Tag Archives: Law

Bradenton woman takes plea for Galati fraud

The time has come for a Bradenton woman to pay the piper.

Heather Jo O’Leary, 40, was ordered to repay $67,927.37 she skimmed from gift shop and fuel dock receipts in four years as an accounts payable/receivable clerk at Galati Yacht Sales.

The restitution was ordered as part of O’Leary’s sentence and plea deal March 20 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, one month after her arrest for a felony scheme to defraud.

Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. accepted the plea and found O’Leary guilty, but withheld her conviction.

O’Leary’s sentence also includes 100 hours of public service work and a prohibition against acting as a bookkeeper or handling funds in an employment capacity without disclosing her criminal history.

Leading to O’Leary’s arrest, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation with a Galati representative who audited the business accounts in July 2018, after O’Leary resigned from the marina, 900 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria.

The MCSO probable cause affidavit states O’Leary “altered deposits with checks to cover cash shortages.”

Fran Galati said in a March 22 email she believed justice was served with O’Leary’s guilty plea and sentence because she must notify employers of her crime.

“She has done this to her employers in the past,” Galati added.

“Now all future employer will be aware of her character.”

Sarasota man sentenced to 13.5 years for fatal shooting

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The Center of Anna Maria Island honors the memory of Moriah Hope Goode with a portrait by Anna Maria artist Janet Kingman. The portrait hangs among plaques on a wall at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Anna Maria remembers Mariah Hope Goode.

A Sarasota man was sentenced Feb. 8 to 162 months in prison for fatally shooting Goode, who worked on Anna Maria Island as a youth counselor.

Devon Lee Freeman, 23, pleaded no contest to a reduced manslaughter charge in January and was sentenced this month in a Manatee County courtroom. He was in the Manatee County jail Feb. 14, awaiting placement in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin meted out Freeman’s sentence and included an 821-day credit for time served.

The judge also ordered Freeman to attend a one-day anger management course and serve 18 months probation following his time in prison.

Freeman shot the 18-year-old Goode Nov. 6, 2016, in the 3300 block of Fourth Avenue East in Manatee County, when he unleashed 18 rounds from a handgun with extra capacity. One bullet that went through the front seat of the vehicle, where Goode sat as a passenger, struck her heart.

She was with her friend, Frank Brice, when he and Freeman began arguing.

After the shooting, Brice took Goode to the hospital, where doctors tried to save her.

Throughout the proceedings, Freeman’s attorney, Brett McIntosh, contended his client felt threatened by Brice. The defense attorney told The Islander Feb. 14 that Brice showed Freeman his gun and warned him not to move into the neighborhood.

However, according to Sniffin’s Dec. 21 order that denied Freeman’s stand-your-ground-immunity defense, there was no evidence Brice was carrying a firearm.

McIntosh said, “It was totally a tragedy. Like I said at the sentencing hearing, you have two good people involved in a tragedy. (Freeman’s) a good young man. And it was self-defense, but I didn’t convince the judge of that.”

McIntosh said Goode was an innocent bystander and testimony from Brice, the state’s only witness, about not possessing a gun was not credible.

“That investigators didn’t find a gun anywhere and that means there wasn’t a gun — you’re kidding me,” he added.

Goode’s family and friends supported a maximum sentence for Freeman on Facebook, in letters filed with the court and testimony at the sentencing hearing.

Freeman’s supporters asked the judge for leniency.

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown said he agreed to Freeman’s plea — reducing a second-degree murder charge carrying a life sentence to manslaughter, punishable by a 15-year maximum — because of a lack of credible witnesses.

“Two of the state’s witnesses were associates of the defendant and they could not be counted on for truthful testimony,” Brown said.

McIntosh said he “was pleased to have the second-degree murder charge reduced,” adding that a jury might have thought shooting 18 bullets was excessive and his client would then face the possibility of a life sentence.

At the hearing, the prosecutor recommended the maximum prison sentence for manslaughter, he said, because Freeman killed Goode and could have harmed others.

Four or five bullets went into three or four bedrooms in a neighbor’s home, Brown added, “where others easily could have been killed, as well.”

“I think the judge gave a fair and just sentence. It was most of what the state requested,” Brown said.

McIntosh said he recalled one or two bullets found at the home.

The defense attorney also said he’s planning to appeal Sniffin’s denial of his stand-your-ground motion, which if he wins, will turn around the judge’s sentencing decision.

Meanwhile, people who knew Goode are remembering her talents.

She lived in Holmes Beach and began participating in the teen program at the community center as a shy 12-year-old, according to Aris Thompson, communications manager at the Center of Anna Maria Island.

After the family moved off the island, Thompson said, Goode came back at age 17 and volunteered at the center as an after-school counselor.

“I have known Moriah Goode and her family for many years,” wrote Jacqueline Jordan, an Anna Maria Elementary teacher, in a letter to the court.

Jordan also recounted how Goode was respected at the center. She baby-sat, graduated early, had a bright future as an EMS/ambulance driver and was “a pillar of the community.”

“The kids absolutely loved her,” Thompson said.

“She was a good worker and dependable. She’d listen and observe a lot. She learned about the kids. That’s why she connected with the kids,” she said.

“If I’m having a tough day,” Thompson added, she looks back at a staff birthday card containing a message from Goode: “I’m happy I know you.”

She then remembers the joy Goode brought her and to other people.

“And I’ll think, life is good. I’m OK.”

KORN prevails over Bradenton Beach

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John Metz, left, and Reed Mapes, co-founders of Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods, a PAC in Bradenton Beach. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

A judge has ruled in favor of the petitioners over city government.

In a final order filed Feb. 6, Judge Lon Arend of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court determined four ballot initiatives proposed by a political action committee, Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods, must be submitted by the city of Bradenton Beach to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office for verification for a future ballot.

If the SOE determines that 10 percent of Bradenton Beach electors signed KORN’s petitions in support of four ballot questions, the questions seeking changes to the charter will be placed on a ballot for either a special election or the next general election, per state statute.

The four charter questions include:

  • Prohibit the construction of a multilevel parking garage anywhere in the city;
  • Require city commission vacancies be filled by election;
  • Prevent construction within setbacks;
  • Install a certified public manager as chief executive officer of the city.

“Now Bradenton Beach has a ruling against them,” Korn co-founder John Metz said Feb. 8. “Now they specifically have been told by the courts what to do. This is the runway that will now be used for citizen-driven initiatives for years to come.”

Arend’s ruling is a response to a Sept. 6, 2018, writ of mandamus hearing.

The expedited hearing was requested by Metz and KORN co-founder Reed Mapes to direct the city to put KORN’s proposed charter amendments on a ballot.

KORN claimed they followed the state statute that provides, “the governing body of the municipality shall place the proposed amendment contained in the ordinance or petition to a vote of the electors.”

However, at a June 21, 2018, city meeting, the mayor and commissioners voted against placing KORN’s four charter amendments on the ballot. City attorney Ricinda Perry said the amendments would violate the city charter and did not fully comply with state law.

At the Sept. 6, 2018, hearing, Perry said the ballot language used by KORN on the petitions included political rhetoric and exceeded the state-mandated word limits for ballot summaries and titles.

KORN attorney Robert Hendrickson responded that according to case law, it is the city’s responsibility to generate the ballot language for the amendments and ensure compliance with state law.

Arend supported Hendrickson’s assertion and determined the city is responsible for providing ballot language before submitting the petitions to the SOE.

At a Feb. 7 city commission meeting, Perry shared the outcome of the judgment with commissioners and said the city had 30 days from the date of the order to appeal the decision. Otherwise, the city must provide the petitions to the SOE for voter verification.

The commissioners agreed to speak independently with Perry regarding the city’s options.

“The issue when you get right down to it is that Perry told the city commission that their city charter overruled state statute and obviously that’s not the case,” Mapes said Feb. 7. “They wasted thousands of dollars of my money and certainly thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money because they are playing the game.”

As of Feb. 7, the lawsuit had cost the city $17,203.22.

Judge rules for DEP, but Cortez fish camp gets stay order

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Raymond “Junior” Guthrie Jr. sits with Karen Bell of Cortez-based A.P. Bell Fish Co. Feb. 5 before a hearing in the Manatee County courthouse. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection brought the case against Guthrie for his failure to remove a house on stilts he built without permits in Sarasota Bay. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
The house built by Raymond Guthrie Jr. in 2017 sits beyond the A.P. Bell Fish Co. docks in Sarasota Bay Feb. 6.

Raymond Guthrie Jr. doesn’t need to dismantle and remove the stilt house he built in Sarasota Bay near the Cortez-based A.P. Bell Fish Co. or pay fines for ignoring a Florida Department of Environmental Protection order — at least not yet.

While 12th Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas entered a summary judgment Feb. 5 in favor of the DEP and against Guthrie, the judge also stayed its execution. The DEP will not be able to enforce the court order during the duration of the stay.

Nicholas called it an “indefinite stay,” declining to set an end date as requested by DEP assistant general counsel Marianna Sarkisyan.

In ruling on the summary judgment, Nicholas said his decision was based on a proper November 2017 DEP final order, as well as Guthrie’s failure to respond or request a hearing.

As for his decision to stay the judgment, the judge said: “It’s appropriate to stay the destructive provisions with regard to this structure and see how this other case plays out,” referring to a case filed by A.P. Bell in May 2018. Karen Bell, A.P. Bell’s president, claims the land under the stilt house belongs to her company.

In addition, the judge postponed enforcement of the penalties DEP imposed in the final order that require Guthrie to pay $6,500 in fines, costs and expenses.

Nicholas reasoned the postponement didn’t constitute “an unreasonable time period” because a trial date is set for April.

Joe Beasley, a Cape Coral attorney who introduced himself as representing A.P. Bell and not Guthrie, suggested the stay.

Sarkisyan conceded no harm would result from delayed enforcement but requested a 60-90-day limit that the judge rejected.

Guthrie built the 1,200-square-foot structure, including a metal roof, air conditioning and other amenities, between February 2017 and May 2017 without state permits.

Beasley told the court Guthrie “rebuilt” the structure within the footprint of prior net camps and said, under the state Butler Act, there is no need for a lease.

The Butler Act was repealed in the 1950s, but may be used to grandfather bulkheaded structures in submerged lands when an owner made an improvement before its repeal under certain conditions.

Sarkisyan objected to Beasley arguing the merits of the A.P. Bell case, which is also on Nicholas’ docket.

In the Bell case, the DEP maintained the Butler Act disclaimer is not applicable to the Guthrie structure situated 350 feet off the docks of A.P. Bell, unconnected to the shoreline.

Sarkisyan told the court she did not know Beasley would be in court since he failed to properly set his motion to intervene in the hearing.

Throughout the hearing, Nicholas noted his displeasure about A.P. Bell and Beasley not properly asking to intervene, but he allowed Beasley to present Bell’s concerns.

Beasley said Bell had a due process issue because the DEP didn’t include Bell in its administrative case against Guthrie.

Beasley told the judge Karen Bell recently asked state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to sponsor legislation to allow net camps in Manatee County and, if enacted, he added, “The matter goes away.” Similar legislation permits such structures in Pasco, Charlotte and Lee counties, according to Beasley.

He called a court order requiring Guthrie to destroy the structure before the Bell case is resolved a “draconian remedy, even though we don’t know who owns the property.”

Guthrie also spoke to the court.

“I was born and raised in Cortez. My father had camps out there and his father had camps. This is the third time I’ve rebuilt this camp.

“Since I was a kid anyone who wanted to build a camp, just did.”

Commercial fishers used net camps to store gear and dry and mend nets in the late 1800s-1920s, after which they fell into disrepair with the advent of monofilament nets in 1938 and were destroyed by storms by the 1960s.

Beasley told the court the structure has historical value and is smaller than prior versions.

The DEP challenges Beasley’s size and historical claims in the Bell case.

In a defense to Bell’s complaint, the state contends the Guthrie structure was built in May 2017 and “occupies a footprint that is at least three times larger than any structure that may have previously existed at the site.”

Before issuing the final DEP order against Guthrie, the environmental agency sent investigators to the property, researched the site’s history and, in June 2017, determined the submerged lands were owned by the state.

The DEP sent several warnings to Guthrie seeking compliance and offered a consent order to resolve the matter, but he did not agree to its terms.

Settlement talks between the DEP and A.P. Bell are expected before the Bell case goes to trial, which is set for Monday, April 8, in Bradenton.

Judge to rule on noise case

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Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin listens to arguments Jan. 24 from Anthony Manganiello III, attorney for Richard and Marjorie Motzer. At the hearing, the city moved to dismiss the June 2018 case. The Motzers live on 56th Street, where their residence is bordered by short-term rental properties. They sued with a writ of mandamus that asks the court to order the city and its police department to enforce its noise ordinance. The judge took the attorneys’ arguments under advisement, saying he’d rule in a couple of days. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Former CNOBB webmaster deposed in BB lawsuit

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Michael Harrington, former webmaster for CNOBB, waits Jan. 23 with his wife, Carol, for his deposition to begin at Vincent M. Lucentes & Associates Court Reporters in Bradenton. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Another witness put his deposition on the record in the Bradenton Beach versus citizens Government-in-the-Sunshine lawsuit.

Michael Harrington, former webmaster for the now-defunct Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, was deposed Jan. 23 in the lawsuit initiated in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former board members for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law.

Harrington is not a defendant in the suit.

However, since Harrington controlled the flow of information through the CNOBB website, he was deposed as a witness. He also provided nearly 10,000 documents to the plaintiff’s attorney, Robert Watrous, and his paralegal, Michael Barfield.

The six defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — were members of the grass-roots group when they allegedly violated the Sunshine Law by discussing city business at CNOBB meetings and through phone calls, emails and text messages.

The documents provided by Harrington include emails, text messages and other exchanges of information between Harrington and members of CNOBB, as well as web information relating to the organization and its initiatives.

During the deposition, Harrington told Watrous he no longer possesses the computer he used for CNOBB business — it crashed about six months ago and would have been more expensive to repair than replace. So he allowed it to be destroyed.

Near the end of the proceeding, Watrous said the deposition would need to be continued as he planned to file a motion to have a forensic evaluation of Harrington’s current computer to research emails or other documents.

“There are still gaps — large gaps — where emails were not provided,” Watrous said Jan. 23. “There are emails indicating you attempted to delete files.”

An Oct. 13, 2017, the subject of an email from Mapes to Harrington reads, “What is your phone number so we can talk instead of emails.” In the body of the email, Mapes wrote, “And please delete this one and the previous one,” implying Mapes was asking Harrington to permanently delete communications.

Additionally, shortly after the lawsuit began, Harrington said he took the website offline and deleted its contents, including recordings of meetings, at the request of Bill Vincent, the founder of the defunct grass-roots group.

The deleted meeting recordings allegedly include discussion about prohibiting parking garages — a topic that the city alleges could have come before the P&Z board and the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee, which included members Martin and Rose Vincent.

Harrington also told Watrous he thought he deleted all CNOBB-related emails, not realizing emails were retained on a Google server.

When asked why he deleted the emails and other CNOBB materials, Harrington said he didn’t need them because he was no longer affiliated with CNOBB and he wanted to clear space on his computer.

Attorney Jim Dye, representing Mapes, and Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults, attended the deposition, but did not cross-examine Harrington.

Several more depositions are yet to be taken, including Metz, city attorney Ricinda Perry, who is scheduled to be deposed Feb. 13, and city planner Alan Garrett, who was scheduled for a Jan. 25 deposition but canceled due to medical issues.

A hearing for a motion of partial summary judgment for legal fees is planned for Jan. 31 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Mediation for the parties with attorney Jack Hawkins is scheduled for Feb. 25 at the law offices of Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano, 1023 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

At a case management conference in December 2018, Judge Lon Arend of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court ordered a nonjury trial the week of March 18.