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State begins process of issuing medical marijuana ID cards

Florida health officials who oversee the medical marijuana program have started processing identification card applications for patients and caregivers.

The cards, which are issued through the Office of Compassionate Use, are part of regulations passed by the Florida Legislature last year. Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambinieri says the rule became effective Feb. 19.

To apply for a card, a patient must be a Florida resident and qualify to receive medical marijuana. Current conditions covered are cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms, along with patients with terminal conditions.

Amendment 2, which was passed last year, expands the conditions to HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other similar conditions.

Gambinieri adds the department is in the process of updating their website to accept applications electronically.

Trulieve, one of the even companies in Florida authorized to dispense medical marijuana, said it will give patients a break on the cost of obtaining the card.

“Trulieve is offering a $75 credit off one order of $150 or more to make up for the cost of getting an ID card,” a company representative said in a statement. “Additionally, we are offering complimentary assistance with the application process, from filling out the application to turning in completed application packets. We want to make sure we minimize the burden on our patients.”

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Child welfare investigator, mother arrested for cocaine, heroin in home

A recently-fired employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who had worked as a child protection investigator since 2015, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies on drug trafficking charges after a warrant was issued for her arrest, a spokesperson with the agency said Tuesday.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, Laymeshia Hicks, 25, turned herself into the Polk County Sheriff’s Office late Monday afternoon. She and her boyfriend, Xzaiveous Scott, 31, are each facing charges of trafficking in heroin, trafficking in cocaine, possession of a structure to traffic drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Deputies found the drugs in the master bedroom when they responded to an armed home-invasion call last Friday at the couple’s home, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Scott’s nephews, ages 16 and 18, were there when two intruders forced their way inside and ransacked the house Feb. 17, she said.

Investigators found 68 grams of heroin and 288 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $35,000, authorities said.

“The alleged actions of this individual are completely reprehensible and do not in any way reflect the values of the department” DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims told FloridaPolitics.com late Tuesday. “We are charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable individuals and we have extremely high standards for those tasked with carrying out this mission.

“Ms. Hicks was employed by the department in late 2015 as a child protective investigator after passing a level two background screening, and immediately upon learning of these charges, we began taking steps to terminate her employment. We will continue to assist law enforcement in any way possible,” Sims concluded.

According to the Bradenton Herald, Sheriff Grady Judd said Hicks’ 3-year-old child was living in the house.

“Are you kidding me?” Judd said. “Come on, girl, what is wrong with you?”

Judd said he thought the couple was victims of a home invasion, but he said Scott ran because he knew law enforcement would find drugs.

Scott came to the house during the investigation but later left. Detectives contacted both Scott and Hicks by phone, but they refused to meet or talk, the release said.

The Lakeland Ledger went on to give descriptions of the armed robbery suspects:

— A 5-foot, 11-inch to 6-foot, 1-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and skinny build. He was last seen wearing a camouflage-style sweatshirt and pants, black mask with a skull face, black shoes and gloves.

— A 5-foot, 10-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and husky build. He was last seen wearing a red/orange hooded sweatshirt, gray pants, black shoes, black bandanna, gray skull cap and black gloves.

Law enforcement asked that anyone with information about Scott’s whereabouts or with information regarding the robbery call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200, the Ledger reported.

Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous may call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-8477 or visit www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com, where they may be eligible for a cash reward.

Marilyn Meyer can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.

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Lens of time magnifies FSU experience for Oscar-nominated cinematographer

Oscar nominee and Florida State University alumnus James Laxton is coming off the best professional experience of his life on the film “Moonlight,” which is nominated for eight Academy Awards — including Best Picture.

Laxton earned an Oscar nomination for cinematography on the film and now, days before the 89th Academy Awards on Feb. 26, he’s still trying to process that news.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet. It definitely feels surreal but in a good way,” said Laxton from his California home. “It feels amazing.”

Laxton teamed up with six other Florida State film school alumni on “Moonlight,” including his good friend Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed the film and earned Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Laxton knew something special was happening during the filming of “Moonlight” in the fall of 2015. The crew set up in Miami’s tough Liberty City neighborhood where Jenkins and playwright Tarell McCraney grew up just blocks away from each other. Laxton said he could feel a heightened intensity unfolding during filming.

“You do feel a certain sense when you’re on set with the energy and the spirit that seems to be palpable among the collaborators around you that something special is happening,” Laxton said. “But that’s a very personal thing and not necessarily something that you feel confident would connect with as many people as ‘Moonlight’ has.”

Laxton and Jenkins met at Florida State about 15 years ago, when they shared classes in the College of Motion Picture Arts, as well as a four-bedroom house near campus. The roommates came from very different backgrounds: Laxton was from San Francisco and had grown up visiting film sets with his mother, who was a costume designer. Jenkins channeled the difficulties of his Liberty City childhood into academics and sports, and he excelled in the classroom, track and football.

But at Florida State, the two students discovered they had more similarities than differences.

“We just connected on a number of levels,” said Laxton, who graduated with Jenkins in 2003. “At the very beginning, we watched films together, talked about films together and learned what inspired and connected us. It became very clear, very quickly that we had a lot of common instinctual connections in a visual sense.

“What attracted him to filmmaking visually, attracted me to filmmaking as well. The conversations just started. When we started making short films in school, what we wanted those to look like became almost effortless conversations because we had this background of knowing what inspired each other on a personal level.”

The Jenkins-Laxton cinematic partnership grew at Florida State and continued after graduation. Laxton has become Jenkins’ go-to guy for cinematography because of their history, mindset, friendship and chemistry — all elements that together become invaluable on a film set.

“The majority of the work I’ve done has been with James,” Jenkins said. “There are things I want to set up that are very spontaneous and James is great with that. If I come up with something on the fly, I don’t have to explain every detail of why or how because James and I have the same shorthand. When you’re making a film, you want to operate with as much trust as possible.”

Laxton believes that kind of trust shared among the FSU alumni on “Moonlight” is a key reason the film has succeeded with crowds and critics.

“It allows us not to second-guess one another and to trust that someone is onto something,” Laxton said. “Let’s support them, let’s keep moving in that direction, let’s keep creating without hesitation. We all felt very at ease and trusting. That supports the creative spirit the film wanted and needed from us.”

Laxton looks back on his FSU experience as a very special time in his life in a unique location. As a native of San Francisco, he’d never experienced a place with the distinctive southern beauty of Tallahassee — the landscape of northern Florida made the learning process even more memorable. And, he discovered the school’s nurturing environment set it apart from other strong film schools around the country.

“I think not being in a major industry hub like L.A. or New York allowed me to learn the craft in a way that felt very personal, safe and comfortable,” Laxton said. “There was never the added pressure of feeling like I needed to get an internship at a studio or find commercial work as a production assistant.”

So what’s next for Laxton? The immediate future includes a new HBO project, and he’s reading lots of scripts. But he understands it will be tough to re-create his extraordinary experience working with his FSU family on “Moonlight.” It gave him a rare chance to contribute a personal perspective, or what he calls his “voice,” to a film that created such an intimate bond with so many people.

Those are the thoughts he’s been turning over in his mind since the release of “Moonlight” last October and becoming part of the film’s wild ride. Laxton is thinking about the concept of voice in filmmaking — something he thinks would be a valuable exercise for today’s film students — and he’s examining how the truths of his voice influence his work.

“The advice I would give is, just think about who you are and where you come from,” Laxton said. “What your perspectives are in the world. Be conscious of those ideas and allow them to come through how you approach a project visually.”

As for getting the FSU film school family back together on a future film project, Laxton said he’d jump at the chance to work again with his old friends and college roommate.

“I definitely would love to work with Barry again,” Laxton said. “We definitely intend to collaborate as long as we’re standing on two feet.”

Via the Florida State University News.

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Drs. Christine Laramée, Chad Masters: ‘Three Cs’ – choose the right health care at the right time

If you start having chest pains or receive a head injury, you probably realize you should go to the emergency room (ER) right away.

But for medical issues that are urgent but not an emergency – such as a sinus infection or an ankle injury – many people aren’t sure whether they should go to the emergency room, a walk-in care center or their primary care physician (PCP). One way to make the right choice is to think of the “three Cs”: condition, convenience and cost.

Condition:

The seriousness of your condition is the most important concern. If you experience a life-threatening illness or serious injury, seek care at the ER immediately. Illnesses and injuries that require an ER visit include head injuries, coughing up or vomiting blood, severe burns, paralysis and chest pains. Less urgent health issues such as fever, flu, earache, pink eye, urinary tract infection and cold can be treated either at a walk-in care center or your doctor’s office. Most walk-in care centers can also perform X-rays, electrocardiogram tests, blood tests, minor surgery, stitches, and treatment for broken bones and sprains.

Convenience:

The second factor to consider is convenience. PCPs often have limited office hours and require an appointment. But for some medical conditions, waiting for an appointment may be difficult. For example, if you wake up with a urinary tract infection on Saturday morning, it may be very uncomfortable to wait until Monday for a doctor’s appointment. Walk-in care centers are typically open seven days a week and don’t require an appointment.  Emergency rooms are open 24/7, but often have long wait times for non-emergency care.

Cost:

Third, consider the cost. Under most health benefit plans, patients pay a low or no co-pay to visit their doctor.  A visit to a walk-in care center typically has a higher co-pay but costs less than the ER. In addition, tests and treatments performed at the ER are usually more expensive than if they were performed at an outpatient center. According to UnitedHealthcare data, in Florida, the average cost for a non-emergency ER visit is $1,500 to $2,000, compared to $150 to $200 on average for a visit to an urgent care center.

The most important factor in choosing the right care setting is that you get the care you need. Choosing the right place for you – depending on your condition, convenience and cost – can make a big difference and save you money.

___

Dr. Christine Laramée is Medical Director of United Healthcare of Central and North Florida; Dr. Chad Masters is Regional Medical Director for Florida for MedExpress.

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Chancery High gives hope, future for struggling Orange County students

Estefania Rivera enrolled in her zoned public high school as the new girl, but the bullying became too much for her to handle.

Merciless in their torment, the other kids “mobbed and harassed” her every day. It reached the point where Rivera didn’t want to go to school anymore.

“I had no friends,” she said. “So, they thought there was something wrong with me.”

So, Rivera just quit going to school. When the bus came, she’d wait outside. When her parents were gone, she’d just go back inside and watch TV and do “anything except school.”  She eventually just dropped out.

Eventually, she realized she must do something to continue her education; a year later she went back to her high school and tried to re-enroll. But Rivera was too far behind in her studies to graduate within a reasonable amount of time in a traditional high school setting.

That was where Chancery High School comes in. Chancery is one of several charter schools operated by Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), which is hired by nonprofit boards to run dropout prevention and recovery charter schools.

At Chancery, students who have fallen behind in Orange County public schools can work at their own pace with the assistance of certified teachers. The school is set up for students who, for whatever reason, have fallen so far behind in studies a chance to complete their education.

Coming to Chancery, students voluntarily sign agreement consent for enrollment; parents must sign off as well if the child is under 18.

The bulk of students enrolling are around 18 years old, have typically fallen 4 to 5 years behind grade level in reading and math and have far-below-average GPAs and number of course credits.

Forty-nine percent of the student body at ALS schools in Orange County are pregnant, parenting or responsible for the care of a sibling(s); 44 percent have part-time or full-time jobs to help support themselves or their families.

Angela Whitford-Narine, president of Chancery and other regional schools under the ALS banner, says the school’s ethos is that not every student learns at the same pace. ALS schools offer flexible schedules that help meet student’s needs, she said.

“It’s 100 percent symbiotic with the authorizing school district,” Whitford-Narine said. “Education is not one-size-fits-all. Some students need something different.”

Whitford-Narine boasts that her principals and staff know every student’s name. As she walked the halls and inspected various classrooms — each full of students quietly and diligently learning on computers — she spoke to students personally, using a casual, friendly manner. They all responded in kind.

Rivera said for her, the system works better — she’s not bullied anymore and her attendance is up. She feels better, also, when working at her own pace.

“The kids are mature here,” she said. “There is no bullying.”

After graduation, Rivera wants to attend a technical school and study nursing or veterinary studies.

“I like helping people,” she said. “I like making them feel better.”

Chancery strives to make life easier for those students whose life circumstances don’t allow them the free time to finish their high school education as normal. Whitford-Narine said some of her students are single parents, while others need to care for a sick or disabled parent or a younger sibling.

Some, Whitford-Narine added, can’t make it to school on time because they must wait until siblings get on the bus to go to school, since no one else in the family is available.

Briuna Glover, 18, is the mother of a two-year-old girl; she found Chancery to be a refreshing alternative to balance completing her education with raising a daughter. She’s a member of the schools parenting assistance program, and the school’s flexible schedule allows her to get up and take care of her daughter in the morning, then go to school in the afternoon.

“She’s not a morning person,” Glover said of her daughter. “She doesn’t like to get up so early.”

While Glover attends school, her daughter is at a nearby day care with the childcare fees paid for as part of the parenting program offered at Chancery.

For others, Chancery is simply a better option.

Maria Benenche, 19, didn’t have a dramatic life circumstance preventing her from going to school. She just wasn’t engaged at her previous school.

“I didn’t take school seriously,” she said. “I had a lot of friends. It was hard to concentrate.”

A health problem forced her to miss a significant portion of her junior year. When she came back, the best option for her instead was Chancery.

And the different opportunities offered there, such as more one-on-one time with instructors, have helped her be more interested in learning.

“Regular school classes are 45 minutes,” she said. “There’s no time to take in what you learned. I didn’t retain much. Now if I need help, I can have one-on-one time with a teacher. My friends and family have told me I’m more serious and more determined since I came here.”

When she finishes, she says she wants to go to college to study photography — preferably somewhere on the coast.

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Blake Dowling: Smart delivery – a new disruption

The Leon County Research and Development Authority called the other day and asked me to give a chat about artificial intelligence.

I gave them the standard JJ-from-Good-Times response … Dyn-o-mite! … love to, thanks for thinking about me!

They had read something on AI I had put together for INFLUENCE Magazine last year and thought I would be a great “expert” on the subject.

I am no expert, ladies and gents, but I am a true believer in the cause that one should embrace all things.

So, I set out on a perilous journey to find something interesting to discuss with these fabulous folks. What you will read here is my dramatic exploration into a world of machines and the discovery that the Terminator series is a prophecy and we are all doomed! Just being dramatic to get your attention.

We may be doomed, we may be blessed, we will see where the future takes us, in the meantime …

I was talking to the team at Greenberg Traurig (Leslie Dughi, Gus Corbella and Michael Moody); they asked me if I had heard of Starship Technologies.

My first thought was “terrible name, folks,” with an image in my head of Starship Troopers (Denise Richards rocks, she should have won an award for her gutsy performance). But diving in, I was intrigued by what these cats were up to.

Starship was founded by the team that brought you Skype, and what they bring to the market is called a Personal Delivery Device (PDD) which they say will “transform” local delivery.

These wicked little bots are on wheels, cruising the sidewalks to bring whatever you seek. They can carry the about three bags of groceries and head straight to your door.

Partners in this venture range from Mercedes to Just Eat, both of whom (for obvious reasons) would like to get in on the ground floor.

If you are going to have a robot on wheels, it might as well be a Mertz: The best robot or nothing.

So, what are the uses? Grocery stores, FedEx, and restaurants, for starters. Other things to consider; the robot is locked, so robbing it would be difficult.

How far along are these folks? They have commercial trials going on in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland right now. So far, their robots have traveled 9,500 miles in 56 cities, all without any recorded incidents, while encountering an estimated 1,700,000 people.

Electrically powered, these robots have zero emissions, so that the lefty green crowd can applaud. They operate as true robots, learning routes and sharing routes with the other robots (Skynet-like world take over), and they have a range of about 3 miles before needing to return home for a charge (and secretly plan to take over the world, presumably).

Keep an eye on the Virginia legislature, which is on the verge of approving the use of PDDs on sidewalks statewide.

All kidding aside, “disruption” is a word used in tech all the time. Well, here we go again. This is awesome, cool and is happening now.

Look to see these disruptors potentially hit the streets in force next year; and get ready for a Starship heading your way soon – pending some massive lobbying.

To close today’s piece, let’s stick to the Starship theme and roll out some 80s lyrics …

And we can build this dream together

Standing strong forever

Nothing’s gonna stop us now

And if this world runs out of lovers

We’ll still have each other

Nothing’s gonna stop us now

STARSHIP – Nothing’s going to stop us now – 1986 (from the “Mannequin” soundtrack, for which it is well suited. Arrrgh.)

 ____

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Florida child protection investigator arrested for lying in possible sex abuse case

A former child protection detective in Florida was arrested for lying in an ongoing investigation involving the possible sexual assault of a child, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Children and Families confirmed Monday.

According to court records, Brittanee Sharmayne Carter, 27, was taken into custody by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

She was charged with two felony counts of altering or destroying the records of a minor in study under custody, court documents confirmed.

DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims said Carter was terminated from her position in February 2016.

“The actions of this individual were absolutely unacceptable, and the Department has no tolerance for any violation of the public trust,” Sims told FloridaPolitics.com by email. “When these allegations surfaced, an investigation was initiated by the DCF inspector general and law enforcement was notified during the course of the investigation. Allegations of falsification of records were reported to the DCF IG Feb. 2, 2016. Ms. Carter resigned Feb. 3, 2016.”

Carter fictitiously reported she had visited various elementary schools in the Tallahassee area in the course of an investigation regarding a child had been sexually assaulted, according to records.

She told investigators that it was difficult for her to keep up with her caseload at times and would confuse facts, The Associated Press reported.

“We appreciate FDLE’s assistance in holding this individual accountable,” Sims said. “When the IG investigation is complete, the full redacted IG report will be posted on our website.”

Carter was only in custody for a little more than an hour before posting bail on a $1,000 bond. It was not clear if she had yet retained a lawyer.

Attempts to contact her were unsuccessful before the publishing of this story.

 

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Aerial survey shows increasing manatee count

Florida manatees are thriving during this warm, sunny winter.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) count found the highest number of sea cows since 1991 and the third straight year of a minimum count greater than 6,000 during its annual flyover of popular manatee spots.

A team of 15 observers from 10 organizations counted 3,488 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 3,132 on the west coast of the state during the aerial survey. That top’s last year’s county by 370 manatees.

And while the Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 survey is not a population count, it’s a good indicator that Florida manatees are using the state’s springs, power plant discharge areas and warm water tributaries as their winter refuge.

The survey is done every winter following a cold front, said Holly Edwards, FWC biologist and assistant research scientist, who stressed that aerial counts are not accurate population counts because they can often miss manatees. Warm, sunny weather aided this year’s counts with low winds and good visibility.

“We did have every nice weather conditions this year, and it was cold enough to move the animals into our survey areas,” Edwards said. “This is not a record; this is a minimum count.”

Numbers vary depending on whether it is warm or cold, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy. Manatees are more easily counted a few days after a cold front when it is slightly warmer, clear and windless. A warming trend with sunny, windless conditions following cold weather increases the likelihood that manatees will be resting at the water’s surface, where they can easily be spotted. 

The survey is conducted to meet a Florida state statute, which requires an annual, impartial, scientific census of the manatee population. The counts have been made 31 times from 1991 through 2017.

“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm-water habitat to manatees in Florida,” according to Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement released Monday.

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Kennedy Space Center back in launch business — this time for business

Kennedy Space Center is back in the rocket-launching business — and this time it’s really a business.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off into space from historic Launch Complex 39A Sunday morning, the first launch from Kennedy since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

This was a business launch in almost every sense, except in purpose. The Dragon capsule sent into orbit by the rocket is full of 5,500 pounds of equipment and goods for the International Space Station.

SpaceX is trucking the goods into space on a NASA contract, and it began the mission from a NASA-owned launchpad, but this is a private business that has leased the launchpad and which is hauling the goods entirely for business.

The rocket launch appeared perfect, blasting upward and into cloudy sky, disappearing 10 seconds after liftoff.

“And liftoff of the Falcon 9 to the space station, on the first commercial launch from Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39!” announcer George Diller declared.

Until now NASA’s launchpads were used only for government rockets, and the last one that went up was the one boosting the Space Shuttle Atlantis into space on its final mission in July 2011.

NASA and Kennedy officials decided the best — really only — use for its billions of dollars in launch infrastructure for most of the future might be to support all the emerging private space companies such as SpaceX. The California company won a bidding competition in 2013 and signed a 20-year lease for exclusive use of 39A, and a year later began rebuilding it to accommodate the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

NASA still has 39A’s twin, Launch Complex 39B, which the space agency is rebuilding to accommodate its next generation big rocket, the Space Launch System.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the cost of the 39A rebuild is approaching $100 million and likely will top $100 million before it is fully outfitted to accommodate astronauts. Starting in probably 2019 SpaceX will be launching astronauts from there to the International Space Station.

So Saturday’s launch is the beginning of a new era.

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Florida man accused in plot to bomb Target stores

A Florida man is accused in a plot to blow up several Target stores along the East Coast in an attempt to acquire cheap stock if the company’s stock value plunged after the explosions.

Mark Charles Barnett, 48, was charged in a criminal complaint filed Thursday with possession of a firearm affecting commerce by a previously convicted felon, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida’s middle district. Barnett, a registered sex offender in Florida, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

A team of federal, state and local officials arrested Barnett Tuesday in a parking lot in Ocala. He was taken to the Marion County Jail, where he’s still being held. Jail records don’t say whether he’s hired a lawyer.

According to an affidavit, Barnett offered to pay another man $10,000 to place at least 10 “improvised explosive bombs” disguised in food-item packaging on store shelves from New York to Florida.

The criminal complaint said Barnett delivered the items to the other man Feb. 9. He also provided a bag of gloves, a mask and a license plate cover.

But the other man went to authorities. He handed over 10 food boxes — for breakfast bars, stuffing and pasta — that contained black powder bombs, according to the Ocala Star-Banner.

Special Agent Dewane L. Krueger of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the newspaper that he and other ATF agents were told last month that Barnett wanted to recruit someone to deliver packages to multiple locations, including stores in Florida, Virginia and New York.

“The swift work of ATF special agents, explosives enforcement officers and other specialized violent crime resources foiled this individual’s plot that could have caused great harm to the public,” said Daryl McCrary, special agent in charge of the ATF Tampa Field Division.

The complaint said an explosives expert determined the bombs were capable of causing property damage, serious injury or death to anyone who was near the item if it exploded. Federal agents searched Barnett’s house in Ocala and found components consistent with those used to create the explosive devices.

ATF officials said Barnett made statements about the stock market and said that he planned to make money from his investments. They said his plan was to buy stock at lower prices and resell it at a profit once prices rebounded after the explosions.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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