Phil Ammann - 5/381 - SaintPetersBlog

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Infrastructure, taxes and business are key issues in Tarpon Springs Commission race

When Tarpon Springs voters go to the polls next month, they will see some familiar names on the ballot for City Commission, including a former mayor and a candidate for an earlier seat.

Frank DiDonato, 69, who lost a bid to return to office last year, served as mayor from 1998 to 2004.

He faces Tim Keffalas, 62, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for the commission in 2016, and 30-year-old Jacob Karr, a political newcomer.

All three are seeking Seat 1, currently held by term-limited Townsend Tarapani.

After serving as mayor, writes Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay times, DiDonato continued his public service on the Charter Review and Budget Advisory committees.

DiDonato’s platform hasn’t changed much since his last campaign — infrastructure and lower taxes. But, this time, he’s also calling for a biking and walking trail connecting local beaches to the new swimming pool at Tarpon Springs High.

As a small-business owner and Tarpon Springs resident since the 1990s, Keffalas is running a mostly self-funded campaign.

Keffalas told the Times that despite his loss last year, he plans to focus much of his attention to the voters who supported against Commissioner Susan Slattery. His priorities are also infrastructure and responsible spending. Keffalas serves as president of the Tarpon Springs American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and on its Sister Cities Committee.

Karr, a Tarpon Springs native, told reporters he is looking to keep the city “a great place to live” by bringing businesses to downtown and better communication between citizens, state and local officials. He serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation boards. Karr works as a purchasing manager in Clearwater.

DiDonato, the candidate with the most experience in municipal government, said perseverance is the key: “We need to set out to get solutions rather than just give up when things get hard,” he told the Times. “We need to not be afraid to look at all the options of working with our county, state and federal governments.”

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Burrito Boarder accused of defaulting on 2011 small-business loan

Burrito Boarder, a St. Petersburg-based chain of “extreme” Tex-Mex restaurants, is being accused of defaulting on a 2011 small-business loan which the company’s founders personally guaranteed payment.

In 2008, Lisa and Giorgio Bertrand opened the first Burrito Boarder restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg at 17 3rd St. North, which is still in operation. The eatery’s corporate owner was (at one time) listed as Burrito Boarder Group LLC, formed in 2008 by manager Lisa Marie Bertrand, but was dissolved by the state of Florida in 2013 after failing to file its annual report.

Burrito Boarder’s corporate offices are at 2220 34th St. S in St. Petersburg.

In 2011, Burrito Boarder opened a second outlet in Carrollwood, which has since closed. Burrito Boarder’s website says there is also a location in Tallahassee. That year, Burrito Boarder Group obtained a small-business loan for $287,300, with both Lisa and Giorgio Bertrand personally guaranteeing repayment.

A lawsuit, filed by Regions Bank Jan. 19 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, claims Burrito Boarder defaulted on the loan the following year.

Regions is seeking repayment of $237,392 in principal, plus interest and late fees.

It is not the first time the Bertrands drew local attention.

In 2005, the Tampa Bay Times highlighted the couples “eye-catching” Pasadena Yacht & Country Club waterfront home, saying the couple also operate CiCi’s restaurant franchises. The home, originally a basic Cape Cod style, was remodeled into a sleek, modern “two-story wall of powder-coated aluminum [which] pours down the front of the house like a waterfall.”

Court records show the Bertrand’s lost the house in 2014 through a foreclosure to Regions Bank, as successor to AmSouth Bank.

Complicating matters is that Giorgio Bertrand, a native of Argentina, was killed in a 2015 boating accident in the Virgin Islands, where two people died and two were injured after the inflatable center-console boat allegedly struck a rock.

According to the St. Thomas Source, the couple and their children had been living in the Virgin Islands since 2013. There, they owned an establishment called Dinghy’s Bar and Restaurant.

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Shuttered Clearwater charter school accused of leaving unpaid bills, rent

Pinellas West Coast Academy, a Clearwater charter high school that closed permanently in December 2016, is now being sued by its landlord for months of unpaid rent.

West Coast Academy – also known as 21st Century High School of Pinellas Inc. – was formally Newpoint Pinellas High and originally managed by Newpoint Education Partners.

Newpoint education is a charter school company with locations in several Florida cities; due to financial troubles, it was recently forced to close four of its five schools in Pinellas County.

According to a Tampa Bay Times report on the closings: “Newpoint Pinellas Academy, which shared a site with Pinellas Westcoast, closed about six weeks into the school year, and Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy voluntarily terminated their charters over the summer. Enterprise High School, which separated from Newpoint in 2015, remains open.”

In May 2016, an Escambia County grand jury indicted Newpoint, accusing it of “fraudulently billing schools for supplies, equipment and services with federal startup grant funds for charter schools and laundering that money.”

The following month, the Pinellas County school board approved a one-year renewal of Newpoint’s charter, as well as its name change to West Coast. Typically, charter renewals are either for three or five years, but because of Newpoint’s financial difficulties, the Board only allowed an extension of a single year.

Plaintiffs Clearwater Collection 15 and Clearwater Plainfield 15 are two limited liability corporations owned by Colorado-based GDA Real Estate Services, which owns dozens of shopping centers in multiple states.

Court documents show Pinellas West Coast signed a 5-year lease in 2012 on a Clearwater shopping center location. The center was later purchased by the plaintiffs.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 24 in Pinellas County Civil Court, the two plaintiffs accuse Pinellas West Coast of failing to pay rent since October 2016.

They are asking the court to help them collect unpaid rent, as well as “all other charges due under the lease, special damages, late fees, prejudgment interest, attorney’s fees and court costs.”

 

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Charlie Crist named to three key financial services subcommittees

Charlie Crist, as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was tapped to serve on three of its principal subcommittees.

The freshman St. Petersburg Democrat has been named to:

— Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, which covers all matters relating to banking, including oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, mortgages, and federal regulators of financial institutions;

— Monetary Policy and Trade, which has jurisdiction over the Export-Import Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, which impacts access to capital and interest rates; and

— Oversight and Investigation, which is tasked with overseeing administration actions relating to financial services to promote good governance in this sector.

These assignments will serve as a complement to Crist’s work on the full committee, such as ensuring flood insurance is more affordable and enacting Wall Street reform.

“Our work on the Financial Services Committee — and particularly these subcommittees — will have a direct impact on residents of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “I look forward to having the opportunity to affect policies to increase access to capital for small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned businesses that drive our local economy, as well as defending the Export-Import Bank, which has supported $200 million in exports from Pinellas County businesses since 2012On the Oversight Subcommittee, I will be a faithful watchdog on behalf of the people and their hard-earned tax dollars.”

More information on the roles and responsibilities of Financial Services is available on the committee website.

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Tampa man accuses judge of retaliating over fabricated anti-Semitic remarks

Former judge Bernard Charles “Bernie” Silver

A Tampa man, fighting a protracted legal battle with family over his dead mother’s estate, is suing one of the judges in the case claiming he was falsely blamed for making anti-Semitic comments.

Those fabricated statements led the judge to retaliate by ruling against him on several motions.

Darryl Martin Schneider, 55, was in a contested legal battle with his sister, Cyrie Schneider, among others for the estate of their mother Gloria C. Schneider, who died in 2012.

in 2014, Darryl filed a lawsuit – without the help of an attorney – against Cyrie and others in Hillsborough County.

One of the judges in the ongoing case was Bernard Charles “Bernie” Silver, 71 first elected to the bench in 2006. Silver served the court through 2015, and is now in private practice.

Kim Cash

Schneider’s lawsuit said, at the time, Kim Cash was Silver’s judicial assistant. Cash now serves as the court’s media liaison.

In a suit filed January 27, Darryl Schneider accuses Cash of libel, saying her actions cost him an estimated $1-million in damages. Cash “destroyed” Schneider’s relationship with Silver, by suggesting Schneider made anti-Semitic comments about Silver during the 2014 lawsuit he brought against his sister.

Schneider argues that Cash fabricated “slanderous” lies to boost her self-esteem – something he says “low-level employees” do to feel superior.

According to the suit: “[Cash] had stated slowly to the Plaintiff [Schneider], ‘How dare you discriminate against the Jews,’ then laughed in the PIaintiff’s ear because she had just thought of this good lie to tell the Defendant’s secretary about the Plaintiff, putting Bernard [Silver] and the Plaintiff at odds with each other. Spiteful and shameless Kim Cash proudly shared her illegal plan with the Plaintiff for increased gratification.”

Silver — described in the lawsuit as an “unscrupulous” and “vindictive” “racist … looking to hurt someone white” — retaliated against Schneider by ruling against him on multiple motions as well as refusing to recuse himself.

After one hearing in the 2014 case, Schneider says Silver “walked out of court after giving [Schneider] a dirty look as if to say, you wanted to fight with a Jew, so this is what you get.”

Court transcripts show Silver telling Schneider he “needs to do a better job of arranging hearings.” Silver dismissed the claim he was holding Schneider to an unfair standard.

“Not everybody else calls my JA [judicial assistant] names and makes threatening accusations,” Silver says.

Schneider is seeking damages for defamation.

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Tampa woman claims false arrest over warrant with wrong name, race

Pamela Elaine Orellana

A Tampa woman claims she was falsely arrested on a Virginia warrant, despite it having the wrong name and race.

Pamela Elaine Orellana, a 49-year-old Tampa woman formerly known as Pamela Elaine Mullins, was arrested in Pinellas County in 1996 on a charge of performing a lewd and lascivious act in the presence of a minor under the age of 16.

Mullins eventually pleaded “no contest.” Adjudication was withheld, but she was required to register as a sex offender.

Since then, Pamela Mullins has had several brushes with the law.

In 2005, Mullins — now Orellana — was charged in Hillsborough County with failing to register as a sex offender, a charge that court records suggest was also dropped. Her husband, Joshua Paul Orellana, sued Pamela for divorce in 2006. Pamela Orellana was also arrested for DUI in 2013.

After a minor traffic accident on Dec. 10, 2014, Orellana, who is African-American, claims to have been sitting in her car when a Tampa police officer handcuffed her and took her to jail. There, she was strip-searched and held on a warrant out of Virginia.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Orellana accused police of acting negligently since the warrant was for a white woman in the name had a different middle initial.

“Despite not matching the description of the alleged warrant,” the suit says, “the Defendant yee publicly humiliated and arrested the Plaintiff, leading to the Plaintiff being forced to strip down in front of other people, and the Plaintiff being deprived of her freedom.”

Orellana is asking the court for damages for false imprisonment, battery, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Orellana’s suit does not indicate which Virginia county issued the arrest, exactly who was named in the warrant, nor why it was issued.

One possibility is that if the Virginia warrant concerned a sex crime — as Mullins/Orellana had been a registered sex offender — Tampa police may have held her as a precaution.

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Rick Scott spending plan sets DEO budget at nearly $1.3B

Gov. Rick Scott is recommending a $163 million increase in funding for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in his proposed 2017-18 budget.

LobbyTools reports that the boost will bring the DEO budget to nearly $1.27 billion. Scott announced his budget proposal Tuesday morning at a Tallahassee news conference.

Scott’s ask includes $85 million in economic incentives – a contentious issue with some lawmakers.

Last year, Scott made a similar request, asking for $250 million for the “Florida Enterprise Fund;” which lawmakers rejected for 2016-17.

Florida’s public-private partnership programs would get about the same amount as it did in previous years; Scott wants $76 million for Visit Florida. $23.5 million for Enterprise Florida and $19.5 million for Space Florida.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a longtime critic of incentive funding – which he calls “corporate welfare” – has suggested his chamber will consider all the governor’s requests.

Scott’s budget will also give DEO $300 million from settlement money for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. LobbyTools notes that the House has so far resisted using BP Oil Spill money for economic development.

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Dunedin woman, center of infamous 1979 kidnapping, now owes lawyer $12.6M

In 1979, 19-year-old Elizabeth Strother of Dunedin broke into the home of her doctor’s bookkeeper with a friend. At the time, she was high on cocaine and other drugs.

The pair threatened the woman with a toy gun, tying her to a bed while they ransacked the woman’s house. They drove the woman’s car to the doctor’s office, used her keys to enter the office, and filled large trash bags with drugs.

Police arrived and arrested the two.

Strother, now 57, was charged in Pinellas County with kidnapping, burglary, grand theft and use of a firearm during a felony.

The St. Petersburg Times, in articles published between 1987 and 1995, reported that various psychiatrists determined Strother was psychotic and/or a paranoid schizophrenic.

With that diagnosis, Strother was able to avoid prosecution for many years, spending part of that time in a mental institution.

Nevertheless, in 1986, Strother revealed she was faking insanity at the advice of a doctor and two lawyers, including S. Grant Halliday. She announced she would be filing suit against them.

Strother’s allegations resulted in a federal grand jury inquiry and investigation of Halliday and co-counsel Thomas F. “Tom” Granahan II by the Florida Bar.

While her suit was eventually dismissed, Halliday and co-counsel Granahan countersued Strother in 1991 for defamation and harm to their reputations and businesses.

The defamation suit also named Strother’s mother, Frances Strother, and grandmother, Elizabeth Keeley.

In 1997, a jury ordered Strother to pay Halliday damages totaling $4.3-million. Twenty years after that jury order, Halliday is filing a new lawsuit, claiming most or all of the judgment — no exact amount was given — remains unpaid.

In the suit, filed Dec. 27 in Hillsborough County, Halliday argues that, due to interest and subsequent court sanctions, the total is now $12.6-million. Halliday is asking for payment from Strother and/or the estates of her mother and grandmother. Frances Strother died in 2000; Elizabeth Keeley allegedly died in either 1996 or 1997.

Halliday’s court battle with Strother has remained active in the past few years. Documents filed from 2011-13, show Halliday continuing to insist Strother is hiding assets, which Strother denies.

In one 2011 filing, Strother claims she has not held a job since 1998, and did not file state or Federal income-tax returns from 1993-2010, did not own or lease a vehicle, have a safe-deposit, nor owned any stocks or bonds.

Responding to requests from the two lawyers, Strother denied ever applying for a U.S. passport under a false name, holding stock in a Mexican bank, or traveling to Texas for a financial transaction.

Strother did admit to using a false name — “Ellie Golder” — more than 20 years ago. In 2016, Strother was sanctioned by the court after leaving a deposition prematurely.

Although the St. Petersburg Times described Strother in 1987 as the product of an “affluent Dunedin family,” she currently lives in her late mother’s home in Dunedin, which was appraised at $123,000.

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Veteran nonprofit executive sues Tampa YMCA for age discrimination

Kathryn Short Rabon

A veteran nonprofit executive is suing the Tampa YMCA for age discrimination, saying they have a history of forcing out older individuals to maintain a “younger workforce.”

Kathryn Short Rabon, 59, serves as executive director of Suncoast Hospice Foundation, the fundraising arm of Suncoast Hospice.

According to a news release, Rabon has a long resume working for several prominent nonprofits, including as CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce; vice president of development and communications at the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA; chief development officer at the Girls Scouts of West Central Florida; The clearwater beach resident was also executive director of the Ruth Eckerd Hall Foundation and deputy director of development at the Salvador Dali Museum.

By 2013, Rabon had been working at the Tampa YMCA for just over 5 years – since May 2013 – when she received a “90-day-probationary period with a coach for guidance.”

Although neither the guidance coach nor the YMCA raised any issues during her probation, Rabon was fired May 2013, just before the end of the 90 days. She was replaced by a younger person.

In a lawsuit filed December 20 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Rabon accuses the YMCA of a long history of age discrimination, claiming the only reason she was fired was the organization wanted a “younger workforce,” and forcing older individuals out of those positions.

Rabon is accusing YMCA on four counts: Age Discrimination in Employment Act violation, ADEA retaliation; Florida Civil Rights Act violation and FCRA retaliation.

“Younger employees were also given time to pursue other jobs prior to termination,” the suit says. Rabon argues her termination was effective immediately.

Rabon seems to have had several other roles since leaving the YMCA. Included in her LinkedIn bio is a six-month stint at the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (May-October 2013).

A news release said Rabon was named chief development officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall beginning September 30, 2013, and joined Suncoast Hospice Foundation as of June 2014, just eight months later.

Rebounds lawsuit does not mention the name of who replaced her at the YMCA.

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Citizinvestor’s Tony DeSisto takes on new challenge, launches Simple Greek franchise

Tony DeSisto, the Tampa-based civic activist, is rising to accept a new challenge — restaurateur.

The co-founder of Citizinvestor, an online crowdfunding platform for public and community infrastructure projects, will open the first Florida franchise of The Simple Greek, an innovative fast-casual concept that seeks to transform the idea of a traditional Greek restaurant.

Starting in mid-February, The Simple Greek – with a Chipotle-goes-to-Athens vibe – will be serving customers an interactive experience, using simple ordering (described as a “build-your-own assembly line-style”), open kitchens and only fresh, high-quality ingredients.

As the company website says: “We want our guests to experience The Simple Greek as if they were traveling to Greece the very first time.”

The idea for Simple Greek began in 2004, when Mike Ference and Kathleen Kamouyerou-Ference opened a small Greek pita stand out of a garage in McMurray, a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After attempts to franchise a few locations with sons Andreas and Michael, the family reached out to Marcus Lemonis, host of the CNBC show The Profit.

Lemonis – who is of Greek descent and always expressed an interest in sharing his culture and love of the food from his ancestral home – made a deal with the family, which they accepted.

“Marcus came in, invested in the company and took a majority,” DeSisto says, “rebranding it and turning it into the concept it is now … an open kitchen feel, fresh, healthy build-your-own meal-style.”

A critical element for the success of any small business is having the right staff in the right roles. Knowing this, Lemonis brought on a management team to work alongside the Ference family, giving each distinct functions and responsibilities within the organization.

DeSisto first learned about The Simple Greek through The Profit, where Lemonis preaches simple advice for future franchisees: “Know your numbers, trust the process, and remember we are working together to build something special.”

DeSisto was hooked.

“I’ve always been interested in the restaurant business,” DeSisto says, “particularly in franchises.” Although he admits he has no restaurant experience, DeSisto says he had been looking at new opportunities for quite some time, and Simple Greek offered just the right business model, with an excellent fit and a “great company behind it.”

And coupling that open, interactive concept with Greek food was a “really good spin,” he adds.

“I looked at [franchises] over a number of years,” DeSisto says, “But, for one reason or another, never went through with it – the content didn’t work or the numbers didn’t make sense.”

“With [Simple Greek], I thought it was a great concept. I think it’s the way we’re moving … people love eating healthy, fresh food that they can see prepared as they go through the line.”

After investing to secure the territory of South Tampa, Channelside and Ybor City through Hillsborough County, DeSisto selected the Carrollwood location — at 12908 N. Dale Mabry Highway near W. Fletcher Avenue — for the first Simply Greek in Florida. DeSisto is also beginning construction on another on in Rhode Island, his family home.

Currently, Simply Greek has three locations in Pennsylvania; one in Wichita Falls, Texas; and about 20 more expected to open soon on the East Coast, in Texas, Chicago and Arizona. The North Tampa location, which can be reached at (813) 264-0050, also has an active presence on Facebook, asking friends and followers to #shareyourinnergreek.

As for why he chose that particular plaza – which includes Side Splitters Comedy Club – there’s nothing that matched the healthy Simple Greek approach.

“I think the great thing about that [Carrolwood] location is its high traffic area,” DeSisto says about the neighborhood, “with people going up-and-down Dale Mabry all day. There’s a number of fast casual restaurants there, and demand for that kind of food.”

Now about two weeks from grand opening, DeSisto anticipates his new venture will become a solid starting point for future Simple Greek locations throughout the Tampa area.

“If we deliver a good product,” DeSisto says, “we will be successful.”

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