Pinellas County Archives - Page 3 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Former championship boater accused of scamming $50K in boat molds

A Panama City Beach resident claims he was conned out of $50,000 in boat molds.

On Jan. 29, Michael Robinson sold the molds — which are used to construct fiberglass boats — to a man going by the legal name Andrew Biddle II, also known as Chris Riddle.

Riddle, 47, is former professional powerboat racer from New Jersey. In 2013, he and his boating partner won championships in both the U.S. and UK.

Riddle made a $8,400 down payment on the molds in the form of a check. He gave that, along with 10 other checks worth $4,167 each, to Robinson on the day of purchase.

When Robinson went to the bank to deposit the initial check, it bounced. Each of the 10 smaller checks also bounced.

Robinson notified Riddle of the issue and demanded his property be returned. Riddle refused to return the property. It is believed he either sold or destroyed the stolen property.

Robinson is requesting a jury trial and seeks damages and the return of his molds.

Because Robinson owns property in Pinellas County and Riddle is listed as a resident of the county, the suit was filed in Pinellas County Court Oct. 20, 2016.

The checks were under a company named Calypso Skiff LLC, located in Dunedin. According to BayLawsuits, the company was created in October 2015 by Riddle and Justin Belz. Calypso is a boat manufacturing company. The address where the company was located is a condo.

The landlord sued Riddle to vacate the property in June 2016.

Riddle has been scamming people long before this, claims BayLawsuits. In 2014, Riddle’s business partner, Belz, went to the police to report Riddle missing after a supposed boating accident. The Coast Guard searched for Riddle, but could not find him. Later, police determined it was a hoax to avoid fraud charges.

In early 2015, Riddle turned himself into the authorities.

Another man also claims to have bought a boat from Riddle, but never received it.

The FBI took over the investigation on Riddle.


Direct mail round-up: Jack Latvala reminds Pinellas voters what’s at stake this election

A new mailer from Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala offers a simple message: “This election is not just about Washington D.C.”

Latvala’s mailer lets Pinellas County voters know what he believes is at stake this November — at both the state and local levels — with a handy voters’ guide for down-ballot races.

“It’s also about Florida and Pinellas County!” he says.

On the congressional level, the mailer suggests support for Republicans Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate and David Jolly for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Photos of Democratic opponents — Congressman Patrick Murphy and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist — are shown shadowed with their faces crossed out.

“Of these men, who can best be trusted to keep our taxes low, our nation secure and government out of our lives,” the flyer says. “YOUR VOTE could make the difference in these races.”

As for representing Pinellas in Tallahassee, Latvala is joined by state Reps. Chris Latvala of House District 67 and Chris Sprowls of HD 65.

“Do we want to turn back the clock on our state to a time when crime rates were skyrocketing, taxes were increased every year, and our public schools had no accountability?” Latvala asks. “YOUR VOTE can keep leaders like Jack Latvala, Chris Sprowls, and Chris Latvala fighting for us in Tallahassee!”

Locally, the flyer endorses Mike Mikruak for Pinellas County Commissioner; if he wins, it could result in a return to Republican majority on the board.

“YOUR VOTE for Mike Mikurak can help Republicans win back the majority on our County Commission that was lost in 2014 for the first time in 50 years!” the mailer says.

With such discord at the top of the presidential ticket this year, Latvala’s flyer reminds us that all politics — and good governance — is indeed local.

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Duke, FPL fuel pro-David Jolly super PAC

U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s re-election campaign in Florida’s 13th Congressional District took in $625,000 over the first 19 days of October, with half coming from utility companies.

People for Pinellas, the committee backing the incumbent Republican, received a $250,000 check from Florida Power & Light and another $100,000 from Duke Energy, with the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC donating $100,000, and St. Pete businessmen James MacDougald and Bill Edwards giving $50,000 apiece.

Jolly has been on the receiving end of attack ads due to his ties to Duke Energy, which has charged Pinellas County customers millions in “nuclear cost recovery fees” for nuclear power plants that have not been built.

The finance report shows People for Pinellas spent about $250,000 during the reporting period, mainly on media production and placement, and had about $574,000 on hand as of Oct. 19.

The committee has filed several notices since the close of the reporting period, including a $163,000 payment to Virginia-based Media Ad Ventures for media placement and another $20,000 to Red Digital for online advertising.

Jolly is running against former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat. CD 13 covers the southern half of Pinellas County.

Darden Rice: Express bus route to beaches worth a compromise

rice-darden3-300x336Everyone knows Pinellas County is home to incredible beaches, world-class entertainment, and unmatched quality of life.

Because of this, Pinellas has emerged one of the nation’s top vacation destinations. This tourism boom is driving new business to local shops, restaurants and museums, and providing crucial revenue to city and regional government.

But as more people discover everything Pinellas has to offer, traffic congestion — and the pollution that comes with it — will only continue to grow. That’s especially true for our coastal communities.

If we don’t improve and innovate how we move people around, Pinellas will see increased traffic, decreased air quality, and lowered expectations from the people who visit, live, and work here.

Fortunately, we are on the cusp of an exciting new opportunity: planning is under way for Pinellas County’s first bus rapid transit line, providing expedited, limited-stop service along First Avenue North and First Avenue South between downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches.

While bus rapid transit, or BRT, will benefit riders, residents and businesses all along this corridor, the advantages are especially great for the beach community at the service’s western end. Choosing the best beach location to anchor the BRT line from downtown St. Petersburg is vitally important. Turns out there is one choice beach location that ranks high above all others: St. Pete Beach.

This month, PSTA and the St. Pete Beach City Commission will vote on whether to determine if this beach terminus can be confirmed. After much study, St. Pete Beach scored the overall highest by far in all categories evaluated and rated for fit, speed, access, market, and competitiveness. St. Pete Beach is the location with the highest density that will serve the most needs for residents, workers, tourists, people without cars, and new riders. Unlike most lengthy transportation studies, the comparison of the three cities is easy to digest. The conclusions gel with common sense.

One of the wrinkles is that St. Pete Beach — and Treasure Island — are two of five cities, including Kenneth City, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore, which are not ad valorem members of PSTA. That rankles some who think the beach cities, especially ones that would benefit from BRT services, should contribute like everyone else. That is not an unreasonable position and our elected officials are being fiscally responsible in raising this issue. However, let us not forget that PSTA’s operations and capital budget also are supported by state and federal grants. St. Pete Beach residents and hotels certainly contribute in that way as well. And more fare revenue is projected to be created from St. Pete Beach residents and tourists who will use the bus service than any other beach destination.

I urge my fellow elected officials and PSTA board members to approach St. Pete Beach with a greater sense of cooperation. There is a great regional and economic value to provide a top-class bus rapid transit service, the first of its kind in Pinellas. We need to base the terminus locations on strategic considerations that will engender success. That will far outweigh what we might sacrifice by trying to squeeze every penny from a beach community already struggling to pay for myriad infrastructure needs.

While we should pursue any opportunities to look for contributions from the hotel industry or tourism revenues, ultimately, the greater gains the public will realize with a successful BRT service are greater than a sole focus on St. Pete Beach’s ad valorem contributions to PSTA. The success of this, the first of what I hope becomes a countywide network of BRT projects, will set the tone for future much-needed BRT projects in the works, so it is important that we do this right.

Working together is the Pinellas way. It’s how we can build the first link in a future regional system of bus rapid transit that our visitors, workers and residents deserve. And it is how we can move forward toward a brand-new chapter for Pinellas County’s future.


Darden Rice is chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and vice chair of the St. Petersburg City Council.

Pinellas sewer task force turns to the technical experts

There were no new revelations or big ideas during the first meeting of the newly formed wastewater/stormwater task force Monday.

Instead, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, who created the board, tossed the ball to the technical staff with directions to come back to the committee with an initial plan within 90 days. The steering committee is made up of elected officials and community leaders.

Justice called for the task force to be formed after the county, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Largo, and others dumped millions of gallons of raw and partially treated water into Boca Ciega Bay, Lake Seminole, Joe’s Creek, irrigation canals, and other places during heavy rainstorms this past summer.

The general goal, Justice said, is to work collaboratively to come up with short- and long-term solutions to the county’s stormwater and wastewater problems. The specific goals are to avoid and mitigate spills and increase the capacity and resiliency of the individual systems and the system as a whole.

“Working together as partners, we can do more,” Justice said.

The task force was to be made up of representatives from the cities that have sewer systems, owners of private sewer systems and technical experts from public works departments in those municipalities. Representatives from civic associations were also asked to serve on the group.

While many cities — including St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo,and Pinellas Park — sent elected representatives to serve on the steering committee and brought along technical assistance, many others snubbed the meeting.

The mayors of Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Oldsmar, Treasure Island, North Redington Beach, and Redington Shores were among the no-shows. No community leaders appeared onstage either.

Those elected officials who did show were asked to comment on the issue as they saw it.

Terry Hamilton-Wollin, the vice mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, said she agreed the matter is one that should be viewed countywide.

“If it affects one of us; it affects all of us,” she said.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said providing sewer service is one of the core jobs of a government. But, he reminded, it costs money to maintain systems.


Pinellas Commission approves foreclosure registry

Comm_Dave_EggersIn an effort to minimize the impact of foreclosed properties that may not be properly maintained, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance requiring the registration, inspection and maintenance of foreclosed homes.

“It’s long overdue. Some of the houses in our neighborhoods are horrible,” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “I’m tired of these banks not taking care of these houses and ruining neighborhoods.”

The ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, applies to properties in unincorporated Pinellas that have been foreclosed on or are entering foreclosure. It requires that they be registered with the county and periodically inspected by the registrant to ensure they are being maintained.

Properties without any formal foreclosure action are not subject to this ordinance.

The registry will include the name and address of the mortgagee, the registered agent or the property manager’s contact information. This will allow county staff to easily identify a point of contact responsible for maintenance issues on a foreclosed home.

The goal of the registry is to reduce the need for recurring code enforcement actions against foreclosed properties, avoid detracting from the character of existing neighborhoods, and, ultimately, return these properties to the market in viable condition.

Registration will also require an annual fee, which has not yet been determined.

Once the ordinance goes into effect, the mortgagee will have 30 days to register the property. Failure to register could result in a fine and code enforcement actions may be taken on properties that do not address maintenance issues.

Pinellas County, cities provide help for victims of Hurricane Matthew

Two dozen fire and emergency medical services personnel left Pinellas for the east coast Thursday to prepare for the aftermath response of Hurricane Matthew.

Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services and Fire Administration coordinated the departure of the Fire Engine Strike Team and Technical Rescue Unit from Clearwater to the final staging area in Lakeland.

The effort was made possible by the strong partnerships among the county and municipalities. The Fire Engine Strike Team is made up of firefighters from the Dunedin, East Lake, Palm Harbor, Seminole and Largo fire departments. The Technical Rescue Unit is comprised of firefighters/technical rescue technicians from the Pinellas Park, Largo and Clearwater fire departments.

Once the storm passes, the emergency response teams will conduct search and rescue, provide paramedic care, extinguish fires and assist communities as needed.

“These type of severe weather incidents like Hurricane Matthew are so large that it takes the partnership of multiple agencies to accomplish this type of mission and level of support,” EMS and fire administration division director Craig Hare said. “We are able to do this for our neighbors without changing our fire and emergency services ability to be prepared for potential storm impacts in Pinellas County.”

The emergency response teams will remain in direct communication with the county’s EMS and fire administration to coordinate efforts and identify needs.

The county is also providing other hurricane-related support:

— U.S. Coast Guard aircraft from Miami and Allegiant Air aircraft from Orlando Sanford International Airport will be parked at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to be kept safe during the storm.

— Pinellas County Animal Services staff members have agreed to take 16 dogs and 15 cats from Osceola County Animal Services. The animals will be accepted into the adoption program once transported.

— The Convention and Visitors Bureau is working with tourism partners in information sharing about hotel room availability through the Visit Florida’s Emergency Accommodations Module, which allows hotel partners from non-affected areas to submit hotel availability and rates for the use of those who are being displaced.

“Both in times of calm and of emergency response, Pinellas County supports its belief that with partners we can do more,” Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said. “We are pleased to help and to work with our municipal partners in delivering assistance.”

St. Pete closes emergency operations center; Pinellas EOC remains open

St. Petersburg closed its emergency operations center, opened to handle issues related to Hurricane Matthew, at 9 a.m. Friday.

No significant damage was reported, St. Petersburg officials said, although one downed tree branch briefly blocked traffic on 4th Street South at 59th Avenue. Wind speeds stayed between 18 mph and 26 mph overnight, with gusts reaching 33 mph, they said. Seven people spent the night at the shelter at Northside Baptist Church, 6000 38th Ave. N.

St. Petersburg officials said the city forecast is calling for 1 inch of rain and breezy conditions. Strong rip currents expected for the next few days. There is possibly a higher-than-normal high tide expected for later today, although no street flooding is anticipated unless the city gets heavier rainfall than expected.

Pinellas County officials continue to closely monitor Hurricane Matthew for potential impacts to the area. The county’s emergency operations center and citizens’ information center both remain open, as do all county government offices. Residents can call the citizens’ information center at 727-464-4333 for general information.

The National Weather Service is forecasting sustained winds of 25 mph to 35 mph and occasional storm bands with 40 mph to 45 mph wind gusts, similar to summer thunderstorms, to impact Pinellas County until noon. There is a high risk of rip currents for all Pinellas beaches and tides 2 feet above normal from Tarpon Springs to Indian Rocks Beach. Clearwater Beach is expecting a northwest wind influence that is expected to cause wave run-up and beach erosion.

The price gouging law is also in effect. Effective only during a declared state of emergency, the price gouging law prohibits sharp increases in the price of essential commodities, such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber, and equipment needed as a direct result of an official declared emergency. Violators are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation, up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.

Residents who suspect price gouging can report it to Pinellas County Consumer Protection at 727-464-6200 and are also encouraged to report it to the Attorney General’s hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Pinellas County prepares to lend hurricane aid to east coast

As preparations continue ahead of a Category 4 hurricane forecast to move along or over the east coast of Florida tonight and tomorrow, Pinellas County is making its own plans to lend a hand.

“The current weather forecast puts Pinellas County in a more favorable position to be able to support other agencies and counties that are expected to see far greater impacts,” Pinellas County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice said in a press release. “Both in times of calm and of emergency response, Pinellas County supports its belief that with partners we can do more. We are pleased to help and to work with our municipal partners in delivering assistance.”

As of Thursday morning, Pinellas County departments were offering the following support services:

Airport: U.S. Coast Guard aircraft from Miami and Allegiant Air aircraft from Orlando Sanford International Airport will be ferrying into St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. The aircraft will be parked on PIE’s airfield to be kept safe during the storm.

Animal Services: Staff is on stand-by to receive 16 dogs and 15 cats from Osceola County Animal Services. The animals will be accepted into the adoption program once transported.

Fire Administration/EMS: As a part of the state of emergency response plan, Pinellas County is sending a Fire Engine Strike Team and a Technical Rescue Unit to Lakeland. The Fire Engine Strike Team is made up of firefighters from the Dunedin, East Lake, Palm Harbor, Seminole, and Largo fire departments. The Technical Rescue Unit will be made up of firefighters/technical rescue technicians from the Pinellas Park, Largo, and Clearwater fire departments.

The team will be staging at 3 p.m. at the Countryside Mall in Clearwater and will convoy in route to Lakeland’s final staging area with departments from all across the state set to support affected areas. Full fire department resources are in Pinellas County and ready to respond locally as needed.

Convention and Visitors Bureau: The department is working with tourism partners in information sharing about hotel room availability through the Visit Florida’s Emergency Accommodations Module at www.v­isitf­lorid­­/en-u­s/eam­.html, which allows hotel partners from non-affected areas to submit hotel availability and rates for those who are being displaced to use.

Rick Scott orders DEP investigation in St. Petersburg sewage discharges

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate sewage discharges in St. Petersburg.

The Governor’s Office made the announcement Wednesday, just one day after Scott called on the state Department of Health to begin additional testing at the discharge site. While the city is responsible for testing in the immediate area, the Department of Health will monitor the water quality and do sampling at 14 beaches — including nine in Pinellas County and five in Hillsborough.

“Florida is known for our pristine environment, world-class beaches and award-winning state parks,” said Scott in a statement. “We must do all we can to protect our environment, and that is why I am directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the sewage dump that occurred in St. Petersburg following Hurricane Hermine.”

Heavy rains from Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed the area’s sewer systems. That caused millions of gallons of sewage to flow into the streets and waterways. According to the Governor’s Office, St. Petersburg dumped more than 150 million of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay.

The Department of Health has issued a health advisory for Simmons Park Beach in Hillsborough County, across the bay from St. Petersburg.

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