Local News

Tampa Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Fraud

Tampa Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Fraud

Energy Scam Uncovered by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A Tampa man was sentenced today to four years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges he scammed investors out of more than $3 million and fraudulently applied for federal grant funds for alternative energy projects that were never accomplished.

The scam was uncovered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services during a top-to-bottom audit of outstanding grants and projects conducted immediately after the department assumed responsibility of the state’s Office of Energy.

“Our audit exposed several cases of fraud, saving more than $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Misuse of public funds is unacceptable, and those who have committed fraud will be held accountable.”

In 2010, the state’s Office of Energy, which was housed in the Executive Office of the Governor at that time, awarded $500,000 to a Tampa-based company, USCJO Inc., and its president, William A. Vasden, to support a sustainable feedstock farm in Arcadia, Fla. Once the office was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the department conducted an audit of all outstanding grants and projects to identify fraud. An investigation of USCOJ, Inc. uncovered fraud, and the department withheld disbursement of the funds committed.

The criminal investigation, conducted jointly with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, showed that through making false statements about the grant money, Vasden had scammed investors out of more than $3 million. He was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012 for 30 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements. Earlier this year, Vasden pleaded guilty to the 31 charges and was sentenced today to four years in prison and three years of supervised release by U.S. District Court Judge John Steele in Fort Myers.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com.




~ Large trucks require more room. Patience is essential on the highways~

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –There’s little doubt what can happen during a collision between a passenger car and a tractor-trailer that weighs up to 40 tons. Today, the Florida Highway Patrol will start another phase of Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT), a safety campaign aimed at educating motorists on the dangers of aggressive driving when interacting with large trucks on the road.

“FHP is committed to making our highways safer and one way to accomplish that is by reducing the number of crashes involving commercial motor vehicles” said Colonel David H. Brierton, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “We can reduce the number of crashes if we all avoid aggressive driving behaviors and practice patience around large trucks.”

The TACT campaign runs from December 5th – 18th. Troopers will be looking for car and truck drivers who display aggressive driving behaviors such as following too closely, unsafe lane changes and speeding.

Do you drive defensively around large trucks? Protect yourself and your passengers by learning how to share the road. FHP offers these tips for driving around large trucks:

  • Avoid the No Zone. Watch for the substantial blind spots (No Zones) around large trucks.
  • Pass trucks with caution. Pass on the left side for maximum visibility and maintain constant speeds.
  • Don’t cut trucks off. Large trucks simply can’t stop as quickly as cars.
  • Practice patience and try to be predictable. Avoid making erratic driving maneuvers if a truck isn’t going as fast as you’d like.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides highway safety and security through excellence in service, education and enforcement. The Department is leading the way to a safer Florida through the efficient and professional execution of its core mission: the issuance of driver licenses, vehicle tags and titles and operation of the Florida Highway Patrol. To learn more about DHSMV and the services offered, visit www.flhsmv.gov, follow us on Twitter @FLHSMV or find us on Facebook.

Charles Murphy News 12/5

News Cast for December 5th:

Okeechobee County approved tax incentives in an effort to lure a natural gas power plant proposed by Florida Power and Light Thursday. Company spokesman David McDermott says the company hopes to make a decision on a site in the next month. He noted five sites are currently under consideration. Commission chairman Frank Irby says the community has shown strong support for this project.

Okeechobee’s Sheriff is back home after a hunting accident in Alabama, and is recovering. Under Sheriff Noel Stephen predicted it won’t be long before the counties top law man is back on the job.

A 47 year old Clewiston police officer, Fernando Herrera faces charges he attacked a Hendry County deputy at a convenience store. Charges include aggravated battery of a police officer and aggravated stalking.

35 year old Keith Johnson was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a knife on a child. The Louisiana man apparently went to a local food kitchen in Douglas Park and demanded food, and tried to use a knife to get inside Wednesday afternoon.

58 year old Edgar ochoa was arrested on a South Carolina governors warrant for reckless homicide and leaving the scene of a crash in Charleston County, South Carolina, over 21 years ago.

28 year old Maryanna Lefevre was charged with grand theft and identity theft of the elderly.

Mickey Bandi on Value Adjustment denials

Lisa Thomas and Amy Dawson Mid Florida

Sports Cast for December 5th:

Osceola girls’ basketball defeated Yearling in overtime 19-16 this week. A free thrown by Kaylee Bell and a bucket by Judele Root in overtime proved to be the difference. Root also made some key defensive plays in overtime. She said she was glad to be able to contribute. She had six points and nine rebounds.

Judele Root on OMS win over YMS

Bell overcame a hard foul in overtime to hit the key free throw. Her spurt of points in the second quarter got the Warriors back in the game. Bell ended up with nine points.

Kaylee Bell and LiAnn Whipple on OMS win

Simone Washington and Mariah Spelts led Yearling with eight points apiece. Osceola Coach LiAnn Whipple said she wasn’t used to this close a game, or the overtime.

Yearling boys’ hoops last night defeats Brighton 49-45 for their first victory of the season. Lucas Osceola led Brighton with 31 points.

Teeana Fryson had 14 points to lead South Fork to a 50-24 victory over Okeechobee in girls’ basketball. Cheyenne Nunez had 15 points. South Fork won the JV contest 30-26.

Evan Neal on win over YMS

Freshman boys’ basketball lost last night to Pahokee 61-47. Malcolm Chambers led the way with 14 points.

On the sports schedule today, OHS boys’ hoops host South Fork with JV at 6 and varsity at 7:30. OHS girls’ soccer hosts Lake Placid at 6:30 pm. OHS boys’ soccer visits Desoto with JV at 5 and varsity at 7. Moore Haven basketball travel to Canterbury

Cole Younger on NFL punt, pass and kick

Bruce Jahner on wrestling win over TC

Top U.S. Community Colleges Commit to Collectively Graduating Nearly 50 Percent More Students by 2020

Top U.S. Community Colleges Commit to Collectively Graduating Nearly 50 Percent More Students by 2020

Commitments made at White House Summit on College Opportunity;

Aspen Institute announces new $100,000 award for “Most Improved” in student success as part of March 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Award

Washington, D.C., December 4, 2014 – Top community colleges in the nation today committed to collectively graduating an additional 6,500 students by 2020, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds. At the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, a summit hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the 15 participating colleges – all former winners and finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence – pledged to increase the total number of graduates produced by nearly 50 percent above current levels.

The Aspen College Excellence Program convened this new community college collaborative in response to President Obama’s call to increase the number of American’s with college degrees. For more information about these top colleges and the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, visit: www.aspenprize.org.

“Aspen Prize finalist community colleges have already demonstrated that they can achieve remarkable levels of student success and that they are committed to continuous improvement,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and author of What Excellent Community Colleges Do. “This new commitment reflects the belief among faculty, staff, and leaders at these Aspen Prize institutions that through collaboration and sharing of strategies their colleges can measurably improve student success.”

Each of the 15 participating colleges has established its own completion goals based on the specific initiatives and priorities of their campuses. For example, some have focused on increasing enrollment and completion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, while others have set overall completion goals tied to the implementation of promising practices around developmental education or introductory course re-design. With few exceptions, the colleges are making these commitments without expecting increases in state funding or other revenues, and thus additional graduates will be achieved at the same or reduced costs.

New Aspen Prize Award – Most Improved in Student Success

At the White House Summit on College Opportunity today, Aspen also announced that a new $100,000 award for “most improved” in the area of student success would be awarded at the March 2015 announcement of the winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The new award will highlight successful practices from community colleges that have made dramatic improvement, especially in contexts where the barriers to student success are high and the fewest students have been succeeding. For more information about the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, visit: www.aspenprize.org.

Since its launch in 2011, the College Excellence Program has focused on rewarding and shining a spotlight on community colleges with both strong achievement and improvement in student outcomes through its Prize for Community College Excellence. Awarded every two years, the Aspen Prize recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide. With a singular focus on student success, the Aspen Prize assesses achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, high rates of employment and earnings for graduates, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

List of 15 Participating Colleges

  1. Broward College (Fort Lauderdale, FL) – 2013 and 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  2. College of the Ouachitas (Malvern, AR) – 2013 for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  3. El Paso Community College (El Paso, TX) – 2013 and 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  4. Hostos Community College (Bronx, NY) – 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  5. Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, FL) – 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  6. Kennedy-King College (Chicago, IL) – 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  7. Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) – 2011, 2013, 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  8. Olympic College (Bremerton, WA) – 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  9. Renton Technical College (Renton, WA) – 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  10. Santa Barbara City College (Santa Barbara, CA) – 2013 Co-Winner of Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  11. Santa Fe College (Gainesville, FL) – 2013, 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  12. Southwest Texas Junior College (Uvalde, TX) – 2011 Finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  13. Valencia College (Orlando, FL) – 2011 Winner of Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  14. West Kentucky Community & Technical College (Paducah, KY) – 2011, 2013, 2015 Finalist for Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  15. Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA) – 2013 Co-Winner of Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

The Aspen Prize is funded by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and Lumina Foundation.

The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/college-excellence.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.



Charles Murphy News 12/4

News Cast for December 4th:

While Okeechobee Aids and HIV cases have remained level in recent years, a new study shows more and more Floridians have become infected with the disease. This week celebrated World Aids Day, an effort to try and encourage people to get tested for HIV. 59 hundred cases were diagnosed in Florida in 2013, an increase of 1,000 cases from 2012. Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones admits those that are diagnosed are living longer. He noted the highest risk areas are homosexuals and in the black community. Over 70 percent of those with AIDS and HIV in Florida are black or Hispanic.

Glades County planners will consider a petition from the Buckhead Ridge Christian Church to change the future land use of 1.6 acres from residential to commercial. They will also consider two applications from Lykes Brothers to construct wireless cell phone towers.

Okeechobee planners next week will consider a special exception for allow a drive through convenience store at 455 USHWY 98 north.

Okeechobee county commissioners today will consider a package of property exemptions they hope to use to lure Florida Power and Light to construct a natural gas power plant in north eastern Okeechobee County.

Two goats, believed to have been stolen from a barn on North West 12th Terrace returned home safely. The Christmas family went on WOKC and Facebook in an effort to find the prized show goats that are both worth 5 hundred dollars. Sheriff Deputies deny there has been a rash of goat thefts in Okeechobee.

Sports Cast for December 4th:

Osceola boys’ basketball broke a long losing streak to Yearling with a 49-48 victory Wednesday Evan Neal had 28 points and 15 rebounds. He said when his team slowed the pace down they were successful. Coach Jason Peerman said the team didn’t rely on one person, played good defense, and had good teamwork. Point guard Trey Youmans said the team felt good because there hard work paid off.

Lady Brahman soccer lost to Jensen Beach Wednesday 7-0. Brooke O’Hagan had five saves in net for Okeechobee.

Lady Brahman basketball lost to Lake Placid on Tuesday.

On the sports schedule today, Lady Brahman basketball visits Sebring with JV at 6 and varsity at 7:30, Yearling basketball will visit The Brighton Reservation, girls at 4:30 and boys at 6:30. OHS boys’ soccer hosts Martin County Junior Varsity at 5 pm and varsity at 7 pm. OHS boys’ hoops host Sebastian River at 5:30 and 7 pm. OHS weight lifters compete in the Martin County Wyatt Family invite this afternoon.

Florida Marriage Amendment Overturned

The Florida Marriage Amendment which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and which was passed by millions of Floridians has been overturned by a handful of judges.

ORLANDO, FL- The Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals panel in Atlanta, GA announced Wednesday that a judicial stay in Florida’s federal same-sex marriage case will expire on January 5, 2015 overturning Florida’s marriage amendment likely ensuring that same-sex couples will be allowed to receive marriage licenses in the state the following day.  Florida Family Policy Council, President John Stemberger issued the following statement:

“The court today is wrong.  The court was also wrong years ago in Dred Scott when it ruled that Blacks were not persons.  The courts will never have the final word on an institution as fundamental to the human experience as marriage.  You simply cannot build a civilization without natural marriage.

Today, we grieve. We grieve for the children who now have no chance of growing up with both a mom and a dad. We mourn the loss of a culture and its ethical foundation. We mourn for a culture that continues to turn its back on timeless principles.

The state has an interest in defining, protecting and promoting natural marriage and as long as we have breath, even if it takes 20, 30 or 50 years, we will never give up on this issue. We may grieve today, but we will not despair.  We will not throw in the towel.  We will not give up.

Just as we have worked for decades and are rebuilding a culture of life, in spite of Roe v Wade, we will also work to rebuild a culture of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Natural marriage will never be on the wrong side of history because it’s rooted in the human experience. A little boy who longs to have a father in the inner city – that will never be on the wrong side of history. The little girl who has two dads and doesn’t have a mom and she wants someone to guide her through the changes that a woman’s body goes through – that’s never going to be on the wrong side of history. And the beauty of how a man and woman come together and life is born, that’s never going to be on the wrong side of history.”

For more information, contact Cathy Gradine, 407-251-5130 or Media@FLfamily.org

Florida Forest Service Offers Tips for Fire-Safe Holiday Decorating

Florida Forest Service Offers Tips for Fire-Safe Holiday Decorating

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Floridians begin to decorate their homes and businesses for the holidays, the Florida Forest Service offers five tips to help reduce fire hazards in and around their homes.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans will purchase nearly 30 million natural Christmas trees this season. Natural trees and greenery are renewable resources and, when consumers purchase Florida-grown trees, they are supporting the local economy.

However, the Florida Forest Service would like to remind residents that evergreen foliage and other holiday decorations in and around the home can become fire hazards. Keep the following tips in mind when decorating indoors and outdoors for the holidays.

  1. Keep natural and artificial Christmas trees away from fireplaces, portable heaters and other heat sources.
  2. Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant decorations.
  3. Check the labels on lights to make sure they were tested at a facility, such as UL or ETL, and always follow manufacturer’s instructions for use.
  4. Discard any lights with cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.
  5. Always turn off holiday lights and blow out candles when going to bed or leaving the house.

The Florida Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting 26 million acres of homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire. For more information about the Florida Forest Service, go to www.FloridaForestService.com.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com



On November 29, 2014, Hendry County Deputy Sheriff J. Garrett stopped a green in color Chrysler 300 in the area of U.S. 27 and Olympia.  Deputy Garrett noticed that the tag had been altered.  After the vehicle stopped, Deputy Garrett made contact with the driver, identified as 44 year old Willie Forrest Hallback of Clewiston.

While speaking with Hallback, Deputy Garrett noticed that Hallback became very nervous and was shaking badly.  When asked if he was ok or if he had a medical condition, Hallback told the Deputy he didn’t like cops.

After Deputy Garrett’s K-9 was used to conduct narcotic sniff of the vehicle, the dog indicated to his handler that narcotics were inside the vehicle.   Deputy Garrett located hidden under the driver seat a carefully wrapped bundle of marijuana with an approximate weight of 1 pound.

Willie Forrest Hallback was then placed under arrest and charged with Possession of Marijuana over 20 grams.  He was released on November 30, 2014 on $3,500.00 bond.


Charles Murphy News 12/3

News Cast for December 3rd:

The city of Okeechobee welcomed the holiday season with the annual lighting ceremony last night in City Hall Park. The All County choir performed for about 30 minutes before local dignitaries took the stage. Mayor Jim Kirk said 2 thousand 14 was a good year for the city. The event was capped off by a visit by Santa Claus who traveled to Okeechobee aboard the city fire truck. He’ll be meeting nightly with kids in his work shop in the park for the next two weeks.

Florida Gas Transmission lost its appeal before the County Value Adjustment board for their pipeline in Okeechobee. A value of 89 million was upheld, over 35 million more than the company thinks the pipeline is worth. The two sides have been in litigation in court for the past few years.

Assistant County Property Appraiser Mickey Bandi reports things are looking up with the county tax base.

A 42 year old Glades county man charged with impersonating an Okeechobee rancher trying to wire 64 thousand dollars into his account at Labelle’s Florida Community Bank. George Byrd faces charges of scheme to defraud and uttering forged instruments.

Sports Cast for December 3rd:

OHS wrestlers opened the season with a 42-30 victory over Treasure Coast last night with nine victories in 14 matches.

Matthew Lanning went into a third overtime before he could prevail 1-0 in a referee’s decision. He said he was pushed to the limit.

Alex Hernandez, Chris Lutjen, Sebastian Fulleda, Joe Turbush, Brandon Shockley, and Erik Gaitan added pinfall victories for Okeechobee.

Coach Bruce Jahner was pleased his team got some mat experience. The team wrestles at the Sebastian tournament this weekend.

Brahman boys hoops got their first victory of the year in thrilling fashion, 34-33 over Jensen Beach last night. Bubba Fludd had the winning basket in the final seconds and had 10 points. Demetrius Clark also had 10 points for Okeechobee.

Coach Demetre Riles said his first career win as a coach felt special. Okeechobee returns home Thursday to play Sebastian River.

The sports schedule today includes girls’ basketball at home against South Fork, JV at 5:30 and varsity at 7 pm, Moore Haven girls and boys’ hoops visit Seacrest Country Day in Naples at 5:30 and 7 pm. Osceola will host Yearling in basketball today at 4:30 and 5:45, OHS girls soccer host Jensen Beach at 4 pm and Moore Haven boys soccer visits Island Coast at 5 pm.

Goat rustlers suspected in Okeechobee Goats returned to Christmas family

Goat rustlers suspected in Okeechobee Goats returned to Christmas family

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. —A family’s prized and expensive show goats are back home after it was feared that rustlers had stolen them to eat.

When US Airways passenger Robert Phelps first saw the woman coming down the aisle of the plane, he thought she had a “really big dog” or a stuffed animal thrown over her shoulder.

It was about 6:10 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, and Phelps was wait…

The Christmas family discovered that their two pedigree goats had been stolen out of their backyard barn on Northwest 12th Terrace on Sunday afternoon.

They posted their plight on Facebook, and soon heard from a number of other people in Okeechobee who also had their goats stolen.

“People told us it’s worst around Christmastime, and people take them for food,” Natalie Christmas told WPBF 25 News’ John Dzenitis. “These are our pets. That’s not why we have them.”

Christmas’ 11-year-old son recently bought the goats for more than $500 apiece after working hard and saving up the money. He was excited to show the goats in upcoming competitions.

After a lot of publicity on social media and the local radio station, an anonymous person came forward and returned the goats. The woman told the Christmas family that the goats had appeared in her pen overnight, but she didn’t know where they came from.

“We just wanted our goats back, no questions asked,” Christmas said.

The Christmas family does not plan on pursuing criminal charges, but they do plan on locking their barn from now on. They also want to warn other goat owners in the area to be vigilant.

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