Is Broward County Animal Care hiding true number of pets euthanized?

For five years, Broward County has made it a goal to become a “no-kill” county when it comes to euthanizing unwanted pets, and the numbers of animals put down appear to be dropping fast with the effort.

But now, there are serious questions about whether Broward County Animal Care Director Thomas Adair has been falsifying county records to help bring about that decrease and then changing them back after a public records request was submitted in a bid to discover the extent of the problem.

A well-placed source inside Broward County Animal Care told Local 10 News that Adair routinely alters computer records regarding the number of animals euthanized at the order of the county by changing the real reason for killing the animal, such as health reasons, aggression or “owner requested.”

That’s significant because pets put down at the owner’s request are not included in the county’s official euthanasia numbers, and the number of those owner requests has been skyrocketing.

For instance, in the last six months of 2014, owners requested that a total of 34 dogs and cats be euthanized, according to county statistics.

During that same time period in 2016, that number ballooned to 307 animals killed, an increase of 900 percent.

It appears that at least part of that dramatic increase is due to Adair and his underlings changing the records.

As a sample, Local 10 obtained 13 computer screen shots showing that Adair went into the county computer system days after the fact and changed the reason for euthanizing a pet to owner request, along with two others that were changed by Animal Care employees under Adair’s supervision.

One example involves John Arthur, who looks after stray cats in his Hollywood neighborhood. He brought three kittens to Animal Care on Feb. 4 with the hope of finding them a new home.

Two days later, records show, all three were euthanized by the county for alleged upper respiratory infections, which was entered into the county computer.

County computer records show that three weeks later, on Feb. 27, Adair entered the computer system and changed the reason for all three deaths to “own req,” or owner request.

“There is somebody who is fooling around the truth, which is wrong,” Arthur said.

When questioned by Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman, Adair denied changing the records for nefarious reasons. When Norman showed him an example of an altered record, he said, “I can’t tell you why that on that particular record.”

When Norman told him that it looks like he’s altering public records, Adair replied, “I’m not.”

“The obvious reason for you to change the records … would be to make your animal control look better,” Norman said. 

“OK,” Adair said.

“Can you answer that? Is that why you did it?” Norman asked.

“No, I did not,” Adair said.

“Why did you do it?” Norman asked.

“I was QC’ing the records, and that is not an uncommon practice,” Adair said. 

“QC” apparently stands for quality control, or simply correcting false information, but the records indicate the changes themselves were false.

“He was going in and changing forms,” animal rights activist Michele Lazarow, who is also a Hallandale Beach commissioner, told Local 10.

Lazarow learned of the records changes in May, and on May 25, she had an associate put in a public records request for all forms signed by pet owners asking that their animals be euthanized during the first three months of the year.

“I wanted the numbers for the owner requested euthanasia to match up to what the shelter was claiming that they were actually killing,” she said.

Animal Care produced a total of 90 owner-request forms for January, February and March of this year, yet the county’s own statistics show 125 owner-requested deaths during that same period, indicating that at least 35 forms were missing or didn’t exist.

It gets worse. Computer screen shots obtained by Local 10 showed that Adair went into the county computer system after the public records request was received and changed the records he’d previously altered back from owner-requested to the original reason given.

“The cover-up is worse than the crime is really what happened here,” Lazarow said.

When confronted with that evidence, Adair seemed flustered.

“There’s also records in here that are the opposite,” he said. “So they went from where they were originally classified as owner-request and now they have not been.”

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said the county has begun an investigation.

“We’ve downloaded the files so we can analyze where the changes were occurring,” she said. “Broward County does not condone falsifying records. We take this very seriously.”

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Deerfield Beach football coach accused of giving teen laxatives, putting him on ‘rabbit diet’

At 15 years old, Jerome Neal had one big dream — to play football. But when he signed up to play for one city league, he said that dream nearly led to his death.

“I always had an interest in football,” Jerome said. “That’s the only thing I want to do all day.”

Jerome started playing football when he was 6, and he later excelled as a running back in a sport that his mother didn’t favor.

“Since he was a little boy, him and his dad would go out and throw football, play catch. I didn’t like him playing Little League football, but I would not take his dream away from him,” Ebony Lawson said. 

Lawson said she had no idea that Jerome’s dream would nearly cost her son his life.

“I really felt like I was fixing to lose my son,” Lawson said.

“I’m just crying and they put me in the car,” Jerome said. “After that, I dozed off and I went to sleep, and I woke up in the hospital.”

Lawson said her son would have died if she hadn’t gotten him to the hospital in time.

“If I hadn’t gotten him there in time, he would have died in the back of my car. That’s the worst feeling that any parent should have to experience,” she said.

The family said the near-tragedy began with the coach of Jerome’s city-sponsored Deerfield Beach Bisons football team, Darron Bostic, who Jerome said wanted him to play in the big rivalry game against the Pompano Chiefs.

The problem was that he weighed 180 pounds, and the team was for players 160 pounds and under.

“They were putting in the book that he was injured, he was overweight and he said, ‘I got a game that I’m holding him for,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, and what is that? We got the Chiefs. That’s the biggest game,'” Lawson said.

Jerome said Bostic put him on a “rabbit diet.”

“Pineapples, apples, salad and water — that was it. She’ll try to feed me the food, (and) I would say no (and) my coach would say no,” Jerome said.

On top of that, Jerome said Bostic would take him to the gym after practice to work on the treadmill until as late as 11 p.m. on a school day.

“He said, ‘We’re only at the gym.’ I said, ‘It don’t matter. He’s a minor. You don’t have no business having him out late, and if you can’t follow my rules you can forget it. He won’t play. I don’t care about the Bisons,'” Lawson said.

Jerome said Bostic was also giving him laxatives.

He said Bostic gave him and a few of his teammates bottles of magnesium citrate at practice.

“My coach gave me one from out of the car and I drank it, and 30 minutes later I had to use the bathroom,” Jerome said. 

Magnesium citrate is one of the most powerful laxatives you can buy, and it’s not meant for weight loss.

Jerome said Bostic gave him a total of four bottles of the powerful laxative in all before the game. He said he even drank some before school.

“During school I’m having to use the bathroom. I mean, I’m using the bathroom the whole day,” Jerome said. “The teacher is asking me why I’m using the bathroom so much. She said, ‘You probably have to go get it checked out.’ So they think it’s funny.”

Lawson, a trained home health aide, initially thought her son was experiencing food poisoning.

“He finally came back and said, ‘I had drank a laxative.’ I said, ‘Where did you get a laxative?’ And he said Coach Darron gave it to him,” Lawson said. “I contacted Darron and I told him, ‘I don’t understand what makes you think it would be OK for you to give my child a laxative.’ He was like, ‘It’s not going to do anything to him. He only had a little bit.’ I said, ‘Listen, I think I got a degree.’ And he said, ‘I respect you. I won’t give him anything else.'”

But Jerome said Bostic took him and several other players to a hotel the night before the game to work them out all evening. He said he and a few other teammates who were struggling to make weight were given bottles of magnesium citrate. 

“That’s all we knew about it — it makes us go to the bathroom and lose weight. That’s all we cared about was playing that Saturday because that was the big game,” Jerome said. 

Amazingly, Jerome made weight, dropping 20 pounds, and played in the game.

“I only played one game for the Bisons, and that was my last,” Jerome said. 

Afterward, his mother knew something was terribly wrong. 

“As he was coming off the field, he was staggering,” Lawson said.

Tune in to Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman’s 11 p.m. report Wednesday for part 2 of this story and to hear what the coach had to say. 

 

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Broward County employee used position to help steal $1.6 million, deputies say

An 11-year employee at the Broward County Records and Treasury Division was arrested Thursday on multiple felony charges.

Roberto Martinez, 46, is charged with 102 felony counts of numerous charges including organized fraud, money laundering, ID theft, uttering forged instruments and official misconduct.

Martinez refused to speak to Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman Thursday morning, running through County Hall to evade the camera, about an hour before he was arrested in his county office. 

Martinez is accused of engaging in an organized scheme to defraud $1.6 million in county surplus funds along with five co-conspirators operating through several bogus companies. 

Martinez ran the office that was in charge of selling homes whose owners had failed to pay their taxes, commonly known as tax deed sales.

Surplus money from those sales — money not taken by tax certificate holders, creditors, etc., are supposed to be returned to the previous owners.

According to an arrest report, Martinez used his county position to divert that money to his co-conspirators through forged power-of-attorneys.

In all, there were 20 victims of the $1.6 million fraud scheme that operated for about a year and a half, according to Broward sheriff’s Detective John Calabro and BSO records. 

“It is obvious that (Martinez) provided (his co-conspirators) information,” Calabro said. “It is obvious that he participated in the fraud. They filed powers of attorney in each case and Mr. Martinez was in charge of reviewing the paperwork. He authorized the issuance of the checks. The investigation uncovered about $1.6 million in losses to numerous former owners of homes in Broward County.”

The county has already been hit with lawsuits from at least two victims. 

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said the county cooperated fully in the investigation and has already changed the way it handles such sales to protect the public.

“It’s hard to imagine (that) he did this,” she said. “But, you know, one person should not put such a shadow on what 6,000 other great people do at the county.”

Sharief said that when the county learned of the investigation, Martinez was transferred to a position where he would have no ability to handle any more county money until his arrest.  

She said the county has already instituted a new system of checks and balances in the tax deed sales office.

“We implemented some other procedures to make sure this never happens again,” Sharief said.

The scheme is believed to have started on or around May 1, 2014, and is believed to have continued through about June 30, 2016.

Calabro said Martinez, whose county salary was $42,000 a year, is being held at the county jail in lieu of a $915,000 bond. 

Warrants have also been issued for five others who are accused in the case, including Marc Eugene, Patricia Eugene, Dim Villarson, Denis Eugene and Gawens St. Victor.

Calabro said some of the accused co-conspirators have already hired attorneys and they are expected to be rounded up by authorities on Thursday and Friday, with some possibly turning themselves in. 
 

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Florida Senate passes long-awaited medical cannabis bill

The Florida Senate on Friday passed a long-awaited medical cannabis bill.

“It lays the foundation upon which we can build,” Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson said. 

But even elected officials who voted for the bill complained that it was severely lacking, including a controversial ban on smoking the dried flower in favor of edibles and vaping.

“If they want to smoke it, they should be able to smoke it. The train has already left the station on this,” Democratic state Sen. Kevin Rader said. 

The bill adds 10 licensed growers to the seven that currently exist, but many say that’s too few and that the “seed to sale” vertical integration model will hurt competition and lead to high prices for patients.

“I fear that what we’ve done here is driven the price of medical marijuana up to a place where many people are going to seek filling their prescriptions through the black market,” Republican state Sen. Tom Lee said.

Attorney Michael Minardi said lawsuits are already being drafted to challenge the law as he prepared for this weekend’s Southeast Cannabis Conference & Expo at the Broward County Convention Center.

“This is a constitution amendment and it overrides any legislation,” he said.

Patient Irv Rosenfeld receives his medical marijuana from the federal government and will be allowed to continue smoking, but he wants that right for Floridians and said the marijuana market needs to operate on free trade principles to work for patients.

“Competition, OK, brings the price down, plus it gives you better medicine because every dispensary’s going to have different strains,” he said. “So, it gives the patient the best chance of getting relief for the problem they have. So, we’re not going to have that opportunity, not with the way the state passed the law.”

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill, which guarantees that one of the new licenses will go to a black-owned company.

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Fort Lauderdale mayor under fire for controversial guest invited to Prayer Breakfast

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler is coming under fire from his own party for having a controversial guest at his upcoming annual prayer breakfast. 

At this week’s Fort Lauderdale city commission meeting, Seiler took issue with LGBT activist Michael Rajner.

Seiler was rankled when Rajner brought up the fact that the head of the group, Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, was the keynote speaker for the mayor’s upcoming Prayer Breakfast

“His character well exceeds the character of a man you’re standing up to at the Prayer Breakfast, who has vilified the LGBT community,” Rajner said during the commission meeting.

Rajner shared more of his thoughts on the matter with Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman outside the commission meeting.

“It’s the equivalent of taking the stage with David Duke,” Rajner said. “It’s sad that the mayor just won’t admit to how harmful this is and how offensive it is to the gay community.”

Focus on the Family has a history of anti-gay policies, including stances against gay marriage and adoption, and for controversial conversion therapy.

“It is so damaging,” Rajner said. “They have literally talked about how we are a threat to society.”

Rajner is far from alone. The Broward Democratic Party called the development  “deeply disappointing and extremely troubling,” saying fellow Democrat Seiler’s “willingness to share the stage with this figure is a disappointing development which calls into question his belief in this value system.”

Wilton Manors Commissioner Julie Carson, who is Broward County’s first lesbian elected to office, said the invitation was unacceptable.

“If this had been Jack Seiler’s private prayer breakfast, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation, but this is the mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, and creating hate and ideas that cripple so many people is just not good for us,” Carson said.  

Seiler defended the Prayer Breakfast, saying he didn’t choose Daly’s involvement and that it would be rude and disrespectful for him to cancel his speech.

“Over the years, this Prayer Breakfast has brought our community together, united individuals of different backgrounds, unified houses of worship of different faiths, and had an incredibly positive impact on our city,” Seiler said in a statement. “It would be incredibly rude, arrogant and disrespectful to over a thousand Prayer Breakfast attendees to cancel my speech because of rumors and speculation about what another speaker may or may not say next Friday morning.”

Seiler also pointed out that he didn’t choose Daly to speak, and that the decision was made by a host committee.

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