Local News

Charles Murphy News 7/10

News Cast for July 10th:

Okeechobee County and Guy Harvey appear to be a match made in heaven. The commission agreed to move ahead with a deal with Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite resorts to renovate and reopen the Okee Tantee Recreation area. It’ll take two years perhaps to get things in order. Close to 20 million in private funds could be spent. The lease would only generate one dollar for the first five years to the county but they would see ad valorem taxes and bed taxes as well.

Guy Harvey representatives say over 99 years the county could see over 4 billion in economic benefits.

Mark Ellert said the slowest part of the project is approvals and permits.

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Edward Mayer of Elite resorts emphasized there would be no costs to the county and public access would not be threatened

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Airboater Newton Cook said boaters support the project but want to maintain access to Lake Okeechobee.

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Cook

The city is cracking down again on above ground pools which violate state laws. A four foot high barrier is required and many pools that are sold are not 4 feet high. That means an exterior fence is required. City fire chief Herb Smith said the pools remain popular because they are economical but many don’t know the law. Smith said you’d also be amazed at people that jimmy rig electric to power the pump with improper outlets and extension cords, that are also hazardous.

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Sports Cast for July 10th:

Jose Rodriguez was the MVP for Yearling boys’ basketball this season.

The under sized center was still one of the team’s leading scorers and rebounders. He did a lot of his good work with hustle and determination.

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Rodriguez said he appreciated the award. He said while he knew every player was a challenge, he was never intimidated

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The OCRA Double A all stars, ages 7-8 compete Saturday in the State Tournament in Sebring.

The OCRA Dixie Boys all stars, ages 13-14, will compete in the state Tournament in Marianna beginning Saturday.

Lakeside Basketball also holds the battle of the lake basketball tournament on Saturday and Sunday at Okeechobee High and Osceola Middle School.


Firefighters Suppress Two Wildfires

Firefighters Suppress Two Wildfires

Additional Rainfall Needed to Reduce Wildfire Risk

INDIANTOWN, Fla. – Florida Forest Service and Martin County Fire Rescue suppressed two wildfires in Martin County yesterday (7/8/15) that were ignited by lightning. A lightning strike has a potential to reach temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightning can instantaneously cause a wildfire in dry vegetation or lightning ignitions can smolder for days before they start to show visible signs.

 

County Incident Name Reported Acres Contained Threatened
Martin Pole Barn 7/8/15 14:42 5 7/8/15 16:34 Nothing
Martin West Hungryland 7/8/15 17:06 65 7/8/15 20:37 Nothing

 

Even though these wildfires are contained there is a potential for a rekindle with high temperatures, low relative humidity and high winds. State Wildland Firefighters will return today to patrol, monitor and mop-up until the wildfires are controlled (dead-out).

Thunderstorms may appear daily; with this pattern more lightning strikes are common. If you see a  wildfire please report it by calling 911; when caught early wildfires caused by lightning can be quickly managed and suppressed.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages 37 state forests on 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 questions about burn authorizations and wildfire prevention, please contact your local Florida Forest Service:

Martin County (772) 221-4045;    Saint Lucie County (772) 468-3915;  Indian River County (772) 778-5085;

Glades County (863) 674-4000;    Highlands County  (863) 655-6407;   Okeechobee County (863) 462-5160


Charles Murphy News 7/9

News Cast for July 9th:

Okeechobee law men expect to see cases involving the new drug Flakka.

The synthetic drug can be purchased online and causes delusions, hallucinations and increases temperatures to dangerous levels. Under sheriff Noel Stephen said there haven’t been many cases here but he expects them

In the future, Drug agents are also bracing for more heroin cases due to the affordability of the drug and the difficulty to purchase prescription medications. Okeechobee’s tax base increased for the first time in six years this year.

Assistant county property Appraiser is Mickey Bandi. The county tax base is 1.53 billion, up 10 million from last year.

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The school tax base rose 21.8 million to 1.67 billion.

The city tax base rose by 2.1 million dollars to 239 million.

Vacant land values and single family residential values saw the biggest increase. Ag property values rose nearly 10 million dollars.

County commissioners continued review of constitutional officer budgets today with little comment or complaint. The property appraiser proposes to spend 1.26 million, a 2.5 percent increase.

The tax collector budget is up 98 thousand dollars due to the new driver’s license office and three new employees, the office will open July 22nd. Until then, a portable bus provided by the state has helped renew driver’s licenses. The Supervisor of Elections proposed a similar budget with only 4 thousand dollars more in additional spending.

The Soil and Water Conservation district proposed an extension to their long time deal with the county for one employee, and proposed a 43 thousand dollar budget.

The Florida Supreme Court can resume lethal injection executions. The court ruled the lethal injection drug midazolam does not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Okeechobee has three men on death row and Glades County has one man awaiting execution. More in this report.

Sports Cast for July 9th:

Brandon Leal was named the defensive most valuable player for the Brahman boys’ soccer team this past year. The incoming junior was praised for his tenacity and willingness to work with his teammates.

Leal said he appreciated this honor. Leal said the team didn’t meet expectations this year but still worked hard and have a solid group of players ready to contribute next year.

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The OCRA Double A all-stars, children ages 7-8, in the pitching machine league, won the District 8 title in June in Okeechobee, beating Lake Placid and Avon Park.

The squad will compete this weekend in the State Tournament at Max Long Field in Sebring that begins on Saturday.


Federal Court Prohibits Three Florida Tax Preparers and Their Businesses from Preparing Tax Returns for Others

Federal Court Prohibits Three Florida Tax Preparers and Their Businesses from Preparing Tax Returns for Others

A federal court has barred three Florida men from preparing federal tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today.

The civil injunction order, to which Geto Dorlizier, Lival Gourdet and Jourmel Thomas consented, was signed by U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  The order also bars the businesses the defendants were operating — Atlantic Multi Services LLC, Authentic Financial Services LLC, and JTS Paperworks and Tax Services Inc. — from preparing federal tax returns for others.

According to the complaint, the defendants prepared federal income tax returns for customers that understated the tax that was due or overstated customers’ refunds by improperly claiming fuel tax credits, education credits and earned income tax credits.  Of the returns the defendants prepared for tax years 2009 through 2012 that were examined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), all returns contained false or frivolous tax credits or deductions.  The injunction requires the defendants to provide the government with a list of all customers for whom they have prepared federal tax returns since Jan. 1, 2009.

Dorlizier and Thomas previously were sentenced to serve 111 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and 61 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, respectively, following their guilty pleas to aggravated identity theft, among other crimes, for their participation in a scheme to commit stolen identity tax refund fraud.  Dorlizier and Thomas obtained identifying information on individuals, filed fraudulent tax returns on their behalf, and then cashed U.S. Treasury checks they received using these stolen identities, according to the suit.  As part of their plea agreements, Dorlizier and Thomas agreed to be permanently enjoined from preparing tax returns for others.

Return preparer fraud is one of the IRS’ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2015.  The IRS has some tips on its website for choosing a tax preparer, and has launched a free directory of federal tax preparers.  In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers and tax scheme promoters.  Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department’s website.  An alphabetical listing of persons enjoined from preparing returns and promoting tax schemes can be found on here.  If you believe that one of the enjoined persons or businesses may be violating an injunction, please contact the Tax Division with details


Charles Murphy News 7/8

News Cast for July 8th:

Illegal sales of soft shell turtles landed two Clewiston men in the Highlands County jail. The Florida fish and wildlife ran an undercover operation and allegedly agreed to sell the suspects over 2 hundred pounds of the turtles, which are considered a delicacy and expensive in Asia. Charged with multiple felonies were 34 year old Guisheng Lei and 33 year old Gan Feng Du.

In federal court, a West Palm Beach woman was found guilty at her trial of running a massive timeshare fraud scheme. Various companies including Creative Vacation Solutions victimized over 22 thousand people in the US and Canada. Okeechobee was among the towns with offices. The scheme involved charging the credit cards of elderly time share owners who wanted to sell their time shares. No actual sales ever occurred and the scheme got about 3 thousand dollars from each customer.

Two Palm Beach county men were charged with attempting to shoot a deer at night with a gun and light at the Dupuis Wildlife management area in Port Mayaca. Charged were 24 year old Keith McNeil and 21 year old Steven Conklin.

A 48 year old Okeechobee man, Paul Clay was charged with animal cruelty for shooting a pit bull dog to death. Deputies say Clay shot the dog on May 24th and dumped the body in a canal after his girlfriend broke up with him.

Sports Cast for July 8th:

Kallen Piniero was named the rookie of the year for the Brahman wrestling team this year.

The freshman said he worked hard in his freshman year and was glad to get an award. He was involved with the Okeechobee wrestling club since the third grade.

Piniero wrestled at 113 pounds this year.

He said his goal to be at the state tournament. Piniero also rides bull in off season rodeo. He is working on boxing, jujitsu, and conditioning in the off season.


Gov. Scott Announces Citrapac to Create 240 New Jobs, Open Manufacturing Facility in Sebring

Gov. Scott Announces Citrapac to Create 240 New Jobs, Open Manufacturing Facility in Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that CitraPac will open a new manufacturing facility at the Sebring Airport, creating 240 new jobs. The new 37,000 square foot facility will be constructed at the Sebring Commerce Park and will add a capital investment of $14 million to the region.

Governor Scott said, “We are excited that CitraPac has decided to expand their operations in Highlands County creating 240 new jobs for Florida families. By creating a business-friendly environment in Florida and continuing to cut taxes, including eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, we are allowing job creators to create more opportunities. Over the past four years, Florida’s private sector has created more than 879,000 jobs and we won’t stop working until Florida is the best place in the world to get a job and live your dreams.”

CitraPac® is a specialty manufacturer of unique real-fruit frozen snacks. President Gregg Harshman’s family was one of the pioneering citrus growers in Highlands County during the 1920s. Although the family sold the business in 2000, Harshman continued in the field and looked for an opportunity to keep the family heritage in Highlands County.

“Florida has been our home for more than 90 years and we are proud to be expanding and adding jobs to our local economy,” said Harshman. “Florida’s pro-business climate has allowed us to continue our growth and we look forward to being a part of the state’s continued economic resurgence. Thank you to Governor Scott for joining us for today’s announcement and making Florida a great state for businesses to grow.”

CitraPac is pleased to make Highlands County the production hub for its Fruit Pearls product. Fruit Pearls was developed by scientists at the Florida Department of Citrus and involves a unique citrus process, which was licensed to CitraPac.

Harshman said, “‘Fruit Pearls’ is the name of the product—CitraPac uses real oranges and tangerines and flash freezes them into ‘tiny pearls’ and mixes them with beads of fruit purees, fruit juices, and yogurts. No preservatives and nothing artificial are used to create this healthy snack for kids. The goal is to have this healthy snack on school lunch trays nationwide.”

Florida manufacturers are a powerful economic engine for the state’s economy. Florida’s strong workforce and top-ranked infrastructure make it the perfect state for manufacturers. These and many other factors such as a competitive tax environment and a superior quality of life, have resulted in a robust manufacturing sector in Florida.

Bill Johnson, Enterprise Florida president and CEO said, “Florida’s manufacturing sector is growing and will continue to prosper thanks to companies like CitraPac and their continued investments in Florida. We thank them for adding to Florida’s strong manufacturing base of nearly 18,000 manufacturers employing more than 311,000 across the state.”

This project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Highlands County, the City of Sebring, Sebring Regional Airport CRA and the Sebring Airport Authority.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said, “Governor Scott’s manufacturing-friendly policies have resulted in another success story as CitraPac will open a new manufacturing facility that will create 240 jobs in Sebring. Seeing a company like CitraPac, which has been a staple in Florida’s manufacturing industry for so long, continue to thrive is proof that Florida has the perfect climate for business.”

“A true team effort made this happen. And, it’s a real gain for the local economy in terms of job creation,” said Mike Willingham, Executive Director for the Sebring Regional Airport.

 

CitraPac® is a specialty manufacturer of the unique real-fruit frozen snacks, Fruit Pearls. They operate on the simple principle that healthy products should taste good. All of their products are made from only the finest ingredients, most from just pure natural citrus fruit selected from local farmers and cooperatives.

Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI) is a partnership between Florida’s businesses and government leaders and is the principal economic development organization for the state of Florida.  EFI facilitates job growth for Florida businesses through recruitment and retention, international trade and exporting, promotion of sporting events, and capital funding programs to assist small and minority businesses.


Rooney Boosts Funding to Combat Citrus Disease

Rooney Boosts Funding to Combat Citrus Disease

Washington, DC – The 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee today includes a $2 million funding boost for citrus disease research requested by U.S. Representative Tom Rooney (FL-17).

“Citrus greening disease poses an existential threat to Florida’s citrus industry and the 76,000 jobs it supports,” Rooney said. “This disease has already caused the loss of 200,000 acres of Florida citrus groves, and it now impacts every grove in our state. If we don’t take action, Florida orange juice will be a thing of the past.

“The funding in this bill will advance critical research to detect, manage, and ultimately find a cure for citrus greening disease. This is an important step forward, but I will continue working to increase citrus disease funding and ensure that our tax dollars are spent wisely.”

The Agriculture Appropriations bill totals $20.65 billion in discretionary funding, which is $175 million lower than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

“Our bill saves taxpayer money by targeting funds to programs that work, while cutting inefficient, wasteful projects,” Rooney said. “We’ve also cut through red tape and reined in regulatory overreach onto farms in Florida and across the country.”

A full bill summary and complete text are available here.


Charles Murphy News 7/7

News Cast for July 7th:

Among arrests, A 17 year old charged with fleeing and eluding police at speeds of over 1 hundred miles per hour on July 1st. City police responded to the report of a reckless driver on 70 west. Speeds reached 117 miles per hour.

An Okeechobee mother charged last week with letting her 11 year old son smoke marijuana. 35 year old Casey Sanders was charged with child abuse and delivery of cannabis to a minor.

46 year old Linda Wooten of Okeechobee was charged with grand theft auto, and multiple drug charges after a traffic stop in Charlotte County. Deputies say the car was reported stolen from Arcadia.

Two local residents were charged with exploiting an 83 year old man who suffers from dementia. 35 year old William McClure and 53 year old Cheryl Wellman allegedly made 8 ATM transactions from the man’s account and were accused of taking over 26 hundred dollars.

26 year old Gabriel Padgett was charged with child neglect. City police reported a concerned citizen and several Okeechobee county fire rescue employees spotted a four year old boy partially naked pushing a stroller on north west 6th Street with no adults around on Friday.

The Florida Highway Patrol reports a 74 year old Palm City man; Johnnie Taylor was killed in a single vehicle crash on state route 60 near Yeehaw Junction.

The driver of a 2005 Dodge pickup, 71 year old Douglas Scholes of North Carolina, somehow crossed the center line while east bound and ran off the road. The truck overturned multiple times on the north shoulder of the road.

In recent arrests, 31 year old Charles Hill the 4th was charged with sexual battery on a child under 12. Bond was set at 1 hundred thousand dollars. The incident allegedly occurred on March 1st of this year.

Sports Cast for July 7th:

Okeechobee girls basketball coach Joe Smith has been busy in the off season working with younger girls to build a base of talented players for the future. The basketball teams and Chobee Nation, a new program, recently held three weeks of various camps for different age groups.

Smith said he feels preaching the fundamentals and working with the girls will pay off.

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He said he was satisfied with the progress made in the last year. Smith said the girls reacted positively to his messages this year with emphasize what he calls the 3 P program. Smith said he was pleased with the turnout of the camps and the group plans to hold future camps.

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Okeechobee football players will take part in a 7 on 7 passing league on Tuesdays. Tonight Sebring high school will host the league which also includes Avon Park and Hardee High.


Charles Murphy News 7/6

News Cast for July 6th:

The city council will close the north end of South West 2nd Avenue at State Route 70 to add parking along the street. Motorists won’t be able to make a right turn onto route 70 and sidewalks will be installed. City public works director David Allen said this is one piece of the puzzle to improve the parking situation.

The council is looking at angled parking on South West 3rd and South West 4th Avenues to improve parking spaces. About 3 dozen new parking spaces will be created.

The city is also working to purchase land on South West Park Street for a parking lot. The main intersection project is nearly completed. There will be no right lane turn lanes installed.

Florida Power and Light announced they would move ahead with the Okeechobee clean energy center, a natural gas plant located near Fort Drum last week. The company has studied the idea for the past year. The project would see construction start next year and be completed in 2017 and add construction jobs and also benefit the Okeechobee tax base.

Okee Fatal 6-21-15 US-98

Hendry Co Hunting Club 6-24-15

Crash in Highlands Co

Okee Fatal 6-25-15 US-441 TT

Glades Co SR 29 7-2-15

Okee Fatal 6-30 15 168 St

Sports Cast for July 6th:

Dalton Murray will follow up two years playing baseball at Indian River State College with two years at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Murray was one of the better college catchers at the junior college level last year, batting over 320 and handling the Pioneers pitching staff.

Murray said he was proud of how he performed at IRSC. He said it was very important to get the reps and the at bats at the junior college level.

Murray said he thinks he’ll be in the mix to get playing time at the Division I school in Fort Myers. Dalton plans to receive a four year degree in business once he graduates from Florida Gulf Coast.


43 Counts of Possessing Obscene Material (Sexual Performance by a Child)

43 Counts of Possessing Obscene Material (Sexual Performance by a Child)

On June 1, 2015, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office received information from Detective Kelly Wedley of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, who is our regions Internet Crimes against Children coordinator. Information revealed a company identified as Sevdvid, who allows videos to be uploaded to their servers had discovered one of their users, between the dates of April 4 – 11, 2015, had uploaded 43 videos to their server; and they suspected the videos to contain children engaged in sexual acts. Information received through a subpoena discovered the ISP address for the user to be Debby Rader at 8400 Hampshire Road, Sebring. Once the jurisdiction was learned the case was turned over to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.

The case was assigned to Det. Roger St. Laurent, who is assigned to the Sheriff’s Office -Special Victim’s Unit. Through surveillance, it was learned that only Debby Rader, 49 years-of-age, and Swen Swenson, 47 years-of-age, live at 8400 Hampshire Road.

A search warrant was obtained by the Sheriff’s Office to search the residence; on June 18, 2015 the search warrant was executed by detectives of the Sheriff’s Office. Hundreds of pieces of possible evidence were taken into custody; which will take weeks to be examined by Sheriff’s Office crime scene and forensic technicians.

On the same date, Swenson was arrested by Det. St. Laurent, based on probable cause, for 43 counts of possession of videos depicting child pornography. Swenson is currently being held in the Highlands County Jail on a $430,000 bond.

Swenson is employed by the Sebring Fire Department as a fire inspector and is also the Chief of the Lorida Volunteer Fire Department.

The Sheriff’s Office investigation is still continuing.

Anyone with information about this investigation is asked to call Detective Roger St. Laurent at 402-7447 or 7200; or if they wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS (8477), or contact them on the internet at www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com or simply scan the QR code at right. Anonymity is guaranteed.


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