Legislature agrees two former PBC students can be paid for horrific injuries

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.

Dustin Reinhardt holds his dog Deedee while visiting his home in Loxahatchee in 2014. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Altavious “Tae” Carter before he enrolled in Eckerd College in St. Petersburg in 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

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.

 

Dr. Salomon Melgen made and lost millions by multi-dosing elderly patients

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.

Dr. Salomon Melgen, 62, arrives at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach this week.(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

 

Dalia Dippolito retrial: vast majority of jurors have heard about the case

More than three quarters of a pool of 96 prospective jurors for Dalia Dippolito’s retrial have already heard about her caught-on-camera alleged murder for hire plot.

The dozens of hands that went up Friday when Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley asked who heard about the case will undoubtedly bolster a last-minute request from the former Boynton Beach newlywed’s defense team to pick jurors from outside Palm Beach County.

The request, which Kelley has yet to decide, comes on the second day of jury selection in what has become Palm Beach County’s most widely publicized recent case aside from the two DUI manslaughter trials of former Wellington polo club founder John Goodman.

In Dippolito’s case, about half of a pool of 100 initial jurors questioned Thursday had already heard about the case.

Defense attorney Brian Claypool after court appeared untroubled by those numbers. But Friday morning, he said that after having a chance to sleep on it and talk to Dippolito, he was now concerned and wanted to move the case out of Palm Beach County.

Those fears shave culminated so far with a request for a change of venue before jurors were brought in this morning, and a more recent request from defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld to throw out the entire panel after hearing how many had heard of the case.

Kelley has rebuffed both requests so far, but after his last denial, he commented on the number of prospective jurors who had hear about the case.

“I’ll comment parenthetically that it’s disconcerting, but…” Kelley said with a slight shrug, his voice training off.

On Thursday, most jurors who had heard about the case were dismissed after Kelley questioned them individually and learned they had heard information both the judge and attorneys on both sides have agreed should be kept from jurors.

That includes the fact that Dippolito was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison before the case was overturned on appeal, that Dippolito was working as an escort when she met her now ex-husband Michael and that the 2009 Boynton Beach case was featured on an episode of the television show COPS.

Dippolito, 34, is charged with asking an undercover police officer posing as a hitman to kill her then-husband in 2009.

Dippolito’s 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in the case was overturned on appeal because Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath should have questioned jurors individually instead of as a group about what they knew about the case.

Man who killed friend after years of ridicule asks for light sentence

Ronald Hight booking photo
Ronald Hight booking photo

Attorneys for a Royal Palm Beach man who shot and killed his friend because he was fed up with years of the man’s threats and putdowns pleaded with a judge Monday to keep him out of prison.

Ronald Hight, who hung his head through most of his sentencing hearing, was set to receive his sentence Monday, a month after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in Craig Rivera’s January 2013 shooting death.

But because Hight’s attorneys wanted Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to review some more letters on Hight’s behalf along with a report outlining claims that Hight suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Kelley postponed the pronouncement of Hight’s sentence to Dec. 15.

The sentencing hearing comes on Hight’s 28th birthday and nearly three years after the January 2013 shooting during what was supposed to be a gathering to celebrate Hight’s 25th birthday.

According to Hight’s arrest report, Hight and Rivera’s friendship was one marked by Rivera’s constant putdowns and belittlement of his younger friend. Rivera, 41, of Wellington, worked with Hight and according to witnesses had a habit of touching Hight inappropriately, joking that the two had a sexual relationship and making other derogatory comments towards him.

“What he told the investigators what that he was fed up,” Assistant State Attorney Lauren Godden said Monday.

Still, witnesses told police, Hight’s family still had an “open door policy” at their Royal Palm Beach home for Rivera They never witnessed Rivera being physically violent with Hight, they said, and the two had lunch together the afternoon before the shooting.

By that night, however, Hight told witnesses that he had “a bad feeling” about earlier threats from Rivera to beat him up.

So when Rivera confronted Hight and approached him after ridiculing him during a party at Hight’s family home, Hight took out his .40 caliber Glock and shot the 41-year-old Wellington man once in the head.

“He outweighed him by 100 pounds, he was standing in his face, it’s clear who the aggressor was here,” defense attorney Scott Berry told Kelley, reminding the judge of his arguments during trial that Hight acted in self-defense.

Godden and felow prosecutor Aaron Papero asked Kelley to sentence Hight to 20 years in prison. Berry and attorneys Thomas Gano and Donnie Murrell asked Kelley to depart from the minimum 10-year recommended sentence, asking for county jail time and probation.

Berry cited Hight’s lack of a prior criminal record, and Rivera’s alleged role as the aggressor of the conflict. In Hight’s statement to detectives, played for jurors during his October trial, Berry characterized Hight as “crying, upset, and feeling for Mr. Rivera’s family.”

“Again, these are all signs of remorse for what happened here,” Berry said.

Stella and Patricia Rivera, Rivera’s 15-year-old twin daughters, told Kelley in a letter that the death of their father has shattered their family.

Because their mother is incarcerated, Rivera, who had himself been arrested six times since 1992, was a single father.

“My father can never be around ever, because of this man’s action,” Stella Rivera wrote in a letter Godden read aloud. “All my family wants if for this man to get what he deserves.”

Seth Adams case headed to trial after court denies officer’s appeal

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams' Loxahatchee Groves nursery. Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams' family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.
PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams’ Loxahatchee Groves nursery.
Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams’ family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeal has denied a request to throw out a multi-million lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Adams against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant who shot and killed him more than four years ago.

Attorneys for Sgt. Michael Custer filed a motion to throw out the case with the high court earlier this year. The court’s denial means the case could be headed to trail sometime next year.

“We are pleased that the Appellate Court agreed that there is no physical evidence to support Sergeant Custer’s version of events,” said Wallace McCall of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the firm representing the Adams family. “We look forward to trial so that the public will be able to understand what really happened that night.”

Custer fatally shot Adams, a 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.

Afterwards, Custer claimed he shot Adams, fearing he was reaching into his pickup truck for a gun. Instead, the unarmed Adams was grabbing his cell phone.

In March, a judge mostly cleared PBSO of wrongdoing amid allegations that it intentional destroyed or hid evidence to thwart the lawsuit – including the laptop and cell phone Custer used that night.

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.

Attorney Summer Barranco, who represents the sheriff’s office and Custer, attributed the failures to a simple mistake.

Deputy who guarded John Goodman gets go-ahead in suit against PBSO

A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy can proceed with her lawsuit, claiming she was unfairly disciplined by Sheriff Ric Bradshaw for simply telling the truth about a strange incident involving now-imprisoned Wellington polo mogul John Goodman, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw at the site of a deputy-involved shooting that critically injured a person Thursday morning, July 30, 2015, on Lakewood Road near South Military Trail in Palm Springs. PBSO said a deputy shot a person at 5:15 a.m. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The 4th District Court of Appeal rejected Bradshaw’s request to toss out the lawsuit filed by Deputy Bridgette Bott. She was  one of Goodman’s security guards when he was on house arrest before he was convicted a second time of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed 23-year-old Scott Wilson.

ID Photo
ID Photo

Bradshaw argued that Bott should have sought administrative relief before filing a lawsuit. The appeals court ruled that none was available.

In a lawsuit filed by attorney Sid Garcia, Bott claims she was unfairly docked 40 hours pay when she didn’t side with other deputies who said Goodman in 2012 tried to disable his ankle monitor while on house arrest.  In addition, she claims she was banned from the lucrative security detail that Goodman was forced to bankroll as a condition of being allowed to stay out of jail.

Ultimately, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Goodman had tried to break the monitor and allowed him to remain on house arrest. Goodman, heir to a Texas air conditioning and heating business, is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Jamal Smith guilty of murder, gets life in prison

Jamal Smith
Jamal Smith

A Palm Beach County jury today found Jamal Smith guilty of first-degree murder for the 2011 shooting death Kemar Clayton.

After the jury delivered its verdict, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton sentenced Smith to life in prison for the murder charge plus a consecutive 50 years in prions for an armed robbery conviction.
Clayton’s family, seated in the courtroom, declined to address the judge before he sentenced Smith. On her way out of the courthouse, Clayton’s mother said she was happy with the verdict and sentence for Smith but didn’t elaborate any further as she and other relatives walked out.

Smith’s family expressed audible shock at both the guilty verdict and the life sentence, which was mandatory with the first-degree murder conviction.

Two male relatives left the courtroom with harsh words for the justice system. A young woman put her head in her hands and sobbed.

“The police kill black men every day and they get to go home,” one of Smith’s aunts shouted, to no one in particular, as she left the courtroom.

Smith himself showed anger at his sentence. At one point, after hearing Burton’s life in prison sentence, he stood and pushed his chair into the table and said some words that led deputies to handcuff him and take him back to a holding cell.

When Burton asked deputies to bring him back in to pronounce his sentence on the robbery charges, he stood the entire time and leaned back against the two deputies who stood behind him.

The jury began deciding the case Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from Assistant State Attorneys John Parnofiello and Andrew Slater and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who presented jurors with two different versions of what happened when Clayton met Smith and Quentin Lythgoe hoping to buy an iPad from them.

Lythgoe testified last week that the iPad sale was just a ruse used to lure Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 so he and Smith could rob him. At some point during the robbery, Lythgoe said, Clayton tried to go for his own gun, and Smith shot him to death.

Parnofiello told jurors that the killing was not an accident, but rather a possibility Smith had planned for in the four days he planned the robbery.

Ramsey, on the other hand, reiterated Smith’s testimony in his own defense, telling jurors that physical evidence in the case fails to support prosecutors’ theory that Clayton was still reaching for the gun when Smith starting shooting.

 

State: Frederick Cobia won’t testify in Jamal Smith murder trial

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

On what could be the last full day of testimony in 24-year-old Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday that they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant whose presence in the case sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will likely rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton Friday and will not call Cobia as a witness.

Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he says he’s obtained confessions from other defendants, told deputies that Smith confessed his involvement in Clayton’s death while the two were housed together at the Palm Beach County Jail.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought hard since last year to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records last year transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.

The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox afterwards had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.

As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, the most damaging testimony against him now will likely be from co-defendant Quentin Lythgoe, who on Thuesday completed his testimony against his former friend.

Lythgoe told jurors that Smith lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Lythgoe, allowed him to plead guilty to robbery charges and capped a sentence recommendation at 15 years in prison.

Dalia Dippolito retrial set for December despite possible appeal

Dalia Dippolito in court Tuesday, February 23, 2016 during a pretrial hearing. The 33-year-old Dippolito is facing a May retrial on 2009 charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito. She has pleaded not guilty. Dalia Dippolito is expected to testify that a former lover threatened her with a gun and pressured her to speak to the hit man who was actually an undercover police officer. The case gained national notoriety because "Cops" happened to be filming with the Boynton Beach police.     (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Dalia Dippolito in court Tuesday, February 23, 2016 during a pretrial hearing. The 33-year-old Dippolito is facing a May retrial on 2009 charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito. She has pleaded not guilty. Dalia Dippolito is expected to testify that a former lover threatened her with a gun and pressured her to speak to the hit man who was actually an undercover police officer. The case gained national notoriety because “Cops” happened to be filming with the Boynton Beach police. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The upcoming holiday season could mark the start of a retrial for Dalia Dippolito, the one-time Boynton Beach newlywed caught on camera in an alleged plot to hire a hitman to kill her husband.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley in a four-minute hearing Monday set a Dec. 1 retrial date for Dippolito, who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison on a solicitation to commit murder charge before her case was overturned on appeal.

Since then, Dippolito and her legal team have been trying to get her case thrown out altogether, arguing primarily that police forced her former lover into helping them in an undercover investigation where they entrapped the 33-year-old to make a good episode of the television show COPS.

Kelley himself rejected Dippolito’s request earlier this year, and an appellate court recently refused to hear an appeal of that ruling.

Three weeks ago, Dippolito’s lawyers took the case to Florida’s Supreme Court, claiming the actions of police were so “reprehensible” that they violated Dippolito’s constitutional right to due process.

As of Monday, the high court had not decided whether they would consider the matter.

Kelley told Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams and defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh that he would set the trial for December and postpone if necessary.

In hearings on her casse earlier this year, Dippolito said she, her now ex-husband Michael Dippolito, and her former lover Mohamed Shihedeh all conspired to fabricate a plot to kill her husband in the hopes that it would land them all acting jobs.

Scott appoints Weiss, Rowe as circuit judges

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoGov. Rick Scott on Friday filled two openings on the Palm Beach County Circuit bench.

He appointed County Judge Daliah H. Weiss to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Circuit Judge John L. Phillips, and he appointed Cymonie S. Rowe to fill the open spot created by the resignation of Circuit Judge Amy Smith.

Weiss, 46, of Wellington, has been a county court judge since 2012. She was an assistant state attorney from 1996-2012. Weiss received her bachelor’s degree from Emory University and her law degree from the Villanova Law School.

Rowe, 47, of Boca Raton, has been a senior trial attorney for Liberty Mutual since 2007. She previously was an attorney with Green, Ackerman & Frost, P.A. Rowe received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University.