‘Frivolous lawsuits’ will not pressure FPL to provide preferential treatment to Coral Gables

“Frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations” from Coral Gables will not pressure Florida Power & Light to provide “preferential treatment” to the city, company officials said in a statement.

“We understand that it’s extremely frustrating for our customers to be without power,” the statement read in part. “That said, frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations that attempt to pressure us into providing preferential treatment for their city will not work.”

The city of Coral Gables recently threatened legal action in a letter to FPL, saying the company has been slow to act after Hurricane Irma knocked out power in Coral Gables and most of South Florida.

On Tuesday morning, the city issued a citation against FPL for not restoring power by a Sept. 17 deadline. 

FPL officials said they are committed to restoring power to all of its customers, but said Coral Gables has resisted their previous efforts to trim trees in the area and toughen its electric system.

“Our focus is on restoring power to all of our customers, and we will not be moved by self-entitled politicians who are looking for someone to blame for the city’s irresponsibly managed tree program,” FPL’s statement said. “The fact is the city of Coral Gables has for many years resisted FPL’s well-documented efforts to trim trees and harden our electric system. Unfortunately for our customers in that area, they are now paying the price in terms of extended outages due to hundreds of trees that have fallen into our lines.”

FPL officials said it’s unclear how many of the city’s 38,000 trees were “improperly located,” causing damage to electrical equipment during the storm, but said they are certain that the trees are the problem.

“There’s no doubt that the city’s extreme approach to trees is the cause of the problem,” FPL said. “More importantly, it threatens the safety of the residents of Coral Gables and the lives of the lineworkers who are trying to restore power.”

FPL officials said 97 percent of Miami-Dade County has had power restored and thousands of crews are working around the clock to restore power to the rest of the county.

FPL’s statement comes after a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company on behalf of two people, and all Florida residents who are or were without power after Hurricane Irma.

The company said the people who filed the lawsuit have a history of “pursuing frivolous legal action,” and said that they were concerned that the suit was filed by a law firm they said is linked to Coral Gables Commissioner Frank Quesada.

Below is FPL’s full statement:

“We understand that it’s extremely frustrating for our customers to be without power. That said, frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations that attempt to pressure us into providing preferential treatment for their City will not work. Our focus is on restoring power to all of our customers, and we will not be moved by self-entitled politicians who are looking for someone to blame for the City’s irresponsibly managed tree program. The fact is the city of Coral Gables has for many years resisted FPL’s well-documented efforts to trim trees and harden our electric system. Unfortunately for our customers in that area, they are now paying the price in terms of extended outages due to hundreds of trees that have fallen into our lines.

While we do not have a precise assessment of the number of City-owned trees that may have been improperly located, resulting in unnecessarily extensive damage to electrical equipment and extended outages for Coral Gables residents, there’s no doubt that the City’s extreme approach to trees is the cause of the problem. More importantly, it threatens the safety of the residents of Coral Gables and the lives of the lineworkers who are trying to restore power.

We have restored 97 percent of Miami-Dade, and thousands of crews are working to restore the remaining customers without power. After restoration is complete, FPL would be happy to work with the City constructively and provide them recommendations on how to avoid some of these problems from reoccurring during severe weather in the future. However, it is important to note, that numerous attempts we’ve made in the past to address the impact of the City’s dense, overgrown vegetation and tree canopy has on the reliability of their residents’ electric service has been ignored.

We recently learned of a separate, related lawsuit filed on behalf of two individuals who appear to have a history of pursuing frivolous legal action. Frivolous lawsuits are filed every day in America, however, what is concerning in this case is that the suit was filed by a law firm linked to a Coral Gables City Commissioner. We have not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, but we can only assume it’s another attempt to distract from the City’s failure to properly locate and manage its trees, despite having a website that shows the exact location of each of its 38,000 trees.

Our crews have been removing a shocking number of fallen and damaged trees that were apparently planted by the City in dangerous locations far too close to power lines. Other trees appear to have been planted too closely together, preventing their root systems from being able to grow properly and hold the ground securely in high winds. With wind gusts of more than 90 mph recorded in nearby weather stations, it’s no wonder why so many trees came crashing down all over the City.”   

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Class-action lawsuit filed against FPL after Irma leaves millions without power

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Florida Power & Light on behalf of all Florida residents who were without — and some who remain without — electricity after Hurricane Irma.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Miami-Dade County court.

According to the lawsuit, FPL collected storm charge fees to allow for trees near power lines to be pruned and for moving some power lines underground. But FPL didn’t do what was promised, the lawsuit claims.

“Obviously, they did not honor that promise, but nonetheless continue to collect millions and millions and millions of these fees,” South Florida attorney Gonzalo Dorta said at a news conference to announce the lawsuit.

Dorta said FPL began collecting the fees after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

“What happened here was not a snowstorm,” Dorta said. “It was a wind and rain event, which is typical in South Florida. But this is a monopoly that agreed to provide services in South Florida where these events are foreseeable.”

The city of Coral Gables recently threatened legal action in a letter to FPL, saying the company has been slow to act.

“We understand that it’s extremely frustrating for our customers to be without power,” FPL spokesman Richard Beltran said in a statement. “That said, frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations that attempt to pressure us into providing preferential treatment for their city will not work. Our focus is on restoring power to all of our customers, and we will not be moved by self-entitled politicians who are looking for someone to blame for the city’s irresponsibly managed tree program. The fact is the city of Coral Gables has for many years resisted FPL’s well-documented efforts to trim trees and harden our electric system. Unfortunately for our customers in that area, they are now paying the price in terms of extended outages due to hundreds of trees that have fallen into our lines.”

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Retired police officer accused of stalking, harassing officer who arrested him

A retired police officer was arrested Thursday for stalking and harassing a Coral Gables police officer who arrested him in May, authorities said.

Dennis Moore, 57, was originally arrested May 8 on a battery charge for allegedly headbutting a woman who rented a cottage in the back of his ex-girlfriend’s home. 

According to an arrest report, Moore went to the Coral Gables police station on Thursday and asked to speak with the officer who arrested him.

The officer inside the lobby told Moore that the other officer was not on duty at that time. Police said Moore refused to tell the officer on duty why he wanted to speak with the other officer.

Police said he returned later in the afternoon and once again requested to speak with the officer who had arrested him.

This time, the officer was at the police station and went to the lobby to speak with Moore. Authorities said she was accompanied by another officer.

According to the arrest report, Moore requested that he speak to the officer alone, but his request was denied.

Police said he pointed his finger in the face of the officer and shouted at her: “You said everything would be OK, and it’s not OK. You know what you saw. You’re going to pay.”

The officer told Moore that she couldn’t discuss the case and advised him to speak to his attorney. 

Police said Moore put his hand in his pocket, and the officer, knowing that Moore had knowledge of police tactics and weapons and had a violent history, ordered him to remove his hand from his pocket.

Authorities said Moore removed his hand, but put it back inside his pocket. The officer, once again, ordered him to remove his hand from his pocket.

Moore then snatched his hand from his pocket, as if drawing a weapon, but pulled out a white cellphone charger, the report stated.

A sergeant then entered the lobby and ordered Moore to leave the building.

Police said Moore was spotted on the north side of the building, concealing himself in an indentation in the building about six feet from the officer’s patrol car.

Moore was arrested.

A National Crime Information Center and Florida Crime Information Center check of Moore revealed an active alert message advising of a previous statement he made in March 2016 of his intent to commit harm to police, authorities said.

Police said Moore repeatedly told officers, “I’ll be out tomorrow,” as he was taken to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

Moore faces charges of stalking and harassing a victim.

According to an arrest report from earlier this year, Moore went to his ex-girlfriend’s house on May 8 and she ordered him to leave because she had a protection order against him.

Police said a woman who rents a cottage in the back of the ex-girlfriend’s home was outside during the altercation and said that Moore eventually directed his attention to her.

Authorities said Moore made a “slitting the throat” motion with his hand and told the woman, “You’re dead,” multiple times.

The woman told officers that she was scared because she knew that Moore was known to carry weapons and had a history of violence against his ex-girlfriend.  

Police said the woman told Moore to “back off” and he headbutted her before leaving in his black Mercedes Benz. 

Moore was pulled over by police and arrested on charges of battery, assault and violating a court order.

It’s unclear what police department Moore retired from.  

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‘Armed and dangerous’ fugitive sought in woman’s murder

Detectives believe Cornell Bell, a suspect in his ex-girlfriend’s murder, could be hiding in Miami-Dade County Friday.

Weymouth police officers and Massachusetts State Police warned the public that they consider him to be armed and dangerous. Miami-Dade and Coral Gables detectives know he has links to Coral Gables.

Bell is the prime suspect in the murder of Michele Clarke, a mom from Weymouth, Massachusetts. The suspected career criminal is likely in a stolen blue 2005 Ford pick up truck with a Massachusetts tag FF47BK. The truck has a tool box in the bed. 

Police officers found the body of Clarke, 33, early Saturday morning inside her apartment in the Weymouth’s Lake Street area. Her 6-year-old son was with his father, Andlee Cribb. 

“She suffered apparent sharp trauma injuries to her body,” Assistant Norfolk District Attorney Greg Connor said. 

Cribb told detectives that he was on the phone with her when he heard her shouting, “Get off me! Get off me!” He said that’s why he called 911. 

Quincy District Court issued a warrant out for his arrest Sunday. Detectives believe he has identifications for Tony Smith, Mark Simmons, Cornel James, Cornel Carara, Cavin Lebert and Kerrol Florizel Bailey.

Bell already has two outstanding warrants. One is from 1997 for an charge of assault with the intent to murder. The other is from 2002 for an armed robbery. 

Detectives were asking anyone with information to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477, Massachusetts State Police at 508-820-2121, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Yuri Bukhenik at 703-887-6207 or Weymouth Detective Robert Regan at 339-201-1324.

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Massachusetts murder suspect believed to be in Coral Gables area

A Massachusetts man wanted in the death of his ex-girlfriend is believed to be in South Florida.

Police in Massachusetts said Cornell Bell, 46, killed his ex-girlfriend, Michele Clarke, 33, in her Weymouth home Saturday. A warrant was issued for his arrest on a murder charge.

Clarke’s body was found during a welfare check. She suffered what police called “sharp trauma injuries.”

Detectives believe Bell, who has ties to South Florida, is in the Coral Gables area.

“She was such a good mother, man,” Andlee Cribb said.

Cribb was Clarke’s boyfriend at the time of her death and the father of her son. He said he’s never met Bell, but he’s instead trying to remember Clarke as a loving and caring mother.

Police believe Bell may be driving a stolen dark blue 2005 Ford pickup truck with Massachusetts license plate No. FF47BK.

Massachusetts State Police said Bell has a long history of violent crime and should be considered armed and dangerous. Police said he possesses separate Massachusetts driver’s licenses under three aliases and is the subject of two other outstanding warrants in the state — one for assault with intent to murder in 1997 and the other for armed robbery in 2002.

Anyone who believes they have seen Bell or the vehicle is asked to call 911 immediately.

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South Florida attorney accused of stiffing clients out of money

The Florida Bar is demanding answers from a South Florida attorney who has been suspended from practicing law in the past.

Aire Lawrence said she hired Coral Gables attorney Andrew Kassier and gave him several thousand dollars to represent her.

Instead, she said, he has done nothing.

Lawrence recently broke into tears after she saw Kassier’s picture attached to a recent Miami Times online article.

“I saw the picture of the attorney and I’m like, ‘How can he do this?’ Like, he’s just taking on other cases, and he act like mine didn’t matter,'” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said she gave Kassier a total of $2,500 in 2012.

She said Kassier agreed to represent her legally in an adoption.

Lawrence provided Local 10 News with a canceled check, receipts and a signed retainer agreement.

“I did everything that he said I needed to do,” she said.

Lawrence has legal guardianship of her goddaughter, Karlicia Darling, but wants to legally adopt her.

Records show that Kassier was on probation with the Florida Bar when he took Lawrence’s money and agreed to represent her five years ago.

Lawrence said she confronted Kassier in 2014 about the lack of progress, and he refunded her $1,000 and promised her the other $1,500 back.

“He asked me if I would give him a chance, he would refund me my money and he asked if I would allow him to finish what he started,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said Kassier refuses to return calls.

She said she has not been contacted by the courts and nothing has been filed.

Lawrence said she has no money to hire a different lawyer. She said her goddaughter is now 9 years old and sees her pain.

“l feel bad for her, and I ask her, ‘What’s wrong?'” Karlicia said. “When she says ‘nothing,’ I say, ‘I know something is wrong,’ then I hug her,” Lawrence said.

Kassier refused to talk to Local 10 News investigative reporter Jeff Weinsier about Lawrence’s allegations. He didn’t respond to a Local 10 attorney’s request for comment either.

Records from the Supreme Court of Florida show the Florida Bar wanted to disbar Kassier in 1998. Instead, he was suspended from practicing law for a year.

An audit revealed Kassier misappropriated a client’s trust funds and wrote several bad checks.

Two other clients claimed he took money to represent them and did nothing.

After serving his suspension, Kassier was reinstated in 2010 and placed on probation.

Lawrence has now filed complaint with the Florida Bar.

Local 10 has learned the Bar sent Kassier a letter requiring him to respond to the allegations.

The Florida Bar won’t talk about open investigations, but Lawrence is hoping someone will help.

“All I want is for the adoption of my baby to be final so that she can have my last name and we can go on happily with our lives,” she said.

Kassier represents Miami Gardens pastor Eric Readon.

Local 10 recently aired several stories about Readon after speaking with people who claim the pastor stole their money.

Readon has filed suit against WPLG, claiming that his reputation was ruined. Station management denies those charges and stands by the stories.

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