Authorities arrested 15 members of a ring that smuggled more than 3 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States in a three-year span, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday. All of the defendants face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted. Reputed ringleader Israel Abel was arrested Wednesday in San Jose, Costa Rica, by Costa Rican authorities. He was immediately sent to the United States to stand trial. According to U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen's office, Abel's group contracted with Colombian cocaine suppliers and sent aircraft to clandestine landing strips in Colombia to pick up the drug. It was flown to various islands in the Bahamas, where it was transferred to boats that brought it to South Florida. Then it was distributed throughout the United States.Chiles replaces lottery panel member
TALLAHASSEE _ Gov. Lawton Chiles has replaced a Lottery Commission member who criticized the governor for hiring campaign workers to fill jobs at the Lottery Department. The term of Republican David Eller of Pompano Beach, an original commission member named by Gov. Bob Martinez in 1987, had expired, and Chiles decided to replace him, said press secretary Julie Anbender. She insisted the change Tuesday was not a reaction to a May 21 letter Eller wrote to Chiles after reading newspaper reports of campaign workers receiving jobs paying $30,000 to $39,000 a year. Chiles replaced Eller with former state Rep. Bob Hattaway of Longwood. Chiles also reappointed George "Cotton" Fletcher of Gainesville to the five-member commission, which is advisory and has no real power.
Disney asked to work with neighbors
LAKE BUENA VISTA _ A group that monitors growth patterns wants Walt Disney World to work more closely with its neighbors on common problems such as transportation and housing. The 1000 Friends of Florida is reviewing comprehensive growth plans submitted by local governments and Disney's development arm under the state's growth-management law. Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has special governing powers, submitted its plan to the state Department of Community Affairs in February. Reedy Creek planners will meet in Tallahassee next week with officials from the state and 1000 Friends to discuss the criticisms.
Gibbons seeks weather station inquiry
TAMPA _ U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, has asked for a congressional investigation into the National Weather Service station in Ruskin, which last year failed about half the time to warn residents of severe weather. Gibbons said in a letter this week to the chairman of the House Environment Subcommittee that there is an immediate need for better forecasting at the Tampa Bay area's principal weather station. Rob Balfour, Ruskin's chief meteorologist in charge, has said that a shortage of forecasters, outdated equipment and a two-year backlog on spare parts makes it difficult to be accurate much more than half the time. The weather service is spending more than a billion dollars on new high-tech equipment, but the date the Ruskin station is scheduled to receive the new equipment was pushed back from 1992 to 1995, Balfour said.
Pensacola promises site for "Lexington'
PENSACOLA _ The Pensacola City Council, after repeated delays, has agreed to provide a port site for the USS Lexington, giving its stamp of approval to keeping the historic aircraft carrier as a museum. The 7-4 vote Wednesday kept alive hopes of a Pensacola group competing with three other cities for the carrier after it is decommissioned in November. The ship also is being sought by Corpus Christi, Texas, Mobile, Ala., and Quincy, Mass., where the carrier was built in 1943. The Lexington, a battle-scarred World War II veteran, has been based in Pensacola for 29 years as the Navy's only training carrier.
Water district requires meters
PALATKA _ About 4,500 businesses, farms and golf courses throughout North and Central Florida will have to install water meters under a plan approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District. The new requirement, approved Wednesday, is part of a stringent comprehensive water conservation plan. The 19-county district's biggest water users that pump more than 100,000 gallons a day will be required to install meters over the next two and a half years. The St. Johns district is the first of the state's five water management districts to adopt comprehensive water conservation rules.
_ Compiled from wire reports