Florida Headlines

Trump returns to a business empire ravaged by pandemic


Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump is returning to a family business ravaged by pandemic shutdowns and restrictions, with revenue plunging more than 40% at his Doral golf property, his Washington hotel and both his Scottish resorts over the past year.

Trump’s 2020 financial disclosure released as he left office this week was just the latest bad news for his financial empire after banks, real estate brokerages and golf organizations announced they were cutting ties with his company following the storming of the Capitol this month by his political supporters.

The disclosure showed sizable debt facing the company of more than $300 million, much of it coming due in the next four years, and a major bright spot: Revenue at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, his new post-presidency home, rose by a few million dollars.

Eric Trump, who with Donald Trump Jr. has run the Trump Organization the past four years, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that the disclosure doesn’t tell the whole story, calling the debt “negligible” and the outlook for the company bright, especially at its golf resorts and courses.

“The golf business has never been stronger. We took in hundreds and hundreds of new members,” he said, adding that profits were in the “tens of millions.”

Hinting at possible new ventures in the post-presidency era, Eric Trump raised the prospect of a flurry of new licensing deals in which the Trump name is put on a product or building for a fee, a business that has generated tens of millions for the company in the past.

“The opportunities are endless,” he said, declining to give details.

The disclosure report filed each year with federal ethics officials shows only revenue figures, not profits, but the hit to Trump’s business appeared widespread.

The National Doral Golf Club outside of Miami, his biggest money maker among the family’s golf properties, took in $44.2 million in revenue, a drop of $33 million from 2019. The Trump International Hotel in Washington, once buzzing with lobbyists and diplomats before operations were cut back last year, generated just $15.1 million in revenue, down more than 60% from the year before.

Trump’s Turnberry club in Scotland took in less than $10 million, down more than 60%. Revenue at the family’s golf club in Aberdeen dropped by roughly the same proportion.

The Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach club where Trump arrived Wednesday, saw revenue rise 10% to $24.2 million. Revenue at a golf club near that club and one in Charlotte, North Carolina, also rose, up about 5 percent to $13 million each.

In total, Trump’s vast holding of hotels, resorts, office buildings, licensing deals and other assets took in at least $278 million for 2020 and the first few weeks of the new year, down more than a third from a minimum of about $450 million in 2019.

The financial blow from former clients and business partners cutting ties to Trump is unclear, but it could be sizable. The PGA of America canceled a championship tournament at Trump’s Bedminster club in New Jersey, and several banks said they would no longer lend to the company, making it more difficult to roll over its debt with new loans.

In addition, New York City said it would be canceling various contracts with the company, including those running skating rinks and a golf club in the Bronx. Revenue at that course, the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, fell 20% last year to $6.4 million.

Eric Trump dismissed the backlash, saying parts of the business that get less attention, such as its commercial buildings, are thriving.

“I’ve signed 125,000 square feet of office space in the fourth quarter alone,” he said, referring to new leases. “We hit it out of the park.”

The disclosure report was unclear on that claim, though the revenue at four of the company’s most important commercial buildings — Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, a Wall Street building, and two towers owned with real estate giant Vornado — seemed to have held up during the pandemic.

The report, which gives some figures in broad ranges and vague “more than” estimates, said the four took in over $20 million in total last year, unchanged from a year earlier.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.

Florida Headlines

Key West wants to ban people from feeding roaming chickens

KEY WEST(AP) — Feral chickens run free in Key West, just one of those things that keep the Southernmost City charmingly weird.

But what’s delightful here and there becomes a nuisance when they’re everywhere. With the population getting out of hand, city commissioners are taking action — not by hunting down the fixings for a massive tailgate party, but by going after their human enablers.

They’re making it illegal to feed the free-roaming birds.

An ordinance unanimously approved on a first reading Wednesday said the Florida city’s feral chickens can “carry and spread diseases, destroy property, and cause copious amounts of fecal deposits on public property.”

People who feed them would be punished with fines of $250 per day for a first violation and $500 per day for repeat offenders under the ordinance, which now awaits a second vote, the Miami Herald reported.

These chickens are fat, with little trouble finding meals. Tourists feed them popcorn or french fries, and some locals buy huge bags of bird feed for them.

“The fowl have a feast,” said City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who sponsored the measure. “They can pick and choose better than we can what they eat off their plate.”

Patricia Eables, an assistant Monroe County attorney, said her neighbor feeds them several times a day, resulting in droppings on the stairs, handrails, cars and other surfaces, the Herald reported.

“We have done everything we can as neighbors to try to get her to stop doing it,” Eables said. “We started reaching out to code and learned there was no ordinance.”

Charles Malta said his street has been invaded by chickens.

“The population has literally exploded,” Malta said. “They’re being fed and when you ask anybody to stop it’s like you’re asking them for their first-born. “It’s a heated thing on both sides.”

The city’s wild chickens don’t need help finding food, Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, told the newspaper. The island is a bug-rich environment for them.

“Nothing is worse for the chickens than feeding them,” Sweets said. “I’ve never seen a skinny chicken in Key West unless it’s sick or injured. There’s really not a need. They’re quite capable of taking care of themselves.”

The wildlife center says it doesn’t remove healthy Key West Chickens, but it did take in about 1,500 injured, sick, and orphaned chickens last year. So far this month alone, they’ve received about 180. The surviving birds are relocated to free-range ranches north of Lake Okeechobee and near Fort Myers, according to the center’s website.

The feeding ban doesn’t apply to chickens kept in coops or pens, officials said.

The roaming chickens are fearless when it comes to approaching people, said City Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover.

“They’re becoming more aggressive by the day,” Hoover said. In her district, people have reported that when they go to put dog feces in the trash, chickens come up and attack them, thinking it might be food.

Florida Headlines

Florida unemployment dips to 6.1% in December

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s unemployment rate dipped slightly in December, but is still far above the unemployment rate from a year ago, according to figures released by the state on Friday.

Last month’s unemployment rate was 6.1%, up 3.2 percentage points from December 2019. The national rate was 6.7%, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity. The December figure was .02% lower than November’s rate.

The state lost nearly 1.2 million jobs during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but has regained more than half since the beginning of May, the department said in a media release.

Last month there were 614,000 jobless Floridians out of a workforce of 10.1 million people.

St. Johns and Wakulla counties had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.6% followed by Monroe County at 3.8%. Osceola County had the highest unemployment rate at 8.7%, followed by Miami-Dade County at 7.3% and Orange and Putnam Counties at 7.2%.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.

Florida Headlines

Florida unveils telephone appointment system for vaccine

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Health Department quietly launched a pilot program of a new telephone appointment system meant to help counties better handle the demand for life-saving coronavirus vaccines.

Some hospitals, county health departments and vaccination centers were plunged in chaos after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last month that he would open the vaccines to seniors 65 and older, prompting long lines, crashed websites and disappointment among thousands of Floridians looking to protect themselves against COVID-19.

In a tweet Thursday, Broward County health officials unwittingly announced the ìnew state appointment systemî ahead of state health officials.

For now, the system is relies on old-school technology — the telephone — to reserve an appointment for the shot. State officials said a phone system was more suited for seniors, who might be less accustomed to web-based technology and might need more assistance.

During a legislative hearing earlier this month, the state’s director of emergency management, Jared Moskowitz, acknowledged the “chaotic” environment spawned by the release of two vaccines approved the U.S. government to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Jason Mahon, the spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the pilot program was actually rolled out in Miami-Dade County last week and later expanded earlier this week to some of the state’s largest counties — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Lee.

“The state is actively collaborating with counties and local officials to launch a system that will include a streamlined vaccination appointment process,” Mahon said. “We will continue to expand this pilot to include more counties in the coming week.”

But even as state health officials — urged on by DeSantis — unveiled the new system and expand vaccination sites, concern remained over whether there is enough of the vaccines to go around.

On Friday, DeSantis appeared on FOX News with a 100-year-old World War II veteran who got vaccinated during the appearance and who the governor said was the 1 millionth senior to get a shot against the coronavirus. But it was a dubious claim, considering his own health department was reporting Thursday that less than 800,000 seniors had received the shot.

His office later sent out a statement saying the state was nearing 1 million vaccinated seniors.

On Friday, most of the Democrats on the state’s congressional delegation sent DeSantis a letter expressing “serious concerns with the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

They asserted that more than 1 million unused vaccines were on “on hold” in Florida, suggesting that the state was not expeditiously administering the doses.

It also chided the governor for confusing and misleading the public on vaccine distribution and availability, adding that there was “a perception of unfairness and political motivation.”

And they faulted the governor and his administration for the poor infrastructure to schedule appointments.

State officials had no immediate comment on those assertions, but they hope that the new appointment system — which is expected to expand to more counties next week — will help address some of the challenges counties and seniors have faced in scheduling shots.

Florida has recorded more than 1.6 million COVID-19 infections, with the number of deaths now approaching 25,000. On Friday morning, there were 6,911 people being treated for the disease in the state’s hospitals, according to an online state census of hospitals, the first time that figure was below 7,000 for more than two weeks.

The current winter outbreak is the stateís third major wave of infections since last March, with the worst coming during summer. Hospitalizations have begun ticking downward after plateauing between 7,000 and 8,000. That compares with nearly 10,000 at the height of Floridaís summer wave.


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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.

Florida Headlines

Police: Inmate hit officer with shovel, stole car to escape

OKAHUMPKA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida inmate was returned to custody Thursday, shortly after he hit an officer with a shovel and stole a law enforcement agency vehicle to escape, authorities said.
Orange County sheriff’s deputies were called to an intersection at around 1 p.m. on a report that an inmate had escaped from Florida Department of Corrections custody, the agency said.
Investigators said the inmate, who was not immediately identified, struck the correctional officer with a shovel before driving off. The officer sustained minor injuries but was expected to recover, officials said.
A sheriff’s office helicopter joined the search and was able to spot the inmate as he crashed the agency pickup truck in nearby Okahumpka, news outlets reported. The Leesburg Police Department responded and arrested him, Leesburg police spokesman Lt. Joe Iozzi said.
The inmate ran a red light, hit an SUV and caused a four-car crash near the intersection, The Orlando Sentinel quoted Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Kim Montes as saying. Nobody was injured in the crash, she said.
Video from the scene taken by news outlets Thursday afternoon showed dozens of law enforcement officers and first responders blocking off the intersection, and an ambulance parked nearby.
Authorities did not say where the inmate was serving time or what he was initially charged with. New charges against the inmate were not immediately released.
Florida Highway Patrol was set to investigate the crash.

Florida Headlines

Nebraska fugitive arrested in Florida after 35 years

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A man who fled a drug conspiracy charge in Nebraska 35 years ago has been arrested in Florida, where he was living under a false identity, authorities said.
Howard D. Farley Jr., 72, was arrested Wednesday at his north Florida home, according to court records. He faces a passport charge in Ocala federal court and up to 10 years in prison.
According to a criminal complaint, Farley applied for a passport in February using the name, birth date and Social Security number of a person who had died as an infant in 1955.
In 1985, Farley and 73 others were indicted by a federal grand jury in Nebraska. Prosecutors identified Farley as the “drug kingpin” of the Southern Line, a railroad line that drug dealers used to move narcotics throughout the U.S. Records show that Farley was the only defendant not apprehended in the case.
Fingerprints confirmed Farley’s identity after his arrest this week, officials said.
Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Farley.

Florida Headlines

Firefighter, 2 others hurt in explosion caused by gas leak

By Associated Press
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — A firefighter and two residents were injured in an explosion caused by a gas leak at a home in Bradenton on Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said.
The residents were taken to a hospital for treatment of their injuries, while the firefighter was treated for less severe injuries, Cedar Hammock Fire Control District officials said. Crews responded to a natural gas leak in the area around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. The Bradenton Herald reported that the gas was coming from lines operated by TECO Energy, and representatives of the company were also on scene.
Around 2 p.m. there was an explosion at the home, fire officials said. Florida Power & Light cut off electricity to homes and businesses in the area as officials tried to find the leak.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office used a reverse 911 call to warn residents to evacuate or shelter in place as firefighters checked homes and buildings in the area, the newspaper reported.
Later in the afternoon, officials fixed the leak which was attributed to a buildup of gas in sewer lines, the newspaper reported.

Florida Headlines

Police: 3 injured in shooting at family gathering in Florida

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Three people were injured Sunday night when someone began shooting at a group gathered outside during a family gathering in Homestead, police said.
A police officer for the Miami-Dade County school system who was attending the party returned fire, news outlets reported. One man was airlifted to a trauma center, where he was reported to be in good condition. The other two were taken to Homestead Hospital.
The officer wasn’t injured, police said.
Investigators say the shooting happened around 9 p.m. Sunday.
Police said the gunman ran from the area. An investigation continues.

Florida Headlines

$5 million grant will help restore Keys coral reef

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — A $5 million grant will help restore one of the major coral reefs located in federally protected waters around the Florida Keys.
The Miami Herald reports that the project at the Eastern Dry Rocks reef includes planting more than 60,000 corals and employing professional dive shops and community groups to remove debris.
The reef is about seven miles (11 kilometers) southeast of Key West and is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded the $5 million through the National Coastal Resilience Fund.
In 2019, NOAA announced Mission: Iconic Reefs, a plan to restore nearly much of the Florida Reef Tract. It’s one of the largest strategies ever proposed for coral restoration.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 3,800 square miles (6,100 kilometers) of waters surrounding the Florida Keys.

Florida Headlines

Florida woman gets 5 years in prison in accidental shooting

DAYTONA BEACH (AP) — A Florida woman has been sentenced to five years in prison for what authorities say was the accidental fatal shooting of her boyfriend more than two years ago.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported Saturday that a Volusia County judge imposed the sentence on 45-year-old Tammy Almond for a manslaughter conviction. She had faced up to 30 years behind bars, but her attorneys worked out a deal with prosecutors.
Authorities say Almond killed 56-year-old Darryl Wilson in June 2018 with a shotgun she had found at a home where the couple was house sitting. Almond insisted she did not realize the weapon was loaded.
Wilson’s family had wanted Almond to be sentenced to seven years in prison. Since she has spend more than two years in jail since the shooting, Almond will likely serve about two years and six months more.