Staff Reports - 2/49 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation names David Punzak as vice chair

David Punzak

David Punzak has been named vice chair of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation (EDC) board of directors.

Punzak is a shareholder with the national Carlton Fields law firm, based out of its Tampa location. He will become chairman in 2018 following his term as vice chair.

“David brings a great depth and breadth of experience and leadership to the organization, and we look forward to his impact over the coming years,” said EDC chairman Michael Vivio.

Punzak brings more than three decades’ experience as an attorney specializing in transactions for banks, real estate developers and insurance companies. He regularly stands for clients in real estate and finance, mergers, acquisitions and general business matters.

With an extensive history of community service, Punzac has served on the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce board since 2012, as well as two terms as chair and as a leader of the Economic Development Committee. He also had leadership roles at Baseball Forever St. Pete, Suncoasters, Heroes of the St. Petersburg Police and The Dali Museum.

“Being named vice chair of the EDC is a great privilege, and I am proud to continue service to my hometown,” said Punzak. He added, “The EDC is poised to make a significant impact on the economic prosperity of St. Pete’s citizens, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

EDC was launched in 2016 as a part of the “Grow Smarter” strategic plan of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of St. Petersburg and community partners over two years ago.

The organization’s major focus is to ensure the city develops and maintains a sustainable and inclusive economic strategy. The Grow Smarter plan targets business sectors and partnership opportunities. The program names the EDC a “Storyteller in Chief” for St. Petersburg, promoting it as a premier business destination.

Funding for the EDC comes through investments from over 40 local, private entities as well as significant funding from the Greater St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg EDC President J. P. DuBuque said in a statement: “Punzak brings a host of experiences in the economic development space and institutional knowledge of the City that will only add to our ability to be an organization of high impact.”

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Redistricting-related bill OK’d by Senate

The Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases.

The legislation (SB 352) was approved without debate 24-14, sending it to the House. 

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, has said the plan “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” according to a bill analysis.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges.

Opponents, including Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, had called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

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Tom Feeney calls Senate plan ‘largest Florida tax hike in many years’

The head of Associated Industries of Florida came out in opposition Tuesday to the Senate’s plan to repeal a tax break to the insurance industry.

“AIF supports reducing the business rent tax,” AIF president & CEO Tom Feeney said. “However, we cannot support this tax break on the back of creating what would be the largest Florida tax hike in many years if the insurance premium tax salary credit is repealed.”

The bill (SB 378) aims to use the money from the insurance companies’ tax break and use it to instead reduce the tax that businesses pay on their commercial rents, a cut that Gov. Rick Scott has long called for.

“Florida is one of only a few states that have two separate taxes for insurers – a corporate income tax paid by all businesses and a second, punitive tax on the insurance premiums paid by Floridians,” Feeney explained. “The removal of the working tax credit would make premium tax collections from insurers in Florida increase by $297.3 million.”

The state “simply cannot risk the future creation of new high-paying insurance jobs or the loss of such existing jobs,” he added. “We need a predictable, business-friendly environment that includes reasonable incentives for corporations large and small to do business in Florida.  That is what keeps Floridians working and Florida-based companies giving.”

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In an unusual case, Tampa police use civil forfeiture to seize dump truck used in hit-and-run death

In an unusual case regarding the state’s civil forfeiture act, a court allowed Tampa police to seize a dump truck used in a February hit-and-run accident that caused the death of a pedestrian.

David Yribar Hernandez, 46, is the owner of Yribar Jr. Trucking Corp. At 4534 W. Clifton St. in Tampa.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 2017, Hernandez was driving a 2004 Peterbilt dump truck when he allegedly struck and killed pedestrian Stephen J. Waters in a hit-and-run accident near the intersection of E. Columbus Drive and N. 50th Street.

As reported by WFTS and the Tampa Bay Times, Hernandez, a Cuban native, attempted to flee a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy after being pulled over but was quickly caught and arrested.

Hernandez faced charges of leaving the scene of a crash with death without rendering help and fleeing a law enforcement officer, He has been released from jail, and the case is ongoing.

As part of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, law enforcement agencies can seize cash, vehicles, and other property either used in a crime or were the spoils of criminal activity. Usually, these petitions are used in connection with drug-related offenses.

According to the Act, when the seizure of property is made, the seizing agency “shall apply, within 10 business days after the date of the seizure, to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order determining whether probable cause exists for the seizure of the property. The application for the probable cause determination must be accompanied by a sworn affidavit and may be filed electronically by reliable electronic means.”

Tampa police went to Hillsborough County Circuit Court March 6 to claim probable cause in seizing Hernandez’s dump truck in the accident that killed Stephen Waters.

According to court records a search warrant issued for the vehicle, human hair was found on the truck’s driver-side headlight. Also, a man named Michael J. Hoechst claims to have witnessed the accident.

As to why the vehicle is considered “contraband,” TPD explained to the court that it was used in the commission of a felony: namely attempting to flee and elude an HCSO deputy. Also noteworthy is that while the arresting officer was a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s he Deputy, it was the Tampa Police Department making the request.

Two days later, a circuit court judge ruled probable cause in seizing the dump truck.

Waters, known as a “devoted son, husband, brother and uncle,” left behind his wife Catherine, with whom he had been married since 2009. Waters, a Gibsonton resident, had been previously arrested for possessing, manufacturing or selling a synthetic drug. A court later deemed Waters indigent and released him to a treatment program as part of a pre-arrest intercept program. Charges were later dropped.

Axis Title was named a co-defendant due to a possible lien on the truck.

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AFP-FL launches direct mail campaign to support lawmakers who backed bill to kill Enterprise Florida

Keep an eye on your mailboxes, Florida: Americans for Prosperity-Florida is out with a new mailer.

The statewide organization launched a direct mail campaign Monday in districts of state lawmakers who supported a proposal (HB 7005) Enterprise Florida and other economic incentive programs. The mailer, according to the organization, is meant to “educate citizens in the districts of legislators that voted to eliminate corporate welfare.”

“Corporate welfare is the result of government, at any level, picking winners and losers by redistributing our hard-earned tax dollars to big business and special interests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The leaders of the Florida House that have voted for H.B. 7005, vote to level the playing field for Florida’s small businesses and taxpayers,” said Chris Hudson, the organization’s state director, in a statement. “We’re hopeful that the Florida Senate will also heed the calls for good stewardship and fiscal responsibility, that they pick up H.B. 7005, and pass a responsible budget without Enterprise Florida that promotes a rigged system against the citizens they serve.”

Americans for Prosperity-Florida has led the charge against economic incentives. According to the organization, the mailer is part of “a robust effort to educate Floridians” about the proposal.

The House voted 87-28 to approve the measure, gaining support from about half of the chamber’s Democrats.

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Pirate invasion to mark Hillsborough Day at Florida State Capitol

Members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation will celebrate Hillsborough Day at the State Capitol in Tallahassee March 22.

The daylong event will bring many of the county’s most beloved attractions and traditions to the capitol for Florida lawmakers to enjoy, while showcasing all that the community has to offer.

Visitors to the State Capitol will include local city and county officials, prominent area business people and representatives from the Hillsborough County Public Schools. Several nonprofit organizations, Visit Tampa Bay, as well as leaders from popular tourist destinations are also expected.

During the morning hours, attendees will have the opportunity to sit in on committee meetings, visit with their local representatives, and if the Legislature is in session, watch the proceedings from the gallery of the House or Senate.

A special lunchtime meet and greet is scheduled for the Capitol Courtyard complex with exhibits from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Busch Gardens, Florida Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and Lowry Park Zoo. Members of the nonprofit Big Cat Rescue and the Early Learning Coalition will also be in Tallahassee to discuss their missions.  Tampa native and “The Voice” contestant, Shalyah Fearing, will perform as guests enjoy 1,500 authentic Cuban sandwiches, delivered straight from Tampa.

The highlight of the afternoon is expected to be a Gasparilla-style Pirate Invasion at the State Capitol. Pirate-costumed members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla will arrive in on a parade float search of even greater bounty.

“Hillsborough County has such great resources and a lot to offer visitors statewide,” said organizer Louis Betz of Louis Betz and Associates. “This day allows us to share with the rest of Florida all the wonderful places, organizations and people that make our community so unique. It also gives local leaders and community members the chance to meet their state representatives. When lawmakers to see people from back home, it often puts a face to an issue.”

True to the city’s Latin roots, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa will host a coffee and guava pastry reception for Hillsborough Day attendees beginning at 3 p.m. followed by a public reception at the Governor’s Club from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

After a 10 year absence, Hillsborough Day was revived in 2014 and has taken place annually. The local legislative delegation has been unified in their involvement and support of the event to highlight the rich heritage of Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough Day is open to the public and all are invited to attend.

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Chad Poppell quits as head of DMS

Another one bites the dust: Chad Poppell has resigned as Secretary of the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager.

His resignation will be effective on March 31, Gov. Rick Scott announced on Thursday evening. Poppell has been head of DMS since 2014. 

“Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government,” Scott said in a statement. “Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”

The announcement did not give a reason for his departure.

“Chad has been a valued member of my team since 2013 and I am proud of the great work he has done for Florida families. I wish Chad and his family the very best in their future endeavors.”

Before becoming DMS Secretary, Poppell was chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity.

From 2011-2013, he worked as the Director of Employee Services at JEA, a municipally owned electric, water, and sewer provider in Jacksonville.

Poppell also was appointed by then-Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton as Human Resources Chief for the City of Jacksonville. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Valdosta State University.

Poppell now joins other Scott-appointed agency heads to have exited the administration recently.

Last month, Jason Allison left as head of the state’s Agency for State Technology for a job with the Foley & Lardner law firm.

Before that, the Foley firm stole another Scott appointee: Jon Steverson, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

And Jim Boxold resigned in January as Secretary of the Department of Transportation to join the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting.

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Florida adds nearly 17K private sector jobs in February

Florida added 16,800 private sector jobs in February, says national payroll firm ADP, which raises the state’s workforce to 7.34 million people.

Despite the gain last month, the numbers show a 20 percent from the 20,902 jobs created in February 2016.

As for the sector breakdown, ADP says the sunshine state added 2,000 goods-producing and 14,800 service-providing jobs. Professional and Business Services gained the most jobs (3,700), followed by Natural Resources/Mining and Construction (2,500); Trade, Transportation and Utilities (1,400) and Manufacturing (a decrease of 500 jobs).

In contrast, Florida added 30 percent more jobs in January than the same month a year ago.

The monthly ADP report is produced in partnership with Moody’s Analytics, Inc.

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State claims Tampa tire recycling firm operating illegally

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is going after a Tampa company for illegally running a tire recycling business.

Incorporated in 2012, Green Wizard Tire Recyclers LLC — at 3515 E. Columbus Dr. in Tampa — is led by operating manager/secretary Warren Donald Friton and vice-operating manager/treasurer Edward “Ed” Beauchaine.

Green Wizard’s 2016 annual report lists Tampa resident Beachaine as president.

According to the DEP, Green Wizard Tire Recyclers never operated fully within the law, despite the agency saying it gave the company considerable latitude.

In 2013, after discovering the tire-recycling business was running illegally, the DEP ordered Green Wizard to stop accepting tires until it could obtain a permit. The company applied for and received a permit in 2014, but could not resume operations until it submitted an approved certification of construction completion requirements.

Green Wizard never submitted the required document, but continued to operate.

A September 2015 inspection found Green Wizard had 487,000 tires on hand, much more than the permitted maximum. The company had been storing loose tires outside rather than in tractor-trailers as required by law. Other violations include height and width limits for the piles of tires and inadequate fire lanes.

The DEP revoked Green Wizard’s permit formally in June 2016, ordering the company to begin removing its tire collection and assessing $9,000 in fines.

In a lawsuit filed March 10 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, the agency argues that Green Wizard never acknowledged the revocation, did not remove all its tires and related solid waste, and never paid the fines.

The DEP is asking the court to order compliance.

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Kindred Hospital patients sue insurer WellCare over $3.2M in withheld, reduced reimbursements

A major hospital chain is accusing Tampa-based insurance carrier WellCare of holding back and reducing millions of dollars in reimbursements, essentially gaming the system by inflating its bottom line.

WellCare is a Medicare and Medicaid provider co-founded in 1985 by philanthropist Kiran Patel and his brother Pradip, who later sold the company. WellCare, headquartered at 8725 Henderson Road in Tampa, offers Medicaid managed care health plans to more than 3.9 million members through a network of 91,000 physicians and over 6,000 employees.

As of 2016, WellCare had revenues of $14.2-billion; as of this week, its stock was trading at more than 56 percent over its price at the same point last year.

Kindred Healthcare, a privately-held Fortune 500 company, owns Transitional Hospitals Corporation with annual revenues of $7.2-billion for 2016, 100,100 employees at 2,654 locations across 46 states. Kindred runs 82 long-term acute care hospitals, as well as hundreds of affiliated medical sites.

In a lawsuit filed March 6 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Kindred Hospitals claim that in multiple contracts with WellCare, the insurer gets discounted rates in exchange for promises of 30-day payments for Medicare and Medicaid clients.

However, although WellCare received monthly payments from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the insurer has delayed reimbursements to medical providers such as Kindred. Instead, the company invests the government funds for longer periods, as a way of gaming the system to profit on the “float.”

WellCare is also accused of reimbursing Kindred for less than its contracted amount.

Kindred says WellCare has repeatedly promised to pay the full amounts allegedly owed and then broken those promises. In some cases, WellCare allegedly has devised ploys to buy time. For example, according to the lawsuit, WellCare told Kindred at times to submit claims in hard form rather than electronically, and then “underpay claims because all the codes that could fit on an electronic form could not fit on a hard form.”

Kindred says WellCare owes more than $3.2-million plus interest for care provided to a group of 69 WellCare policyholders.

This is not the first time WellCare has been under scrutiny for Medicaid improprieties.

On Oct. 24, 2007, law-enforcement officials, joined by FBI agents, raided the company’s Tampa headquarters for allegedly defrauding Florida’s Medicaid system.

WellCare eventually paid millions of dollars to the government, whistleblowers and other shareholders. Todd Farha, WellCare’s president and CEO, faced criminal charges. In May 2014, he was sentenced to serve 36 months in federal prison and pay a $50,000 fine.

In 2016, Farha sued WellCare to allow him to sell restricted shares of stock – worth nearly $30 million.

Court records suggest the 69 policyholders named in the case live in Florida, New Jersey and Kentucky.

 

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