Volume 3, Issue 18||
Friday, May 6, 2005|
Office of the Attorney General
PL-01, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Message from Attorney General Charlie Crist
As I write this at mid-day Friday, the Florida Legislature is heading into the final hectic hours of its two-month 2005 session.
With the exception of one important piece of unfinished legislation, this session already deserves to be remembered as one of the finest in recent memory in addressing public safety concerns.
That one missing piece is a big one – the Anti-Murder Act of 2005, which would ensure that violent felons who violate probation are locked up unless they can convince a judge that they don’t pose a danger to the community. The best way to make sure felons who violate probation don’t commit more crimes is to have them safely behind bars, and that is what this bill would accomplish. We have endured too many brutal murders over the past year, apparently at the hands of probation violators, to fail to act on this common- sense proposal. I hope the Legislature approves the Anti-Murder Act before the clock runs out on this session.
Even without the Anti-Murder Act, however, a great deal has been accomplished this session to better protect law-abiding Floridians.
Early this week Governor Jeb Bush signed the Jessica Lunsford Act into law. This new law will establish longer prison sentences for criminals who sexually molest children, and would make them wear satellite tracking devices once they do get out. This law will go a long way toward protecting our youngest and most vulnerable citizens from the monsters who commit these types of crimes.
Four other important pieces of public safety legislation won unanimous approval from both the Senate and House, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature:
- The Freedom to Worship Safely Act, which increases penalties for violent crimes committed in places of worship. The practice of one's faith is a deeply personal experience, and to have that moment disrupted by a criminal act is intolerable. Places of worship historically have been sanctuaries from the problems of the outside world, and I am pleased that the Legislature has taken the appropriate steps to make sure that this environment remains safe and secure.
- An anti-looting bill, designed to protect homeowners and businesses in areas ravaged by hurricanes and other disasters by increasing penalties for looting during any state of emergency declared by the Governor. This legislation sends a strong message to those low enough to steal from disaster victims. There is only so much we can do to control nature's ability to create victims, but this new law shows that much can be done to stop criminals from revictimizing vulnerable citizens.
- Another disaster-related measure is a consumer protection bill that imposes criminal penalties for those who engage in price gouging during a declared state of emergency. Floridians showed great determination in surviving last year's hurricane season, only to have too many citizens targeted by con artists looking to capitalize on someone else's misfortune. This legislation will provide the necessary measures to stop these criminals in their tracks and make sure that a state of emergency is not an opportunity for some individuals to line their pockets at others' expense.
- A measure directly targeting identity theft by providing tougher penalties for those who fraudulently use another’s personal identifying information. The bill also requires businesses that maintain computerized data that includes personal information to provide notice whenever they experience breaches of system security. Identity theft is a destructive and demoralizing crime, and a person’s good name is priceless and extremely hard to restore. Consumers are responsible for protecting their personal information, but businesses that collect this data must be held accountable if individuals are put at financial risk through no fault of their own.
Another bill, creating a murder registry so parents and other citizens may know when murderers move into their neighborhoods, has passed the House unanimously. I hope it comes up for a vote in the Senate before the session adjourns.
The fact that all of these bills have passed unanimously is a credit to every legislator’s commitment to public safety. However, a few individual lawmakers deserve special praise and thanks for shepherding these bills through the legislative process.
The Jessica Lunsford Act resulted from the outstanding work of Sen. Nancy Argenziano and Reps. Charlie Dean, Everett Rice and Dick Kravitz, while the Freedom to Worship Safely Act was guided by Sens. Rod Smith and Jeff Atwater and Reps. Tim Ryan and Jack Seiler. The anti-looting law was sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg and Rep. Holly Benson, and the price gouging bill was sponsored by Sen. Rudy Garcia and Rep. Leslie Waters. Sponsors of the identity theft bill were Sen. Aronberg and Rep. Waters, while the murder registry has been pushed by Sen. Garcia and Rep. Rice.
Law-abiding Floridians should not forget the hard work these dedicated legislators performed on behalf of public safety. They, and the entire Legislature, are to be thanked for their commitment to protecting our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
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CONSUMER ALERT - Attorney General Crist issued a consumer alert warning Floridians about the unauthorized solicitation of funds by an organization that is using the picture of murder victim Jessica Lunsford to collect money. The organization has placed pictures of Jessica and John Evander Couey, the man accused of her murder, on approximately 500 collection boxes placed in convenience stores across the state, along with a statement asking for $1 donations to stop sexual predators. Jessica’s picture is being used without the permission of her father, Mark Lunsford. (news release)
DECEPTIVE BUSINESS SOLICITATION - Attorney General Crist announced a civil lawsuit against a California company and its owner under Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act for attempting to defraud thousands of Floridians. The Corporate Compliance Center solicited Florida corporations across the state implying that the businesses had to submit a $100 fee and file their corporate minutes with the state, and that directors and owners could be personally liable if they failed to keep the minutes. The solicitation's official appearance conveyed the false impression that businesses were required to pay the fee. (news release)
HOME INVASION ROBBERY - The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution won convictions of two Miami-Dade County men for their involvement in an armed home invasion and robbery in Pembroke Park. A jury found the two men guilty for impersonating an officer, breaking into a home, and committing an armed robbery while threatening the residents of the home with deadly weapons. The men have also been charged for similar actions in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. They will be sentenced in June for the Broward County crime and face the possibility of life in prison. (news release)
HOTEL CHARGES INVESTIGATED - Attorney General Crist announced a settlement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., a Maryland-based hotel corporation that owns or manages numerous hotels in Florida. The settlement ends an investigation in which it was determined that Starwood properties in Florida were adding "energy surcharges" to guests' bills without informing the guests. Related investigations revealed that some other hotels add energy surcharges as well as other automatic charges, such as resort fees, to the bills of hotel guests without prior disclosure; investigation of those practices continues. (news release)
DENTAL CLINIC SCAM - After an investigation by the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the owner and operator of a Miami dental clinic was arrested and charged with grand theft and other charges for allegedly billing Florida’s Medicaid program for dental services that were not provided to Medicaid patients. Mario C. Quintana, an unlicenced dentist, allegedly paid numerous recipients – mostly elementary school-aged children – $5 to $10 so they would obtain dental services at his American Dental Health clinic. The investigation showed that the children only went to the clinic once or twice and received minimal care, usually just a fluoride treatment, but Quintana billed Medicaid for more expensive procedures.