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William R. Levesque, Times Staff Writer

William R. Levesque

William R. Levesque is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience who began working at the Tampa Bay Times in 1994. He covers business news with a focus on energy issues and Florida utilities.

Phone: (813) 226-3432

Email: levesque@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Times_Levesque

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  1. Tax blooper: Nielsen Co. says it overpaid Pinellas taxes by $1.2 million

    Business

    Oops.

    The Nielsen Co., the firm famous for its ability to track your TV viewing habits, apparently has had a tougher time measuring its own tax bill. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the company is asking a court to force Pinellas County to refund a portion of the more than $1.2 million the company says it overpaid in its property taxes from 2012 to 2014.

    The problem is that Nielsen, due to a computer coding error, incorrectly described to the Pinellas County Tax Appraiser's office its former subsidiary, Claritas, an asset valued at about $30 million, the suit says. Claritas helps businesses identify where their customers live, work and shop to improve targeted marketing efforts....

    The Nielsen Co. has filed suit in Pinellas County seeking an $800,000 refund on property taxes it mistakenly paid to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser.
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]

  2. Spectrum raises cost for many Florida seasonal residents turning off service

    Personal Finance

    Snowbird Linda Sutton said it was galling enough when she noticed that Spectrum had mistakenly turned on her TV and Internet service a week early when she came down to Tampa from Pennsylvania in January.

    That cost her an extra $40 that she said Spectrum refused to waive no matter how much she protested.

    Then earlier this month, she got a card in the mail advertising Spectrum's "seasonal plan" for Florida snowbirds, which boasted, "Keep your services and save." She read the fine print....

    Snowbirds who want seasonal service for Internet, TV or phone service from Charter Spectrum will face a monthly charge could cost many far more to keep their service. [Associated Press file photo]
  3. Tampa's HomeBanc offered $1.4 million loan to top executive who filed bankruptcy

    Banking

    TAMPA — Mired in personal bankruptcy, Jerry D. Campbell needed a lifeline to reorganize his finances and to get out from under about $9 million in debt. A big loan was key to his plans. So he turned to a place many bankrupt individuals might think a lost cause:

    A bank.

    It wasn't a lost cause for Campbell, 76. He got a commitment letter in September for a $1.4 million loan from Tampa-based HomeBancorp. But this wasn't just Campbell's local bank....

    Jerry Campbell, chairman, CEO and president of HomeBancorp, poses for a portrait in his office at the Bank of America Plaza in this 2008 photo. 
[CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times]
  4. Lawsuit: WellCare delays Medicare, Medicaid reimbursement to hospital chain to hike profits

    Business

    TAMPA — Managed-care provider WellCare Health Plans is accused in a lawsuit of delaying Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to Kindred Hospitals East in order to invest that money and earn a fatter profit.

    The suit was filed last week by the long-term, acute care hospital chain, which operates Kindred Hospital Bay Area in Tampa and St. Petersburg and Kindred Hospital Central Tampa, in addition to numerous other facilities in Florida, Kentucky and New Jersey....

    A lawsuit from the Kindred hospital chain accuses Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans of  delaying and cutting reimbursements in order to maximize its profits.
[File photo]
  5. Tampa's Lee Bentley among U.S. attorneys asked to resign in Trump housecleaning

    Courts

    TAMPA — U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III, chief federal prosecutor in the Middle District of Florida and a 2014 appointee of President Barack Obama, was asked to resign Friday by the Trump administration.

    Bentley, 58, is one of 46 U.S. attorneys nationally who were abruptly asked to submit letters of resignation, all holdover appointments from the Obama era.

    The Tampa Bay Times could not immediately confirm if Bentley has yet submitted his resignation as requested by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions....

    U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014.
  6. Judge bars Nation Tax Services, owner of tax prep stores in Tampa, St. Pete from filing returns

    Business

    Jason P. Stinson's company, Nation Tax Services, operated 12 stores in four states, including three in Tampa Bay. The company filed 14,000 tax returns since about 2012, collecting up to $1.6 million in fees from mostly poor and unsophisticated clients.

    But Stinson, 32, a University of South Florida criminology graduate, made an odd assertion when lawyers last year questioned him about his business....

  7. Lawsuit says Lincare fired acquisitions chief for demanding her unpaid $1 million bonus

    Business

    TAMPA — The acquisitions chief of Lincare Inc., a Clearwater-based provider of in-home oxygen and respiratory therapy services, expected a financial slice of the firms she was helping her employer take over.

    But in January, when she still had not been paid the $1 million she was owed, she went to her boss to ask for the cash.

    What did Lincare do? It fired her.

    That is the scenario outlined by the acquisitions chief, Sharon D. Ford, in a lawsuit she filed last month in Hillsborough County circuit court against Lincare that accuses the company of pocketing her bonus and then retaliating against her when she demanded payment. Lincare officials did not return messages Tuesday seeking comment....

    Lincare Inc. headquarters in Clearwater. The company is accused in a Hillsborough lawsuit of failing to pay a $1 million bonus to its acquisitions chief and then firing her when she demanded payment.
  8. Allegiant Air flight aborts takeoff at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

    Airlines

    A runway at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport was closed for an hour Saturday morning after an Allegiant Air flight aborted takeoff because of a mechanical problem that left behind debris from the aircraft.

    The pilot of Flight 890 bound for Fort Wayne, Ind., initially reported to the tower that he thought he had blown a tire during takeoff shortly after 8 a.m., according to a recording of tower communications reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times. But rescue personnel called out to inspect the aircraft said the plane's tires were fine....

    Passengers board a Allegiant Airlines flight to Lexington, Ky., at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport.  [JAMES BORCHUCK, Times file]
  9. Plea hearing scheduled for former Tampa cop charged with fraud

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A hearing to accept a plea agreement has been scheduled for later this month for a former Tampa police officer charged with using his job in a scheme to file fraudulent tax returns.

    The plea hearing for Eric Houston has been set for March 22 before federal Judge Richard A. Lazzara, according to online records at the U.S. District Court in Tampa. But no signed plea agreement has been filed....

    Former Tampa Police officers Eric Houston and his wife LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse in Tampa in 2015. The couple face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES
  10. Peoples Gas former employee's complaint sparks audits, then she's ignored by state regulators

    Energy

    TAMPA — The Florida Public Service Commission crowed last May that its employees "first identified" numerous safety violations by Peoples Gas as it issued its largest fine ever — $3 million — against the utility.

    The big fine seemed to offer a counterpoint to criticism that the PSC is too cozy with the utilities it regulates.

    But a Tampa Bay Times examination of the PSC's investigation of Peoples Gas reveals the agency did not publicly disclose key information that may have proved embarrassing to both itself and the utility. Among the omissions:...

    Tampa resident Pam Carollo, a former employee of Peoples Gas who worked in the utility's Tampa and St. Petersburg offices, sent a complaint to the Florida Public Service Commission in May 2013. In it, she accused her former employer of numerous safety violations and said the company bought lunches for a PSC inspector who missed safety problems at the company.
  11. Lawsuits: Florida Bank Group insiders fleeced minority shareholders

    Banking

    TAMPA — The Florida Bank Group was hemorrhaging cash in the years leading up to its decision in 2013 to raise capital through a private stock offering.

    From 2007 to 2013, the Tampa bank had lost $137 million while receiving $20 million from a government financial rescue fund in 2009.

    Minority shareholders in the bank said they "were provided no reason to believe that additional investment would yield better results than prior investments ... (and) could not conceive of chasing good money after bad."...

    Susan Martinez, former CEO, and president, Florida Bank, Tampa, is accused in two lawsuits along with other bank insiders of diluting minority shareholders and enriching themselves in the lead-up to the bank's sale to Louisiana-based IberiaBank. [Times file photo]
  12. Flight attendant offered impassioned defense of fired Allegiant Air pilot

    Airlines

    The wrongful termination lawsuit filed by an Allegiant Air pilot fired for making an emergency landing at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in 2015 has turned into a bitterly contested match as it marches toward a July 31 trial date in Nevada.

    The legal battle includes accusations of documents withheld in discovery, questions about the memory of the airline's CEO and a request for a battery of personality tests of the pilot, which a judge denied....

    The wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the Allegiant Air pilot fired for making an emergency landing at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in 2015 has turned into a bitterly contested match.
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
]

  13. Kane's Furniture settles class-action suit

    Corporate

    TAMPA — A preliminary settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit filed against Kane's Furniture that accused the retailer of failing to honor lifetime warranties for defective "bonded leather" furniture that peeled, flaked and deteriorated.

    Notices to about 15,000 customers who purchased the furniture were put in the mail starting Friday providing details and asking them to submit claims by April 11 for full or partial refunds or store credits, according to court records and plaintiff's attorney Dan Clark....

    Cliff Brown, 58, of Carrollwood, talked with reporters last year in the Tampa offices of Bajo Cuva Cohen & Turkel, P.A. where the couch Brown purchased at Kane’s Furniture was being held as evidence. A preliminary settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit filed against Kane’s that accused the retailer of failing to honor lifetime warranties for defective “bonded leather” furniture that peeled, flaked and deteriorated. 
[WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  14. Bilirakis gets another earful on Obamacare repeal

    Politics

    NEW PORT RICHEY — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis got another earful Saturday from opponents of the proposed Republican repeal of Obamacare.

    But this time out, opponents of the Affordable Care Act had their own cheering section.

    The mix, while combustible, proved loud and often rude but stopped short of actual fisticuffs.

    More than 300 people came out to the West Pasco County government center for the second of Bilirakis' "listening sessions" on health care reform. And as happened during a session last week in Pinellas, a majority of those who spoke offered strong support of the law and urged Bilirakis to vote against killing it....

    Trump supporter Tom Timcik claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis' town hall style meeting at the West Pasco Government Center Saturday as part of his series of public listening sessions on health care reform. During the meetings, Bilirakis will be seeking feedback and ideas from constituents on the direction of our nation's health care system, including the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. [BRENDAN FITTERER  |  Special to the Times]

  15. Q&A: Florida utility watchdog J.R. Kelly talks shop and his one beef with solar

    Energy

    Florida Public Counsel James Ray "J.R." Kelly is the irritating itch that the state's investor-owned utilities can't seem to satisfactorily scratch. In his watchdog role at the chief of the Office of Public Counsel, Kelly's agency represents consumer interests before the Florida Public Service Commission. With critics of the PSC continually arguing its commissioners give utilities nearly anything they want, it is often Kelly's roll to help stop the steamroller....

    James Ray "J.R." Kelly heads the Office of Pubic Counsel, the agency that represents public interests before the Florida Public Service Commission.
[WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE | Times]