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The booking report is provided by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Department of the Jail.  This information is public record and copied directly from the log. Mugshots are included when available. The charges listed are at the time of arrest and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. For more details on a specific inmate use the sheriff’s office inmate search (for inmates currently at the jail). More specific information on charges is available by searching court records.  Jail booking logs are removed from the website after one month.
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BARTON, ROBERT
DOB: 04/25/1993
Charge(s): POSSESSION OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE (METHAMPHETAMINE)

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BLATCH, LATARJA
DOB: 10/15/2000
Charge(s): POSSESSION OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE (MOLLIE)

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DARMSTADT, RICHARD
DOB: 05/31/1967
Charge(s): FLEE/ELUDE POLICE: FAIL TO OBEY ORDER TO STOP; DAMAGE PROP-CRIM MISCH: 1000 DOLS OR MORE; WEAPON OFFENSE: MISSILE INTO DWELLING VEH BUILDING OR AIRCRAFT

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DE LA CRUZ GONZALEZ, BRYAN
DOB: 07/24/1994
Charge(s): POSSESSION OF CONTROLLED SUBCTANCE (MOLLIE); (VOP) LARC: GRAND THEFT; FRAUD-ILL USE OF CREDIT CARDS

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DREYFUSS, JEFFREY ALLEN
DOB: 01/29/1979
Charge(s): (IN HOUSE) (MARION COUNTY) (VOP) POSS OF METHAMPHETAMINE

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ELLIS, ALLISON NICOLE
DOB: 02/13/1987
Charge(s): (GILCHRIST COUNTY) CIVIL CASE; UNPAID SUPPORT

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GREEN, LASONYA MARIE
DOB: 06/16/1981
Charge(s): (VOP) LARCENY: POSSESS ANTI-SHOPLIFTING DEVICE; (VOP) LARCENY: PETIT THEFT MERCHANT FARM TRANSIT 2+ PRIOR CONVICTIONS

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KIMBRIEL, DARLENE JOELL
DOB: 02/24/1969
Charge(s): (MARION COUNTY) FRAUD

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LEE, JAMES EVERETT
DOB: 10/26/1970
Charge(s): FAIL TO REG AFT ESTABLISH PERM/TEMP RESIDENCE

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MARTIN, RICARDO A.
DOB: 03/31/1986
Charge(s): PETIT THEFT; POSSESS OF COCAINE; TRESPASSING AFTER WARNING

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MOORE, LOUNETTA ELIZABETH
DOB: 03/09/1992
Charge(s): ESCAPE; RESIST OFFICER WO VIOLENCE; DAMAGE PROP-CRIM MISCH: 200 DOLS AND UNDER; (WARRANT) LARC: PETIT THEFT MERCH FARM TRANSIT 2+ PRIOR CONVIC

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MORIN, TIMOTHY
DOB: 11/02/2001
Charge(s): DUI-UNLAW BLD ALCH: DUI INFLUENCE OF ALCHOL OR DRUGS; MARIJUANA-POSSESS: NOT MORE THAN 20 GRAMS 

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PRICE, MIRANDA
DOB: 03/27/1997
Charge(s): BATTERY: COMMIT DOMESTIC BATTERY BY STRANGULATION

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RUSSELL, KEVIN SHANE
DOB: 03/31/1981
Charge(s): OPIUM OR DERIV-POSSESS: WIT SELL ETC 1000 FT SPECIFIED AREA SCH I II

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SANTA MARIA, SIERRA DAWN
DOB: 05/27/1987
Charge(s): DRUGS-POSSESS: CNTRL SUB WO PRESCRIPTION X2; LARC: PETIT THEFT MERCH FARM TRANSIT $100 LT $750; DRUGS EQUIP-POSSESS AND OR USE; MARIJUANA-POSSESS: LESS THAN 20 GRAMS

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SHEFFIELD, STACIE
DOB: 10/22/1984
Charge(s): POSSESSION OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE (METHAMPHETAMINE)

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SILCOX, ZACHARY
DOB: 05/08/2001
Charge(s): CARRYING CONCEALED WEAPON: UNLICENSED FIREARM 

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SMITH, RITA ELAINE
DOB: 11/10/1981
Charge(s): LARC: GRAND THEFT 750 LESS THAN 5K DOLS; (VOP) BATTERY: TOUCH OR STRIKE

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WALTERS, DANIEL ROY
DOB: 11/26/1980
Charge(s): PETIT THEFT (RETAIL); RESISTING MERCHANT DETAINMENT; (WARRANT) LARC: OTHER THEFT

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Common abbreviations used:

DOC – Department of Corrections
DUBAL – driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level
DWLSR – driving while license suspended or revoked
FTA – failure to appear
FVOP – felony violation of probation
LEO – law enforcement officer
LSOA – leaving the scene of an accident
MTV – moving traffic violation
MVOP – misdemeanor violation of probation
OOC or O/C – out of county
PTR – pretrial release condition violation
R/O or RO – resist officer
RWOV – resist without violence
VOP – violation of probation
W/O or WO – without
YOA – years of age

HIGH SPRINGS, Fla. – Tractor Supply Company today announced it will celebrate its Grand Opening in High Springs from Thursday, March 30 through Sunday, April 1. Throughout the weekend, customers can enjoy hot deals storewide, daily giveaways and more.

The High Springs store values community engagement and is delighted to have the opportunity to support youth education like area 4-H clubs and FFA chapters, along with local animal shelters and veterans. “At Tractor Supply, we are passionate about serving the needs of those who enjoy the Out Here lifestyle. Homeowners, livestock and pet owners, gardeners, hobby farmers, ranchers, tradesmen and others rely on Tractor Supply for a wide assortment of products,” said Julie Harrison, manager of the High Springs Tractor Supply store. “We’re excited to call High Springs home and serve the community with the essentials you need to live life on your own terms. We’re proud to hire our customers as Team Members. As experts in the lifestyle, they bring more value to our customers with every interaction.”

The Garden Center at the High Springs store carries top brands including Scotts Miracle-Gro and Bonnie Plants, and features an expanded assortment of annuals and perennials, shrubs and decorative plants, fruit trees, vegetables and herbs. The Garden Center also has the tools to make gardening easier, including pots and planters, fertilizer, soil and gardening hand tools. Other items like greenhouses, lawn tools and equipment, mowers, trimmers, edgers and more can be found for landscaping projects.

The new store comes equipped with a Pet Wash where pet owners can enjoy a convenient washing station stocked with professional grade equipment and high-quality products. The Pet Wash has elevated wash bays, grooming tables, specialty shampoos, use of brushes, combs and towels as well as a waterproof apron and professional dryer.

The High Springs Tractor Supply store at 20460 N US Highway 441 will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

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Gainesville, Fla. – In 2022, Haven Hospice’s combined five Attic Resale Stores—located in Chiefland, Gainesville, Lake City, Orange Park and St. Augustine— made more than $1.8 million in net revenue in support of Haven Hospice.  

Thanks to the dedication of 345 volunteers, loyal customers, donated goods, and a committed staff, the Attic Resale Stores generated a total net revue of  $1,823,422.

“Haven Hospice Attic volunteers are the true reason the Attic stores are able to keep their doors open and products stocked,” said Clay Dzioba, Haven Hospice Attic Volunteer Services Manager. “Attic volunteers give their time, hearts and many inventive ideas that differentiate our stores from others.”

Dzioba also extended Haven’s thanks to the shoppers and donors who have supported the Attics. He said it is their continued support that brings shoppers and builds the Attics’ positive reputation. 

“Without the support of our communities providing the much needed donations, we would not be able to offer the wonderful quality products to those that may not otherwise be able to afford them,” said Dzioba.

Merchandise at the Attic is solely generated by donations. Each Attic accepts new or gently used housewares, clothing, and electronics. All proceeds financially support the Haven mission, local hospice patients and families, as well as many other people in the community served by Haven programs and services.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Haven’s Attic Resale stores, please visit https://BeYourHaven.org/Attic for more information. 

About the Haven Hospice Foundation: The Haven Hospice Foundation, formed in 2020, is a 501 ©(3) not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to supporting the work and mission of Haven Hospice, which provides hospice and palliative care across 18 Florida counties.  For Foundation details, visit https://beyourhaven.org/donate

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NEWBERRY ‒ Joseph Michael Tugman, 26, of Newberry, was arrested on March 12, 2023 at approximately 12:25 a.m. and charged with drug possession and carrying a concealed firearm after a deputy reportedly found him asleep in a parked car with the engine running.

W Joseph Michael TugmanAn Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy made contact with Tugman after he observed a silver Toyota sedan parked with its lights on and engine running just outside the entrance to the bus loop at Oak View Middle School in Newberry.

The deputy made announcements over his patrol car’s PA system for the driver to get out of the car, but there was no response. Approaching the car, he reportedly saw a male, later identified as Tugman, in the driver’s seat, apparently asleep. The deputy awakened the man by knocking on the passenger side window and Tugman was asked to get out of the car.

The deputy reported that Tugman had a large fixed-blade knife visible on his belt and that Tugman denied having any other weapons and gave consent to search his person. Deputies reportedly found a loaded .38 revolver in an inside-waistband holster, about one gram of cocaine, and about 0.7 grams of methamphetamine.

Post Miranda, Tugman reportedly said he didn’t know what the substances were and admitted he did not have a valid concealed weapon permit.

Tugman has been charged with carrying a concealed firearm without a permit, committing a third-degree felony while armed, cocaine possession, and possession of a controlled substance. Bail was set on first appearance at $25,000 by Judge Denise R. Ferrero.

Currently, Tugman is not listed as being in the Alachua County Jail.

Tugman was arrested in 2015 and charged with stealing an iPod, a BB gun, and a revolver from a neighbor and pawning the items. He entered a plea of nolo contendere to five felonies in exchange for one year of community control, followed by four years of probation; adjudication of guilt was withheld. In 2018, he requested early termination of his probation and thanked the judge in advance for giving him a “second chance.” The probation was terminated shortly thereafter.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has cancelled its upcoming municipal election. The qualifying period for the scheduled April 11, 2023 election ended at 12 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2023. Current City Commissioner Dayna Miller was the only individual who submitted qualifying documents for Commission Seat 3. As there were no other races or matters to be placed on the ballot, the scheduled April 11, 2023 election was cancelled. There will be a swearing in ceremony held on April 24, 2023 for Miller as she enters a three-year term.

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GILCHRIST COUNTY ‒ A silver 2018 – 2021 Kia Rio sedan was traveling west on State Road 26, east of Southwest 19th Circle, on Wednesday, March 15, sometime before 6 a.m. At the same time a female pedestrian was walking east on the north paved shoulder of SR-26.

For unknown reasons the Kia Rio travelled to the north shoulder where it struck the pedestrian. The driver of the Kia Rio fled the scene. The pedestrian, a middle-age white female, was transported to UF Shands Hospital where she later expired.

The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) is seeking any information the public may have about this vehicle. The Kia Rio should be missing the headlight assembly and trim on the right side. To report any information relevant to this incident, call the local Crime Stoppers, FHP Communication Center at 1-800-387-1290 or *FHP.

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OCALA, Fla. - A GoFundMe account has been set up for an 8-year-old Ocala girl to purchase challenge coins to give to first responders.  According to GoFundMe Regional Spokesperson Claudia Curiel,   Aubryn has a huge appreciation for first responders and everything that they do. She's been hosting first responders at her home on Christmas Eve for the past five years. She serves them hot chocolate/coffee, treats and pastries. She plays games, colors and has made ornaments with the first responders that have shown up.

The Marion County sheriff presented her with a challenge coin thanking her for going above and beyond in thanking those who serve her community. She ended up collecting coins from each agency that stopped by. In January, she asked her parents if she could give them something to carry as a reminder that they are loved and appreciated. They had a challenge coin made for her to hand out.

She has since been invited to the Department of Corrections meeting and was honored by them for showing her appreciation. Now she's been invited to participate in a state meeting to honor elite first responders and asked to hand out her coins there. She's also been asked to present her local SRO's (School Resource Officers) with coins.

Her mother has set up a GoFundMe account to help support Aubryn's efforts.  "We would love to take part in these events but we are lacking the funds to have more coins made," said Aubryn's mother.  "We would like to have 300 additional coins made for these events and possibly more to have on hand for her annual events."  Aubryn's mother says that donations will be used to purchase more coins, and if there are any additional funds they will be used for her first responder events and will directly benefit first responders such as firefighters, police, sherriff, Department of Corrections, nurses, doctors, EMTs and veterans.

To view the GoFundMe please visit:https://gf.me/v/c/76rg/appreciation-of-first-responders

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2023) – Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG), parent company and home of Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, is issuing a voluntary recall for 563 Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich products sold in Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores. The recall is due to the presence of undeclared allergens (milk and soy) in the products.

The Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich products did not include milk and soy ingredients on the label. The products were offered for sale as a hot item at the deli hot case and/or deli hot grab-n-go display in certain Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana with a shelf life of four (4) hours. The products were packaged in a food-safe paper bag as further depicted here:

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The product name and SLU code below is for all impacted stores:

Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich – 57052

Customers with milk or soy allergies should not consume the product and should either dispose of the product or return to any Harveys Supermarket or Winn-Dixie store for an exchange or full refund.

Customers with questions about the recalled products may contact the Southeastern Grocers Customer Call Center toll free at (844) 745-0463 Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.

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WASHINGTON -- FEMA has provided more than $1 billion for 380,000 Florida survivors of Hurricane Ian, as part of the $5.5 billion in federal support the Biden-Harris administration has provided to help families and communities in Florida jumpstart their recovery.

The FEMA Individual Assistance funds, which go directly to applicants, are for rent, basic home repair and other disaster-related expenses. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $1.68 billion in low-interest disaster loans and the National Flood Insurance Program has paid $2.29 billion in claims. FEMA’s Public Assistance program has obligated $552 million to the state to reimburse debris removal and emergency response costs.

In continuing support to Floridians, FEMA is undertaking an extensive housing effort that includes funds for rent, home repairs, hotel stays, apartment leases, travel trailers and manufactured housing units.

More than 70,000 Florida households have been approved for $647 million in financial assistance for rent or basic home repairs, and more than 4,500 households have stayed in hotels temporarily under FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. Additionally, FEMA is placing eligible applicants in 313 apartment homes, under its Direct Lease program, and is also working to lease apartments, repair them and place hurricane survivors in them under its Multi-Family Lease and Repair program.

In addition to financial assistance for housing, 366 families have moved into travel trailers, manufactured housing units and apartments in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Lee, Sarasota and Volusia counties. More temporary housing is being prepared for occupancy.

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ODESSA, Fla. – The swimming pool in the backyard of Louis Minardi's home near Tampa may be distinctive to Florida: The custom-built pool is shaped like a six-shooter revolver, in a state made famous – sometimes infamous – by guns, gun politics and gun culture.

“Neighbors that have bought houses around here have all come by,” Minardi said. “They’re all, ‘Is this guy a whack job?’”

The story behind the revolver-shaped pool goes back roughly 40 years to an idea proposed by Minardi’s high school friend, Albert Jones III of Tampa, a contractor who said he was bored building more traditionally shaped pools.

Minardi was reluctant at first, but the idea resonated with him, given his lifelong relationship with guns. Now 67, Minardi said he grew up hunting with friends and remembers receiving his first firearm, a double-barrel shotgun, when he was in middle school but already mindful of gun safety.

“I was the shortest, littlest guy growing up, and bought a damn 12-gauge,” Minardi said. 

“The times were different then,” he said. “You're 12, and your mother drops you off a box of shells and a shotgun. But they trust it. They knew we knew what we were doing.”

Minardi said he opened a gunsmithing business with his brother after attending classes in 1976.

In the 1980s, Minardi and his wife, Raye, decided they wanted a pool. They lived on a lake that contained snakes and alligators, and Raye Minardi would have to watch over their children swimming from the dock with a shotgun, she said.

The family wanted a pool at least 40 feet long to allow for laps. After Louis Minardi contacted Jones, who owned A.H. Jones Pools Inc., the idea was born for the gun pool – all 55 feet of it.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” Jones said, according to Louis Minardi. Knowing Minardi’s background as a gunsmith, Jones showed up with plans modeled after a Ruger Blackhawk, a 1950s-era, Western-style revolver characterized by its long barrel and known for its durability and accuracy.

“You swim your lap down the barrel,” Louis Minardi said Jones told him. “It gets deeper on that end. You can flip over from it, and then you can swim back.”

Jones pleaded with him to let him build the gun pool, Louis Minardi said. He said he was tired of building kidney-shaped pools, a staple of Florida’s backyards. Minardi agreed – provided he stayed within his project’s budget.

Jones, who died in 2010, color-coordinated the perimeter pool tiles to accurately reflect the revolver’s brown handle and silver body. He detailed tiles on the bottom of the pool to distinguish the gun’s individual components, like the trigger and ammunition chamber. And he installed a jacuzzi in the hammer. 

The pool has been resurfaced over the years, but the shape remains. 

Louis Minardi said the pool is popular among family and friends, who have used it to teach their children how to swim. 

Louis Minardi stopped gunsmithing in the late ‘80s, due to increasing insurance rates for gun warranties. He became more involved with the family-owned taxi service and has run that business ever since. 

Still, gun education remains important to him. He said he’s taken his children and grandchildren hunting since they were very young. He said he did not allow them to use a gun unless they were closely supervised and had proper training. 

Gun education is at the center of Louis Minardi’s views on gun regulation. He said people should be allowed to own guns and carry guns in public. Florida lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would eliminate requirements for concealed carry permits, which currently include mandatory classroom training and proof of proficiency at a gun range. He also said having a gun doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know how to properly use it.

“If you're qualified, mentally able to have one and protect yourself, I think you ought to have one if you want one, whether you keep it at home or you carry it with you,” Louis Minardi said. “But it's like everything. It's educating. It's educating the people about the guns, how they work.”

“Nowadays, most people don’t know anything about them,” he said.

Reflecting on his pool, he wasn’t aware that people on social media had noticed the unusual shape on overhead map imagery. And he said in all his years since being a gunsmith with a revolver-shaped pool, he never considered another curious coincidence: His family lives on Gunn Highway.

“I don’t know. I never thought about Gunn Highway,“ Louis Minardi said. “It just happens to be the road we live on.”

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MILTON, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the first set of awards through the Broadband Opportunity Grant Program to expand access to broadband internet for Florida’s underserved communities. More than $144 million was awarded for 58 projects in 41 Florida counties for broadband internet expansion that will impact nearly 160,000 unserved residential, educational, business, and community locations.

“I am proud to be in Santa Rosa County to announce the first awards through Florida’s Broadband Opportunity Program,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Broadband internet access creates jobs and enhances educational opportunities for Floridians. I look forward to continued investments through this program to ensure Florida families have access to important resources no matter where they live.”

“Broadband internet service is essential for workforce development, education, and healthcare. Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has taken monumental steps to bring reliable, high-speed internet to all Floridians,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Deputy Secretary Ben Melnick. “There is no doubt that the projects awarded today will shape the future of broadband in Florida, and we look forward to supporting the Governor’s vision for a connected economy.”

Administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the Broadband Opportunity Program funds the installation and deployment of broadband internet infrastructure in unserved Florida communities, providing valuable access to telehealth, economic, educational, and workforce development opportunities to offer a brighter future for all Floridians.
The following projects will be awarded through the Broadband Opportunity Program:

  • City of Bonifay ($4,984,073) — to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) services to 259 unserved premises in the rural area of Holmes County north of Bonifay with speeds up to 200 megabits per second (MBPS).
  • Towns of Bell, Cross City, and Horseshoe Beach ($3,506,234) — to complete the first of three phases designed to bring FTTH services to over 11,000 of its metered customers in Gilchrist and Dixie Counties at speeds up to 2 gigabits per second (GB).
  • City of Trenton ($2,666,244) — to provide FTTH services to 1,965 premises with symmetrical 1GB speeds to residents in Gilchrist County.
  • Cities of Palm Bay, West Melbourne, and Titusville; Mims and Unincorporated Brevard County ($573,788) — to provide FTTH services to 443 unserved and underserved locations within Brevard County with minimum download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Bonifay ($4,998,524) — to provide FTTH services to 266 unserved premises in the rural area of Holmes County in the vicinity of Bonifay with download and upload speeds of 200 MBPS.
  • City of Keystone Heights; Clay Hill, Middleburg, McRae and Virginia Village ($1,880,000) — to provide FTTH services to 1,917 premises, 42 businesses and 8 community anchor institutions in Clay County capable of symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Putnam County ($1,192,410) — to add 60 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,192 unserved locations within Putnam County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1GB.
  • City of Archer; Town of Micanopy ($4,672,393) — to add 132 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,701 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Gainesville ($1,438,610) — to add 27 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 193 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Ocala ($1,423,488) — to add 53 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,022 unserved locations within Marion County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Cities of Archer and Newberry ($4,822,632) — to add 78 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 795 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Town of Cross City ($5,000,000) — to deploy fiber optic cable and infrastructure to provide fiber to the home services to 1,067 unserved locations within Dixie County at minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Town of Westville ($1,072,596) — to provide FTTH services for unserved areas within Holmes County at download and upload speeds up to 200 MBPS.
  • City of Live Oak; Towns of Mayo and Day ($5,000,000) — to add 1,016 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 25,679 unserved and underserved locations within Suwannee and Lafayette Counties with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Cities of Live Oak and Jasper; Towns of White Spring and Jennings ($5,000,000) — to add 757 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 28,493 unserved and underserved locations within Suwannee and Hamilton Counties with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Bokeelia ($63,311) — to add 1.1 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 110 unserved locations within Lee County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 200 MBPS.
  • City of Moore Haven; Lakeport and Ortona ($2,935,296) — to add 160 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 4,651 unserved and underserved locations within Glades County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Town of Cross City ($2,020,902) — to add 58.8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 2,612 unserved and underserved locations within Dixie County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • City of Riverdale; Flagler Estates and Spuds ($1,830,000) — to add 118 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,603 unserved and underserved locations within St. Johns County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • City of LaBelle; Montura ($2,496,672) — to add 58.8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,424 unserved and underserved locations within Hendry County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Lehigh Acres ($3,988,532) — to add 126 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,998 underserved locations in eastern Lee County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Cities of Botswick and Keystone Heights; Towns of Pomona Park, Interlocken, Melrose, and Welaka; Putnam Hall, George’s Lake, and Unincorporated Crescent City ($4,496,107) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,986 unserved and underserved locations within Putnam County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Lehigh Acres ($4,111,225) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,640 unserved and underserved locations within Lee County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Hampton, Lawtey, and Starke ($2,160,000) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,111 unserved and underserved locations in Bradford County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Columbia County ($2,646,030) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 1,725 unserved and underserved locations in Columbia County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Fort Pierce of ($1,429,400) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 636 unserved and underserved locations in St Lucie County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Clewiston, Moore Haven, and Pioneer; Montura, Palmdale, Port LaBelle and Venus ($5,000,000) — to deploy FTTH services to more than 4,231 unserved locations in Glades, Hendry, and Highlands Counties with symmetrical download and upload speeds of between 1GB and 2GB.
  • Town of Nocatee; Unincorporated Brownsville ($1,657,558) — to provide FTTH services to 1,313 unserved and underserved residential customers in DeSoto County with 50 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • Town of Ponce de Leon ($3,639,672) — to deploy FTTH services to 259 unserved homes, businesses, and farms in Holmes County with download and upload speeds up to 200 MBPS speeds.
  • Towns of Alford, Cottondale, Grand Ridge, and Greenwood; Two Egg ($2,040,743) — to provide FTTH services to 1,082 unserved and underserved residential customers and 29 businesses and anchor institutions in Jackson County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1GB.
  • City of Homestead; Redlands and Unincorporated Florida City ($1,510,481) — to provide FTTH services to 800 unserved and underserved residential customers and 10 businesses and anchor institutions in Miami-Dade County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 Gbps or higher.
  • Clarksville and Unincorporated Northwest Calhoun County ($2,648,194) — to add 99.8 miles of FTTH via ethernet passive optical network to connect 716 underserved homes and businesses in Calhoun County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 Mbps upload speeds.
  • Town of Altha; Willis, Chipola, Eufala, and Unincorporated Northeast Calhoun County ($3,375,471) — to add 142.1 miles of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) via ethernet passive optical network to connect 1,210 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Calhoun County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • City of Bunnell; Andalusia and Bimini ($527,659) — to add 20.2 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 128 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Flagler County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • Cities of Chattahoochee, Gretna, and Quincy; Town of Greensboro; Wetumpka ($1,844,095) — to add 281.7 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 3,390 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Gadsden County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • City of Pioneer; La Deca and Montura ($4,750,000) — to bring high speed internet service to eastern Hendry County through installation of fixed wireless service to 1,700 households at download speeds of 100 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Punta Gorda; Port Charlotte ($2,397,636) — to provide FTTH services to 1,469 unserved or underserved residential customers and 195 businesses in Charlotte County with 1GBPS or higher symmetrical download and upload speeds.
  • North Brooksville, Spring Lake, Nobleton, South Brooksville, Hill ‘N Dale, Istachatta, North Weeki Wachee, and Unincorporated Hernando County ($4,701,477) — to add 258.5 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 2,276 underserved homes and businesses in Hernando County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Graceville; Unincorporated Northeast Holmes County ($107,317) — to add 9.1 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 97 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Holmes County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Williston Town of Bronson; Morriston, Raleigh, Williston Highlands, Rosewood, and Sumner ($1,259,236) — to add 48.1 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 405 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Levy County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Bristol; Town of White Springs; Lake Mystic, Estiffanulga, and Unincorporated NE Liberty County ($836,705) — to add 47.8 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 433 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Liberty County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • Deer Park and Bull Creek ($3,605,129) — to deploy 135.4 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 1,024 unserved locations within Osceola County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Yeehaw Junction and Kenansville ($4,067,268) — to deploy 153.5 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 791 unserved locations within Osceola County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Town of Jay; Fidelis, Berrydale, Cobbtown, and Unincorporated Santa Rosa County, ($2,363,937) — to deploy 103.7 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 791 unserved locations within Santa Rosa County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Geneva and Black Hammock ($367,000) — to deploy 51.7 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 734 unserved locations within Seminole County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Lake Helen; DeLeon Springs, Balm, Farmton, Osteen, and Boden ($811,000) — to deploy 124.1 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 1,622 unserved locations within Volusia County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Fountain, Southport, and Youngstown ($866,700) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,500 unserved households in Bay County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Okeechobee County ($2,059,550) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,312 unserved households in Okeechobee County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Okeechobee County ($984,350) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 1,290 unserved households in Okeechobee County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Orangetree and Golden Gate Estates ($777,407) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 781 unserved households in Collier County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Cities of Sebring and Avon Park ($1,363,975) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to over 700 unserved households in Highlands County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Chaires ($236,300) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to over 119 unserved households in Leon County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Indian River County ($532,147) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 674 unserved households in the unincorporated areas in Indian River County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • City of Jasper; Town of Jennings ($2,734,261) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,156 unserved households in Hamilton County download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Indiantown ($56,500) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 50 unserved households in Martin County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Escambia County ($802,489) — to deploy 24.8 miles on new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 206 unserved locations within Escambia County with minimum download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Town of Bell ($4,956,100) — to employ fixed wireless technology to provide high speed internet service to 1,350 unserved premises in Gilchrist County.
  • Polk County ($4,734,786) — to lease 8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide fixed wireless services to 22,169 unserved and underserved locations in and around the City of Lakeland, City of Winter Haven, City of Haines City and City of Lake Wales.

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  • 02 April 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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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. 

 Our nation and the City of Gainesville are still grappling with many of the same issues Dr. King fought valiantly for more than 68 years ago. While we face serious matters – lack of affordable housing, poverty, racial and social inequities – I truly believe this community has the talent, heart, drive and resolve to find lasting solutions. Like Dr. King eloquently proclaimed in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits." I also believe we can pay our neighbors a living wage and provide desirable housing that is affordable for all. 
 
So, as we observe this holiday in honor of Dr. King, I implore you to commit with me to be stalwart in efforts to alleviate inequities in our community. Join me in protecting the unique charm of our beloved Hoggetowne, while building a city in which all its neighbors are able to thrive. Together, as One Gainesville, we can do this.
Harvey Ward
Mayor, City of Gainesville

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

 

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.

Tina Corbett

High Springs, Florida

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.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

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.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“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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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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