HardisonInk.com

Murderer and child rapist
both sent to prison

By Jeff M. Hardison © April 12, 2024 at 4:15 p.m.
     BRONSON –
Through plea-negotiated agreements with the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office and two defendants, a murderer and a rapist are being put into the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) Prison System, according to information in a press release from the Levy County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and public records.

 


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Criminal

 

 


Jerett Justus
Mug Shots By LCSO

 

 


     Jerett Justus, 34, of Morriston was arrested on July 5, 2021 by LCSO detectives for possession of a firearm by felon and second degree murder, the LCSO noted.
      On July 5, 2021, Justus called 9-1-1 to report the alleged suicide of his girlfriend, the LCSO said. Investigators determined Justus shot her and staged the scene to make it appear to be a suicide, the LCSO said.
     Earlier this month, Justus entered into a plea-negotiated agreement that was approved by Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge William E. Davis. Judge Davis adjudicated Justus to be guilty of possession of a firearm by felon and guilty of second degree murder. The judge sentenced Justus to 15 years for the firearms violation and 25 years for murder, according to records.
     The judge’s rulings include that the two sentences are to be served concurrently, according to records, and Justus is given jail time credit of two years, nine months and four days, according to records, as of the date of his sentencing.
Criminal

 


Bruce Edwin Cannon

 


     Bruce Edwin Cannon, 65, of Bronson and Trenton, was arrested by LCSO detectives on July 18, 2023 for sexual battery of child between the age of 12 and 18 years old by a familial or custodial authority, the LCSO said.
     Cannon entered into a plea-negotiated agreement that was approved by Circuit Court Judge Davis, according to records.
     The judge adjudicated Cannon guilty of this crime earlier this month, according to records.
     Judge Davis sentenced Cannon to 18 years in the FDOC and upon release will serve the remainder of his life on sexual offender probation, according to records. If Cannon serves 18 years in the FDOC, he will be 83 years old, according to mathematics.
     When Cannon was sentenced on April 3 (2024), he was given jailtime credit of eight months and 12 days. 
     Levy County Sheriff McCallum expressed his gratitude for the excellent investigations and work done by deputies and detectives in these cases, the LCSO noted in the press release.
     “I am thankful also for our Victim Advocates who worked compassionately with the unfortunate victim and families in these cases,” Sheriff McCallum said. “These horrible cases are a reminder that violent crime and their life altering consequences will not be tolerated in Levy County. We will do everything possible to identify offenders, arrest them and build prosecutable cases to give some small semblance of justice to these victims, their families and to all victims.”

 


Jeffery T. Madden Jr.
gets 25-year prison sentence
Judge shares sage advice

Felon
Jeffery Taylor Madden Jr. prepares to take his seat at the table for the defendant, where he sat next to his two attorneys.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © April 11, 2024 at 12 p.m.
All Copyrights Protected By Federal Civil Law
Do Not Copy and Paste to Social Media or Elsewhere
     BRONSON –
A man convicted of six felonies and one misdemeanor was sentenced to 25 years in state prison on Wednesday afternoon (April 10) in Levy County.

     This was the mandatory minimum sentence available for Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge William E. Davis to impose on Jeffery T. Madden Jr.
     Since the judge made the sentences all to be served in prison concurrently, Madden found 25 years as the time to be in the care, custody and control of the Florida Department of Corrections. If the honorable Judge Davis had sentenced the felon to consecutive terms for the crimes that six jurors of the defendants’ peers found him guilty, then the 43-year-old Trenton man could have been imprisoned for more than 60 years.
     The judge listened to about two hours of commentary from five people speaking on behalf of the defendant. Judge Davis also heard statements from the wife as well as the oldest daughter of the victim. Beyond the actions in court on Wednesday, the judge had read several letters from both sides of the set of actions that happened on Feb. 9, 2022, that resulted in the sentencing more than two years later.

attorneys
Defense lawyers (seated, from left) Steve Frisco and Robert Rush and Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Frank Slavichak (standing on the other side of the table), confer with one another before the start of court on Wednesday (April 10). Soon after this moment on that afternoon, the defendant was seated at that table.


     Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Frank Slavichak told the judge before final sentencing the recommendations by the state for sentencing, and he provided the judge with sentencing guidelines as well as giving verbal input. That prosecuting attorney also gave the judge pictures showing the victim before he had been severely injured as a result of Madden’s actions, and some after-the-event photos of the same man.

      Slavichak was the lead prosecutor in this case. Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Glen Bryan, the division chief of major crimes and general felony for the Office of State Attorney Brian Kramer, served on the prosecution team as did others.
     For the defense, it was attorney Robert Rush and attorney Steve Frisco, partners in a private law firm based in Gainesville.
     To read the story about the trial of this defendant, click HERE.
     The presentation to the judge before sentencing opened with four people telling the judge essentially the same messages. One longtime friend of Madden’s and three pastors told the judge that this man was a father of three who loved and cared for his children. Madden is a devout Christian. Madden will do anything to defend his family. Madden is adept at shooting firearms.
     The presentation from victims showed the critical injuries suffered by the man who made an extremely off color remark to Madden’s sister not only had an immediate impact but present lifelong health issues.
     The details of what the victim’s wife and other family members suffered as a result of the violent felonies committed by the defendant were extensive.
     Both the defendant and the victim have families who attend churches and take up whole pews together, according to what was said in court on Wednesday.
     Both families have members who went on mission trips to other countries as Christian missionaries helping foreigners in their native lands.
     Both the victim and the defendant performed idiotic actions, although the defendant’s actions were in violation of state criminal laws, according to the evidence presented that proved to six jurors that those crimes were committed beyond and to the exclusion of reasonable doubt.
     The victim’s oldest daughter let the judge know the medical, emotional and monetary impact on the family has been significant since the onset after that event more than two years ago. And that her father will never be the same now.

End The Fear
     Statements from the victim’s oldest daughter showed that she had grown up in Chiefland and her family has roots that go back to the founding of that city more than 100 years ago. Not only was her father a teacher, a professional counselor and a chaperone for fifth grade safety patrol members going to the annual Washington, D.C., trips, she said, but he was an active fun-loving man before those severe injuries took that ability away from him.
     The victim did not appear in court on Wednesday afternoon. Assistant State Attorney Slavichak said the victim was not present in court because of the “overriding concerns of the family as to what may or may not occur related to his safety, his mental health, his physical health, his emotional health.”
     The prosecutor said this absence of the victim at sentencing is an extremely unfortunate circumstance.
     “It is an extremely unfortunate circumstance,” Slavichak continued, “when the law has spoken to this issue, and a verdict has been rendered by members of this community advising that Mr. Madden is guilty of seven criminal acts.”
     The prosecutor reminded the judge that the defendant said, “He won’t mess with your sister, your daughter, your wife,” and other parts of the evidence shown at trial as Slavichak showed Madden did, in fact, have intent to commit felonious crimes against the victim.
     Slavichak showed that Madden never showed remorse for his actions – where he hunted down Mark Roberts. Madden purposefully rammed a car driven by Roberts with his truck. Madden purposefully shot a .40 caliber pistol several times at the victim, hitting him in the head with a bullet after running Roberts off of the road, Slavichak said.
     It was proved at trial that the victim suffered extreme injuries as a result of the defendant’s direct attacks on him.
     During the victim-impact statements the level of apprehension felt by the Roberts family mirrors the fear felt by the victim, too, regarding what Madden supporters might do to him and his family members after the trial.
     Now, the victim, his wife, and his other family members fear retribution from the Madden family members. They dread visiting Bronson or Chiefland, according to statements made in court Wednesday. They avoid coming to this part of Florida now from their homes on the east coast of the state.
     His oldest daughter, a healthcare provider who could not care for her father after his release from the hospital due to her having COVID, spoke about the vitriol on social media that feeds her fear of some sort of vengeance from the family or other supporters of this convicted felon. She intimated, too, that the defense attorneys’ choice to try to paint her father in a manner that was not truthful added to the impact this event had on her family as they endured the trial with the victim.
     Assistant State Attorney Slavichak said the state suggests the judge impose more than the absolute least sentence, considering the entirety of convictions – perhaps making one of the other 15-year sentences to be consecutive rather than concurrent.
     Even after the statements from four people to help mitigate the potential maximum sentence that could have imposed rather than the mandatory minimal sentence that was imposed, and even after the victim’s family spoke about extreme medical and emotional trauma, and the significant financial losses that continue into the future, the judge allowed Michelle Meeks, Madden’s sister, to speak as an additional person to help mitigate the sentence of her brother.
     Meeks’ telephone call to Madden is what sparked his response and the subsequent criminal actions he committed -- resulting in his being sentenced to 25 years in prison.
     When the judge chose to let Meeks speak, Slavichak asked the judge to have this speaker take the oath to tell the truth. She was a material witness during the trial, the prosecutor said, and he said he felt it would be appropriate for her to take the oath.
     Attorney Rush objected to the state’s request.
     The judge ruled in favor of the objection.
     Meeks said that “nobody wins” in this case and that everyone is hurting. Her boys still exhibit behavior to show their fear that the victim will return to their home, she said.
     When Meeks started making statements that she believed Roberts knew her from when she was a student at the school where he taught, and then she recited his rude and inappropriate comment from Feb. 9, 2022, the judge stopped her.
     Judge Davis tried to explain to the woman that while she may have some beliefs, he does not concur with her opinions.
     “I don’t believe he said it with the intent you believe he had,” Judge Davis told Meeks in regard to a comment Roberts made two years ago.
     “I live in fear,” Meeks said, “every, single, day. My boys live in fear – every, single day. He can come back at any time.”
     The judge then made a statement.
     “Miss Meeks, there is one thing that you have taught me, and everybody’s taught me,” Circuit Court Judge Davis said. “This happened because of fear. It happened because of your fear. It happened because of the fear that you translated to everybody else.
     “I’m not saying you shouldn’t have been concerned,” the judge continued.
     She interrupted him, and the judge asked her to show him the same respect that he showed her when he did not interrupt her speaking.
     “Fear is what brought your brother to this courtroom,” the judge said after explaining to her that there are procedures in place to conduct legal proceedings. “He was afraid for you. He was concerned for you. Instead of making rational decisions, based on rational thought, they (those decisions) were based out of fear.”
     The judge let the woman know that, now, the Roberts’ family was in fear, too.
     The judge said there is one thing that he wants accomplished on that day.
     “Let’s stop the fear,” the honorable Judge Davis said. “Let’s end the fear. You should know by now, Mr. Roberts is loved by his family, and he loves his family, as much as your brother loves his family.
     “I am convinced beyond every doubt,” Judge Davis said, “that we have a bunch of families that love each other. But I also hear this ‘fear’ that keeps coming in. You’re afraid of Mr. Roberts. They’re afraid of anybody in this courtroom coming after them.”
     The judge said these expressed fears are not well founded. 
     “Instead,” Judge Davis said, “let’s leave this courtroom. Let’s leave that fear behind. And I believe it was one of the pastors who came up here and said, ‘We need more love.’ We do. We need more love and understanding.”
     The judge let listeners know the best methods for responding to circumstances like what happened two years ago are to let law enforcement professionals handle the situation.
     “Had that been done,” he said, “we would not be here today. We would not have the tragedy that we all had here.”
     Before imposing sentence, the judge read from a letter from one of Madden’s nephews that showed Madden had taught his nephew to love his enemies.
     Circuit Court Judge Davis said the 25-year sentence will be adequate to show Madden that this type of behavior cannot be tolerated.
     The judge adjudicated Madden guilty of the following crimes, six felonies and one misdemeanor. 
     Since the jury did not check a box to show the level of damage resulting from the crash caused by Madden, the crime of criminal mischief charge was ruled on April 10 by the judge to be in the misdemeanor level.
     Judge Davis imposed sentences that are all concurrent with the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence, which means the 15-year sentences, the five-year sentence and the number of days sentence all happen at the same time, rather than to have to be served one after the other – which is what a consecutive sentencing means.
     Since Madden was free on bond for most of the two years since his arrest and was in jail for some days after his conviction, he was awarded 90 days of jail credit, which will be applied toward the 25 years. 
     The judge did not follow any of the suggested additions made by the state prosecutor of sentencing beyond the minimums.
     ● Aggravated battery – with use of a deadly weapon (the pistol) resulting in great bodily harm – 25 years minimum mandatory sentence;
     ● Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon (use of a pickup truck to crash into a car) – 15 years;
     ● Shooting a missile from a vehicle – 15 years;
     ● Shooting a missile into a vehicle – 15 years;
     ● Criminal mischief at a misdemeanor level – 60 days
     ● Aggravated Assault – five years; and
     ● Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony – 15 years.

 


CFR gets another set of Hurst tools
fire tools
Fire Chief Dwayne King speaks to the Chiefland City Commission on Monday night (April 8) and receives permission to accept the grant of Hurst extrication tools (the Jaws of Life).

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © April 9, 2024 at 6:15 p.m.
     CHIEFLAND –
The Firehouse Subs Foundation is scheduled to give Chiefland Fire Rescue another set of Hurst extrication tools used to help extract people trapped in crushed vehicles.
     The Chiefland City Commission on April 8 gave Chief King permission to accept the grant.
     The chief said the set of hydraulic, battery-power extrication tools given to the city for free by Firehouse Subs Foundation on Nov. 21, 2018, will be put on the Squad vehicle and the new extrication equipment will go on the fire truck.
     Chief King said Chiefland Grants Coordinator Carol Gore is to be congratulated for the successful award of the next set of extrication equipment to be given to the city.
     ●
To see the story, photos and three videos from the Nov. 21, 2018 donation of the Jaws of Life to Chiefland Fire Rescue, click HERE.

 


  Suspected shooter
jailed in Citrus County
Inverness Walmart
parking lot was the scene

Suspect

Information and Graphic Provided
By CCSO Community Relations Specialist Sydney Hudson
Published April 9, 2024 at 5 p.m.
     CITRUS COUNTY -
- Last night Monday, April 8), Citrus County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) deputies were dispatched to the Inverness Walmart, 2461 East Gulf to Lake Highway, in reference to a shooting that had occurred in the parking lot.

     Upon arrival, deputies discovered the suspect, later identified as Gavin Minden, 30, fled the scene on foot towards Lowes. CCSO's Aviation Unit was deployed to assist with searching for Minden, where he was quickly located hiding near the edge of the woods on the west side of Lowes. Both victims involved left the scene in their vehicle to a safer area.
     Detectives obtained surveillance footage leading up to the shooting, which occurred near the bus stop at the front of Walmart.
     The victim's truck is seen approaching the bus stop and stopping near it. The shooting was not captured on camera; however, after a brief verbal altercation, the truck sped off, and Minden was seen running from the scene. Further investigation revealed that Minden, who knew the victims, shot through the back window of the truck, striking one victim in the back of the neck - who was later transported to the hospital, where they are in stable condition. The second victim was not injured.
     “Minden's reckless actions in a public area not only endangered the lives of the two victims directly involved but also posed a serious threat to our citizens,” Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast said. “I am proud of the teamwork between our deputies and Aviation Unit for swiftly locating and apprehending Minden, preventing him from further endangering our community.”
     Minden was transported to the Citrus County Jail and charged with two counts of attempted homicide and one count of shooting into an occupied conveyance.
     Minden is being held without bond, per the bond schedule.

 


Levy County Sheriff's Office
Suspects Jailed In Levy County Florida
Suspects Jailed In Levy County Florida
Suspects Jailed April 1, 2024 through April 7, 2024
Published April 8, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
 

 


Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office logo etc

Gilchrist County Suspects Jailed

Suspects Jailed April 1, 2024 through April 7, 2024
Published April 8, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
 

 


DCSO Logo
People suspected of Crimes put in the Dixie County Jail

Suspects Jailed April 1, 2024 through April 7, 2024
Published April 8, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
 
 


USCG Station Yankeetown boat crew
recovers two children and three adults
from Gulf of Mexico near Crystal River

Information Provided By USCG Public Affairs Detachment Tampa Bay
Published April 8, 2024 at 7:15 a.m.
     CLEARWATER –
United States Coast Guard (USCG) crews rescued two children and three adults, Sunday, after their 18-foot vessel capsized 10 miles west of Crystal River.

     Sea Tow Crystal River dispatch contacted Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg watchstanders, Sunday (April 7), at approximately 6 p.m., reporting five people requesting assistance on a capsizing vessel.
     A USCG Air Station Clearwater MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter aircrew, USCG Station Yankeetown boat crew (Levy County) and a commercial salvage crew spotted all five people clinging onto their capsized vessel at approximately 8 p.m. on April 7. The USCG Station Yankeetown boat crew recovered the mariners from the water and transported them to Pete’s Pier Marina, 1 S.W. First Place, in the City of Crystal River, to receive a higher level of care from emergency medical services from Citrus County EMS.
     No injuries were reported and the mariners are coordinating vessel recovery with commercial salvage. 
     “Our crews were able to conduct the rescue safely and efficiently with the best possible results,” said Lt. Scott Kellerman, USCG Air Station Clearwater MH-60T Aircraft Commander. “Emergencies at sea can happen anytime, anywhere. We recommend all mariners carry a radio, flares and other distress signals in case they encounter an unexpected situation.”

 


FedEx driver severely injured
By Jeff M. Hardison © April 5, 2024 at 9 p.m.
     DIXIE COUNTY –
The Dixie County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) filed an incident report of a vehicular accident with severe injuries, according to records.
     The Florida Highway Patrol did not investigate, according to records.

     On March 26, DCSO Deputy K. Baxley was dispatched to 64 S.E. 195th St. in the community of Suwannee in regard to a tractor versus pedestrian accident, according to records.
     When the deputy arrived, he saw that Dixie County Emergency Services Emergency Medical Services personnel had rendered aid to the victim, later identified as Thomas Duane Gough, 36, of Gainesville.
     Witnesses said Gough, a FedEx worker, was attempting to deliver a package to the address, according to records. As the FedEx worker was stepping out of the back to the FedEx vehicle, a skid loader was backing up, according to records.
     Gregory Stuart Waltrip, 58, of Suwannee (Dixie County) the operator of the loader did not see the truck behind him, and he backed into the truck, smashing Gough’s leg between the rear bumper of the truck and the tractor, according to records.
     Waltrip applied a tourniquet to Gough’s leg to attempt to stop the bleeding, according to records.
     The DCES EMS staff loaded Gough into an ambulance and took him to a helipad at the fire station, where ShandsCair took him to the hospital for treatment. 
     The FedEx truck was left at the scene, and a supervisor said someone would retrieve it, according to records.

 


Felons sentenced
Judge reduces bail
to avoid a death sentence before trial

By Jeff M. Hardison © April 5, 2024 at 7:45 a.m.
     BRONSON –
Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge William E. Davis on Wednesday morning (April 3) presided over several court actions -- as is always the case.
     Among the actions on this day, the honorable Judge Davis sentenced felons and ruled on requests, which include a motion for a bail reduction. That defendant seeking a bail reduction involved him being an alleged felon fleeing from one circuit to another, from Citrus County to Levy County.
     One journalist seeking to find the arrest narrative and who found no success in seeking records from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement, chose to start watching the man suspected of various crimes. (When a law enforcement agency does not provide public records, there are methods other for journalists to find answers other than filing a lawsuit to find the information.)
     Adding to that unique scenario, where the suspect is noted to be a flight risk with an extensive criminal record, are medical conditions that make this defendant facing potential added health problems from incarceration.
     One of the felons sent to prison on Wednesday (April 2) for crimes he pled guilty to having committed was just arrested in December in Williston. That case was separate from the one where the FWC fell short of providing records sought.

Michael Edward Lemming
     Michael Edward Lemming, 39, of Williston was arrested by Williston Police Department Officer Alexandria Livengood on Dec. 20, 2023.
     To see the story and photo from the arrest of Lemming, click HERE.
     Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Alfredo Daniel Ferrer spoke with Lemming about his choice to plead guilty to various charges.
     In this plea-negotiated agreement the prosecution agreed to drop one of the drug charges.
     By pleading guilty, Lemming is giving up his right to a trial by a jury of his peers. He is giving up his right to a direct appeal.
     The maximum sentence Lemming could be sentenced to for the charges he pled guilty to is 42 years in prison.
     In this agreement, Lemming is accepting a sentence of 54 months (four and a half years) in prison. Part of this sentence imposed by the judge includes the mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence for trafficking in cocaine.
     As of the April 2 sentence, he was given credit for the 106 days he already spent in the Levy County Jail.
     Lemming said he was agreeing to the sentence freely and voluntarily, as he acknowledge all of the conditions of this sentence.
     As he accepted the defendant’s plea of guilty to possession of a controlled substance without prescription; trafficking in cocaine in excess of 28 grams but less than 200 kilograms; possession of drug paraphernalia; and operating a vehicle while knowing his license was suspended, cancelled or revoked, the honorable Judge Davis told the defendant there is a mandatory $50,000 fine, which will be imposed as a result of him pleading guilty to trafficking in cocaine.
     All of the court costs and fines will be included as a civil lien on Lemming as part of his incarceration, the judge said.
     Lemming said he understood.
     In the bail reduction hearing, the defendant had family members address the court.

Ramon Santiago Azize
     Ramon Santiago Azize, 67, of Clearwater was released on his own recognizance (no cost bond) on April 3, according to records, after Judge Davis reduced his bond from $71,000.
     Assistant Public Defender Joy Leigh Lane Danne is representing Azize and Assistant State Attorney Daniel Rex Owen is the prosecutor.
     Azize was booked into the Levy County Jail on March 12, according to records.
     Azize was arrested by FWC Officer M. Javanov, according to records, and he was first charged with:
     Count 1 - Flee/elude police-high speed fleeing/eluding law enforcement officer;
     Count 2 - Drug possession - controlled substance without prescription;
     Count 3 - Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or other drugs (DUI);
     Count 4- Willful and wanton reckless driving; and
     Count 5 - No Motor Vehicle Registration.
     During the bail-reduction hearing, it was intimated that the defendant was driving from the Tampa Bay Area northbound when the FWC officer tried to initiate a traffic stop in Citrus County, which is in the Fifth Judicial Circuit.
     Eventually, Azize was arrested in Levy County, which is in the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
     As noted, Citrus County is in the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties. Levy County is in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union counties.

     By April 2, Azize had the drug possession charge dropped because he has a prescription for the drug. The fleeing and eluding charge is from an action in another judicial circuit, as best as could be understood at the bail-reduction hearing; however that hearing was not the scheduled point for considering a potential jurisdictional conflict.
    The charge of not having a motor vehicle registration was dropped.
     Azize’s family members said he had been through severe medical treatments at Morton Plant Hospital in Tampa and at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
     A relative said Azize would be staying with another relative in an area close to Bradenton. By the end of the day, an exact name and address were on record for the court.
     Assistant Public Defender Danne mentioned during the bail reduction hearing that she believes the chase was called off before Azize entered Levy County, putting that in a different circuit for jurisdiction. This argument for dismissal of that fleeing charge was not ruled on during the bail reduction hearing.
     The judge said Azize’s extensive criminal history causes him to have concern about the defendant showing up for trial.
     Assistant State Attorney Owen said the state is adamantly opposed to reducing bail for Azize.
     The prosecutor noted the fleeing incident in March included Azize allegedly driving into oncoming traffic. Owen said Azize has no ties to Levy County. 
     “I also consider him a flight risk,” Owen said.
     Added to lacking any ties to the area, Owen said, Azize has every intention to not obey the law, as was shown by him fleeing from law enforcement. 
     Azize has eight felony convictions, Owen said, which include grand theft from a dwelling, aggravated assault, burglary, and he has been convicted of 21 misdemeanors. This criminal history reflects a proven disregard for laws, Owen said.
     Any hope that this defendant will return for trial, Owen said, is merely that – hope.
     Fleeing and attempting to elude, DUI and reckless driving are the remaining charges, Circuit Court Judge Davis said as he looked at the other charges that were not filed or were dismissed already as of April 2.
     “I am concerned about his (Azize’s) health issues,” Judge Davis said. “I am concerned about this becoming a death sentence.”
     The judge said he wants to explore the method to safely release the man to a family member, while assuring that he will appear in court when the times are scheduled for those appearances.
    By the end of the day on Wednesday (April 3), Azize was released without having to pay anything for bail after the judge ruled he was to be released on his own recognizance. During this time before trial or a conclusion of the court cases, the defendant is not to drive, according to the various conditions of the release on his own recognizance.

 


Challenge faced in buying police cars
By Jeff M. Hardison © April 3, 2024 at 9 p.m.
     WILLISTON –
Williston Police Chief Mike Rolls told the Williston City Council on Tuesday night (April 2) that the city will be buying one police car this year – instead of the two new cars it needs.
     Even with only one cruiser being bought this year, the Williston Police Department must reallocate some budget funds from one place to another.
     The conversation with the City Council and Mayor Charles Goodman became a little spicy at points regarding this matter.
     City Councilwoman Darfeness Sheilyn Hinds was absent from the April 2 meeting.
     WPD Chief Rolls said the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s (USDA) grant-loan percentage have dropped to only 15 percent grant and 85 percent loan.
     The City of Williston’s Median Household Income (MHI), Chief Rolls said, has increased in recent years. That MHI now in Williston is $51,760, Rolls said, according to the USDA. This is based on a population of 2,976 people; he added as he recited information from the federal government.
     Williston Finance Director Steven Bloom said the WPD has funds to pay for its share of the grant-loan for one car if items in the budget are cut completely or reallocated. One budget item that was used last year as the department searched for money was the salary for the deputy chief, which is a position the WPD has not replaced since Chief Rolls took the reins after the retirement of former WPD Chief Dennis Strow.
     City Council President Debra Jones said she did not need a motion for this, but she did want to hear consensus from City Council to move forward with buying one cruiser rather than two this year, as well as to fund the city’s part of the purchase by cutting things from the current WPD budget and reallocating from other items that are in the current budget.
     The mayor asked about using funds given to the city from the federal government via The American Rescue Plan (2021) Act (ARPA). The ARPA funds provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, small businesses, and industries.
     Bloom told Goodman the ARPA funds are primarily for infrastructure improvements. While buying a car is a capital expense, it does not qualify as infrastructure.
     The ARPA funds for Williston are already allocated to cover other purchases, Bloom said.
     “Our police department budget is already strained,” Mayor Goodman said.
     If the WPD must absorb the greater percentage of a grant-loan, then the current format for the WPD budget needs to be revised, he said. The Police Department must have adequate cruisers, the mayor said, and it is up to the City Council to find a method to do this – other than cutting things in the current WPD budget and reallocating from other parts of that department’s budget.
     “The Council approved all of the things that caused us to lose all of the funding (-- the reduced percentage in the USDA Rural Development grant-loan),” the mayor said.
     He said when the budget was made, including for two cruisers in the WPD this fiscal year, it was before the city new it would have a lower percentage of grant funds in this grant-loan program. The loan portion of this program went from 75 percent to 35 percent, and is now at 15 percent, the mayor said.
     Mayor Goodman said this need to cut things and reallocate other parts of the WPD budget just to buy one car results from the city leaders attracting high-priced subdivisions. While this boosts the ad valorem property tax base for the city, it makes the city less eligible for financial aid than other parts of the county that are more destitute.
     Williston Director of Utilities Jonathen Bishop offered to dedicate $25,000 his department received from the sale of an old front-end loader. He was told this is not possible because the utility funds are not general funds.
     Bloom said that with the new utility rates the city adopted, he is advising against taking any money from the utility fund until the city can see how the new rates are working for covering expenses in that part of the city government.
     The City Council gave consensus to draft a resolution for approval at the next meeting for the WPD to apply for the grant-loan from USDA for a new cruiser.
     In another WPD matter, the chief received permission to sell two Dodge Challengers that have reached the end of their useful lifespans. The City Council gave permission for the chief to accept sealed bids for these now two surplus vehicles.
     City Manager Terry Bovaird, who used to be in the WPD leadership, provided some insight about the WPD fleet.
     The WPD vehicles are on an eight-year rotation. To keep that planned vehicle use active, Bovaird said, the method is to buy two new cruisers a year. Now, the city manager said, there will be a need next year to budget for three new cruisers.
     The city manager said he can buy a lower cost truck or car, but the police officers need a reliable vehicle built for law enforcement purposes, because there may come a time when that officer needs to catch a felon fleeing at 140 mph.
     The city manager said he supports what the police chief is doing and that he foresees the city finding the money to pay for the loan part of this grant-loan program for rural development offered by the USDA.
     Chief Rolls said he appreciates the support of City Manager Bovaird.
     There was a 4-0 vote of approval for the chief to sell the two Dodge Challenger cruisers that have completed their useful miles at the WPD.
     So, the two Challengers helped ease the challenge of buying a new cruiser for the WPD. 

 


Bank robber gets 40 years
By Brittney Carman, Public Information Officer II
Office of the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney William M. Gladson
Published April 2, 2024 at 2:30 p.m.
     CITRUS COUNTY –
Yesterday (Monday, April 1), Jeromee Wade Greenough, 46, a habitual felony offender, was sentenced to 40 years in the Florida Department of Corrections for robbery with a weapon, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill while masked, two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and fleeing and eluding law enforcement.

     As a result of his habitual offender status, Greenough will serve 30 Years of his sentence, day for day with no gain time, as a Prison Releasee Reoffender. Prior to this 2022 arrest, Greenough was released from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Sept. 8, 2020, after serving a 19-year sentence for committing eight-armed bank robberies.
     “Justice prevails when the relentless pursuit of law enforcement meets the unwavering commitment of prosecutors,” Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney stated Bill Gladson said. “Greenough willfully disregarded the law while placing others in grave danger. I commend our fellow law enforcement partners for protecting our community and the prosecutors in this case for ensuring accountability.”
     On July 21, 2022, Citrus County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) deputies apprehended Greenough after he robbed the TD Bank in the City of Crystal River. Greenough entered the bank shortly before noon that day, brandishing a firearm (which was later determined to be a BB gun), and demanded money from the teller's counter. After obtaining an undisclosed amount of cash, he fled the scene in a white vehicle.
     CCSO deputies and detectives, in collaboration with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), located Greenough traveling down Fort Island Trail. When approached by law enforcement, Greenough attempted to evade capture by speeding off in his vehicle, endangering officers' lives in the process.
     Law enforcement successfully deployed spike strips, deflating Greenough's tires. Despite this, he continued to drive on deflated tires until FHP executed a pursuit intervention technique, further immobilizing the vehicle.
     Greenough exited his vehicle, armed himself with an actual rifle, and fled toward a playground area. He was apprehended shortly after.
     The successful prosecution of this case is attributed to the diligent efforts of Assistant State Attorney Tara Hartman and Assistant State Attorney Kevin Davis.

 


Man gets 14 months for threatening to kill
a United States Supreme Court justice

Information Provided
By the Office of United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg
Middle District of Florida
Published April 2, 2024 at 3 p.m.
     JACKSONVILLE –
United States District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has sentenced Neal Brij Sidhwaney, 43, of Fernandina Beach (Nassau County) to 14 months in federal prison for transmitting an interstate threat to kill.
     Sidhwaney entered a guilty plea on Dec. 15, 2023.

     According to court documents, on July 31, 2023, Sidhwaney placed a telephone call from Florida to the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., and left an expletive-laden, threatening voicemail message.
     On the voicemail message, Sidhwaney identified himself by name and repeatedly threatened to kill a specific United States Supreme Court Justice.    
     This case was investigated by the Supreme Court of the United States Police – Protective Intelligence Unit with assistance from the United States Capitol Police –Threat Assessment Section. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kirwinn Mike and Special Assistant United States Attorney Joe Wheeler III.

 


 

 


Suspected cheating hunters issued citations
By Jeff M. Hardison © March 28, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
     TALLAHASSEE –
At least 11 people in four counties in North Florida are suspected of cheating when they tried to shoot and kill wild turkeys that they received citations, according to records.

     And that’s just the number of suspected cheating hunters noted without much research at the outset of hunting season for wild turkeys – north of State Road 70. Perhaps, the phrase “no honor among thieves” can be applied to some people who “hunt” as a sport.
     In these instances, the shooters are suspected of baiting the wild turkeys to be in a place so that the small game “hunters” don’t have to hunt as much as actual hunters.
     Individuals in Gilchrist, Columbia, Lafayette and Madison counties are suspected of baiting wild turkeys as a shortcut to finding them to kill, according to the weekly report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) from its Division of Law Enforcement.
     The FWC Division of Law Enforcement’s report for March 15 through March 21 represents some events the FWC handled over specified weeks; however, it does not include all actions taken by the FWC as its state law enforcement officers attempt to preserve some of the state’s natural resources.
     North of State Road 70, the 2024 spring season for hunting wild turkey opens March 16 and runs through April 21.

Gilchrist County
     On the opening day of the spring turkey season (March 16), FWC officers Josh Troiano and Jordan Hilliard located a subject hunting turkey within approximately 10 yards of a baited area. The subject was issued a citation for hunting wild turkey within 100 yards of bait. 
     On the opening day of spring turkey season, FWC officers Troiano and Hilliard, along with FWC Lt. William R. “Rob” Ward Lt. IV located a subject hunting turkey within approximately 25 yards of bait. The officers heard the subject shoot once, killing a gobbler and a hen turkey. It is unlawful to hunt wild turkey within 100 yards of bait and it’s unlawful to take hen during the spring turkey season. It was also discovered the subject placed bait in a wildlife management area. The subject was issued a citation for the three violations.
     On the opening weekend of spring turkey season, officers Troiano and Austin Sheffield located a subject hunting turkey within approximately 30 yards of bait. It is unlawful to hunt wild turkey within 100 yards of bait. The subject was issued a citation.

Columbia County
     Senior FWC Officers Bryan and Johnston were working a wild turkey bait site on the opening morning of the spring turkey season. They observed a utility task vehicle arrive and two subjects exited the UTV and went to separate hunting blinds and bait sites.
     After the sun came up, the officers contacted the two subjects who were hunting within 100 yards of bait. The officers issued citations for hunting wild turkeys over bait, no hunting licenses, and no turkey permits. 

Lafayette County
     Officer Clark and Investigator McMillian were working on a property known to be baited for wild turkey hunting. The officers located three individuals attempting to take wild turkey over a baited area. Appropriate citations were issued for the violations. 
     Officer Clark was working on a property that had a feeder and a ground blind near the feeding station. The officer observed an individual just before daylight put out a hen decoy and enter the blind. Contact was made and the subject was issued the appropriate citations for the violation. 

Madison County
     Officer Vazquez was on patrol at a property believed to be baited for hunting wild turkey. During his patrol, the officer witnessed two subjects hunting within 100 yards of bait. Contact was made and appropriate citations were issued for the violations.
Report Harvested Turkeys
     The FWC also notes that hunters are to Report Harvested Wild Turkeys now. Hunters who take a wild turkey must log and report their harvest. This new rule went into effect July 2022 and applies to all seasons that allow the take of wild turkeys.
Bag Limits
     Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only. On lands outside of the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system, the daily bag limit is two and the season and possession limit on turkeys is two.
License and Permit Requirements
     To hunt wild turkeys on lands outside of the WMA system, hunters will need a hunting license and turkey permit, unless exempt.
     These licenses and permits can be purchased with a credit card at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (888-486-8356). They can also be purchased in Florida at county tax collectors’ offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies.

Other Regulations
     On lands outside of the WMA system, any legal rifle, shotgun, pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air guns of at least .20-caliber, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol may be used to take turkeys.
     Shooting hours on lands outside of the WMA system are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
     Hunters may use decoys, but they are not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot turkeys on the roost. In addition, wild turkey may not be taken if the hunter is less than 100 yards from a game feeding station when feed is present.
     See the Florida Hunting Regulations for more information.

 


Gang member indicted
for conspiracy to commit bank fraud,
aggravated identify theft,
witness tampering,
destruction of evidence,
and possession of ammunition

Information Provided
By The Office Of United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg
Middle District of Florida
Published March 27, 2024 at 10:30 p.m.
     TAMPA –
United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg the announces the return of an indictment charging Tyler Jacob, 24, of Winter Haven with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, aggravated identify theft, witness tampering, destruction of evidence, and possession of ammunition.
     

 

     -- Between 2021 and 2023, more than 100 victims and over 15 financial institutions throughout the Middle District of Florida were defrauded.
              According to the Criminal Complaint and Indictment.

     If convicted, Jacob faces a minimum mandatory sentence of two years and up to 20 years in federal prison.
     Jacob used check-writing software to create fraudulent or fictitious checks and then submitted those checks at various financial institutions with forged signatures, according to the criminal complaint and indictment. The funds obtained from the deposited checks were then quickly withdrawn, defrauding the financial institution or business prior to the financial institution or business being able to identify the deposited checks as fraudulent.
     Jacob utilized dozens of willing participants to accomplish his scheme.
     Specifically, these co-conspirators provided him with bank account information in their own names, deposited checks themselves, and withdrew those funds on Jacob’s behalf. Between 2021 and 2023, more than 100 victims and over 15 financial institutions throughout the Middle District of Florida were defrauded. 
     On Jan. 23, 2024, the FBI executed a search warrant at Jacob’s residence. During the search, Jacob barricaded himself inside the residence, and began to use a shredding machine to destroy evidence.
     Investigators eventually found shredded papers on both floors of the residence and a shredding machine that was jammed. Jacob also threw documents inside his washing machine.
     Investigators located a checkbook and financial documents in the names of other individuals, printers, a scanner, and approximately 25 rounds of .556 rifle ammunition. As a convicted felon, Jacob was prohibited from possessing ammunition.
     After his arrest, Jacob made phone calls to an individual and attempted to have that individual dispose of evidence and lie to law enforcement.
     An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty beyond and to the exclusion of reasonable doubt.
     This case was investigated by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is scheduled to be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diego F. Novaes.

 


Fanning Springs man arrested
for alleged hunting violation

Suspect
The leafy suit, camo bag, turkey calls, binoculars, bug spray and a turkey vest are some of the equipment found on Randy Hite on March 7.

Photo provided By FWC

By Jeff M. Hardison © March 27, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
     GILCHRIST COUNTY –
A man was charged with a first degree misdemeanor after state law enforcement officers found evidence showing he unlawfully took or possessed any freshly killed deer or wild turkey -- during closed season, according to records.
     In this instance, it was all about the turkey.
     Randy Dale Hite, 52, of the City of Fanning Springs is suspected of violating Florida law while hunting for turkeys on March 7, according to records.

     Like all suspected criminals, he is presumed innocent until the state proves he is a lawbreaker.
     On March 7, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer (FWC) William “Tanner” Robson, of the (FWC), was contacted by a witness at approximately 8:11 a.m., who advised the state law enforcement officer that was walking in Log Landing Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on the Nature Coast Tract near Canal Avenue in Fanning Springs, according to records.
     While walking in the WMA the witness saw a hunting blind with a person dressed in camouflage holding a turkey call and a shotgun, according to records.
     The witness, whose name is currently withheld per state law, advised that he spoke to the person in the blind, according to records, and that man in the blind advised he was trying to call turkeys. 
     FWC Officer Robson advised the witness that he would be enroute to his location to address the possible violation. Turkey hunting is was closed on that date and did not open for adult hunting until March 16.
     Robson contacted FWC Officer Josh Troiano for assistance.
     Robson arrived on scene with at approximately 8:41 a.m. on March 7, and the witness directed him to Hite, who was in the blind located a short distance away, according to records.

Suspect
Guns and ammunition are seen here among the items taken from Hite during the investigation. The property was released to his parents when he was transported to the Gilchrist County Jail.
Photo provided By FWC

     Robson spoke with Hite, and Hite “was actively trying to fold a camouflage hunting blind. Randy was wearing a camouflage leafy hat and black long sleeve shirt and blue jeans. There was a camouflage bag on the ground and a shotgun propped against a tree near Randy,” the officer noted.
     Hite commented spontaneously, according to records.
     Hite was noted as having said then, “I bet y’all been watching me awhile ain’t ya. Probably videoed it. I would have.”
     During the conversation with FWC Officer Robson, hunter Hite advised:
     ● He lives right across the road.
     ● He was just messing around killing time.
     ● He “didn’t hear nothing gobble.”
     ● He arrived out there 30 minutes to an hour (after daylight.)
     Hite gave Robson consent to search his camouflage bag, according to records.
     The officer saw camouflage leafy clothing, bug spray, binoculars and two different turkey calls, he noted in his report. He observed a camouflage stool folded up on the ground, according to records. The shotgun propped against the tree was a
Remington 870, according to records. The shotgun was loaded with Number 7 birdshot, according to records. Officers Troiano and Robson helped Hite gather his hunting equipment, and escorted him back to Robson’s FWC patrol truck on Canal Avenue, according to records.
     During the walk back to the FWC truck, Hite advised that he had spoken with another person that morning at which point he told the person that he was seeing if he could call a turkey, according to records.
     Once at the FWC truck, Hite stated he was on private property and not in the wildlife management area, according to records. Hite also stated he was “just playing with the calls,” according to records.
     Officer Robson read to Hite a Miranda Warning from a prepared text, according to records, and Hite agreed to answer questions without an attorney present.

Suspect
The Primos Power Crystal (turkey caller) that Randy Hite said is his is seen among the many pictures taken as part of the evidence-collection process.
Photo provided By FWC

     During post-Miranda questioning, according to records, Hite stated:
     ● He got out here maybe 30 minutes after daylight.
     ● The turkey calls do not belong to anybody else.
     ● There is nobody with him.
     ● The Primos Power Crystal is his.
     ● The strikers are his.
     ● He wasn’t planning on killing anything.
     ● He doesn’t have a hunting license and turkey permit.
     Officer Troiano conducted a wants and warrants check, and Hite was found then to have an active arrest warrant out of Dixie
County.
     Officer Robson photographed Hite’s hunting equipment. Hite’s parents came and took possession of his guns and hunting equipment, according to records. Officer Troiano transported Hite to the Gilchrist County Jail without incident.
     He was arrested for violation of Florida Statute 379.404(1) which states Whoever takes or kills any deer or wild turkey, or possesses a freshly killed deer or wild turkey, during the closed season prescribed by law or by the rules and regulations of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or whoever takes or attempts to take any deer or wild turkey by the use of gun and light in or out of closed season, commits a Level Three violation under s. 379.401 and shall forfeit any license or permit issued to her or him under the provisions of this chapter. No license shall be issued to such person for a period of three years following any such violation on the first offense. Any person guilty of a second or subsequent violation shall be permanently ineligible for issuance of a license or permit thereafter.
     The definition of “take” per Florida Statute 379.101 (38) is: “Take” means taking, attempting to take, pursuing, hunting, molesting, capturing, or killing any wildlife or freshwater or saltwater fish, or their nests or eggs, by any means, whether or not such actions result in obtaining possession of such wildlife or freshwater or saltwater fish or their nests or eggs.

 


FDLE members recognized
for outstanding performance
Special Agent of the Year
from Gainesville Field Office

Information Provided
By FDLE Office of Public Information
Published March 26, 2024 at 5 p.m.
     TALLAHASSEE –
Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) members from throughout the state were honored in Tallahassee today (Tuesday, March 26) for their outstanding performances last year.

     FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass congratulated the award winners for key accomplishments, contributions to criminal justice, money saving ideas and productivity.
     Commissioner Glass said, “From investigating cryptocurrency to rescuing human trafficking victims to crunching crime data, this year’s award recipients are exceptional. These members are leaders and problem-solvers, and they work hard every day to keep Florida safe.”
     Award winners are:
     ● Jose Perez Special Agent of the Year – William Porter, Resident Agent in Charge, Jacksonville Regional Operations Center (JROC), Gainesville Field Office
     In July of 2023, then Special Agent William Porter led a law enforcement team in successfully locating and recovering a child that had been transported to Florida and held captive and tortured for 45 days. The captor and his co-conspirator were federally indicted on charges for interstate transportation of a minor to engage in sex and producing child sexual abuse material. They face life sentences if convicted. Porter’s actions saved the child’s life. 
     ● Jessie B. Dobson, Jr. Distinguished Member of the Year – Donald Osterhouse, Research and Statistics Consultant, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS)
     Donald Osterhouse has been a driving force in CJIS and his services are invaluable to both FDLE and the department’s criminal justice, media and external agency partners. With accuracy and expediency, Osterhouse provided lawmakers, policymakers and the public critical data. In 2023, he fulfilled more than 150 ad hoc data requests for crime data, career/sex offender data and more.
     ● Forensic Scientist of the Year – Elyssa Trautmann, Crime Laboratory Analyst, Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center (TBROC)
     Throughout 2023, Elyssa Trautmann approached problems with logic and creativity, accepted many biology section and team responsibilities, and attacked rush, routine and cold cases with enthusiasm and dedication. She provided training to members in the Biology Discipline on new methods for bone extractions and slides from cold case evidence, leading her to become the resident expert. Additionally, she worked with members in FDLE’s Unidentified Human Remains program which launched in 2023.   
     ● Distinguished Support Member of the Year – Erin Ostrowski, Forensic Technologist, Fort Myers Regional Operations Center (FMROC)
     Erin Ostrowski is the senior program analyst for the Florida’s statewide sexual assault kit tracking database. In 2023, Ostrowski presented on behalf of the program at two conferences, responded to approximately 1,600 emails, created 540 barcodes for kits and monitored the toll-free database support phone line. Additionally, she helped implement three software updates in 2023, each requiring testing prior to deployment.
     ● Outstanding New Member – Elizabeth Pritchard, Senior Crime Intelligence Analyst Supervisor, Office of Statewide Investigations
     ● Elizabeth Pritchard joined FDLE in November 2022, and immediately made a positive impact in the Florida Fusion Center and the larger Florida Fusion Center Network. She identified areas of improvement and immediately began looking at ways to implement changes, including updating onboarding materials for Interagency Fusion Liaisons, encouraging more opportunities for partner engagement and streamlining processes. She also took over the grant funding process for the Florida Fusion Center Network and serves as the lead point of contact for compiling and submitting federal grant requests to the Domestic Security Coordinating Group and the Domestic Security Oversight Council. Additionally, Elizabeth helps train new analysts in FDLE’s Florida Analyst Academy.
     ● Contribution to Criminal Justice – Cyber Fraud Analytical Support Team (Cyber FAST), Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center (TBROC): Matthew Forrester, Christina Malley, Jason Mileshko, Gary Vilano, Mikaela Scanlon, Madison Tolson
     Cyber FAST was formed by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Commissioner Mark Glass in 2022 as a force multiplier to prevent and handle the increasing number of complex cyber fraud cases impacting Florida. Cyber FAST analysts work daily with the Office of Statewide Prosecution, local law enforcement, and state and local agency partners. In 2023, the Cyber FAST team logged more 1,000 hours of fraud and cryptocurrency investigations training and investigating 22 cases with $15.8 million in losses. Cyber FAST’s services are a critical asset in helping stop criminals that target Florida’s citizens and businesses.
     ● Distinguished Team of the Year – Investigations and Forensic Science (IFS) Sworn Hiring Team: Lori Mizell, Melanie Walker, Lee Kuhn, Cassidy Geon, Erica Elliot
     In 2023, the IFS Sworn Hiring Team implemented a more efficient hiring process. The new process allowed FDLE to hire 41 sworn members in one year, when in the year prior FDLE hired 26 agents.
     ● Excellence in Leadership – Ashley Pennington, Chief of Training, Criminal Justice Professionalism
     Ashley Pennington exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader. She generates an ambitious work culture, encourages professional growth and personal well-being among all of her members, and gives her managers autonomy, inspiration and guidance in their daily tasks. In 2023, Pennington and her team updated five academy training programs and six post-basic training courses. Already, she is leading the charge to revise the 2025 Basic Recruit Corrections curriculum along with seven post-basic courses to ensure that our criminal justice officers receive the best and most current training.
     ● Capitol Police Officer of the Year – Douglas Stribling, Capitol Police Investigator, Capitol Police
     Investigator Douglas Stribling has the natural ability to connect with people, which helps him establish rapport with citizens, employees at the Capitol and leaders of local protest groups. As a result, Capitol Police maintained an open dialogue with all visitors and helped ensure demonstrators remained peaceful. Stribling is also an active member of the Capitol Police Honor Guard, and in 2023, he served in eight events as a Capitol Police Honor Guard representative.
     ● Commissioner’s Award – Zackary Hughes, Special Agent, Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center (TBROC)
     Special Agent Zackary Hughes is a warrior for survivors of human trafficking. With his vast knowledge and experience, he helped establish the statewide Human Trafficking Strike Team. In 2023, the team helped safely recover eight victims and identified numerous traffickers. Hughes is a compassionate and caring investigator who works tirelessly to ensure victims of human trafficking receive the services they desperately need while holding their traffickers accountable.
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Mary Christofano, Senior Management Analyst Supervisor, Fort Myers Regional Operations Center (FMROC)
     Mary Christofano began her career as the FMROC Business Manager in 1997 after spending 20 years as a property manager in Chicago, Illinois. With pride and attention to detail, Christofano enthusiastically takes on projects no matter how big or how small. She has earned numerous accolades in her FDLE career, including the Distinguished Support Member of the Year and Distinguished Member of the Year awards. She was also a member of two award winning teams, the most recent being the FDLE Fort Myers Regional Law Enforcement Coordination Team, which received the 2023 Distinguished Team of the Year Award for its exceptional response during and following Hurricane Ian’s landfall.
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Darren Esposito, Senior Crime Lab Analyst, Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center (TBROC)
     Darren Esposito began his FDLE career 34 years ago as an intern in the FDLE Fort Myers region. Throughout his distinguished career, he has been recognized as a consummate professional, dedicated not only to the quality of his work but to the sharing his expertise with both FDLE members and external partner agencies. By passing on his knowledge and skills as a primary trainer to many of the next generation, Esposito has been a major contributor to the future of FDLE. 
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Karen Martin, Chief of Forensic Services, Tallahassee Regional Operations Center (TROC)
     Karen Martin’s FDLE career began 34 years ago when she joined the department as a crime laboratory analyst. Martin worked on the initial stages of the department’s forensic DNA analysis program and was a team member that helped establish the DNA Investigative Support Database. She helped establish the procedures and protocols for quality forensic DNA analysis, served as a DNA Technical Leader and she helped bring the department’s Biology discipline into the era of modern DNA analysis. Martin’s work set the framework for what would become one of the most highly regarded forensic DNA Database laboratories in the world. Chief Martinalso been instrumental in mentoring countless members of the crime laboratory throughout her career.
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Wayne Ryan, Application Systems Programmer III, Information Technology Services (ITS)
     Wayne Ryan began his IT career 33 years ago, joining FDLE in 1997.  His work has been critical to Florida’s criminal justice community.  Ryan designed and maintains the Criminal Justice Network, as well as FDLE’s network and cyber security functions. He has helped keep Florida’s officers and citizens safe for more than a quarter of a century.
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Marta Strawser, Senior Crime Lab Analyst, Orlando Regional Operations Center (OROC)
     Marta Strawser began her FDLE career 34 years ago in the Orlando lab’s Trace Materials Section. Strawser has been an integral part of our criminal justice system for decades. Her expertise in trace, hair, paint and fractured material analyses has contributed to the success of solving cases throughout the state of Florida. In the past 20 years, she has trained new scientists and prepared the Trace Materials discipline to continue to be successful for years to come.
     ● Lifetime Achievement – Jillian White, Senior Crime Lab Analyst, Orlando Regional Operations Center (OROC)
     Jillian White began her FDLE career in 2002 as a forensic technologist. For the past 22 years she has been tirelessly devoted to FDLE’s goal of being at the forefront of forensics. White accomplished this by leading large-scale transformational projects such as transitioning the laboratory to a fully automated and paperless DNA processes and continual improvement of the laboratory’s existing processes. Her dedication to improvement has consistently made a positive impact on FDLE’s ability to meet our primary mission of public safety.

 


CCSO busts suspected drug dealer
Suspect
Story and Photo Provided
By CCSO Community Relations Specialist Madeline Scarborough
Published March 26, 2024 at 9 a.m.
     CITRUS COUNTY --
On March 21, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) Tactical Impact Unit (TIU) concluded an investigation of suspected state drug law violations, and the TIU executed a search warrant, which resulted in the arrest Connor James Vidair, 29.
     He is being held without bond per the bond schedule for the level and number of crimes for which he is incarcerated now as he awaits trial.
     The CCSO's TIU received information that Vidair was involved in the distribution of large quantities of cocaine and cannabis. Cannabis is marijuana, which is illegal to sell or distribute except under certain state regulations in Florida. Through investigative means, detectives established probable cause to search Vidair’s residence, and a search warrant was obtained.
     Vidair was contacted at 9909 N. Cherry Lake Drive, in Citrus Springs, where he was detained while detectives initiated the search. 
     Citrus Springs is a census-designated place in unincorporated Citrus County.
     Detectives found that one of the bedrooms had been converted into a makeshift laboratory to manufacture multiple forms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products with a relatively high concentration of the compound.
     Many of his products had THC concentrations well above 85 percent. The average high-potency THC products on the commercial market today average between 25 to 40 percent. A further search of the residence revealed two large safes that contained large quantities of cannabis in multiple forms, as well as cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, and cash. Added to the drugs and cash were firearms -- a short-barreled shotgun and a .38 caliber pistol.
     Vidair is not allowed to legally possess a firearm in Florida because he is a convicted felon.
     Evidence located at the scene indicated that Vidair was manufacturing the THC into multiple forms of the compound, including wax, oil extract, THC electronic vaping devices, and gummies, and then repackaging these products for sale along with all other substances located in the residence.
     “Thanks to the efforts of the TIU, another drug dealer has been removed from our streets," Citrus County Sheriff Prendergast said. “Many of these products find their way into the susceptible hands of children. Studies by the CDC (United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have shown that these products can have detrimental effects on a child's development.
     “Vidair was not only found to be involved with these crimes, Sheriff Prendergast added, “but also had trafficking amounts of cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, and illegal firearms in his possession. We will continue to fight illicit drug activity in our community at every opportunity.”
     As a result of the search warrant, the following contraband was seized: 8,490 grams of cannabis (18.72 pounds); 4,908 grams of THC extract (almost 11 pounds); 46 grams of cocaine (almost two ounces); 801 grams of psilocybin mushrooms (almost two pounds); $5,742 in cash; a .38 caliber pistol; and a 12 gauge short-barreled shotgun.

 


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Here, Goldy (the now late) cat Hardison (Aug. 12, 2009-Aug. 25, 2021)
plays dead - her signature trick. She was among the great cats of the world.
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Here Inky the cat Hardison performs three Olympic jumps to rival the athletes in Brazil in 2016. Wait for it -- JUMP!
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