Florida briefly

Published August 12, 2006

Martinez says commission auditing 2004 campaign

ORLANDO - Sen. Mel Martinez acknowledged Friday that the Federal Election Commission is auditing his 2004 campaign records.

The Orlando Republican said in a statement that he is cooperating with the audit and blamed apparent accounting errors on the unexpected success his campaign had in raising and spending more than $12-million in 10 months.

"It is not an investigation," said Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer for the campaign. "This is an accounting issue."

Martinez's public Federal Election Commission file contains several letters from the agency questioning changes in the amount of debt listed in periodic filings.

"As we looked back at the campaign in 2005, we recognized there were problems," Martinez said in his statement. "Last summer, I hired the best accountant and lawyer in campaign finance law to go line by line through our filings to correct any discrepancies."

Martinez defeated Democrat Betty Castor, a former state education commissioner.

Odd-acting man surrenders after bus is evacuated

JACKSONVILLE - A man acting strangely and who was feared to have a gun aboard a Greyhound bus surrendered to a SWAT team Friday after the driver and 38 other passengers were evacuated, officials said. No weapon was found.

The bus, traveling from Jacksonville to Orlando, was pulled off to the side of Interstate 95 by the driver because the man, wearing a black leather trench coat, was acting strangely and trying to open windows. He allowed all others on the bus to get off.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT team surrounded the bus. The man, identified as Milton Burrows, 44, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was taken into custody without violence. He was involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation.

The incident caused the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down I-95 for an hour. Another bus picked up the passengers.

Seafood companies, man admit fish labeling fraud

PANAMA CITY - Two companies and an individual have pleaded guilty to conspiring to import and sell more than a million pounds of Vietnamese catfish labeled as grouper and other wild-caught species in the United States and Canada, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The defendants also pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder proceeds from the scheme. An indictment alleges they mislabeled the frozen fillets of pond-raised catfish from Vietnam as grouper, channa, snakehead or bass to avoid U.S. import duties.

Danny D. Nguyen, vice president of Panhandle Seafood Inc. and Panhandle Trading Inc., could get a maximum of 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. The companies face fines of up to $1-million.

Eglin fighter unit switching from combat to training

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE - The 33rd Fighter Wing got its "Nomads" nickname from frequent overseas deployments over 65 years, but now one of the Air Force's more storied combat units will switch to a training role.

The 33rd will change over the next few years to provide flight training in the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots at Eglin, officials said Thursday. The Nomads now fly F-15 Eagles.

The conversion is expected to add 200 positions to the 2,000-member wing, Air Force officials said.

The Nomads got their start in 1941 in New York state as the 33rd Pursuit Group. The unit fought in Europe and Asia in World War II. It later was based at Roswell, N.M., and Otis Air Force Base, Mass., where it was deactivated in 1957. It was reactivated at Eglin in 1965 as the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing. It flew in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and in patrols over U.S. cities after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Two deputies resign after probe into actions at party

FORT MYERS - Two Lee County sheriff's deputies have resigned after an investigation found that they participated in lap dances with each other at a retirement party for another deputy in May.

Capt. Jeff Hollan, a 21-year veteran, and Detective Jessica Schipansky resigned this week, sheriff's Lt. Robert Forrest said. Lt. Kim Falk, recently fired for tampering with evidence in an unrelated incident, also was implicated.

According to the investigation report, Hollan, Schipansky and Falk "were rubbing up against each other, touching each other on the legs, performing lap dances for each other and generally being obnoxious with overt sexual overtones of attraction towards each other" at the private party at a restaurant May 30.

Algae bloom threatens South Florida coral reefs

FORT LAUDERDALE - Officials say a large bloom of blue-green algae stretching across South Florida bays threatens coral reefs and seagrass.

The algae extends into Biscayne National Park and the Everglades. Scientists say it appears to be partly the result of the widening of U.S. 1, the main road connecting the Florida Keys, though transportation officials say evidence is inconclusive.

"You can't see your hand in the water," said Lain Goodwin, who runs a charter fishing business near Key Largo. "It has decimated my fishing in these areas. Last year, I was catching permit, grouper, snapper and triggerfish. And this year, it's been devoid of all that."

Blue-green algae are not toxic, but can block sunlight from seagrass, coral and other undersea organisms.

Army 82nd Airborne lands in Air Force's Avon Park

AVON PARK - More than 100 members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division jumped from a C-17, while several hundred alumni and their families watched from the flight line at Avon Park Air Force Range.

The training jump was in conjunction with the 82nd Airborne Division Association's annual convention this weekend in Orlando.

"They're the tradition that we live up to now," Sgt. 1st Class William Bellomy said.

A spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division said more than 100 soldiers jumped from a single C-17 that made three passes Thursday afternoon. Another 100 or so members of the division jumped from the same plane later in the day.