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Rich Shopes, Times Staff Writer

Rich Shopes

Rich Shopes is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times covering government and politics in Pasco County.

Before coming to Florida in 1999, he lived in Philadelphia and New Jersey. He worked at the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2012 to cover Plant City. He currently lives in Manatee County with his lovely wife, Sandy, and their squirrel-obsessed Norfolk terrier, Charley.

Phone: (727) 869-6236

Email: rshopes@tampabay.com

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  1. Judge dismisses criminal charges against fired Tampa police sergeant

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A judge has dismissed criminal charges against a former Tampa police sergeant accused of stealing food stamps from a jail inmate, agreeing she could not be held responsible since she had no intent to commit a crime.

    Circuit Judge Samantha Ward granted a defense attorney's motion to throw out the case against La Joyce Houston, 48, who was fired last year after her arrest.

    Houston was facing charges of food stamp fraud and grand theft. In 2013, she bought more than $300 in groceries with an electronic benefits transfer — or EBT — card belonging to Rita Girven, her personal friend and a longtime police informer....

    La Joyce Houston was accused of using an inmate’s EBT card to purchase groceries.
  2. Student recalls tense moments in FSU library

    Human Interest

    Florida State University senior Nate Francis was sitting at a conference table on the second floor of the Robert M. Strozier Library preparing for a presentation to a group of mock international investors when he caught sight of a crowd of two dozen students out of the corner of his eye.

    Nearing the table, he could hear their urgent warnings, just louder than a whisper: "There's a shooter behind us. There's a shooter behind us. There's a shooter in the building."...

  3. Ron Paul to hold lecture at USF

    Politics

    TAMPA — Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is set to return to the University of South Florida on Wednesday, two years after he rallied supporters at the Sun Dome ahead of the Republican National Convention.

    Some 8,000 people turned out to hear Paul criticize the Federal Reserve, tout the benefits of limited government and call for an end to overseas wars....

  4. Third hole in four days opens in Holiday, swallowing a car

    Public Safety

    HOLIDAY — Pasco Fire Rescue officials were at the scene of a hole that swallowed a car to its bumper Saturday afternoon. It was the third such depression in the past four days in Holiday.

    The two holes that opened Tuesday and Wednesday occurred at the Holiday Travel Park. The latest chasm happened about a quarter-mile away, at 4935 Rosedale Lane in the Knollwood Village subdivision....

     HOLIDAY Ñ Pasco Fire Rescue officials were at the scene of a hole that swallowed a car to its bumper Saturday afternoon. It was the third such depression in the past four days in Holiday.  The two holes that opened Tuesday and Wednesday occurred at the Holiday Travel Park. The latest chasm happened about a quarter-mile away at 4935 Rosedale Lane in the Knollwood Village subdivision.  No evacuations were ordered and no injuries reported.  Pasco officials didn't call it a "sinkhole" but rather used the term "depression" until the opening can be analyzed by geologists.  "You never know," Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin said. "It could have been caused by a sprinkler."  The hole, described as six feet deep and 10 feet in diameter, formed in the front yard of a home.  Fire rescue personnel arrived to find a car tilted inside the hole up to its bumper. A truck pulled it out.  [Bay News 9 photo]
  5. Plant City takes a second look at police body cameras

    Public Safety

    PLANT CITY — While the Tampa Police Department is embarking on plans to eventually equip every one of its 750 patrol officers with body-mounted cameras, the Plant City Police Department — one of the first in the area to show interest in the devices — is rethinking the technology after a test run.

    The cameras, which officers attach to their uniforms, record interactions between law enforcement and the public. In theory, the cameras serve as an added layer of protection — for residents from improper behavior by police, and for law enforcement from frivolous complaints....

  6. Sheriff's Office rolls out traffic app in Hillsborough

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Smartphone apps that aid in reporting crimes are nothing new, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is pushing the technology in a new direction with an app meant to provide real-time traffic and weather reports.

    The Audio Traffic Hillsborough app, unveiled Thursday, stems from a collaboration with the app's creator, West Palm Beach-based Audible Media Group.

    The technology debuted a month ago but was officially rolled out at a news conference where company executives offered reporters a demonstration of its audible traffic reports. The app is for Apple and Android mobile phones and tablets....

  7. Pasco County Commission: District 2

    Kyc

    County Commission | District 2

    Democrat Erika Remsberg is challenging Republican Mike Moore to succeed fellow Republican Pat Mulieri, who's stepping down from the commission after 20 years. This is Remsberg's first election run after having faced no primary challenger. Moore was anointed his party's choice after a three-person primary Aug. 26. By Rich Shopes, Times staff writer...

    Remsberg
  8. State House of Representatives: District 36

    Kyc

    State House | District 36

    Democrat Rep. Amanda Murphy won a special election last October to replace longtime legislator Mike Fasano, who resigned to become Pasco's tax collector. Now she faces Republican Chris Gregg, who easily defeated Jim Mathieu, Pasco's Republican Party chairman, in the Aug. 26 GOP primary. By Rich Shopes, Times staff writer

    Amanda Murphy, 44Chris Gregg, 44
    PartyDemocratRepublican
    Experience Murphy is making her first re-election bid after last October's special election. Election rules require she run this year as part of the regular election cycle. She served last session on the House Health and Human Services Committee and the Veteran and Military Affairs, Health Care Appropriations and Healthy Families subcommittees. Murphy has worked as a financial adviser at Raymond James Financial in Tampa for 15 years. Gregg is a regional director for Miramar-based American Health Associates, which runs blood testing labs for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He earlier owned Elite Med Spa, a medical spa company. He was a flight medic in the Air Force from 1991 to 1999. He ran unsuccessfully as a no-party candidate in 2000 for the state House and as a District 3 Pasco County Commission candidate in 2012.
    InvolvementPasco Aging Network; West Pasco Community Service Council (former board member); Trinity Rotary (former treasurer); Leadership Pasco; Pace Center for Girls; Junior Service League of Greater New Port Richey (former board member).American Legion Post 173 in Holiday; Rotary Club of Trinity (2012); counselor at Oasis -A Pregnancy Care Center in Land O'Lakes; West Pasco Pregnancy Center; member of theChapel.cc, a nondemoninational church in Tarpon Springs.
    Why should voters vote for you?I ran for this position last year to continue to have somebody to fight for Pasco and protect against special interests. In my time in the House, I have shown that the people of Pasco are, and will continue to be, my No. 1 priority. I also proved that a freshman Democrat can be effective for Pasco. I was able to get multiple bills that I sponsored passed, as well as money in the budget for Pasco to help with economic recovery and to create jobs.Having served in the military, I bring leadership skills and a work ethic that will enable me to accomplish our goals. For the first time in over 20 years the voters of District 36 will have the opportunity to send a veteran to Tallahassee to fight for our community. We also need a Republican in District 36 who can work with the Republican House, Senate and governor.
    What will your top three priorities be in the House?My priorities will stay the same as during the last legislative session: To support economic recovery in Florida and Pasco County to create good, reliable jobs for hardworking citizens and to continue to give them tax breaks; to protect consumers from predatory utility practices like Duke's recovery tax and rising insurance costs; and to fund our schools so that teachers and students have the resources they need to succeed. The No. 1 issue is jobs. Every option to bring jobs to District 36 is on the table. We can't afford to lose jobs to other counties or states. The second issue is insurance costs. We need to bring more qualified insurance companies to the marketplace to lower insurance costs and increase the quality of service and coverage. Third, Duke Energy needs to build the nuclear power plant or return the money it collected.
    How would you address insurance costs?To stem rising insurance costs, we need to look at laws that inhibit insurers from coming to Florida. The easiest way to lower costs is to create competition. Similarly, I worked on last session's flood insurance bill to open the market to allow carriers to come in and offer affordable flood policies.We need to bring more insurers to the market. A free market will lower costs to consumers and increase quality in service and coverage. Also, insurers should have reserve ratios high enough to cover claims while allowing them to stay in business.
    Financial disclosureAssets: $495,314 Liabilities: $130,059 Income: $135,789 Assets: $224,500 Liabilities: $160,000 Income: $150,000
    PersonalMurphy and her husband, Matt, have three children. They live in New Port Richey.Gregg and his wife, Alena, have two children. They live in New Port Richey.
    Contactvoteamandamurphy.com; voteamandamurphy@gmail.comvotechrisgregg.com; chrisjgregg@hotmail.com
    ...

    Gregg
  9. Pasco posts ballot turnout

    Blog

    Unofficial results in Pasco County show Republicans enjoying an near 2-1 edge over Democrats in absentee ballots.

    As of 11:39 p.m. today, "turnout" for the mail-in votes seems to favor the GOP -- 108 Republican absentee ballots to 58 Democratic ballots -- though the votes have yet to be tallied respective to specific candidates.

    The numbers aren't surprising given Pasco leans Republican....

  10. Pasco baseball complex developer wants changes in deal

    Local Government

    WESLEY CHAPEL — The Tampa developer proposing a youth sports complex in Pasco County says he's nearing a deal with private investors to bring millions to the project, but two obstacles are slowing the deal.

    James Talton, owner of Blue Marble Strategic, says investors are on board with the proposed baseball complex north of the Shops at Wiregrass, but they want stronger assurances that the county will provide $11 million in Pasco tourism taxes toward construction. They also want ownership of the property to transfer to the investment group so it can eventually be used as leverage for financing....

  11. Pasco deputies cleared in shooting death

    Crime

    State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office has cleared two Pasco sheriff's deputies in the shooting death of an unarmed Zephyrhills man on July 1.

    Jerry Dwight Brown, 41, was shot three times during an undercover drug bust when he refused to surrender and appeared to reach for a weapon, according to an investigative report released by McCabe.

    Brown was inside an unmarked sheriff's car near Big Ben's Used Tires, 4128 Gall Blvd., trying to sell a bag of pills to an undercover deputy seated next to him when the deputy gave a signal for uniformed deputies to move in, the report said....

  12. Charlie Crist kicks off latest campaign tour with stop at Pasco home

    State Roundup

    HOLIDAY

    Charlie Crist kicked off a "kitchen table tour" with a stop at a Pasco County home Monday morning to talk about insurance and utility rates as polls show the Democrat locked in a virtual tie with Gov. Rick Scott.

    Crist chatted with Holiday retirees J.M. and Marge Gibbons in the Key Vista development after the couple responded to an email blast from Crist's campaign last month asking folks to participate in sit-down chats about pocketbook issues affecting middle-class Floridians....

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, right, speaks with J.M. Gibbons, 74, left and his wife, Marge, 68, in their Holiday home Monday morning for about 45 minutes during the first stop on his 10-day “kitchen table tour.”
  13. Need flood insurance? Past is no guarantee as new flood maps debut in Pasco

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Got flood insurance?

    Thousands in Pasco County who previously thought they didn't need the coverage could be in for a jolt.

    The county is set to roll out flood insurance rate maps Friday that show nearly 8,600 properties previously in designated 500-year flood zones, have shifted to 100-year flood zones and may now need the insurance.

    The remapping, the product of 10 years of studies, doesn't mean all those property owners will suddenly require flood coverage, but the consensus among real estate experts, insurers and county engineers is that hundreds of them — if not thousands — will be impacted....

    Homeowners affected by new maps likely will see letters from lenders over the next two months about insurance coverage.
  14. Pasco accepts grant to buy storm-damaged homes

    Local Government

    Pasco County commissioners have signed off on a $1.3 million federal grant to purchase 15 flood-prone properties severely damaged during Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.

    The funds will be combined with a $433,000 local match to buy the properties and demolish the houses, eventually returning the parcels to their natural state.

    "They'll remain as open space and in some cases could be used for passive recreation," Annette Doying, director of emergency management, told commissioners Tuesday....

  15. Pasco approves $1.2 billion budget, wage increase

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2015 after just 20 minutes of discussion and only one comment during a public hearing.

    The budget holds the line on property taxes, although commissioners have already approved a separate increase in gas taxes to pay for road improvements.

    That increase, which adds another 5-cent-per-gallon levy at the pump, produced a backlash by Republican groups and others at a public hearing two weeks ago....