Officer Gary Lee Lovette: “Me, I Dropped Like a F***ing Bomb On His Head… We Killed Him”

Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

The Grand Jury’s Final Report is in. No indictment will be handed out in response to the fatal Thanksgiving Day arrest of Charles Eimers.

The report – no matter how beneficial it is for the officers who could have faced criminal charges – throws more fuel than water on that fire.   Indeed a summary contained in the FDLE Investigative Report, made public yesterday afternoon, of an audio recording captured during and immediately after the arrest is simply stupefying.

Apparently Officer Gary Lee Lovette inadvertently left the recording mechanism on his Taser in the on position for several hours after putting the Taser back into its holster.  What follows is an excerpt from FDLE’s summary of the audio recordings: Continue reading

Could Key West Reach the Ferguson Flashpoint?

“Cartwright began yelling as loud as he could, and almost immediately a large crowd began forming around us […] Within minutes a crowd of at least 50 bystanders surrounded us and Det. Wormington called for additional Officers while I held down Cartwright.”

Police officers were arresting bad boy Ricky Cartwright who had ridden his bicycle through a stop sign while texting, allegedly with a beer in his hand.  They tased him in the back.  He was now screaming in pain in the middle of the road, attracting an angry crowd which, according to Detective Siracuse’s police report, kept “drawing closer and closer… despite numerous commands to stay back.”

No, this is not Ferguson, Missouri.  This is Bahama Village, Key West, May 9, 2014.  Detective Siracuse had just tased a black man on Emma Street and yes this is the same Siracuse who three years ago tased Matthew Murphy into a coma. Continue reading

The Case of Matthew Murphy / Another Cover-Up?

Kaeden Murphy, 3 yrs old; Photo by Richard Watherwax

Matthew Shaun Murphy’s son Kaeden Murphy, 3 yrs old; Photo by Richard Watherwax

8:30 on a Saturday morning.  It’s already hot and with no AC in the car it’s going to get a whole lot hotter by the time we get into Miami.

At her mother’s tiny apartment on Olivia Street, Mary Annuylsse is getting 3-year old Kaeden Murphy ready to go see his dad, Matthew, at Jackson Memorial Hospital.  As we reported in previous articles, Matthew Murphy has been stuck in a hospital bed ever since he was tased by a Key West police officer on April 16, 2011.  We’d been told he was unable to walk, speak, or eat on his own, but that he could communicate by blinking his eyes.  We are in for the ride. Continue reading

The Keys’ Dirty Little Secret

canstockphoto12080791

According to some irritated homeowners, two lower Florida Keys sewage treatment plant operators are playing dirty tricks in their permit applications to inject over a million gallons a day of sewage into shallow injection wells on Cudjoe Key and Stock Island.

They claim that FKAA is using unrealistic old data projections from 2008, advertised it’s legal notices to Monroe County residents in Lee and Broward Counties and would have you believe that “we drink water worse than we‘re producing with Advanced Wastewater Treatment. [Actual quote from County Commissioner David Rice.]

On June 25th a group of Cudjoe area homeowners filed an administrative petition challenging FKAA’s permit for the Cudjoe plant followed last Tuesday by environmental group Last Stand’s challenge against the privately owned Key West Resort Utility Corporation permit for their Stock Island plant. Continue reading

Police Point Gun At Six-Year-Old Boy — and More…

Zantaveous

It’s 6:27 p.m. — Sheila Carey and her two children are riding in a rented limo, a special treat to celebrate their outstanding report cards.  They’ve just dropped off their friend, eleven-year-old Shanyia Winn, who is now home alone taking a shower. A few minutes later, at 6:29 p.m. — the limo is stopped at gunpoint and surrounded by Key West police officers.  The mother is thrown to the sidewalk and handcuffed.  Her six-year-old son and eleven-year-old daughter are seized by the officers, guns pointed at their faces. Continue reading

THE EIMERS CASE: Witness Claims Police Intimidation Tactics Will Not Deter Him

Intimidation2

toy cop

“To be honest with you, I am really nervous about the whole thing.  I think they’re going to bother him or something,” says L, whose friend P was subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury in the Charles Eimers case last Wednesday.

While P was testifying, two squad cars were parked in front of his house, one blocking his driveway.  His friend, concerned about the strange coincidence, texted him a photo of the police cars.

On a recent occasion, officer Gary Lee Lovette, who was one of the officers who arrested Eimers last Thanksgiving, reportedly pushed P’s shopping cart violently out of his way at a Publix grocery store.

P had spoken with the Blue Paper after Eimers’ death revealing certain behavior and incriminating admissions by Key West police officer Lovette.  After P was finally interviewed by FDLE, he says Lovette’s attitude became threatening. Continue reading

Amazing Showing of Support For Old Man Chapman!

chapman

“He had gray shoes.  That’s the only thing I could tell about him because he had a hood on his head and a noose around his neck.  When I saw what was going to happen, I almost fell off the tree.  I jumped, sorry I had even wanted to know what was happening on the other side of that wall, and I ran.  I ran home as fast as I could.”

For years now, sitting in his yard at the corner of Petronia and Chapman Lane, ‘Old Man Chapman’ has been telling the stories of a far side of Key West that few can remember.

“It was right over there, where the post office is,” says Chapman,  “There were no police or justice of the peace. They were lynching a negro. That’s the way it was in those days.”

Now that Chapman’s funky world of lighted tricycle, banana bunches and crowing chickens is being squeezed out by bank foreclosure, his stories seem more precious than ever. Continue reading

Reenactment Points To Asphyxiation

“Your safe word is “no” and if you can’t talk, move your arms.” The woman lies down on the beach resting on her stomach, hands behind her back.  To be clear, we’re not shooting a bondage movie.  This is South Beach, at the end of Duval Street, where 61-year-old Charles Eimers died last Thanksgiving Day while being arrested by Key West police officers. The woman on the sand is Naja Girard of The Blue Paper.  We were trying to understand, through a reenactment, the most troubling part of the tragedy:  the cause of death itself.

Medical Examiner E. Hunt Scheuerman’s autopsy report shows no physical evidence that can directly establish the cause of Eimers’ death. However, circumstantial evidence led him to rule out asphyxiation.

This is what he wrote:

“FDLE’s investigation concluded that his face was not forced into the sand, but rather, as he struggled, his face moved back and forth across the sand. Audio recordings from the event revealed that Mr. Eimers repeatedly said “No.” Such verbalization would not have been possible if he had been smothering in the sand.” Continue reading

Goombay: Another Betrayal?

Goombay Festival 2010, click for video

Bahama Village Goombay Festival 2010, click for youtube video

Conspiracy theories are running wild over the City Commission’s decision to give control of the African-Caribbean Goombay Festival to a group dominated by white businessmen.  “This decision was a slap in the face,” says Glenwood Lopez. He is Chairman of a group supported by eleven Bahama Village non-profit organizations that came together to reclaim the event.

“They took away the 6.6 acres and now it’s Goombay,” says David, a resident of Bahama Village.

Wardlow ballotOne belief is that the decision was somehow usurped during the Commission meeting and that the vote was actually a tie. In fact, the ballot does show that Commissioner Billy Wardlow actually cast his vote for the “Bahama Village Coalition.”  The only group referred to as a “Bahama Village coalition” during the July 1st Commission meeting was the group led by Mr. Glenwood Lopez. Continue reading

Last Day At Chapman’s House

chap tricycle

chap tricycle

Whether ‘Old Man Chapman’ will finally be swindled out of his house is no longer up for debate.  Last Monday a red 8” X 6” legal notice was taped to his door at 221 Petronia Street.  It read:  “Final Notice of Eviction” and directed the Monroe County Sheriff to remove any person from the premises on Tuesday.

“It’s tomorrow. Tuesday is tomorrow,” said Chapman on the phone,  “Where am I going to put my things?  My clothes?  My wife’s clothes?  Our grandson’s clothes?  What am I going to do?”  It was 9:30 am.  The beginning of a long day – which was going to involve Sheriff’s deputies, pro bono attorneys, a Judge, New York bankers, someone known as “Coconut Man,” and Mr. James Matthew Chapman.  Mr. Chapman, the one-man-lighted-parade, who has been photographed thousands of times by tourists as he rides his Christmas-tree-like tricycle, blasting soul music, up and down Duval Street. Continue reading

Not All Festivals Are Created Equal

Last Tuesday, in an apparent disparate treatment of its constituency, the City Commission decided to allot Super Boat International race organizers approximately $ 25,000/year in free services (in addition to nominal rent and    $ 100,000 in Tourist Development Council [TDC] tax funding it receives) but refused to restore the Goombay Festival to a coalition of Bahama Village non-profit organizations because three years ago some festival organizers from the Village had been short by $ 2,500 on a payment for police protection. Continue reading

Who Owns Wisteria Island? Hearing Held On Fate Of Last Desert Island In Key West Harbor

Issue 4 Wisteria Cartoon cropped

Roger Bernstein had his chance last Tuesday to convince a federal judge that his company, FEB Corporation, not the US Government, owns Wisteria Island.

“Well, I remember when, as a young man in the Navy stationed in Key West,” said Judge Jose Martinez, “our guys used to go swim out by Wisteria Island. I thought it was ours.” That remark probably caused some serious stomach rumbling in Bernstein’s group of white-haired lawyers.

At stake is the fate of the last desert island in Key West harbor.  For more than 40 years Bernstein’s family has claimed to be the owner, even paying County property taxes. But three years ago, when they tried to develop it into a luxury resort, the Federal Government threw a wrench into those plans by claiming the United States owned the island, not the Bernsteins.

Bernstein hired well-known attorney Barry Richard [George Bush’s attorney in the tussle with Al Gore over the Presidency] and filed suit in federal court under the Quiet Title Act [QTA]. Continue reading

Ten Questions About The Charles Eimers Autopsy Report

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all believe that Charles Eimers’ death was just an accident – somehow the 61-year-old tourist was simply a ‘walking heart attack’ and when police tried to arrest him he stressed out and his heart gave up.

We have a few questions about the final autopsy report:

1.  What About The Civilian Witnesses?

Eimers’ “face was not forced into the sand,” wrote former Monroe County Medical Examiner, E. Hunt Sheuerman, “but, rather, as he struggled, his face moved back and forth across the sand.”

We know the Medical Examiners’ Report was signed on April 26th.  Of the many civilian witnesses we spoke to, only two were ever interviewed by FDLE and those two interviews took place in mid May, several weeks after the Medical Examiner had already signed his report. Continue reading

RECENT TOP STORIES

 

Photo provided by Treavor EimersSTATE ATTORNEY SENDS EIMERS CASE TO GRAND JURY

FDLE’s investigative report in the Eimers case is finally in. No word yet on what the recommendations of the investigators are.

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Issue 43 Charles Eimers for webNEW WITNESS COMES FORWARD: “THE POLICE JUST KILLED A MAN”

“I saw an officer kneeling in front of the man with a knee on his back and he was holding the man’s head down in the sand. The man had a reflex lift of legs once head pushed down.  One of the officers had placed a small black device on …

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Peter PanHOMELESS IN KEY WEST:  Old Man Chapman, Captain Tilly, and Peter Pan

This is the first in a series of articles on affordable housing and homelessness in Key West and the Florida Keys.

 

 

MEDICAL EXAMINER RULES DEATH OF CHARLES EIMERS ACCIDENTAL

BREAKING NEWS CHARLES EIMERS

BREAKING NEWS CHARLES EIMERS

“Mr. Eimers was at risk of a sudden death, at any time, due to either a chaotic cardiac rhythm or worsening of his congestive heart failure,” wrote the E. Hunt Scheuerman, M.D., the Monroe County Medical Examiner.

Charles Eimers, 61, a Michigan native, died after losing consciousness while being restrained face down in the sand by Key West police officers last Thanksgiving Day. Numerous eyewitnesses came forward accusing the police of excessive force, of holding Eimers head down in the sand, putting the weight of up to four officers on his back, and shocking him with a Taser stungun.

The Medical Examiner, however, in his final autopsy report, states that “the FDLE investigation concluded that his face was not forced into the sand, but rather, as he struggled, his face moved back and forth across the sand. Audio recordings from the event revealed that Eimers repeatedly said “No.”  Such verbalization would not have been possible if he had been smothering in the sand.”  The Medical Examiner acknowledged, however, that his face appeared coated in sand in photographs taken at the hospital, but that “No sand was found in his airways.” Continue reading

New Witness Comes Forward: “The Police Just Killed A Man”

ISSUE 67 CBS EIMERS for web
Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers
Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

“I saw an officer kneeling in front of the man with a knee on his back and he was holding the man’s head down in the sand. The man had a reflex lift of legs once head pushed down.  One of the officers had placed a small black device on the man’s back after the lift of legs […] The female officer then started walking away from the scene, shaking her head.”  [See bystander video here.]

This statement was given this week by a tourist from Maryland [We’ll call her “M”] who was having breakfast at the Southernmost Beach Café last Thanksgiving Day.  The man she describes was Charles Eimers, who would soon die in police custody.  Continue reading

Homeless in Key West: Old Man Chapman, Captain Tilly, and Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

This is the first in a series of articles on affordable housing and homelessness in Key West and the Florida Keys.  We will try to look past the anti-homeless rhetoric burning through local media and show you what is really happening on the Keys housing front.

In future articles we will bring you points of view and solutions proposed by some of the most knowledgeable people on the Island. Continue reading

Who Is Responsible? Father Tased By Key West Police Suffered Catastrophic Brain Injury

Kaeden Murphy, 3 yrs old; Photo by Richard Watherwax
Kaeden Murphy, 3 yrs old, May 2014

Matthew Shaun Murphy’s son Kaeden, now 3 yrs old, May 2014
Photo credit:  Richard Watherwax

Three years after being tased on Duval Street by a Key West Police officer, Matthew Shaun Murphy is still lying in a hospital bed.  It was around 3:30 am on April 16th, 2011, Murphy and his fiancé Marie Annulysse were on their way back home from a night on the town when they heard a raspy woman’s voice yelling, “Hey nigger lover!”  At this point you need to know that Matthew, 27 at the time, is a white man from West Virginia and Marie, then 23, is a black woman from Key West.

Sitting on the steps in front of the “Flirt” store in the 300 block were Beverly Anderson, Jason Moffet, and their pit bull.  According to Annulysse, while she was pushing Murphy away, across Eaton Street, the insults and threats kept pouring out of Anderson’s mouth, “I’m gonna kick your nigger girlfriend’s ass!” and “that’s how you make monkey babies!”

The Blue Paper has now obtained the 911 audio files. You can hear Anderson spewing an endless sewer of racial slurs at Murphy and his girlfriend.  According to Annulysse, Murphy went back and began arguing with Moffet and Anderson.  Police Officer Mark Siracuse arrived on scene at precisely the moment when Murphy punched Moffet in the jaw.  Siracuse, who had already pulled out his Taser, zapped Murphy on his right shoulder. Continue reading

CBS: “DEATH IN PARADISE”

death in paradise one
death in paradise one

CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LINK TO CBS VIDEO AND ARTICLE

The CBS News report on the death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day finally aired last Wednesday morning.  CBS News filmed a portion of their ‘CBS This Morning’ show on South Beach, where the arrest of Eimers by multiple Key West police officers occurred.

But the television report focused less on the arrest itself and the possible use of excessive force leading to Eimers’ death than on what happened after the arrest. They showed excerpts from medical records that show that police apparently claimed Eimers ran away, resisted arrest, and did not have a pulse by the time the police got to him.  An account which was then flatly contradicted by a video shot by a tourist, which shows a radically different version of the facts. Continue reading

Young Father Tased By Key West Police Officer Remains Hospitalized Three Years Later

Matthew and Kaeden Murphy in 2011
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Photo provided by Meghan Murphy

The only image Kaeden can remember of his Dad is that of a comatose man connected to tubes and wires lying on a hospital bed.  In fact Kaeden was only a few months old when, three years ago, his father, Matthew Shaun Murphy was ‘tased’ by a Key West police officer on Duval Street and fell into a coma.

“That was the last time we talked; the last words we said to each other were said that night before he fell,” says Marie Annulysse, Murphys fiancé and Kaeden’s mother. Continue reading

LAW FOR SALE

canstockphoto19097073

Issue 62 Rohe Cartoon Wolf Dreding

There it was, a 100’ long wooden dock, all ready for the sport fishing boats belonging to the owners of the eight new mansions nestled between the palm trees and the tropical flowers. The only problem was, no boats could get to the dock!  There was simply not enough water covering the seagrass bed surrounding Walker’s Island and the necessary dredging operation was strictly prohibited by the Monroe County code.

So, was that the end of it?  Well, not quite.  Beginning in 2010 savvy developers and their lawyers discovered a little-known loophole; a way around Monroe County’s tight environmental regulations. For a $ 5,000 application fee, a developer can write his own version of the law and, after proper lobbying, force the County Commission to vote on whether to reject or adopt his “Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment.”

Several County Commission members, including Commissioner Danny Kolhage and Mayor Sylvia Murphy, have expressed concern over the process and the amount of time expended by County staff on these private legislation projects. Continue reading

Wisteria Island: The King of Spain and Roger Bernstein

Wisteria Island

Finally, some movement in the Wisteria Island lawsuit.  It’s a hundred thousand dollar legal adaptation of

I own it

No, I own it

No, I own it

The controversy turns around what has become known as the “Navy’s claim.”  A 2010 attempt to build a large hotel complex, with private homes and a marina on Wisteria Island was shut down after The Blue Paper published a story revealing that Roger Bernstein might not be the true owner of the island.  The trouble began when we discovered a 1951 letter written by the US Navy claiming ownership of the island pursuant to an executive order of the President of the United States. Continue reading

The Eimers Investigation: Did They Lose The Book?

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE] is apparently beginning to feel the heat about the agency’s handling of the Charles Eimers death investigation.  Last week the agency dropped its eternal “no comment” rhetoric and tried to convince the press that there is no conflict of interest between FDLE and KWPD in connection with the case.

The facts:

Both Keynoter and CBS reporters received statements from FDLE attempting to explain away the controversial appointment of FDLE’s Kathy Smith as the lead investigator in this case about possible use of excessive force and subsequent cover-up by Key West police officers.  The officers involved were under the supervision of Captain Scott Smith. Captain Smith is Kathy Smith’s ex-husband and the father of her child.  Continue reading

CBS Morning Show Probes Key West In-Custody Death

Issue 60 CBS photo
Issue 60 CBS photo

Treavor Eimers with CBS Correspondent Elaine Quijano and camera crew on South Beach [photo by Arnaud Girard]

The death of Charles Eimers while in the hands of Key West police officers is now getting national attention.   CBS investigators were in town this week researching the circumstances surrounding the death of Eimers, the apparent cover-up involving near cremation of the body before autopsy, destruction of evidence, lying to emergency medical personnel, and finally the shocking conflict of interest that is tainting FDLE’s investigation of the case:  FDLE’s top investigator in the Eimers case, Kathy Smith, is the ex-wife of KWPD Captain Scott Smith.

CBS flew in on Wednesday with Treavor Eimers, the victim’s son, and a full camera crew.  We sat with CBS Investigative Producer, the very charming, Megan Towey, for a two-hour lunch, and in the words of Mel Brooks, it must be ‘good to be the King!’  Apparently when these guys have an issue with obtaining records from FDLE they have the office of Pam Bondi, the Florida Attorney General, on speed dial and a lot of weight to throw around.  Not quite the same as being a Blue Paper reporter. Continue reading

THE EIMERS CASE: WITNESS INTIMIDATION?

There is now reason to believe that two plainclothes officers:  KWPD Detective Todd Stevens and another unknown officer, posing as FDLE investigators, deliberately intimidated eyewitnesses who were present during the violent arrest last November of 61-year-old Charles Eimers.

Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the story of the tragically fatal Thanksgiving Day arrest on South Beach has heard the Chief of Police deflect questions over and over by saying that FDLE is conducting an independent investigation into the death of Eimers and will decide whether or not there was any wrongdoing,

“We’re waiting and we want answers just as bad as everyone else does.  As in any situation like this, once FDLE completes their investigation, we will do an internal affairs investigation to look into what happened,” says the Chief.

Last week, some four and a half months later, this ‘independent investigation’ by FDLE was called into question.  We published that, on the day of the altercation with police, KWPD Captain Scott Smith had called FDLE’s Kathy Smith, his ex-wife, about the mandatory FDLE investigation of Charles Eimers’ anticipated “in-custody-death”. Continue reading

The Eimers Investigation: Shocking Link Between FDLE and KWPD

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

When Charles Eimers turned blue and lost consciousness while in the hands of Key West police officers on Thanksgiving morning, KWPD was informed immediately by Lower Keys Medical Center staff that Eimers would never leave the hospital.  Chief Lee decided to treat the case as a ‘death-in-custody situation’, which meant FDLE had to be called in to investigate.

Lee didn’t make the call himself, though; he asked one of his officers, Captain Scott Smith to do it.  Captain Smith did make the call and FDLE’s Chief investigator Kathy Smith took on the case. You might notice they have the same last name and think there’s some connection there, and well, you would be right.  On Thanksgiving morning after Charles Eimers virtually died on the beach, Captain Smith called his wife, his ex-wife, in fact, at FDLE.  Kathy Smith is now investigating the father of her child[ren].

What did he say?  How did KWPD report the circumstances of the arrest of Charles Eimers to FDLE?  This is something FDLE has obstinately refused to reveal, but we can make an educated guess.  They said:  ‘Charles Eimers got out of his car and proceeded to flee from the police while running on the beach away from law enforcement and Eimers collapsed.  Eimers was found without a pulse by police.  He was given CPR.  EMS was called.’ Continue reading

CHARLES EIMERS FAMILY FILES SUIT IN FEDERAL COURT

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers’ children have grown tired of waiting for answers from FDLE.

They asked their lawyers David Paul Horan and Darren Horan to file a suit for wrongful death against the City of Key West and 12 police officers involved in the arrest of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving morning.  The arrest resulted in a coma and death a week later when Charles Eimers was removed from life support at Lower Keys Medical Center.

The lawsuit, filed this morning in U.S. District Court, alleges that officers Gabriel Humberto Garrido, Gustavo Adolpho Medina, Kathyann Wanciak, Gary Lee Lovette, Mathew Johnson, Francisco Zamora, Thaddeus Calvert, Derek Wallis, Nicholas Galbo, Janeth Calvert, Pablo Rodriguez, and Todd Stevens used excessive force in arresting Charles Eimers.  They have also sued the City of Key West for having a custom or policy that allows police officers to use the prone restraint technique on the beach. Continue reading

BOATER SEWAGE PUMPOUT: Audit Shows Monroe County Spent 85% More Than Bargained For Last Year

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Cartoon by Richard [Tuna] Rohe

Boaters in Monroe County pay 50% more to register their boats than boaters in most other Florida counties. Almost all of this extra 50% coming from the more than 22,000 registered boaters in Monroe County is currently spent to provide free pump-out service to at most 500 boaters.

Fishing, diving, cruising the waters of the Florida Keys is what it’s all about.  Those turquoise waters are our only true luxury.  But owning a boat in the Keys is not cheap. Marina dockage can cost as much as an apartment and then there is the registration tax.  In Monroe County an average 26’ runabout costs about $ 125 to register per year and it can cost as much as $ 350 a year to register a 110 foot commercial boat. The extra 50% collected from Monroe County boaters creates revenue of about $ 400,000/year. Almost all of it, $ 340,000, is currently being used to pay a private company to provide free sewage pump-out  to offshore boaters – with a price tag of nearly $ 64.00 per pump out. Continue reading

Legal Struggles For ‘Captain Tilly’ and His Sunken Tug Boat


“This is a Franz Kafka movie here,” says Stephen Freer.  Navigating the legal system may have turned as treacherous for Freer as the seas he was rescued from when he was abandoned miles offshore on a sinking tugboat named “Tilly”.

Freer stands accused by FWC of having, on February 21st, “caused” Tug Tilly to be towed to sea where he abandoned it and where it sank about a week later during a storm.

When The Blue Paper caught up with him for his big “trial” at a Monroe County courthouse on Wednesday morning, we found him at the end of a lonely corridor talking into the wall through an interphone.  There was no window or glass, just a silver phone with a wire coming out of the concrete wall and a short list of phone numbers.

Freer one Continue reading

Anatomy of a Cover-Up

According to new information obtained by The Blue Paper, KWPD officers covered up the true circumstances surrounding Charles Eimers’ death. This could have sent paramedics on the wrong path and might even have jeoparidized Eimers’ chances of survival.

For Charles Eimers, it was the first day of a new life.  He had finally retired after 30 + years working in an auto manufacturing plant in Michigan.  With a full pension and medical he was going to spend a winter in sunny Key West.

“He wanted to take it easy, maybe volunteer for some charities.  That’s the kind of guy he was, he would have given the shirt off his back,” says Eimers’ daughter Erica Garcia.

But none of that was going to happen; no visits from the grandkids or relaxing days at the beach.   By the end of his first day – Thanksgiving Day – 61 year old Charles Eimers, mistaken for a homeless man, would mysteriously fall into a coma while in the hands of Key West’s finest.  He would die a week later after being taken off life support at Lower Keys Medical Center (LKMC). Continue reading

$11.3 Million in Property Taxes? Not Yet!

moneyThe long awaited ruling on Balfour Beatty’s $ 11.3 Million property tax suit is finally in.  Judge Audlin ruled in favor of the giant British conglomerate’s subsidiary, Southeast Housing LLC.  The company has not paid any property taxes on hundreds of units of privatized military housing it has owned in Key West since 2007. The ruling grants the company a full and retroactive property tax exemption.  The Order was immediately appealed by Monroe County’s property appraiser Scott Russel.

In sum, Audlin’s ruling states that:

  1. Back taxes are not permitted where the property appraiser had changed his mind after informally granting an opinion on future exemption status in 2007.
  2. Federal and State law prohibit taxation of US government owned property.
  3. Even if Southeast Housing LLC is the titled owner of some 890 units of housing in Key West, the true owner for tax purposes is the US government, which is tax exempt.

The Judge concludes that the county and city must reimburse Southeast Housing for taxes previously paid “under protest” for the Peary Court property last year just prior to its sale and that the company should enjoy a full tax exemption going forward. Continue reading

SOME BURNING QUESTIONS ABOUT OFFSHORE ISLANDS

Sore throats, red eyes, Old Town storeowners worried about the smell of smoke on their garments, sailboats evacuated… One way or another a lot of people were affected last week by the fire raging on Wisteria Island.  The Key West Fire Department had given up the fight on Monday and the fire continued on, burning through trees for six days.  In the end the flames were extinguished only after a group of volunteers took the matter into their own hands last Saturday.

“We traded buckets all day, from the beach all the way into the center of the forest,” says Jeff Sundwall one of the volunteers.  We had teenage kids, young mothers, boaters, people from Key West came with their boats. We worked from morning to sunset.”

By then, the team of about 8 people, organized by local activist Mike Mongo, covered in soot and exhausted, equipped only with buckets and 500 feet of garden hose connected to a small 12-volt pump, had managed to extinguish the flames down to the last cluster of burning trees. Continue reading

BOCC: We Have No Legal Obligation To Take Care of Derelict Vessels

IMG_9167 reduced

Tug Tilly at anchor Monday February 24th, four days before sinking

There’s finally an explanation as to why nothing was done to keep the Tug Tilly from sinking.  A lot has been said and written about the Tug Tilly:  the controversial sale of a 150-ton scrapyard-ready tugboat to a homeless man, its subsequent floundering while abandoned two miles south of Key West about a month ago, the hundreds of gallons of engine oil spilled into the ocean and the enormous looming wreck removal costs.  And with that, the half- million dollar question:  Why, since everyone knew this was going to happen, why-oh-why, was nothing done to prevent this catastrophe?

Isn’t the county government in charge of derelict vessels?  Hasn’t Monroe County, for years, been paying for the removal of derelict vessels, including over $ 100,000 for the “Pair-O-Dice” alone?  [Pair-O-Dice was a casino boat aground in Key West harbor in 2009 when it was seized as a derelict vessel and destroyed at county expense). Continue reading

WISTERIA ISLAND FIRE: THE BACK STORY

“By midnight Monday the flames had gotten bigger and bigger and then the cold front arrived,” says Pascal Beregevoi, “The gusts were really ferocious and all of a sudden smoke, embers, and ashes completely engulfed the boat.”  Pascal, who lives on a boat with her teenage daughter near Wisteria Island, had hoped the cold front was going to bring some rain and extinguish the fire.  Instead, with the strong winds, the fire, which had been growing on Wisteria Island for 24 hours, exploded into a fiery inferno.  Pascal and her daughter were trapped on their boat.

“I turned into a smoke refugee,” jokes Tommy Haas, another liveaboard boater from the western anchorage, “I couldn’t breathe. I had to run out of my boat.  I hopped in my dinghy and went to my friend’s boat on the east side of the island.  I stayed there most of the night and then the wind shifted again and the smoke filled up the cabin.  “I said, ‘I know where we’re going’ and we went back to my boat.”

Troy, whose boat was directly downwind of the fire, spent the night throwing buckets of water over the sails to extinguish the falling embers.   Meanwhile, a friend was texting us with “the island is especially beautiful right now.”

On the island the mood was not as jolly.  “We were stranded,” says Christopher aka “Irish”.  Continue reading

Peary Court Redevelopment: Round Two

To integrate or not to integrate…  Two schools of urbanism are at war over plans for redevelopment of former Navy housing at Peary Court.  The process of permitting the latest plan for 208 new residential units began last Monday with a 4-hour debate before HARC (Historical Architectural Review Commission).

“We want to fully integrate Peary Court into the rest of the community,” says Bernard Zyscovich, architect for the owners of Peary Court.  However, that “integration plan” once again didn’t include the continuation of the street grid into and through Peary Court. Zyscovich’s current plan consists of 24 acres of manicured, landscaped, and fenced up neighborhood with one main road making a large loop through the property and exiting several hundred feet from where it started on White street.

peary court

Continue reading

SUNKEN TUG TILLY COULD COST HALF-MILLION DOLLARS! WHY WAS NOTHING DONE?

The storm forecasted for Thursday of last week arrived during the night.  For those who knew of the Tug Tilly, the gusts of wind unraveling through the trees on the island meant that a few miles offshore, in the dark of night, completely exposed to the waves building against the tide, the abandoned tugboat would probably meet with the end of its voyage.

What was going to happen was no secret.  In rough seas the tug would soon start shoveling water over its stern deck.  The water would roll forward (as the bow began plunging into the waves).  It would find those large holes rusted through on the midship deck and begin to flood the boat.  With no pumps and no one aboard to call for help the boat was going to sink and that’s what it did, early Friday morning.

Of course, we had predicted Tilly’s demise in our previous article but somehow “we told you so” just doesn’t quite say it.

The cursed 81’, 150 gross ton tug is now sunk about one-half mile west of the Main Ship Channel.  It has been declared a hazard to navigation, the engine oil has leaked into the ocean, the removal costs, according to local salvor John Coffin, could reach a half-million dollars and the County might have to foot the bill (since the last known owner, Stephen Freer, appears to be a penniless homeless man). Continue reading

Citizen Review Board Concerned About Eimers In-Custody Death

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

“I am deeply concerned by the circumstances surrounding the in-custody death of Charles Eimers,” CRB [Citizen Review Board] member Tom Milone said Wednesday.

The controversy about the Thanksgiving morning death on South Beach of 61-year old Charles Eimers continues to grow.  Thousands of people have reviewed the video of Charles Eimer’s arrest published by The Blue Paper and have been disturbed by the irreconcilable differences between the events shown in the video and the account initially proffered by the police department.

“There is particular concern over the use of prone restraint,” says Tom Milone,  “We’re considering reviewing the procedures in light of the incident with Charles Eimers and the growing concern about the risk of using that method in the sand.”  The CRB has asked the police department to explain the existing polices at their next scheduled meeting.

The question, says David Paul Horan, attorney for the Eimers’ family, “is where do you use the prone restraint method?  Would you use it in the water?  Should you use it in the sand?” Continue reading

Is Bahama Village Being Dispossessed of its 6.6 Acres at Truman Waterfront?

“The City is derailing a plan which would be good, not just for Bahama Village, but for all of Key West,” says Bob Kelly, a longtime advocate for Bahama Village, Key West’s predominantly black neighborhood, “A vibrant Bahamian community in the Village would be an extraordinary asset to the Key West tourism economy.”

A plan had been designed by local architect Bert Bender for the extension of the Village into the Truman Waterfront, the 33-acre parcel donated to the City by the US Navy in 2002.  Bender’s plan was both bold and conventional.  It extended the Village’s traditional street grid, but also had some unique features such as green space on the rooftops and mixed commercial space with affordable housing in a single structure.

“I liked all those vegetable gardens on the rooftops, imagine that – in Key West – all those green spaces suspended by the sea.  And having a business space at street level and an apartment upstairs,” says Jamaican David, a Bahama Village resident, “that was a real good idea.” Continue reading

Charles Eimers Preliminary Autopsy Report Released

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers
Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Monroe County Medical Examiner E. Hunt Scheuerman, MD on Thursday released his preliminary objective report following the autopsy of Charles Eimers.

Charles Eimers, 61, tourist for a day in our island Paradise, died on Thanksgiving day while in the hands of Key West police officers.   The arrest took place on South Beach in front of multiple witnesses who reported a scene of violence:  tasers being used repeatedly on a man handcuffed facedown in the sand and tackled by 5 or 6 police officers. Eyes bloodshot, face blue, nose and mouth caked up with sand, Eimers stopped breathing and became limp before dying a week later at Lower Keys Medical Center after being taken off life support.

Initial police department communications indicated that Eimers had suddenly collapsed and had doubtless died due to a pre-existing heart condition, which somehow led a doctor at the hospital to declare Eimers’ passing a death from “natural causes”.

This initial explanation is now clearly contradicted by the preliminary autopsy report.  Ten ribs were fractured, the neurons in his brain had turned red from lack of oxygen, his trachea showed abnormal reddening.  The report also reveals that the airways within the lungs exhibited “linings of tan exudate”.   Exudate is a liquid produced by the body in response to tissue damage.  Many have speculated that Eimers suffocated in the sand.  Could sand have caused tissue damage in his lungs, which would be one more piece of evidence pointing to asphyxiation? Continue reading

Blue Lagoon Children: A Hard Landing Into Key West’s Racial Divide

Bhajan and Naomi

Naomi and Bhajan grew up on boats anchored behind Wisteria Island.  Like many other kids living on the anchorage, they explored the island, sang for tips at Mallory Square, and rowed back and forth on kayaks to boat sleepovers.   When Hurricane Wilma sunk most boats, the families moved onto Wisteria Island for a time.  With no TV or computer, Bhajan and Naomi became avid readers and, of course, in keeping with the tradition of their bohemian lifestyle – they never went to school – until this year that is.

In 2013 they both decided that at 16 it was time to start wearing shoes and meddling with those “house kids”.  They both enrolled in Key West High School.  But, this new experience was met with very differing results.  At this point it is important to mention that Bhajan is white and Naomi is black (at least half black; her father is steel band musician and singer Toko Irie.)

Continue reading

Charles Eimers Death-In-Custody Investigation: TOTAL GRIDLOCK

An update into the death-in-custody of Charles Eimers reveals an investigation in total gridlock and it could remain that way indefinitely.  The main problem stems from the fact that apparently to date none of the officers present during the infamous Thanksgiving Day arrest has been interrogated by FDLE investigators.  How Charles Eimers ended up dead within five minutes of his altercation with Key West police is still not clear.

Sources close to the case have informed The Blue Paper that the officers’ union lawyer has instructed the fourteen KWPD officers involved not to talk with FDLE investigators until he is present.  A meeting has been scheduled for the 14th of this month but will likely result in the officers “pleading the Fifth”.  In other words, to avoid incriminating themselves they could decide not to cooperate with the investigation at all.

According to Dr. Scheurman, the Monroe County Medical Examiner, this is a considerable problem.  “I need to determine to what extent natural disease played a part in the cause of death; whether it a contributing factor or just incidental,” says Scheurman,  “The FDLE investigation will answer a lot of those questions.”

As we found out when speaking with Scheurman, the circumstances surrounding a death provide essential information in a medical examiner’s analysis.  The autopsy itself is just a part of the process and not necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be in movies. Continue reading

The Case of the Mysterious Water Contamination

In early December when water testing in Key West harbor showed off-the-chart numbers for fecal contaminants, the city rounded up the usual suspects:  the boaters.  Them again!  Certainly they were polluting the harbor by not using mandatory holding tanks and new regulations for offshore liveaboards were swiftly introduced.  But the data collected by The Blue Paper tells a very different story.

Between November 19 and December 3, the city conducted two weeks of testing in eleven different locations on the west coast of the island.  The first striking observation is how irregular the results are.  While there is barely a trace of fecal bacteria at the Westin Marina for instance, the numbers in nearby Key West Bight Marina were on several occasions greater than five times the “poor” threshold testing guidelines set by the state’s Healthy Beaches program and the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA).  Likewise and bizarrely enough, even though the results in Key West Bight were abysmal for four to five days, they were, for the most part, acceptable during the rest of the two-week study period.  So what is the source of such erratic water pollution?

According to the official explanation [as reported in the Key West Citizen] the floating community anchored offshore is responsible for the water pollution and the high level of fecal bacteria is due to the bad habits of a few liveaboard boaters who still refuse to use holding tanks and the free pumpout service provided by the County.  But if such is the case, wouldn’t a bad habit of this nature create a routine, a routine that in turn would produce consistent results?  After all, the use of toilets is hardly part of the ‘unpredictables in life’.  So, why is the test data in the harbor so variable? Continue reading

Investigation or Cover-up?

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Disturbing elements of a cover-up have emerged this week in the mysterious death of Charles Eimers.

Charles Eimers died on Thanksgiving Day of last year while being arrested by Key West police.  The cause of his “in custody death” has been the subject of intense controversy.  The whole debate about the will of the police department to investigate itself escalated tenfold when it was discovered that detectives nearly allowed Eimers’ body to be cremated before an autopsy could shed some light on the cause of death.

Since then the main question has been: did detective Todd Stevens deliberately fail to notify the medical examiner in the hopes that the evidence against fellow officers would disappear into smoke (which according to Bob Dean of Dean Lopez Funeral Home almost happened) or did he just not know that Charles Eimers’ family had removed him from life support?

“He didn’t know,” said Chief Donie Lee on US 1 Radio, “because he was not keeping in constant contact with the family or the hospital.”

But Charles Eimers’ son Treavor claims he had a long conversation with Stevens on the 5th of December, the day after Charles Eimers was removed from life support.   Treavor says Continue reading

POWERBOAT RACES: Has The City Been Taken For A Ride?

We need to be nicer to the Super Boat International race organizer, John Carbonell:  Give him special privileges over at the Truman Waterfront, a 5 year agreement, free hotel rooms, etc or else he will just move his whole operation to Sarasota or Clearwater.

Everyone in Key West knows about the infamous Sarasota bid to hijack the world championship powerboat races.  Everybody in Key West – but strangely enough, it seems no one in Sarasota has ever heard about it.  According to City of Sarasota Public Information Officer, Jan Thornburg, who responded to a Blue Paper request for information, “The City of Sarasota did not put in a bid or enter into talks with race organizers to host the 2014 Super Boat International World Championship Powerboat Races.”

Now that’s interesting because Carbonell had announced intense negotiations with Sarasota and Clearwater, “I don’t just want something that is going to tie me to Key West for five years,” Carbonell told the Key West Citizen on October 22, 2013.  “I need to know what all three cities have to offer.  I want something that is conducive to myself and the racers as well.”

Pretty strange considering that the City of Sarasota clearly informed us that they had never made a bid nor spoken to anyone about it.  It get’s better.  On November 25, 2013, Carbonell announced, again via a Key West Citizen article, ”The City of Sarasota has withdrawn its request to take over the annual powerboat world championships … but on Sunday it still remained uncertain if the races will stay here.” Continue reading

Thanksgiving Day Death: Top Investigator Demoted

The plot thickens in the death of a tourist in police custody.  It’s no longer just Charles Eimers’ death at the end of Duval Street on Thanksgiving Day that is controversial, the investigation itself has begun to smell like a certain kingdom in Denmark.

This week we learned that detective Todd Stevens, KWPD’s top investigator in Eimers’ death has been demoted and removed from the Detective Unit.  He is no longer involved in the case.

Apparently, it was Stevens who nearly allowed Eimer’s body to be cremated before the medical examiner had a chance to perform an autopsy. Instead of being sent to the Monroe County medical examiner, Eimers’ body was sent for cremation to Dean Lopez Funeral Home.  It stayed there for 7 days, the main evidence in the case all set to be turned into ashes at any moment.

Interestingly enough it is a December 10th inquiry from The Blue Paper that apparently raised the issue – just before it was too late.

“When you [The Blue Paper] asked in the email about Mr. Eimers’ status,” P.I.O Alyson Crean wrote, “I asked Captain Smith, who called Detective Stevens who in turn answered that Mr. Eimers was still on life support and had not died.  About an hour later, Captain Smith and Chief Lee came to my office to tell me that he had, in fact, died.  Detective Stevens had not been in timely contact with the hospital as he had been instructed to do.” Continue reading

First Crack In The Blue Wall of Silence

“Someone better get him away from me before I arrest the son of a bitch myself!”

When the other officer asked “KA” what she was talking about, according to a witness, she said, “He just murdered that man.”  “That Man” was Charles Eimers and “KA” is Kathyann Wanciak of the Key West Police Department, who on Thanksgiving morning, along with other officers, was arresting Eimers on South Beach at the end of Duval St.  Within a few minutes Eimers would pass out facedown in the sand, wrists lacerated by tight hand-cuffs, blue in the face, and no longer breathing.  He would never regain consciousness.  Thousands of people have since seen the video captured by a bystander, which instantly raised questions of excessive force.

It took over 3 weeks for our still confidential source to decide to call someone about what he/she had heard that morning.  That was a quickly closing porthole into what really happened that day.  If our witness is correct, KA became so infuriated by the egregious behavior of one other officer that for a brief moment she broke the sacrosanct police “code of silence”. Continue reading

POLICE CHIEF DONIE LEE ADMITS EIMERS MAY HAVE DIED BY ASPHYXIATION

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

The tragic death of a 61-year-old tourist while in the hands of Key West police officers is becoming increasingly controversial.  After suggesting that Charles Eimers had succumbed to pre-existing “very serious heart problems” while resisting arrest, the Chief of Police admitted this week on US 1 Radio that Eimers may have died of asphyxiation.

Thousands have now become aware of a video taken by a bystander of Eimers’ arrest on Thanksgiving Day.  It shows Eimers complying with police, laying down on the beach on his stomach and being handcuffed.  However, within 5 minutes, the retired autoworker and father of four who dreamed of vacationing in Key West was dead.

Now that it is admitted that Eimers didn’t die of a heart attack, but quite possibly of a much more controversial case of asphyxiation, a troubling question arises:  How is it possible that the news of such an event managed to pass almost unnoticed?  Initially we saw only a short statement in the Key West Citizen regarding a man who had collapsed all of a sudden while resisting arrest on South Beach at the end of Duval Street. Continue reading

POLICE DENY RESPONSIBILITY IN DEATH OF TOURIST, THANKSGIVING DAY

“Eimers exited the car and began actively fighting.” [Officer Lovette, KWPD]

Within a few minutes the man in the video above [Charles John Eimers] would be dead.  According to official reports, no Tasers were fired, Eimers (61) worked himself into a heart attack while fighting police officers.  However, according to eyewitnesses, Eimers was tased until dead.  Reportedly in the words of one eyewitness, a police officer from New York, it was “legalized murder on the beach.”

The video stops before showing Eimers going ‘limp’ and it doesn’t conclusively show whether Tasers were used or not.

So what happened? Continue reading

A Talk With City Commissioners About Workforce Housing

facebook photoDec 3  “We have one more week to find a place here in key west.  If we don’t find a place by the 11th, we have to leave.”

facebook photoDec 3  “I have to say THANK YOU sooooo much to everyone that has been helping us find a new home so far, it means the world to us that our key west family is there to help us look.  No luck so far, but it only takes a moment to make everything work out.  We have many many moments remaining in this last week of searching!  I love u all and hope we won’t have to leave you.”

[Robin Whelpley-Menard is a saxophone player. She’s also a server at Finnegan’s Wake. She and her husband Derek have a beautiful little girl. They've lived in Key West for nine years.]

facebook photoDec 5   “So I have to start thinking about down sizing in case we move I have a bunch of furniture and a kayak and some old bikes that we are gonna have to part with should we leave town.  Any takers?  I’ll take whatever you think is fair.  Message me.”

While questions of what to do about all the homeless coming to town this winter or about dredging the channel take center stage, the slow but steady deportation of Key Westers continues with seemingly little attention from Key West’s ‘fathers’. Continue reading

Balfour Beatty Property Tax Trial Ends

The long awaited Balfour Beatty trial was expedited in less than two days this week.  Lawyers battled over technicalities concerning $ 11.3 Million in property tax liens that Balfour Beatty refuses to pay off.  BB protested during the trial, claiming that it would be impossible to provide proper services to military families and pay property taxes because of the downed economy.  “Are you here to claim,” asked John Dent, attorney for the Monroe County Property Appraiser, “that because the economy is not as good you should get an exemption?”

The real issue is this:  On paper Balfour Beatty’s LLC (Southeast Housing) is the owner of those 900 or so housing units that owe $ 11.3 Million in tax liens, but it claims that this is only some sort of make believe ownership and the real owner, the “beneficial owner” is not the for-profit LLC but the Navy.  And since the Navy is, by law, tax exempt, the LLC cannot be taxed if the Navy has in fact retained all of the benefits normally associated with ownership.  The Navy (says BB) gets 90% of the profits, receives better service for its sailors and their families, and the houses will be returned to the Navy in 50 years.

However, as we all know here in Key West, Balfour’s LLC has already sold and pocketed to its exclusive profit, a considerable part of that real estate.  Did it not just sell Peary Court including 160 of those units?  So, who knows what will be left in 50 years?  Shouldn’t “equitable ownership” be determined as a matter of fact in each given year? Continue reading

BASE COMMANDERS CRIED FOUL! The Sale of Peary Court, A Look Behind the Scenes

Balfour Beatty, the giant military housing contractor, will soon play its last card in the game of not paying Monroe County $ 11.5 Million in back property taxes.  On November 20th in Key West Balfour’s attorneys will try to convince Judge David Audlin that Florida and federal law exempt private military housing contractors from paying property taxes.

Whatever the Court decides it will have far reaching consequences for military bases all over Florida and across the nation.

In Monroe County, the school district will be the biggest winner if Balfour is forced to pay property taxes.  Indeed 80% of local school funding comes from property taxes.  Funding has been so low in recent years that last year’s budget cuts were in the neighborhood of $ 6.2 Million. Continue reading

Simonton Street Trailer Park Update: “Dear Pope Francis…”

Every night after work, after the landlord had gone home, ‘M’ snuck back into her locked up trailer with no electricity and no water and slept in there.  She knew how to get in and leave no trace.  She would then beg a shower off her neighbor in the am before leaving again for work.

The above account is the ‘inside scoop’ delivered to us by another tenant who is taking part in the great “relocation program” established for those being evicted from the Simonton Street Trailer Park.

Unable to find a new apartment without the unattainable first, last and security, “M” decided to pretend to leave, get the $ 2,500 pay-off offered by the developer and then start looking for a new place.  Apparently she is still looking. Continue reading

Local Attorney Turned Cyber-Detective Brings Damning Evidence in County’s IPhone Scandal

After months of grand jury investigations and the conviction of the offender, one would have hoped the scandal surrounding the County’s stolen Iphones had finally cleared from our skies.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

“This is about fairness,” says Robert Cintron, a local criminal defense attorney.  He is sitting at his desk behind a towering pile of records accumulated in the defense of his client, Lisa Druckemiller.  The fact that Druckemiller has been made to carry the entire blame for dozens of stolen Iphones has left him with a feeling of ‘unfinished business’.  Cintron now shares, with The Blue Paper, the surprising results of his own investigation. Continue reading

Where Do Derelict Vessels Come From?

“You gotta get me off this thing! I don’t want to drown out here!  And my dogs!  We don’t have a dinghy!”

It’s five o’clock in the morning.  The woman crying on the phone is Sonia Eliott who is stranded on a sinking boat near Wisteria Island.  Actually, as we write this, she is still on the rotten 45’ wooden sailboat after mariners from neighboring boats managed to reduce some of the flooding.

The mystery here is:  Where did that boat come from?  It appeared only last week, ‘tied itself’ to another sunken boat and made three distress calls in two days.  With its rigging dismantled and no engines, obviously it couldn’t have come from very far.  So, where did this boat and the five people and two dogs come from and for that matter, where do all derelict boats that show up on our shores come from?

Part of the answer can be found in the fact that rather than paying the costs of destruction and removal of an unwanted old boat some owners are tempted instead to Continue reading

Simonton Street Trailer Park: Forsaken Promises…

Issue 24 Trailer Park for web

It’s a completely dilapidated trailer kept very clean and homey, enveloped by a reef of flowers, a contradiction explained away by the one single sign painted on the door:  “Life is Good.”  Or at least it was.

Reyna and sonToday, gesturing with one hand to support her plea in broken English and with the other hand holding her two-year old son, Reyna F is getting pretty frantic about her family’s relocation away from the Simonton Street trailer park.  The park is scheduled to close permanently on December 5th. It will leave a hundred or so people desperately trying to squeeze themselves into Key West’s jam-packed rental market.

“If you don’t have at least $ 3,000 you can not rent anything in Key West,” she explained, “They promised to help us relocate.  But we came and asked for the $ 2,500 and they said we will only get the money after we have moved.  But we counted on the money to pay first month and deposit.”

What $ 2,500 is she talking about?  That would be the $ 2,500 that developer, Joe Cleghorn, promised to give to each tenant to “help them relocate”.  It may have been very generous of him, but actually according to some, he didn’t really have a choice:  He was one vote short of having the City Commission approve his development agreement.  At the last minute, Cleghorn managed to swing Commissioner Lopez’ vote by promising to help his tenants find new rentals and to give them each $ 2,500 to make the move. Continue reading

YES or NO?

It was the 27th of June, 2012 and Captain Forrest Young was sending an interesting letter to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS):  As he was anchored on the west side of the Marquesas Keys, his passengers became alarmed by the peculiar aspect of the water.  After a quick and nauseating investigation, Captain Young knew exactly what they were looking at:  thousands and thousands of human feces passing by with the incoming tide.  Young is the founder of Dynasty Marine Associates, Inc. and has been diving in the Keys since 1978, the year he earned a Masters Degree in Biological Sciences from East Stroudsbourg University.  “Since I think that the City of Key West no longer dumps raw sewage into the harbor,” wrote Young in his complaint to FKNMS,  “It must have come from cruise ships as that could be the only source of such a concentrated source point.”

Captain Young’s comment is not the only one.  Actually the comment log kept for the FKNMS re-scoping process contains an impressive number of complaints from people concerned with the impact of cruise ships on water quality.  NOAA is well aware of the environmental impacts of cruise ships.  In a 2011 Condition Report NOAA lists the many diverse pollutants expelled by cruise ships and notes, Continue reading

Sei Fuori di testa?

In the game of “my boat is bigger than your boat”, cruise ship companies have truly come up with some gargantuan concepts.  Ships carrying over 5000 people (nearly double the capacity of most cruise ships now docking in Key West) are trying to make their way into our harbor.

They’re out there on the other side of the reef; problem is they can’t get in because the channel is too narrow.  As some in the community scramble to figure out how to accomplish the widening of the Main Ship Channel, some unexpected words have come from across the Atlantic –  from Italy, Venice to be precise.  “Sei fuori de testa?’ translates more or less to “Are you off your rocker?”

An organization opposed to gigantic ships in Venice, “Comitato No Grandi Navi” (No Big Ships) joined forces with the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism last week.  As Venice desperately tries to keep the biggest ships out, it seems incredible that we would try to bring them in. Continue reading

The Referendum To Nowhere

Can you stand another channel widening article?  This one will surprise you – we promise.

Interviews with representatives of the US Army Corp of Engineers and NOAA/Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary revealed that nearly everything we have heard so far about the $ 3 Million dollar dredging feasibility study has been wrong. There won’t be a study about local economic impacts. In fact, there is not even going to be a study, regardless of the outcome of the referendum on October 1st.

As it stands, Sanctuary regulations prohibit dredging and according to Sean Morton, Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, “Current regulations do not provide a mechanism to permit this type of dredging.”  As long as regulations prohibit dredging in the Sanctuary, “I do not believe that Corps of Engineers will commit study funds to do the study,” says Eric Bush, Chief, Planning and Policy Division, USACE, Jacksonville.   Bush says the Army Corp will not pursue funding a study unless they get a ‘head nod’ from those in charge of the Sanctuary.

So the next question is:  Will Sanctuary officials move to change the law?  “Our role,” says Morton, “is to manage and protect Sanctuary resources. Typically regulatory changes result in tightening up resource protections, not loosening them. We have zero plans to initiate a change in regulations that would facilitate this dredging project.” Morton says, “There will be no ‘head nod’”.

Let’s see if we understand this correctly:  Continue reading

The Gentrification of Simonton Street Trailer Park

As a hundred or so residents begin packing in view of their upcoming eviction from the defunct Simonton Street Trailer Park, one wonders what has done-in the small village tucked beneath those shady trees.  The City Commission voted last Tuesday to approve Joe Cleghorn’s redevelopment plan, which includes cutting down 40 of 45 trees and removal of all 44 low-income trailers.

Doesn’t the City have regulations protecting affordable housing and why did the Catholic Church, the previous owner, agree to sell to Cleghorn, despite the quite predictable social hardships that evictions would cause?

This is a classic tale of gentrification and as the story goes, this one has it all:  distressed nuns, questionable Monsignor, pedophilia scandals, Canon Law, ghostly electric meters, suspicious property tax documents, elementary school children, a Wall Street tycoon, and to top it all off, local regulations out of a Kafka novel. Continue reading

COMMENTARY: IS THERE BIG $ MONEY $ IN HOMELESSNESS?

A surprising statistic came out in the news last week.  According to one expert 5.8% of Key West’s population is homeless and lives in the mangroves.  We’re not even kidding. This is actually the conclusion of a $ 20,000 study presented by Dr. Robert Marbut to a straight–faced City Commission on August 6th, 2013.  At least 1,422 people, according to Marbut, are homeless in Key West and have been for years.  After subtracting those in jail and at KOTS [the emergency shelter, on Stock Island] we’re left with around 1200 that he claims are, for the most part, hidden “in the mangroves”.  Needless to say that night we endeavored to beat around every mangrove bush we could find in hopes of raising Dr. Marbut’s apocalyptic legions of homelessness.  We encountered no more than a few weary souls.

According to the 2013 Homeless Point In Time Report published by the Monroe County Homeless Services Continuum-of-Care Inc., there are about 480 homeless people in the Lower Keys,  After subtracting those in jail or at KOTS, children, boaters and Stock Island’s homeless, there are likely around 50 people truly sleeping on the streets or “in the mangroves” of Key West.  A far cry from the 1200 suggested by Dr. Marbut.  So, what is going on? Continue reading

‘Dishonorable Discharge’

It’s Tuesday morning in Key West harbor.  Pascal Davis raises a small orange flag on the stern of her boat.  This will signal to the pumpout boat operator that the sewage holding tank on the “Mothership” needs to be vacuumed; all part of a new County program designed to provide a pumpout service to liveaboard boaters.  The County, you see, is so concerned with water quality that it has signed off on a      $ 1 Million/year contract providing free vessel pumpouts.

The paradox is that less than eight miles away thousands of people, in floating cities, can party, bathe, dine, drink, and relieve themselves over an open sewer, dumping millions of gallons of sewage and chemicals directly into the ocean.    According to Doctor Jerry Weinstock, a resident of Key Haven who is working on a new book addressing cruise ship pollution, those tides of wastewater carried by ocean currents could very well be flooding our shores, asphyxiating the reef and posing a serious health hazard.

Welcome to this voyage into the underbelly, the digestive system of the cruise ship industry, a mostly unregulated $ 33 Billion/year industry that basically pays no U.S. taxes and yes, has quite an offensive and inconsiderate tailpipe. Continue reading

FDOT in 2010: You’ll Be ‘So Happy’ With One-Way Traffic – You’ll Want To Keep It That Way!

A review of a City Commission meeting that took place over three years ago shed new light on the mysterious 820-day Roosevelt Boulevard reconstruction contract.

Why 820 days?  How did that number come about?  For Key Westers who often drive alongside the idle or deserted Boulevard worksite, the question has been crystal clear for quite awhile:   If the contractor is going to be able to finish this job on time while having no more than 8 – 12 people working 4 days a week, obviously the contractor was given too much time.

As the work drags on, businesses alongside the Boulevard are now in worse shape than ever (McDonalds is reported to have lost approximately $ 1.8 Million since the  reconstruction project commenced in April of 2012).  Anger is growing on the part of the public and they want to know who is to blame for what seems an obvious waste of time and taxpayer money.  Feeling the heat, FDOT spokespersons have not missed an opportunity to remind everyone that the traffic plan was reviewed and approved by the Key West City Commission.

This project, as we reported in previous articles, is being conducted in total contradiction with FDOT’s normal policies and standard road construction contract specifications, which require that two-way traffic be maintained during road reconstruction (which in turn triggers a requirement that the work progress in sections with one section of road being returned to service prior to shutting down a subsequent section.)

So what happened?  Did our City government throw us under the bus, as FDOT appears to be hinting?   Well, not quite. Continue reading

Key West Commissioners Considering A Ban On Future Gated Communities

What do the redevelopment of Peary Court and Trayvon Martin’s tragic death have in common?  With the soul searching shockwaves that the Zimmerman trial has sent though our world, both raise the question of the social impacts of gated communities.

“One of the many pitfalls of adding more gated communities that want to separate themselves from “those people”, says Commissioner Clayton Lopez, “ is that they ripen the situation for something like the Trayvon Martin tragedy to happen.”

In spite of public declarations about “fully integrating” Peary Court into the surrounding neighborhoods, White Street Partners, the developers of Peary Court, have presented plans which in effect would create a new gated community.

At the public meeting on June 27th, at the Harvey Government Center, White Street Partners’ architect, Bernard Zyscovich revealed a blueprint showing plans to close the existing entrance on Palm Avenue and to erect an uninterrupted fence beginning on Eaton Street, running the length of Palm Avenue, down Eisenhower and [after discussion] also along Angela Street.

Plans to “integrate” Peary Court do not include continuation of the existing street grid either.  The plans showed the only road open to vehicular traffic would simply loop Fleming Street back into Southard.

“Nobody would take that street,” said Zyscovich, “If they get in by accident, they’re never going to do it again because they are going to end up exactly where they started.”

“If there were one ingress and egress – a road to nowhere, “ says Commissioner Tony Yaniz,

“that to me, would be a defacto gated community even if there were no gates… I would like to see Peary Court with through streets, and no gates.” Continue reading

Peary Court: One Human Family or Gated Community?

Is Key West destined to become a patchwork of exclusive gated communities?  If you believe what White Street Partners is saying there is no such plan brewing for the military housing property at Peary Court.  The soon-to-be owners of Peary Court spared no effort trying to convince the audience at its June 27th presentation that the new development will be fully integrated and intertwined into the fabric of our “beautiful community”.

The presentation included projections of maps from the 1800’s and insightful remarks about the history of Key West’s urbanization.   But the “integration plan” didn’t convince everyone.   With its all-around fence (enclosing even the Palm Avenue entrance), its road to nowhere that loops back on itself, its all powerful Homeowner’s Association and its “enhanced sense of community,” the future Peary Court looks like a gated community in the making; 100% “Stepford Wives” material.

“The goal of good city planning,” argued Don Craig, the City’s Planning Director, “is to create a harmonious and integrated community, not just for the benefit of people living in one particular area, but for the community as a whole.” Continue reading

Roosevelt Blvd Affected Businesses Gearing Up For August 6th Town Hall Meeting and Maybe a 1960′s Style Protest?

The Coalition of North Roosevelt Affected Businesses (CNRAB) gathered last Tuesday (July 7, 2013) for its second meeting at the VFW.

“Believe me,” said Commissioner Rossi, “I feel your pain.  I’m a small business owner.  I know what it takes.”

Looks like the Boulevard businesses are finally getting some attention.  Dale Ransom who owns Domino’s Pizza and is President of the CNRAB noted that for the first time ever there were 30 people actively working on the project – just outside the VFW.  This was an all-time record according to Ransom who said the most he’d ever counted previously was 12 workers on any given day.

“FDOT has become very aware of what is going on here,” said Rossi.

“The problem,” according to an Engineer who has looked into the details of the project,

“is that the contract has been frontloaded for this project.  De Moya got paid 4 Million for mobilization and got another 2.6 Million up front for traffic control.  Do you see any traffic control?  De Moya has been paid 15% of the contract upfront.  How do you give a contractor incentive to work on a project when he has already pocketed all of his profit up front?” Continue reading

Boulevard Business Owners Seek Practical Solutions

The controversy over the North Roosevelt Boulevard reconstruction project keeps heating up.  How the project should be conducted so as to limit impact on adjacent businesses has become a central question and some people who earn their living on the Boulevard have come up with an unexpected idea.  They want to hire their own expert traffic engineer and propose their own traffic maintenance plan.

“This project is only half way through.  We should be constructive,” says Tim Gratz of Dominoes’ Pizza, “and make sure the second half of the project is going to include solutions to our problems.”

The consensus among business owners includes three priorities:  1) The work should be done in sections 2) Functional two-way traffic should be established and 3) More workers and more work hours.

“I cannot believe,” says John Key, President of Napa Auto Parts, “that deMoya gutted three miles of Boulevard.  We haven’t seen anyone working past Kennedy Drive, month after month.”

“Right now there are more people working at Dominoe’s Pizza than on the Boulevard,” says Gratz. Continue reading

Bernie C. Papy, III Talks About Wisteria Island

Wisteria Island 1959 [Source: Monroe Coutny Property Appraiser]

Wisteria Island 1959 [Source: Monroe Coutny Property Appraiser]

Key West The Newspaper talked with Bernie C. Papy, III, grandson of THE Bernie C. Papy, King of the Keys who 61 years ago purchased Wisteria Island from the State of Florida.   Bernie Papy, Sr. a State Representative for 26 years and a character bigger than life, died in 1964 but has by some incredible twist of fate once again taken center stage here in Key West.

According to federal judge Jose Martinez, who presides over the Wisteria ownership dispute, everything could depend on what Representative Papy “knew or should have known” about a Navy claim to the island when he bought it from the state of Florida in 1952.

“My grandfather was selling property in Miami as early as the 1920’s,” says Bernie C. Papy , III, who like his ancestor is in the real estate business. Continue reading

Wisteria Island Case: Judge Denies Government’s Motion To Dismiss

Wisteria Scales of Justice

NOTE:  THIS STORY WAS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED ON SATURDAY JUNE 29, 2013 AS A ‘BREAKING NEWS’ STORY.

Federal Judge Jose Martinez denied the federal government’s Motion to Dismiss F.E.B.’s (Roger Bernstein’s) claim over ownership of Wisteria Island on Friday, June 28th.

The question posed publicly for the first time by Key West The Newspaper back in June of 2011 as to just who owns Wisteria Island in Key West harbor remains undecided.

“This court finds that at this stage it cannot determine whether it has jurisdiction and therefore finds dismissal inappropriate.”

The issue hinges on a “reasonableness” factor.   To win a dismissal the government had to prove that Bernstein (or any one of his predecessors in interest) “knew or should have known”, prior to twelve years before filing suit, that the U.S. had made a claim to Wisteria Island.

There is a 12-year statute of limitations on federal Quiet Title Act suits.  Even though the Navy made a clear claim to Wisteria in September of 1951, before the initial purchase by then State Representative Bernie Papy, Sr., the claim was never officially restated until last year.

What makes matters confusing is that in 1953 Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act which granted coastal submerged lands and spoil islands (other than those intended for US government use) to the State of Florida.

And that is where the parties diverge: Continue reading

NEW REVELATION: FDOT REQUIRED TO MAINTAIN TWO-WAY TRAFFIC ON BLVD / BUSINESS OWNERS CONSIDERING LEGAL ACTION

“Why aren’t they doing this work in sections?” “Why aren’t there more people working?”  “Why aren’t they working at night?  Working  on weekends?”   “And why-oh-why, don’t we have two-way traffic on the Boulevard?”  These were the nagging, mind-boggling questions asked over and over Tuesday night, during the first official meeting of unhappy N. Roosevelt Boulevard business owners.

Chances are the rest of you, who have been driving through Key West ‘s year old traffic jam, have also been asking yourselves these same questions.  And today we have answers.  As it turns out you‘ve been right all along. Continue reading

Senior Assisted Living Facility: To Be Or Not To Be?

In October of 2007, voters approved the concept of leasing four acres of the Truman Waterfront for use as a senior citizens assisted living and independent living facility.  Actually, 63% of voters agreed with the plan.  Key West’s population is getting older.  ‘Baby Boomers’ are retiring, they want assisted living facilities, they have all the cash and chances are they will get what they want.

So what is all this fuss and suspicion about?  “It mystifies me,” says Sheldon Davidson, a board member of the Florida Keys Assisted Care Coalition (FKACC), “there is no assisted care in the lower Keys.  I don’t understand why people would reject this golden opportunity.”  The “opportunity” is a proposal presented to the City by developer Jeff Sharkey of Wendover Housing LLC to create up to 50 units of senior independent living housing for persons over 55 (10% of those would be at ‘market’ rate with the other 90% at different levels of ‘affordable’) and another 60 units of assisted living (25 at ‘affordable’ rates and the other 35 at ‘market’ rate).

At first glance it doesn’t look like such a bad deal.  But opponents to the lease don’t agree.  “The biggest misrepresentation,” says Christine Russell, who has been following this issue for years, “is that you are going to be able to ‘age in place’ in Key West at this assisted living facility, when in fact, you may get discharged as soon as you get sick.”

In her article, “Ten Things Your Assisted Living Facility Won’t Tell You,” Stacey L Bradford notes,

“The biggest misconception consumers have about assisted living is that once their loved one is accepted into one of these facilities, he or she will live there for a very long time perhaps avoiding a nursing home altogether.   But nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact the average resident stays only two years.  Why?  The assisted-living business model was never intended to provide care for frail and sickly seniors.  When they get that way as they inevitably do many will insist that they leave.” Continue reading

BUSTED! FDOT Denies Recycled Sheet Piling Being Used On Boulevard Construction

Is FDOT allowing Roosevelt Boulevard contractors to use rusty, old, recycled sheet piling in the construction of the new seawall on Roosevelt Boulevard?

Alerted by a tipster, we rushed to the Boulevard Tuesday to see a forklift operator unload heaps of rusted, broken, bent out of shape sheet piling near the seawall.  To be sure, we compared those with some new ones, also found on the site, which are all coated with epoxy and perfectly straight. Continue reading

Governor Vetoes Tax Exemption Bill: The Right Decision For All The Wrong Reasons

Governor Scott has vetoed a tax exemption bill that would have exempted military housing contractors like British mega-corporation Balfour Beatty from paying millions in property taxes on privately owned housing rented to active-duty military.

At first glance you might think Scott had listened to US Representative Joe Garcia’s appeal and realized how unfair and discriminatory that bill was to taxpayers in communities that host these privatized military housing complexes.

But a careful reading of the veto letter shows quite the contrary: the only reason Scott vetoed the amended bill is that it wasn’t quite generous enough to Balfour Beatty (and other military housing developers).

“While the bill, as originally filed, was well-intentioned,” wrote Scott, “a floor amendment may have had the unintended consequence of imposing property taxes on portions of housing developments on federal military installations that are currently fully exempt from such taxation.”

The veto letter has Balfour Beatty written all over it.  It refers to the exact same arguments that their lobbyists have been peddling for a year. Continue reading

Simonton Street Trailer Park: 44 Affordable Units and 37 Protected Trees to Disappear

Simonton Street Trailer Park

Simonton Street Trailer Park

Quelle surprise!  Another developer doesn’t want to include 30% affordable housing in its building plans.

This time it involves the trailer park at the corner of Virginia and Simonton.   The plan calls for removal of all trailers and the construction of all new market rate modular homes.

“I have been in Key West for 27 years,” says Jeep Cailloiet, “with all the talk and studies about affordable housing nothing has changed, slowly but surely working people are being squeezed out.”

The trailer park belonged to the Catholic church for over 50 years.  In fact, it is right next door to the grounds of Saint Mary Star of the Sea.  It is as though frozen in time.  You walk on dead leaves, circling around the fifty or so old-fashioned trailers from yesteryear, sunk into the ground and shaded by the uninterrupted canopy of gigantic Royal Poincianas. Continue reading

Roosevelt Boulevard Watch: Mayor Cates Calls For Action

Photo City of Key West Utility Dept

Photo City of Key West Utility Dept

Pressure is rising on Roosevelt Boulevard reconstruction.  Mayor Cates declared [on US 1 radio last Wednesday] that he was deeply troubled by the rate of progress on the N. Roosevelt Boulevard project.  On a trip to Tallahassee, Cates apparently met with State Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and urged him to visit Key West to see the work for himself.

“He is going to bring the contractor down – de Moya Group,” says Cates, “and speak to the citizens of Key West and answer any questions they have and try to come up with a plan to move this project forward.”

It looks like Mayor Cates has gotten the attention of the contractor.  We’ve received the first positive comment since we began our Roosevelt Boulevard Watch several weeks ago:

“[Something] just may have lit a fire under someone’s ass,” says one commenter also noting,  “Yesterday (Tues. 5/28)@ 7:30am, I witnessed at least 7 people working on the concrete forms for the sea-wall at Palm and Roosevelt, even though the forecast called for rain and the sky was dark.  And today (Wed. 5/29)@ about noon there is what appears to be a full crew pouring concrete in the pouring rain.” – H2OKEV Continue reading

Roosevelt Boulevard Watch: Boy Are We In Trouble!

Photo City of Key West Utilities Department Aug 16, 2012

Photo City of Key West Utilities Department Aug 16, 2012

An investigation into Roosevelt Boulevard construction documents shows a pattern of absenteeism, insufficient crew, lack of supplies, shoddy work and indifference to City inspectors’ remarks.  It also raises serious questions about FDOT’s cozy relationship with the contractor.

Key West The Newspaper received hundreds of pages of emails and reports from the City of Key West’s utility department.  The documents relate to the $ 4.5 Million 24” sewer force main that is being replaced beneath the Boulevard at the City of Key West’s expense.

First, the documents confirm what was suspected all along, that John and Lisa Chaney, the couple that was debarred from performing public works for Dade County after allegedly bribing a sewer inspector (who had let pass shipshod sewer work that later had to be dug back out and replaced), are the subcontractors in charge of the sewer main replacement project on Roosevelt Boulevard. Continue reading

Privatized Justice Part III

The controversial program that allows private companies to fund certain prosecutors at the State Attorney’s office has received a blow below the waterline and seems to be foundering.

We reported several weeks ago on an unusual contract entered into by the State Attorney by which the private companies,  Guidance/Care Center   (GCC)  and  Monroe  County Coalition  (MCC),   were  paying  over    $ 50,000 for the salary of a special DUI prosecutor.

The deal appeared disturbing in light of the fact that GCC receives money for court ordered treatment directly from people convicted of DUI.

State Attorney Catherine Vogel vehemently defended the deal as being perfectly legal. On US 1 Radio she claimed that the money was public money obtained from another non-profit group, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network (SFBHN).

But a few days later rumor had it that she was terminating the contract. Continue reading

Roosevelt Boulevard Watch: Things Are Not All That Swell On The Boulevard

The infamous green fence that hid the Boulevard worksite blew away last week in an unexpected gust of wind.  It revealed the same moonlike landscape, unmanned machinery, and lack of progress and has renewed the perplexity of passersby jammed in traffic.

According to local mainstream press, some Key West politicians, and FDOT everything is swell on the Boulevard.  One might think business was thriving.   The Key West Citizen even reported last week that new businesses are opening up and Commissioner Billy Wardlow, in whose district the project lies, declared himself proud of the achievement.  It really looked as though no one had bothered asking those business people on the Boulevard about their side of the story.

So here it comes. It may be unpleasant work but someone’s got to do it: Continue reading

FLOATING BUSINESSES: How Far Will It Go?

How many floating trampolines, inflatable castles, swim-to bars, swim-to pizzerias, jet-ski hives, parasail landings (etc.) can permanently anchor off our shores?  According to former City Commissioner George Halloran, “Looks like it could be as many as they want.”  Halloran wants businesses that place permanent structures offshore to be required to get approval from the local government prior to obtaining a bay bottom lease from the State.

“There is a provision for local approval in the law,” says Halloran, “but DEP is not asking the local community to have a say.”    According to Florida Statute 253.61, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) may not issue offshore bay bottom leases unless the activity has been approved by local governments situated within 3 miles of the leased area. Continue reading

Legislators Choose Students and Teachers Over Privatized Military Housing Developers

Despite being pounded by privatized military housing developers like Balfour Beatty, a majority of Florida’s legislators decided that owners of privatized military housing should pay their share of property taxes.  This obligation however, will only apply to units which are not rented to enlisted active-duty military personnel or their families.

When, in July of 2012, the news broke out that Balfour Beatty’s Southeast Housing LLC owed Monroe County Property Appraiser about $ 11.5 Million due to not having paid taxes since 2008 and that liens had been placed on their properties, the corporate giant waged an all-out war aimed at escaping payment.  It filed suit against the Property Appraiser and put into gear an intense lobbying campaign in Tallahassee, trying to get Florida legislators to tailor to its special interests and create a full and retroactive tax exemption.  After appearing practically unstoppable, their efforts ended up on Thursday just shy of complete failure.

The history of this battle is worth recounting.  Balfour Beatty’s campaign has been a remarkable exercise in misdirection. Continue reading

Wisteria Island Ownership Case Update

Wisteria Island - Looking Out ........................... Photo by A. Quigley

Wisteria Island – Looking Out ……………………….Photo by A. Quigley

A federal Judge issued the first Order on the question of Wisteria Island’s ownership last week.

Roger Bernstein, President of FEB Corporation wants Judge Jose Martinez to decide who owns the last desert island in Key West harbor, the United States or FEB Corp.

But the case might not go that far.   According to the Government, the 12-year statute of limitations for clearing title has long ago run out and the Judge should dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Martinez appears puzzled by a sudden change in FEB’s arguments during the first hearing on the case in Miami on April 5th.  Initially Bernstein claimed that the State of Florida had acquired the island upon Statehood and that ownership by the State was later confirmed by the 1953 Submerged Lands Act (SLA). Continue reading

THE TRUTH COMES OUT: 74% of Balfour Beatty’s Housing Units At Key West Navy Base Are Rented To Non-Navy Tenants

Only 26% of the 895 NAS Key West rental units owned by Balfour Beatty/Southeast are rented to active-duty Navy personnel.

“The property is leased to both active Navy personnel and their families and other classes inlcuding non-military and civilian tenants.  While the percent of Navy occupants changes annually, there were 20% of active Navy tenants in 2008 and 26% of active Navy tenants in 2012.  This is a stark comparison to the allegation of Plaintiff’s counsel [Spoonhour] that only 1% is occupied by non-Navy. “ - Property Appraiser Attorney, John Dent, in his Memorandum of Law In Support of Defendant’s Motion For Summary Judgment

Continue reading

Privatized Justice

The privately funded prosecutor at the State Attorney’s office is soon to be no more.

State Attorney Catherine Vogel has apparently decided to silence the controversy involving special DUI prosecutor Nick Trovato.  Trovato was initially hired pursuant to a $ 52,000 contract between the office of the State Attorney, Monroe County Coalition (MCC) and Guidance/Care Center (GCC).

The deal came under fire last week when local defense attorney, Jiulio Margalli, exposed the contract claiming it constituted a conflict of interest and amounted to an unconstitutional funding of the State Attorney’s office.

“Nobody wants privately funded prosecutors,” says Bill Embry, President of the Board of Directors of the MCC. Continue reading

Local Attorney Discovers He Is Fighting A Prosecutor Paid By A Private Company

So, private corporations are adding privately funded prosecutors to the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office.  Really?  Do we have Monroe County prosecutors whose salaries are paid by private companies?  “Indirectly, yes, and that deal is unconstitutional,” says local defense attorney Jiulio Margalli.

Margalli is referring to an agreement, entered into last December, by which the Guidance/Care Center (GCC) and Monroe County Coalition (MCC), both private entitles, are paying the State Attorney’s Office for a special prosecutor to “increase prosecutions of DUI cases.”

At first glance I’m sure the reader will react as we did:  “Good! Let’s prosecute.”  Certainly, the prospect of having less drunk teenagers flipping over their pickup trucks (or worse) is a good thing.  Continue reading

Boulevard Construction Watch

FDOT has announced that the construction project on North Roosevelt Boulevard is projected to be 44 days behind schedule.   The original contract estimating a construction timeline of 820 days has been extended to 880 days [as of March 31st] due to rather generous approvals of weather and vacation days, getting the contractor off the hook for the $ 10,000 + /day disincentive fee for the additional 60 days.

We’ve now entered the second year of this two-year construction project.

According to the schedule projection “fact sheet” presented to the public on the FDOT website, the two lanes on the bayside should be complete by the end of April [which obviously is not going to happen] and work on the business side of the street should have begun April 1st.  Continue reading

Balfour Beatty Tax Loophole Losing Momentum

A law creating a property tax loophole for British mega-corporation Balfour Beatty and other military housing developers failed to materialize last Wednesday in the Florida Legislature.

HB 531 was adopted by the House of Representatives, but because it differs from the Senate Bill no law will issue, at least not until both chambers agree.

The Sentate Bill [354], passed April 4th, contained an amendment, not found in the House version, limiting the exemption to housing actually rented to active-duty military and their families. Evidence assembled by Key West The Newspaper shows that approximately 40% of the NAS Key West housing owned by Balfour Beatty’s Southeast Housing LLC is rented to civilians.

It was interesting to see that 25% of Representatives Continue reading

TAX LOOPHOLE WOULD HELP BALFOUR BEATTY BUT HURT CHILDREN OF MILITARY FAMILIES

Last Tuesday the Monroe County School Board voted unanimously to voice their opposition to the local tax loophole sought in the Florida legislature by private military housing contractor Balfour Beatty.

The resolution came as no surprise, since public school students are bound to be the biggest losers if a tax exemption is adopted.  Of the $ 11.5 M in back property taxes owed by Balfour Beatty, about 1/3 would go to the school district.  In Monroe County 80% of public school funding comes from property taxes.  Funding has been so low in recent years that last year’s budget cuts were in the neighborhood of $ 6.2 M. Continue reading

$11.5 Million Prize Turns Tax Law Into First Class Legal Jousting Match

There may be no salvation in sight for Balfour Beatty in its courtroom scuffle over delinquent property taxes.   Attorney’s for the giant British conglomerate were in town last Monday trying to convince Monroe County Judge David Audlin that the company is not the owner, but merely a property manager, of 890 units of housing situated on Navy land here in Key West.

If the Court disagrees, Balfour may have to pay $ 11.5 Million in back taxes.   But what if the Court does find for Balfour/Southeast and declare it is not the true owner of this real estate empire, which is comprised of over 5,000 units that span across the southeast?  Those assets have been used to collateralize over $ 550 Million in bonds.  How could Balfour’s LLC have borrowed so much money secured by property it didn’t own?

Here’s what happened last Monday: Continue reading

WHO OWNS THE LAST DESERT ISLAND IN KEY WEST HARBOR? Wisteria Island Motion To Dismiss To Be Heard This Week In Miami

AT PLAY ON WISTERIA ISLAND

AT PLAY ON WISTERIA ISLAND

Today the Wisteria Island snafu takes a trip to Miami.  Roger Bernstein, the owner of FEB Corporation, asked a Federal Judge last August to decide who owns the lush desert island just 600 feet northwest of Key West’s Mallory Square, Bernstein or the US government?   The first (and maybe last) hearing in the case is scheduled to be heard Friday, April 5th, 2013, in a Miami federal court.

This is the latest unfolding in the attempt to develop the last piece of wilderness in Key West harbor.  The story has both charmed and enraged Key Westers since 2007.

There have been City Commissioners lavishly ‘wined and dined’ by would-be developers only to be ratted out by restaurant waiters, a referendum stripping the City Commission of its power to govern the island overwhelmingly approved by 70% of angry voters, the discovery (inside a sinking boat) of a folder of correspondence between Bernstein and the infamous “Dirty Joke Dennis”, a convicted  kidnapper, who was apparently enrolled by Bernstein to infiltrate the opposition to Wisteria Island’s development, and finally the controversial contributions of Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) in the making of a Wisteria Island pro-development film, which spilled over into the triumphant trial of “Dangerous Don”, another colorful local character, who stood his ground against FEB Corp. Continue reading

The Beginnings Of A Congressional Debacle

Thursday marked the beginning of a debacle for Florida legislators confronted with Balfour Beatty’s quest to obtain tax loophole legislation.  In a move that considerably watered down the tax exemption sought by the privatized military housing industry, the Senate voted to limit privatized military housing exemptions to only those properties that are rented to active military personnel; a compromise that House Economic Affairs Committee members vehemently objected to just last week.

It looks as though the seed of discord has finally been firmly planted.  Continue reading

Court Rules Privatized Military Housing Industry Must Pay Property Taxes

As Balfour Beatty prepares to go before Monroe County Circuit Court over its property tax exemption claim, another circuit court has ruled that the privatized military housing industry must pay property taxes.

On Monday April 1 at 1:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Courthouse, Balfour Beatty’s attorneys will try to convince Judge David Audlin that the British company doesn’t really own the 890 rental units it holds title to in Key West. Continue reading

Balfour Beatty’s Tax Loophole Unconstitutional?

Lawyers are poised to challenge a tax loophole, sought by Balfour Beatty/Southeast Housing in the Senate this week, as discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Under the proposed legislation not only would Balfour Beatty (a giant British conglomerate) not pay future property taxes in Monroe County, but the company would also be pardoned for the $ 11.3 Million in local property taxes it failed to pay since 2007. Continue reading

FLORIDA KEYS V. PRIVATIZED MILITARY HOUSING INDUSTRY

With Florida legislators preparing to tell citizens of Monroe County to tough it up and forget about taxing Balfour Beatty and the privatized military housing industry, you would think the federal government was not taxing those companies.  Think again.

Balfour Beatty, the British mega-corporation that owns title to all 890 units of military family housing in Key West (and many thousands more in other Florida counties) is not exempt from federal taxes.   In fact Balfour Beatty has admitted, in its lawsuit against the Monroe County Property Appraiser, that its rental housing business is a for-profit company with income that is taxable under the IRS code.

Continue reading

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) admits it has completely lost control over whether or not the work is on schedule on Roosevelt Boulevard.

For months representatives of FDOT have reassured Key Westers that the work on the Boulevard is progressing “on schedule”.

In the meantime many businesses on the Boulevard are free-falling.

“My retail business has been dramatically affected,” says John Key, President of Napa Auto Parts, “I almost went under last August. You see five or six people working on site.  They keep telling us everything is on schedule, but I have real doubts about them really being on schedule.” Continue reading

Roosevelt Boulevard Sewer Contractor Was Debarred From Working With Dade County After Being Accused of Bribing A Utility Inspector

Who is John Chaney?

According to FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) the alleged drunk driver and cop-briber is not one of the contractors working on the Roosevelt Boulevard construction project.   Not only is FDOT lying to us, but interestingly enough for Key Westers, Chaney’s involvement is in laying water/sewer pipe, a portion of the project that is locally funded with 4.3 Million dollars of the City’s money.

This affair began like a police thriller.  It was 2:30 a.m. Deputy Sheriff Juan Martin-Reyes was engaged in a high-speed chase behind a black Hummer.  Continue reading

KEY WEST BATTLES PRIVATIZED MILITARY HOUSING COMPLEX

To avoid paying 11.3 Million dollars in back property taxes giant British conglomerate Balfour Beatty (BB) is asking a judge to disregard its property title on 890 units of housing located in Key West.  BB argues that it’s not the “real” owner of those units, that the homes “really” belong to the Navy and they should be immune from property taxes just like any other federally owned property.

However this new twist could implicate BB in an extensive web of questionable practices including the receipt of millions of dollars of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) funds that are allocated by Congress for private housing, possibly having misled bond investors as to who owns the houses securing BB’s 587 Million dollar bond issuance, and arguably conducting unlawful secretive private sales of government property such as the Peary Court housing. Continue reading