<![CDATA[NBC 6 South Florida - Miami Political News and South Florida Politics]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC+6+LOGO+GOOGLE.png NBC 6 South Florida http://www.nbcmiami.com en-us Sat, 19 Apr 2014 15:50:40 -0400 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 15:50:40 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[CA State Senator Arrested]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 19:15:19 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/03-26-2014-leland-yee-leaves-court.jpg

California state Sen. Leland Yee is facing a slew of corruption charges as part of a massive FBI sting operation that surfaced allegations of firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire and drug distribution.

A federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accuses the San Francisco Democrat of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state Legislature, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.

He was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

Yee and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, were among 26 defendants charged in the federal criminal complaint Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said. 

The federal criminal complaint, filed on March 24, charges the defendants with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and honest services fraud, the FBI announced. According to the affidavit

If convicted on all charges, Yee could face more than 100 years in prison. His bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, with the provision that he not leave the state. He was released from custody late Wednesday afternoon.

Yee is due back in court on Monday.

Chow's charges include money laundering and conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.

One of the places the FBI searched Wednesday was at the San Francisco Chinatown office of the Chee Kung Tong at 36 Spofford Street, where Chow, a notorious former Chinatown gangster, conducts business. Chow was arrested during the raid.

Firefighters were seen going inside with a circular saw and later said they had cracked a safe.

According to the complaint, a pattern of alleged racketeering activity emerged as FBI undercover agents infiltrated the CKT through introductions made by Chow and others.

Over the course of the undercover agent's relationship with Chow and other defendants, the complaint shows, the undercover agent informed the group that he was interested in generating income from illegal schemes. He was then inducted into CKT as a "consultant," and allegedly introduced to a number of the defendants in order to launder money, traffic narcotics, firearms and purpotedly stolen cigarettes and liquor and engage in murder-for-hire schemes over the course of multiple undercover operations.

The FBI also arrested Keith Jackson, a well-known political consultant who owns San Francisco-based political consulting firm Jackson Consultancy.

Leland Yee leaves the federal building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

State Senator Yee leaves the federal building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Chow also introduced Jackson -- a "consultant" to the CKT -- to the undercover agent. Jackson and his son Brandon Jackson allegedly responded to the undercover agent's request for weapons, selling him various types of firearms and two ballistic vests.

Jackson, Brandon Jackson and another defendant allegedly conspired on a murder for hire scheme at the undercover agent's request.

The complaint also says that Jackson is a close associate of Lee and has been involved in raising campaign funds for him from at least through May 2011 to the present.

Yee, who has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, was elected to the State Senate in November 2006 and represents District 8, which includes San Francisco and San Mateo County. The former San Francisco supervisor and 2011 mayoral candidate is currently running for secretary of state.

The complaint alleges that starting in 2012 and continuing until now, Yee and Keith Jackson allegedly raised money and campaign funds for Yee's secretary of state campaign by soliciting donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for multiple official acts.

The compaint also alleges that Yee and Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.

The complaint details how, starting in May 2011 and continuing for several months, Jackson allegedly asked an undercover FBI agent to make contributions to Yee's San Francisco mayoral campaign. The agent declined to make contributions but introduced Jackson and Yee to a business associate, who was another undercover agent. When Jackson and Yee asked the agent for campaign contributions, it resulted in at least one personal $5,000 donation.

The complaint claims that Yee tried to get rid of a $70,000 debt after losing the November 2011 election by making a call to the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract with the second undercover agent's purported client and writing an official letter of support in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation.

Yee allegedly made the call on Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter around Jan. 13, 2013. Jackson accepted the $10,000 on Nov. 19, 2012.

Yee is known for his efforts to strengthen open records, government transparency and whistleblower protection laws.On his website, Yee promises that if elected as secretary of state, he will be "committed to fair elections and expanding access to our democracy."

He was honored last week by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional journalists for his efforts to uphold the California Public Records Act.

Chow, who ran a Chinese criminal organization and was convicted of gun charges, was released in 2003 after spending 11 years in prison. He has since been praised for his involvement in the community and for trying to turn his life around.

On what appears to be Raymond Chow's Facebook page, Chow displayed a picture of a certificate of honor presented to him by Lee that honored him "for his tenacity and willingness to give back to the community and working 'in the trenches' as a change agent."

Chow also appears to have been tweeting from the Twitter handle @RaymondChow10, using hashtags that included "sunoftheunderworld," "mafia." and "chinatown." His last tweet was on Nov. 17, which shows him at his sister's birthday, enjoying a glass of red wine.

Chow has also posted pictures of him with other notable public figures and local business owners, including former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and a picture of another certificate of recognition from state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Yee's arrest shocked the Chinese-American community, many of whom view him as an important figure in San Francisco politics.

Officers from the California Highway Patrol and Sergeant at Arms were stationed outside Yee's state Capitol office in Sacramento Wednesday morning, where the FBI agents conducted a raid, taking computers and other documents, according to KCRA-TV.

The FBI confirmed to KCRA-TV that it had raided homes and businesses in the Bay Area and Sacramento Wednesday morning, issuing multiple search warrants and making arrests.

State Senator Yee was arrested Wednesday morning on public corruption charges. (Photo: Diane Dwyer)

Yee’s press secretary, Dan Lieberman, declined to comment when contacted by NBC Bay Area. An official statement would be released sometime Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Yee's arrest would make him the third Democratic state senator fighting charges this year.

His arrest comes just one month after prosecutors announced federal bribery and corruption charges filed against state Sen. Ron Calderon.

Prosecutors say the Los Angeles-area Democrat accepted about $100,000 in cash bribes and other perks in exchange for his supporting or opposing bills. Calderon has pleaded not guilty.

Earlier in the year, Democratic Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty of multiple charges that stemmed from accusations he did not actually live in the Southern California district he represents. Wright is appealing the conviction.

Both Wright and Calderon have taken a leave of absence from the state Senate.

Democrat Derek Cressman, who is one of several candidates also running for secretary of state, called Yee's arrest a "wake-up call."

"We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate," Cressman said in a statement. "The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person's soul and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that he was shocked and disappointed by the news.

"Leland Yee has been a part of public service for a long time, sorry to see that tainted by these allegations," Lee said.

A man was charged last year for threatening Yee over legislation that he proposed to limit rapid reloading of assault weapons.

Yee is the first Chinese American ever elected to the California State Senate. He emigrated to San Francisco from China at age 3. Yee graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and receieved a master's degree from San Francisco State University. Yee and his wife Maxine have four children.




Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Immigration Activist Arrested Following Demonstration]]> Sat, 22 Mar 2014 06:55:58 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/picresized_1395431251_453074349.jpg

A prominent labor and immigration activist was arrested following a demonstration outside the South Florida office of Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart Friday.

Eliseo Vasquez Medina, 68, was arrested on suspicion of trespassing and resisting an officer after he refused to move away from the entrance of 8699 NW 36th Street in Doral, according to an arrest report. The rest of the demonstrators agreed to move away from the building, the report says.

Diaz-Balart's chief of staff, Cesar Gonzalez, said the congressman's office did not call the police about group or have anyone arrested. The building housing the district office also is also home to several other occupants.

Friday's brush with the law came shortly after the Service Employees International Union secretary-treasurer appeared at Florida International University as part of an immigration reform event featuring Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia.

Medina, who was born in Mexico and now is a California resident, has been hailed as"one of the most successful labor organizers in the country" by the Los Angeles Times. Last year, he participated in a weeks-long fast aimed at pressuring leaders in Washington to schedule a vote on immigration reform legislation.

Medina and the immigration reform group Fast 4 Families are on a cross country tour speaking to local politicians.

"It's an unfortunate situation that things got to that extent," Christian Avila, of Fast 4 Families, said of the arrest. "We as Fast 4 Families always come in a peaceful manner."

Information for an attorney was not immediately available. A spokesperson from SEIU said a statement on the arrest will be issued shortly.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Praises Alonzo Mourning's "Warrior's Heart" ]]> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 01:21:52 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032014+barack+obama.jpg

A longtime allegiance to the Chicago Bulls didn't stop President Barack Obama from showering praise on Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning during an appearance in South Florida Thursday.

"Now, the truth is I was a big fan of Alonzo's before I had a chance to meet him, and that's despite being a Bulls' fan," the president said during a fundraiser at Mourning's Pinecrest home. "And the reason is, is because he had a warrior's heart and he always fought for what he believed in, and he was always a team player." 

Obama, who made a brief fundraising swing through Miami Thursday evening following a speech in Orlando, called Mourning and his wife Tracy "great friends," saying he has "grown to love" the entire family.

"It only is the Heat lucky, but all of south Florida is lucky to have them in their community and doing such great work," he said, according to prepared remarks issued by the White House.

Obama dedicated much of the rest of his remarks at the fundraiser to discussing the need to expand economic opportunities for women and working families, a theme he also focused on during a stop in Orlando Thursday.

Tickets for the reception and dinner, held to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ranged from $16,200 a person to $32,400 a couple.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
NECN]]> <![CDATA[Scott Brown Readies N.H. Senate Run]]> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 18:15:09 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/AP19064830984.jpg

Former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts officially announced Friday he has formed an exploratory committee for a bid in New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race this year.

However, the Republican did not officially say he will run against the state's Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, NECN reported.

Brown blasted Obamacare Friday, and also talked about what his party needs to be doing to move forward.

Brown said he is looking forward to meeting people in New Hampshire as he starts traveling around the state starting Saturday.

"Obviously I have to do some listening and learning and find out from everybody what their concerns are and make sure I have a full understanding of the challenges, and then I'll make a further decision down the road," Brown told reporters after the speech.

There are already other Republicans in the U.S. Senate race, but analysts agree that Brown would immediately be the frontrunner if he officially ran against Shaheen.

Democrats in the Granite State have been preparing for months now for Brown's announcement.

Earlier Friday, Fox News cut its ties with Brown when he notified them of his intentions.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Scott to Back In-State Tuition for Some Immigrants]]> Wed, 12 Mar 2014 22:13:21 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Rick+Scott+March+28.jpg

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is backing a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition even if they are in the country illegally.

Scott told The Associated Press that he supports the legislation sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, because it would also prevent state universities from being able to raise tuition rates above the amount annually set by the state Legislature.

"I'm appreciative of the fact that he's concerned about the debt that our students are ending up with and that tuition has been growing too fast," Scott said.

Scott's decision to back the legislation is a turn from 2010, when he took a hard line on immigration issues and supported having Florida enact a law similar to those of other states that bar the in-state benefit.

But at least for the past two years, Scott has been staunchly opposed to tuition hikes and vetoed one proposed by the Florida Legislature.

In his State of the State speech, Scott called for taking away from universities the ability to raise tuition above the rate set annually by legislators. Right now, state universities can raise tuition up to 15 percent a year. Legislative leaders have proposed lowering the annual limit to 6 percent. House Speaker Will Weatherford said that universities should retain some flexibility to raise tuition higher.

The debate over in-state tuition for certain students who entered the country illegally has been a perennial one in Tallahassee. Similar bills passed the House and Senate but never in the same year. But this year the measure appears to be gaining broader support.

Weatherford has come out for granting in-state tuition to Florida high school graduates who have entered the country illegally, but Senate President Don Gaetz has said he is opposed to the proposal.

At least fifteen other states have passed such laws, with another seven considering them this year. The trend reflects immigrant advocates' increasing focus on state legislatures as Congress fails to make any headway on national immigration reform. It also highlights lawmakers' growing recognition of the influence of Latino voters.

The main House bill would cover all Florida youth who attended at least three years of high school in the state and apply for college within two years of graduation — regardless of their immigration status. It also would provide in-state tuition to veterans and would require students to be U.S. citizens to receive state financial aid.

Currently, those students pay out-of-state fees that can run as much as $17,000 more per year more than those charged Florida residents.

The current legislative proposals would cover beneficiaries of a 2012 order from President Barack Obama's administration that allowed hundreds of thousands of youth brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and living in the country illegally to temporarily remain. Colleges and universities nationwide are increasingly offering in-state tuition to these students, but in Florida, only Miami-Dade College and Florida International University have signed on.

 



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>
<![CDATA[Hillsboro Beach Town Commissioner Loses Seat in Election]]> Tue, 11 Mar 2014 23:44:04 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/ballot+generic.jpg

A Hillsboro Beach town commissioner lost his seat and a former mayor of Sea Ranch Lakes claimed a position on the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Town Commission in Broward’s municipal elections Tuesday.

With all precincts reporting, Hillsboro Beach Town Commissioner Richard Maggiore (247 votes) and challenger Troy Link (244 votes) won the two seats available on the commission, according to unofficial results from the Broward County supervisor of elections.

They beat out Hillsboro Beach Town Commissioner James Lambert, who had 183 votes.

In Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Elliot Sokolow was elected a town commissioner with 486 votes. The former Sea Ranch Lakes mayor defeated former commissioner Birute Ann Clottey, who received 445 votes, and Eric Yankwitt of the Planning and Zoning Board, who had 203 votes.

Voters in Lauderdale Lakes opted to get rid of two seats on their city commission. The ballot question was approved by a 670-401 count. The charter amendment will shrink the commission from six to four members over the next two years, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

On Tuesday voters also elected Kyle Van Buskirk over Tom Hasis for the Lighthouse Point City Commission. Hasis is a former commissioner, according to the Sun Sentinel.

In West Park, Brian Johnson emerged triumphant in a four-way race for the city commission. He will fill the unexpired term of the late commissioner Sharon Fyffe, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Four people were selected from seven candidates for Sea Ranch Lakes’ council. They were incumbents John Lewis Tomlinson and Ann Burke Spalding, Mayor Denise Barone Bryan – who could not run again for mayor because of term limits, according to the Sun Sentinel – and Caroline Evans Guida.

For complete election results, including ballot questions, click here.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Feds: DC Mayor Got Illegal Funds]]> Wed, 12 Mar 2014 15:45:57 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/20140310+Jeffrey+Thompson.jpg

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray knew that his 2010 campaign received money donated illegally by a businessman with multimillion-dollar city contracts, and even asked personally for the funds, federal prosecutors alleged in court Monday.

Businessman Jeffrey Thompson, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to violate D.C. and federal campaign finance laws by funneling more than $3.3 million in unreported donations to at least 28 local and national candidates and their campaigns beginning in 2006.

The candidates who benefitted from the illegal donations are not named in the court filings. However, in court, prosecutors confirmed that Gray was the person called "Mayoral Candidate A" who met with Thompson to discuss the fundraising, presented Thompson with a $425,000 "one-page budget" -- and agreed to keep the fundraising secret by referring to Thompson with the code name "Uncle Earl."

Gray also asked Thompson to pay $40,000 for improvements to a friend's home, prosecutors said. In court, Thompson acknowledged giving $40,000 to a close friend of Gray and $10,000 to a relative of Gray.

In total, Thompson -- whose company had a contract worth $300 million a year with the city -- funneled $668,800 to "a political candidate for Mayor," the charging documents say. Those documents also claim that the unreported donation was made "in coordination with" the candidate.

Gray refuted the claims in an interview and said he was innocent. “I maintain these are lies,” Gray told News4’s Tom Sherwood Monday afternoon. “These are absolute lies.”

Gray attended a mayoral forum Monday evening, just hours after the allegations surfaced. His supporters were in full force, chanting, 'Four more years!' Gray again told News4 the allegations are untrue. 

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a press conference late Monday that more charges may be forthcoming as Thompson continues to help investigators. Many other candidates were implicated in Thompson's plea agreement, including a candidate for mayor in 2006, a candidate for D.C. Council At Large in 2008 and a candidate for Ward 4 council in 2007.

Also connected: candidates for Congress and a candidate for president in 2008, prosecutors said in court filings. The presidential candidate is believed to be Hillary Clinton, who has said she did not know of the fundraising and has cooperated with the investigation.

“Election after election, Jeff Thompson huddled behind closed doors with corrupt candidates, political operatives, and businessmen, devising schemes to funnel millions of dollars of corporate money into local and federal elections,” Machen said. “Today's guilty plea pulls back the curtain on years of widespread corruption. With Mr. Thompson's cooperation, we have the opportunity to hold many wrongdoers accountable and to usher in a new era of honesty, integrity, and transparency in D.C. politics.”

Gray is running for re-election campaign in D.C.'s April 1 Democratic primary for mayor; early voting starts next week. 

THE CASE AGAINST THOMPSON

Thompson was charged with two felony counts of conspiracy in a criminal information filed Monday morning. He appeared in court Monday afternoon, where a judge said he faces two years in prison. If he complies fully with the terms of the plea deal, one count carrying an 18-month sentence could be dropped and he could serve a total of six months on the second count.

The sentence also could be reduced to home confinement.

Court documents allege Thompson solicited relatives, friends, employees and others to make donations to candidates and assured them he would reimburse them for these "conduit contributions" -- which he did with personal money and money from his company. On his company's books, the payments were listed as "advances" and "bonuses," prosecutors said.

Thompson's company also paid for in-kind gifts to candidates, which prosecutors called "shadow campaigns" in a detailed statement of the case against him. That included $653,000 in money for "Mayoral Campaign A" and $608,750 to the candidate for president.

The document also allege "Candidate A" met with Thompson in June 2010, when the candidate promised to use the code name, "Uncle Earl."

Gray told News4 he agreed to that because Thompson was worried then Mayor Adrian Fenty would find out Thompson was supporting Gray and interfere with Thompson's companies' contracts with the city.

“Initially he said no, that he wouldn’t raise money for the campaign,” Gray said. “He was fearful of what would happen to him because of the Fenty administration.”

“With respect to him raising money for my campaign, I thought that was being done in a perfectly legitimate fashion,” Gray said. “I’ve said that from day one and I maintain that, to my knowledge anyway, it was a perfectly legitimate experience.”

THREE-YEAR INVESTIGATION LED TO THOMPSON

A big player in both local and federal politics, Thompson owned multiple million-dollar companies with large contracts from the city. That included the most lucrative contract the city gives out, worth more than $300 million each year for Thompson's company D.C. Chartered Health Plan, to provide health care services to the city's poorest residents.

Thompson stepped down from D.C. Chartered Health Plan in April 2012, after FBI and IRS agents raided his home and office. He then left his accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, in July 2012.

The investigation that led to his guilty pleas began in spring 2011, after Gray was elected. U.S. Attorney Machen began looking into whether Gray or his campaign aides secretly gave cash and checks to Sulaimon Brown, a minor candidate for mayor, in return for Brown's aggressive attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Brown contended the campaign did pay him and also rewarded him with a $110,000-a-year city job, from which he was later fired for inappropriate conduct.

Since those allegations caught Machen's attention, nine people with ties either to Thompson or to Gray's 2010 campaign -- including Thompson himself -- have pleaded guilty to various charges over the course of the investigation.

Two Gray campaign supporters, Howard Brooks and Thomas Gore, pleaded guilty to covering up the payments to Brown.

In July 2012, Jeanne Clark Harris, a long-time supporter of Gray and business partner of Thompson, pleaded guilty to funneling more than $650,000 from Thompson to a shadow campaign for Gray. "The 2010 mayoral election was corrupted by a massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters in the District," Machen said at that time.

Not long after, three business associates of Thompson's -- Troy White, Lee Calhoun and Stanley L. Straughter -- pleaded guilty to helping Thompson illegally fund national campaigns, including Clinton's.

Last August, Vernon Hawkins, a longtime associate of both Thompson and Gray, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about the shadow campaign. During Hawkins' plea hearing, Gray's name was mentioned for the first time as the beneficiary of the shadow campaign.

In addition, former D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown has admitted to taking money from Thompson. Brown has admitted to taking about $120,000 in secret, illegal campaign donations in 2007 and 2008 in conjunction with Harris and a businessman only identified as "Co-Conspirator 1." Media reports have identified "Co-Conspirator 1" as Thompson.

Though the investigation has continued for three years, Gray remains a front-runner in the race for mayor. A poll for NBC4, WAMU, the Washington Informer and Marist released in February shows Gray leading the race.

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<![CDATA[Ana Alliegro Arrested in Nicaragua, Brought Back to U.S.]]> Sat, 08 Mar 2014 00:48:50 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Ana-Alliegro.jpg

A woman under investigation for a campaign finance scheme tied to former congressman David Rivera was brought back to South Florida from Nicaragua Friday to face election violation charges, sources and authorities said.

Ana Alliegro, 44, was arrested in Nicaragua after she was previously indicted for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act in connection with a Democratic primary for Florida's 26th Congressional District, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer and FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro announced in a news release.

She faces one count of engaging in a conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission and to violate the contribution limits of the Federal Election Campaign Act, one count of making a false statement, and two counts of making illegal campaign contributions, authorities said. It wasn't immediately known if she has an attorney.

Alliegro, wearing handcuffs, was escorted into the FBI office in North Miami Friday evening.

Alliegro is a friend of Rivera, a Republican, and was a campaign manager for former Democratic congressional candidate Justin Lamar Sternad, who ran in a 2012 primary against Rivera’s rival Joe Garcia. Garcia defeated Sternad and then Rivera in the general election.

In September 2012 Alliegro failed to appear for an interview with the FBI as authorities probed the congressional race. She fled to Nicaragua as the FBI began investigating her and Rivera for their potential roles in a scheme to secretly funnel money to Sternad’s campaign, the Miami Herald reported.

Sternad pleaded guilty in March 2013 to federal campaign violations, including accepting illegal contributions and filing false reports.

Both Alliegro and Rivera, who have denied wrongdoing, could not be reached for comment by the Herald.

Alliegro is due to make an initial federal court appearance Monday.



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>
<![CDATA[Surprises, Runoffs Likely in Texas Primary]]> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 13:08:07 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Vote+Generic+Vote+Tuesday+Voting+Sign.jpg

Gov. Rick Perry isn't on the ballot, but a new member of the Bush dynasty is. Wendy Davis can clinch a feat no woman has achieved in Texas since Ann Richards. Heavyweight Republicans are trying to survive, and a new voter ID law gets a major test.

Throw in a March blast of winter weather that could dampen turnout, and Texas' primary elections Tuesday figure to be anything but ordinary.

The results will begin the biggest reshuffling of state power in a decade. Although most of the competitive primary races are on the Republican side, Davis' bid for governor headlines a roster of underdog Democrats girding instead for the Nov. 4.

That's the only day that matters to Davis and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in the year's marquee showdown. Neither has a competitive primary, leaving Davis poised to become the first female gubernatorial nominee in Texas since Richards in 1994, and Abbott the first new GOP nominee after 14 years of Perry.

But a frigid forecast could leave voters with a dangerous -- or at least dreary -- drive to the polls. Meteorologist say freezing rain overnight Tuesday could sock Central Texas, the Houston area should be wary of elevated roads and a biting cold will be felt most everywhere.

"It doesn't take much when you're not used to winter weather," National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said.

Unlike Davis and Abbott, few other Texas candidates have the luxury of uneventful primaries.

The conservative star power of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has GOP candidates -- from local races to statewide offices -- jostling farther right and wooing voters with vows to emulate Cruz's no-compromise style. Even U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, two of the state's most powerful Republicans, have spent money campaigning against longshot challengers who say the incumbents have grown moderate in Washington.

But changes are far more likely in Austin. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who lost to Cruz for the Senate seat in 2012, appears headed for his first runoff in 11 years on the job.

Millions of dollars have been spent between Dewhurst and three prominent challengers: state Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. The race has been the nastiest and most competitive this primary season, with the four all taking aim at President Barack Obama in television ads when they're not sniping at each other.

Primary runoffs are set for May 27. Settling GOP nominations for attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner may also have to wait until then.

"When there's a fair amount of negative out there it makes the electorate very unpredictable," Patterson said Monday. "You couldn't accurately poll it -- or you could and that poll would be good for probably about four hours."

Noticeably absent this primary season has been Perry, who announced last summer he wouldn't seek re-election but continues mulling a 2016 run for president. The longest-serving governor in Texas history hasn't endorsed in major races or even heard his name mentioned much in campaigns by his fellow Republicans.

They've instead talked about the future of the Texas GOP, which is expected to include George P. Bush in a prominent role. The 37-year-old nephew of former President George W. Bush, and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is running for land commissioner.

"Help is on the way," Bush told supporters in El Paso on Monday. "After this primary season, we will go out there and fight the good fight."

For Democrats, who haven't won a statewide election in 20 years, the primary serves little but an early test of voter strength. A team of Obama campaign veterans launched the group Battleground Texas last year to give Democrats a chance and will watch turnout Tuesday to gauge their efforts so far.

Another race being closely watched Tuesday night involves U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, who at age 90 is the oldest member of Congress. Five GOP challengers are vying against him in an effort to deny him an 18th term.

Election administrators say the primary will be the first real test of the state's new voter ID law, which the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in 2011 but wasn't enacted until last summer amid legal challenges. No major problems or controversies flared when the law debuted in November during a low-turnout, off-year election.

Associated Press Writers Will Weissert in Austin and Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Miami Interested in Hosting 2016 DNC]]> Sat, 01 Mar 2014 02:44:34 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Litz+on+Litz.jpg

Downtown Miami could be the hub of Democratic politics come 2016.

City leaders are pushing to bring the Democratic National Convention to AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Cuba said Miami just makes sense.

“Miami-Dade is what the future of the country’s going to look like, and just demographically we’re so diverse here, it will send a huge signal to the Hispanic community across the country,” he said. “We have a huge African-American population here as well, this is the base of the party we’re talking about.”

The last time a national political convention came to South Florida it was held at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1972. This reporter’s father, Norman Litz, was in charge of the building.

“It was exciting, quite a bit of responsibility for everybody concerned and it went off perfect. You had both conventions here within a month apart,” Litz said.

In 2012 the Republicans held their national convention in Tampa, which resulted in an estimated $200 million economic impact.

Despite not declaring her candidacy yet, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party favorite for 2016, leading in polls and popularity.

Holding the party convention in Miami could help her win Florida, the country's largest swing state.

Many cities are interested in bidding on the convention. They include Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio.



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>
<![CDATA[Jerry Brown to Seek Fourth Term as California Governor]]> Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:00:06 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/02-27-2014-jerry-brown.jpg

Gov. Jerry Brown made it official Thursday and announced plans to seek re-election.

Brown filed paperwork in Alameda County in search of a fourth term as California's governor. The 75-year-old Democrat tweeted a picture of the filing with a link to the announcement.

In a statement posted on a campaign web site, Brown said: "Four years ago, I asked that you support my candidacy for governor based on my bringing an 'insider’s knowledge but an outsider’s mind' to fix the budget breakdown and overcome Sacramento’s poisonous partisanship. Now, four years later, a $27 billion deficit has become a surplus and our credit rating and public confidence are rising. State budgets are not only balanced but they are on time and free of the rancor of past years."

The announcement, which comes ahead of the June primary, has long been expected as Brown has been fundraising for another run. He faces no opposition in the June 3 primary.

His Republican opponents for governor include former U.S. Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari, Southern California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, and Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount.

Brown has made progress easing the state's long-running budget problems, but California is facing a potentially devastating drought, aging freeways strangled with traffic and multibillion-dollar unfunded pension bills.



Photo Credit: @JerryBrownGov via Twitter]]>
<![CDATA[Hillary Clinton Addresses Women's Rights in UM Speech]]> Thu, 27 Feb 2014 03:14:17 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Hillary-Clinton-University-of-Miami.jpg

Hillary Clinton told an audience at the University of Miami Wednesday night that all countries, including the U.S., must allow “full participation” for girls and women.

The former secretary of state addressed women’s rights and human rights in her speech before an estimated crowd of 6,100 at the university in Coral Gables.

“I believe strongly that the more we can get people to participate, to have a stake in the future, the better off we will all be,” she said.

Clinton praised the Arizona governor’s veto of a bill that would have let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians on religious grounds. Students cheered loudly when they heard Clinton’s comments on that issue.

Clinton spent several minutes talking about the unrest in Venezuela.

“It is a country that is not being well-governed, and it’s a democracy, no one would argue that it isn’t. But a democracy doesn’t just mean an election. A democracy means a free press, protecting the rights of opponents, protecting a free economy,” Clinton said to applause.

The loudest and longest applause of the night came when someone mentioned a presidential run for Clinton, who vied with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008. She told the crowd she is pondering the notion.



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>
<![CDATA[CA State Sen. Surrenders]]> Tue, 25 Feb 2014 09:40:13 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/california-senator-ron-calderon.jpg

Embattled California State Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Monday after he was charged last week with a long list of federal bribery and corruption allegations.

The 56-year-old Montebello Democrat was traveling when the 24-count indictment was announced on Friday, and FBI officials said he agreed to surrender when he returned.

Prosecutors said Calderon accepted about $100,000 in cash bribes, chartered plane trips, high-end golf trips and gourmet meals. Calderon allegedly accepted these bribes in exchange for supporting or opposing legislation.

Wearing handcuffs and shackles, Calderon pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Monday and was set to be released upon releasing his passport and his wife signing a $50,000 surety bond. A trial date was set for April 22.

Tom Calderon, the state lawmaker’s brother, also faces charges in connection with the alleged scheme.

“The charges allege that the defendants traded influence for cash, and used kickbacks and other tactics to keep the system working in their favor,” said Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge.

The indictment charges Ron Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.

Ron Calderon is also accused of paying his daughter $39,000 for a bogus office job and paying around $30,000 for his son’s schooling.

Tom Calderon faces a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering for allegedly funneling bribe money through a non-profit group and consulting company he operates, prosecutors said.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors said Ron Calderon accepted $28,000 in bribes from Michael D. Drobot, former owner of the now-closed Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, in exchange for supporting legislation that “delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws relating to the amount of medical care providers are reimbursed for performing spinal surgeries.”

Drobot has agreed to plead guilty regarding a major health care fraud scheme in another case announced by the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday.

The charges against the hospital executive involve tens of millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks in exchange for a huge number of patient referrals who received spinal surgeries. The referrals led to more than $500 million in bills, which were fraudulently submitted and, in large part, paid by the California worker’s compensation system, prosecutors said.

Law-enforcement sources described the allegations as what could be one of the largest health care fraud cases in state history.

Drobot is suspected of having had a heavy hand for some 15 years in the alleged kick-back scheme, which exploited the spinal pass-through law, which Ron Calderon allegedly kept on the books after receiving bribes from Drobot, authorities said.

Drobot was not indicted in the Calderons’ corruption case, but admitted to paying bribes to the senator, the FBI said. He is scheduled to be arraigned March 31.

As part of a plea agreement, Drobot has agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation of the health care fraud scheme, as well as the government’s prosecution of the Calderon brothers.

In addition to accepting bribes from Drobot, Ron Calderon allegedly also accepted $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio head, authorities said.

The lawmaker’s attorney, Mark Geragos, called the allegations in the affidavit “false and defamatory,” and Ron Calderon alleged that his office was raided in 2013 after he refused to “secretly record conversations with Senator [Darrell] Steinberg and Senator [Kevin] de Leon.”

If convicted, Ron Calderon faces up to 396 years in prison. Tom Calderon faces up to 160 years behind bars. 

NBC News' Andrew Blankstein and NBC4's Sean Fitz-Gerald contributed to this report.

 



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncell]]>
<![CDATA[Colo. Lawmaker Leaves Loaded Handgun in State Capitol]]> Thu, 20 Feb 2014 17:12:16 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/207*120/531167561.JPG

A Colorado state lawmaker left a loaded handgun in the state Capitol building earlier this month, The Denver Post reported.

Colorado Rep. Jared Wright, a Republican legislator, left the gun in a black canvas bag under a committee room table. Rep. Jonathan Singer, who sits next to Wright on the House Local Government committee, discovered the gun as he was clearing out the committee room after a Feb. 6 debate on concealed handgun permits.

“I just immediately notified the Sergeant at Arms and soon we realized it was Jared’s bag,” Singer told The Post Wednesday.

Wright, a former policeman and current “peace officer,” told the paper he often carries a gun on the chamber floor.

“I feel it’s my duty to be a first responder wherever I am at,” said Wright. “That’s why I carry it.”

But Colorado state law prohibits carrying a firearm in the Capitol “without legal authority.”

Wright agreed to stop carrying a gun inside the building after speaking with the Colorado State Patrol about the incident. He also received a call from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office.

This isn’t the first time a politician has gotten into trouble for toting a firearm.

In 2012, California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly was cited after police discovered a loaded .45-caliber handgun in his carry-on briefcase at the Ontario International Airport. Donnelly, who said the incident was an accident, was later placed on probation for three years as part of a plea agreement.

In January, Leslie Combs, a Kentucky lawmaker, accidentally fired a gun in her Capitol Annex office. That same month, New York Homeland Security chief Jerry Hauer used a laser on his handgun as a pointer during a meeting with Swedish officials.

But in other statehouses, carrying firearms to work is more commonplace. In Texas, dozens of lawmakers have concealed-carry permits and regularly bring their firearms into work. They can even use their permits as an E-ZPass of sorts to skip a security area with metal detectors and scanners.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[101-Year-Old Sarasota Man Running for Congress]]> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 14:43:51 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/Newman4.jpg

When it comes to experience, Florida congressional hopeful Joe Newman's record is hard to beat. 

Life experience, that is.

The 101-year-old Sarasota resident recently announced a bid for Congress, saying he will run as a write-in candidate against Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan. A win in the district along Florida's west coast would make Newman the oldest member of Congress by at least a decade.

The centenarian told NBC affiliate WFLA that living through some of the nation's most defining moments, including the Great Depression and the birth of Social Security, has given him valuable insights into what the nation needs to thrive. Newman, who describes himself on his campaign website as a "fiery advocate of social change for more than a half-century," says he feels called to help fix the country's current woes.

"You learn through life you have certain responsibilities. And if you don't fulfill them, how can you look in the mirror?" he told WFLA.

The self-described "Anthropological Progressive" counts funding social security, expanding Medicaid and fighting poverty among his key campaign issues. He told a local paper that he opted to run as a write-in instead of vie for one of the major party's nominations "because I want to feel free to criticize the Democrats or the Republicans."

Newman acknowledges that his effort faces an uphill battle, but he says he also hopes his longshot bid will "'inspire citizens of all ages and walks of life to get involved, get engaged, and to become active patriot leaders."

"If people are saying, who is this fool at 101 and running? Call me a fool. I'm sorry, but I've got to get out and convince John and convince Jim, hey think! What is the best thing our society can do and what is the responsibility of our society?" he said.

Newman joins at least four other candidates seeking to challenge the four-term congressman in Florida's 16th Congressional District.

 

 

 

 



Photo Credit: WFLA]]>
<![CDATA[Venezuelan Says His Country Faces "Really Tough Times"]]> Tue, 18 Feb 2014 23:09:05 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Mario-DiGiovanni.jpg

Mario DiGiovanni lives in Brickell, but it wasn’t too long ago that he too was a student protesting against the Venezuelan government.

"We're basically here giving all the support possible to what's going on in Venezuela,” DiGiovanni said. “Our country is facing some really tough times right now and we need to communicate to the world and let the know what's going on.”

But as the latest protests in Venezuela continue, DiGiovanni fears for his family's safety.

”Where my house is there were over 200 people [on] motorcycles shooting around, so you see how this violence, even though you're not present in the protests, can spread throughout the city. So it’s something that really stays on your mind all the time, I know I fear for my family,” he said.

Meantime a Venezuelan opposition leader who was wanted by authorities, Leopoldo Lopez, surrendered to police Tuesday. He was sought on an arrest order for allegedly inciting violence that broke out during protests last week in which three people were killed. But Lopez – who wore white Tuesday to symbolize nonviolence – said he didn’t fear going to jail to defend his beliefs and constitutional right to peacefully protest against the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro.

In South Florida, in a gathering in the city of Doral, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was getting involved in efforts to curtail violence and stand with the student protesters. And she is also calling for a reduction of Venezuelan oil imports into the U.S. and more awareness of the situation.

"When we had the Arab Spring there was a great clamor from the international press and from the community to say we're with you, but for the Venezuelan people not so much. So we want leaders to say we are with the Venezuelan people,” she said.

On Monday Maduro’s government gave three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave, alleging that they were aiding the unrest.

The U.S. State Department responded Tuesday in part, "The allegations against our diplomats by the Venezuelan government are baseless and false. Our Consular Officers were conducting normal outreach activities at universities on student visas."



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>
<![CDATA[Ex-Congressman Arrested in Zimbabwe: Report ]]> Tue, 18 Feb 2014 10:07:25 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/mel+reynolds+2nd.jpg

A Zimbabwean official said Tuesday morning that immigration officers had arrested former U.S. congressman Melvin Reynolds, The Associated Press reported.

The official, Ario Mabika, said Reynolds is being investigated. The state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, added that Reynolds was arrested for allegedly possessing pornographic material and violating immigration laws.

"He has been picked up. Investigations are still underway and revealing information will jeopardise investigations that are underway," said Makiba.

The Illinois Democrat served in the U.S. House from 1993 to 1995 but resigned after he was convicted of having sexual relations with an underage campaign worker.

He also went to prison after being convicted of fraud for concealing debts to obtain bank loans and diverting money intended for voter registration drives into his election campaign.

Reynolds was replaced in Congress by Jesse Jackson Jr. but in 2012 tried to regain his seat when his successor resigned, citing ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder. Jackson is currently serving time in a North Carolina federal prison on a conviction of misusing campaign funds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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<![CDATA[Some SoFla Businesses Take Hit From Venezuela's Troubles]]> Tue, 18 Feb 2014 16:10:39 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Orlando-Castro-Doral.jpg

The political trouble in Venezuela goes beyond just the trouble out in the street. A significant number of companies in South Florida – including many in Doral and Sweetwater – that rely on customers in Venezuela are taking a bit hit in the wallet because of the instability there.

That has an impact on jobs and the firms’ ability, ultimately, to stay afloat.

On Monday Orlando Castro and his business partners were taking inventory of the off-road products they sell at Autobruder in Doral. They were also keeping watch on the latest in Caracas. The demonstrations now underway are highlighting the economic trouble that government critics say are a result of policies strangling free trade.

"It’s been really difficult lately,” Castro said.

Venezuela used to be a prime market for his company’s products. But on Monday Castro said that while many in Venezuela want to buy their goods, it is not happening – because it almost impossible to get anything through the port or airport due to government controls, he said.

"Lately some of those controls include different permits – or different processes to import tires, to import suspensions, bumpers, lights, all different types of products that we sell that we provide to our customers,” Castro said. “Taking them to Venezuela is really complicated."

Castro said his firm now has to find another place to market the products to make up the losses.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the U.S. is creating all the trouble and on Monday came the news that he is giving three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave the country. But the U.S. State Department says it hasn't been officially notified of anyone is being kicked out and denies it is behind the street violence.

On Sunday thousands of Venezuelan immigrants turned out in downtown Miami calling for change in their homeland.

Several small business owners told NBC 6 that Maduro significantly cut the amount of American dollars Venezuelan citizens can get their hands on.

Juan Carlos Reggeti, a cell phone wholesaler, said, "We are sending practically nothing. This year with Venezuela the market is empty with them."

Reggeti, who is the director of U.S. One Corp., says two results are that his shipments to Caracas are restricted, and tourists are limited in what they can buy in South Florida.

“And Maduro cut the dollar for the currency. The people is not coming here,” he said.

Venezuela has a great impact on Miami’s economy, Reggeti said.

“They come here and they buy everything,” he said of Venezuelans. But right now they are not doing that, he added.

Venezuelans in South Florida said the tourists leaving their homeland are also going to other places in the U.S. and not Miami because if they land at Miami International Airport the amount of money they can take out of the country is less than if they go to another American city.

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<![CDATA[In Doral, Rubio Goes After Venezuelan Govt.]]> Fri, 14 Feb 2014 20:54:50 -0400 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Marco-Rubio-Doral.jpg

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s surprise appearance at a Venezuelan restaurant in Doral turned into an impromptu press conference Friday as he continued to blast the Venezuelan government.

"Any government that uses the power of its own armed forces and its police to attack the people it’s supposed to be protecting becomes an illegitimate government,” Rubio said at El Arepazo 2.

The Republican earlier took to Twitter to confront Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, telling him in one tweet, “the world is watching as your militarized government murders students & repress the people of #Venezuela.”

Rubio also wrote, “@NicolasMaduro turns the armed forces of #Venezuela & his armed gangs of supporters against civilians.”

Rubio was referring to continued unrest in Venezuela, where three people were shot dead during anti-government protests.

The protesters, many of them students, denounce what they say is Maduro’s failure to control inflation and crime, and claim that the country’s young men and women face a bleak future.

The government claims the protests are a coup in the making.

"The only plot that exists in Venezuela is the plot between Havana and this government to repress the people of Venezuela,” Rubio said.

Rubio thrilled local Venezuelans who happened to be in the restaurant. Word quickly spread, and that brought the Venezuelan mayor of the heavily Venezuelan city of Doral to the restaurant.

“It’s a surprise to me too, because I didn’t expect that Senator Marco Rubio would be here, because it means a lot because it shows that they also worry about what is happening in Venezuela, and we got to do something,” Mayor Luigi Boria said.



Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida]]>