Perhaps in an attempt to find the truth behind what President Trump has decried as “fake news,” requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act have soared since he took office, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Syracuse University.
The 63 public record lawsuits filed in April represented a 25-year high, said officials at The FOIA Project at the Newhouse School at the New York university said. Further, with 60 lawsuits filed already in May, it, too, is likely to be another record-setting month, they said.
Information sought includes records on Trump’s executive orders and last month’s missile attack on Syria. Lawsuits have also been filed to get warrant applications for surveillance activities and internal agency communications about China. People and organizations are also seeking paperwork about actions taken by the new director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and border searches by the Department of Homeland Security.
If the pace continues, university officials said they expect more than 579 public records lawsuits will be filed before the fiscal year ends in Sept. 30. By comparison, 512 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits were filed during the last fiscal year of the Obama Administration.
Two former Palm Beach County high school students – one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School – are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.
In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. He has already received $300,000 from the school district.
The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.
Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.
In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 before government agencies can pay people who are injured by wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.
In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth in 2011. Both he and his 10-year-old twin sister, Nubia, had been sprayed with pesticides. Nubia Barahona didn’t survive.
Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
Former Florida Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year.
Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.
Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.
With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has C.H.M, is still waiting to see if the legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.
The money is to help C.H.M. deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.
This year appears to be a good ones for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.
A West Palm Beach strip club owes eight California models as much as $1.8 million for using their photos to lure customers without their permission, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
In the lawsuit against Ultra Gentlemen’s Lounge, Miami attorney Sarah Cabarcas Osman claims the eight women are top-flight models and business women who never authorized the club on Congress Avenue to use their photos in promotional advertisements.
The club, formerly operated as T’s Lounge, “gained an economic windfall by using the images of professional and successful models for (its) own commercial purposes,” Osman wrote. In addition to not being paid, the woman “sustained injury to their images, brands and marketability by shear affiliation with Ultra Lounge and the type of club (it is),” she wrote.
In an affidavit attached to the lawsuit, a Los Angles modeling agent estimated the club owes the women $1.78 million for using their photos.
Dr. Salomon Melgen’s practice of using a single vial of a drug to treat multiple elderly patients for a wet macular degeneration went from being a bonanza to a bust, according to those who testified Wednesday in the Palm Beach County ophthalmologist’s trial on 76 charges of health care fraud.
When the U.S. Supreme Court two weeks ago refused to hear Melgen’s appeal in his long-running dispute with federal health regulators, it dashed his hopes of recouping millions he repaid Medicare when it claimed he wrongly used one vial of the pricey drug Lucentis to treat as many as four patients, a practice known as multi-dosing.
But federal prosecutors, who claim Melgen bilked Medicare out of as much as $105 million by multi-dosing, misdiagnosing and mistreating scores of elderly patients, said millions more are at stake.
The high court’s decision means Melgen won’t be able to get back the $8.9 million he repaid Medicare for multi-dosing patients at clinics in West Palm Beach, Wellington, Delray Beach and Port St. Lucie in 2007 and 2008. But, Medicare officials also want the wealthy, politically-connected retinal specialist to repay another roughly $32 million for multi-dosing patients from 2009 to 2013.
An attorney, whose Washington-based firm has been paid about $5 million to represent Melgen in his unsuccessful legal battle with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, told a federal jury that Melgen is appealing the agency’s claims that he owes it additional money. The appeals, attorney Alan Reider acknowledged, could stretch on for years.
Melgen’s attorneys – including one that works for the same Washington, D.C. law firm as Reider – argued that Melgen’s practice of multi-dosing didn’t cost the Medicare program a dime. Had Melgen bought separate vials of Lucentis for each of his patients, the agency would have reimbursed Melgen roughly $2,000 for each one.
But, prosecutors countered, the practice was lucrative for Melgen. Instead of buying separate vials of Lucentis for three or sometimes four patients, he bought one. But he was reimbursed as if he bought one for each patient.
That means if he used one vial to treat three patients, instead of getting back roughly $2,000 for a single vial, he got back about $6,000. If he used it to treat four patients, he got nearly $8,000.
The trial, which began last month, continues today. Melgen also faces corruption charges in New Jersey along with his longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. His multi-dosing of Lucentis, and Menendez’s attempts to intervene in his dispute with federal regulators, figure into the prosecution’s case there as well.
When attorneys tell judges they want off a case, they routinely cite “irreconcilable differences,” which typically means they haven’t been paid.
But, when a Jupiter attorney decided he no longer wanted to represent former North Palm Beach jeweler Anthony Simpson, he felt compelled to apologize to the judge and lawyers representing a New Jersey woman who is trying to evict Simpson from his home. Court records show he deeded it to her in 2015 in exchange for $450,000.
“My credibility is all I have and I have been lied to repeatedly by (Simpson),” attorney David Kuschel wrote in a motion filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court earlier this month. “I did not become an attorney to abuse the judicial system or to lie to other members of the Florida Bar and the Court.”
Like others who have dealt with the former owner of Shamrock Jewelers on Northlake Boulevard, Kuschel said he believed Simpson when he told him he had “a financial backer.” Simpson promised repeatedly that the anonymous benefactor would give him $600,000 to settle the eviction lawsuit filed against him by Jodi Monell, as trustee of two family-owned trusts in Colts Neck, N.J., Kuschel wrote.
Kuschel said he met with people who were interested in buying Simpson’s home but that they didn’t understand the urgency of doing so. “Apparently, (Simpson) also misrepresented facts to the financial backers,” he wrote.
“The undersigned counsel does not know what else he can do, hence withdrawing from this action is my best course of action,” he wrote in the request.
In 2015, Simpson repeatedly told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Erik Kimball he had “an angel” who would repay those who invested roughly $12 million in Rollaguard, a company he formed to produce a high-tech brief case. When the anonymous benefactor never appeared, Kimball put a bankruptcy trustee in charge of Rollaguard and Shamrock, who closed them both.
Trustee Robert Furr has filed dozens of lawsuits trying to recover millions from those who made money on both Shamrock and Rollaguard at the expense of others. Simpson also faces charges in Louisiana for writing bad checks to a diamond broker there.
Circuit Judge Edward Artau has scheduled a hearing on April 17 on Monell’s request to order Simpson out of his Oyster Road home.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has accepted a position as head of the Global Compliance and Investigations team at the international law firm Holland & Knight.
The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, will put Ferrer in charge of corporate compliance and government investigations for the firm’s white-collar defense division.
Company officials said Ferrer, who with seven years as U.S. Attorney was the South Florida office’s longest-serving top prosecutor since the 1970s, will focus on both domestic and international clients.
“Over my many years in the South Florida community, I’ve been very impressed by the caliber and professionalism of Holland & Knight attorneys, many of whom I count as friends,” Ferrer aid in the news release. “The firm has an outstanding reputation in the profession and also embodies a culture that is deeply committed to giving back to the community. I look forward to contributing to its continued success.”
Ferrer will work at the firm’s Miami office, one of its 27 branches worldwide.
Former Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd, who heads Holland & Knight’s West Palm Beach office, attributed Ferrer’s move in part to an opportunity to reunite with the head of the firm’s litigation section, John Hogan.
Ferrer previously worked with Hogan at the Department of Justice while Mr. Hogan was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
“I think it’s great to have Willy as part of the the team,” Shepherd said, later adding: “He’s a real trial attorney, both from the county attorney’s office in Miami-Dade and as Assistant U.S. Attorney, so he brings new depth to an already strong national team.”
A devout Roman Catholic, he has eight adult children.
He will preside in the upcoming health-care fraud trial of Palm Beach County ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Separately, Melgen faces corruption charges in New Jersey with his longtime pal U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Some of Marra’s other notable cases include: Joseph Zada, who was convicted of mail fraud for stealing at least $37 million from an estimated 45 victims, including former NHL hockey star Sergei Fedorov. He is also handling a case in which victims of sexual abuse by Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Epstein are accusing federal prosecutors of violating the Victims’ Rights Act by not telling them about the non-prosecution agreement they signed.
In ruling against Trump on Wednesday, in a decision involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra made it clear he meant the new president no disrespect when he referred to him simply as Donald Trump or D. Trump throughout the 22-page order.
“At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump was a private citizen. As a result, the Court will refer to him as such in this decision. In doing so, the Court means no disrespect to him or to the esteemed position he now holds.”
A Boca Raton probate and guardianship lawyer has renewed his efforts to have Donald Trump declared mentally unfit to serve as president of the United States.
Attorney James Herb said Trump’s actions over the last 10 days – fighting over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, insisting he really won the popular vote and inciting international turmoil with an immigration ban – reinforce his earlier claims that part-time Palm Beach resident is delusional.
A similar guardianship petition Herb filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in the run-up to the November election was thrown out by Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman. As a state court judge, Goodman said he had no power to block Trump’s candidacy or remove him from office. Further, he ruled, Herb didn’t have a relationship with Trump that would allow him to ask that the real estate tycoon be declared incompetent.
Herb said he has addressed those legal obstacles in a new petition filed Monday. “I did not have a relationship with him but I now do because he’s my president,” Herb said.
Further, he said, he’s not asking a judge to remove Trump from office. That would be done in accordance with a process outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Herb said he is simply asking a judge to appoint a team of experts to evaluate the new chief executive’s mental health. If Trump is found incompetent by the three-person panel, the judge could then limit his activities.
In the petition, Herb is asking that Trump be barred from “seeking or retaining employment.” In an asterisks, he notes that he is asking Trump be prohibited from “retaining employment as President of the United States.” If a judge agrees to the limitation, the order would be forwarded to federal officials capable of removing him from office.
As he did in the previous petition, Herb claims Trump exhibits signs of narcissism and histrionic personality disorder. Both are recognized as mental illnesses by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since taking office, Trump has also exhibited signs of being delusional, Herb wrote.
Herb, who was criticized as a publicity-hound after filing the first petition in October, said his actions aren’t part of some self-serving publicity stunt. A longtime guardianship and probate lawyer, he said his practice is now primarily limited to wills and trusts.
“I’m not interested in getting business. I have plenty of business,” he said.
His goal, he said, is much more far-reaching. “I’m trying to save the world,” he said.
He is not alone in his suspicion that Trump is mentally unfit to be president. A group calling itself “We The People,” on Sunday started an online petition to “Demand Congress Require an Independent Expert Panel Determine the President’s Psychiatric Stability to Protect America.” If they get 99,999 signatures by Feb. 28, the White House by law has to respond.
Treatment center operator Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman on Thursday pleaded not guilty to a sweeping 17-count indictment that accuses him of money laundering, health-care fraud and sex trafficking, a charge that could send him to prison to life.
The indictment, handed up Tuesday, showcases federal prosecutors plan to shut down what they called the 46-year-old suburban Boynton Beach man’s illicit drug treatment empire that stretched from Mangonia Park in Palm Beach County to Plantation in Broward County and brought in an estimated $5.4 million.
The five others, who were released on bond after being charged in a criminal complaint last month, also pleaded not guilty to the new charges this week. A sixth, who was not originally charged, is to appear in court Monday.
“It’s the beginning of a long journey,” Chatman’s attorney Saam Zangeneh said after the brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate William Matthewman. He pledged to vigorously defend Chatman, who remains jailed as a flight risk and a danger to the community.
At a previous hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafana suggested she would also ask a grand jury to indict Chatman in connection with overdose deaths that she said occurred at the sober homes he operated. But, she said, those charges would take more time to prepare. Chatman was not charged in connection with any deaths.
Still the charges he faces in connection with his involvement with Journey to Recovery in suburban Lake Worth and Reflections Treatment Center in Margate along with dozens of sober homes are serious. Journey to Recovery and Reflections were both licensed drug treatment centers. As a convicted felon, Chatman was barred from holding the licenses so he and his wife illegally told authorities she was operating them, according to the indictment.
Rather than treating patients, the indictment claims Chatman made a fortune by taking advantage of them along with insurance companies. He turned female patients into prostitutes. He paid kickbacks to five laboratories – in South and Central Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania – to get them to test bogus urine samples, according to the indictment.
In addition to Chatman and his wife, also indicted were: Joaquin Mendez and Donald Willems, both doctors; Fransesia Davis, who worked at the two treatment centers; Michael Bonds, a sober home operator; and Stefan Gatt, who worked at a lab in Central Florida.