Staff Reports - 5/74 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

Ray Rodrigues, other SWFL leaders host fundraiser for Matt Caldwell

Rep. Matt Caldwell is getting a little help from his friends in bid for Agriculture Commissioner.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, Rep. Dane Eagle, and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen are among the more than three dozen Southwest Florida officials scheduled to host a fundraiser for Caldwell on Monday night.

The fundraiser, according to a copy of the invitation, is scheduled to kick off around 5:30 p.m. at Suncoast Beverage in downtown Fort Myers.

Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, was selected to serve as Majority Leader under House Speaker Richard Corcoran for the 2016-18 term; while Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican, serves as Majority Whip. Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, is the chairwoman of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee. All three were elected to the Florida House in 2012.

The invitation also lists former state Rep. Gary Aubuchon; Lee County Commissioners Brian Hamman, Larry Kiker, Frank Mann, and Cecil Pendergrass; Lee County Clerk Linda Dogget; Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson; Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott; and well-known Lee County residents Sandy Stilwell and Bruce Strayhorn as hosts.

Caldwell faces Sen. Denise Grimsley and Paul Paulson in the race to replace Agriculture Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner in 2018. Democrat Michael Damian Christine has also filed to run; and Republican Baxter Troutman is considering jumping into the race.

According to Caldwell’s campaign, the North Fort Myers Republican raised $101,1575 for his 2018 agriculture commissioner bid during a 20-day period in May. Caldwell is expected to report ending the month with $100,458 cash on hand, according to his campaign. His political committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell, will report raising $712,825 since January.

Adam Putnam’s political committee racks up another cool million in May

Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam’s political committee posted more than $1 million in contributions for May, the committee’s own reports show.

The Division of Elections’ deadline for reporting May numbers is Monday. Florida Grown hadn’t posted its information with the state as of Monday morning, but has rolling contribution and expenditure information on its website.

May contributions totaled more than $1.01 million, while monthly expenditures were just over $244,000.

Big contributors early in the month included the A. Duda & Sons agricultural and land development company of Oviedo at $100,000, and Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Mutual of Maitland at listed at $60,000. 

Among top individual donors, physician Gordon W. Ondra of Lakeland gave the PC $50,000.

Later in the month, the SSLP Political Committee of Venice, also affiliated with Putnam, closed out and gave Florida Grown all its remaining $221,237, records show.

Produce distributor Six L’S Packing Company of Immokalee chipped in $50,000.

Not counting May, the committee has over $8 million in cash-on-hand funds.

Putnam, the current agriculture commissioner, is term-limited next year. The 42-year-old declared his long-expected candidacy for governor last month, followed by a statewide bus tour.

His campaign has yet to post its own numbers.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla labeled ‘not a conservative’ in new mailer

A new mailer landing in South Florida mailboxes has labeled Alex Diaz de la Portilla “not a conservative.”

The mailer is the second from Making a Better Tomorrow, a Venice-based political committee, targeting Diaz de la Portilla in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

“Alex Diax de la Portilla claims to be a conservative, but his record tells a different story,” reads the mailer.

Much like an earlier mailer from Making a Better Tomorrow, the mailer says the Miami Republican raised taxes, increased the size of government, and hurt business and job growth. The ad also slams Diaz de la Portilla for having a “disregard for the law” and “living recklessly.”

Among other things, the ad points to case in which a warrant was issued after Diaz de la Portilla failed to obey an order to turn over a dog in his divorce case.

The ad urges voters to “tell Alex Diaz de la Portilla his behavior is atrocious and certainly not conservative.”

Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected to serve in the Florida Senate. He served in the Senate until 2010, serving stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

He faces Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the special election to replace Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal, in Senate District 40. The race for the GOP nomination is expected to be a bitter and expensive battle, with outside groups pouring thousands upon thousands of dollars into the race.

Making a Better Tomorrow has raised more than $289,331 million since 2014, according to state records. The group hasn’t received any donations since February 2017, when it received a single $4,000 contribution. State records show it ended May with $41,923 cash on hand.

The special primary election in Senate District 40 is July 25, with the general election set for Sept. 26.

Ashley Moody to hold AG campaign kick-off event on June 29

Ashley Moody will officially kick off her Attorney General campaign with an event in Tampa later this month.

Moody will hold a campaign kickoff at 6 p.m., June 29 at The Floridan Palace in Tampa. The event comes weeks after the former Hillsborough circuit judge threw her hat in the race to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2018.

The 42-year-old was first elected to the 13th Judicial Circuit when she was 31 years old, making her the youngest judge in Florida. She resigned her seat in at the end of April.

Moody, who filed to run for Attorney General on June 1, is the second Republican to jump into the race to replace Bondi, who can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville state representative, is also running. Democrat Ryan Torrens is also running.

She has already lined up a big name backer in her race. Earlier this month, Bondi said she planned to support Moody in the Attorney General’s race, saying she doesn’t “think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida.”

Pinellas domestic violence center CASA names Lariana Forsythe as interim CEO

Lariana Forsythe

After an extensive, nationwide search, the St. Petersburg-based Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) is naming Lariana Forsythe as its new interim CEO.

Forsythe brings extensive nonprofit leadership experience most recently serving as the vice president/chief development officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix. During her 17 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Forsythe held a variety of roles within the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Special Olympics.

“We set out to find a person who could combine vision, leadership, communication and passion for the mission, with a strong business acumen and dynamic fundraising experience to lead CASA into the future,” said CASA Board President, Nicholas McDevitt. “We feel like we have found that in Lariana.”

While Forsythe’s tenure officially began June 5, she will temporarily continue as Interim CEO until she completes Florida Administrative Rule requirements before becoming permanent.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to help change the image of domestic violence in Pinellas County,” Forsythe said in a statement. “So many domestic violence survivors live in the shadow of this systemic issue, which affects as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men, and often fear the undeserved stigma and false assumptions that can come with it.”

CASA, which is celebrating its 40th year, is amid a significant expansion of programs for survivors of domestic violence throughout southern Pinellas. Longtime employee Suzanne Horn, who had served as Interim Director during the transition period, will become CASA’s chief operations officer; Harry Linn has been promoted to chief financial officer.

“I look forward to getting to know and working closely with the leaders in our community to ensure St. Petersburg is a vibrant and safe community for everyone,” Forsythe said.

As the official domestic violence center for southern Pinellas County, CASA is also a member of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV), the professional association for Florida’s 42 independent, certified domestic violence centers.

FCADV’s President/CEO Tiffany Carr celebrated Forsythe’s hire in a statement.

“FCADV is pleased to welcome Lariana as CASA’s Interim CEO,” Carr said. “We stand ready to assist Lariana as she immerses herself within the domestic violence field in Florida and learns the challenges and rewards of engaging in this critical work in our great state. I commend the CASA board of directors for engaging in an exhaustive national search that led to the hiring of this candidate.”

CASA operates Pinellas County’s 24-hour hotline and 100-bed emergency shelter, as well as offering community support groups, provides courtroom advocacy, assisting the Child Protective Investigative team and conducts community and corporate training.

In addition, CASA’s Peacemakers teach anti-bullying and healthy relationship curriculum throughout the Pinellas County school system to end the generational cycle of violence.

Tampa Bay Rowdies held to 1-1 draw by Rochester Rhinos

Joe Cole scored his fourth goal of the season Saturday night, but it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to pull off a home win as the Rowdies settled for a 1-1 draw against the Rochester Rhinos at Al Lang Stadium.

Tampa Bay couldn’t have started the match much worse, with a defensive miscommunication costing the Rowdies a goal just five minutes into the match.

The Rowdies (6-5-3 (W-T-L), 23 points) rebounded quickly, with Cole putting in a Marcel Schäfer cross in the 19th minute, but neither side was able to manage a second goal.

“We started the game extremely well and then we made a bad mistake, which led to their first goal,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “That happens, but then the guys responded. In the first half, I thought we were excellent and when we play as well as that, we have to go on and win the game. We have to put the game to bed.”

Rochester (4-5-1, 17 points) took the early lead on a major error by the Rowdies.

Rhinos midfielder Wal Fall launched a simple lob into the Rowdies’ half that fell comfortably between Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens and center back Neill Collins 30 yards from goal, but Collins didn’t shield Rhinos forward Jochen Graf off the ball properly.

Graf wheeled around Collins and put a shot on target. Pickens got his hands to it, but couldn’t prevent it from going into the net and confirmed the Rowdies’ disastrous start.

After the shaky concession, Tampa Bay clicked into gear and didn’t have to wait long for an equalizer.

In the 19th minute, Leo Fernandes fed the ball to left back Marcel Schäfer on an overlapping run. Schäfer crossed it with his first touch and found Cole sliding past his marker at the near post for an easy finish to even at the match at 1-1.

From there, the game followed a familiar script, with the Rowdies dominating possession and momentum, but not finding a way to break down a bunkered-in team.

Tampa Bay had the ball for 69 percent of the match and out-shot the Rhinos 15-11, but couldn’t find a second goal.

“We didn’t take our chances right at the end,” Cole said. “We’ve got to work on that. It’s not something new we’re facing. We need to be better at breaking teams down. … Our goal came from a good passing move and Marcel put in a great ball, so we’ve got to do more of that.”

The Rowdies should have pulled ahead in the 61st minute when they put on a tight passing clinic to break through the Rhinos, but Cole’s shot rolled heartbreakingly wide on the wrong side of the goal post.

Despite defending deep in its own half, Rochester looked sharp on the counter attack, and, if not for the repeated interventions of Pickens, could have left St. Petersburg with a surprising win.

Pickens made five saves on the night, none bigger than his denial of Graf in the 71st minute.

After a Rowdies turnover at the halfway line, one quick pass led Graf on a 30-yard one-on-one run against Pickens, but the German’s right-footed shot from the top of the box was bettered by a diving save to Pickens’ left-hand side. Brandon Beresford tried to put the rebound in, but Michael Nanchoff made a heroic block before the ball could reach Pickens.

Pickens made another big save in the 83rd minute, keeping a Rhinos free kick from sneaking into the corner of net after it may have taken a deflection from the head of Kyle Porter.

The Rowdies cranked up the intensity in the closing minutes but couldn’t manage a winner.

Tampa Bay now heads on the road for three-straight road matches, visiting Richmond, Pittsburgh and Charleston in the next three weeks before returning home to host FC Cincinnati on July 6.

Scoring Summary
Rochester: Jochen Graf – 6th minute
Rowdies: Joe Cole – 19th minute (Assisted by Marcel Schäfer)

Caution Summary
Rowdies: Neill Collins – 28th minute
Rochester: Wal Fall – 68th minute
Rochester: Bradley Kamdem – 78th minute
Rowdies: Michael Nanchoff – 89th minute

Starting Lineups
Rowdies (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Kyle Porter, Damion Lowe, Neill Collins, Marcel Schäfer; M Keith Savage (Deshorn Brown 75′), Michael Nanchoff; M Darwin Jones (Alex Morrell 73′), Joe Cole, Leo Fernandes; F Martin Paterson

Rhinos (5-2-2-1): GK Tomas Gomez; D Bradley Kamdem, Ryan Felix, Joe Farrell, Sergio Campbell, Ryan James; M Brandon Beresford, Wal Fall; M Stefan Defregger (Jordan Dover 65′), Jalen Brown (Sofiane Tergou 75′); F Jochen Graf (Sammy Edoung-Biyo 85′)


USFSP accused of failing to protect student sexually assaulted in parking garage

Willie Fudge III, accused of attacking a USFSP student in 2016.

A University of South Florida student who was sexually assaulted in 2016 is accusing the school of not providing adequate protection for her safety.

The student, identified in documents as “L.E.,” was a USF St. Petersburg undergraduate who had been sexually assaulted by a non-student Feb. 22, 2016, after entering the elevator at the Parking Garage on the USF campus. The building, at 260 5th Ave. S in St. Petersburg, also holds the Barnes & Noble USFSP bookstore, and has only one elevator.

A lawsuit filed June 5 in Pinellas County Circuit Court said the attacker escaped. However, USFSP Police Chief David Hendry told that police eventually arrested a suspect: 26-year-old Willie Fudge III, who at the time of the incident lived less than a block away from the parking garage.

Since the attack was sexual in nature, Pinellas County Sheriff’s online records provide only minimal information on the arrest, which resulted in at least two felony battery charges and a misdemeanor charge of exposure of sexual organs.

According to court records, Fudge pleaded guilty of all three charges and was sentenced Aug. 26, 2016, to a year in prison followed by two years’ probation.

Available offender information from the Florida Department of Corrections shows Fudge has been on probation since Feb. 22, 2017, with no indication he ever served time in a state prison, suggesting that Fudge may have served a small part of the sentence in the Pinellas County Jail.

Redaction errors on court documents reveal the plaintiff as a 23-year-old Tampa resident who obtained a bachelor’s degree from USFSP in 2017.

She is accusing the campus police — whose headquarters are on the 3rd Street side of the same building as the parking garage— failed to provide adequate protection against such an attack.

Filing suit against the board of trustees of the University of South Florida, she is seeking damages for negligence.

The suit says that the USF board “had a duty to L.E. to use reasonable care and take adequate measures to provide a reasonable degree of safety and to protect L.E. against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts of third parties at the Premises. Further, USF had a duty to use reasonable care to ensure that the premises were safe from injury from reasonably foreseeable criminal acts of third parties” and that the area had been “locations of numerous prior criminal acts, including crimes against persons and property.”

Big, early get: State’s firefighters endorse Jeremy Ring in Democratic primary of CFO race

Former Yahoo executive and state Sen. Jeremy Ring capped off a week on the campaign trail Friday with a big get.

Immediately following a speech at the annual convention of the Florida Professional Firefighters, the group moved to unanimously endorse Ring in the Democratic primary.

In his speech, Ring reaffirmed his support for the state’s firefighters by pledging to give them the resources they require to both fight and prevent fires if elected as Florida’s next chief financial officer.

“These guys put their lives on the line for us every day and we need to make sure we have their backs not only by outfitting them with modern equipment, but also by giving them the peace of mind that their families will be provided for in the tragic event that they fall in the line of duty,” Ring said.

Ring’s quote referenced legislation he championed in the Florida Senate allowing for the spouses of first responders killed on the job to claim the retirement benefits of their loved ones.  Ring has long been an outspoken advocate for first responders and was pivotal in bringing resolution to their protracted and difficult pension negotiations with municipal governments, gaining the respect of both sides for his fair-minded and even-keeled role as an arbitrator in the long-running dispute.

For the past five months, Ring has been crisscrossing Florida, meeting with voters to share his vision for the state in advance of his anticipated candidacy.  His unique background in the technology sector has colored his calls for the creation of an innovation economy and high-paying jobs in Florida.

Ring’s accomplishments in this sphere include helping to build Yahoo from a small startup into a multibillion-dollar venture along with his work in the Florida Senate laying the groundwork for innovation and technology startups to flourish in the state.  Ring has additionally been a watchdog for consumers and a steadfast advocate for retirees and seniors, working to ensure the Florida Retirement System (FRS) remains robust for future generations.

It was a full week for Ring, who huddled with supporters and community leaders at a campaign kickoff Monday in Tampa before heading to central Florida to speak Wednesday at the annual conference of the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans (FLARA).

On Thursday, he spent the afternoon meeting with representatives from the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA) at their conference in Kissimmee.

Among the CFO’s core responsibilities are management of the state’s public retirement system, regulation of the insurance industry and position as statewide fire marshal.


Doreen Caudell to hold high-profile kickoff Wednesday for Pinellas Commission bid

Doreen Caudell is holding a high-profile kickoff fundraiser Wednesday for her Pinellas County Commission District 2 campaign.

The small-business owner and Clearwater City Council member filed prequalifying paperwork June 9 for the at-large seat currently held by Pat Gerard.

Caudell’s event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Blvd. in Clearwater. RSVP at

About 60 local Republican leaders have signed onto the host committee, including state Sen. Jack Latvala and his son, state Rep. Chris Latvala, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, Sr. and his son, attorney Brian Aungst, Jr., state Rep. Chris Sprowls, former state Rep. Ed Hooper, Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning and Oldsmar Vice Mayor Dan Saracki, among others.  

Citing her desire to run, Caudell says: “Pinellas County is beautifully diverse. We have many exceptional communities, and these communities have many needs. I have a record of getting things done. We have large needs throughout the county, and I will take the initiative to be the problem solver that Pinellas County residents deserve to successfully tackle these issues. What we don’t need is political ideology and divisiveness getting in the way of doing what is best.”

Since 2012, she has represented the citizens of Clearwater on the Clearwater City Council. “In Clearwater, we made incredible strides advancing our community’s infrastructure, protecting our environment, and spurring economic growth and vibrancy throughout the city.”

Describing her priorities, Caudell says: “We must protect our environment for us and our children. We need to take steps to invest in our county’s stormwater infrastructure. Additionally, we can do more to grow our economic base, create jobs, expand access to affordable housing, and keep our wonderful talent working in our county.”

“We all must take part in making our communities strong, successful and safe. I know I can provide better leadership for Pinellas County.”

Caudell is president and owner of a woman-owned small business, D-Mar General Contracting & Development. She guided the company through the economic downturn, consolidating business operations while not releasing any full-time employees.

“I made a goal to not lay off any full-time employees during the recession. It wasn’t easy, I made many sacrifices just like everyone else. I tried to do what was right,” states Caudell. Her company won the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce Medium Business of the Year Award in 2006.

After the Great Recession, Caudell expanded the company’s operation to include commercial development, construction management, large scale interior build-outs, and site development. She has taken the company national, having current and completed projects throughout the United States.

“I know what it takes to have a small business and work through government oversight and regulation. As member of Clearwater City Council, I reduced red tape, streamlined internal processes, and ensured the City of Clearwater listened to its residents and their priorities.” Caudell went on to say, “I listened to our communities and stood up against special interest groups. Pinellas citizens deserve to be heard and their needs met by the people who represent us. I offer my broad work and life experience, and a clear vision, to make our county an even better place to live and work.”

Caudell says she has dedicated herself to giving back to the various communities of Pinellas County. She often supports and sponsors various nonprofits in Pinellas County, such as Habitat for Humanity, Clearwater for Youth, Clearwater Free Clinic, Homeless Empowerment Project, Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Charity Works and Morton Plant Foundation; she has also served on the following boards:

— Lighthouse of Pinellas Board, Board Director, 2002-2009

— Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation, Ruth Eckerd Hall Education Board Chair, 2002-2012

– The ARC Board, Financial and Advisory Board Chair, 2006-2012

– Advocare Trust Executive Board, Financial and Advisory Board Chair, 2006-2012

– Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce Board, 2006-2012

– Clearwater Community Development Board, 2006-2012

– Clearwater Pension Advisory Board, 2012-2016

– Clearwater Arts Alliance, 2012-2016

– Downtown Development Board, 2016-Present

– Forward Pinellas, Representative of City of Clearwater 2012-Present

– Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Forward Pinellas Representative 2012-Present

– Transportation Management Area, Forward Pinellas Representative, 2012-Present

– Metropolitan Planning Council Advisory Council, TBARTA Representative & Chairs Coordinating Committee Chair, 2012-Present

– Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Representative of the City of Clearwater, 2012-2016

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson backed VA reform bill clears the Senate

A bipartisan bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees is headed to the U.S. House, after clearing the Senate on a voice vote this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

Rubio said he was “incredibly pleased that (his) Senate colleagues … passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act.”

“It’s bipartisan and what it basically does is it’s now going to give the VA secretary the power to fire and dismiss bad employees and also to protect whistleblowers who come forward,” he said in a prepared statement earlier this week. “We’ve been working hard on this for years. Today is a great day. I can’t wait to get it to the president’s desk.”

The bill had significant bipartisan support, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” said Nelson during a speech on the floor before the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines.

The House could vote on the Senate passed version of the bill next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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