative, Russ Klenet had his clients give me large payments because they were absolutely thrilled with the legislative outcome that I was able to achieve on their behalf. They were thrilled. And Russ Klenet very repeatedly [and] precisely said, ‘It’s gifts. It’s gifts because it’s in contrast to salary or income which are taxable events. It’s gifts.’ He also added that he, himself, received similar type payments and he himself had counted it as gifts. They were gifts. I should have declared those payments as income on my taxes. … Now looking back at it, it is clear I was deceived. In the process of being deceived I deceived the IRS.”

While I don’t doubt the gist of what Mendelsohn said — Klenet has a history of wrangling with the IRS — I wonder if he didn’t overplay that hand. Klenet didn’t file his tax forms, after all.

UPDATED: Feds Ask Judge To Sentence Mendelsohn To 30 Months

1 Jun

A bit of the Sun-Sentinel's "Corruption Chart"

Eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn, who as a lobbyist and fundraiser who rose high in the state GOP before flaming out, will be sentenced today in federal court for his stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in PAC money, an apparent bribery scandal involving former state Rep. Mandy Dawson, and his role in a political scandal involving Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger.

UPDATED: Mendelsohn is in federal court before Judge Zloch as a type this (12:21). The government has recommended Mendelsohn receive 24 to 30 months while Mendelsohn’s defense attorney has said 15 to 17 months is more in order. Will update again when Zloch hands down his sentence.  

In the meantime, click here to check out the new Sun-Sentinel “Corruption Chart.” It’s actually quite wonderful, though it needs some serious copy editing in parts.