Saturday, June 16, 2018
Public safety

Florida lawmaker under investigation for bizarre texts

Federal agents are investigating Florida House Rep. Richard Steinberg for sending a series of suggestive and harassing text messages to a married Miami female prosecutor, court records show.

The dozens of messages, sent over the course of more than three months last fall, were sent from a phone that used software to disguise the number. The victim, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos, repeatedly begged the anonymous sender to leave her alone.

When U.S. Secret Service investigators traced the Yahoo screen name, "itsjustme24680," it led to a phone and home Internet account registered to Steinberg, a former Miami Beach commissioner whom Fernandez-Karavetsos knew only professionally.

Late Wednesday, Steinberg — in response to a request for comment from the Miami Herald — admitted in an email that he was behind the messages.

"I acknowledge and take full responsibility for sending inappropriate and unsolicited messages to Mrs. Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos, whom I have known for more than 15 years. I deeply regret and wholeheartedly apologize for the disrespect that I have shown her, her husband and my constituents," he said through a spokesman.

"Most importantly, words cannot express how sorry I am to my wife, for the disrespect I have shown her, and my entire family."

According to a search warrant filed late last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Steinberg is suspected of engaging in stalking, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. It was not clear Wednesday whether investigators had found evidence of inappropriate messages to other women.

Steinberg, 39, has not been charged. He was in Tallahassee on Wednesday for the 2012 legislative session.

Voters elected Steinberg, a Democrat, to the House in 2008 after he spent seven years as a commissioner in Miami Beach. A lawyer since 1998, Steinberg is married with one child.

Fernandez-Karavetsos, 37, works in the general litigation unit of Miami's U.S. Attorney's Office. She is married to federal prosecutor George Karavetsos, 39, who heads the office's narcotics section. The couple declined to comment.

After investigators verified that Steinberg had apparently accessed the Yahoo account, they returned to talk to Fernandez-Karavetsos. She "confirmed that she knows the subject in a professional non-intimate way. … (She) indicated that the messages have caused her substantial emotional distress and serve no legitimate purpose," according to the search warrant.

The investigation started in August, when Fernandez-Karavetsos reported the text messages to authorities. Sent from the screen name "itsjustme24680," the messages struck a creepy tone.

"Sexxxy mama?" the first one read.

"How do I know you?" replied Fernandez-Karavetsos.

The sender declined to identify himself.

"Leave me alone," she texted back.

"Is that anyway to treat a friend? LOL," the sender replied.

Fernandez-Karavetsos, a new mother, tried to block the sender, to no avail.

Over the next few weeks, the anonymous sender repeatedly sent her messages that included: "How's motherhood?" and "getting any sleep?" and asking about the well-being of her baby son — even naming the infant.

Fernandez-Karavetsos repeatedly asked the sender to stop messaging her or identify himself.

"Considering we're both married parents, probably best I not answer that at this point," the person wrote back.

Fernandez-Karavetsos provided investigators with screen shots of the exchanges from her phone.

According to the search warrant, the sender's real phone number did not show up on the recipient's caller ID.

Miami Beach Detective Ricardo Arias, who is attached to the Secret Service's Electronic Crimes Task Force, discovered that the number displayed belonged to Yahoo's messaging service. The account, created in September 2009, was registered to a fake name: "Mr. Just Me."

A subpoena revealed that during the time period in which the messages were sent to Fernandez-Karavetsos, the Yahoo account was accessed by an Atlantic Broadband Internet account registered to Steinberg's home address, a South Beach condo owned by the politician.

Another device also accessed the Yahoo account through a Sprint Nextel account registered to Steinberg through his law office in Miami Beach, the search warrant said.

Miami Herald staff writers Jay Weaver and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Comments
St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he’s connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Peters...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home. The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab. Rich decide...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

TAMPA — Maria Pena-Lebron, 83, was walking out of Fresco y Mas with her groceries in May when she was approached by a woman wearing a straw hat, who pleaded with her for help. The stranger claimed to be an undocumented immigrant and therefore unable ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

TAMPA — Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Jeremy Finney was, by all accounts, a model firefighter — until he lost his cool. The outburst cost him two ranks.Finney has served nearly 16 years in the department and was a member of the Tactical Medical Response Te...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Two roller coaster riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed and was left dangling from the track, and firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. "The front car which...
Published: 06/15/18
Largo man accused of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend’s toddler

Largo man accused of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend’s toddler

A Largo man is facing kidnapping and attempted murder charges after authorities say he took his ex-girlfriend’s 2-year-old child last weekend and rammed another man’s car to get away.Johnny A. Wise, 27, was arrested late Thursday on Williams Drive ne...
Published: 06/15/18
Charges dropped against two UCF fraternity members accused of rape

Charges dropped against two UCF fraternity members accused of rape

ORLANDO — Prosecutors have dropped charges against two University of Central Florida students — one of whom is from Hillsborough County — who were accused of raping a woman at a fraternity party.The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Orange-Osceola St...
Published: 06/15/18
2 killed when vehicle struck by train in Polk County

2 killed when vehicle struck by train in Polk County

FROSTPROOF — Two people were killed when their vehicle was struck by a train early Friday morning.Polk County deputies say the crash occurred on westbound U.S. 98 near Western Avenue just after 3 a.m.Westbound lanes on U.S. 98 are expected to be clo...
Published: 06/15/18
Pasco deputies find body of man after kayak overturned

Pasco deputies find body of man after kayak overturned

The body of a man was discovered in Frierson Lakes in Hudson on Thursday night after his kayak was seen overturned in the water.A resident living along Frierson Lake Drive contacted the Pasco Sheriff’s Office to report seeing an overturned kayak stil...
Published: 06/15/18
Florida man arrested after calling sheriff to get his meth tested

Florida man arrested after calling sheriff to get his meth tested

PALATKA — A Florida man called the sheriff’s office Tuesday after growing suspicious that the meth he had smoked was the wrong drug.The concerned caller, 49-year-old Hawthorne resident Douglas Peter Kelly, experienced a "violent reaction" to narcotic...
Published: 06/14/18