Tag Archives: 03-13-2019

Rash of identity, credit thefts spur 
HBPD investigation, arrest

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Fran and Wayne Derr of Key Royale in Holmes Beach check their mail March 7. The Derrs were victims of identity thieves who attempted to obtain credit cards using their names. Islander Photo: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Samuel Casamayor Abreu, 27
Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall thumbs through police reports March 7 at the HBPD, 5801 Marina Drive.

In the digital age, personal information can be easy to access.

Samuel Casamayor Abreu, 27, of Hialeah — linked to multiple identity thefts that occurred since February in Holmes Beach — was arrested March 1 on four counts of credit card fraud and four counts of criminal use of identification.

A female suspect remains under investigation.

All but one of the thefts, in which credit cards were ordered under a victim’s name then retrieved by the perpetrator upon delivery, occurred in the Key Royale neighborhood, according to Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall.

“It’s crazy. I’ve never had a cluster of multiple victims in one location before,” Hall said. “So this is very unique.”

In some situations, the cards or related materials were mailed to the victims, prompting police inquiries. In other instances, a credit card was mailed to a different address and then used by the perpetrator to purchase thousands of dollars worth of items from Best Buy and other retail establishments in the state.

Hall was contacted March 1 by Best Buy representatives who said Abreu was identified in surveillance videos and currently was at a store at 4210 14th St. W., Bradenton.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detained the suspect and a woman, who were later interviewed by Hall.

Fran Derr of Dundee Lane on Key Royale said she and her husband, Wayne, received letters from two credit card companies thanking them for their applications.

She said her husband went online and requested a credit report, which revealed that someone had accessed their report, including personal information, four times.

As the welcome committee chairperson in the Key Royale community, Fran Derr said she speaks often with people in the neighborhood. Once word of the identity theft got out, more people approached her and said their information also was compromised.

“It makes you feel very vulnerable,” Derr said.

She said the Key Royale homeowner’s association director sent email to members warning them of the thefts and more people came forward to file reports.

Hall said March 7 that it appears the perpetrator was tracking FedEx deliveries for the fraudulent credit cards and stealing the packages.

He recommended people send mail with personal information directly from a post office since it appears thieves are stealing mail from residential mailboxes to obtain data and open lines of credit.

Hall also said fraudulent charges should be reported to credit card companies as soon as possible.

Additionally, if a line of credit is compromised, most credit companies will offer a year of free credit monitoring.

Hall said people can contact three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experion and TransUnion — to lock accounts so lines of credit require strict verification.
“I believe the guy I arrested and the female with him are going to be responsible for all the cases,” Hall said March 7. “But we’re still investigating further.”

“Now that we’ve made an arrest, we believe there will be additional victims, and we would like them to immediately reach out to the police department so we can do follow-up,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said March 8. “The sooner we can get the info, the sooner we can get with the businesses involved to see videos of who was utilizing the fraudulent cards, and come out with a good conclusion for our victims and the city.”

Abreu was released March 2 after posting $40,000 bail. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was appointed a public defender.

Judge rules for city in treehouse owners’ case

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The treehouse in January. Islander File Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Judge Charles Sniffen considers motions March 4 from Holmes Beach in a case brought by owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen to halt the city from tearing down the beachfront treehouse they built in 2011. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, left, treehouse owners, and Jim Dye, attorney for the city of Holmes Beach, prepare to face off March 4 in a Manatee County courtroom.

It’s another victory for the city.

The city of Holmes Beach took home a win the week of March 4 as a judge dismissed the owners’ petition to halt the destruction of their treehouse.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen ruled the owners’ petition was deficient a day after the parties faced off in his Manatee County courtroom.

The judge granted the city’s dismissal motion, reasoning the temporary injunction petition filed by treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen was “deficient in several critical respects.”

Sniffen cited the owners’ failure to allege a factual basis for their concern that imminent harm will befall the treehouse.

His order also states the owners failed to request permanent relief and, to the extent the petition seeks to stop fines, he ruled the owners failed to allege an adequate remedy.

Also, in his ruling, Sniffen allowed Tran and Hazen 20 days to amend their pleadings.

Tran, who represented herself and her husband, said March 8 she is considering filing an amendment to the pleading.

“Because it’s one way to keep the treehouse, I won’t rule it out, Tran said.

“I’m just learning,” she added, saying she believes she needs to allege a cause of action for permanent relief.

It was the first of two proceedings for attorney Jim Dye of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, representing Holmes Beach.

A separate March 5 proceeding brought new hearing dates.

Tran argued against Dye’s conclusion the owners’ petition was “rogue,” but Dye said such an injunction must be based on an underlying dispute presented as a separate cause of action.

Dye said Tran should be making her arguments in other ongoing court cases.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, like the city, is a defendant in the injunction case.

Kirk White, a DEP attorney, appeared telephonically but did not add to the argument. However, White filed a motion to dismiss similar to the city’s motion.

On March 5, a day after the arguments before Sniffen, David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota took the lead for the owners before Judge Edward Nicholas in two pending treehouse cases — the 2013 owners’ constitutional case and the 2018 city code enforcement case.

Levin and Dye agreed to schedule hearings at 9 a.m. April 29 on the 2013 case; a 3:30 p.m. May 9 hearing to judicially notice prior rulings into the 2018 case and a hearing on the merits of enforcement case at 9:30 a.m. June 3.


In the courts
Dye contends many of the owners’ arguments in the pending cases are no longer valid, having previously been ruled upon in favor of the city.

Pending still are a city action filed in February 2018 to enforce a magistrate’s decision with $50 daily fines, accumulated to $70,000, and the Tran-Hazen 2013 argument that the city’s 50-foot setback is unconstitutional.

The city’s overarching disagreement is that the treehouse was built in violation of the city building code and inside the beachfront setback — a major reason to decline an after-the-fact permit.

The owners have maintained that state law, which allows a more flexible setback, overrides local law.


In the beginning
An anonymous tip in 2011 about the two-story structure in a beachfront pine tree led the city to report the structure to the DEP and later bring the case to its code enforcement board and special magistrate.

Tran and Hazen built the structure with solar power behind their residence at 103 29th St., where they operate Angelinos Sea Lodge, a four-unit short-term rental.

The treehouse is on the beachfront, where the owners put a bollard-and-rope barrier.

In 2012, the owners sought an after-the-fact permit for the treehouse construction from the DEP, but the city refused to sign off on a letter of no objection and the state agency denied the permit in January 2014.

In 2013, the owners challenged the initial code board decision, which was upheld in September 2014 in a 28-page opinion by 12th Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Other litigation included the owners’ bid by petitioning voters to put the fate of the treehouse on a citywide ballot.

After losing that case in circuit court, the owners appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which declined a review.

Numerous other appeals have resulted in courts siding with the city.

The litigants recently reflected on the long-standing dispute.

“That tree has gotten 8 feet taller since the cases started,” Dye said as he walked out of the courthouse after a March 4 hearing.

The next day owner Lynn Tran agreed with Dye’s assessment, saying the two-story treehouse — built with additional bored pilings — lends structural support to the tree.

Bradenton Beach website still missing, officials ‘mum’

The city of Bradenton Beach has no website and no explanation.

City commissioners approved a license and service agreement for the design and hosting of a new website with CivicPlus — a website service provider in Manhattan, Kansas — in early December 2018.

While no time frame was given for the final website, the contract required CivicPlus to create a temporary site within two weeks of signing the agreement.

The temporary site was to contain contact information, office hours, alerts, news and a meeting calendar. However, as of March 7, access to www.cityofbradentonbeach.com opens a page with only a message: “Website coming soon!”

Mayor John Chappie declined to comment March 7.

The city’s website was taken offline in October 2018 because it did not comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. To comply, public web sites must limit visuals to those that do not cause seizures for viewers. Sites also must provide audio assistance for people with visual disabilities.

When the city learned a disclaimer would not insulate a lawsuit, the website was suspended.

The new website is to be ADA complaint and, under the agreement, CivicPlus must train city staff in how to keep update the site for compliance.

Holmes Beach man arrested for DUI

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Lucas Andrews, 36

Pulled over for speeding, a man who told police he was on his way to a liquor store was arrested Feb. 24 for driving under the influence.

Lucas Andrews, 36, of Holmes Beach, was stopped at 1:43 a.m. in the 9900 block of Gulf Drive in Anna Maria by Holmes Beach Police Officer Alan Desantis.

The officer clocked Andrews’ vehicle at 44 mph in a 25-mph zone while it traveled north in the 8000 block of Palm Drive in Holmes Beach, according to the HBPD report.

After he was pulled over, Andrews told police he was going home and believed he was on Cortez Road in Bradenton on his way to a liquor store.

Asked about consuming alcohol, Andrews said he had “a couple drinks of whiskey” and should not have been driving, the HBPD report stated.

Desantis reported Andrews was cooperative, took a road sobriety test, performed poorly and was taken into custody.

At the HBPD station, he provided breath samples measuring 0.218 and 0.223 blood-alcohol content. Drunk driving laws prohibit a BAC of 0.08 or higher.

Andrews was transported and booked at the Manatee County jail.

A $120 bond was posted and Andrews was released, pending an 8:30 a.m. Monday, April 1, arraignment at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Spring break brings biz to AMI

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People spend time with friends, relax and dine with the Gulf of Mexico over their shoulder in June 2018 at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. An all-time high of 126.1 million people visited Florida in 2018. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

The digital sign near the Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge flashes an alert: “No fires, dogs, camping or alcohol allowed on beach.”

It’s time for spring break, and people arriving to the island are ready to celebrate with a few days of fun in the sun.

“We’re just giving people a bit of education as they enter,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander March 5. “It’s the same rules we always have.”

“And,” he added. “pack your patience and leave early.”

Officials at Tampa International Airport announced March 4 they expect 3.6 million passengers to arrive at the airport in the next six weeks.

Spring break is typically the six-week period spanning March and the first two weeks of April, when some colleges and K-12 schools are on spring vacation. Some schools break later in April, depending on Easter’s date. Officials expect the 2019 spring break to be the largest ever in the Tampa Bay area, according to a news release from TIA.

Accommodations on the island are filling up, according to rental agencies polled by The Islander.

“Our 250 vacation rental properties are 99 percent full for March and about 75 percent full for April,” Joe Varner of Anna Maria Vacations told The Islander March 6.

“Love spring breakers!” he said. “And, summer is filling up very nicely, too.”

Varner was scrambling to finish renovations at the former Blue Water Beach Club, 6306 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, now the Anna Maria Beach Resort.

Barbara Baker, general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts — Tortuga, Tropic Isle, Seaside and Tradewinds resorts — said starting the week of March 11, the properties are “pretty much booked completely” through the end of March.

“We are looking good,” she said, adding that some scattered dates are available in the first two weeks of April.

In Anna Maria, Suzette Buchan said her Rod and Reel Motel is 98 percent booked for March and 77 percent booked the first weeks of April.

In 2018, 93.2 percent of lodging rooms on Anna Maria Island were booked in March, with an average room rate of $242.40 per night.

People calling or stopping by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce in Holmes Beach have not only been inquiring about island activities. Sometimes they are searching for immediate lodging.

Such was the case March 6, when a couple arriving in the area stopped for help.

“They were looking for a two-week stay on the island. No reservations. They were on vacation, heard about Anna Maria, drove down and decided they wanted to stay,” chamber president Terri Kinder told The Islander.

Kinder found them a room. A chamber business member had called earlier in the day with a cancellation alert, and Kinder sent the couple over.

“We got them set up for two weeks,” Kinder said. “From all we are seeing, it’s going to be a great spring season here.”

Kinder said the majority of inquiries to the chamber have come from couples, followed by families.

Full lodgings benefit many businesses
Vacation rental companies aren’t the businesses that profit from the spring break influx. Island eateries and bars fill up, live music venues are hot stops for breakers and paddleboards, kayaks and other “island” rental items are popular commodities.

While some restaurants maintain the status quo, others feature drink and food specials to draw spring breakers.

Shawn Culhane, manager of the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, said the restaurant is serving breakfast and morning beverage specials. The outdoor eatery also will feature live music during lunch and early afternoons and at dinner.

Tanner Enoch and crew at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach are no strangers to high volume.

“It’s what we live for,” he told The Islander.

Enoch said business ticked up in March and he is seeing more families on vacation than college students on spring break.

“We increase our staff and our orders,” he said. “We love it.”

Anyone out and about on Anna Maria Island will probably notice an uptick in cyclists and golf carts, along with scooters and Segways. Some visitors try their hand at kayaking and paddleboarding. All these items are for rent from local businesses.

Kelly Crawford teaches kindergarten at Anna Maria Elementary, and her husband, Shawn, owns Florida Sportfishing Outfitters. While Crawford is looking forward to her own spring break from teaching, she admits she won’t see much of her husband during her time off.

“He is booked every day that week,” Crawford told The Islander. “But this is a wonderful thing, considering what the red tide did to the charter captain businesses in the fall and winter. I’ll just hang out.”

Just how many of the 3.6 million passengers traveling into TIA between now and mid-April will make their way to Anna Maria Island?

Time will tell, but islanders are ready and waiting for them.

Record numbers soak up Florida sunshine
Yes, lots of people are here.

Not just on Anna Maria Island, but all over Florida.

A record number of out-of-state visitors — 126.1 million — traveled to Florida in 2018, according to statistics from Visit Florida, the tourism marketing corporation for the state.

For the eighth consecutive year, visitation set a record.

Visitors had an economic impact in Manatee County of $973,798,000.

Domestic visits numbered 111.8 million in the state. Overseas travelers made 10.8 million visits and 3.5 million Canadians came south.

Visit Florida estimates 30.3 million visitors traveled to the state in the fourth quarter of 2018, an increase of 4.6 percent over the same period in 2017.

The highest percentage of domestic visitors came from Georgia, with 9.6 percent; followed by New York, 8.5 percent. Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania rounded out the top five states providing the most visitors.

The most popular activities for domestic visitors were the beach and waterfront activities, visiting friends and relatives and culinary experiences.

Overseas travelers to Florida, on the other hand, cited shopping as the top draw.

Bradenton man arrested for drugs at BB roundabout

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Jose Eduardo Barajas,18

Stopped for speeding in Bradenton Beach, a Bradenton man was arrested by police for possessing 24 grams of marijuana with an intent to sell the drug.

Jose Eduardo Barajas,18, also was arrested for possessing paraphernalia and driving without a license in the 700 block of Gulf Drive South after he sped around the Bridge Street roundabout at Gulf Drive South in a Mazda SUV.

BBPD Officer Steve Masi pulled Barajas over at 11:34 p.m. Feb. 28, according to the police report.

Barajas told Masi he had “about an ounce” of marijuana, no driver’s license and no firearm.

In a vehicle search, however, police found a loaded handgun in the glove box.

Barajas told Masi a friend put the gun in the vehicle, but must have forgotten the weapon.

In addition to the gun and marijuana, police found and seized plastic bags and a digital scale.

Masi interviewed a passenger, who told police Barajas was known to sell marijuana.

BBPD took the handgun for safekeeping. The SUV was towed.

In addition to the drug charges, Barajas was arrested for driving without a valid license and ticketed for speeding.

He was transported and booked at the Manatee County jail, where he posted a $2,500 bond and was released.

His arraignment is set for 9 a.m. Friday, April 5 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Second batch of clams seeded

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A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
State Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, left, and Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Ralph Cole get ready to participate March 9 in seeding the second batch of clams in the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Rusty Chinnis from Sarasota Bay Watch and his crew, along with participants state Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ralph Cole, right, drop clams into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9.
William Robinson Jr. drops clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach CRA into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9. Each of the clams will filter gallons of water a day.

A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice

Ousted code officer alleges toxic workplace in Anna Maria

An employee ousted from the city of Anna Maria earlier this year is alleging she endured a toxic work environment.

Angela Albrecht, who worked as code and parking officer and administrative assistant, was fired Jan. 24.

In an interview with The Islander in January, Albrecht shared a list of grievances, some recently corroborated by another former employee.

Her claims point to misconduct in the city, alleging again March 8 that toxicity thrives in the city’s pattern of forcing employees out of their jobs.

Albrecht alleged Mayor Dan Murphy forced several city employees out of their positions, including herself, former building, code and parking manager Pamela Gibbs, and others.

Albrecht alleges Murphy called himself the “Grim Reaper,” claiming he was adept at getting employees to leave their jobs on their own volition.

“I had a job once, years ago, that I kind of felt that way about,” Murphy said in a Feb. 1 interview with The Islander. “So that might have been why somebody would have said that. But that was years ago, when I was a young man in my 30s.”

Albrecht said, in her situation, the city pressured her to leave by reducing her responsibilities and ostracizing her from other employees.

“They removed me from the building department so I wouldn’t see anything more, and they put me in some closet (a small workspace) in the back,” Albrecht said in an interview Jan. 29. “Then, they tried to change my schedule and told people not to speak with me.”

Gibbs, hired as code manager in May 2015, said Jan. 31 that she was forced to retire. She said Murphy informed her in November 2017 that he had hired David Greenbaum as building official and that she would be laid off.

Gibbs added she was given no reason for being forced out of her job, and Murphy insisted on hosting a retirement party despite her unwillingness.

Another former employee, who corroborates Albrecht’s and Gibb’s claims about the toxic work place and the mayor’s moniker, only agreed to speak anonymously due to fear of retribution from the city.

Yet another former employee refused to speak for fear of retribution.

The mayor declined to comment on Albrecht’s claim that he forced people from their jobs, calling the allegation “ridiculous.”

He also dismissed Albrecht’s characterization of city government as a toxic workplace.

“It’s just disgruntled employees,” Murphy said. “For them, they might have perceived it as toxic, but they never ever brought that to my attention at the time.”

Holmes Beach golf cart limits confuse, anger drivers

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Eric Irons, manager at AMI Beach Fun Rentals at the Anna Maria Island Centre shopping plaza in Holmes Beach, poses March 8 with two low-speed vehicles available for rent at his shop. Both are street legal — allowed on all island roads. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

People have strong feelings about golf carts in Holmes Beach.

However, what they consider a golf cart may be a street-legal low-speed vehicle.

It seems “golf cart” has become a generic term for the fun, small, electric-powered vehicles that formerly found use only at the golf course.

Holmes Beach commissioners voted Feb. 26 to approve on first reading an amended ordinance requiring seat belts and age-appropriate child restraint devices — such as car seats — for golf carts.

Also, golf carts are prohibited on roads with a speed limit higher than 25 mph, including East Bay, Gulf, Marina and Palm drives and Manatee Avenue.

The speed limit requirement remains the same as the current ordinance, but the new wording in the proposed ordinance removes specific streets by name.

Currently, golf carts — as defined by the state and not to be confused with LSVs — are restricted by state law from roads with speed limits of 35 mph or higher.

LSVs can operate on any city road on Anna Maria Island. They require a title, registration, insurance and are equipped by the manufacturer with seat belts.

Both golf carts and LSVs must be operated by a licensed driver.

“Nothing has changed for LSVs,” Police Chief Bill Tokajer said March 7. “LSVs are street-legal golf carts. And that includes all the rentals and most of what you see now on the road.”

Residents and visitors have responded to the city commission’s decision with comments on social media both for and against an updated ordinance, with some people threatening to halt vacations on the island or sell their property and move if the ordinance passes.

Other people posted comments on The Islander website and social media that golf carts loaded with kids on the main road are a safety concern.

Eric Irons, a manager at AMI Beach Fun Rentals, said he tries to inform customers that what people rent at his shop and call a golf cart is an LSV, and is fully compliant with state and local laws.

“I let them know that all our golf carts are street legal,” Irons said. “They all have license plates, they’re registered and have seat belts, mirrors and headlights.”

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she was driving behind a golf cart when the driver took a turn too fast and a child tumbled out. The incident contributed to her concerns about golf carts and public safety.

“He wasn’t hurt badly, but it is still scary and could’ve been worse,” Soustek said. “That is why we want safety measures for golf carts.”

Holmes Beach is the only city on the island that allows golf carts its roads.

The final hearing for the ordinance and vote will be held at the city commission meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.