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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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The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office claims it has been on the offense against drug trafficking for the past two months through a covert operation they call “Operation Coin Toss.”

“Coin Toss” resulted in four search warrants and 24 arrests. Fifteen of those people were previously convicted felons, according to reports. 

The Sheriff said two of the homes searched, one on Fern Place in Homosassa and another on Arter Street in Crystal River, were in deplorable conditions and they’re working with code enforcement to get them torn down. 

The Sheriff said it’s the largest operation of its kind since he took over in 2017, and they’re just getting started. 

The Sheriff also added that one of the people arrested through this operation has already agreed to serve eight years behind bars, according to reports.

When facing drug charges in Citrus County, and elsewhere in Florida, you need a criminal defense lawyer you can rely on to handle your case with expert consideration. Our Citrus County Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know the anxiety that comes with being charged with a drug crime and how hard this can all be on you and your family. Our experienced attorneys stand ready to tackle the drug charges against you, whatever they may be, and will work with you every step of the way to get the best possible outcome for your case.

Our experienced drug possession and drug trafficking lawyers at Whittel & Melton, handle most types of drug cases. As former prosecutors, we have unique insight into the case against you and an intimate understanding of how law enforcement investigates these cases. With that said, we also know what mistakes police commonly make, and we can apply that insight into helping with your case. 

We also have an in depth knowledge of the problem prosecutors face with proving their case and what information is generally needed to move forward with a drug crimes case. We will conduct our own thorough investigation into your criminal matter to look for any potential flaws and weaknesses in the charges against you, such as:

  • Was any evidence obtained illegally?
  • Does the prosecution have sufficient evidence? 
  • Can the prosecution prove all elements of the drug crime?

From the start, we will begin mounting a strong defense on your behalf. We will not wait to see what moves the prosecution will make. We will make sure your side of the story is heard and that your interests are protected. 

If you are facing a drug possession charge, the penalties you may be facing will vary depending on the type of drug and the amount of the drug in your possession. Possessing larger quantities of a drug can lead to charges of possession with intent to distribute. It is important to also note that drugs that have a high potential for abuse have harsher penalties should you be convicted.

The best thing to do is face drug crimes charges head on. We will make sure you know what you are up against and the severe consequences if you are convicted, which can include:

  • Felony conviction on your criminal record
  • Being excluded from certain types of employment in the future
  • Being fired from your current job
  • Hefty fines
  • Jail time

If you are facing drug crimes charges involving drug trafficking, manufacturing, distribution, and cultivation, then you are in for a fight as prosecutors tend to pursue these cases quite aggressively. Law enforcement will be looking to shut down  the illegal drug operation and make sure that anyone involved is punished.

While these charges intend to target drug crimes associated with an organized operation, sometimes people get charged with distribution simply because of the amount of drugs they had on them at the time of their arrest. Our Citrus County Drug Crimes Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton handle a wide array of serious drug charges, including:

  • Transportation and trafficking
  • Possession and possession for sale
  • Manufacturing, cultivation, and importation
  • Marijuana grow houses
  • Juvenile drug crimes

We know how criminal drug charges are brought and prosecuted. We will challenge all of the evidence against you and look at the following key factors to see if they can help with your defense: 

  • Illegal search and seizure: If the police searched your car, home or person when they found the alleged drugs in question, we can determine whether or not your constitutional rights were violated. 
  • Improper police conduct and procedures: We can challenge improper police conduct, such as the use of informants, undercover officers, and illegal procedures involved in your arrest. 

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Miami Dolphins running back Mark Walton has been sentenced to six months’ probation for weapons charges after reaching a plea deal on Monday. 

Court records show Walton plead no contest to a misdemeanor weapons charge.

In addition to probation, Walton must take anger management and driving courses and must give up his firearm.

Walton did have a slew of other charges stacked against him, including marijuana possession and reckless driving, all of which were dismissed. The charges stemmed from a March incident in which Walton fled on foot from his rented car after police tried to pull him over. Authorities claimed they found a rifle and the marijuana in the car.

The 22-year-old Walton played college football at the University of Miami and was a 4th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2018 NFL draft. He signed with the Dolphins earlier this year.

When you are facing serious criminal charges, such as a drug or weapons charge, you may be wondering how these types of charges can be dropped or dismissed. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have successfully had charges reduced or dropped against many clients over the years, and it is possible that we can help you, too. 

It is important to point out that not all criminal cases go to trial. In fact, many criminal charges are dropped before trial after negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers. It is also worth noting that only the prosecutor has the power to drop criminal charges.Criminal charges can be dropped due to many factors that can ultimately outweigh the prosecution’s case, like insufficient evidence, inadmissible evidence, and lack of witness credibility. 

Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton also know there is an important difference between dropping charges and dismissing charges. Charges can be dismissed only after charges have been filed. A charge can be dropped before or after a charge has been filed. To clarify, you may need a charge dropped by the prosecutor, or you may need a charge dismissed by the prosecutor, however, a court can dismiss a charge if a prosecutor makes a legal error in the case. Either way, we can help you.

Before going to court for a trial, our criminal defense lawyers can argue that the prosecution’s case is not strong enough to obtain a conviction in what is called pretrial negotiations. This is where we will urge the prosecution to dismiss or drop the charge. The prosecution may accept or counter with an offer to reduce the charge. We can further review the facts and possibly counter back that even the reduced charge will not prevail in court.

A reduced charge is possible when the evidence is not strong enough for a certain charge, but strong enough for a lesser charge. When this happens, prosecutors may offer a plea bargain agreement. This means that prosecutors will dismiss the original charge if the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a less severe charge instead. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can make sure your rights are protected when it comes to plea bargain agreements. These vary case by case, and we may advise you to take the deal or reject the agreement if the case against the original charge is weak.

To conclude, there are many ways to get your criminal charges dropped or dismissed. However, for this to happen, you first need to seek legal help from us as soon as possible. The earlier we get involved with your case, the much better the odds of obtaining a favorable outcome. We want to help you move on from criminal charges and resume your normal life with as little damage to your reputation and record as possible. Every case is unique, so we can make sure you understand all of your legal options. 

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A federal jury found the owner of a Tampa Bay area medical marketing company guilty on Thursday for his role in a $2.2 million-plus Medicare fraud scheme involving the payment of kickbacks and bribes to medical clinics in Miami in exchange for the referral of DNA swabs that were obtained from Medicare beneficiaries.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez of the Middle District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office and Assistant Inspector General Shimon Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, the 49-year-old Land o’ Lakes man and owner of DBL Management LLC was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to pay health care kickbacks and one count of structuring currency transactions to avoid reporting requirements.  

The man is expected to be sentenced Oct. 2 by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew of the Middle District of Florida, who presided over the trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial, the man was paid by Clinical Laboratory Company A for each DNA swab that he arranged to be referred to the laboratory.  In order to obtain DNA swabs, the man paid cash kickbacks and bribes to medical clinics in Miami in exchange for the referral of DNA swabs that were obtained from Medicare beneficiaries. The man directed the owners of the medical clinics to collect the DNA of all of the patients at the clinics, regardless of medical necessity.

In the first phase of the scheme, from November 2013 to May 2014, the evidence at trial showed that the man paid these cash kickbacks directly.  In the second phase of the scheme, from May 2014 to November 2014, after his arrest on other charges, the man established shell companies, including Healthcare Marketing Florida of Melbourne, and conspired with nominee owners to facilitate the payment of kickbacks, receipt of fraud proceeds, and transfer of unlawfully obtained DNA samples for medically unnecessary testing.  Over the course of the entire conspiracy, Clinical Laboratory Company A submitted more than $2.2 million in genetic testing claims and paid the man a percentage of the Medicare reimbursements that it received.

The evidence at trial showed that, in order to conceal his payment of illegal cash kickbacks, the man would travel to different ATMs and bank branches throughout southern Florida and make separate withdrawals of thousands of dollars in cash in order to avoid the filing of U.S. Department of Treasury “currency transaction reports” for an individual withdrawal of more than $10,000.

The man was previously found guilty by a jury in December 2015 of various health care fraud, money laundering and identity theft charges in a case handled by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  

He is currently serving 14 years in prison.

The state of Florida, along with every other state, is constantly looking for ways to bring in additional revenue and to cut the rapidly growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid programs, which is why they are going to such great lengths to uncover potential Medicaid and Medicare fraud and abuse cases. 

In the majority of cases, Medicare fraud involves using false information to obtain unauthorized benefits, and can take a variety of forms, but it typically involves defrauding the Medicare system through billing for services that were not provided or that were not provided as described. Medicare beneficiaries are sometimes involved in fraud schemes where they split the Medicare or Medicaid funds with another party for care that was not provided.

A number of programs exist at both the state and federal level to uncover and prosecute cases of Medicare fraud by patients, providers, insurers, or owners of a company in the healthcare industry. 

Medicare and Medicaid costs the federal government between $80 and $100 billion each year, so government investigators make it their top priority to constantly be on the lookout for any red flags. The Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) is one tool that the government uses to prosecute actions of fraud. The AKC makes it a crime to give or receive bribes or kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals. 

The penalties for violating the AKS are very serious. The AKS is a criminal statute, and a conviction equates to a felony. A conviction under the AKS can lead to five years in prison and fines of $25,000 per violation. The government can also seek hefty financial penalties of $50,000 for each violation of the AKS.

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The former mayor of Port Richey, Dale Massad, was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The jury’s verdict came at about 6 p.m. at the end of a one-day trial in which four witnesses testified. The jury took less than an hour to decide on the evidence.

Massad, 68, faced multiple charges from his February arrest, but the ones at issue Tuesday stemmed from a jailhouse phone call with former acting Mayor Terrence Rowe.

The state tried to prove that call showed Massad targeted a Port Richey police officer involved with his case.

Investigators claim that Massad called the man who filled his spot as mayor, Terrance Rowe, from jail and the two conspired to have a Port Richey police officer involved in Massad’s case fired.

The police officer testified that he felt threatened and intimidated by Massad. 

The police officer had helped the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Massad’s alleged practice of medicine without a license, and he was the one monitoring his calls for the agency.

Massad’s defense team argued that there was no clear evidence of conspiracy to intimidate the police officer in the call, including when the former mayor told Rowe that “anything he can do” where the police officer is concerned was good.

The call lasted 14 minutes. It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. 

Jurors also heard from City Manager Vince Lupo, who testified that council members usually made records requests through him.

The state argued that because Rowe made repeated email requests to the city clerk instead of Lupo, he was trying to avoid the normal process.

Police Chief Gerard Decanio said the jury made the right call.

“To think that you’re going to call from jail and order certain things to be done, it’s ridiculous,” Decanio said. “So justice prevailed today. The jury brought back the right verdict.”

Massad’s attorney, however, believes the jury should have come back with the opposite verdict. The defense team believes city officials wanted him out as mayor, and that they unfortunately succeeded. 

Massad’s legal team requested a speedy trial in the hopes that they would win and Massad could post bond. They are now working to expedite the prosecution for the original charges.

This was only the tip of Massad’s legal problems. He still faces trial on charges of attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license.

Massad will continue to be held in jail without bail, pending his next trials. However, Tuesday’s conviction could result in prison time. 

At the first Port Richey City Council meeting since the city elected its new mayor, Scott Tremblay, it was business as usual, with no comments about the Massad trial during the first few minutes of the session.

Tremblay did say he’s looking forward to helping the city move forward, despite two other trials involving Massad looming over the city’s near future.  

Conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges are nothing to scoff at. These crimes are nothing minor. In fact, these are felony offenses that can negatively impact one’s freedom, life, and livelihood. A person commits the crime of obstruction by engaging in any act or behavior that interferes with the investigation or prosecution of a crime. Both state and federal laws have many provisions written in regarding obstruction of justice for many different laws, but such actions can range from simply warning someone about a subpoena for documents to hiding a suspect from police. Certain types of interference may seem innocent, such as warning a co-worker that they are being investigated, while others cross the legal line more blatantly, like destroying evidence. The greater the obstruction of justice, the greater the criminal consequences. 

Even a person who is not directly involved in a crime that is under investigation can be charged with criminal obstruction. These charges are not necessarily black and white, and can be quite confusing. If you have been charged with criminal obstruction or have questions about the crime, consult with our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton who can make sure you fully understand what you are up against. 

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A University of Florida junior cornerback was arrested by Gainesville police Monday and is facing a charge of simple battery/date violence following an alleged altercation with his girlfriend in his apartment.

The man and the woman got into an argument, and as she attempted to leave the apartment, the man apparently grabbed her by the neck to stop her, according to a Gainesville Police Department arrest report. Police claims she had marks on her neck and a scratch on her shoulder.

The man, 20, and the woman have been dating for two years, according to the report. A witness to the incident intervened in an effort to stop the argument and then called 911.

A simple battery charge is a misdemeanor under Florida law.

A battery charge can be emotionally fueled by the alleged victim and the person charged. These arrests usually arise from situations that are personal and highly emotional, and often involve misunderstandings that were blown out of proportion.

If you have been arrested for battery in Gainesville, our Alachua County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help. Possible penalties can include jail time, fines, and a criminal record. We can help you avoid the penalties of a conviction. When possible, we will negotiate for a reduction or a complete dismissal of charges.

Regardless of the events leading up to your arrest, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend your rights against your accuser. We will investigate all of the facts of your case and present your side to prosecutors and in court, when necessary.

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Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a Gators football staff member accused of cyberstalking his ex-girlfriend.

Investigators charged the 51-year-old man, who is the assistant director of player personnel for UF football, with felony aggravated stalking in a string of incidents dating back to April 14.

An arrest report says the man and his ex broke up on April 14. Following the breakup, a report allegedly says the man sent over 40 messages through phone, text and Facebook.

On April 21, the ex apparently requested that the man stop contacting her. Deputies claim he refused and even left a voicemail on her phone stating he would “blow up her car.”

According to the report, the man is accused of sending multiple vulgar messages to her through a different phone after she requested he stop contacting her.

Prosecutors view cyberstalking crimes as serious because of the concern that these crimes will escalate into more violent ones. If you think you are under investigation for a cyberstalking crime or have already been arrested, our Alachua County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton urge you to contact us as soon as possible so we can evaluate your charges and explain your potential options.

Cyberstalking can result in severe penalties such as jail time and fines. While most cyberstalking crimes are often charged as misdemeanors, the charges can be elevated to a felony in certain situations.

Cyberstalking can include:

  • Making criminal threats
  • Making false accusations
  • Encouraging bullying and humiliation of a user
  • Sending harassing emails or messages

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A former U.S. postal worker was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

The 45-year-old was also ordered to serve a three-year term of supervised release following his imprisonment, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

According to court documents, the former U.S. Postal carrier provided addresses along his delivery route to co-conspirators who arranged to have packages containing marijuana shipped from Oregon to those addresses.

When the packages arrived and were placed in the man’s control, he would scan the packages as delivered to the addresses, and then turn them over to his co-conspirators for further distribution of the marijuana.

He pleaded guilty to the charge on January 11.

Drug conspiracy and distribution charges are quite serious criminal matters that could lead to jail or prison time in addition to other life-changing consequences. If you or someone you love has been charged or is being investigated for conspiracy or distribution of drugs, it is essential to obtain strong legal representation as soon as possible. Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton also urge those accused to refrain from speaking to law enforcement officers about the case until you have secured legal counsel.

Generally speaking, a conspiracy charge means that the prosecution is trying to hold you responsible for the criminal actions of someone else. These charges can erupt from allegedly planning or agreeing to sell an illegal substance. Because no actual crime has to occur to be charged, these cases can be built with very weak evidence.

Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are former prosecutors who are very familiar with the State’s tricks when pursuing drug conspiracy cases. While every situation is different, we can evaluate your case and develop the best defense with the greatest chance of success.

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17 people have been arrested in connection to a seven-month-long drug investigation, which resulted in the bust of an alleged major drug trafficking organization.

The investigation, which began in September of 2018, allegedly found a significant drug trafficking hub operating out of 1804 South Forbes Road in Plant City.

Over the past several years, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has responded to more than 100 calls of service to that location, the report stated.

According to the sheriff’s office, the investigation involved numerous undercover purchases of methamphetamines, totaling 1,840.1 grams and $27,700 in cash seizures.

The charges range from conspiracy to traffic amphetamine to possession of methamphetamine.

When you are facing federal drug trafficking charges, you may be coming up against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI, or another federal agency that will absolutely be a fierce opponent when it comes to drug charges. Drug trafficking is one of the most serious types of drug crimes. A conviction for a federal drug crime will result in harsher penalties, which can possibly include years in prison or even life in prison. Whether you are charged with transporting, distributing, or selling large amounts of drugs, our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are ready to fight for you.

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The Justice Department announced charges against 24 people across the U.S., including doctors accused of writing bogus prescriptions for unneeded back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces.

Others charged included owners of call centers, telemedicine firms and medical equipment companies.

The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office said the alleged scam morphed into multiple related schemes, fueled by kickbacks among the parties involved. The FBI, the IRS, and 17 U.S. attorney’s offices took part in the crackdown. Arrests were made Tuesday morning.

Medicare’s anti-fraud unit said it’s taking action against 130 medical equipment companies implicated. They allegedly billed the program a total of $1.7 billion, of which more than $900 million was paid out.

Telemarketers would apparently reach out to seniors offering “free” orthopedic braces, also advertised through television and radio ads. Beneficiaries who expressed interest would be patched through to call centers involved in the alleged scheme. Officials described an “international telemarketing network” with call centers in the Philippines and throughout Latin America.

The call centers would verify seniors’ Medicare coverage and transfer them to telemedicine companies for consultations with doctors.

The doctors would allegedly write prescriptions for orthopedic braces, regardless of whether the patients needed them or not. In some cases several braces were prescribed for the same patient.

The call centers would collect prescriptions and sell them to medical equipment companies, which would ship the braces to beneficiaries and bill Medicare. Medical equipment companies would get $500 to $900 per brace from Medicare and would pay kickbacks of nearly $300 per brace.

The alleged scam was detected last summer, officials said. Complaints from beneficiaries were pouring in to the Medicare fraud hotline, and some consumer news organizations warned seniors.

Officials said it’s one of the biggest frauds the inspector general’s office has seen. Charges were being brought against defendants in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

Medicare is a federal health care program that provides insurance benefits to seniors. Nationally, over 50 million people receive Medicare benefits. Due to Medicare fraud increasing in recent years, federal investigators and prosecutors have been on the hunt for anyone suspected of Medicare fraud. Whether it was the result of an intentional plan, an oversight, or the actions of your staff and/or employee, being charged with Medicare fraud can wreak havoc on your life. Medicare fraud is a serious crime that may result in several years in federal prison, along with significant fines and a permanent criminal record.

Being charged with Medicare fraud can be frightening and overwhelming. Federal charges must be handled by a lawyer who has experience in this specific field. Our Florida Medicare Fraud Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have the knowledge and skill you need to bring a powerful defense against the health care fraud charges you face.

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