Jury recesses in 2015 drug-buy slaying near Florida Atlantic University

Henry (PBSO photo)
Henry (PBSO photo)

A jury Thursday morning recessed for the week in the first-degree murder trial of Donovan Henry, the alleged mastermind behind a robbery last Dec. 29 near Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton that left 19-year-old FAU student Nicholas Acosta dead.

Acosta
Acosta

Boca Raton police say Henry went to the University Park apartments that night to buy marijuana from Acosta, a fellow student. Acosta’s girlfriend, Kayla Bartosiewicz, opened the door for Henry, whom she recognized from a party, she told police.

Once Henry was inside, the rest of the men came in wearing masks and hoodies. Rodrick Woods shot Acosta twice, took a bag of marijuana and the group left, police said.

Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes has argued that, while Henry did not pull the gun, he was the mastermind because he knew Acosta and wanted his stash of marijuana.

Defense Attorney Scott Skier argued the state presented no evidence to prove Henry planned the robbery. He said the testimony they were relying on against his client was that of Woods, a convicted murderer. Woods, identified as the gunman, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testimony against the other men. Woods has said Henry asked him to help steal the marijuana from Acosta.

Appeals Court: Palm Beach County elections chief’s records charge was “reasonable”

Bucher
Bucher
trout
Trout

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher imposed a “reasonable”  fee on U.S. Congress write-in candidate W. Michael Trout, the 4th District Court of Appeal said in a ruling released Wednesday.

Trout, a failed write-in candidate in November’s re-election of U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, also had challenged Deutch as a write-in in 2014.

After the 2014 election, he submitted a public records request to inspect the official ballots associated with his congressional race “at the earliest reasonable time possible, including ballots deemed to be cast in [Trout’s] name, and those deemed by [the Supervisor’s] office to be invalidated,” the appeals court’s ruling says.

Bucher responded six days later, saying counting the 145,881 ballots in 211 precincts would take require her and three other staffers to do work beyond that for a usual records request. She said she’d have to charge Trout up to $189.21, which he had to submit in advance as a deposit.

Florida’s Sunshine Law says records custodians can charge only the hourly pay of the lowest-paid person qualified to fulfill a request. Bucher argued that it was reasonable for her, as head of the elections office, to supervise Trout’s inspection of the ballots — and to charge her hourly wage.

Trout refused to pay the deposit and sued in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, then appealed when the judge ruled against him.

Boca Raton Unitarians make good on threat to withdraw as voting site in mosque controversy

Bucher
Bucher

A Unitarian congregation in Boca Raton has made it official, withdrawing as a voting site to protest Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher’s pulling a polling place out of a Boca Raton mosque.20161112-bucher-letter-withdrawal

On Wednesday, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton forwarded to reporters a formal letter of withdrawal that it sent Bucher on Nov. 12.

“We are saddened that it has come to this. Religious discrimination, and Islamophobia in particular, have been increasing dramatically, even more so since the election,” the group’s secretary, Charlie Cormier, said in an email to reporters. “We had hoped that our county government would not succumb to pressure from

Islamic Center of Boca Raton
Islamic Center of Boca Raton

that segment of our community. We continue to hope that other government offices resist similar pressures in the future.”

 

The group — which said it has served as a polling place for decades, most recently for precinct 4160 — had threatened on Aug. 21 to withdraw after the election if Bucher did not restore the mosque in time for the Nov. 8 vote, which she didn’t. It said its rules forbid to rent to any group that discriminates.

Bucher earlier this summer had selected Islamic Center of Boca Raton, at 3480 N.W. Fifth Ave. near Florida Atlantic University, then decided in July not to use it after she received as many as 50 calls advising her to move the site, with some callers warning her they’d try to block voting or even would call in a bomb threat in order to clear the building.

After the move, Bucher told The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board she felt she had to move the site “when we had a heightened threat that they (phone callers) were going to impede voters. I was very disappointed in our community and saw we have a lot of work to do.”

Bucher’s office didn’t immediately comment Wednesday on the Unitarians’ action.

Palm Beach County ethics panel cites county worker, two Delray Beach staff

ethics logoA former analyst for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management faces ethics charges for allegedly trying to intimidate a business owner into giving him an auto repair discount, and two Delray Beach employees received “letters of instruction” for incidents in that city, in rulings Thursday by the county’s Commission on Ethics.

The charges against analyst Rowan Hughes stem from a November 2015 report by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General that said he “threatened or intimidated members of the public by falsely identifying himself as a well field inspector and making statements that he would have to conduct a well field inspection following a business’ refusal to reduce the price of repairs to his personal vehicle.”

The county fired Hughes Dec. 21, 2015, after he admitted driving the county vehicle for personal use, ethics commission documents show.

The panel also ruled Thursday that Joseph Lang, a firefighter paramedic and a rescue driver, was paid $10,834 from the city in 2014 and 2015 for an outside business he owned that supplied and serviced automatic external defibrillators for city buildings and fire-rescue trucks.

And the panel ruled Rashod Smith, a supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, let Tennille Decoste, the city’s Human Resources administrator, hold a Thanksgiving Day dinner for her family and friends after hours in the city’s Pompey Park Recreation Center.

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.

More than 150,000 already voted in Palm Beach County; 2.86 million statewide

Early voting Friday at Hagen Ranch Rd. branch
Early voting Friday at Hagen Ranch Rd. branch

Between early voting and mail-in, more than 150,000 people have cast ballots so far just in Palm Beach County.

Just the 66,176 Palm Beach County early voters, reported through Thursday by the Supervisor of Elections, represent more than half of the 124,896 who voted early in 2012.

Statewide, according to the Florida Division of Elections, more than 2.86 million used one of the two pre-Election Day options as of Friday morning.

Of mail-ins submitted statewide, Republicans still led Democrats 731,713 to 679,326, with “other” or “no party” voters accounting for the rest.

Of the 1.12 million Floridians who did early voting, GOP voters trailed Democrats 439,845 to 477,636.

Statewide figures show that for Palm Beach County, which leans Democrat, those voters led Republicans in submitted mail-ins 43,482 to 25,361.

In early voting — state figures don’t exactly match those posted locally — it was 18,741 Republican and 32,390 Democrat.

Nearly 17,000 took part in first day of early voting

102516-pbc-early-voting-4early1024116In a hint of a dramatic turnout in the the Nov. 8 election, nearly 17,000 people cast ballots Monday, the first of 14 days of early voting in Palm Beach County, according to an unofficial box score from the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections.

The total of 16,592 already represents more than half the 28,865 who cast ballots in 14 days of early voting for the Aug. 30 vote, and nearly a third of the 54,092 who did so in nine days of early voting for the March primary.

It’s more than the 15,525 who voted early on the first of eight days for the November 2012 general election and accounts for 13 percent of the total of 124,896. If the pace were to continue, the 14-day early voting total this year would be 232,288.

Pundits have forecast that as many people will vote  before Nov. 8 as on Election Day, doing so either by mail-in ballots or via early voting, which started Monday in Palm Beach County and runs through Nov. 6.

As was the case in the March and August primaries, the biggest turnout of the 15 early voting sites on Monday was at the Hagen Ranch Road branch county library west of Boynton Beach, where 1,923 showed up.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of midmorning Monday, nearly 2 million mail-in ballots statewide remained outstanding, and more than 1.2 million already had been turned in. Of those submitted, Republicans held a 503,632 to 483,019 edge. In Palm Beach County, 117,838 were out and 60,051 had been submitted; of the latter, Democrats in the blue-leaning county outnumbered GOP voters 30,980 to 17,664.

 

Ethics panel cites Delray Beach firefighter

ethics logoA Delray Beach firefighter/paramedic unintentionally violated ethics when he obtained an outside contract with the city, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics ruled Friday.

The panel, following an executive session of about an hour, voted to give Conor Devery a “letter of instruction.”

According to a staff memo, Devery, who with his wife owns the firm First Response Training, was approached for training services by officials from Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. The city eventually paid the firm $2,245 over three years.

The vote marks the third action by the ethics panel in response to inquiries from Delray Beach City Manager Donald Cooper following city audits.

In July, the commission ordered a similar “letter of instruction” for Desiree Lancaster, an ambulance billing contract supervisor who admitted steering about $12,000 in work in a pressure cleaning firm she and her husband own. The commission concluded this violation also was unintentional.

And in June, Delray Beach parks and recreation maintenance worker Gordon Eaton was cleared of charges he worked for an outside landscape firm that did business with the city. Both Eaton and the firm’s owners said Eaton never had worked there.

The ethics panel’s Oct. 6 meeting had been moved to Friday by Hurricane Matthew.

Palm Tran to install 2-seaters for bus riders

image2Palm Tran riders will have more opportunities to take a load off while waiting for the bus. The county bus agency plans to install 24 new bus stop seats at high-ridership locations in places where right-of-way problems prevent them from having a shelter or bench. The 24 stops selected for the seats account for 23,000 or more riders per month.

The 2-seat assembly, by the Simme-Seat company, attaches directly to a bus stop pole. The make it easier for drives to see waiting riders and provide a safer option for riders than sitting on the curb.

The $13,722 for the seats came from a federal grant.

County Commissioner Priscilla A. Taylor and Palm Tran managers will show off one of the new seats at 10:30 a.m. Monday at a stop at the Presidente Supermarket at Linton Square Plaza, at 1565 S. Congress Ave. in Delray Beach.

Palm Beach County Elections chief Bucher: We were warned of bomb scare if mosque used for voting

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Alhalabi
081514 PBG TERM LIMITS BUCHER(2)
Bucher

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher moved a polling place from a Boca Raton mosque to a city library after callers warned they’d try to block voting or even would call in a bomb threat, she explained Wednesday in her first public comment on the controversy.

“We began receiving complaints from voters,” she said Wednesday in an email to The Post Editorial Board for an editorial published on line Wednesday evening.

“Some felt uncomfortable voting at the Islamic Center,” the email continued. “When we received a call that indicated individuals planned to impede voting and maybe even call in a bomb threat to have the location evacuated on Election Day (no name was given during the call), we located the Spanish River Library which is two miles away from the center as an alternative voting location and I called the Center’s President.”

Bucher replied to the inquiry from the Editorial Board but for three days has not responded to a Post reporter’s phone calls and emails requesting details and comment.

Bucher last week switched the voting site for Precinct 4170 from the Islamic Center of Boca Raton to Boca Raton’s Spanish River Library, Bassem Alhalabi, the mosque’s president, told The Palm Beach Post on Monday.

On Tuesday, Boca Raton-area U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch issued statements suggesting the move was discriminatory.  The county’s other two members of Congress, Reps. Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy, and U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, so far have not responded to requests for comment submitted Tuesday and Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, Florida Family Association, a Tampa-based group that campaigns against Islamic-American relations urged people to support Bucher’s decision.  The group said it was responding to “pressure” being put on Bucher by the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  CAIR on Monday had raised the possibility of legal action if Bucher didn’t change her mind.

Bucher is up for reelection to the non-partisan elections supervisor post in the Aug. 30 vote.

Palm Beach County ethics panel cites Delray Beach fire supervisor

ethics logoAn ambulance billing contract supervisor for Delray Beach Fire-Rescue has agreed to a settlement with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics in which she admits steering about $12,000 in work in a pressure cleaning firm she and her husband own.

In the agreement, reached Thursday after a half-hour closed session, the charges against Desiree Lancaster are dropped in lieu of a “letter of instruction” from the panel.

A summary said Division Fire Chief Victor Williams approached Lancaster about a cleaning job, and she gave him the business card of her husband’s Greenacres-based firm.

The company later got contracts in 2014 and 2015 to clean fire stations and lifeguard stands.

Lancaster told investigators she did minor work for her husband’s company, mostly bookkeeping.

The commission’s investigation concluded the violation was unintentional.

“Although she took training it does not appear she understood the relationship between her [and] her husband’s company was prohibited,” the commission’s executive summary said.

Commission investigator Anthony Bennett said after the meeting he could not comment on whether Williams violated any ethics rules when he approaching an employee about outside work. Asked if the city disciplined Williams, Bennett referred that question to the city, which didn’t immediately respond Thursday. Williams left earlier this year to become chief of a department in Gallatin, Tenn.