Published on:

A man was arrested in Brooksville early Wednesday morning for selling crack cocaine near a church.

Hernando County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the 54-year-old man at his home on Twigg Street.

Their search of the house allegedly revealed crack cocaine, marijuana packaged for distribution, drug paraphernalia, numerous guns and rounds of ammunition.

The man was charged with three counts of sale and possession of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a church, as well as the following:

  • Possession of a Structure for Manufacturing Controlled Substance
  • Trafficking in Crack Cocaine
  • Possession of Methamphetamine
  • Possession of Marijuana over 20 Grams with Intent to Distribute
  • Felon in Possession of a Firearm (2 counts)
  • Felon in Possession of Ammunition
  • Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

The man’s house shares Twigg Street with three churches. It is also in the vicinity of a bus stop that services several schools, Brooksville Engineering, Science, and Technology Academy (BEST), and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office South Brooksville Community Center, according to reports.

Florida laws make it a greater crime to be convicted of drug sales within 1000 feet of a church. This can enhance a misdemeanor drug crime to a first-degree felony, which means the person convicted could face up to 30 years in state prison.

The thing about drug crimes within 1,000 feet of a church is that these cases almost always have holes, like is it really a church? Does the church hold regular religious services? Does it actually measure one thousand feet exactly?

There is always evidence that must be questioned in drug crimes cases. At Whittel & Melton, our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Lawyers will investigate every shred of evidence and look for flaws in the prosecution’s case. Our ultimate goal is to beat the charges against you so that you can move on with your life unscathed.

Continue reading

Published on:

A Pasco County Schools substitute teacher was arrested Tuesday for having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

According to an arrest report, the 20-year-old Spring Hill man, engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with the girl from July to December 2015.

The victim was apparently 14 years old at the time the alleged relationship began. According to detectives, she was not a student of the man’s and they did not meet at school.

Detectives arrested the man after they recorded a phone call between him and the girl on Feb. 1 that apparently detailed their sexual activity. The girl reportedly cooperated with detectives in setting up the recorded phone call.

The man was released from the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center after posting a $10,000 bond.

Just like any sex crime, a substitute teacher who is convicted of having sex with a student faces a lifetime of social stigma as a registered sex offender. Any person employed by a school in a position of authority can be criminally punished for engaging in sexual activity with a student. This includes:

  • Teachers
  • Substitute teachers
  • School administrators
  • Student teachers
  • Teachers’ aides
  • School counselors

Continue reading

Published on:

A federal jury recently found a 23-year-old cruise ship employee guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine.

He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, up to life, in federal prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 11, 2016. He was indicted on August 21, 2015.

According to evidence presented at trial, the man was part of a drug distribution ring that imported cocaine into the United States from Roatan, Honduras using cruise ship employees at several ports in the United States. The man, along with five other crewmen from Norwegian Cruise Line, apparently received packages of cocaine from a source of supply in Honduras while the cruise ship was docked there. The packages ranged from 750 grams to a full kilogram of cocaine.

Reports indicate that once the ship had docked in Tampa, the crewmen gathered at a restaurant near the port to remove their secretly stashed cocaine packages. They then met with two local drug traffickers, who had ties to the Honduran source of supply, to provide them with the packages of cocaine. The two local traffickers were stopped by law enforcement after leaving the Channelside District. Agents claim they seized 10 packages of cocaine with a total weight of more than 7.5 kilograms. Agents also said they confiscated more than $50,000 from the crewmen.  

The five other cruise ship employees previously pleaded guilty for their roles in this case.  They will be sentenced in January 2016.  

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Shauna S. Hale and Gregory Nolan.

If you are facing transportation or federal drug trafficking charges, you need a strong criminal defense lawyer right away. State and federal drug charges for smuggling carry severe penalties, including years behind bars. If you are not a U.S. citizen, a conviction for drug smuggling could lead to deportation and might forever ban you from becoming a U.S. citizen.

Continue reading

Published on:

A 38-year-old Spring Hill man pleaded guilty to making a false statement in an application to obtain a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan earlier this month.

He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

According to the plea agreement, the man purchased his home in Spring Hill for $110,000 on September 28, 2010. He and his wife apparently received a loan of $49,650 from HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), as a second mortgage on the home. The NSP was established by HUD to provide emergency assistance to stabilize communities with high rates of abandoned and foreclosed homes. The NSP was designed to assist households whose annual incomes are up to 120 percent of the area median. According to this loan program, the man would not have been required to repay the loan if he lived in the home for 15 years.

In his application to participate in the program, the man apparently provided false and incomplete information related to his debts, assets, employment, income, and tax returns. According to reports,  he failed to disclose a debt from another loan that he had received from another government program to obtain a different home. Reports also indicate that he did not disclose income he earned from his DJ business, or that he owned certain assets, including two cars and a boat.

This case was investigated by the HUD Office of Inspector General and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Adam M. Saltzman.

One of the most common kinds of financial institution fraud involves loan or mortgage application fraud. In the past decade or so, many bank and mortgage company officials have encouraged individuals to misstate their income and other items on mortgage or loan applications. When these borrowers fail to make their payments, the bank then reviews the applications, looking for misrepresentations of income or other falsified information. If the banks happen to find something, they will then hand the case over to the federal government for prosecution.

The bottom line is that the banks and mortgage lenders attempt to use the government as a collection agency, to collect on bad loans they encouraged people to take in the first place.

It is important to understand that you can be charged in federal court for mortgage or bank fraud under the following circumstances:

  • The bank or mortgage company knew you were making a false statement
  • Bank or mortgage company employees encouraged you to misrepresent the facts
  • Regardless of how much of the information on your application was inaccurate.
  • If your loan application was denied and the information provided was false

Continue reading

Published on:

Undercover deputies arrested 15 men during an operation that sought out suspects who tried to solicit minors online, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office report.

The sting, called “Operation Wayfarer,” lasted five days. During the operation, Pinellas investigators posed as minors online on different websites, chatrooms and social media. They looked to establish online relationships with men who were looking to meet up with minors for the purposes of sexual activity.

Pinellas detectives allege that the suspects explicitly sought out minors for sex in their online communications.

The operation ended with 15 arrests. The suspects range in age from 20 to 47 years old and they were arrested on various charges like traveling to meet a minor and online solicitation of a minor.

If you have been charged, accused of or are under investigation for any type of Internet sex crime, it is vital to the outcome of your case to retain a criminal defense lawyer who is well-versed in the technical elements of your case. Sex crimes charges, especially ones involving minors, are not taken lightly by police or prosecutors. You must protect yourself and get the legal help you need right away.

At Whittel & Melton, our Pinellas County Criminal Defense Lawyers are comprised of former prosecutors who understand Internet sex crimes defense cases. We are more than familiar with how police set up online sting operations to catch alleged sexual predators in chat rooms, dating sites and other Internet sites. We also know that these aggressive police tactics can often infringe upon the constitutional rights of the accused. That is why we analyze every aspect of sex crimes cases, including the arrest and all evidence, to expose any holes or weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

Continue reading

Published on:

The new year is quickly approaching, and thousands of Floridians have made plans or are starting to think about how to say goodbye to 2015 and ring in 2016.

But before you solidify your New Year’s Eve plans, fire officials have some tips for residents and visitors when it comes to fireworks.

“Anything that is projectile or leaves the ground is illegal in the State of Florida. Basically your safest bet is with a sparkler,” said Natalie McQueen, a Firefighter and Paramedic for the Panama City Beach Fire Department.

Even though sparklers are allowed in the Sunshine State, residents and visitors still need to exercise caution when using them.

Younger children should never light or handle sparklers. Parents should maintain a close watch on kids at all times if sparklers are going to be used. Burns are very common to the hands and face since sparklers do have flickers that come off once they are lit.

If you are using sparklers, after you are done with them, fire officials say to place them in a big bucket full of water, and let them sit overnight.

While setting off your own fireworks might seem fun, our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton want to remind everyone that the best way to stay safe while ringing in the New Year is leaving the fireworks to the pros. If you are caught with fireworks in the State of Florida it could lead to misdemeanor charges.

Under Florida law, the use of or possession of illegal fireworks is a first-degree misdemeanor. If you are accused of breaking this law, please be aware that you will be arrested. If you are convicted of this crime, you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail, given up to one year on probation, and/or fined up to one thousand dollars.

Continue reading

Published on:

Police said they arrested three suspected drug dealers on Thursday after a tip led them to a home where K2, an illegal synthetic marijuana, was being sold.

Police officials, including the multi-agency Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team, continue to crack down on the local sale and possession of K2, which has sent dozens of people to the hospital and caused problems to several neighborhoods since late last month.

One of the three taken into custody had been arrested on Dec. 3 on principal to sale of synthetic marijuana. The man, who had been released from the Marion County Jail on Dec. 9, now faces a charge of possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to sell.

When arrested Thursday, the man was sitting in a vehicle and that contained K2, and the drug was near him, according to drug agents.

Agents also arrested a 27-year-old woman on charges of possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to sell, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The third person arrested, a 39-year-old man, was detained as he walked away from the home, according to reports. He faces charges of for sale of synthetic cannabinoids and possession of synthetic marijuana less than three grams.

Authorities allegedly recovered 56 bags of synthetic marijuana and regular marijuana. The synthetic marijuana will be sent to a laboratory for testing, officials said.

Since late November, Ocala Fire Rescue and Ocala Police Department officers have responded to K2-related incidents at several locations, primarily at the Salvation Army compound near downtown, in Tuscawilla Park and along Northeast Eighth Avenue, on calls about people “acting weird.” The behaviors have included people being violent, getting into fights and having seizures.

Officials said some of those affected were taken to hospitals and others were taken to mental health facilities under the Baker Act, which allows authorities to intervene if people are considered a danger to themselves or others.

Fire and police officials estimated more than 40 people have been affected in some way by the drug. No deaths have been reported. Police officials believe the synthetic marijuana has been tampered with or laced with a more harmful chemical that causes people to have an adverse reaction and requires medical attention.

In response to the spike in medical calls and the ongoing investigation, OPD has deployed extra officers to some areas.

So far during the crackdown, 10 people have been arrested on K2-related charges.

K2, which goes by numerous other names, is a substance that mimics the effects of marijuana. Manufacturers are able to do this by taking a mixture of herbs and spices and spraying them with a synthetic chemical that has a similar structure to THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. Florida and other states across the country have been cracking down on K2, and some states have even banned this drug. If you have been arrested for possession, sale, or distribution of K2, talk to a Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton today.

Some other common names for K2 include:

  • Spice
  • Black Mamba
  • Bliss
  • Bombay Blue
  • Genie
  • Zoha

Continue reading

Published on:

A federal corrections officer from Clermont has been sentenced to two years in federal prison after pleading guilty in September to accepting a bribe by a public official.

According to the Department of Justice, the 32-year-old officer used his position as a correctional officer at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County to smuggle contraband to inmates in exchange for money beginning in January.

The Department of Justice said federal agents monitored a June 18 meeting between the officer and a cooperating witness. During that meeting, the officer allegedly accepted $2,600 for items that he already smuggled into the prison.

Investigators met with the officer, and he apparently admitted he illegally negotiated $7,100 in cash payments in return for smuggling cell phones, prescription pills, tobacco, and other items to federal inmates.

Bribery charges are often highly publicized in the media. These crimes not only capture the public’s attention, but they have the ability to end careers and damage reputations. If convicted, the accused faces severe consequences, including lengthy time behind bars.

Continue reading

Published on:

A Eustis man has been sentenced to more 37 years in federal prison for sexually exploiting children and producing and receiving child porn.

The 52-year-old was also ordered by the court to pay $2,020 restitution to the victims.

According to the Department of Justice Middle District of Florida:

As early as 2005, the man hid video cameras in the bathrooms of his residence so he could take pictures of four minors in his custody. In 2014, he sexually assaulted another minor in his custody and recorded the abuse with his computer. He also collected and sent hundreds of pictures depicting sexual abuse and exploitation of minors from at least 2008 to the day before his arrest on Feb. 17, 2015.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Sexual exploitation is a broad category under Florida law in regards to sexual offenses, including Internet communications and child pornography. Federal laws and sentencing guidelines play a role in these sex crimes, which can result in lengthy prison sentences. A conviction under state or federal law could also result in mandatory registration as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

Many accusations regarding alleged sexual exploitations of children are drummed up by overzealous police, prosecutors, and judges who are actively trying to “send a message” about child protection. The sad truth is that even honest mistakes can lead to damaging criminal cases that can change your life forever.

Continue reading

Published on:

An Orlando-area doctor is facing sexual battery charges after a patient reported being inappropriately touched during an examination.

The 42-year-old Orlando doctor was arrested Wednesday.

According to an Osceola County Sheriff’s Office report, an investigation began Tuesday after a 20-year-old woman reported to deputies that she had been inappropriately touched by the doctor.

The patient said she had gone to his office in Kissimmee for an annual gynecological exam, during which the doctor wore gloves, and a female nurse attended. At that time, the man referred the patient to another doctor, according to the report.

The patient returned to the doctor’s office Monday for a different medical issue, the report said. While there, she said the doctor asked her about her previous visit and conducted another gynecological exam, this time without gloves and without a nurse present, the patient reported.

The patient said she called the doctor’s office on Tuesday to request a doctor’s note for work purposes, but when no one answered, she went to the office. A sign on the door said the office was closed, she said, but she claims she ran into the doctor in the parking lot. She asked him if he could provide her with a doctor’s note, and he invited her inside, according to reports

While there, the doctor apparently asked the patient about abdominal pains she was having from an earlier visit. He then allegedly examined her without gloves and asked her if she felt excited, the report said.

The patient apparently told him she was uncomfortable and again asked for the note, which he gave her, and she left. She immediately reported the incident to deputies.

The doctor’s Florida medical licenses are current, and he has no complaints or disciplinary action on his record in Florida, according to a Florida Department of Health licensure search. He previously has held medical licenses in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

At Whittel & Melton, our Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyers understand that your reputation is at stake when you are accused of a sexual offense. We proudly serve clients throughout the state of Florida with criminal defense against all charges of sexual misconduct. As trial attorneys, we can be an aggressive and zealous advocate on your behalf.

Regardless of how serious the sexual battery charges are, it is imperative to remember that taking these allegations lightly or talking to anyone other than your lawyer about the alleged incident will hurt your case. Do not underestimate the value of exercising your right to remain silent.

Continue reading

Contact Information