Articles Posted in Sarasota County

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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.

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Thanksgiving is a time of year when families get together to celebrate memories and honor traditions. However, this is also the time of year when law enforcement agencies gear up to catch drunk drivers on our roadways.

Most law enforcement agencies, receive federal grants to increase their staffing levels during the holiday season, which typically begins with the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and continues to New Year’s Day. Arrests for DUI are highest during this time period.

The following are a few tips that may prove helpful to avoid a Thanksgiving DUI:

  1. Do not drink and drive. If you have been drinking, call a cab, a friend or use a ride share app like Uber or Lyft to get home safe. If you know you will be drinking, designate a sober driver to take you home.
  2. If you are pulled over, do not talk to law enforcement about where you were or what you were doing. Remember, you have the right to remain silent until you have your lawyer present.
  3. If you are involved in an accident, stop immediately and remain at the scene. Do not admit to anything and request to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
  4. Do not fall asleep inside your vehicle. You could get arrested if the officer observes that you have the keys in the ignition or if the engine is running.
  5. Drive cautiously. Police will be closely monitoring motorists for any mistakes they make. In particular, they will be on the lookout for motorists who may be driving too fast or too slow, or running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs.

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You want to avoid getting arrested for DUI in Florida on New Year’s Eve and “becoming a statistic.” New Year’s Eve is a holiday that it is both cause for celebrating and relaxing. After the stress of getting ready for Christmas, people usually take this time to enjoy the end of the holiday season and contemplate their goals for the new year. However, because this is the last holiday of the year, there tends to be an increased number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Listed below are several tips to help drivers avoid a DUI this New Year’s Eve.

  1. Limit Drinks

If you are at a party that has an open bar, and you know you are driving, know exactly how many drinks you are having so that you can watch your personal limit. Remember that once you start drinking it can be difficult to stop yourself from having too many. Be mindful of the exact amount you have had to drink.

  1. Call a Cab or Uber or Lyft

Public transportation can save many people from DUI-related accidents and arrests. Save the number of a local cab company in your phone, use a ride share app on your phone or attend parties or social gatherings close to a bus route.

  1. 15958303240_5a5181cc2a_zDon’t Go Solo

Don’t go to a party or social gathering by yourself. Bring along at least one other friend and make sure to determine who the designated driver is for the entire group before any alcohol is consumed.

  1. Eat!

While many people have New Year’s resolutions about weight loss, New Year’s Eve is one of those nights where you should eat. Food fills the stomach, making less room for alcohol. Try to snack on foods like meats or dark chocolate, which are known to keep you fuller longer.

  1. Offer Alternative Drinks

If you are hosting a party, include “mocktails,” sodas, punch, or even just water on your drink menu.

  1. Make Accommodations for Guests

If you know your guests have a far trip ahead of them, arrange for them to stay with you or at a nearby hotel. That way, no one drives home drunk.

  1. Leave the Party Early

New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year. You can expect delays for taxis and other modes of public transportation, so be prepared. Leaving your party or social gathering early can also ensure that you get home safely and at a reasonable hour.

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According to the most recent FBI Crime report, Florida is home to some pretty dangerous cities. The top 20 cities that were found to have the most violent crimes and property crimes are as follows:

 

  • Miami Beach, Florida5196788334_e6ed189c68_m

 

With a population of 91,066, the total reported crimes were found to be 109.47 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.33 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 99.14 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Orlando, Florida

 

With a population size of 246,513, the total reported crimes in Orlando were assessed at 78.19 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.34 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 67.85 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Daytona Beach, Florida

 

Daytona Beach has a population of 61,861, and 74.10 reported crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.56 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 62.54 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Panama City, Florida

 

Panama City’s reported population is 37,187, with a total number of reported crimes at 70.27 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 7.80 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 62.47 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Key West, Florida

 

With a smaller population of 25,249, Key West has a total of 69.47 reported crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.24 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 61.23 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Homestead, Florida

 

Homestead has a reported total population of 62,785, with a total number of crimes at 67.87 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 16.64 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 51.22 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

With a population of 170,827, the total reported crimes in Fort Lauderdale were determined at 67.92 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.11 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 58.80 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Pensacola, Florida

 

Pensacola’s population size is 52,909. The total reported crimes are 69.86 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.11 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 60.75 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Fort Pierce, Florida

 

The total population for Fort Pierce is 42,566 and the number of reported crimes ranks in at 65.95 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.14 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.81 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Miami, Florida

 

With a larger population size of 414,327, Miami has a total reported crimes of 65.47 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.72 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 53.75 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Pompano Beach, Florida

 

The total population size in Pompano Beach is 103,003. The total reported crimes in the area are 64.29 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.29 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.00 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Sarasota, Florida

 

Population size in Sarasota totals 53,055 with the total reported crimes at 63.14 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.03 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 55.11 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Riviera Beach, Florida

 

Riviera Beach has a total population of 33,309 and the total reported crimes are 61.97 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 13.21 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 48.76 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Lake Worth, Florida

 

Lake Worth has a population size of 35,788 and the total reported crimes are 61.17 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 12.88 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 48.28 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • West Palm Beach, Florida

 

The population size is 102,422 and total crime ranks in at 60.78 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.02 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 52.76 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Oakland Park, Florida

 

Oakland Park’s population is 42,071, with the total reported crimes at 60.75 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 7.85 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 52.90 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Ocala, Florida

 

The population in Ocala is reported at 57,288. The total reported crimes for the area is 60.61 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 6.55 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.06 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Sanford, Florida

 

Sanford has a population of 54,662. The total number of reported crimes for the area is 60.13 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 5.91 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.22 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Lauderdale Lakes, Florida

 

The population is 33,644 and the total reported crime is 59.80 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.99 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 49.82 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Leesburg, Florida

 

Leesburg’s total reported crime is 60.05 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.19 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 50.85 per 1,000 residents.

If you are facing criminal charges, you need to understand exactly what is at stake. How you respond to your charges will have a direct impact on how your case plays out, including your freedom and your future. During this critical time, everything you say and do, along with every decision you make can be the difference between imprisonment and you being free to move forward with your life.

Have you been arrested for a crime in Florida? You must act fast to protect your good name even if you have not had formal charges filed against you yet. A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help you with your case no matter what you have been arrested for or charged with. We will fully investigate the facts of your case and aggressively defend you in court or in seeking a settlement.

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Several law enforcement agencies from the federal, state and county level have joined forces with the hopes of catching alleged sexual predators.

While the operation spans across nine counties, including Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, the message is the same: “We’re going to get you.”

10673440736_06f59d7f30_mThe message was made loud and clear Tuesday when the agencies released details from a recent online sex sting- “Operation Cyber Vigilance”- during which they are tracking down men believed to be looking to arrange sexual encounters with children.

Due to the fact that the Florida Sheriff’s Association has made catching child predators its number one priority, the agencies are utilizing each other’s manpower to make the biggest impact, and the most arrests.

So far, officials have arrested more than 130 people.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made a note to let everyone know they are going after the worst of the worst, and described one of the most recent arrests.

“So she’s out there working- trying to provide for the family. He’s at home with a 13 and 14-year-old sleeping, and what’s he do? He gets online, and starts chatting with one of our undercover detectives,” he explained. “And he leaves his 13 and 14-year-old daughters at home sleeping in bed, and comes up to Pinellas County to have sex with a 12-year-old.”

This most recent operation is designed for agencies to help one another. with that said, if the Polk County Sheriff’s Office launches an undercover sting, it might get help from Pinellas, Sarasota and Lee Counties, and visa versa.

In addition to the nine counties conducting the operation, eight others are contributing to the efforts.

The criminal justice system is often merciless when it comes to child sex crimes cases – they make it known that they are out for blood. Unfortunately, this usually means the innocent get swept up along with the guilty.

Detectives are so eager to catch alleged sexual offenders in undercover Internet stings that they tend to go overboard, often entrapping unsuspecting adults. Police will enter online chat rooms and masquerade as young boys or girls, or even parents or guardians of young children, looking for a partner to introduce them to the world of sex. They will drum up online conversations with adults and in many cases, manipulate them into soliciting illegal sexual activity.

And we all know what happens next – that person will be arrested and charged with a sex crime. In a matter of minutes, a person’s life can be flipped upside down. The legal consequences of a conviction can result in years in prison and mandatory registration as a sexual offender. The social and professional consequences of a sex crimes conviction can be just as bad for those convicted of child sexual abuse or child pornography.

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Florida will have 159 new laws starting Tuesday that address various issues, including college tuition, corporate tax credits, abortions and sex offenders.

One of the most prevalent laws is one that aims to protect children and others from dangerous sex offenders. The laws are intended to keep the most violent sexual offenders locked up longer and close any loopholes in a law that allows the state to send predators to a high-security treatment center once they have served their time in prison. The new laws will subject more offenders to potential civil commitment and prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates will be part of the committee that reviews their cases.

The sexually violent predator package of bills was among the first of the legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott during the 60-day session that ended in May. The new laws are meant to create a better child welfare system in Florida. As of now, Florida is the only state in America that has a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for violent sexual offenders.

gavelAnother law that seeks to protect children concerns the Department of Children and Families. The law changes how the department investigates and responds to cases; now placing a higher emphasis on shielding a child from abuse rather than focusing on keeping a family together. Moreover, the law also pays for 270 additional child protective investigators so that caseloads can be reduced and a response team can be sent out quickly to investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous dealings with the system.

Another law will establish a statewide pilot program to pay for foster children’s driver’s education classes, license fees and car insurance so that they can be better prepared to gain employment when they turn 18 and leave the system.

The children of immigrants in the country illegally will now be able to receive in-state tuition at state universities after Scott changed his position on the issue. Another bill will give tuition breaks to honorably discharged veterans as well as waive professional licensing fees for them.

Local school boards now have the responsibility of selecting textbooks, whether or not they are on a state-adopted list, and will be required to put policies in place that allow parents to object to the books they choose.

Another new law took effect on June 20 that expands a voucher program, giving corporate tax credits to companies that provide money for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

As far as criminal laws go, there will be increased penalties for spiny lobster poachers, people leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury and people who illegally sell prescription drugs. Additionally, electronic cigarette sales to minors are now illegal in Florida. Another law forbids sending text messages soliciting products to residents on the state’s “no sales solicitation calls” list.

Florida has also changed its definition for its late-term abortion ban. Abortions will be illegal in Florida at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy if her doctor concludes that the fetus could survive outside the womb. The previous law banned abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. An exception can be made to this law if the mother’s life is at risk.

Lastly, new laws will create a Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and the position of state poet laureate to promote poetry in Florida.

Laws across the United States are constantly changing. When you have been accused of committing a crime in Florida, only a Florida Trial Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can provide you with the legal representation that you need. While many attorneys are quick to negotiate with prosecutors to obtain a plea bargain instead of pursuing trial, our Florida Criminal Attorneys know that sometimes trial is the best option for your situation. We thoroughly evaluate every case and will always advise you of your best legal defense strategy.

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The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has arrested 12 men in an undercover sting operation dubbed “Operation Intercept III,” targeting adults who use the Internet to solicit sex from children.

The men, ranging in age from 20 to 50, arrived at a decoy house in Sarasota County allegedly intending to have sex with a child, according to detectives. Instead, they were met by undercover officers.

According to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the men allegedly used phone applications, social media sites or Internet advertisements to contact undercover agents posing as minors or guardians of children.

Between Thursday and Saturday, agents claim that the men all engaged in sexually explicit conversations with what they believed were minors or parents of minors.

keyboard typingMost of the men charged in the sting believed they were talking to 14-year-old females. One case involved an agent posing as a 13-year-old girl, and another involved an agent posing as a 14-year-old boy.

One of  the men arrested, a 33-year-old Tampa security officer, apparently believed he was talking to the mother of a 12-year-old girl. He allegedly started chatting with the mother on April 17 on OKCupid and then began texting. The man allegedly talked about taking the daughter’s virginity, according to reports.

Another man, 44, allegedly agreed to impregnate a 14-year-old girl, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

All of the men are charged with use of a computer to solicit a child to commit a sex act, travelling to solicit a child to commit sex and attempted lewd and lascivious battery.

Many of those arrested face additional charges related to sending nude photos or drugs.

The sheriff’s offices in Manatee and Sarasota counties have completed six stings, including this operation, in which more than 170 people have been arrested.

This is the most recent sting and the only one that has yielded less than 25 arrests.

Additional investigations related to this operation are ongoing.

Internet solicitation charges involving a minor are typically prosecuted quite aggressively. If you are facing this charge or a similar sex offense, you could be forced to deal with the serious social stigma attached to sex crimes against children as well as the very real possibility of spending years behind bars if convicted.

After the airing of the “To Catch a Predator” series, most people are familiar with how police conduct undercover Internet sex crimes investigations involving minors. However, when individuals meet online, this provides law enforcement with the opportunity to use entrapment to make their case. Entrapment brings up many constitutional rights issues, which is why the facts of your case must be thoroughly scrutinized to make sure no information was obtained illegally. Depending on the circumstances, if entrapment was used in your case, any evidence against you can be thrown out.

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A 29-year-old Sarasota woman was found guilty earlier this month of molesting a 10-year-old boy.

A jury convicted the woman of lewd or lascivious molestation of a child less than 12 years of age on March 5.

She will be sentenced at a later date. She faces anywhere between 25 years to life in prison for the sex offense.

The woman was apparently friends with the child’s mother and was staying in their home when the sexual abuse occurred last spring.

The boy testified at trial that the woman grabbed his genitals and he told her to stop. Three other alleged victims also testified.

convictedAccording to reports, the woman apparently told the mother of a 12-year-old boy also staying at the home that she touched him. The mother ignored the comment at first, but then confronted her son who reportedly confirmed the sexual dealings. The mother did not report that alleged abuse to law enforcement because she thought she had a warrant for her arrest.

According to court documents, the youngest victim’s mother overheard her 15-year-old son say that the woman gave him oral sex. The woman asked her 12-year-old son about the alleged sexual contact and he confirmed the woman also touched his genitals.

Her 10-year-old son also said the woman touched him in a sexual manner, which led to the Sarasota woman’s recent conviction. She will go to trial this summer for those additional charges.

Child molestation is a very serious sex crime with severe legal and social ramifications. Even a simple accusation of this offense can ruin an individual’s career, personal connections and family relationships. There are very few crimes that are more repulsive to the public than sex offenses involving young children. A person accused of child molestation or any other type of sex crime cannot afford to ignore these charges. Cases of this nature should never be dealt with alone, so if you or someone you love has been accused of or charged with a sex offense in Sarasota, the best thing you can do is contact a Sarasota County Criminal Defense Attorney at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. Time is of the essence in these cases, as a thorough investigation into these allegations needs to be conducted right away.

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A Florida man plead guilty in early 2014 to attempting to defraud Medicare of more than $28 million after buying several rehabilitation clinics, including one in Venice.

The U.S. Department of Justice claims the man bought up the clinics so he could gain access to the clinics’ Medicare provider numbers.

medicare

A Florida man faces up to 15 years in prison for attempting to defraud Medicare of more than $28 million after buying several rehabilitation clinics.

The 53-year-old man, formerly of Southwest Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and making a false statement relating to healthcare matters.

He faces up to 15 years in prison.

According to a Department of Justice statement, the man was the head of a Delaware holding company that he allegedly used to buy several comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities and outpatient physical therapy providers throughout Florida in the mid-2000s.

Those offices included clinics in Venice, Fort Myers, Lake Wales and Port St. Lucie.

Once they owned the clinics, the man and other company executives apparently obtained identifying information of both Medicare beneficiaries and physicians, which they then used to create and submit false claims for therapy services that were not prescribed and not provided.

DOJ officials claim the man and his co-conspirators forged patient records in order to hide the services they billed Medicare for that had not actually been provided.

The man and his co-conspirators are accused of filing $28.35 million in fraudulent claims with Medicare from 2005 through 2009. Medicare paid approximately $14.4 million on those claims, according to reports.

Authorities allege that once the man received enough Medicare money out of clinics, he sold the storefronts to “straw owners,” who were all recent immigrants to the United States and had no experience working in the healthcare industry.

The DOJ unsealed a 30-count indictment against the man and one of his co-conspirators, a 57-year-old disbarred attorney, in April 2012.

The 53-year-old man has pleaded guilty to two of those charges – conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making a false statement relating to health care matters.

Healthcare fraud cases cost the government millions of dollars each year. The government often makes mistakes and accuses innocent medical professionals and clinic owners of committing federal crimes in order to try and recover their losses from fraudulent claims. Unfortunately, when you are accused of committing Medicare or any other type of healthcare fraud, your family, career and reputation are at risk.

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