Tag Archives: 12-12-2012

Green turtles hatch, end record year

If a Hollywood screenwriter was tasked to script the 2012 sea turtle nesting season on Anna Maria Island, the storyline wouldn’t have turned out more appropriate than what occurred Dec. 7 to signal an end to a remarkable nesting season.

About 20 endangered green sea turtles broke free from the last known sea turtle nest to exist in the state, but about 40 of the hatchlings required human assistance.

Half of them were rescued following the initial hatching and the remainder of the turtles were dug out by hand Dec. 7 just before sunset in Anna Maria on the beach near North Shore Drive. The nest was laid within the root system of a tree, which complicated the hatching process.

The turtles incubated for 83 days, something Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer Glenn Wiseman had never seen in his 15 years with AMITW.

“I’ve never seen a nest take this long to hatch, but they have been known to go as long as 90 days,” he said. “But for us, it’s unusual because the average incubation period is about 55 days.”

He said he was worried about the nest, so he sought and received permission from the state to take a peek.

“I dug down to the first layer of eggs and I saw a little head looking back at me,” he said. “I wasn’t worried anymore and knew the nest was about to hatch, and it did that night.”

Wiseman believes the onset of cooler weather over the past few weeks slowed down the incubation.

“It’s all temperature sensitive,” he said.

There have been only four confirmed green sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island shores in the last 30 years, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox.

“We have had about 4,000 loggerhead nests in the last 30 years, but only four green turtle nests,” she said. “The first was around 2000. We had one last year and two this year.”

The release of about 40 green hatchlings to the Gulf was an appropriate end to a record season that saw 12,723 sea turtle hatchlings make it to the water from island beaches. In 2011, there were 7,806 hatchlings, while the 15-year average is 8,940.

There were a total of 362 nests this year. In 2011, there were 183 while the 15-year average is 155.

It was an incredible year of ups and downs for sea turtle nesting, “but ended with more ups,” said Wiseman.

Tropical Storm Debby, in June, was thought to have decimated this year’s nesting season, but about half of the total nests were laid after Debby.

“This has been the best year we’ve ever had,” said Fox. “Our volunteers are a big part of that. They really had to step it up and worked their butts off during a season that was three times as busy as we normally are.”

Fox said another important part of the year’s success is the incredible support she receives from the community.

“We have about 80 official volunteers, but we have a whole other army of non-official volunteers,” she said. “During the season I would get about five phone calls a day from people living near nests just letting me know that ‘their’ nest was OK. The people have really taken ownership and have come to understand that by helping, they are doing something good. They really get that.”

Wiseman said visitors to the island have been equally supportive. He spearheads a weekly turtle walk during season to educate people on sea turtle nesting.

“It used to be we would just show up and take whoever else showed up on the walk,” he said. “Now, we have to take reservations. People schedule their vacations around these turtle walks.”

He said there was a couple from Arizona who were in their 80s and came to the island just for the turtle walk. They arrived and were unable to find a room, so the couple slept in their car overnight to make sure they did not miss the walk.

Fox said the Dec. 7 hatching of a green sea turtle nest would have never happened had it not been for the late Dr. Archie Carr, who in the 1980s almost single handedly led the effort to pull the green sea turtle back from the brink of extinction.

And we can roll the film again in May 2013, near Mother’s Day, when sea turtle nesting season begins anew on Anna Maria Island.

Federal agents seize HB resident’s boat, cars

    Federal Bureau of Investigation agents seized two high-end sports cars and a luxury boat from 5311 Sunrise Lane, Unit B, Holmes Beach, just before sunset Nov. 30. The boat was taken to the city’s Kingfish Boat Ramp, where FBI agents removed it to a trailer.

    The seizure stems from an FBI investigation and criminal complaint filed Oct. 3 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, against Holmes Beach resident Jason Syrek, according to public information officer Gina Balaya with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

    According to Florida and Manatee County records, Syrek was registered agent of the AMI Beach Inn LLC at the Sunrise Lane address. The LLC purchased the property in March 2011.

    Suzanne Burrow is listed as the manager of the LLC, according to the Florida Secretary of State. Syrek and Burrow also purchased Unit 5 of the Mainsail Beach Inn at 101 66th St., Holmes Beach, in February 2010.

    They apparently reside at the Sunrise Lane property and use the Beach Inn property as a mailing address.

    Based on the affidavit of an FBI special agent, the complaint alleges that between May 2008 and December 2010, Syrek engaged in health care fraud while operating a human resource outsourcing business, CAS Resources of Adrian, Mich.

    Syrek, his attorney and assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Aouate agreed Oct. 23 to a pre-indictment protective order to preserve the two waterfront properties, the boat, two cars and 645 Richlyn Drive, Unit 123, Adrian, Mich., a 2010 Ford Escape and a 2010 Lincoln MKX. U.S. Magistrate Judge David R. Grand also signed the protective order.

    According to the complaint, the health care scheme began while Syrek was jailed at Morgantown Federal Correctional Facility in West Virginia for bank fraud.

    Syrek was serving 13 months for more than $800,000 in 83 improper credits involving a Syrek-controlled employee services company, One Source Management of Maumee, Ohio, according to an April 17, 2007, article in the Toledo Blade. He also reportedly repaid the client.

    According to the Manatee County clerk’s office, in August 2011, an Internal Revenue Service notice of $11,030,158 in federal tax liens was recorded against Jason R. Syrek.

    In March 2012, another IRS notice of $5,831,664 in tax liens was recorded against AMI Beach Inn LLC as nominee, fraudulent conveyee and/or alter ego of CAS Resources Inc.

    In the most recent scheme, according to the complaint in U.S. District Court, Syrek, through his ex-wife, Kristie Kneuve, allegedly submitted a group enrollment form to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2008 to secure group coverage for 10 employees of CAS, including Syrek, Kneuve and eight fictitious employees, and also added company clients’ employees.

    CAS collected $1.75 million in premiums from client companies in November and December 2010, an amount due to BCBSM, but never paid by Syrek, according to the complaint.

    Also according to the complaint, Syrek admitted to fabricating data to qualify for a policy he sold to his client companies and taking the premiums for personal use, including the purchase of beachfront properties, cars, a boat and millions of dollars worth of other investments.

    Balaya said a 1 p.m. Jan. 4 preliminary examination/ probable cause hearing is set in the criminal case against Syrek in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

    Not only has Jason Syrek’s property on Sunrise Lanebeen the subject of a recent federal protective order, its history is checkered with state and local regulatory and enforcement issues.

    The property was the subject of warning letters in February — one to Syrek, and another to Unit A’s owner, although Unit A is yet unbuilt — from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for improper spacing between the property’s two docks.

    The DEP was expected to pursue a dock setback violation, however, a question arose as to whether the Residential-1/single-family property, which has been divided into two condominium units, is one or two lots.

    DEP spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said last week she had expected a closure letter, which would resolve the case, but was unsure how the matter will end if Syrek no longer owns the property.

    Sunrise Lane neighbor Judy Holmes Titsworth, now a Holmes Beach commissioner, raised red flags about developers using condominium ownership to skirt local laws and expand residential-zoned properties to more than one house and docks with reduced setbacks.

    Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff agreed.

    “The placement of a condominium form of ownership over a piece of property does not change the underlying zoning status or regulatory jurisdiction over the property,” Petruff wrote the DEP.

    Petruff also noted the “parcel width is too small to allow to be legally subdivided into two.”

        Nonetheless, last week a foundation was dug for the south unit, Unit A, with a notice of commencement filed Sept. 24 by Agnelli Pools & Construction LLC.

HB chief resigns

Leading law enforcement in Holmes Beach for more than 19 years, Police Chief Jay Romine has announced he will leave the job.

    He announced his decision by letter to Mayor Carmel Monti Dec. 7. His last day will be Dec. 20.

    “It’s tough to walk away from my employees,” Romine said. “I’ve got a lot of good employees. Our name is known all over. We have a great working relationship with the county and state.

     “I want to stress the fact that it was my decision. Nobody else’s,” said Romine. “It’s just time. I know in my heart, it’s time.”

     Having spent the past 25 years with the HBPD, Romine said Dec. 10 he’s exploring options, including teaching at Manatee Technical Institute Law Enforcement Academy in Bradenton.

    As far as his replacement, the city charter requires the mayor to appoint a new chief with the commission’s concurrence.

     Romine officially entered the Florida Retirement System Deferred Retirement Option Plan in August 2011 and could remain until July 2016.

    Second in line behind the chief, Deputy Chief/Lt. Dale Stephenson also entered DROP the same day.

        Romine began his career with HBPD as a part-time patrol officer in 1979, advancing to patrol sergeant, detective sergeant, lieutenant, assistant chief and chief, a post he was appointed to by then-mayor, the late Pat Geyer, in 1993.

Anna Maria Sunshine meeting

Anna Maria city attorney Jim Dye will host a “Government-in-the-Sunshine” training session at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, for elected officials in Anna Maria and other island cities. Members of city committees also are invited to attend.

An email from city clerk Alice Baird said the meeting would be “informal” and questions would be “encouraged” by Dye.

The invitation was sent to the elected and appointed committee/board members from the island cities and the West Manatee Fire Rescue District.

Anna Maria vacation rentals climb, population falls

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn’s concern that the city could be losing its old Florida character with increasing vacation rentals appears to have merit.

The city population fell from 1,814 residents in 2000 to 1,503 in the 2010 census, a 17.1 percent decline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s online figures.

Yet the number of vacation rentals and adding more bedrooms at vacation rentals is growing, SueLynn said.

Code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon has documented 452 vacation rental properties in the city in a database, and she is still adding to the list. She said many properties rented out by owners are not in the database because they are difficult to track.

The 452 documented vacation rentals represent 27.7 percent of all buildings — commercial and residential — in the city.

Code enforcement and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the Anna Maria substation use the database when they respond to a complaint or incident at a rental property. The database gives them the name and phone number of the responsible party.

City treasurer Diane Percycoe said Anna Maria has 1,647 parcels with structures on them and 186 vacant parcels.

The mayor is concerned that as more homes become vacation rentals, more visitors are coming to the city who do not know the city’s noise, nuisance and parking ordinances. She envisions investors buying vacant properties and building vacation more rentals for investment returns.

The mayor and several property managers and rental agents in Anna Maria have established a list of best practices that are given to tenants when they register, but there are a few owners and rental agents who have yet to subscribe to the recommendations.

A major problem with uninformed vacationers is loud noises and partying after 10 p.m., SueLynn said. It’s just a few people who don’t know the code who can ruin the vacation and residential experience for their neighbors, she observed.

“Please understand, I am all in favor of tourism and growth, but it must be managed tourism and growth. We must keep the residential character of our city,” SueLynn said.

“We are a small, old-Florida city that draws a lot of visitors every year. I’m happy people can see what a wonderful city we have, but we have to ensure it’s here for future generations,” the mayor said.

The Legislature passed a bill in June 2011 allowing any homeowner to rent his or her home. The bill did not affect grandfathered city codes that restrict rentals to specific areas of a city, but Anna Maria had no such code in place in 2011.

The mayor wants to do all she can to ensure Anna Maria remains old Florida for residents and visitors, but the continued loss of residents is a growing concern.

And it’s not just Anna Maria that is losing people and adding vacation rentals, she said.

According to the 2000 census, Holmes Beach had 4,966 residents and the 2010 census reported 3,836 residents. In Bradenton Beach, the Census Bureau reported the population went from 1,482 in 2000 to 1,171 in 2010.

The bureau reported Anna Maria Island’s three cities had a total population in 2000 of 8,262 people. That figure dropped to 6,510 in the 2010 census, a decline of 21.2 percent.

“Think about that,” SueLynn said. “In 10 years, this island lost more than 20 percent of its residents. Think of the reasons why this has happened.”

She hopes there will be some old Florida left on Anna Maria Island for future generations.

The mayor said she would like the commission to look at the number of parking spaces allowed at all residences, including vacation rentals.

“Right now, people can park on the lawn of a house. It’s legal,” she said.

The mayor also would like commissioners to consider that there is no restriction on the number of bedrooms that can be constructed, or added to a current dwelling if other codes are met.

Historic Bridge Street Pier project could be delayed

The old adage, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” could be applied to the effort to begin rebuilding the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

The hope was to have the project completed before the upcoming tourist season, but that hope appears to be dashed after an estimated timetable to begin the project was pushed back as far as April.

The project hit a significant snag when negotiations that went on for weeks with Sago and Sago Engineering came to an impass over insurance concerns.

With no appearance of wiggle room from either side of the negotiating table, city attorney Ricinda Perry recommended that commissioners renew the request for proposal several weeks ago to find an engineer.

ZNS Engineering responded to the RFP last month and commissioners authorized contract negotiations to begin. Commissioners questioned building official Steve Gilbert on a new estimated timetable.

Gilbert said the engineering contract was expected at any time and the engineering study would take no more than a couple of weeks, but they were only the first steps in the process.

“We still have to do an RFP for a contractor for the construction once we have the engineering reports. Then we are looking at a 30-day mobilization period,” he said. “So, I’m thinking it’s going to be around March or April before the actual construction begins.”

Peak tourism on the island begins in mid-January and lasts until about May. Commissioner Jan Vosburgh didn’t like the prospect of closing the pier down during season.

“The restaurant is already hurting from the floating dock being closed,” said Vosburgh. “They would really be hurting if we did this during season. I think we should wait until season is over.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse also wasn’t thrilled with the potential start date, but no decision was made with so little information.

The reconstruction project’s major components consist of replacing 151 pilings and the wood deck. Exact costs of the project have not been discussed, as the city struggles to get past the initial phase — the engineering study that will determine the scope of work.

The scope of work will then determine what goes in the RFP when the city begins to seek a contractor and pricing for the project.


Floating dock repairs also suffer delays

The floating day dock adjacent to the pier has been closed since May due to a design flaw in the hinges causing the sections to separate.

Tropical Storm Debby’s June arrival caused further damage and ensured an indefinite opening for the dock.

The city has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has determined the dock’s damages are related to Debby, thus eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

However, the city plans to modify the dock by shortening it from nine sections to about five and FEMA’s reimbursement hinges on restoring the structure to its original condition.

Because there were design flaws in the dock, FEMA has allowed the city’s plans to move forward and has approved the planned repairs.

Gilbert said, however, a new challenge has surfaced.

“We received Florida Department of Environmental Protection approval, which is something we were waiting on to be signed off,” said Gilbert. “But DEP no longer does the Army Corps of Engineers review of the permitting, so now we have to wait on that approval.”

Gilbert doesn’t anticipate a problem in getting the approval, but “DEP forgot to send our application to the Corps during this separation process between the two agencies.”

Gilbert said the Corps does now have the application and it should be completed in another week or two.

“The good news is that FEMA has approved the project, but the bad news is it has to be resubmitted to them as a formal mitigation project,” cited Gilbert, posing yet another delay. “We’ve put the paperwork together for that.”

Gilbert said FEMA’s approval of the modified dock plan means that the agency will pay 75 percent of the total cost, and because the city’s plans are less expensive than replacing the original dock, FEMA’s reimbursement should be enough to pay for the entire project.

“The holdup is the mitigation paperwork and the Army Corps of Engineers signing off,” said Gilbert. “At that point, we should be good to go.”

Repairs to the floating dock will not impact the fishing pier or the restaurant operations.

Parks committee to look into dog park plan

There’s a new decision-making process for one of the most popular and controversial places in Holmes Beach — HB Scentral, the city dog park on the perimeter of the Birdie Tebbetts Field at Flotilla Drive and 62nd Street.

        Acting upon Mayor Carmel Monti’s recommendation at the Dec. 5 parks and beautification committee meeting, Chair Melissa Snyder agreed her committee would begin looking at recommendations for a dog park master plan.

        Snyder agreed the committee would take on the dog park issues on a two-month trial basis. If there’s not a proper fit, Monti said another direction will be considered.

        The park was named HB Scentral by city commissioners in July on the recommendation of resident Barbara Parkman, one of several citizens on an ad hoc committee formed to manage and develop the park in April under then-Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

        In first 10 days of his administration, Monti said dog park issues had taken a considerable amount of his time, with ad hoc members complaining about Parkman’s decisions and spending.

        Parkman told the committee, Rex Hagen gave the funding, and “told me to go get estimates.” She said former public works superintendent Joe Duennes allowed her to choose the location of items she added to the park. “And frankly, I don’t think you can design by committee.”

Monti disagreed, saying the best plans are developed by a team.

The decisions relate to a $10,000 donation to the city in October by the Rex Hagen Family Foundation Inc.

The foundation letter requested $8,000 be allocated to the dog park and $2,000 to the parks and beautification committee, according to city clerk Stacey Johnston.

        According to city officials, $7,104 has been spent on park signs, benches, a table and a decorative fountain at the dog park. While a dog fountain was initially sought, the one purchased and installed is purely decorative.

        In addition to $2,395 spent on the fountain, the donation funded the following Parkman requests: $1,200 for tile; $988 for plumbing; $850 for electrical work; $323 for a bronze plaque; $720 for a wood sign and $628 for benches and a table, according to city staff.

Snyder and the committee will now work with Commissioner David Zaccagnino with a view toward future planning at the January and February meetings.

        The agreement came after several committee members voiced concerns that dog park issues would overshadow the group’s broader mission.

        P&B committee member Dennis Groh said he did not support the addition of the dog park if its many issues take an inordinate amount of time in comparison with other city beautification projects.

        “This is just an issue outside of our scope,” said member Marilyn Shirley. “The dog people are a separate entity, and they have their own voices, their own leadership.”

        Dog park user Liz Carlson, a resident of Westbay Point & Moorings condominiums adjacent to the park, suggested the mayor appoint a separate dog park committee, with a liaison to the parks committee.

        Monti said he’d considered it, but it also would take time to appoint members and familiarize them with the laws and practices of a city committee.

        He said he favored the existing park committee’s history and leadership.

        Also discussed were possible plans for an area for small dogs, which according to Monti, are on hold.

        “But come up with a plan that you agree with that has benches or doesn’t have benches, that has plants or doesn’t have plants,” said Monti. Then, he said, it would be up to him, public works and volunteers to implement it within budget restraints.

        After the meeting, Parkman and two other dog park users in attendance, Carlson and Cathy Weber, said they were happy with the new direction.

The dog park was sectioned off from the outfield of Birdie Tebbetts Field — a baseball park — in April after commissioners decided to spend about $8,300 to separate the dogs and the ball park with a fence across the outfield. Dog owners had previously used the field to exercise their dogs when ball players were not active.

While there was no organized team assigned to use the field, some parents and their youths used the field for practice, which sometimes caused problems for dog park users.

        Zaccagnino first proposed the fenced dog park to the commission, saying he had liability concerns with the shared arrangement.

        Since its formation, the city added a shelter to the dog park area, which during the summer saw softball players competing, and hitting homeruns to the dog park and the shelter roof.

        Another controversy swelled over plants commonly accepted as toxic to animals that Parkman chose and had installed in the dog park.

        Parkman again said Dec. 5 hollies were low in toxicity. She also reported that vandals recently destroyed some potted plants at the park.

        The next parks and committee meeting is set for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 2, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

HB commission reviews R-2 moratorium

Ten months after the Holmes Beach commission rejected imposing a building moratorium, the panel, including two new commissioners, readied for a Dec. 11 vote on the measure.

        The stage was set Dec. 6 by new commissioners Judy Holmes Titsworth and Marvin Grossman, together with Commission Chair Jean Peelen — previously the lone voice on the commission seeking a “pause” in building in February — to revisit the issue at their next meeting.

        Peelen first proposed a three-month, Residential 2 zone moratorium limited to new construction to address the proliferation of huge houses — a problem studied by focus groups and debated at city meetings beginning December 2011 and continuing through the Nov.6 city election.

        Even before the election, the building department began implementing policy changes and the city planner had been tasked to review proposed code changes.

        Peelen solicited comments from the commission, Mayor Carmel Monti and city attorney Patricia Petruff about her proposal. At the end of the meeting, she asked Petruff to draft language for a six-month moratorium designed to halt teardowns, rebuilds and new construction in the R-2 district.

        “The purpose is to stem a potential rush for permits when you’re trying to revamp or contemplate changes to your zoning code,” Petruff told commissioners.

        “Quite frankly, you probably would want the moratorium to be as narrow as appropriate to reach whatever your public purpose goal there is to establishing the moratorium,” she said.

        Petruff agreed to Peelen’s suggested R-2 geographical scope and suggested a six-month moratorium limited to construction passing a certain dollar threshold, perhaps $25,000.

        “You don’t want to stop people from remodeling a kitchen. You don’t want to stop someone from putting on a new roof if they need a new roof. But you certainly do want to stop someone from doing a demolition and starting over,” Petruff added.

        She recommended a six-month moratorium rather than a three-month halt to allow time to change land development laws, including planning commission review, public hearings and notice requirements.

        Commissioner Pat Morton said, “That being said, I have no problem with a moratorium as long as we have a start and finish date.” He agreed with imposing it on teardowns and new builds.

        Grossman said a moratorium was a good idea, and believed its purpose was not to stop existing construction, but “to give us a chance to get going.” He liked the idea of a $25,000 or even $50,000 improvement threshold.

        Titsworth said, “The reason I’m considering a moratorium is not just for new construction and not just for FEMA, I’m looking at it as the whole R-2 district.

        “We’ve got so many issues we’ve got to deal with.”

        She listed problems such as land condos not acting as associations; half duplexes; duplexes built close together, creating fire hazards; and illegal lot splits. She also pointed to possible ongoing solutions, such as floor- and land-area ratios; daylight plane; including pools in lot coverage requirements; and a one-pool one-lot rule.

        There’s also a problem of numerous homes being bought for future resort housing, such as where seven duplexes are proposed on 77th Street.

        “It’s not just the duplexes,” Titsworth said, adding with other homes, rooms are being labeled sleeping rooms rather than bedrooms to get around the one-bedroom, one-onsite-parking space rule.

        She said the footer problem “may just go away” with the new building official’s interpretation. The joined footer allowed duplexes to connect underground, allowing two homes, each with a single-family home appearance to multiply over the past several years.

        “There’s already been a major effort in the department with denying building permits,” Monti said, adding that more scrutiny is now being given to new permits and plans coming through the process, as well as those currently in progress.

        He favored a moratorium to give the building department more time to evaluate policy and ordinance changes.

        Commissioner David Zaccagnino said the building department’s new interpretations and scrutiny were the reasons why he didn’t believe a moratorium was needed. He said his priorities as a commissioner are first to safety, then to fiscal responsibility, and then “to listen to the people.”

        He said his research showed moratoriums are upheld, not for “feel-good issues, and not because you don’t like the look of a building,” but for “blatant safety issues,” or because infrastructure provisions for utilities, phone lines and streets hadn’t caught up with housing. He said he feared the city’s liability if contractors sue.

        Grossman took issue with Zaccagnino’s comments, saying Titsworth’s concerns were not frivolous and he did not consider the moratorium to be about aesthetics.

        Morton pointed to the safety issue of the unrestricted parked cars blocking emergency vehicle access on some streets at certain times of the year.

        Resident and builder Greg Ross, who operates Ross Built Construction, said as a taxpayer he didn’t agree with having four building department employees during a six-month moratorium.

        The city currently employs full-time inspector David Greene, new building official Tom O’Brien and part-time, contractual building official John Fernandez. Joe Duennes, who recently retired as public works superintendent and building official, although no longer at work, is on the payroll until February.

        Ross said new homes meet fire codes and are safer than the homes being torn down, and agreed with Morton’s parking issue. He also warned the commissioners that the effects of a moratorium could be “very far reaching,” impacting the many people contractors employ, unless it could be narrowed to a specific type of unwanted construction.

        Also speaking against a moratorium, real estate agent and resident Don Schroder said he agreed with Ross. He added O’Brien should be allowed to do his job, and that the commission was moving too quickly and did not have the expertise to make the moratorium decision.

         “A moratorium is almost always upheld if reasonable in duration and scope,” Petruff said, and pointed to a recent court case upholding a six-month moratorium in Gainesville.

        Moratoriums are a planning tool used by municipalities while formulating a regulatory scheme, she said, adding Holmes Beach is looking to formulate such a scheme after struggling with solutions for almost year.

        “If she feels comfortable defending this in court, I’m fine with it,” Zaccagnino said.

FDLE pushes for release of evidence in Morris Case

Since her daughter’s death in a Bradenton Beach motel room on New Year’s Day 2009 was ruled a suicide, Kelly Osborn has been on a journey to find out what happened to Sheena Morris, 22.

She has never believed her daughter committed suicide and she launched a public campaign to have Morris’ case reinvestigated. She has been successful in doing so, but now law enforcement say it is Osborn who is standing in the way of completing that investigation.

In October, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale sent a letter to Osborn requesting Morris’ medical and psychiatric records, as well as her computer.

Morris sent a letter back to Speciale declining to do so, saying she did not trust BBPD to continue an investigation she believes it mishandled.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement became involved in the case in September when a FDLE SMART panel was convened to review the case.

While FDLE did not find fault in the BBPD investigation, FDLE did recommend further investigation. FDLE agents have been assisting with the investigation, but BBPD remains in charge of the investigation.

Osborn said she would only release the requested items directly to FDLE and only if she had the names and credentials of the agents taking possession of the items.

Osborn’s refusal to cooperate with the BBPD investigation sparked a reaction from FDLE special agent in charge John Burke.

In a letter to Osborn dated Dec. 3, Burke explained that FDLE does not have statutory authority to assume control of an investigation.

“The agency with the primary jurisdiction, in this case, the Bradenton Beach Police Department, retains control and has the ultimate responsibility to complete the investigation, and when appropriate, submit their findings to the proper authorities to determine if criminal prosecution is warranted.”

In this case, BBPD will submit its findings to the state attorney’s office for review.

“The role of the FDLE in this case is to assist BBPD with those tasks outlined by the panel; to facilitate investigative activity beyond BBPD jurisdiction, as well as provide additional forensic analysis where applicable,” Burke wrote.

Burke explained the process being followed is to conduct follow-up interviews and examination and re-examination of evidence.

He said he understands Osborn’s frustration, but she must understand the lawful process of an investigation.

“I must be clear that the only criminal investigation into your daughter’s death is being conducted by BBPD with the assistance and support of FDLE,” he wrote. “Your cooperation will be essential in fully examining the circumstances of your daughter’s death.”

Speciale previously told The Islander the items held by Osborn were requested of the BBPD by FDLE and that Osborn has refused to release them, but his department remains in charge of the investigation, which is why the request came from him.

Burke explained the reasons for the request, saying Morris’ physical and mental condition prior to her death is an important part of finding out what Osborn is trying to dispute, which is to see if there was any indication that Morris was suicidal.

Burke said an investigation is not only about finding new evidence, but ruling out possibilities and asked once again for Osborn to cooperate with the investigation.

“It would be my hope that you would cooperate with us in making the medical records available, as well as the other requested items,” he wrote.

Burke offered to facilitate the process and send an FDLE agent to her Tampa home to retrieve the items.

Burke also reminded Osborn that her public campaign to have her daughter’s death looked into further was successful, but that further public revelations about the investigation “has consequences.”

Osborn recently appeared on the “Dr. Phil” Show and last month she was a guest on the on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio show.

“It allows those with a motive to fabricate additional time and information in which to craft responses to questioning that, while untrue, incorporates the known facts,” he wrote.

He said it also allows “those without any direct knowledge to feign awareness of relevant facts and consumes investigative resources and possibly provides false or misleading information.”

Burke said everything that can be done in investigating Morris’ death is being done, but Osborn’s cooperation is needed to conclude the investigation.

Morris was found hanging by a dog leash in the shower stall of a room at the BridgeWalk Resort, 100 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. Her cause of death was initially ruled a suicide, but was later changed after a forensic pathologist was hired by the family.

He managed to convince the medical examiner that the crime scene may have been staged based on his observation of the crime scene photos.

His reputation has since been questioned when information was discovered that the family’s “expert” had twice been fired. A storage unit rented by Dr. Michael Berkland also was found to contain human organs in household containers.

Morris’ cause of death was changed to undetermined in 2011.

The Islander was unable to reach Osborn for comment by press time.

Another worker nabbed with fake IDs

Investigators from the Florida Department of Financial Services Insurance Fraud Division arrested another Mexican national Dec. 4.

Alejandra Burgos-Mendoza, 31, was arrested at her Palmetto residence after DFS was contacted by the Social Security Administration that Burgos-Mendoza had presented a Social Security number belonging to someone else to gain employment at Beach to Bay Construction in Holmes Beach.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Burgos-Mendoza used fake Social Security identification and a fake Alien ID card Feb. 8 on an employment application.

Her arrest is another in a string of arrests of Beach to Bay construction workers dating back several weeks in what has been termed an ongoing investigation.

Burgos-Mendoza was booked into the Manatee County jail on felony use of false identification. She was initially arrested for using the fake Social Security card, but DFS was contacted by the U.S. Homeland Security Department and informed that Burgos-Mendoza also was using an alien ID card belonging to someone else.

According to the affidavit, she admitted to investigators that she was aware she was using false identification to gain employment.

She was being held on $1,500 bond, but posted bail the same day.

Burgos-Mendoza was scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.