South Florida Uber drivers continue to file false charges against users

South Florida residents who use Uber claim the popular ride-sharing program continues to game the system by charging fees for messes they never made.

Local 10 News first highlighted the fraud fees in July when a couple was charged $150 by an Uber driver who claimed they threw up in his car on the way home from Miami International Airport. The company later removed the charges and suspended the driver.

But the charges keep coming, and more people are stepping forward to complain.

Samantha Owens, a bartender who uses Uber to commute from her home to her job in Oakland Park, said she was also charged a $150 cleaning fee for a ride she took in September with her daughter.

“I was dumbfounded because I couldn’t believe somebody would actually do that,” Owens said. 

Owens’ driver, identified as Robert, submitted the claim, saying she threw up in the car. But when pictures showed vomit in the front seat and not in the back, where she was seated, Owens knew something was up.

“It’s a scam,” Owens said. “I feel like I’m an easy target. I work at a bar. I’m getting picked up at 2 a.m. To Uber, it’s going to look bad.”

Christine Tellez said her mother-in-law faced the same problem after a short ride on Miami Beach with her 1-year-old daughter.

“I got an email from Uber in the morning saying we’ve recalculated your fee based on urine on the seat,” Tellez said.

The driver had submitted a picture of a wet seat, attempting to justify the $150 cleaning fee. Tellez claims the wet seat was not caused by her family.

“It’s very frustrating,” Tellez said. “I think Uber needs to investigate more.”

Both Owens and Tellez said they were never able to contact anyone with Uber. 

The company eventually refunded Owens’ charges after she went to a help desk for drivers. After Local 10 spoke with Uber, Tellez also received her money back.

Tellez’s driver, Edwin Ayerdis Castellon, claimed not to remember the incident, but said clean-up charges are sometimes necessary.

“Well, it happens in some situations where somebody throws up or does a mess,” Castellon said.

Castellon was surprised when told that Uber had refunded Tellez’s money for the false charges.

Despite multiple requests, Uber refused an on-camera interview about the fake fees, but in a statement, acknowledged that they are a problem in South Florida.

“We recognize there are challenges for our support teams to look into these types of situations, so we are enhancing our internal processes and investing in additional resources when investigating cleaning fee claims,” the company said through a representative.

Uber said Castellon has been permanently removed for their app, along with the driver from the incident over the summer. The driver is still under investigation.

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How clean is the supermarket you shop in?

Just like the restaurants in Local 10’s exclusive Dirty Dining reports, supermarkets are inspected as well, and not every place is up to par.

The problem is, you’d never know.

Supermarkets are not ordered shut, and there are never any warnings posted on the door like the ones placed on restaurants that have the same problems.

No one at New Generation Food Market at 7910 NW 22nd Ave. in Miami would talk about their recent inspection.

According to a recent Department of Agriculture inspection, multiple rodent droppings were found throughout the floor, under a sink and under a produce prep table.

A stop-use order was issued for the back processing area of the store.

A man who works at the store told Local 10 News investigative reporter Jeff Weinsier that there must be a mistake, but there isn’t.

The Florida Department of Agriculture inspects supermarkets and grocery stores and uses a “risk-based” approach to determine frequency.

Inspections are based on previous violations and  consumer complaints.

According to an inspection report, Super Saver Supermarket, at 2750 Davie Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, had heavy rodent droppings and activity that were located throughout dry storage, as well as beverage storage.

There were also insects inside packages of pasta in the retail area, and old meat residue buildup was spotted on a meat saw.

A “stop use order” was issued for the back room and the meat saw.

“We had a meeting with our staff and we are making sure this doesn’t happen again,” assistant manager Abel Espinal said.

Espinal took Weinsier to the back area, where the rodent activity was found.

All items were removed from the room and the area was bleached down and repainted.

Holes in the wall were also patched.

In Miami, records show serious issues at Dolphin Food Market, as well.

Dolphin is located at 2352 NW 46th St.

According to an inspection, white slime was found in a package of ham, live roaches were spotted on a wall under a sandwich station and two dead mice were by a rear exit door.

The good news is that all the major chains fared well.

Click here to check out the most recent inspection from your grocery store.

 

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Video shows Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper’s husband going on wild rant

It was bad enough when Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper began rambling and slurring her words at Wednesday night’s commission meeting, but city officials took action after she abruptly got up and demanded the meeting be recessed because she wanted a drink of water, and began walking around on the dais arguing with colleagues. 

Deputy City Manager Nydia Rafols-Sallaberry called Cooper’s husband, Harry Cooper, to come and assist his wife, whom the mayor later said felt she needed to go home and wasn’t in shape to drive herself.

But when Harry Cooper, an orthopedic surgeon, arrived, he only made the situation worse. 

When he saw Vice Mayor Keith London videotaping the mayor, Cooper began cursing at him and threatening him. 

“You are a piece of s***,” he shouted, while a police officer restrained him. “C’mon hit me! I want you to hit me. I want you to hit me, Keith, so I can beat the crap out of you.” 

After police moved him from that situation, he began accosting City Manager Roger Carlton while being forcefully restrained. 

“You’re gone in February, you know that?” Harry Cooper shouted at the manager. “You don’t have more than two votes … it’s a no!” 

“He’s ready to be arrested,” a calm Carlton said. 

“I’m not ready to be arrested!” Cooper shouted back. “I’m allowed to talk. This is free speech. You’re gone in February. Gone!”

Police physically removed Harry Cooper away from the manager. 

“How come he’s the only city manager with his thumb up his ass?” Harry Cooper asked. 

At that point, Mayor Cooper, after stating that she doesn’t “appreciate people saying I’m drunk,” began verbally attacking the city manager. 

“I don’t respect you,” she said. “I think you’re a liar. I still haven’t figured out why you’re here and why you stayed here.”

She demanded that he resign before he was “embarrassed.”

In the end, Mayor Cooper refused to leave and the meeting resumed, where the fighting began anew.

Commissioner Michele Lazarow accused the mayor of being intoxicated and Cooper shot back that Lazarow had a drug problem. Lazarow has been in addiction recovery for 18 years.

“The poor girl had a mental problem,” Mayor Cooper said. 

“Are you talking to me?” Lazarow asked. 

“Yes, I am talking to you,” Cooper said. 
 
“You are a liar and you’re stoned, so I’m going to forgive you today because you are stoned,” Lazarow said. 

Cooper claims she was simply feeling poorly and wasn’t under the influence. She told Local 10 News that she’d been on a diet of “rice, bananas and Gatorade” after a trip to Mexico where she got a case of “Montezuma’s revenge.” 

“When you get dehydrated and you don’t feel well, you don’t feel well,” she said the following day. 

The mayor also defended her behavior and that of her husband. 

“I had to get up and get water. I needed a break. I didn’t feel well,” she said.  

“But you can’t just stop a meeting and say, ‘it’s over’ and ‘shut up’ to the people who are talking,” Local 10’s Bob Norman asked. 

“I said, ‘I need a break,'” Joy Cooper said. 

The mayor also defended her husband’s behavior. 

“Everyone knows my husband loves me,” she said. 

“You’re not going to argue that your husband’s behavior outside was appropriate?” Norman asked. 

“My husband was [acting out of] anger,” she said. “He spoke his mind. He spoke his mind.” 

Lazarow and London told Local 10 News that they don’t buy the mayor’s contention that she was simply under the weather. On Friday, they mailed a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking that his office investigate the matter. 
 

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Billion-dollar landlords: Rental home giant once led by Trump ally is under fire

Brielle, who was born healthy, now suffers from persistent asthma. The 2-year-old girl’s parents, Bruce A. Nicholson and Lisa Daspit, believe the bright yellow bungalow with white trim they once thought to be the perfect home to live in Margate is to blame for her condition. 

Less than a year into their lease, the parents noticed a crack in the ceiling above their living room. They called Waypoint Homes several times, but their requests for help went unanswered. As their frustration grew, so did the crack — until finally the ceiling caved in, they said. 

They would later learn Waypoint Homes was an affiliate of Starwood Waypoint, an Arizona-based company that owns tens of thousands of other single-family rental homes throughout the United States. They weren’t the only tenants who were accusing the company of being absentee landlords prioritizing profits over people. 

“Every morning and every night she has to take a breathing treatment,” Nicholson said about his daughter’s condition, which requires constant supervision. “No 2-year-old should have to do that.”

Their landlord was Tom Barrack, the then-company’s billionaire co-chairman, a close friend and political ally of President Donald Trump. Barrack directed the company to buy bundles of foreclosed homes after the housing market collapsed in 2008 and rather than reselling them, the company rented them to tenants. 

“It’s about continuity of income and a new asset class that in the American Dream will continue to love living at home,” Barrack said in a speech at the University of Chicago in 2012. “Not necessarily owning a home.”

It was a business model Barrack once touted as nothing less than a redefinition of the American Dream. Barrack has since sold his stake in the company, but the strategy he pioneered continues to spread, as Waypoint finalized its merger with another large company, Invitation Homes, to consolidate ownership of more than 80,000 properties. They are the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the country. 

With homeownership rates hovering near historic lows and the newly merged company owning a significant share of the middle-income rental market in several large cities, critics say renting from corporate landlords is increasingly becoming the only viable option for thousands of young families who might have once become homeowners.

Nicholson and Daspit filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the corporate giant. Court records show the company denied any wrong doing. But the parents said there is plenty of evidence that the toxic mold was also in their kitchen and it caused their daughter’s respiratory condition. 

“You could smell it. You could see it. You could feel it,” Daspit said. 

As their daughter continues to struggle with her health, other Florida residents have ongoing lawsuits. Starwood Waypoint lists 9,403 homes in their South Florida single-family rental portfolio. It’s one of their largest markets. 

Felix Tur and Viviana Pedroso accused Waypoint Homes of unsafely installing a garage door and drywall at one of their homes in southwest Miami-Dade County. They allege that door later fell cutting off part of a tenants’ finger. Waypoint Homes claims they didn’t have a record of prior issues with the door. 

Simon Mashian and his family moved from New Mexico to South Florida last year. They found what they thought was a nice three-bedroom home on Zillow. It was a Waypoint Homes listing. The troubles began the moment the family of four moved in. He said the house wasn’t clean and there were many maintenance issues. 

“We had mold in our master bedroom closet — just black mold coming from the ceiling,” Mashian said. 

A Waypoint Homes representative said they addressed a leak and replaced the drywall, but Mashian has pictures that he says show otherwise. Despite the complaints, Charles Young, Starwood Waypoint’s chief operating officer, said they provide high quality homes and high quality service. 

“The vast majority of our residents are very satisfied,” Young said, while pointing to the company’s 99.8 percent customer satisfaction figure. 

Nicholson and Daspit said they are living paycheck to paycheck while caring for Brielle. They had to leave all of their possessions behind at the house, because of the toxic mold. They said only their clothes escaped the mold. 

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Hundreds of nursing homes dodge Rick Scott’s emergency generator order

When 13 residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died apparently due to the heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott took action. 

He voided the nursing home’s license and issued a stern emergency order for all other nursing homes and assisted living facilities to install generators with enough fuel to power 96 hours of air conditioning within 60 days. 

But the deadline was Wednesday and more than 600 facilities have yet to comply — with the governor’s permission after the state Agency for Health Care Administration set up a waiver system to give the industry more time. 

The facilities, which represent roughly 20 percent of all nursing homes and ALFs in the state, have filed waivers with the state, saying they couldn’t meet the deadline. Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said the facilities simply need more time to meet the deadline. 

But patient advocates like Brian Lee say it’s just another example of Scott favoring the industry — which has supplied millions of dollars to GOP political offers — over patients. 

“The generator rule is a Band-Aid fix and he’s allowing the industry to dictate the terms — for them,” said Lee, director of Families for Better Care. “It needs to be done now, actually yesterday so this doesn’t happen again.” 

Lee said the tough talk followed by lax action is standard for Scott, pointing to legislation in 2014 that was supposed to crack down on nursing homes that he says actually protected nursing home owners from litigation. Attorney Bill Dean, who makes his living going after bad-acting nursing homes and assisted living facilities on behalf of patients, echoed Lee. 

“When you hear the governor bitching and moaning about what happened [at Hollywood Hills], the governor and this Legislature every term cuts back on nursing home legislation,” said Dean. “Governor Scott … passed more legislation to make it difficult to sue the passive owners of nursing homes.” 

Lee also points to a 2015 bill signed by Scott that reduced the number of state inspections for assisted living facilities. 

“In those facilities that have the most medically infirm residents, they cut those visits in half,” said Lee.

Scott was also criticized when he fired the state’s nursing home ombudsman in 2011 who had been a watchdog of the industry. That ombudsman was Lee himself, who said the firing had a “chilling effect” on the ombudsman’s office but couldn’t discuss the firing specifically after reaching a settlement with the state.  

When questioned by Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman on the issues, Scott simply kept repeating that he is holding the facilities “accountable.” 

“We want people to comply and we want people to be safe,” said Scott. “You’ve got to help them comply and then you have to hold them accountable.” 

“Critics are saying that you’re caving into the industry by giving out these waivers and you’re not really cracking down, what do you have to say?” Norman asked Scott. 

“If you look, we’re following the law,” said Scott. “I’m expecting everyone to comply. I’m going to make sure that all of our assisted living facilities have backup power.” 

Lee said the reason for Scott’s siding with nursing home owners over residents comes down to political contributions. The industry has showered politicians in Tallahassee with millions of dollars. As an example, just one company, Consulate Health Care, pumped more nearly $700,000 into state political coffers in the past five years alone, almost all of it to GOP interests, including $250,000 to the Florida Republican Party and a cool $100,000 directly to Rick Scott’s PAC, Let’s Get to Work, along with $18,000 into Scott’s own political campaign in 2014. 

“It always comes down to the bottom line,” said Lee.

In an email to Local 10, the governor’s office touted that it had improved communication between the regulatory agencies and the nursing home industry as well as toughened background screenings for nursing home employees. It also curiously claimed it had strengthened the ombudsman’s office. Lee said the latter was patently untrue and said the other two points were mere “crumbs for patients.”  

“Have you been on the side of the industry instead of the patients and the residents?” Norman asked the governor. 

“No,” he answered. “I’ve always been on the side of patients. I came out of the health care industry and I know the importance of patient care.” 

“But you’ve made it harder to sue nursing home owners and you’ve reduced the number of inspections … why did you do that?” Norman asked. 

“We have constantly held our nursing homes … accountable,” said Scott. “I’ve done this emergency order but no we’ve held them all accountable.” 

“But you’ve held them less accountable,” Norman countered. 

“We’ve held them more accountable,” the governor persisted. 

“You’ve deregulated,” said Norman.

“If you look we’ve held them accountable and that’s why did this emergency order,” said Scott. 

“But now you’re giving waivers, you’re giving waivers right now.” 

At that point Scott concluded the video. 

“Bye bye,” he said, walking away. 

Lee said he doubts meaningful reform comes to the state’s nursing home industry. 

“I think in the long run the residents are gonna lose,” he said. “History has shown us they’ve lost every time.” 
 

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Davie woman claims FEMA contractor was sexually inappropriate after Irma

After Hurricane Irma, relief workers poured into South Florida to inspect damaged homes, but one woman said a contractor crossed the line and then mishandled her claim.

Tina Stevens, like many in South Florida, began the process of getting back on her feet after her mobile home in Davie sustained significant water damage from the storm.

“It’s where I work. It’s where I lay my head. It’s where my kids sleep,” Stevens said.

She said a contractor estimated it would cost around $10,000 to make all the repairs. Because of the age of the home, Stevens said it was not considered insurable, so she applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance about a week after she got a visit from an inspector. 

“At first he was very polite,” Stevens said. “He kept remarking on how much damage I had.”

The inspector, who Stevens said was named Thomas, worked for Vanguard Emergency Management, which was contracted by FEMA.

Stevens said before leaving, the inspector crossed a line.

“I have about 22 tattoos and he said, ‘Oh, can I see them all?’ And I said, ‘Well, they’re underneath,’ and he was like, ‘Well, can I see them?”

According to Stevens, it’s not unusual for people to ask about her tattoo art, but she said she felt stuck because the man was handling her claim.

“I felt like the implication was there that, ‘I have your case, you have so much damage, let me come in and see your work,’ and so at first I was like, ‘OK, I can send you pictures of the art,’ and he said, ‘No, I want to see them in person,'” Stevens said. “And then it got a little awkward.”

About a week later, Stevens received a letter from FEMA denying her request for assistance. She appealed the decision only to get the same inspector assigned to her case.

“He said, ‘Oh, I have your claim. Do you want me to come by?'” Stevens said. 

Through text messages, Stevens said she offered to send updated photos of the damage. She said the inspector later wrote, “You never showed me that tat lol, but yes I’m still here.”

“I responded to him, ‘You never even tried to get to know me,'” Stevens said.

She said she was still trying to engage Thomas while making it clear she was not interested in anything physical. She said he claimed he made a mistake on her first application by checking the wrong box, resulting in the denial.

When asked if she felt like by blowing the inspector off, if affected her financially. Stevens said, “Yes, absolutely, and it kind of did.”

Stevens said she then received a text message from Thomas that said, “What if I was offering to do something for you without expecting nothing back?”

She said he then offered her a sex act, all while her appeal was still pending.

“I made it very clear that I was really disturbed by his actions,” Stevens said. “He knew nothing about me, and here he is again asking for inappropriate things.”

Stevens said she reported the incident to FEMA and Vanguard.

“I was getting nowhere,” she said. “His supervisor was like, ‘Well, I’ll ask him. Maybe they’ll transfer him to a different site.’ That’s not an adequate solution.”

A month after her initial denial, a new letter from FEMA approved Stevens for nearly $4,000 of assistance.

Local 10 News reached out to Vanguard. A representative told us the contractor has been deactivated, adding in a statement, “Vanguard is actively investigating this complaint. We hold our inspectors and contractors to the highest standards of professionalism and ethics, and take claims of misconduct very seriously.”

Stevens said she wants to keep the same thing from happening to the next woman in her position.

“It is totally inappropriate to take advantage of victims and see that they are weak and in need and continue to prey upon them,” she said.

Local 10 News also reached out to FEMA about the incident. A representative said the agency expects a high level of professionalism and takes reports of inappropriate behavior very seriously. They urge anyone with a complaint, issue or request for additional disaster assistance to call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362.

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