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Trump’s comments risk tainting jury pool in federal election subversion case, special counsel says

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 18:57

By ERIC TUCKER (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith warned Tuesday that former President Donald Trump’s “daily” statements threaten to taint a jury pool in Washington in the criminal case charging him with scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s provocative comments about both Smith’s team and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan — who is presiding over the case — have been a central issue since the indictment was filed last month. Prosecutors have repeatedly signaled their concerns about the impact of Trump’s social media posts and Chutkan explicitly cautioned against inflammatory remarks from Trump that could intimidate witnesses or contaminate potential jurors.

The posts continued Tuesday both before and after the latest concern flared, with Trump earlier in the day circulating a New York Post story about Chutkan on his Truth Social platform and openly mocking the idea that she could be fair in his case. Later in the evening, he issued another post in which he attacked Smith as a “deranged” prosecutor with “unchecked and insane aggression.”

Tuesday’s complaint from the Justice Department underscores the extent to which Trump’s social media attacks are testing the patience of prosecutors and risk exposing him to sanctions from the judge, who last week set a trial date of March 4, 2024, in an effort to keep the case moving. Trump has faced admonitions in other cases, too, with a condition of his release in a separate prosecution in Atlanta being that he refrain from intimidating co-defendants, witnesses or victims in the case.

The subject surfaced again in a dispute over a motion that the Justice Department said it wanted to file under seal, with an accompanying redacted version to be filed on the public docket. Defense lawyers objected, countering that they were entitled time to review the Justice Department’s filings and any proposed sealed exhibits before they could be docketed.

But prosecutors said it would untenable to take several weeks to decide whether “every ordinary filing that refers to Sensitive Materials may be docketed.”

“Such a requirement would grind litigation in this case to a halt, which is particularly infeasible given the pressing matters before the Court — including the defendant’s daily extrajudicial statements that threaten to prejudice the jury pool in this case, as described in the Government’s motion,” the Smith team wrote.

Chutkan set deadlines for next week for additional filings that she said may be filed under seal.

Trump faces three other prosecutions besides the federal election subversion case. He’s charged with 18 other people in a state case in Atlanta with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia; faces federal charges from Smith accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents; and is accused in New York of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actor.


Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

Miramar man accused of sexually assaulting and trafficking girl who ran away from foster home

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 18:53

A minor girl ran away from a South Florida foster home, and without money or any place to go, became a human trafficking victim and was assaulted by a 27-year-old man in Miramar, an arrest warrant said.

Jomar Jeffery, of Miramar, was arrested on Aug. 31 on one count of sexual battery of a victim between the ages of 12 and 18, one count of lewd or lascivious battery of a victim older than 12 but younger than 16 and one count of contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a child, Broward County court records show.

A human trafficking investigation launched by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which led to the involvement of the FBI and Miramar Police, resulted in Jeffery’s arrest and that of two other men in Miami-Dade County, according to Jeffery’s arrest warrant which became publicly available Friday.

Miami-Dade prosecutors contacted Miramar Police in early February, when a minor girl ran away from the foster home His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens, the warrant said. Law enforcement found her at a home in Hialeah in the 1200 block of West 25th Street on Feb. 13 in a red Lexus with two adult men, Christopher Velazco, 27, and Jeremy Soto-Acevedo, 20, records show.

The three were there to pick up the girl’s minor friend to “engage in commercial sex acts,” the warrant said, and both were arrested that day on child sex trafficking charges. Their cases are ongoing in Miami-Dade, court records show.

Investigators found that Jeffery was the registered owner of the Lexus, the warrant said. Miami investigators and a Miramar Police investigator interviewed Jeffery before he was in custody, and he denied any involvement.

The minor victim said in an interview with State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force investigators that she was taken to Jeffery’s home in the 9500 block of Glacier Street in Miramar, and they smoked marijuana and snorted ecstasy. It was not immediately clear in the warrant who took her to the home.

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The girl said Jeffery sexually assaulted her twice while she stayed at his home on Feb. 11 and 12. While staying there, she slept in his car parked outside, “with little to no clothes and no food,” according to the warrant.

The girl said Jeffery’s neighbor who lived across the street was also involved in sex trafficking her, the warrant said. It was not immediately clear whether he has been arrested or may be facing charges.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Innocence Sold investigation exposed the state foster care system’s complicity in the sex trafficking of vulnerable minors. The year-long investigation found that runaways from Florida’s child welfare system are at increased odds of becoming sex trafficking victims, and youth who have a history of commercial sexual exploitation run away from groups homes at a startling rate.

Prosecutors received search warrants for Jeffery’s, Velazco’s and Soto-Acevedo’s cellphones, according to the warrant, and the minor girl gave consent for her phone to be searched. Investigators found text messages between her and Jeffery discussing using drugs together and a video recording of Jeffery sexual assaulting her.

A toxicology report showed the girl had THC in her system, methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine, according to the warrant.

Court records show Jeffery was released on bond Friday, is on house arrest and is ordered not to contact any minors.

De La Cruz, Chisholm, Bell and Burger each hit home runs to lead Marlins past Dodgers

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 18:33

MIAMI — Bryan De La Cruz hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to break a tie in the Miami Marlins’ 6-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night.

The Dodgers played their first game since the arrest of star pitcher Julio Urías late Sunday on a felony charge of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. Urías did not travel with the Dodgers to Miami.

“I was shocked like everyone was,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “So, now just being of the mind of let the process run its course and see how it plays out. But, like I said from the onset — just an extremely and unfortunate circumstance for everybody.”

Jazz Chisholm Jr., Josh Bell and Jake Burger also homered to help Miami (71-67) win its fifth straight after falling under .500 for the first time since May 25.

“Luckily we slugged tonight,” Miami manager Skip Schumaker said. “That was kind of the story.”

Los Angeles reliever Ryan Yarbrough (7-6) hit Burger with a pitch before De La Cruz drove a cutter into the seats in left-field for his 18th homer and a 5-3 lead. Chisholm followed with a solo blast

“I was looking for something inside and thank God, it happened,” De La Cruz said in Spanish.

During their win streak, the Marlins have homered 12 times.

“We’re making good contact and the ball is taking off,” De La Cruz said. “We continue to battle every day and putting in the required work so things turn out positive in the game.”

Andrew Nardi (7-1) pitched a scoreless eighth and Tanner Scott got the last three outs for his fifth save. It was Nardi’s first appearance since getting hit on three of his pitching fingers off a comebacker against Tampa Bay Aug. 30.

“He hasn’t been on the mound for a while so you don’t know how he feels,” Schumaker said. “It shows you what kind of stuff this guy has. Nardi has really grown this year into a high-leverage role.”

The Dodgers tied it at 3 on Chris Taylor’s homer against reliever A.J. Puk leading off the seventh. Puk followed Jesús Luzardo, who threw six innings and 90 pitches of two-run ball. Luzardo scattered four hits and struck out six.

“All my pitches were working,” Luzardo said. “Thankfully, as the game went on, I felt like I got stronger.”

Bell hit a two-run homer in the fifth that put Miami ahead 3-2. Jorge Soler reached on a one-out walk before Bell connected off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw with a drive to center.

Kershaw gave up three runs, five hits, walked five and struck out three over five innings.

“It wasn’t great mechanically and control and all that stuff wasn’t great,” Kershaw said. “I just need to keep going at it. There’s really nothing else to do. Just try to pitch better.”

Consecutive RBI singles from Freddie Freeman and Will Smith in the third gave Los Angeles a 2-0 lead.

Miami cut the deficit on Burger’s leadoff shot in the fourth. Burger drove the first pitch from Kershaw into the Marlins’ bullpen for his 31st homer and sixth since he joined Miami Aug. 1.


A video tribute recognizing Dodgers shortstop Miguel Rojas’ lengthy stay in Miami was played before the bottom of the first. Rojas played the previous eight seasons with the Marlins before re-joining the Dodgers in an off-season trade. The 34-year-old Rojas, who began his career in Los Angeles, and pitcher Ricky Nolasco are the second-longest tenured Marlins behind retired infielder Luis Castillo, who played 10 seasons with the club.


Dodgers: C Austin Barnes needed attention after he was hit on the side of the head by a backswing from Nick Fortes in the seventh. He stayed in the game but was pinch hit for in the ninth.. RHP Walker Buehler (Tommy John surgery) completed two scoreless innings on 24 pitches in a rehab outing with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday. … INF Max Muncy (left shoulder soreness) took batting practice but didn’t play.

Marlins: RHP Sixto Sánchez (shoulder) increased his velocity to 94 mph while throwing live batting practice Tuesday.


RHP Lance Lynn (10-10, 5.81) was set to start for Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Marlins will go with RHJ JT Chargois (1-0, 3.78) as an opener.

Alaska couple reunited with cat 26 days after home collapsed into river swollen by glacial outburst

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 17:38

By MARK THIESSEN (Associated Press)

ANCHORAGE, ALaska (AP) — A pair of Alaska teachers needed good news after they lost nearly all their possessions when their house collapsed into a river swollen by a glacial-outburst flood and their cat went missing.

Elizabeth Wilkins was holding onto hope that if any animal would survive the house falling into the Mendenhall River on Aug. 5, it would be Leo, the couple’s resilient big-eyed, black-and-white cat who shows no fear of bears.

“I knew that he’s pretty smart, and so I felt pretty confident that he would escape and be OK somewhere,” she said.

That faith paid off 26 days after the flood when Tonya Mead posted a photo of Leo to the Juneau Community Collective Facebook page. Wilkins immediately knew it was Leo, the “COVID kitten” they rescued in 2020. She rushed to meet Mead.

“I just started walking down the street calling for him, and he just ran out and was like, ‘Oh hey, here I am, you know, like, where have you been?’ ” she said.

The river flooding was caused by a major release of water from Suicide Basin, a Mendenhall Glacier -dammed lake in Juneau, that eroded the river bank.

Wilkens and her partner, Tom Schwartz, moved into the home shortly before the flood hit, but they were away on a mountain biking trip to Bend, Oregon.

Friends called and sent videos, warning their house was in danger of being washed away.

Ultimately, several homes were destroyed or partially destroyed, with others condemned or flooded. None of the destruction was as famous as the house being rented by Wilkins and Schwartz, with video of it collapsing into the river going viral.

The couple returned to Juneau three days later to sort out new living arrangements and to look for Leo.

They returned to the site of the house, calling out Leo’s name and leaving food for him in the chicken coop.

By then, it seemed like everyone in Juneau was looking for him. There were plenty of sightings of Leo, but Wilkins said it appears that there are just many black-and-white unhoused cats in Juneau.

When he did turn up, he appeared to be in good health.

“Leo was a little thinner, but otherwise totally fine,” Wilkins said. “He ate four cans of tuna and went outside to kill a mouse. I imagine that is how he survived.”

She said it is amazing to have Leo back, though he currently is staying with a friend while they look for another place to live.

“It’s super joyful because everyone in their community was looking for him, and it’s nice to have some good news,” she said.

And just like Leo, some of their other possessions are finding their way back to them, but not in as good of condition as the cat.

“People have been finding some things, like some of our clothes and pictures were in 4 feet (1.22 meter) of silt in someone’s yard down the Mendenhall River,” Wilkins said.

Coach of Spain’s World Cup-winning women’s soccer team is fired weeks after victory celebration kiss

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 17:29

By TALES AZZONI (AP Sports Writer)

MADRID (AP) — The coach of Spain’s World Cup-winning women’s soccer team was fired Tuesday, less than three weeks after the victory celebration that led to the suspension of the country’s soccer federation president for kissing a player.

The Spanish soccer federation offered no immediate explanation for the dismissal and mostly praised Jorge Vilda, saying he was “key to the notable growth of women’s soccer” and thanking him for leading the national women’s team to its first World Cup title and to No. 2 in the FIFA rankings.

Vilda was among those who at first applauded federation president Luis Rubiales when he refused to resign despite facing widespread criticism for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent during the on-field victory celebrations last month in Sydney.

One of Vilda’s assistant coaches, Montse Tomé, was appointed to replace him. Tomé is the first woman to hold the job.

Vilda said he was caught by surprise by the federation’s decision and described his dismissal as “unfair.” Rubiales had announced in the federation’s emergency general assembly after the World Cup that Vilda would have his contract renewed.

“The explanation they gave me was that there were some structural changes,” Vilda told Spanish radio network SER. “After everything I’ve achieved, after having given my 100%, my conscience is clear. I don’t understand the firing, I didn’t think I deserved it.”

Vilda said he expected Rubiales to resign during the general assembly. He said he didn’t applaud in support of Rubiales or his conduct.

“I would never applaud anything that goes against the fight for equality,” Vilda said. “I didn’t know very well what was going to happen in that assembly. The president was praising my work and announcing my renewal, I applauded that. When 150 people applaud, it’s hard to be the only one who doesn’t.”

Vilda eventually said Rubiales’ behavior was improper. Luis de la Fuente, coach of the men’s national team, also initially applauded Rubiales for a diatribe against what Rubiales called “false feminists.” De la Fuente later apologized and said his applause was an “inexcusable” human error.

Rubiales, who also grabbed his crotch in a lewd victory gesture after the World Cup finale, has been provisionally suspended by FIFA and faces a Spanish government case against him for the conduct that prompted a storm of criticism and led to widespread calls for his resignation. He has pledged to prove his innocence and return to full control of the federation.

Vilda had been at the helm of the women’s team since 2015. Less than a year ago, some players rebelled against him in a crisis that put his job in jeopardy.

Fifteen players stepped away from the national team, citing their mental health, and demanded a more professional environment. Only three returned to the squad that won the World Cup.

The players who left signed a letter complaining about Vilda and the conditions for the national team.

Vilda was heavily backed by Rubiales when the players rebelled.

The 41-year-old Tomé is a former player who made a few appearances with the national team. She joined Vilda’s staff in 2018 after coaching some of Spain’s youth squads.

There was no immediate reaction from the squad. Many players had called for significant changes in the team’s structure. It wasn’t clear whether the players who rebelled under Vilda would seek to return.

In a statement announcing the firing, the soccer federation expressed gratitude to Vilda “for the services provided, for his professionalism and his dedication during all these years.”

Vilda “leaves the federation with an extraordinary sporting legacy thanks to the implementation of a recognized game model and a methodology that has been an engine of growth for all the women’s categories of the national team,” the statement said.

During the team’s title celebration in Madrid after the World Cup, Vilda received a lukewarm welcome from fans. He had been jeered by some during a viewing party during the final match.

The World Cup title was Spain’s first since the men’s team won its lone trophy at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. This year marked only the third World Cup appearance by the women’s team.

The Spanish squad, known as La Roja, got to the knockout round four years ago but lost to the eventual champion U.S. team. It had not advanced past a major semifinal since the 1997 European Championship.

Pedro Rocha, who is currently in charge of the Spanish soccer federation, released a letter Tuesday apologizing for Rubiales’ behavior.

Rocha said the federation had the responsibility to ask for “the most sincere apologies to the soccer world as a whole,” especially to fans and players of the women’s national team, “for the totally unacceptable behavior of its highest representative.”

In no way did his behavior represent “the values of Spanish society as a whole, its institutions, its representatives, its athletes and the Spanish sports leaders,” Rocha wrote.

Rocha on Tuesday met with Victor Francos, the head of the Spanish government’s sports body, to explain the structural changes expected in the federation.

In other developments, the captains of the Spanish men’s national team on Monday condemned Rubiales’ “unacceptable behavior” in a show of support for the women’s team.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

General Daily Insight for September 06, 2023

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 17:00
General Daily Insight for September 06, 2023

We’re all moving at top speed at this time. The Moon in buzzy Gemini starts out with a trine to action planet Mars, helping us tap into our inner fire. The Sun and messenger Mercury will conjoin gracefully at 7:09 am EDT, blending our purpose together with our desire for self-expression. The Moon will then turn around to square both Mercury and the Sun, so it will be all but impossible for any of us to keep our thoughts to ourselves.


March 21 – April 19

You can be your most efficient self currently. The Sun and Mercury are coming together in your 6th House of Routine, helping you check off every task in front of you with minimal effort. The only thing to keep in mind is that Mercury is presently retrograde, so you’d be much wiser to deal with outstanding chores, rather than creating new problems for you to solve by yourself. A flexible strategy will help you complete everything on your to-do list.


April 20 – May 20

You deserve to have some fun without any sense of guilt. There is a lovely alignment overhead as the Sun and Mercury meet up in your 5th House of Creativity, reminding you that it is important to let your inner child out to play every once in a while. You don’t need to worry about results, but if you want to make this energy count in productive ways, then try to work on an artistic project that reflects your true self.


May 21 – June 20

Things could get rather busy throughout the day. The Sun is syncing up with your ruler Mercury at the same degree of Virgo in your 4th House of Home, so the energy could pick up within your domicile when you least expect it. This could be very helpful for getting procrastinated projects or outstanding chores finally done once and for all, but you could also host a get-together on the fly. Others will likely enjoy lining up at your door!


June 21 – July 22

Life is just one thing after another today! Your schedule could feel hectic as the Sun and Mercury conjoin in your busy 3rd house, giving you lots of things to do and places to be. This is great for checking on loved ones and seeing what’s happening. Just try to maintain some kind of schedule, or else the day could pass you by without you even realizing it. Make sure you write down any important information, because it’s unfortunately easy to be forgetful.


July 23 – August 22

You’ve got your mind on your money today, and rightly so. There is a potent conjunction between the Sun and messenger Mercury in your 2nd House of Income, and the best way to make use of it would be to go over your accounts and make sure you know where your finances are going. There’s a high risk that you’ve recently missed a leak here or there. A little due diligence should pay off handsomely in the future, so don’t waste your time with frivolities.


August 23 – September 22

You certainly have things to say right now, Virgo. You’ve got the gift of gab as the awesome Sun and chatty Mercury come into a powerful alignment in your own 1st House of Self-Expression, clarifying your thoughts regarding your most important internal philosophies and personal ideas. Granted, Mercury is retrograde, so you’d be wise to focus on projects or concepts you’ve already been playing with, as opposed to embarking on new adventures. The tried-and-true should bear sweeter fruit than the unknown.


September 23 – October 22

Your objective for the day is to not sweat the small stuff! The Sun and Mercury are aligning in your 12th House of Endings, and the whole theme of this energy is to live and let live — possibly even to let go. If any issues have been draining your system as you turn them over and over, you’d do well to change your approach and instead show them the door, as the planets will help you shut it once and for all.


October 23 – November 21

You’re potentially quite the star today. The Sun is connecting with Mercury in your 11th House of Social Networks, getting you in touch with people near and far. Since Mercury is retrograde, however, you should make a concerted effort to talk with friends and acquaintances already in your circle. If you seek out new connections during Mercury Retrograde, they’re less likely to lead to anything meaningful. Create time and space for the important people in your life, then they should do the same.


November 22 – December 21

It’s a good day to ask for what you want. The Sun and Mercury are working together in your 10th House of Professional Goals, making this the perfect time to aim high, because the planets will do all they can to help you get a top score. Since Mercury is moving retrograde, you’ll benefit most from wrapping up ongoing projects or speaking to old mentors, rather than embarking on unforeseen endeavors. There’s much to be gained from some reasonable revision.


December 22 – January 19

Your mind is now like a sponge. The Sun and cosmic communicator Mercury are syncing up at the same degree in your expansive 9th house, empowering you to reach outside of your usual limitations — particularly with education or travel. Due to Mercury Retrograde, consider revisiting old boundaries rather than confronting fresh ones. You may return to a topic of study that’s been on the back burner, or you could book tickets for a far-off destination you’ve only been to once.


January 20 – February 18

Complicated conversations may be the order of the day, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive conversations as well. The Sun and Mercury are syncing up in your 8th House of Shared Resources, forcing you to face any difficult talks you’ve been putting off for longer than you should. You can use this planetary support to deal with communication issues, regardless of their context, as soon as possible — rather than stumbling through another time when you won’t have so much aid.


February 19 – March 20

You’ve got an opening to gain clarity around your vital connections. The Sun and Mercury are making a special conjunction in your 7th House of Partnerships, bringing your plus-ones front and center. A particular person could have something to say to you, but since Mercury is retrograde, there’s a good chance you’ll have already been dealing with this topic for some time. It probably won’t be a surprise! Consider this a good opportunity to get on the same page as one another.

Texas AG Ken Paxton pleads not guilty at impeachment trial and then leaves as arguments get underway

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 16:51

By JAKE BLEIBERG and PAUL J. WEBER (Associated Press)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The historic impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton began Tuesday with accusations of corruption that went unchecked for years and the Republican pleading not guilty as his party confronts whether to oust one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest defenders.

But the day ended without Paxton around at all — he left and did not return after the state Senate overwhelming rejected his numerous attempts to dismiss the charges. His absence does not stop Texas’ first impeachment trial in nearly 50 years but demonstrates the potential twists ahead in the coming weeks.

He was not the only one who left early: Although the start of the trial was carried live by some Texas stations and supporters of Paxton lined up before sunrise outside the Capitol, by the end empty seats in the Senate gallery outnumbered onlookers.

If convicted, Paxton could be barred from holding elected office in Texas.

“Mr. Paxton should be removed from office because he failed to protect the state and instead used his elected office for his own benefit,” said Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, one of the House impeachment managers leading the case against Paxton.

“In Texas, we require more from our public servants than merely avoiding being a criminal,” he said.

In an era of bitter partisanship across the U.S., the trial is a rare instance of a political party seeking to hold one of its own to account for allegations of wrongdoing. For years many Texas Republicans have resisted criticizing or facing head-on the litany of legal troubles surrounding Paxton, who has remained popular among the hard right by aligning himself closely to Trump and rushing his office into lawsuits that have halted priorities of the Biden administration.

As the articles of impeachment were formally read aloud, Paxton’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, answered by calling them untrue or incorrect and saying his client pleads not guilty. He later used his opening statements to launch into a litany of grievances against the news media, the Texas House of Representatives, which impeached Paxton in May, and the special prosecutors who have pursued him for years on state charges of securities fraud.

At the heart of the case are accusations that Paxton abused his office to help one of his donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was indicted this summer on charges of making false statements to a bank to secure more than $170 million in loans.

Buzbee said Paxton “gave nothing of significance” to Paul and framed the proceedings as an attempt to overturn the will of voters.

“What could be less democratic than only 30 people deciding who should be the attorney general of Texas,” Buzbee said. “The Texas House took away the votes of the over 4 million people who voted for Ken Paxton.”

In one victory for Paxton, the presiding officer ruled that he cannot be compelled to testify during the proceedings, which could last for weeks.

The first witness was Jeff Mateer, one of eight former Paxton aides who reported him to the FBI in 2020. His testimony was expected to continue Tuesday.

Paxton’s political future is in the hands of the Senate, where the Republican majority includes his wife, underscoring the many entanglements of his case. Sen. Angela Paxton can attend the trial but is barred from voting on whether to convict or acquit.

Shortly before the trial began, Ken and Angela Paxton spoke for a few minutes on the Senate floor and shared a brief kiss.

The Republican-led House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton in May. The 20 articles of impeachment include abuse of public trust, unfitness for office and bribery. The vote immediately suspended Paxton and made him only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached.

Paxton faces trial by a Senate jury stacked with ideological allies and a presiding judge, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who loaned $125,000 to his last reelection campaign.

A two-thirds majority — or 21 senators — is required for conviction, meaning that if all 12 Senate Democrats vote against Paxton, they still need at least nine Republicans to join them.

Peter Bowen, 74, drove from Houston at 3:30 a.m. to be in line at the Senate before sunrise. He said Paxton, who was reelected to a third term last November, was impeached because of his support for Trump and voters have already made clear where they stand on the allegations.

“We all knew about them, and we elected him. What they are doing is taking away the vote of the majority of the people of Texas,” Bowen said.

The trial will likely bring forth new evidence. But the outline of the allegations against Paxton has been public since 2020, when eight of his top deputies reported him to the the FBI.

The former aides — largely conservatives handpicked by the attorney general — told investigators that Paxton had gone against their advice and hired an outside lawyer to probe the FBI’s allegations of wrongdoing by Paul’. They also said Paxton pressured his staff to take other actions that helped Paul.

In return, Paul allegedly hired a former aide to a Republican state senator with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an affair and bankrolled the renovations of one of the attorney general’s properties, a million-dollar home in Austin.

Federal prosecutors continue to examine Paul and Paxton’s relationship, so the evidence presented during his impeachment trial poses a legal as well as a political risk to the attorney general.

After going to the FBI, all eight of Paxton’s deputies quit or were fired. Their departures led to an exodus of other seasoned lawyers and saw the attorney general’s office consumed by dysfunction behind the scenes.

61 indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges connected to ‘Stop Cop City’ movement

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 16:01

By R.J. RICO (Associated Press)

ATLANTA (AP) — Sixty-one people have been indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges following a long-running state investigation into protests against a planned police and firefighter training facility in the Atlanta area that critics call “Cop City.”

In the sweeping indictment released Tuesday, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr alleged the defendants are “militant anarchists” who supported a violent movement that prosecutors trace to the widespread 2020 racial justice protests.

The Aug. 29 indictment is the latest application of the state’s anti-racketeering law, also known as a RICO law, and comes just weeks after the Fulton County prosecutor used the statute to charge former President Donald Trump and 18 other defendants.

The “Stop Cop City” effort has gone on for more than two years and at times veered into vandalism and violence. Opponents fear the training center will lead to greater militarization of the police, and that its construction in an urban forest will exacerbate environmental damage in a poor, majority-Black area.

Most of those indicted have already been charged over their alleged involvement in the movement. RICO charges carry a heavy potential sentence that can be added on top of the penalty for the underlying acts.

Among the defendants: more than three dozen people already facing domestic terrorism charges in connection to violent protests; three leaders of a bail fund previously accused of money laundering; and three activists previously charged with felony intimidation after authorities said they distributed flyers calling a state trooper a “murderer” for his involvement in the fatal shooting of a protester.

“The 61 defendants together have conspired to prevent the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center by conducting, coordinating and organizing acts of violence, intimidation and property destruction,” Carr said during a news conference Tuesday.

In linking the defendants to the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors have made a huge series of allegations. Those include everything from possessing fire accelerant and throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers, to being reimbursed for glue and food for activists who spent months camping in the woods near the construction site.

Activists leading an ongoing referendum effort against the project immediately condemned the charges, calling them “anti-democratic.”

“Chris Carr may try to use his prosecutors and power to build his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to standing up for our future, our community, and our city,” the Cop City Vote coalition said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, praised the indictment, saying in a statement, “My top priority is and always will be keeping Georgians safe, especially against out-of-state radicals that threaten the safety of our citizens and law enforcement.”

Protests against the training center escalated after the fatal shooting in January of 26-year-old protester Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said state troopers fired in self-defense after Paez Terán shot at them while they cleared protesters from a wooded area near the proposed facility site. But the troopers involved weren’t wearing body cameras, and activists have questioned the official narrative.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and others say the 85-acre, $90 million facility would replace inadequate training facilities, and would help address difficulties in hiring and retaining police officers.

Prosecutors trace the roots of the “Stop Cop City” movement back to May 25, 2020, the date George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, even though the resulting protests occurred months before officials announced plans for the training center. Long after the racial justice protests died down, “violent anti-police sentiment” persisted among some Atlantans and it remains one of the demonstrators’ “core driving motives,” according to the indictment.

Since 2021, numerous instances of violence and vandalism have been linked to the movement. Days after the killing of Paez Terán, a police car was set alight at a January protest in downtown Atlanta. In March, more than 150 masked protesters chased off police at the construction site and torched construction equipment before fleeing and blending in with a crowd at a nearby music festival. Those two instances have led to dozens of people being charged with domestic terrorism, although prosecutors previously admitted they’ve had difficulty proving that many of those arrested were in fact those who took part in the violence.

Among those charged with domestic terrorism in March near the music festival and indicted last week is Thomas Jurgens, a Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney. Jurgens’ lawyer has said his client wore a bright green hat — a well-known identifier used by legal observers — and his arrest alarmed many human rights organizations.

The law center called it an example of “heavy-handed law enforcement intervention against protesters.” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, a Democrat, mentioned her concerns about Jurgens’ prosecution in announcing her June decision to withdraw from criminal cases connected to the movement, citing disagreements with Carr over how to handle the matters.

In addition to the 61 racketeering indictments, five of the defendants were also indicted on domestic terrorism and first-degree arson charges. Three previously charged leaders of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has provided bail money and helped find attorneys for arrested protesters, were also each indicted on 15 counts of money laundering.

The case was initially assigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, the judge overseeing the racketeering case against Trump and 18 others. But McAfee recused himself, saying he’d worked with prosecutors on the case prior to his judicial appointment. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams now oversees the case.

Nonprofits rush to aid Idalia victims amid inflationary pressures, food insecurity

South Florida Local News - Tue, 09/05/2023 - 00:03

In what has become a customary annual response during hurricane season, nonprofit food agencies from South Florida quickly rolled trucks and deployed legions of workers last week to help the distressed victims of Hurricane Idalia as it pounded the Gulf Coast of Florida.

But the missions took place in an economic climate that is hardly ideal, as inflation has driven up operating costs and chipped away at the ability of lower-wage earners to put enough food on the table. In short, demand is up in a field where organizations can’t pass their costs to clients.

According to a recent survey by Farm Share, the state’s largest nonprofit food bank, many Florida families are reducing the amount of food they consume and making less healthy choices because they can’t afford to pay grocery bills that they easily fielded a year ago.

“Inflation has had a dramatic impact on us as a food bank,” Farm Share CEO Stephen Shelley said. He said the cost of delivering food has risen from 9 cents to 13 cents a pound since last year as fuel,  employee wages, truck maintenance and the electricity needed to power refrigeration units “have gone up dramatically.”

“As a nonprofit I can’t pass on those costs to consumers.as I have to find additional sources of revenue or I have to cut services,” Shelley said. “It is a big deal.”

The amount of food the organization distributed fell year over year in 2022 to 104 million pounds from 123 to 124 million pounds.

“We do get funded by the state of Florida,” he said. “The state has stepped up and provided record amounts for Farm Share.”

The need is greater than one might expect in a state that is regarded by economic development specialists as a prime spot for relocations from elsewhere around the nation. By Shelley’s calculation, there are 4 million people in Florida who face food insecurity and more than 900.000 of them are children.

Jesse Cosseting and Amaury Perez load orders with food at Farm Share’s warehouse in Oakland Park on Sept. 1, 2023. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel) Deteriorating eating habits

Clients in need of help are cutting back.

A recent survey of 440 people that Farm Share conducted statewide shows a darkening picture for Floridians whose wages aren’t keeping pace with inflation. Many families are reducing the amount of food they consume and making less healthy choices.

“The survey found that more than half of all Floridians have modified their eating habits in some way due to food inflation, with low-income families disproportionately affected,” Farm Share said in a statement. ”The impact is particularly pronounced among families with children under 18 (77%), Black (69%) and Hispanic residents (66%), and individuals under the age of 45 (66%).”

Nearly a third of parents are cutting back on fresh produce purchases, and 21% acknowledged eating more processed foods.

“In a state of over 4 million children, that equates to about 840,000 Florida kids consuming more processed or fast foods due to food inflation this year,” the organization concluded..

Among other dietary adjustments people are making to help stretch their dollars:

  • 22% are reducing their consumption of meat.
  • 20% are changing their grocery shopping locations.
  • 18% are purchasing fewer quantities of fresh produce.
  • 12% are opting for more processed or fast food options.

Farm Share says it is distributing more than 8 million pounds of healthy and nutritious food a month around the state via direct community food distribution events with the help of 2,000 local nonprofit agencies.

Similar signs of stress are being observed by Feeding South Florida, which serves Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, said Francisco “Paco” Velez, CEO and president.

“Inflation is affecting a lot of working families where it is getting increasingly difficult to live if you are making $50,000 to $75,000 a year,” he said.

For a statewide economy that’s boasting a jobless rate that is less than the national average, the numbers of patrons seeking help each year is still lofty.

“We’re seeing 1.2 million individuals coming through our doors, which is not quite at the level at the beginning of COVID,” he said. “But they are coming at a pretty frequent pace. “

They include people between jobs or those with health and transportation issues.

Feeding South Florida works with more than 250 nonprofit agencies across the four counties providing more than 72 million pounds of food a year. It operates facilities in Pembroke Park and Boynton Beach that serve as pantries and points of origin for food distribution and preparation activities.

“Most of the families we’re serving are employed and have at least one job in the household,” Velez said.

Feeding South Florida also offers a culinary education program, training for warehouse-oriented jobs and financial literacy programs.

Canned goods offered at the pantry at Feeding South Florida’s warehouse in Pembroke Park on Friday. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel) Storm relief unabated

Despite the economic pressures, nonprofit agencies such Farm Share, Feeding South Florida and the Global Empowerment Mission of Doral all rallied people, trucks and support partners to ship food and other necessities north to help Idalia’s victims.

“Our mission is more humanitarian aid and disaster relief,” said Patrick Lynch, chief development officer at GEM. “The need is there regardless of economic conditions.”

He said the organization’s donors — particularly the larger wealthy ones — have shown no signs of letting up with their contributions.

“The really large donors, the folks who have true wealth, have the capacity to give that extends beyond the impact of inflation,” he said. “Hopefully, me saying this out loud doesn’ t change things. If (inflation) were to extend over a longer period of time, we may see an impact.”

He suggested that smaller “micro” donations of $10 to $20 a month might be the first to slack off if the economy worsens.

While GEM shipped food and other supplies to the Perry area of North Florida, the group’s efforts are not confined to the state.

GEM is operating a warehouse in Kyiv, Ukraine, that is supplying food and 200,000 “family necessities kits” a month in areas liberated from invading Russian forces. Another project involves replacing windows in residential buildings struck during missile attacks.

Back in Florida, GEM,  in conjunction with a Food Share base camp at a Baptist church in Perry, deployed people and distributed humanitarian supplies on Thursday consisting of food and hygiene items that were delivered directly to the impacted area.

Feeding South Florida driver Jean Robert Nel prepares to hit the road Thursday at the organization’s Pembroke Park warehouse, The nonprofit shipped multiple deliveries to the Big Bend area hit by Hurricane Idalia. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Velez of Feeding South Florida said his organization on Thursday sent a truckload of supplies donated by the Aldi supermarket chain and a second one from the Seminole Tribe of South Florida. Two other loads were on their way to the Tallahassee area.

Drivers were scheduled to remain for up to five days delivering food locally.

Donations continue to arrive, he said, as “:the community has been with us:during all of the storms that have passed through the state.”

Still, Velez said, they have been “seeing a little bit of a holding off until folks get a better understanding of what we’re going to be as an economy.”

Feeding South Florida CEO Francisco “Paco” Vélez speaks at a news conference at the Pembroke Park warehouse, on Thursday. The organization sent two big rigs full of donated food to the Big Bend region of Florida which was hit by Hurricane Idalia. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel) What the future might hold

“Today, unfortunately the median household is earning roughly what they were earning in inflation-adjusted terms prior to the pandemic,” said William Luther,  a professor and economist at Florida Atlantic University. “But they haven’t experienced the real wage gains they usually would.”

“It’s not surprising that some households have found it more difficult to make ends meet in such a tumultuous environment,” he added.

Workers have received raises in a variety of occupations ranging from hospitality to transportation as unions have aggressively pursued higher compensation for their members in a labor market where workers have the upper hand. But unionized workers constitute less than 6% of the work force in Florida, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Non-union professionals and others in industries with large numbers of vacancies have lifted their pay by moving from job to job.

Oxfam, the British-founded confederation against poverty, released a “Best and Worst States to Work in America” index  late last month that ranked Florida 30th among the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The survey focused on labor laws that benefit workers from heat safety in outdoor occupations and paid family and medical leave, to the right to organize, to pathways for higher pay. But Florida is a long-time right-to-work state that is not regarded as fertile territory for labor-organizing activity. And proposals for aggressive workplace protections have not been major legislative priorities in Tallahassee.

Kaitlyn Henderson, senior research adviser for Oxfam in Washington, suggested a broader brush is needed to lift the economic fortunes of workers, particularly those who rely on hourly pay rates.

She pointed to the 2020 state constitutional amendment that lifts the minimum wage incrementally until it reaches $15 in September 2026. When the vote occurred the rate was $8.56. It is now at $11 and scheduled to go to $12 on Sept. 30.

“It was a result of the people of Florida asking for one,” she said. “It was a big win we wanted to celebrate, and still celebrate.”

Staff writer David Lyons can be reached at dvlyons@SunSentinel.com

Amaury Perez loads orders with food at Farm Share’s warehouse in Oakland Park on Friday. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

System has potential to become hurricane on approach toward Caribbean this week, forecasters say

South Florida Local News - Mon, 09/04/2023 - 23:05

A tropical system expected become a tropical depression or tropical storm within days could strengthen “possibly to a hurricane” as it nears the far eastern boundary of the Caribbean later this week, according to the latest from the National Hurricane Center.

The system is currently moving toward the central tropical Atlantic in the general direction of the Caribbean and potentially Florida. Forecasters said early Tuesday that it is due to approach near or to the northeast of the northern Leeward Islands. Its potential path beyond that is not yet known.

As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, it was given a 90% chance of developing in the next 48 hours and a 100% chance in the next seven days. The next named storm to form would be Lee.

It was “more organized” Tuesday, producing showers and thunderstorms about 900 miles west-southwest of Africa’s Cabo Verde Islands.

It is forecast to move west-northwest between 15 and 20 mph over the eastern and central Atlantic, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Further organization of the system and additional strengthening are also forecast.

As of Sept. 5, there have been three Atlantic hurricanes this season — Don, Franklin and Idalia, the latter two of which were major hurricanes.

Another tropical depression could form later in the week or next weekend from a tropical wave set to emerge off Africa Wednesday and move toward the central tropical Atlantic. As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, its odds of developing were at 70% within seven days, and 20% within two days.

Meanwhile, the remnants of Hurricane Franklin were given a 20% chance of “developing some subtropical or tropical characteristics” in the next seven days over the warm waters near Portugal.

Tropical Storms Katia and Gert dissipated Monday.

The NHC, which operates under the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, has forecast 14-21 named storms, including 6-11 hurricanes, and two to five major hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center has been predicting an “above-normal” 2023 hurricane season as a result of ongoing record-breaking sea surface temperatures that continue to fight off the tempering effects of El Niño.

While sea surface temperatures have remained hot for longer than anticipated, El Niño’s effects, which typically reduce hurricane chances, have emerged more slowly.

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