12/19/14 State Roundup
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday chose not to meddle in Florida's tug-of-war over marriage equality, declining to delay the Jan. 6 start of same-sex vows.
Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the court to block gay marriage while Florida fights to protect a 2008 constitutional amendment that allows only heterosexual couples to wed. In a one-paragraph order, the court decided not to step into the Florida case....
12/17/14 Economic Development
TAMPA — News that the United States plans to ease some travel restrictions and restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba — the biggest movement toward normalization with the Communist country in a half-century — impacts few places more than Tampa Bay.
This is home to one of the largest Cuban-American populations in the nation. And thanks to Port Tampa Bay, it is arguably best positioned to become a top trade conduit with Cuba, as well as a travel hub....
TAMPA — Four skinheads chose two homeless men at random in 1998 and broke open their heads for bragging rights.
One victim was black; the other, white. The killers, white supremacists who considered all vagrants to be beneath contempt, assumed no one would care, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley recalls.
Years later, Bentley and his colleagues put the men in prison.
"It means more to me than any other matter I've handled," says Bentley, 55, now officially the top federal prosecutor for the Tampa Bay region and beyond....
TAMPA — Another crew member from the Italian tanker Marigola was charged Wednesday in a case involving pollution law violations on the high seas uncovered by the Coast Guard at Port Tampa Bay.
This time, the defendant is a chief engineer, Carmelo Giano.
The U.S. Attorney's Office also brought criminal charges this week against ship owner Carbofin S.P.A. and second assistant engineer Alessandro Messore. In a plea agreement filed Tuesday, the company admitted that it had not kept accurate oil records, which is a crime under federal maritime pollution laws, and agreed to pay $2.75 million....
TAMPA — Joseph Edward Devlin posts pictures on his Facebook page of a daughter and grandchildren. But according to federal authorities, he showed up at a Tampa restaurant Friday to meet someone else's child: the 12-year-old girl he'd been promised for sex.
Devlin, 48, instead encountered a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations who had posed online as a bad mother looking for a man to sexually "train" her girl....
TAMPA — Owners of an Italian tanker ship that routinely visits Port Tampa Bay have agreed to pay $2.75 million after the Coast Guard found evidence that crew of the Marigola used a "magic hose" to dump sludge and waste oil on the high seas.
The U.S. Attorney's Office filed criminal charges this week against ship owner Carbofin S.P.A. and at least one employee. In a signed plea agreement filed Tuesday, the company admitted that it had not kept accurate oil records, which is a crime under federal maritime pollution laws....
TAMPA — Tax fraud queen Rashia Wilson's 2013 sentencing ended with heart-wrenching wails from her young children as she was wrested away to serve 21 years for owning guns and stealing millions from the IRS.
But the family may not have to wait that long for a homecoming.
A federal appeals court has thrown out Wilson's two sentences, ruling that senior U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. made procedural errors that may have increased her total prison term by more than 3 1/2 years....
TAMPA — The managing partner for a proposed $200 million car, yacht and jet mart pleaded poverty and got a public defender this week in U.S. District Court, where he is accused of stealing $29,400 in veterans benefits meant for his late mother.
Elliot Kahana, 68, of Clearwater assured U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins that he lives on about $2,000 a month in Social Security benefits, has no cash on hand and resides in a family home left worthless by a reverse mortgage....
TAMPA — Martin Winters shares his homegrown food. He donates money for crippled children. Even a prosecutor calls him "God-fearing" — that is, when Winters isn't mulling over ways to kill cops.
But as the Riverview doomsday prepper's good deeds were offered up to a sentencing judge Thursday, one in particular caught her ear: Years after a divorce, Winters voluntarily supports his ex-mother-in-law....
TAMPA — Mail carriers rank among the nation's most trusted workers. They brave snarling dogs and inclement weather. But beneath the rain-resistant, snow-sturdy exterior, some are crooks.
In the past five years, 2,848 U.S. Postal Service carriers, clerks and truckers have been convicted of charges relating to mail theft. In Florida alone, they stole cash, checks, gift cards, diamond rings, computers, gaming devices and a microwave oven....
In deal, trading firm founder admits fraud
Another founder of a defunct day trader firm admits to defrauding investors in a federal plea agreement filed Tuesday. Albert Scipione operated Traders Cafe in downtown Tampa with Matthew Ionno, who pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Scipione, charged with the same count Friday, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Dec. 5.
The firm touted low fees for investors willing to pool their money. But the two men defrauded investors of $473,742, court records state. They each face up to five years in prison. Ionno is to be sentenced Jan. 14....
TAMPA — When a federal judge sentenced pharmacist Christopher Switlyk to prison last year for his role in one of the nation's largest illegal pill mills, she faulted the U.S. Attorney's Office for not seeking forfeiture of the Tampa man's license.
"I just have a serious concern about him ever working as a pharmacist again," U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington said repeatedly during the hourlong hearing....
TAMPA — The night before he shot his wife and two teenagers in the head, Darrin Campbell insisted that the family gather for dinner and spend time together in their leased Avila mansion.
His order for a family meal was so out of character that the wife and daughter told their friends.
No one could have predicted the gunshots or the flaming horror that engulfed the home at 16223 Sierra De Avila the next morning. But for weeks before the May 7 murder-suicide, Campbell's loved ones had been noticing unusual behavior, according to investigative reports. ...
TAMPA — A former investigative journalist lost his bid Tuesday to fix Congress from the inside.
By a 3-2 majority, voters reelected Republican Congressman Dennis Ross to represent U.S. House District 15, a two-county district that stretches from Lutz to Bartow.
Democratic challenger Alan Cohn, a former TV reporter, did slightly better in his home turf of Hillsborough County than in Polk County, where Ross lives, but not nearly good enough....
TAMPA — Four people with varying roles in doomsday prepper Martin Winters' scheme to arm a citizen militia and inflict harm on law enforcement learned their fates Friday.
Three will go to prison for firearm crimes. Of those, two were felons who illegally had guns: Jason Swain, 33, and James Beebe, 56. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara sentenced Swain to three years in prison and Beebe to 18 months. Nicholas Hall, 23, got a year and a day for falsifying gun paperwork, and straw buyer Desiree Beebe, 23, got three years of probation....