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On May 24, 2019, the Governor signed House Bill 337 which was previously passed by the Florida legislature. This law makes major changes to the jurisdictional limits of the Florida Courts. 

Currently, county courts in Florida have jurisdiction of all claims up to $15,000.00 and circuit court has jurisdiction for claims in excess of $15,000.00.

Under this new law, the jurisdiction of county court is increased to $30,000.00 effective January 1, 2020. As a result, after January 1, 2020, the jurisdiction for the circuit courts will be for any claims in excess of $30,000.00. Then on January 1, 2023, the jurisdiction of the county court is increased to include claims up to $50,000.00, which will give the circuit courts jurisdiction in any claim in excess of $50,000.00.

Small claims court is a division of county court and currently small claims court and small claims procedures apply to claims up to $5,000.00. A Supreme Court workgroup studying judicial caseloads last year recommended raising the small claims jurisdiction to $8,000 and the court passed that to the Small Claims Rules Committee for action. Starting January 1, 2020, the jurisdictional amounts for small claims courts will be raised from $5,000 to $8,000 and also requires those filing civil actions in county court to list the amount in controversy.

To summarize, on January 1, 2020, changes in Florida state law and the Florida Rules of Procedure will go into effect, changing where a variety of court actions are heard.

  • County court jurisdictional thresholds increase to $30,000 on January 1, 2020, and to $50,000 on January 1, 2023.
  • Small claims cases on January 1, 2020, will include cases up to $8,000.
  • Filers will be required to include a civil cover sheet specifying the dollar amount in dispute in cases exceeding $8,000 in value.
  • The new law maintains current rules that limits the provision of subsidized court mediation services to county court cases with an amount in controversy up to $15,000.
  • State law provides that on January 1, 2020, appeals of county court orders or judgments with an amount in controversy greater than $15,000 will be heard by the district courts of appeal until January 1, 2023, when the provision repeals. 

What You Need to Know About the Florida Court System

Florida has 67 county courts, 20 circuit courts, five district courts of appeal, and then the Supreme Court for the entire state. The Office of the State Courts Administrators serves as the administrative arm of the Florida Supreme Court and was formed in 1972.

County Courts

The Florida state constitution states that there must be one county court in each of Florida’s 67 counties. County courts are where smaller cases are resolved, such as traffic claims, misdemeanors and monetary issues of a smaller denomination ($15,000 or less).

Circuit Courts

The circuit courts primarily handle civil cases where the monetary issues are larger than $15,000, and felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from county courts. There are 20 judicial circuits in Florida, including: 

  • First Circuit – Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton
  • Second Circuit – Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla
  • Third Circuit – Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor
  • Fourth Circuit – Clay, Duval and Nassau
  • Fifth Circuit – Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter
  • Sixth Circuit – Pasco and Pinellas
  • Seventh Circuit – Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia
  • Eighth Circuit – Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union
  • Ninth Circuit – Orange and Osceola
  • Tenth Circuit – Hardee, Highlands, and Polk
  • Eleventh Circuit – Miami-Dade
  • Twelfth Circuit – DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota
  • Thirteenth Circuit – Hillsborough
  • Fourteenth Circuit – Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington
  • Fifteenth Circuit – Palm Beach
  • Sixteenth Circuit – Monroe
  • Seventeenth Circuit – Broward
  • Eighteenth Circuit – Brevard and Seminole
  • Nineteenth Circuit – Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie
  • Twentieth Circuit – Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee

District Courts of Appeal

These are located in Tallahassee, Miami, Lakeland, West Palm Beach and Daytona Beach. These courts provide review of decisions from the lower courts. They correct errors and ensure that decisions are consistent with both statutes and the state and federal constitutions. The decisions reached at these courts usually represent the final review of cases, but they can reach the Supreme Court of Florida if that court chooses to look at the case.
Florida Supreme Court

Mandatory Jurisdiction: The Court MUST review:

  • final orders imposing death sentences,
  • district court decisions declaring a State statute or provision of the State Constitution invalid,
  • bond validations,
  • certain orders of the Public Service Commission on utility rates and services. 

“Mandatory” jurisdiction defines those cases that, under the constitutional and statutory framework of a state, must be considered and decided by the court as a matter of right if properly filed.

Discretionary Jurisdiction: The Court, in addition to these forms of mandatory review authority, if discretionary review is sought by a party, the Court at its discretion MAY review

  • any decision of a district court of appeal that expressly declares valid a state statute,
  • construes a provision of the state or federal constitution,
  • affects a class of constitutional or state officers,
  • directly conflicts with a decision of another district court or of the Supreme Court on the same question of law,
  • certified as great public importance,
  • certified direct conflict,
  • certified judgment of trial courts,
  • certified question from federal courts.

“Discretionary” jurisdiction defines the class of cases where a petition seeking review, if granted, would result in the case being considered and decided on the merits.

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The manager in charge of multiple medical clinics in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, was found guilty of his role in a nearly $100 million health care kickback and money laundering scheme.  

After a two-week trial, the 44-year-old Brooklyn man was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to receive and pay health care kickbacks and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing the IRS.  Sentencing has been set for April 8, 2020. 

The man was said to be the leader of a large scale healthcare kickback and money laundering scheme in which he and his co-conspirators stole tens of millions of dollars from the Medicare and Medicaid programs. 

According to evidence presented at trial, the man and his co-conspirators operated a series of medical clinics in Brooklyn and Queens over the course of nearly a decade that submitted approximately $96 million in medical claims.  The clinics employed doctors, physical and occupational therapists, and other medical professionals who were enrolled in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. In return for illegal kickbacks, the man and his co-conspirators referred beneficiaries to these health care providers, who submitted claims to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to court records.  The man then laundered a substantial portion of those proceeds through companies he and his co-conspirators controlled, including by cashing checks at several New York City check-cashing businesses; he and his co-conspirators then failed to report that cash income to the IRS. The man used that cash to enrich himself and others and to pay kickbacks to patient recruiters, including ambulette drivers, who, in turn, paid beneficiaries to receive treatment at the defendant’s medical clinics. Evidence established that the man used shell companies and fake invoices to conceal his illegal activities.

More than 25 other individuals have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of participating in the scheme, including physicians, physical and occupational therapists, ambulette drivers, and the owners of several of the sham shell companies used to launder the stolen money.

This case was investigated by the HHS-OIG and IRS-CI, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.  

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

If you’re charged with Medicare or any other type of health care fraud, you may face serious penalties imposed by state or federal courts. Our Florida Medicare Fraud Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have extensive experience providing criminal defense for anyone charged with crimes related to health care fraud.

At the state and federal level, fraud related to health care and Medicare cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year, which is why government agencies work vigilantly to uncover any schemes. Due to the fact that federal and state authorities are so aggressive about prosecuting cases of perceived fraud relating to health care or Medicare, many innocent people can be caught up in investigations. If you are charged and convicted of health care fraud, you can be subject to serious penalties such as lengthy prison sentences, fines, and restitution.

Medicare fraud convictions require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual knowingly or willfully submitted a false claim or engaged in kickbacks or health care fraud. However, the prosecution does not have to prove the person had actual knowledge or specific intent to obtain a conviction. A person can actually be convicted if they are found to have acted with blatant disregard of the truth or falsity of the claim. 

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Offenders caught with small amounts of most drugs could be sent to jail but not prison under a bill approved by a Florida Senate committee.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday. It would also give judges more leeway in sentencing drug dealers in some circumstances.

The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Rob Bradley would mean people possessing less than two grams of drugs other than fentanyl couldn’t be sentenced to more than 12 months in jail. Offenders would be held in county jails and not state prison.

Judges would also be able to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers if they are non-violent, didn’t possess a gun and haven’t been previously convicted of a felony.

Incarceration of individuals that are convicted of non-violent crimes, like drug crimes, comes at a great cost to society. When a person is found guilty of a drug-related offense, but would be best served by treatment for addiction, the criminal justice system can actually perpetuate the problem. But the Florida legislature is giving strong consideration to reducing sentences for those convicted of possessing small quantities of drugs. 

The state of Florida has many types of drug possession charges, most of which can be charged as a felony offense. Drug possession charges happen as a result of being arrested with drugs in your possession for personal use. However, depending on how much is found in your possession, you could be charged with possession with intent to sell, regardless of if you were actually selling drugs. 

There are certain requirements that must be met to charge someone with possession. In order to be found guilty of a drug possession charge, the prosecution must prove the following elements in court:

  1. An illegal or controlled substance or drug was found on the person
  2. The person had knowledge of the controlled substance
  3. The person was in control of the drug or its location

Current Florida law makes possession of marijuana (under 20 grams) a first degree misdemeanor. If you are convicted of a simple possession of marijuana offense, the court may impose penalties of up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000 Your driver’s license could also be suspended for two years.

Under Florida law, possession of cocaine is a third degree felony, with penalties that include up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. A conviction for cocaine possession will also result in a two year Florida driver’s license revocation.

Possession of a controlled substance in the state of Florida is charged as a third degree felony, and comes with penalties of jail time, probation, and thousands of dollars in fines. A controlled substance is defined as “a drug or chemical whose manufacture, possession, or use is regulated by a government, such as illicitly used drugs or prescription medications that are designated by law.” The penalties for possessing a controlled substance vary based on the drugs involved, and the amounts in your possession at the time of your arrest.

A conviction for any drug possession crime can follow you around for the rest of your life. This could be brought back up when you want to apply for a job, a student loan, or a lease. Even if it is your first offense, a possession charge of any kind is a serious charge that could result in a criminal record that will affect your future in some way.

Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton will do everything we can to get the charges against you dismissed or seek alternative sentencing, such as Pretrial Diversion or Drug Court. In certain cases, if you can pass through either of these programs successfully, the state will dismiss your possession charges. If trial is the only option for you, we can represent you in court and fight for the best possible outcome on your behalf. 

Our Florida Drug Possession Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton are committed to helping those with a drug addiction problem get the treatment they need. If you are personally struggling with addiction problems or you are concerned family member trying to help a loved one with the underlying issues of their drug charge, we can help you explore your legal options for your criminal case as well as locate any addiction and recovery programs that could benefit you.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo was arrested Sunday and charged with assault after a dispute with his girlfriend, according to the NFL website.

The alleged incident occurred at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, according to Pennsylvania police.

The State Police said they received a domestic disturbance call at 1:40 a.m. on Sunday. What started as an argument between 26-year-old Chickillo and his girlfriend became physical, according to police.

Chickillo “grabbed both arms and forced her against the wall, then threw her on the ground,” according to statements made to the police.

Chickillo was arraigned Sunday and released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. He is charged with simple assault, harassment and criminal mischief, according to court documents.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 30.

The girlfriend was given a summary citation, also known as summary harassment, which usually results in nothing but a fine, according to police.

Chickillo was drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and has played his whole pro career with the team in a reserve role.

He was not present Monday at the Steelers’ practice facility, where the rest of the team was practicing.

Many people who are arrested for domestic violence have no prior criminal record. In the past, law enforcement was able to use their discretion when deciding whether or not to make an arrest when responding to a “domestic violence” call. However, as time has gone on, high profile cases regarding domestic violence and murder have changed the way that police handle domestic violence disputes. Officers are now pretty much required to arrest one or both of the parties when responding to a domestic violence call. For anyone arrested, it is imperative to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who handles domestic violence cases as soon as possible. Our Florida Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton would prefer to get involved as soon as a person is released or bonds out of jail. Early intervention can make a huge difference in domestic violence cases. 

When police respond to the scene of a domestic violence call, they will typically take statements from the involved parties and document any visible injuries. The officers will try to conclude who the aggressor was and then arrest that person. In some cases, this is not the person who initially called 911. It is not uncommon for both parties involved to be arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

Regardless of the situation, the accused will be taken to jail and will be required to post bond in order to be released. Even those accused that have no prior criminal records will be required to post bail. If bail is posted and the accused is released, they will be given a future court date for their arraignment. 

The best way to establish a strong defense to any domestic violence charge is to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has tried and won these types of cases involving jury trials. Domestic violence cases are complex and can be difficult to understand. Every piece of evidence matters in these cases, including the early investigation of witnesses and victim statements and testimony from domestic violence trauma experts. How the story is told and how evidence is relayed is critical for avoiding a conviction. 

Unfortunately, we have seen many people bring false charges against someone for domestic violence. That is why we will work hard to build a case for your innocence and back it up with facts. The sooner we get involved, the sooner we can separate truth from fiction. No facts are unimportant in these cases. We need to know as much information as possible so that we can identify and flaws or weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and determine the best way to move forward. This often entails interviewing witnesses and identifying documents that can be used to back up your version of the story.

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Jerod Sechrist, who previously appeared on Deadliest Catch as a deckhand, was arrested earlier this month on drug charges in Tampa, according to reports.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office inmate database, Sechrist, 33, was arrested on Oct. 5 by the Tampa Police Department in Tampa, Florida.

He was charged with one felony count of possession of heroin and one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to a criminal report affidavit, Sechrist was taken into custody on an open warrant for a previous reckless driving case. When he was searched, officers found a small clear bag in his pocket with a white powder substance inside, which tested positive for heroin, the affidavit states.

Sechrist appeared in three episodes of the Discovery Channel series in 2016, according to IMDB. 

If you or a loved one is charged with drug possession anywhere in the state of Florida, there are likely numerous questions running through your brain. What will happen to me next? What if the drugs weren’t actually mine? Does it make a difference that it was just a small amount? Am I going to spend time in jail? Do I need to hire a drug possession lawyer?

Ultimately, when you or someone you love is facing accusations of felony drug possession, you need to be informed and ready to handle the charges right away. You must have a seasoned drug crime lawyer fighting in your corner – that is an absolute must. From there, you can learn more about establishing a defense to the charges against you and what you can expect from the entire criminal process. 

Heroin is considered a Schedule I drug, having both a high potential for abuse, and no accepted medical use. Heroin can have terrible consequences for the user, both from a legal standpoint as well as a health standpoint, which is why Florida has a very low tolerance for these charges. Simple possession of less than 4 grams of heroin is considered a third-degree felony. Possession of 4 grams or more is considered drug trafficking, and is a first-degree felony. Selling more than 10 grams of heroin is a second-degree felony, unless the heroin is sold near a school, then the penalties are enhanced.

If you are convicted of possession of heroin less than ten grams, you could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison, a maximum of five years of supervised probation, a driver’s license suspension of two years, a maximum fine of $5,000, a substance abuse evaluation/screening/treatment, and you could even lose your vehicle and/or any property used during the commission of this felony. If you are convicted of possession of heroin more than ten grams, you could be facing up to 30 years behind bars. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by one year of incarceration and up to $1,000 in fines.

Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have the experience needed to know that each drug case presents its own challenges, but we have a solid groundwork for handling cases just like yours. We can conduct a thorough investigation into your charges and answer the following questions: 

Did law enforcement violate your constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures?

  • Did law enforcement or the prosecution violate your constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney?
  • Did the police ignore or destroy exculpatory evidence?
  • Did police mishandle evidence or make any other common mistakes during their investigation?
  • Were the drugs in question actually found in your “possession”?

Our Tampa Bay Drug Possession Attorneys have the necessary experience to work through these questions. The answers we find can ultimately be the difference between a guilty verdict with a lengthy prison sentence and the charges being dismissed so that you have the opportunity to get the rehabilitation help you need.

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A domestic battery charge filed last weekend against actress and former political commentator Stacey Dash has been dropped.

The Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller posted an update on its website Friday.

According to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Dash, 52, and a man became involved in an argument just before 8 p.m. on Sunday. Deputies claimed Dash pushed the man and slapped him in the face.

Deputies arrived and took her into custody.

The 5-foot-4, 108-pound star from the 1995 film Clueless owns a home in Pasco County, according to celebrity website TMZ.

Under Florida law, domestic violence or domestic battery is defined as any actual and intentional touching or striking of another person without consent, or the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person, when the person struck is a “family or household member.”

Under Section 741.28, Florida Statutes, the term ‘family or household member’ can include the following:

  • Wives and husbands;
  • Ex-wives and ex-husbands;
  • Individuals related by blood or marriage;
  • Individuals living together as a family;
  • Individuals who have resided together as if a family in the past; and
  • Persons who have a child in common (regardless of prior marriage).

The statute specifically requires that the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit. The only exception is for persons who have a child in common.

Prosecutors make decisions on how to file or proceed with a criminal case based on evidence. The following are a few reasons why the prosecution may choose to drop charges of domestic violence: 

Insufficient Evidence

A major reason for dropping any criminal case is due to insufficient evidence. Successfully prosecuting the accused for domestic violence means that the prosecutor must prove each element of the offense by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:

  • Intentionally touched or struck the alleged victim against his or her will; or
  • Intentionally caused bodily harm to the alleged victim; or
  • Intentionally and unlawfully threatened, either by word or act, to do violence to the victim and, at the time, appeared to have the ability to carry out the threat; or the act of the defendant created in the mind of the alleged victim a well-founded fear that the violence was about to take place

A prosecutor might feel that the element of “intent” is missing. A prosecutor may also feel the evidence of a domestic battery is insufficient because the alleged victim’s credibility is suspect.The victim may have a history of mental illness, making false accusations in the past, or has a motive to exaggerate or fabricate the incident because the parties are involved in a custody or property distribution battle. Any of these reasons could convince the prosecutor that there is insufficient evidence to convict the accused and result in them not filing charges. 

The lack of a serious bodily injury could also result in charges being dropped. A serious bodily injury usually means that the victim suffered an injury necessitating medical treatment or serious impairment of a physical condition. These injuries may include:

  • Broken limb
  • Black eye 
  • Laceration or cut requiring stitches
  • Disfigurement
  • Concussion

If a physician testifies that the injuries were not serious, or that the victim was exaggerating the symptoms, then this could compel the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges. 

Inconsistent Statements

A prosecutor will review any statements made by the defendant and the alleged victim. In some cases, the alleged victim will make a verbal statement that is different than what they originally said or wrote in their original statement to police. Their version of events could also be inconsistent with their actual physical condition that shows little or no injuries.

A change in the alleged victim’s story or another witness’ story introduces the idea that they are unreliable, have a poor memory, or are just lying. Inconsistencies may include:

  • Why the alleged victim was hit
  • Relationship between the accused and the alleged victim
  • Time of day the incident occurred
  • If any drugs or alcohol was consumed by either party involved
  • Body part struck 
  • A change of story or any inconsistencies within the alleged victim’s statement or in other questioning by police

Lack of Injuries

The lack of any visible injuries in no way means that a domestic battery did not occur and the presence of an injury is not required in order for someone to be charged with domestic battery. The prosecution only needs to demonstrate that there is evidence of harmful or offensive touching, which can include pushing or shoving someone, spitting in their face, or intentionally touching them in a violent manner. With that said, however, the lack of any visible injuries may persuade the prosecution to not pursue criminal charges. 

Lack of Witnesses

In most domestic violence cases, there are no other witnesses to the incident except for the accused and the alleged victim. If there is little to no evidence of an injury or fight, conflicting statements, and the accused has no record of domestic violence, a prosecutor may not wish to proceed with charges. 

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Two city officials in Jacksonville, Florida have been convicted of fraud and money laundering.

Federal court records show that jurors in Jacksonville found 39-year-old Katrina Brown and 57-year-old Reginald Brown guilty Wednesday on multiple charges. The former Jacksonville City Council members are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27. The government is seeking forfeiture of more than $750,000.

Prosecutors believe Katrina Brown obtained millions of dollars in U.S. Small Business Administration loans to expand her family’s barbecue business and create local jobs.

Investigators say she and Reginald Brown, who is not a relative, incorporated two businesses they used to submit fake invoices to their lender for services that the businesses had not provided.

An indictment says Reginald Brown deposited the reimbursement checks into the businesses’ bank accounts.

Money laundering is a white collar crime that occurs when an individual conceals funds earned from criminal activity within a legitimate financial channel. This is a serious federal offense and can result in stiff fines and jail time. These charges are serious and you can expect for federal prosecutors to pursue money laundering charges by working closely with federal law enforcement agencies and applying all of the laws at their disposal, including the Money Laundering Control Act, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and the Bank Secrecy Act. Because of the fact that there are severe consequences associated with these charges, you need the legal assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you face money laundering charges or any similar allegations.

To prosecute an individual for money laundering, the court must prove that the accused individual illegally gained the funds in question and then deliberately tried to hide where the funds originated from. If the prosecution fails to prove these two crucial pieces of evidence, the money laundering charges must be dismissed. Our Florida Money Laundering Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton understand that criminal charges like these can be false or the circumstances can be easily misrepresented. That is why our attorneys will believe your story and work as your trusted legal advocates to prove your side of the case. We will do everything in our power to have the charges against you dismissed or reduced. 

Money laundering can only occur if the accused earned funds through criminal activity. With that said, there are numerous other criminal charges that often accompany money laundering charges in Florida, such as financial fraud, health care fraud, drug trafficking, drug distribution, and even prostitution. Our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can address any and all criminal allegations made against you simultaneously, with the hopes of resolving these claims in a positive outcome.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys will launch an extensive investigation into your case and use every legal avenue available to mount a strong defense. There are defenses against money laundering and financial fraud crimes, such as:

  • Insufficient evidence: A prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that the accused intended to illegally hide the origin of allegedly laundered money and that the money was illegally obtained from a specific criminal activity. If the evidence fails to prove this, then it is entirely possible to have the case dismissed.
  • Absence of intent: If the prosecution cannot prove that the accused was aware that the allegedly laundered money was obtained illegally or that the accused intended to commit a crime, then the case could very well be dismissed due to the lack of intent.
  • Extreme duress or threats: If the accused can prove they were threatened and believed their life to be in danger if they did not participate in the money laundering crimes for which they are being charged, then it may be possible to have these criminal charges dropped or reduced. 

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Seven Floridians, including four doctors, are among 35 people arrested Friday by the FBI for alleged involvement in a $2.1 billion fraud that charged Medicare for false cancer genomic tests (CGx tests).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the alleged fraud was perpetrated by defendants in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas and exploited seniors’ curiosity about genetic medicine by enticing them to get unneeded DNA tests.

Dubbed “Operation Double Helix,” the crackdown targeted telemedicine companies, nine doctors and numerous labs following a joint investigation by the DOJ, the FBI, the U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) Inspector’s General Office and U.S. attorneys’ offices.

The DOJ said the alleged scheme involved a telemarketer or in-person “recruiter” who would persuade a Medicare enrollee to take a genetic test, assuring them the program would pay full cost.

A doctor “in league with the fraudsters” would then approve the test and collect a kickback from the “recruiter,” the indictment reads.

A lab would run the test, bill Medicare, and share payments with the “recruiter,” according to the DOJ.

Reports indicate that the genetic testing bills submitted to Medicaid ranged from $7,000 to $12,000, with some as high as $33,000. In many cases, he said, the patient never got a report back, or the results provided were incomprehensible.

U.S. attorney’s offices in the Southern and Middle districts of Florida filed charges against defendants while four Florida doctors were indicted by U.S. attorneys in New Jersey. 

The federal government and the state of Florida are serious about finding and punishing those who are involved in health care fraud. Law enforcement uses any means to uncover fraud like task forces and undercover operations. Anyone can be the target of an investigation from an individual doctor to a billing company to an entire hospital system.

Our Florida Medicare Fraud Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have extensive experience defending clients against accusations of fraud and related state and federal crimes. We can help with the defense of anyone in the healthcare industry, including:

  • Doctors, nurses and pharmacists
  • Hospitals, hospital systems and clinics
  • Home health care companies
  • Medical billing and coding companies

Medicare and Medicaid fraud investigations in Florida are often the result of inaccurate claims. These claims may include excessive charges, charges that weren’t authorized, and false charges.The federal government will label these claims as fraudulent billing or reimbursement requests. The most common causes of a Medicare or Medicaid fraud investigation are:

  • Phantom billing – billing for services that were never performed
  • Submitting a claim for unnecessary medical services or medical equipment
  • Submitting a claim for medical supplies, equipment, or services that were never ordered
  • Submitting a claim of certification for medically unnecessary supplies 
  • Submitting a claim of certification for medically unnecessary services, like hospice or home health care
  • Double billing
  • Upcoding
  • Inflating charges
  • Overusing medical equipment or services
  • Providing or accepting kickbacks

Doctors, nurses, health care services, physician-owned entities, nursing homes, registered care providers and facilities, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, laboratories, DME providers, DNA centers, and cancer centers are the most common targets of a health care fraud investigation. As we have stated before, this list is certainly not all-inclusive and any individual, business, facility, or entity in the healthcare industry can be the subject of health care fraud criminal charges. If a person submits a false claim to a federal health care program, even if they do not realize that the claim will be classified as false, they may end up as the subject of a Medicare or Medicaid fraud investigation.

Criminal penalties for Medicare or Medicaid fraud may include one or more of the following:

  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines
  • Up to 10 years in prison for each count of Medicare or Medicaid fraud
  • Up to 20 years in prison for each count of Medicare or Medicaid fraud that resulted in serious bodily harm
  • Life sentence behind bars if the Medicare or Medicaid fraud results in the death of the patient 

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Stacey Dash was arrested for domestic battery after an incident Sunday night in New Port Richey, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

The 52-year-old “Clueless” actress was taken into custody after an argument with a male, whose name was redacted in an incident report obtained by CNN. She is accused of pushing and slapping him.

The report states that police were called to a home Sunday evening “to respond to a domestic dispute” between the two.

According to the report, “The victim sustained red scratch marks to his upper left arm from being pushed.”

Dash was taken into custody and transported to the Land O’ Lakes detention facility without incident. She posted bail and was released on Monday morning, according to a spokesperson for the Pasco County Sheriff.

Prosecutors have become extremely aggressive about pursuing allegations of domestic violence in the state of Florida. While family violence against a spouse, significant other or anyone else with whom one resides is a serious issue, domestic violence allegations are among the most common to be made up, exaggerated or used for an ulterior motive. 

Many Florida domestic violence charges arise out of the context of a marriage or bad family living situation that is deteriorating or a child custody dispute to give one parent leverage against the other. In many of these situations, an ordinary family disagreement is exaggerated by one person who may later try to recant once they have had time to cool down. Unfortunately, Pasco County prosecutors can and often do pursue these cases even when the alleged victim has recanted and does not wish to continue with pressing criminal charges. 

Domestic abuse charges may arise out of a wide range of situations even when there is no actual contact and the alleged victims suffer no actual injury. Acts that may constitute domestic violence include but are not limited to the following:

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • Punching
  • Acts of intimidation or threats of harm
  • An open handed slap
  • Marital rape
  • Punching, shoving or kicking
  • Sexual abuse
  • Biting
  • Choking
  • Strangling

Domestic battery is defined as intentionally causing unwanted touching or striking of another person or causing bodily harm to the person. The difference between a battery charge and a domestic battery charge is the relationship between the defendant and the victim. 

A domestic battery charge can arise when the alleged victim is a family member or household member of the defendant. A family member or household member under Florida law includes wives, husbands, ex-spouses, individuals related by blood or marriage, co-parents even if never married, individuals who live together as a family and individuals who lived together as a family in the past. With the exception of co-parents, one of the required legal elements that must be proven in these cases is that the defendant and victim currently or previously lived together in the same residence.

In the state of Florida, domestic battery is classified as a first degree misdemeanor, with penalties that may include up to one year in jail or twelve months probation, and a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors might rely on minor injuries like bruising or swelling in the neck area to support this aggravated version of the domestic violence offense. Because allegations of choking or grabbing of the throat and neck area are common in domestic violence cases, people sometimes face severe felony charges based on relatively minor signs of injury.

Being convicted of any battery charge, regardless of whether it is domestic violence or not, can cause very serious consequences. A conviction can affect a person’s freedom, livelihood, reputation and finances. Any individuals facing such charges should choose to consult with a criminal defense lawyer who has extensive knowledge and experience with domestic violence cases, aggravated battery, and simple battery charges. Our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have handled numerous domestic battery and domestic violence cases, so we know your rights and can go over all of your legal options that may be available to you given the particular circumstances of the case.

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Police claim they have reports of a man trying to lure a teen girl into his van in Winter Haven.

The incident was reported to have happened Thursday afternoon in front of Polk State College. Investigators said the man attempted to lure a 15-year- old girl into his van and when she declined, he allegedly blocked her path with his van. 

In less than 48 hours, Winter Haven Police said they arrested a 55-year-old man, in connection to the incident. He has been charged with stalking, a misdemeanor, and driving with an expired license. 

A Winter Haven police officer spotted a van that matched the description pulling into a parking space at 3:53 a.m. at the Racetrac gas station on Havendale Blvd. 

Police claim the man admitted to the incident. 

Reports indicate that there was a witness who yelled and told the teen girl not to get into the van, causing the man to take off. 

The accused allegedly told officers he was just offering her a ride and that he asks people if they need rides all the time. He said he thought she was an adult. 

Under Florida law, stalking is considered a serious offense and is charged as a misdemeanor. Stalking is generally defined as a pattern of following, watching, or monitoring another person with the sole intent to harass, frighten, intimidate, threaten, or cause emotional duress. The act of stalking can vary in how it is carried out, and may include the following: 

  • Following someone – this can be just once or on a routine basis
  • Driving past or randomly showing up at someone’s residence, place of work, or school
  • Cyberstalking: monitoring a person’s computer, cell phone, or social networking activity 
  • Monitoring a person’s whereabouts through a secretly implanted GPS device on their vehicle or person
  • Sending someone unwanted letters, gifts, or emails
  • Contacting someone repeatedly via phone calls and text messages
  • Secretly videotaping or photographing someone
  • Gathering information about a person without their permission through public records, internet searches, private investigators, or by contacting the person’s friends, family members, and acquaintances
  • Threatening a person or their friends, family members, or pets
  • Damaging a person’s property, such as their home, vehicle, or other property

In the state of Florida, a person who repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harasses another person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If the person repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harassed another individual, and makes a credible threat towards that person with the intent to cause fear of death or bodily harm, the offender will be charged with a third degree felony. This crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Stalking charges are taken very serious in the state of Florida. If you have been accused of stalking, you do not want to just sit around and wait to see what happens. Instead, you need to take action right away, ideally before formal charges are even filed. This will give you the best possible chance of avoiding arrest and prosecution, if possible, as well as any undeserved penalties. 

There are several things you should not do if you learn you are being investigated for or charged with stalking. You should NOT:

  • Try to talk to the alleged victim about the case or have any contact with the alleged victim. 
  • Talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present. It is very common for the police to ask for statements from the accused during an investigation. An experienced attorney can take charge and help prevent you from talking your way into more trouble.
  • Give any evidence to law enforcement without consulting with your lawyer first. Even if you believe the evidence will show you are not guilty of the alleged crime, you should wait for your attorney to review this and handle the matter accordingly. 

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