In 2000, in a supposed effort to curb the spread of canker (aka citrus herpes), a “fruit-blemishing bacterial disease” that was allegedly threatening to destroy Florida’s commercial citrus crop, state legislators and the Department of Agriculture waged an epic campaign against private property rights.
They sent workers—Citrus Stormtroopers, if you will—to bully their way into citizens’ yards and cut down their citrus trees (orange, grape fruit, key lime, etc.), regardless of whether or not they were infected with canker.
In some areas, workers were accompanied by police escort and would enter properties while owners were absent; they’d return home to discover their trees gone. In exchange, they received Walmart giftcards ($100 for their first tree and $55 for each additional tree).
Some of these trees were decades old and had been in families for generations. It’s a Florida tradition to make freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade key lime pie right from your backyard.
Noncompliance was met with threats of steep civil penalties and even arrest.
In all, 865,000 residential trees were cut down. A significant number of those were actually healthy, but misfortunate enough to be within 1,900 feet of an infected tree (a major extension of the previous 125-feet policy). Policy be damned, there were many reports of instances where no infected tree could be identified in an area and healthy trees were still destroyed. Also, after cutting them down, workers would pour a chemical on the stump that allegedly made some residents sick.
It required federal intervention to stop the tree-chopping madness. In January 2006, the USDA, in a memo to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Charles Bronson (really), declared that canker eradication was impossible and the state had no choice but to admit that the whole effort had been a miserable and costly failure (since 1995, it cost $1.6 billion). And it continues to be in the court system.
As if it the situation couldn’t be anymore transparent, the state’s amended policy didn’t even require that legitimately contaminated commercial citrus trees be cut down, but rather ordered them “quarantined and decontaminated.”
Pissed off Floridians surmised it was not mere coincidence that this legislation bolstered the interests of the state’s powerful agricultural industry, so they sued.
Despite legal judgments against the state totaling $27 million, the state continues to exploit every delay tactic. This week, a canker case over the 248,000 residential trees cut down in Miami-Dade County qualified for class action status and will hopefully push forward to enrich all the attorneys involved while the victims end up with… a Walmart giftcard?
So, to recap: Florida taxpayers financed an operation to trespass and destroy taxpayers’ property to benefit private business interests. Now we’re paying to defend that action and will, eventually, be forced to pay restitution for it. All while the citrus industry shares its wealth with the politicians who helped initiate the policy in the first place and lawyers (who will no doubt contribute to those same candidates) reap the standard windfall of legal fees.
Like the orange grove grows, such is the circle of life. Welcome to This Week in Florida.
Since I was busy last week sitting shiva for Cocaine Godmother Griselda Blanco, this column will provide highlights of the last two weeks in Florida, just so you don’t miss anything.
- A Port St. Lucie teenager accidentally shot off his penis and a testicle while cleaning his handgun, then lied to police and claimed he was the victim of a random street shooting. While cops were investigating at the house where it happened, they found marijuana and arrested the homeowner.
This guy shot his own dick off.
- The Moore Haven 17-year-old who got his arm bitten off in a gator attack has a new $80k bionic hand. If he’s not careful with that thing, he’ll wind up like the kid in the previous story.
- President Obama took to a popular South Florida morning radio show to rag on the Miami Dolphins. Which places him firmly in the 99%.
- Leave no witnesses: A Coral Springs man is accused of having sex with a dog and then stabbing it to death.
- A TSA screener at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was busted for having “horrifying” child porn on his home computer. Investigators have been tracking him since February and, for at least two of the seven months since, he’s been on pat-down duty on the federal payroll. Which begs the question: Who screens the screeners?
- Florida State Rep. Kevin Ambler (R-Tampa) helped Digital Domain, a special effects house responsible for work on Titanic and Transformers, secure $20 million in public funds, under questionable circumstances.Then Ambler left office and he and his son received jobs with the company. The Port St. Lucie-based company is now bankrupt, leaving 300 people out of work and Florida taxpayers on the hook for, not only the original $20 million, but additional millions in cash, tax breaks and real estate. Legendary Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino reportedly lost $13.6 million in the sinking ship.
See what I did there?
- Part-time Miami Beach resident Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is involved in no less than four legal situations in South Florida courts. He’s going after three different companies for non-payment of promotional fees and the maker of an anti-fat cream is suing him to get their promotional fee back. No word on when deportation proceedings will begin.
- In a related story, a new survey shows that Florida’s “lawsuit climate” is among the worst in the nation.This is apparently a crucial factor for businesses considering relocating to or expanding in the state.
- Florida could really use the business. We have yet another dubious No. 1 ranking: 53% of Florida's unemployed workers haven’t worked for six months or longer, the worst rate in the country.
- This story has to be read to be believed, so I’m just gonna throw the headline out there and let y’all deal with it: ‘Port Charlotte woman pulls .357 Magnum to rob a man while having sex with him in a moving car.’
- A homeless man allegedly broke into a car in a South Beach parking lot and stole a credit card. He then went to the Clevelander Hotel on Ocean Drive, ordered a beer, and tried to pay for it with the card. The bartender looked at it and discovered an odd coincidence: He apparently has the same name as the name on the card. And the same exact credit card number. Of all the gin joints in South Beach, the thief walked into the one where the guy whose credit card he stole works as a bartender.
- A Grove City man reported 11 illegal ATM withdrawals made on his bank account, totaling over $1,500, and blamed them on his son stealing his card. Police showed him surveillance pictures of each of the transactions—all show the man himself at the ATMs. He claimed not to remember any of it since he’d spend the money on illegal prescription pills.
- An Orlando pain pill doctor got 10 years in prison for having the best parties ever. He was accused of getting female patients hooked on drugs, then inviting them over to his place for wild pill-popping videotaped sex parties. When police busted him, he had over 1,400 oxycodone pills, cocaine, handguns, more than $37,000 cash and an electronic money-counting machine in his house.
- A Sarasota police officer is on “administrative leave” after punching a suspect ten times and then choking him unconscious during a misdemeanor arrest outside a nightclub. But, please don’t worry about the cop: He’s being paid to not work. The suspect, on the other hand, isn’t looking so hot:
- Florida gated communities are seeing foreclosed houses—some 4,500 square feet with private pools and three-car garages—occupied by Section 8 recipients. Much to the chagrin of their neighbors.
- I don’t approve, but I can understand: A Seminole man pled guilty to leaving 260 threatening voicemails to employees at a Connecticut insurance company, accusing them of being “murderers, rapists and terrorists and often would include long periods of laughter and screaming.”
- The Obama bear-hugger and Fort Pierce pizzeria owner is facing a boycott of his restaurant by local Republicans for showing the president so much love. Not because Obama is a Democrat, but because it was a public display of affection between men. They’re gonna dine at Chick-fil-A instead.
- A St. Petersburg homeowner bumped into a natural gas line, evacuated the house, returned with a lit cigarette, and KABOOM. Despite Darwin, the homeowner is recovering from minor burns and smoke inhalation.
- After claims of “widespread” voter fraud and an extensive statewide investigation, Governor Rick Scott finally found one foreigner voting in Florida: a Canadian!
- Whoever accused Florida of being a tropical cesspool… well, they were right: Cases of West Nile Virus are on the rise.
- A prostitute robbed and pepper sprayed a tourist on South Beach.
- An 18-year-old Tallahassee woman stole an ACC Championship ring from the grandson of iconic Florida State Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden.
Last week was a bad week for cops in multiple South Florida departments:
- A six-year veteran of the Miami Beach Police Department was charged with racketeering, fraud, and official misconduct in a scheme to defraud people buying and leasing cars. No explanation was offered on how that makes him different from any car dealer.
- A Miami-Dade cop was arrested by the FBI for civil rights violations for pulling women over for no reason and sexually harassing them—including an undercover officer. Whoops. He’s been relieved of duty. With pay.
- A former Hialeah Gardens detective was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison for his involvement in a marijuana conspiracy where he’d bust pot dealers and—are you sitting down?—steal it to sell himself.
- Here are some recently revealed fun facts about the Opa-locka Police Department: The current chief has twice tested positive for cocaine use and, last year alone, there were 41 internal affairs investigations launched into a department that only has 58 cops.
- While her mother made dinner, an 11-year-old Lauderhill girl ran out to mom’s car to retrieve her cell phone and somehow wound up driving into a canal. Which means she’s qualified to receive a Florida driver's license.
- As previously mentioned, 69-year-old Griselda “La Madrina” Blanco was murdered on September 3 in Medellín, Colombia. Many folks in South Florida took to social media to either mourn or rejoice. Even the official Miami-Dade County Twitter account got in on it. The day after the murder, @MiamiDadeCounty tweeted to over 6,400 followers: "Can't believe the final chapter of the Cocaine Cowboys saga has been written.” The next morning brought this tweet: "Due to tech error, a personal tweet was posted on our account. Post was removed & issue corrected.”
- A Palm Coast man who kidnapped and "waterboarded" his ex-girlfriend with root beer was sentenced to life in prison.
- A Daytona Beach man and 12 other Floridians were charged with marriage fraud in "Operation Knot So Fast,” an investigation into a conspiracy to help illegal aliens get citizenship by marrying U.S. citizens. The challenge for the conspirators was finding U.S. citizens in Florida.
- For people who always tell me, “Post some good news for a change,” here’s some good news for people who don’t like their homes: Florida foreclosures are up 26% in August and home repossessions rose 12% from last year.
- Erin DiMeglio, Florida’s first-ever female high school football quarterback, made her debut last week in Davie for South Plantation High School.