News Cast for February 25th:
Highlands county deputies recovered from stolen calves from Okeechobee in the trunk of a car with their legs tied and their mouths taped shut. The deputy became suspicious when the driver 18 year old Tyler Smeal of Babson Park vomited on himself before the traffic stop. He heard kicking from the trunk area and investigated. Although the local farmer declined to prosecute, Highlands Deputies took Smeal in on charges of dealing in stolen property, grand theft and aggravated animal cruelty.
Okeechobee city officials have scouted out property downtown for a possible city parking lot. Administrator Brian Whitehall says things are congested downtown but that is a good thing as it means there is business and traffic coming through. He admits the process hasn’t gotten past the survey stage.
Glades County was hopeful of getting more state funds this year for the Training Center project at the county business park.
Chairman Tim Stanley says cell phone users in Buckhead Ridge see a light at the end of the tunnel with two cell tower applications, however there has been a court case filed over the towers that could delay construction.
Sports Cast for February 25th:
Okeechobee destroyed Fort Pierce Westwood 19-0 in girls’ softball action last night to improve to 6-0 on the season.
Coach Mary Huff said the girls used the game to work on discipline at the plate, base running and staying focused. Kimmy Tijerina had two hits and Elisia Garcia added an RBI double. Kristen Dryden drove home three runs and Lexi Ward had two RBIS.
Garcia said they had to adjust to the slower speeds of the pitches, but she felt the girls responded well
Catcher Taylor Amadon was thrust into that role by injury. She admits it’s been a learning process to learn the position she has never played before. She added some offense in this game to boost her confidence.
On the sports schedule tonight, JV boys’ baseball visits South Fork at 6 pm.
OHS wrestling compete in their district tournament today at Port St. Lucie starting at 4 pm.
Cadaver dogs to search for bodies at Okeechobee School for Boys
Former students allege boys were killed, buried at sister campus
As researchers exhume unmarked graves at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, detectives are searching for possible bodies at the sister campus in Okeechobee.
he Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office told WPBF 25 News they plan on bringing cadaver dogs to the campus in April.
When the notorious state-run reform school in Marianna became overcrowded, they opened a second Florida School for Boys campus in Okeechobee in the late 1950s. Several of the same staff members accused of brutal beatings in Marianna were transferred to the Okeechobee campus.
The school was meant to straighten out troublemakers, but former students at the Okeechobee campus in the 1960s tell WPBF 25 News they were subjected to bloody beatings. There were suspicions among the students that boys were being beaten to death and buried behind the school’s dairy barn.
“Some of the boys they would just beat, beat, beat, beat until they passed out,” former student Joseph Johnson told WPBF 25 News. “It was known among us that they would kill you. They would literally beat you to death.
Johnson remembers one evening in particular, when a boy was brought to a small office called the Adjustment Center. Johnson and other student claim there was a cot inside where boys were forced to lie face down and hold on while they were beaten repeatedly with a leather paddle.
“They had him in there for a long time, seemed like forever,” Johnson said. “He didn’t come walking out. They carried him out, they opened the back of the [school’s] station wagon, and they put him in.”
Johnson claims the station wagon drove behind the dairy barn, and when it returned the boy was no longer inside. A few days later, Johnson said he saw freshly dug mounds behind the barn. Staff members told him they had to bury one of the cows.
Marvin Mike, another student who was on the segregated black side of the school, remembers a number of his friends abruptly disappearing, and staff members telling him the boys had run away.
“If they ran away, why hasn’t anyone heard from them again?” Mike said. “They didn’t run away. They was carried away.”
Mike said his friend, Cherry Black, went missing for two weeks. Black’s body was found in a septic tank on campus. According to Mike and a newspaper article from the time, the staff claimed the boy had tried to run away, hid in the tank, and accidentally drowned in sewage.
Mike has never believed that story.
“They killed him and put him in there,” Mike said.
Over the decades, the school has switched hands, property was sold, and buildings were torn down. The exact location of the school’s dairy barn was lost, so WPBF 25 News reporter John Dzenitis set out to find it.
The land was sold and the dairy barn was torn down in the 1990s, and it’s now the front yard of a private home along Cemetery Road. The concrete foundation of the old barn is still visible.
The homeowner told Dzenitis he has not been approached by anyone before, but he would like to know if there’s anyone buried on his property. It’s unclear if the Sheriff’s Office is aware of where the dairy barn was, and if cadaver dogs will be searching in the right place.
The Sheriff’s Office detective organizing the search declined to be interviewed for this story.
Statement by Commissioner Putnam on President Obama’s Veto of the Crucial Keystone XL Pipeline
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam today released the following statement in response to President Obama’s veto of the crucial, bipartisan Keystone XL pipeline legislation, which would have paved the way to utilize the already existing pipelines in the United States to transport additional North American energy:
“Our country needs good jobs and energy security, and in one fell swoop President Obama has—yet again—failed to meet the needs of the American people. The Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama vetoed would have created jobs, supported economic growth and provided much-needed energy security.”
For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com.
GOVERNOR SCOTT SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER TO REDUCE TESTING IN FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Governor Scott today issued Executive Order 15-31 to suspend the grade 11 Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) for English language arts until the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to consider legislation to eliminate the mandate. The elimination of the test follows an investigation conducted by Commissioner Pam Stewart that recommended a reduction in the number of tests Florida students in public schools are required to take.
To view Executive Order 15-31 click HERE.
To view the Governor’s call to reduce testing in Florida schools, click HERE.
News Cast for February 24th:
Among arrests, 52 year old James Patterson was charged with the rape of a woman at his home on South East 19th Terrace on Sunday. The woman fled the home and ran through a neighbors back yard, who became concerned and called the law. The victim had bruises to her face and ear.
22 year old David Phillips was charged with resisting arrest, escape and batter on law enforcement for an incident February 16th during a traffic stop. Phillips apparently eluded a traffic stop in Douglas Park after allegedly being spotted smoking marijuana. A taser apparently had little effect on him.
Okeechobee city council allowed some parking reductions and the use of on street parking for the proposed Dunkin Donuts on North East Park Street. Owner Albert Zakhary plans to have the store open by April 1st. The applicant wanted to use more of the building for restaurant which required more parking. They expect to spend 75 thousand on the outside of the building and 350 thousand of renovations inside the store. They expect to have a staff of 15 to 20 employees.
The Okeechobee freshman campus celebrated heritage day with booths on Hispanic food, dress and culture, African American and their local history in Douglas Park, the cattle industry, farm animals, and plenty about Florida history. Monica Clark brought old photos of downtown Okeechobee and her grandfather’s store, D.B McCarthy Company which served the community between 1916 and 1961.
Tomisha McQueen spoke on the history of Douglas Park and the Douglas Brown school and what it has produced over the years. Dale Barrett also brought old newspapers and photos of Okeechobee from 1 hundred years ago.
Sports Cast for February 24th:
Morgan Bolan was named the Brahman Award winner for the girls swim team this year. She specialized in the freestyle this year. Bolan said she was thrilled to get the award. She said her older sister Jordan was on the team and she also swims in the off season with the Shockwaves. Mostly she enjoys the water and the relaxation it brings her
On the sports schedule today, OHS baseball hosts Vero Beach at 7 pm.
OHS softball hosts Fort Pierce Westwood with JV at 5 and varsity at 7 pm.
Moore Haven softball visits St. John Neumann in Naples at 7 pm
Moore Haven baseball visits Canterbury in Ft. Myers at 7 pm.
Moore Haven baseball lost to Evangelical Christian 6-0. Ben Specht struck out 15 Terriers in the game.
Two Florida Couples Agree to Pay $1.13 Million to Resolve Allegations that They Accepted Kickbacks in Exchange for Home Health Care Referrals
Two South Florida medical doctors and their wives have agreed to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act when their wives accepted sham marketer salaries in exchange for their husbands’ referrals to a home health care company called A Plus Home Health Care Inc., the Justice Department announced today. Under the settlements, Dr. Alan and Lynn Buhler will pay to the United States $1.047 million and Dr. Craig and Cynthia Prokos will pay $90,000. Dr. Buhler practices in Plantation, Florida, and Dr. Prokos practices in Jupiter, Florida.
“Kickbacks can corrupt the judgment of physicians and cause them to make decisions for their own financial benefit rather than for the benefit of their patients,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We will not tolerate these conflicts of interest where Medicare patients and dollars are concerned.”
“The settlement announced today is another example of the Justice Department’s unrelenting efforts to hold accountable those who engage in kickback schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida. “Health care providers should generate business by offering their patients superior care. Financial relationships that put profits over patients undermine the quality and care given to patients and ultimately, the integrity of our public health care program upon which millions of Americans depend.”
The United States alleged that, beginning in 2006, A Plus and its owner, Tracy Nemerofsky, engaged in a scheme to increase Medicare referrals in the heavily saturated home health care market in South Florida. Specifically, the United States alleged that A Plus paid spouses of referring physicians for sham marketing positions in order to induce patient referrals. Among the spouses allegedly paid by A Plus as part of this scheme were Lynn Buhler and Cynthia Prokos. The United States alleged that the spouses were required to perform few, if any, of the job duties they were allegedly hired for and instead, the spouses’ salaries were intended as an inducement for the husband physicians to refer their Medicare patients to A Plus. The United States also alleged that Alan Buhler received medical director payments as part of A Plus’s scheme to obtain his referrals and he attempted to hide those payments from the United States.
The United States previously settled with A Plus, Tracy Nemerofsky and five other couples that allegedly accepted payments from A Plus.
The settlements announced today resolve allegations that were brought by William Guthrie, a former director of development at A Plus, under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States for the submission of false claims and to receive a share of any recovery. On Jan. 6, Judge William P. Dimitrouleas dismissed Mr. Guthrie’s suit without prejudice to the United States’ right to proceed. The lawsuit was captioned U.S. ex rel. Guthrie v. A Plus Home Health Care, Inc., 12 CV 60629 (S.D. Fla.).
“Being a physician in the Medicare program is a privilege, not a right,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Physicians who engage in such in-your-face kickback schemes to refer Medicare patients to certain home health companies in exchange for money will be held accountable for their behavior. Our agency will continue to crack down on kickbacks, which undermine impartial medical judgment, corrode the public’s trust in the health care system and waste scarce Medicare funding.”
These settlements illustrate the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and mark another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $23.7 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
The investigation of this matter reflects a coordinated effort among the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, HHS-OIG and the FBI.
The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.
Community Walking Group Meeting Twice a Week to Promote Physical Activity
OKEECHOBEE – A new community walking group, led by Joe and Leah Suarez, has been formed to promote physical activity in Okeechobee County. The group meets in front of the old courthouse at 5:30 pm each Tuesday and Thursday. The group is open to everyone, regardless of ability or age and is free of charge.
Nearly 75% of Okeechobee County residents are overweight or obese according to data from Florida CHARTS. Walking is on the of the simplest positive changes you can make to improve your health and best of all, it is free. You don’t need any special equipment and research has shown walking at least 30 minutes a day can help you:
- Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
- Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and blood lipid profile
- Maintain your body weight and lower the risk of obesity
- Enhance your mental well-being
- Reduce your risk of osteoporosis
- Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer
- Reduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
Walking can improve your health, your happiness and, give you the chance to explore the outdoors, get to know your local area and meet new people. There really are so many benefits for such a simple activity.
The community walking group was formed as a mission of Joe and Leah’s based on her recovery from back surgery, when they realized that so many people suffer injury, chronic pain, obesity, depression and other issues, just as she did. When suffering from this, it is difficult to find the motivation to walk, unless there is someone to support you, be your cheerleader, encourage you, talk with you and walk with you.
News Cast for February 23rd:
A volunteer pilot group, Vital Flight is giving patients a lift by airplane to regional hospitals. Many of the patients would be uncomfortable in long car rides to Tampa, Miami or Gainesville.
Pilot Michael Coviello flew Okeechobee patient Vicky Scott to Tampa late last year for a cancer treatment. He said the flight was his first as the main captain. 30 pilots use their own aircraft to fly patients in Florida and beyond, they also absorb all the costs of up to 6 hundred dollars per flight.
The Okeechobee education foundation handed out over 25 thousand dollars in mini grants to Okeechobee teachers last month. 48 mini grants from various donors were given including several from the Kiwanis Club and its members, the American Business Women’s association, Gay Carlton, Bob and Kelly Owens, Glades Electric Cooperative, and the Okeechobee Community Theatre. Teacher Ashley Davis of Central Elementary plans to use the money to improve technology in her 4th grade classroom.
In the courts, 20 year old Alicia Boland received one year probation as prosecutors dropped a charge of met amphetamine trafficking in the case. She pled no contest to misdemeanor charges. Deputies say 26 grams of meth amphetamines were seized during a traffic stop last December 18th on Everglades Boulevard.
Sports Cast for February 23rd:
Okeechobee pounded Port St. Lucie 14-5 in girls’ softball action Friday. Okeechobee got six runs in the sixth inning to put the game away. Krysten Dryden pitched four solid innings on the mound for the Lady Brahmans. Coach Mary Huff had the girls aggressive on the base paths throughout the game to make things happen.
Shortstop Megan Hargraves was involved in a key play as she forced a runners interference call while fielding a ground ball when Port St. Lucie was rallying in a two run third inning
The game was played in the upper 50s and the start time was moved up two hours early due to the weather. Senior Lexi Ward said the girls did all they could to stay warm.
Boys’ baseball defeated Port St. Lucie 2-1 in a pitcher’s duel.
Texas Suspect Arrested in Highlands County
On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, Highlands County Sheriff’s detectives along with a detective from the Round Rock Texas Police Department and an investigator from the Williamson County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office arrested Sebring resident William Raymond Foster. Foster, 70 years of age, of 4456 Rachael Dr., Sebring, had a warrant for his arrest from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for a Felony Murder which occurred 20 years ago in Texas.
Foster recently retired and moved to Highlands County approximately 8 months ago. He is currently being held in the Highlands County Jail until he can be transported back to Texas.
(Pedestrian Education and Developing Safety)
Fort Myers, Fla. - On February 17, 2015, the Florida Highway Patrol, along with the Fort Myers Police Department, completed the first quarterly wave of the 2015 Operation P.E.D.S. (Pedestrian Education and Developing Safety details) on SR 82 (Martin Luther King Boulevard). The detail began at 1:00 pm and concluded at 5:00 pm. Troopers looked for pedestrian, bicycle and motorist violations that occur at or near intersections. In 2014, there were 524 total crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians, 25 of which were fatal. The purpose of this detail was to decrease the amount of injuries and deaths through a series of highly concentrated education and enforcement details in areas prone to pedestrian and bicyclist involved crashes.
- Traffic safety educational information was provided to:
- 402 Pedestrians provided safety brochures along with safety equipment (reflective vest, reflective bracelets and key chain lights) to those in need
- 184 Bicyclists provided safety brochures along with safety equipment (bicycle head lights, bells and reflectors) to those in need
****Troopers personally equipped 137 bicycles with headlight and taillights****
In total, there were 586 citizen contacts made