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By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


High court suspends accused lawyer for 90 days

CLEARWATER -- The Florida Supreme Court has suspended a Clearwater lawyer who is facing a criminal charge.

The court suspended Thomas Clayton Little for 90 days Thursday, approving a Florida Bar report about the lawyer.

Denis de Vlaming, Little's attorney, said Little is closing his law practice, located on NE Coachman Road, and has made restitution.

Little, 47, was arrested on a warrant in July 1997 and charged with scheming to defraud. He had pleaded innocent. No trial date has been set.

He was accused of being involved in a scheme with David Whitten of Port Richey to defraud a Clearwater couple out of money they paid for a house.

Whitten, 60, was arrested and charged with grand theft and scheme to defraud. He also pleaded innocent.

According to court records, Whitten contracted with David and Patricia Bright to sell them his house near Palm Harbor for $227,000. The couple paid him $177,000 to pay off a mortgage before the closing and agreed to pay the remainder after closing. Little handled the closing in July 1994.

The Brights later learned that the mortgage was not paid off. Little is accused of helping Whitten and preparing fake documents.

Fire damages historic building in Ybor City

TAMPA -- Four weeks after a fire devoured a post office and an unfinished apartment complex in Ybor City, another fire broke out Friday in one of the Latin district's most treasured sites: the historic Italian Club. But the results were much happier this time, as the damage was limited at the club at 1731 E Seventh Ave.

The fire was caused by linseed oil left in a bucket with a mop after someone waxed the dance floor Thursday night, officials said. The combustible oil had burst into flames after sitting in an unventilated room overnight. The flames were kept to a minimum largely because the 82-year-old building had been retrofitted with sprinklers seven years ago.

It will cost $3,000 to repair the burned floor and give it a new paint job, said John Centinaro, the club's event coordinator and a board member. Aside from the minor damage, there was more good news for firefighters: An event scheduled for Thursday at the club to honor 145 firefighters who fought the big Ybor City blaze last month is still on.

"Oh my goodness, incredible," Centinaro said. "Four days before we honor the firefighters, they saved the day. I can't tell you how grateful we are. Beyond words."

Activist: Housing authority trying to keep her quiet

TAMPA -- Community activist Connie Burton said Friday that the Tampa Housing Authority is trying to evict her to mute her criticism of the authority.

"This is a political attack," said Burton, who has lived in Robles Park for 14 years and serves as president of the resident council.

The Housing Authority initiated eviction procedures against Burton and four others last year under its policy that allows the authority to evict tenants if they are arrested, if their guests are arrested on Housing Authority property or if someone listed on a tenant's lease is arrested.

Burton's son Narada, who was listed on her lease, was arrested for possession of marijuana last year.

Burton and the other residents challenged the one-strike policy in U.S. District Court, and the housing authority reached settlements with the four other tenants. Burton said she hasn't settled because the housing authority offered her different terms than those agreed to by the others, who have all been allowed to stay in public housing.

Doctor pleads no contest in assault of patient

NEW PORT RICHEY -- The charges leveled against Dr. Robert C. Yang by a 23-year-old female assistant in 1992 were explosive. As treatment for a cold and a cigarette habit, Yang coaxed her into submitting to acupuncture treatment at his Port Richey clinic, she told police, then raped her while she lay immobilized.

Charged with sexual battery, Yang fled to his native China, leaving the case in limbo for years. Eight years after the reported attack, with Yang back in custody at the Land O'Lakes jail, the case was finally slotted for trial next week.

But with the prosecution's case hobbled by the victim's unwillingness to testify, it ended quietly at the West Pasco courthouse Friday. Yang, 56, pleaded no contest to a lesser count of aggravated assault, and Judge Craig Villanti sentenced him to time he has already served -- 44 months -- and a year's probation.

Pointing to the psychological trauma a trial might entail, the victim begged to have the charges dropped, according to Pasco prosecutor Mike Halkitis. He said he believed her allegations were true, but Halkitis didn't like the thought of forcing the victim to testify. "So we're between a rock and a hard place."

Halkitis said the victim received a $30,000 civil settlement from Yang.

According to the victim, Yang put needles in her back and neck, then fondled her breasts under the pretext that he was checking for fluid in her lungs. Then, she contended, he put needles in her arms and legs, and she could not escape the sexual attack without the needles sinking further into her skin.

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