The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a 39-year-old mentally ill Royal Palm Beach man who was shot by an off-duty deputy when he wandered into the officer’s garage.
A homeowner’s insurance company for Deputy Joshua McGehee agreed to pay another $300,000 to Aldo Alvarez, who survived the May 2013 shooting, said Stuart Kaplan, who represents the Alvarez family in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
The settlement came as Kaplan pressed the agency to release records that he claimed would show McGehee was unfit to work as a law enforcement officer.
In court papers, Kaplan claimed that McGehee suffered from Tourette’s syndrome or some other “psychological and/or neurological disorder,” but was hired because his mother is Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s administrative assistant.
Routine psychological tests were waived because of McGehee’s connection to Bradshaw, Kaplan claimed in court papers.
Lawyers for the sheriff’s office weren’t immediately available for comment.
Alvarez’s parents hope to use the money to get their son vocational training so he may one day live independently, Kaplan said.
Charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and burglary with assault or battery after he was shot six times by McGehee, Alvarez was declared incompetent to stand trial. While no longer on house arrest, he can’t leave his house without his mother and father, according to terms set by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx.
At a minimum, Kaplan said he is hoping to relax that restriction. He said he will also try to persuade state prosecutors to drop the charges in light of the settlement of the civil lawsuit. The prosecution is on hold until psychologists agree Alvarez is capable of understanding the charges he faces.
McGehee, who lived across the street from Alvarez and his parents, claimed he was forced to shoot. Alvarez, he claimed, entered his garage, cornered him and ignored his repeated orders to leave. State Attorney Dave Aronberg found the shooting justified.
But, Kaplan argued in court papers, the evidence disputes McGehee’s account. The bullets were fired toward the house, he said. Alvarez, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly after graduating from high school, was just trying to welcome a new neighbor, he said.
Editor’s Note: Because of incomplete information provided by attorney Stuart Kaplan an earlier version of this story said the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was paying the full $600,000 settlement.
The hearing on Trump’s request to throw out the law turned on phrases like “legacy addendum,” “breach” and “deposit refund obligation.” At times, even U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra was confused.
“What are we fighting about?” he asked attorneys at one point.
Lawyers representing roughly 60 members of the club – the site of a much-talked about press conference this month where the GOP presidential front-runner displayed now-defunct Trump Steaks, Trump magazine, Trump water and other products to prove his business savvy – claim more than $6 million is on the line. That is how much they claim their clients are owed in membership fees alone.
Trump attorneys counter that the former members will get their cash when new members join – a practice that has existed since the club was owned by Ritz-Carlton.
Marra, who quizzed both sides at length, said he would rule soon on Trump’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.
For that, Hurley said, Schumack should spent 12 years in prison.
“I really think you got taken by this,” Hurley said. “But you had to know something was wrong.”
Unlike hearings earlier this week, when Signore and his ex-wife, Laura Grande, launched into tear-streaked appeals for leniency, Schumack simply apologized for his actions. His 12-year sentence is less than Signore’s 20-year term but more than the 7-year sentence Grande received. Craig Hipp, vice president of manufacturing, is serving a seven-year sentence.
While some investors said the sentences weren’t harsh enough, a retired aircraft mechanic who lost $192,500 in the scam said he was satisfied. “I guess I’ve got a soft heart,” said Fred Myers, who purchased 55 electronic kiosks with the hope of earning big returns. “This will give them a lot of time to think.”
Myers, who lives outside Atlanta, Ga., said Schumack was the link to him and other Delta Air Lines employees. A former Delta worker knew Schumack through his successful and legitimate ATM sales business. That worker spread the word about Schumack’s new venture, Myers said.
Looking thinner than he did in December when he, Signore and Grande were convicted of multiple counts of fraud and money-laundering, Schumack acknowledged he took advantage of contacts he made in his ATM business.
“My investors weren’t just names in a phone book. They were friends, people I knew,” he said of those he urged to buy the phony kiosks. “I promoted these machines without checking further. I didn’t see the warning signs. Maybe I just didn’t want to.”
Caddy testified that Schumack lacks basic analytical skills. “He’s gullible to a profound fault,” he said. “He wants to believe people.”
That made him easy prey for Signore. “Mr. Schumack had a successful business model, but Mr. Signore had better talents as a sociopath,” he said.
Others also took advantage of Schumack. Worried about his fading sexual prowess, Schumack began buying testosterone from a former professional wrestler. He then gave the wrestler $1 million for a dubious venture without any contract in place to assure he would share in any profits, Caddy said.
“He was available emotionally, intellectually, spiritually to be manipulated,” Caddy said.
Such blind spots don’t excuse Schumack, Hurley said. He had to realize that investors who plunked down $3,500 for each machine with the promise of $300 in monthly returns weren’t getting paid. Further, while telling investors the machines were being placed in hospitals, hotels, casinos and sports venues, Schumack had to know few had been built and few advertisements, key to generating profits, were sold.
“As chief of sales, it’s inconceivable that you would not know they were not building the machines,” Hurley said.
Of the 22,000 machines that were sold, only 84 were produced. Meanwhile, Schumack and his wife bought a $1.5 million house in Coconut Creek and rented a beachfront condo in Highland Beach for $62,000 a month.
Some early investors were paid with money from those who invested later. Others persuaded credit-card companies to reverse the charges. Still, $31 million disappeared.
With the criminal action over, except for promised appeals, attention will turn to court-appointed receiver James Sallah. He has recovered about $8 million and has filed a series of lawsuits to get more for the victims.
Myers said he knows he will get “five cents on the dollar” from Sallah’s efforts. Hurley agreed. “There’s not any real hope these folks are going to be truly compensated,” he said.
Joseph Signore’s attempts to curry favor with a federal judge by lauding himself as a bighearted champion of the underdog and blaming others for turning his virtual concierge enterprise into an $80 million scam backfired spectacularly on Monday.
“This establishes that you are either delusional or you are a major fraud artist,” Hurley said of Signore’s claims of innocence. “Your performance today … (shows) you are either deluding yourself or have such a twisted view of reality you would go out and do it again.”
The hearing took so long that Hurley again ran out of time to decide what punishment former Coconut Creek resident Paul Schumack should receive for his role in the scam that operated out of plush offices west of Jupiter. Time constraints prevented Hurley from sentencing the two men and Signore’s ex-wife last week.
Schumack, 58, who faces a maximum 19½ years in prison, is to return to court Thursday. Laura Grande, 42, a former waitress who divorced her husband of three years last month, is to learn her fate today.
Victims of the massive scheme said the sentence was too lenient. “He should have gotten more — he took away homes, retirement years and broke up marriages,” said Kristen Dalton, a New York City woman who lost thousands in the scam. “Twenty years is just not enough.”
Still, the hearing underscored the perils of testifying at length about matters that can easily be contradicted.
But despite his lengthy recitation of various good deeds, records showed that Signore in 2004 was convicted in New Jersey for forging the titles to cars that were to auctioned off for charity. Signore pocketed $11,575 that was to go to the national Muscular Dystrophy Association and another charity, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton. Ultimately, the restitution Signore was ordered to pay came from those who invested in the virtual concierge scam, he said.
“That doesn’t sound like a bighearted person,” Hurley said.
Hurley also rejected Signore’s attempts to smear Schumack by claiming the West Point graduate drained the virtual concierge operation without his knowledge. Schumack, who ran a successful ATM rental business before agreeing to sell the kiosks, sent Signore all the money he took from investors, after taking out his cut for commissions, Carlton said.
“It is a blatant disregard of the truth,” Carlton said of Signore’s claims that Schumack took advantage of him when he was busy building the business.
Hurley agreed, pointing out that evidence during the two-month trial clearly showed that Signore was the mastermind of the operation while Schumack and Grande were his accomplices.
Signore concocted a plan to bilk people by promising them returns of $10,800 on a roughly $3,500 investment in an electronic kiosk, Carlton said. The purported uses for the kiosks would vary depending on whether they were placed at hotels, hospitals, casinos or sports venues. For instance, ones placed at Roger Dean Stadium on Donald Ross Road to lure investors allowed people to order food without waiting in line.
Investors were told they would earn $300 a month over 36 months from advertising that would be placed on each machine. But evidence showed, of the 22,500 kiosks that were ordered, only 84 were produced and almost no advertising was sold.
Some early investors were paid with money that came from those who invested later. Some late investors eventually persuaded their credit-card companies to reject the charges. Still, the total loss was $31 million. And, Hurley said, Signore was the prime beneficiary.
“You were siphoning off the money completely,” he said.
While Signore blamed Schumack, company employees, its lawyer and accountant for his downfall, he had kind words for his ex-wife.
Ignoring the fact that Grande, like Schumack, unsuccessfully tried to convince jurors that Signore duped her into believing the operation was legitimate, Signore urged Hurley to show her mercy. “She was my angel,” Signore insisted. “She was my life.”
But mostly, Signore said, he was just confused about his predicament.”I don’t know why I was put through this,” he said, his voice cracking. “I wish I was a guilty man. It would be a lot easier to swallow.”
With one glaring exception, a federal judge on Thursday cleared the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office of allegations that it intentional destroyed or hid evidence to thwart a multi-million lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Adams, who was shot and killed by Sgt. Michael Custer four years ago.
While attributing most of the agency’s lapses to negligence or technological glitches, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley said he was still “deeply concerned” that it allowed Custer’s cellphone to disappear.
“I’m disturbed that it was treated so carelessly as it came down the line,” Hurley said at the conclusion of an all-day hearing that included testimony about why the sheriff’s office destroyed Custer’s laptop, didn’t promptly provide emails that were exchanged about the shooting and waited months before revealing the GPS locations of Custer and five other officers who were nearby on the night of the May 2012 shooting.
Before deciding whether the phone’s disappearance warranted sanctions against the agency, Hurley said he wanted to do additional research. He said he was torn between whether the agency acted in bad faith or was “extraordinarily negligent.” He promised to issue a written order soon.
Adams’ parents, who sat in the courtroom throughout the roughly eight-hour hearing, were clearly distressed by Hurley’s rulings. But, their attorney, Wallace McCall, described them as bumps in an already pot-filled road, not fatal blows.
“The important thing is nothing he ruled on today will effect the outcome of this case,” he said. “Michael Custer unjustifiably shot and killed Seth Adams.”
He said he expects a jury will agree when it hears the evidence at a trial he expects to be held next year.
Attorneys for the sheriff’s office declined comment.
The debate often turned on technical computer terms and legal considerations that U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley must weigh while considering whether the agency should be sanctioned. For instance, PBSO attorneys claim all of the information on Custer’s laptop was stored on servers at the agency so it doesn’t matter that the hard drive was shredded when he was due for an upgrade. Further, they claim, attorneys representing Adams’ family in the multi-million-dollar wrongful death case didn’t ask for the laptop until after it had been destroyed.
Still, even Hurley acknowledged that having the information on the laptop would help attorney Wallace McCall, who is representing Adams’ family, sort out what happened in May 2012 when Custer shot the 24-year-old Loxahatchee Groves resident as he was returning to his family’s garden shop on A Road, off Okeechobee Boulevard, where he also lived. All agreed that there could be some information that wasn’t saved on PBSO servers.
“We can all see there might have been a benefit in saving the hard drive,” Hurley said.
The laptop and Custer’s cellphone are among several items McCall claims the agency intentionally destroyed to thwart the lawsuit. He also claims the agency initially claimed it couldn’t give him GPS information that would show where Custer and six other officers were on the night of the shooting.
Attorney Summer Barranco, who represents the sheriff’s office and Custer, attributed the failure to a simple mistake. Instead of searching agency computer records for GPS readings on May 16, 2012, it searched May 16, 2014. When the error was discovered, the information for most of the officers was provided. For some reason, no information was available to pinpoint Custer’s location.
Hurley suggested the agency may have to pay McCall for the time he wasted, trying to get the information that was readily available but for the gaffe. He suggested that the attorneys negotiate a reasonable amount.
While U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley called the agency’s actions “deplorable” at a previous hearing, he said he wanted to hear additional testimony before deciding what action, if any, to take.
If he finds the destruction of Sgt. Michael Custer’s laptop and the disappearance of his cellphone particularly egregious, he could decide the case in favor of Adams’ grieving family. Then, a jury would be asked only to decide how much money the family deserves to be compensated for Adams’ death.
However, Hurley could decide to fine the agency or take other steps to remedy the loss of evidence he acknowledged could have provided key information about why Custer fatally shot Adams as he was returning to his family’s garden shop on A Road, off Okeechobee Boulevard, where he also lived.
Custer claims he shot Adams, fearing he was reaching into his pickup truck for a gun. Instead, the unarmed Adams was grabbing his cell phone.
At the last hearing in November, attorney Wallace McCall, who represents Adams’ family in what is expected to be a multi-million lawsuit, showed Hurley emails in which a deputy indicated that the disappearance of the cellphone was part of “an evil plan.”
However, the lieutenant who received the email testified the “evil plan” had nothing to do with the cellphone. Custer claims he turned it over to the agency’s communications unit as he was told to do so by higher ups. It was never logged in.
Sheriff’s officials speculate that because it was an older model, workers mistakenly gave it to the Domestic Violence Unit. It gives old phones to battered women to use in emergencies.
The laptop, meanwhile, was also an older model, sheriff’s officials have said. It was destroyed as part of a routine practice when deputies are given upgraded computers.
The hearing is expected to last all day.
Hurley has already ruled that the sheriff’s office can’t be sued for violating Adams’ constitutional rights but Custer can be. Custer last month appealed that ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
If the Atlanta-based court upholds Hurley’s ruling, Adams’ family would be in the same situation as Dontrell Stephens. The 22-year-old West Palm Beach man was awarded $22.4 million last month by a federal jury. It ruled that Deputy Adams Lin in 2013 had no reason to shoot Stephens, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
State law places a $200,000 limit on the amount of damages government agencies can be forced to pay for wrongdoing. The only way Stephens can get the full amount is to persuade the Florida Legislature to waive the cap. The caps, however, don’t protect a government agency if it is found to have violated someone’s constitutional rights.
A 43-year-old Palm Beach County man on Tuesday was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in a $3 million heist from a Riviera Beach armored truck facility, a crime that took FBI agents three years to solve.
Sircorey Wilder is the third of three men to be convicted and sentenced in connection with the bold September 2012 robbery at Garda Cash Logistics. Darryl Peterkine, 39, of Riviera Beach, is serving a 15 1/2-year sentence. Hjalmar Towns, 30, a Riviera Beach man who worked at the money-handling facility on Garden Road, is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence on top of another 14-year term in connection with an 2013 attempted robbery of a Garda armored truck.
A fourth man, Michael Sheffield, was shot dead outside his Riviera Beach home in January 2013. Identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in court records, his murder is believed to have been connected to the robbery, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aurora Fagan told U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg. No one has been charged.
Lauren Fleischer Louis, who represents Wilder, pleaded for leniency for her client, arguing that he had cooperated with federal prosecutors and helped them identify the two others involved in what turned out to be an inside job. But, Fagan told Rosenberg, Wilder had a selective memory.
The owner of Rumbass nightclub and his brother have been sentenced to 9-year prison terms for their roles in what federal prosecutors described as a $3 million staged accident scheme that ripped off dozens of insurance companies.
Janio and Jharildan “Harold” Vico were sentenced last week after a nearly all-day hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg. She also ordered Janio Vico, 32, who owned the Military Trail dance club, and his 34-year-old brother to pay $1.9 million in restitution.
A jury in October convicted the Lake Worth area brothers of 16 charges, including money laundering and mail fraud, in connection with V&V Rehabilitation, a clinic the brothers operated from 2009 to 2011 on 10th Avenue North near Boutwell Road.
Prosecutors claimed the clinic was a sham. No real treatment was offered and few of the patients who went there were actually injured, they said.
Like dozens of others who have been prosecuted in recent years, the two were taking advantage of the state law that requires Florida drivers to carry personal injury protection insurance and insurers to pay up to $10,000 for each person injured in a crash, a jury found.
The brothers hired people to get involved in traffic accidents and then billed insurance companies for treatment their clients either didn’t need or didn’t receive. The key to the operation was a chiropractor, who allowed the brothers to use her license to operate the clinic. The chiropractor, Jennifer Adams, was previously convicted, and testified against the brothers during the three-week trial.
Claiming the clinic was a legitimate health care operation, lawyers representing the Vicos have vowed to appeal the verdict.