In The Spotlight
GAINESVILLE, Fla., Feb. 1, 2023 — In a new study, scientists with the University of Florida found that a combination of silver nanoparticles and antibiotics was effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- For centuries, silver has been known to have antimicrobial properties. New research investigated whether silver nanoparticles could amplify the effects of antibiotics on antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- The study found that small amounts of silver nanoparticles combined with a low dose of a common antibiotic inhibited the growth of resistant bacteria.
- The scientists hope to use these findings to develop a treatment for some types of antibiotic-resistant infections.
The researchers hope to turn this discovery into viable treatment for some types of antibiotic-resistant infections. Antibiotic-resistant infections kill more than a million people globally each year.
For centuries, silver has been known to have antimicrobial properties. However, silver nanoparticles — microscopic spheres of silver small enough to operate at the cellular level — represent a new frontier in using the precious metal to fight bacteria.
In this study, the research team tested whether commercially available silver nanoparticles boost the power of antibiotics and enable these drugs to counter the very bacteria that have evolved to withstand them.
“We found that the silver nanoparticles and a common class of broad-spectrum antibiotics called aminoglycosides work together synergistically,” said Daniel Czyż, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of microbiology and cell science.
“When combined with a small amount of silver nanoparticles, the amount of antibiotic needed to inhibit the bacteria decreased 22-fold, which tells us that the nanoparticles make the drug much more potent,” Czyż explained. “In addition, aminoglycosides can have negative side effects, so using silver nanoparticles could allow for a lower dose of antibiotic, reducing those side effects.”
The findings were both surprising and exciting, said Autumn Dove, first author of the study and a doctoral candidate studying microbiology and cell science in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“When I first saw the result, my first thoughts were, ‘Wow, this works!’” said Dove.
Over the last several decades, overuse of antibiotics had led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and a decline in the effectiveness of traditional antibiotic drugs, the researchers said. The study’s findings indicate that silver nanoparticles have the potential to renew the effectiveness of some of these drugs.
“Let’s say you get a bad burn on your hand, and it gets infected with one of these resistant strains of bacteria,” Dove said. “It’s possible that dressing that burn with a combination of silver nanoparticles and antibiotics could both clear that infection and prevent those resistant bacteria from spreading elsewhere.”
Though antibiotics mainly target bacteria, they can also damage human and animal cells. Using a microscopic worm called C. elegans, the researchers confirmed that the silver nanoparticles did not also make the antibiotic more toxic to non-bacterial cells.
Building off the study’s promising findings, the scientists next plan to seek FDA authorization for clinical trials and work with UF Innovate to patent an antimicrobial product that uses silver nanoparticles.
The silver nanoparticles used in the study were manufactured by the Natural Immunogenics Corporation, which helped fund the study through the UF Industry Partnerships Matching Grant Program. This program pairs UF researchers with Florida-based technology and energy companies to research and develop new products.
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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Given that hot soup on a cold winter day is always a popular dish, the GFWC New Century Woman’s Club took the idea further and created a January charitable event of homemade soup. But to give the event a distinct spin, it was not the members of the Woman’s Club who made the soup, but rather, 14 men who volunteered to make their own special soup recipes for the event.
The High Springs New Century Woman’s Club has a long history of community involvement and charitable causes. The club was organized in 1899 by 12 women and it was federated with the national organization in 1900. The first president was Mrs. L.C. Gracy. In 1912, financed by Club president Mrs. James Paul and her husband, the building for the club was built on donated land and has been home to the group ever since.
They are also one of the oldest Woman’s Clubs in Florida, founded only nine years after the National Organization was founded. Today, there are over 60,000 members nationwide
The goal of all the chapters is to “transform lives each day, not simply with monetary donations, but with hands-on tangible projects that provide immediate impact through educational, literary, scientific, and charitable endeavors.”
The High Springs club focuses on major issues that affect communities daily such as supporting women’s health, preserving natural resources, promoting literacy and equality, citizen advocacy, and encouraging volunteer service. The High Springs Club motto is “Not for ourselves alone, but for others.” With that motto in mind, the club, which has about 100 members, organizes at least one large charitable event per month to raise money for various groups and projects.
January’s “Real Men Make Soup” charitable event had local men rolling up their sleeves and creating a diverse assortment of steaming homemade soup. Some participants made ethnic soups like Gumbo, Taco Soup, Tortellini and Italian Wedding soup. Others went with seafood and made clam chowder while still others brought their own favorite variations to the ever-popular chicken soup. Yet other men opted for heartier stick-to-your rib choices like lasagna soup, cheesy potato and bacon, chicken pot pie and meat stew.
Tickets to the sold-out event went for $15. And for people purchasing the $15 tickets—they had the enviable opportunity to sample all 14 soup varieties—as many times as they wanted. And members of the Woman’s Club served up a captivating array of homemade desserts. All profits from the event were donated to the High Springs Community School's Athletic Program.
Next month the club will feature a Spaghetti to Go take out dinner complete with a roll, salad and desert for $10. Pick up the dinners on Feb. 6 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the New Century Woman’s Club, 23674 West U.S. Highway 27 in High Springs. The money from the upcoming Spaghetti to Go fundraiser will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
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GAINESVILLE ‒ The internal signal to migrate sends birds on marathon journeys that can cross continents and oceans. Many of the birds that fill our yards and woods with song throughout the summer – vireos, tanagers, warblers, and flycatchers - will wing their way to Central and South America in September to winter in habitats replete with insects, berries, seeds and other food items necessary to sustain them for half of their annual life cycle. Even the ruby-throated hummingbirds that sipped nectar from flower blossoms and feeders vacate Florida and zoom southward to distant environs.
After many of our summer breeding birds depart in September, the true snowbirds slowly filter in and join the year-rounders such as Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, and Carolina chickadees. Flocks of tiny birds, some dazzling shades of yellow, others nondescript brown, many hyperactively pumping their tails up and down, and still others flashing yellow rumps as they flush to another feeding spot, replace our winter migrants. These are the true snowbirds from Maine, New York, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and other northern reaches that have departed their snowy habitat for Florida’s mild and more hospitable winter.
Many Floridians mark winter by the sight of the most notorious of snowbirds – sandhill cranes and American robins. And those who stock their bird feeders will marvel at the abundance of local birds as well as the snowbirds that visit your yard. If you place a heaping tablespoon of grape jelly in a dish suspended from your bird feeder, and wait patiently, you may be gifted with the sight of the most spectacularly plumaged snowbird of all, the Baltimore oriole. Or another winter treasure, a painted bunting, may sneak to the feeder to dine on the smorgasbord of seed.
What are some strategies for spotting the avian snowbirds? Groups of warblers – palm, pine, and yellow-rumped – form conspicuous flocks as they forage for seeds in grassy fields and road edges. Eastern phoebes are also quite easy to discern. Look for a cardinal-sized bird with a smudgy dark head, tail pumping up and down, and perched prominently on a fence post or exposed branch waiting to swoop out and nab an aerial insect. Two snowbird woodpeckers grace us with their winter presence – Northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker. The tell-tale call of the flicker’s high, piercing, and clear keew or the sapsucker’s mewing neeah will reveal their whereabouts.
One technique that savvy birdwatchers employ to locate hard-to-find snowbirds (or migrants that pass through during fall and spring migration) is to closely scrutinize flocks of local birds, the tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees. These year-round residents are the most knowledgeable at finding local food sources, detecting neighborhood predators such as outdoor cats, and sounding the alarm when the resident Cooper’s hawk arrives. The snowbirds often use the knowledge of the locals by following along and forming mixed flocks with the year-round residents.
If you would like to learn more about attracting birds to your yard – both winter snowbirds and year-round locals – consider attending the Alachua Audubon Society-sponsored Backyard Birding Tour on Saturday, Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Explore some of Gainesville’s premier backyard birding habitats on a self-guided tour of five to six yards and learn how to attract birds to your own yard. Tickets are $12 each and available for purchase at Wild Birds Unlimited, 4121 N.W. 16th Blvd. Educational displays and bird experts will be present at each tour stop.
This winter spread your wings by learning to create a bird-friendly yard and discover chipping sparrows, orange-crowned warblers, gray catbirds, and others that have heeded their internal signal to flee their frosty habitats and spend the winter with us in sunny Florida.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. ‒ Have you experienced prejudice or discrimination in your life? Those moments can be hard to talk about and hard to share with other people.
Connect with a collection of people who are willing to discuss openly their personal accounts of discrimination at the Human Library event on Feb. 5, 2023, in Gainesville. The event will be held at 2 p.m. in Santa Fe College’s Blount Hall located at 530 West University Avenue.
During the event, volunteers, known as “human books,” will represent different groups in our society that are commonly discriminated against. According to the Human Library, there are a total of 13 groups that make up the “Pillars of Prejudice.” The pillars are mental health, addictions, gender, religion, lifestyle, family relations, ethnicity, disabilities, health, occupation, sexual orientation, social status, and victims.
The human books will share their stories of prejudice and members of the audience, known as “readers,” will have an opportunity to ask questions. The intent is to spark a conversation, challenge stereotypes, and create dialogue between the readers and human books that can bridge social divides.
There will be a range of sensitive topics discussed during the event. Some of the topics could be triggering to certain individuals. Please be aware that anyone attending the event will be involved in frank discussions about discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry. Parental discretion is advised
Last year, the Human Library was held at the Cone Park Branch of the Alachua County Library District. This year, Santa Fe College will provide a larger venue for the event. With more space and more human books, this year’s event will be an even more impactful experience for all who attend.
The Human Library Organization, which created this event, is a non-profit learning platform developed in Copenhagen. The organization partners with groups around the world to put on events designed to create a safe space for dialogue. At these events, traumatic experiences with prejudice and discrimination are openly discussed in a respectful manner.
This event is sponsored by Altrusa International of Gainesville in partnership with the Alachua County Library District, Santa Fe College, and the International Human Library Organization.
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GAINESVILLE ‒ Joshua Emmanuel Hall, 36, Micanopy, has been charged with the December murder of Corey Grimmage in Micanopy. Hall, who was already in custody from a Dec. 20 arrest for narcotics and firearm possession, is now being charged with second-degree murder.
Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputies responded on Dec. 7, 2022, to a call about a body found in the roadway on Northeast 6th Avenue, a rural road in Micanopy. The body of 37-year-old Grimmage was found with four gunshot wounds to his mouth, left hand, right shoulder and right arm. Deputies determined that the body had been there for more than 24 hours. Six 9mm spent shell casings were found nearby, along with a 9mm magazine for a Taurus pistol and a Ruger LCP .380 pistol. No phone, wallet or money was found.
A witness reported seeing a dark Dodge Avenger around the streets of Micanopy and hearing gunshots the night of Dec. 3. Detectives also found that a complaint had been received on Dec. 6 from a woman who had loaned her black Avenger to Grimmage on Dec. 1. He was supposed to return it on Dec. 4, but it had not been returned and she said she began to worry.
Detectives found the Avenger at Arbor Apartments on Dec. 7 and reportedly found a substance believed to be blood on the exterior of the car. Several 9mm bullets were reportedly found between the windshield and the hood, in the wiper blade area. A cell phone was also seen in plain view inside the car. The car was impounded and towed, and a search warrant was obtained.
Detectives obtained cell phone location data for the phone that showed it moved from Northwest 13th Street in Gainesville to Micanopy on the night of Dec. 3 and hit a cell phone tower about 700 meters from where Grimmage’s body was found at about 10 p.m. the same night. The phone then moved north again to Gainesville, ending where it was later found in the Avenger.
Messages on the phone, which were found to belong to Grimmage, showed a conversation with “JBanz Banz” on social media; that account was found to belong to Hall. The conversation indicated that Hall and Grimmage were involved in the purchase and sale of narcotics. That evidence led to the Dec. 20 arrest of Hall for felony criminal conspiracy, trafficking in narcotics, using a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, trafficking in synthetic narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony.
Fingerprints from the Avenger and from Grimmage’s phone were identified as belonging to Hall. Detectives also obtained a search warrant for Hall’s phone, and its location data reportedly showed that Hall had traveled the same route as Grimmage’s phone on Dec. 3.
Another witness told detectives that Hall had come to their house sometime near the beginning of December late at night, “stressed” and “out of breath.” They said Hall said some type of “situation” had occurred. That witness described Hall as being homeless and not having a lot of money, but they said he had a lot of cash that night. The witness said that Hall sells “molly” and “weed” and that he had been asking where he could get a gun.
On Dec. 18 detectives received a report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that matched the shell casings found at the scene of the murder to the Taurus pistol that was reportedly in Hall’s possession when he was arrested on Dec. 20.
Based on the investigation, Hall has been charged with second-degree murder (dangerous or depraved without premeditation).
Hall has 14 felony convictions and has served four state prison terms, with his most recent release in November 2020. Before the December arrest, his most recent previous arrest was in October 2021 for domestic battery and damaging a TV; he was on probation at the time. After pleading nolo contendere to the charges, he was sentenced to 228 days in jail with credit for 228 days served.
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ARCHER ‒ Quinnell Lavon Thompson, 43, was arrested on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and charged with aggravated assault, armed burglary, property damage and petit theft after allegedly entering a home under construction, stealing and returning a trail camera and threatening the property owners with a knife.
The owners of the Archer house, which is under construction, reported on Tuesday morning that they had placed a trail camera on a post facing the entry to the house and that they saw a man, later identified as Thompson, entering the house. They reported that when they arrived at the property, the camera was gone. They left and activated the GPS tracking tag on the camera, which set off an alert on the camera. The owners said that the camera was later returned and placed just inside the garage.
The victims reported that shortly after they discovered the camera, Thompson walked up to them and started yelling at them. He allegedly threatened them and held up a small knife.
An Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy responded and reported that he saw a man matching the description given by the victims and detained him. A search reportedly produced a small pocket knife in his pocket.
Thompson reportedly admitted going into the house. He denied taking the camera but then reportedly admitted taking it and returning it. He denied that he threatened the victims.
Thompson has seven felony convictions and is currently on probation for battery on a 70-year-old neighbor. Judge Walter Green set bail at $40,000.
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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs Police Chief J. Antoine Sheppard has been selected to be the new District #17 Director for the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA). District #17 encompasses six counties including Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion and Putnam. District Director is the liaison between FPCA and other police chiefs.
Sheppard has been a member of the Florida Police Chief Association for several years. “As a result, I have briefly met many of Florida's top leaders, such as U.S. Senator Rick Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis,” said Sheppard.
Explaining his new appointment Sheppard said, “My leadership role is geared toward advocating for law enforcement and the public by influencing legislation and policies in Tallahassee. Although my new role will slightly increase my workload, my heart and mind remain in High Springs, where my primary job is protecting and serving our citizens.”
The previous District #17 Director was Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book, who relinquished his role after being elected as City Commissioner to the City of Gainesville Commission.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs’ association in the United States and is composed of more than 1,000 of the state’s top law enforcement executives and members.
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NEWBERRY ‒ Five 13-year-olds have been charged with misdemeanor battery following a fight after school on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
According to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Oak View Middle School’s School Resource Deputy (SRD) received word of a potential fight involving multiple students and followed a large group at about 4 p.m. as they went to a nearby business.
He encouraged one of the subjects to go home. As the student turned toward home, the deputy returned to the school to get his patrol car so he could continue to follow the group.
A fight developed off-campus and involved five 13-year-old suspects attacking a 14-year-old victim. The suspects have been charged with misdemeanor battery via sworn complaint.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. ‒ Nearly 250 students from elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the district will face off in Alachua County Public Schools’ annual robotics competition on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. There will be three robotics tournaments running simultaneously.
More than 70 registered teams will demonstrate their skills in developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks, all before event judges. There will be team skills contests as well as a Teamwork Challenge in which teams from different schools must work together to earn points.
All teams are vying for a spot in the Central/North Florida State Vex Competitions held in late March, with the chance to possibly compete at the Worlds Competition in May.
The competition is being sponsored by Gas South, whose donation this year help fund the robotics competitions. In addition, the ACPS Robotics Program received a STEM grant from the Education Foundation of Alachua County to help purchase new and replacement equipment and field expansion kits earlier this school year.
The Robotics Competition takes place at Lincoln Middle School, 1001 S.E. 12th Street, Gainesville. Times are:
Opening Ceremony: 10:00 AM
Lunch: 10:30 – 11:15 AM
Competition: 11:30 AM – 3:30 PM., Gym/Auditorium
Closing ceremony and awards: 4 – 4:30 PM, likely in the Auditorium
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- 03 February 2023
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After a jury couldn't agree on the death penalty in Florida's deadliest school shooting, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are proposing to make it easier to send condemned convicts to death row.
The changes – which would allow a jury to recommend the death penalty even when only eight of 12 jurors agree – align with plans endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, introduced a bill in the House on Tuesday that would allow death sentences in cases when only eight jurors agree. Florida law currently requires a unanimous agreement, or a judge would sentence a defendant to life in prison without parole.
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, introduced a version of the same bill in the Senate late Monday.
Florida’s Republican governor called for the change last year, after the jury that convicted Cruz in the school shooting split 9-3 in favor of the death penalty in October.
“If you have a death penalty at all, that is a case – where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for humanity – that you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis said after the sentencing.
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who represents the district where Nikolas Cruz, 19, fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County in 2018 said she was withholding support for the proposed changes until she can speak with victims' families.
Broward County is home to more registered Democratic voters in Florida than any other. It is unclear if Democrats will object to the proposed changes.
“It's much larger than just one case,” Polsky said in an interview, adding she was unhappy with last year’s verdict in the Cruz case. “I need to really take a deep dive, which I haven't done. It's just something I need to really look into, understand and speak to my constituents.”
The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, cautioned that lawmakers were facing an “almost infinite number of topics that the state has to address every year,” adding that issues surrounding Florida’s death penalty have not been a priority until this year.
Gregory said it was important for lawmakers to reevaluate laws when the state sees challenges or changes in its system.
Jacques said in an interview he and Ingoglia worked for weeks on the legislation, and he did not coordinate with the governor. He said the governor’s public demands for a supermajority among jurors in death penalty cases was “music to our ears.”
Jacques said he preferred requiring only seven jurors to accept a death penalty recommendation. He said that was the system in place when he was a prosecutor. He said he and Ingoglia settled on a requirement for eight jurors as a compromise.
The sentence for Cruz reignited debate surrounding Florida’s capital punishment statute. Florida lawmakers meet for 60 days starting in March to consider thousands of new legislative proposals.
Neither the House or Senate bill was designated a top priority for legislative leaders. But support from DeSantis – who wields considerable influence over the Capitol – and the overwhelming majority Republicans hold in the Legislature made the effort’s passage highly likely.
No lobbyists from any public-interest organizations immediately registered to try to influence the outcome of debate over the bills, according to lobbying records reviewed Tuesday.
Prior to 2016 in Florida, a defendant could be sentenced to death by a majority 7-5 vote. Additionally, judges, rather than the jury, could also rule that aggravating factors made a defendant eligible for the death penalty. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the state’s death penalty procedure was unconstitutional.
In response to the court’s ruling, lawmakers in 2017 adopted the unanimous sentencing law.
In a case in 2020, the Florida Supreme Court opened the door to imposing death sentences even when jurors do not agree unanimously.
Jacques said he is confident the new procedure would hold up to legal challenges in state or federal courts.
The bill also proposes a jury recommendation, rather than jury determination, of a death sentence. Jacques said a judge could overturn a jury's recommendation and impose his or her own sentence.
“At the end of the day, the judge is the one who does sentencing,” he said. “This is an advisory recommendation that the jury provides.”
With his life spared, Cruz's whereabouts in Florida's prison system are unknown. The Department of Corrections has not released which prison Cruz has been sent to serve his life sentence. The state is permitted in rare cases to withhold such information when it is necessary to protect the safety of an inmate.
Family members of some victims of the school shooting have openly said they hope Cruz would be killed in prison by fellow inmates.
Michael Schulman, whose son was a teacher who died in the school shooting, told Cruz in a courtroom in November that he hoped “that the prisoners and the inmates you associate with execute the judgment that this court can’t.”
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GAINESVILLE, Fla., Feb. 1, 2023 – A federal judge has sentenced the CEO of Airsign Airship Group to more than five years in prison for defrauding the government over $7.8 million meant to help average Americans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the brother-in-law of a former Florida lawmaker who resigned after he was accused of federal fraud, too.
Patrick Parker Walsh, 42, of Williston, Florida, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Gainesville to five and a half years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud and one charge of money laundering in August as part of a deal with prosecutors. He must also pay back the $7.8 million to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Before his sentencing, Walsh choked back tears at times while addressing the court. He said he made a series of bad decisions.
“I tell my children that it’s in the moments when no one is watching that you can measure a man’s character,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately for me, when I was in that situation, I failed.”
Walsh’s attorney, Nicole Waid, said he saw the federal government loans as a way to save his business.
“His business skills are not the greatest. He took out high-interest loans and made some dumb choices,” Waid said. She said Walsh intended to save his business and help his employees.
Prosecutors painted a different picture. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin M. Keen said up to $2 million may have covered payroll due to any pandemic-related slowdown in his business, but Walsh used the rest for his own benefit.
“He stole the money and got it by fraud. Theft is theft,” Keen said. “He made many false statements to the government to get the loans.”
The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Allen C. Winsor. He said he considered Walsh’s lack of previous criminal activity and statements of support from his family and friends. However, Winsor said financial disclosures Walsh made since pleading guilty were incomplete and that he had a foreign trust set up in Belize to avoid creditors.
“These were many, many transactions and different loans through different financial institutions,” Winsor told Walsh during his sentencing. “You used your wife’s name to get some of the loans, which can be considered identity theft.”
Court documents show Walsh obtained some of the loans under Hannah Walsh’s name without her knowledge or consent. Hannah is the sister of Joe Harding, the former Republican state representative from Ocala who was indicted on similar charges in early December and resigned from the Legislature the following day.
In his signed plea agreement, Walsh admitted to defrauding the federal government in 2020 by submitting falsified loan applications for several companies he owned to the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, two federal loan initiatives intended to help small business owners keep their companies afloat during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
Among other expenses, Walsh used some of the stolen money to buy a private two-acre island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Yankeetown, Florida; put a downpayment on a luxury ski lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and pay off the 78-acre farm where he lived south of Gainesville, according to court records.
Winsor said the prison sentence was in the middle of federal guidance for such crimes. He also said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.
“There is too much fraud out there, particularly with PPP,” Winsor said. “There is a greater need to deter white-collar crime.”
Both federal loan programs, especially the Paycheck Protection Program, have been the focus of investigations into the fraudulent theft of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
Each program was created under the Small Business Administration with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
Harding, 35, another Williston native, was elected to the House in 2020, representing much of Marion County. He was successfully re-elected to the reorganized 24th District in 2022.
He gained notoriety for being the house sponsor of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, derisively called by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March.
Prosecutors allege Harding obtained and attempted to obtain over $150,000 in federal COVID-19 relief loans for two inactive companies he owned, The Vak Shak Inc. and Harding Farms LLC. Prosecutors say the fraudulent claims to the Economic Disaster Loan Program took place between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021. Harding was first sworn into office in November 2020.
Harding is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of making false statements to a federal agency and two counts of money laundering for which he collectively faces up to a maximum of 70 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty on all charges.
Walsh initially pleaded not guilty to all charges before changing his plea as part of his August deal with prosecutors.
The signed plea agreement itself, made just over three months before Harding’s indictment, does not require Walsh’s cooperation in any other cases, such as Harding’s upcoming trial, nor does it indicate that Walsh provided any evidence that could have contributed to Harding’s indictment, according to court records.
Harding’s trial is scheduled to begin May 10 at the federal courthouse in Gainesville.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental (DEP) is launching the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program this week to help Floridians in the hardest hit counties offset costs associated with addressing coastal beach erosion from Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole. The online grant application portal will accept applications beginning at 9 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2023.
Funding assistance is available for eligible homeowners who apply and qualify for this program in Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sarasota and Volusia counties. Projects may include construction projects for sand placement and temporary or permanent coastal armoring.
“We are grateful we are able to help support recovery for these communities,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “DEP has been in these communities since the storms hit, and we look forward to continuing our efforts through this new program to help expedite recovery for affected areas.”
During the December 2022 special legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature created the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and allocated $50 million to help coastal homeowners address the damages from coastal erosion during the storms. DEP developed emergency rules for this new program in accordance with Chapter 2022-272 Laws of Florida.
To be eligible for this grant, the owner must be an eligible applicant of an eligible residential property with an eligible project and eligible costs. Additionally, applicants must provide required submittals for reimbursement. The application is designed to help Floridians understand their eligibility. All projects must be permitted prior to implementation and reimbursement, and DEP may reimburse 50% of eligible project costs, up to a maximum of $150,000 per parcel.
Applicants will be able to complete and submit their projects through this portal as well as upload any required documents for their projects, including invoices and payable receipts. DEP has developed tutorials and a Frequently Asked Questions document to help applicants navigate the application portal and understand the provisions of the emergency rules. Although the department encourages online submittal, a paper application is also available.
Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, and priority will be given to low- and moderate-income homeowners.
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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Sports Foundation, the official sports promotion and development organization for the State of Florida, presents the 2023 Sunshine State Games, beginning with a new partnership, the Beach N Boards Fest in March in Brevard County.
Registration opens on Wednesday, February 1 for a variety of sports (Archery, Artistic Swimming, Canoe/Kayak, Fencing, Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Ultimate) at www.sunshinestategames.com. Check the individual sport pages for competition and registration information.
The 11th Annual Beach N Boards Fest, features water sports on boards and on the beach, in Cocoa Beach and surrounding areas.
The 44th Annual Sunshine State Games also features its mainstay of Olympic sports, many of which have begun the careers of Olympic athletes from Florida. Justin Gatlin, a sprinter from Pensacola, Ashleigh Johnson, a water polo player from Miami and swimmer Ryan Lochte, from Daytona Beach, all began their journey to Olympic gold in the Sunshine State Games.
“The long-standing tradition of the Sunshine State Games is to provide a path for Florida’s amateur athletes to advance to national and international competitions,” said Florida Sports Foundation President/CEO, Angela Suggs. “We hope the 2023 Sunshine State Games calendar has some athletes involved with aspirations for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.”
On the current calendar of events, 20 sports will be contested in Alachua, Broward, Charlotte and Polk Counties. Charlotte County is new to the Sunshine State Games host communities and offers Pickleball and Canoe/Kayak, the weekend of June 2-4.
Competition and registration information can be found at the individual sports pages of www.sunshinestategames.com or by going directly to the registration page at https://sunshinestate.
The Sunshine State Games dates back to 1980 and the inaugural event in Gainesville. Since that time, more than 60 sports have appeared on the annual calendar of events.
2023 Sunshine State Games Calendar of Events
Schedule Subject to Change
March 8-12, 2023
Beach N Board Fest SSG, Shepard Park, Cocoa Beach, More information at https://beachnboardsfest.com
April 8-9, 2023
Sunshine State Games AAU Volleyball, Game Point Event Center, Orlando
May 14, 2023
Sunshine State Games Artistic Roller-skating, Semoran Skateway, Casselberry
May 19-21, 2023
Sunshine State Games Figure Skating Championship, Florida Panthers Ice Den, Coral Springs
May 28, 2023
Sunshine State Games Track and Field Championships, Cypress Creek High School, Wesley Chapel
June, Date TBA
Swimming, Dwight H. Hunter Northeast Pool, Gainesville
June 2-4, 2023
Pickleball, PicklePlex, Punta Gorda
June 3-4, 2023
Canoe/Kayak, Port Charlotte Beach Park (Registration available February 1)
June 9-11, 2023
Artistic Swimming, Location TBA, Gainesville, (Registration available February 1)
June 10- 11, 2023
Archery, Easton-Newberry Archery Center and Gator Bowman Archery Range, Gainesville, (Registration available, February 1)
June 10-11, 2023
Fencing, Legacy Park Multipurpose Center, Alachua (Registration available, February 1)
June 10-11, 2023
Ultimate, Jonesville Soccer Park, Gainesville (Registration available, February 1)
June 17, 2023
Judo, Polk State College, Winter Haven
June 17-18, 2023
Taekwondo, Auburndale Community Center, Auburndale (Registration available, February 1)
Table Tennis, Simpson Park Community Center, Lakeland (Registration available, February 1)
June 24, 2023
Powerlifting, Lift District Fitness Center, Margate
Sunshine State Games Water Polo Championship, Date and Location TBD
Artistic Roller-Skating, Beach N Boards Fest, Figure Skating, Track and Field and Volleyball will have separate registration. Look for more information on those sports pages at www.sunshinestategames.com.
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alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
TALLAHASSEE – Today, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) is releasing an economic commentary entitled An Update on Florida’s Housing Rental Market. The report builds on previous FTW commentaries, Beyond the Pandemic: Long-term Changes and Challenges for Housing in Florida (October 2021) and Too Expensive to Rent: Florida’s Rental Market and Eviction Moratorium (March 2022), to examine the current strain on Florida’s rental market and the resulting price growth. FTW notes that the circumstances, which are being experienced across the state, are the consequence of Florida’s significant population growth, a decade of slow housing construction, and a post-COVID-19 housing boom.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Florida is the best state in the nation to live, work, and play, and over 800 new residents arriving every single day is proof positive. But having the fastest-growing population in the nation doesn’t come without challenges, particularly when it comes to attainable housing.
“Supply and demand pressures help explain the recent surge in housing and rental prices. More and more, would-be homebuyers are choosing to rent, which has placed further pressure on the state’s rental market and subsequently caused price spikes. In fact, there has been a 36 percent increase from January 2020 to December 2022 alone, adding burden to household budgets that were already straining from inflation.
“Thankfully, preliminary forecasts suggest relaxed rental demand and additional supply that will ease price growth in the coming months. But that still doesn’t mean existing prices will decrease, and it can be expected that individuals and families throughout Florida will continue to grapple with housing affordability well into 2023.
“Housing is heavily intertwined with Florida’s success. Florida TaxWatch thanks Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, House Speaker Paul Renner, and the Florida Legislature for prioritizing this challenge, and we look forward to working with them to identify real, effective solutions on behalf of all Floridians during the upcoming session.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 2.5 million Floridians were occupying rental units in 2019, and an additional 100,000 residents were renting in 2021. FTW writes that this increase is actually a sign of a strong economy, as those who lived with family or friends are now financially equipped to live on their own, and residents from other states are being attracted to the gainful employment offered here.
In Florida’s metropolitan areas, such as Miami, Tampa, and Fort Myers, median rent prices have drastically increased since 2020, which FTW contends is the result of these cities’ popularity among job seekers in general, but especially remote workers.
In fact, rent prices have grown so much that they surpassed the prices predicted by historical trends. According to one index cited by FTW, of the 25 most overvalued rental markets nationwide, with costs ranging from 7.06 percent to 18.05 percent higher than predictions, Florida is home to nine: Cape Coral (#1), Miami (#2), North Port (#3), Tampa (#7), Orlando (#12), Deltona (#14), Palm Bay (#16), Jacksonville (#18), and Lakeland (#21).
Moreover, FTW notes that housing advocates suggest that the price of rent is often considered affordable when it costs 30 percent or less of a household’s income, and when it costs more, the household is cost burdened. With the state’s average median income (AMI) coming in at about $61,777, most households earning the AMI or less are cost burdened, paying 40 percent or more of their household income on rent, though many households often have more than one earner, making it more attainable if housing stock were available.
FTW asserts that there are multiple contributing factors to Florida’s high rent, including the slowed construction of both houses and rental units. Construction has steadily risen since the Great Recession of 2008, with 213,000 units under construction in 2021, though this number could have been higher but for supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.
For more information and to access the full report, please click here.
About Florida TaxWatch
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Today, we pause in reverence to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his unyielding courage in the face of adversity, his boundless love in the face of hate, and his servant leadership in the face of supremacy. This great American not only chartered a new course in the fight for civil rights, he also illustrated how we should boldly advocate for our causes while exhibiting grace and humility.
As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Alachua County Labor Coalition typically avoids weighing in on electoral contests. And we never endorse political candidates. But a recent dark-money mailer attacking one of our dedicated activists who is running for office and two of our signature policies he worked on requires us to speak up.
Residents of Gainesville Commission District 2 recently opened their mailboxes to find a cowardly postcard attacking Commission candidate James Ingle. It was paid for by the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc.—a dark money PAC. Two of three false claims made in the mailing are that Ingle “worked to limit our private property rights” and “fought for more government control over our wages.” These are references to the Alachua County Renters’ Rights and Wage Theft ordinances, respectively.
The Renters’ Rights ordinance does not limit private property rights any more than do laws prohibiting retail shops on your neighborhood cul-de-sacs or rats in restaurants. The reality is that the ordinance offers three simple, commonsense protections for Alachua County’s tenants. First, it requires universal inspections of rental properties. This merely ensures that landlords are adhering to the rules and regulations of the building code that ALREADY EXIST. Without universal inspections, tenants are forced to choose between blowing the whistle on hazardous living conditions or risking retaliation from a minority of bad landlords. Second, it requires landlords to inform tenants of the rights they ALREADY HAVE. Why should landlords be afraid of their renters knowing the law? Third, it sets reasonable water and energy efficiency standards for rental properties. These are necessary to lower utility costs for renters, reduce greenhouse emissions that cause climate change, and protect our aquifer. Why landlords would want to deplete our aquifer, unnecessarily spew harmful emissions into the air, and subject their tenants to unaffordable utility bills is beyond our understanding. But the bottom line is this: the landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship, not a relationship between a landholder and their serf, and it should be regulated as such.
Describing the Wage Theft ordinance as “government control over our wages” is possibly more bizarre. This ordinance merely provides an avenue for workers to ensure the contracts between them and their employers are enforced—an avenue much cheaper than seeking recourse in the courts. The ordinance does not limit how much an employer can pay their workers, which is what I presume the mailer attempts to falsely imply. What’s more, the program has been a smashing success! Since, 2014, the ordinance has allowed the Office of Equal Opportunity to win back over $100,000 of unpaid wages for 152 workers.
It should be clear by now that the folks over at the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc. are not trying to protect your freedoms. They are promoting serfdom!
Lastly, the mailer asserts that James Ingle’s leadership has “failed us.” While we cannot endorse James or any other candidate (and this letter is not an endorsement), readers should know this is as big of a lie as any other in the mailer. James Ingle has been a great leader in the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the AFL-CIO, and his own union—International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1205. In fact, the basic protections afforded to tenants in Alachua County and the over $100,000 returned to workers would not be possible without him. We thank him for his leadership on these issues. Perhaps the best description for James is, in fact, responsible leader.
Bobby Mermer, Gainesville, Florida, PhD, ACLC Coordinator
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It’s high time the local business owners speak up. I am a small business owner in High Springs for seven years now, and before that, helped run the High Springs Art Coop for six years. As we all know, our area is growing at a crazy rate. People have discovered our area for the treasure it is, as we all have at one point, so we have to learn to accept change in a reasonable way. The key word is reasonable.
Landlord greed with unreasonable rents kills business, most of all small business. Even big business suffers. I remember a story before Covid of the famous Barney’s of NYC, an icon for years that closed because the owners of their building raised the rent. They were already paying a million dollars a month!
Locally, look how the lovely town of Alachua went from being a vibrant historic downtown that we in High Springs envied and now it struggles to make it. Why? I feel it is because of large land owners who own the majority of real estate. They get renters in the first year at a low rate and after a year jack up the rent. I was told by a previous store owner than they over charge for utilities, too. These small places can barely make $1,000 to $1,500 a month total and most don’t bring in a monthly salary for themselves. How are they going to pay over $2,000 a month rent? Shame on what has happened in that lovely town.
Micanopy is another depressed town because of unreasonable people and then just look at downtown Gainesville. I wonder how long all those huge apartment houses will sit empty because of the humongous rents they are charging.
We can still save High Springs. We can make it a model historic small-town success. Here we have a few local hero landowners who are logical, honest and smart business owners. They charge rents that these small businesses can sustain.
The Barber and Grady families in our town are a blessing to all who rent from them—unlike some of the newbies who have bought up some of our buildings. The newbies’ unrealistic expectations can kill small businesses, or no one will pay such high rents, so their structures remain empty.
For example, in downtown High Springs there is the corner spot where River Run Olive Oil sat. It is a prime location, and here it is another year that it sits empty. The original owners sold because they wished to retire.
Across the street from me is the largest group of modern local store spaces. There was a quilt store there for a bit, but she couldn’t sustain the high rent. The same with rentals on the other side of her, the buildings have sat empty for years now. The owner is from Miami and thinks she is going to get Miami prices. All of these are prime real estate, front and center on Main Street and empty.
The main inspiration to this letter is The Florida Springs Institute. It is our local nonprofit, which does so much good protecting and bringing awareness to our local waters. I understand they are being kicked out of their corner space by their landlord. I heard they weren’t even given the offer to stay at a higher rate. The landlord is going to put someone in there at a huge increase in rent.
Although the landlord professes to support the springs, it seems that is the bottom line is taking precedence. We will see if the “new” business can sustain the ridiculously high rent or will downtown have another empty store front?
I had to say something and bring attention to this issue, even though I don’t think there is much we can do. The town is at the mercy of landowners who decide the bottom line. We can only hope and pray that our little town of High Springs continues to grow with sweet businesses that add to our charm with newbies coming who want to add to our world.
We are not against “reasonable” change. We welcome new and younger people looking to share in our small-town dream. Younger entrepreneurs bring vitality and freshness. We are just asking new and old landlords to keep it real and not let the over inflated prices for everything else invade common sense business practices. We expect you to make “reasonable” incomes, just not overpriced ones.
The future is determined right now. We either jack up rents, run the little charming business out and we get replaced by offices, empty stores and decay, or we support the small-town flair, encouraging the entrepreneur and make a small local business possible for everyone.
Remember that a store that sits empty for years produces zero rent. The more spaces that are filled, the better it is for all businesses.
High Springs, FloridaAdd a comment
It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.
Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.
Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.
On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.
Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998Add a comment
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.
I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.
Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.
By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.
We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.
Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.
Together, we can help #StopSuicide.
Alachua, FloridaAdd a comment
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.
On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.
The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.
Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair
Florida Commission on Human Relations
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