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Matt Gaetz helped set off Florida’s marijuana ‘green rush’ -- and some of his friends and allies scored big

ORLANDO, Fla. — Less than 24 hours before the Florida Legislature passed the state’s first medical marijuana law in May 2014, Matt Gaetz and other members of the state House of Representatives rewrote the bill to limit who would be able to get in on the ground floor of what has since become a billion-dollar business. A number of Gaetz’s friends and allies managed to squeeze through that narrow door. Among them: — The brother of Gaetz’s friend and fellow state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who co-founded one of Florida’s first licensed marijuana companies and amassed a fortune currently valued at about...

Extreme vacations: Ultra-wealthy travel to space, depths of ocean

ORLANDO, Fla. — When it comes to dreaming up vacation plans, many people are looking for the first opportunity to get out and take a road trip, perhaps even getting on a plane again in 2021. But for ultra-high-net-worth individuals, they’re literally shooting for the stars. For $55 million per ticket, Roman & Erica, a travel firm catering to the ultrawealthy, helped find one of three individuals suitable (and wealthy enough) to make the trip with Axiom Space, which is planned for early 2022. “People who have only thought of these things as a dream now reach out to us and say, ‘I’ve been cooped...

DeSantis scores session wins, but court battles could loom

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis celebrated a string of victories Friday as his fellow Republican lawmakers delivered on nearly all of his agenda. Now, he could be required to rack up some wins in court to keep them. Some of DeSantis’ top priorities this year – an anti-riot bill, legislation to punish Big Tech censorship and banning private companies from requiring “vaccine passports” from customers – have all been labeled unconstitutional by critics. Democrats claim HB 1, the anti-riot bill, infringes on the First Amendment right to protest, that SB 7072, the Big Tech crackdown, violates...

Before Gaetz pal Joel Greenberg’s downfall, accusations of underhanded tactics piled up in reelection race

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the involvement of so-called “ghost” candidates has sparked scandal in several of last year’s elections in Florida, a similar figure’s role in the race for Seminole County tax collector has attracted less scrutiny — even after the incumbent Joel Greenberg became a pariah at the center of a sprawling federal investigation. Last June, a man who had previously worked with Greenberg on a voter initiative filed to enter the race using a nickname strikingly similar to Greenberg’s expected Democratic opponent. Daniel Lee Day submitted election paperwork last year as “Dani Mora Day,...

Florida Gov. DeSantis signs controversial ‘anti-riot’ bill into law

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s controversial “anti-riot” bill into law on Monday, a measure that vastly increases law enforcement’s powers to crack down on civil unrest. The bill, which passed mostly along partisan lines, has been criticized by Democrats and civil rights groups as unconstitutional for infringing on the First Amendment’s right to protest. “If you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Winter Haven, surrounded by Polk County...

Need to rent a car in Florida? US shortage of vehicles means you could pay up to $500 a day

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ra Brave arrived last week with his wife and son at the Orlando International Airport for a five-day stay. But after a year with most Americans avoiding long-distance travel, the real estate agent from Baltimore discovered a new challenge: getting around in the city. “There are no cars available at all,” Brave said after being turned away at rental car desk after rental car desk at the airport. Agents at desks for Enterprise and National confirmed that every available vehicle they had that day was already reserved. Battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, rental car companies are fac...

Who is Jason Pirozzolo? Politically connected Florida surgeon reportedly tied to Matt Gaetz probe

ORLANDO, Fla. — Jason Pirozzolo, a politically-connected Orlando hand surgeon who used to serve on the board of the agency that oversees Orlando International Airport, was named in a Wednesday night report by CBS News as a figure in the sex trafficking investigation targeting U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and former Seminole tax collector Joel Greenberg. Citing unnamed sources, CBS News reported that Pirozzolo paid for travel, accommodations and female escorts on a trip to the Bahamas with Gaetz in late 2018 or early 2019. “Investigators are trying to determine if the escorts were illegally trafficked ...

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens CBS with ‘consequences’ over ‘pay-for-play’ vaccine story on ’60 Minutes’

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened CBS with unspecified “consequences” over Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story about coronavirus vaccine favoritism, saying he was “going to bite back and hold (CBS) accountable.” “What they’re saying is a total crock, that somehow only Publix was getting (the vaccine) is nonsense,” DeSantis said at a news conference in the Panhandle on Tuesday, as he denied again that the grocery giant’s $100,000 contribution to his campaign influenced vaccine decisions. “And we told them it was that and they cut it out. They spliced it because they can’t handle the ...

‘I paid $15,000′: Disney World guest says he spent too much to be arrested for refusing temperature check

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Louisiana tourist complained he paid $15,000 for a Disney World vacation that was disrupted when he was arrested after he refused to get his temperature checked at Disney Springs, according to video footage released this week by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Kelly Sills, 47, of Baton Rouge, pleaded not guilty on a charge of trespassing following the Feb. 13 incident. Authorities confronted him outside The Boathouse restaurant after Sills skipped the temperature screening tent, refused to go back, and wouldn’t leave the property when asked by Disney and the sheriff’s off...

Florida tax official and Matt Gaetz visited closed tax office together on weekend: source

ORLANDO, Fla. — Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax official, and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on at least one occasion several years ago were recorded together entering the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office when it was closed on a weekend night, according to a person familiar with office operations who saw the videotape. The person said the footage showed Greenberg and Gaetz walking into the tax collector’s Lake Mary office on Primera Drive. Greenberg was seen going through baskets where driver’s licenses, turned in by residents for disposal, were stored and later went into a back room...

Proud Boys member, married to Florida deputy, accused of participating in US Capitol riot

ORLANDO, Fla. — A member of the far-right Proud Boys group — and husband of an Orange County deputy sheriff — was arrested on federal charges Tuesday, accused of illegally entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot that left five people dead. An affidavit said 30-year-old Arthur Jackman, who at one point reportedly served as vice president of the Central Florida Proud Boys, was photographed among various other Proud Boys members outside and inside the Capitol during the attempted insurrection. Jackman faces charges of obstructing official proceedings before Congress and entering restrict...

Sex trafficking probe of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz emerges from prosecution of county tax collector: report

ORLANDO, Fla. — Federal authorities are investigating potential sex trafficking violations by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a probe that emerged from the prosecution of former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, according to a report by The New York Times. Citing three people briefed on the matter, the Times reported Tuesday that Justice Department investigators are looking into whether Gaetz, R-Fla., a close ally of former President Donald Trump, had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him. The probe of Gaetz reportedly stemmed from the investigatio...

Naming the hurricanes: With Greek letters going away, a look at how they came to be

ORLANDO, Fla. — Earlier this month, the World Meteorological Organization announced Greek letters would no longer be used in identifying tropical storms and hurricanes. The system has been used in only two seasons, accounting for six storms in 2005 and nine storms in 2020. The system was done away with to avoid confusion in future seasons. The first introduction of the Greek lettering system fascinated many in 2005, which had never been used since the international, rotating alphabetic name system began in 1953. But why and when did meteorologists decide Greek letters would be the backup plan?...

Puerto Rico statehood a ‘serious issue’ dividing island residents and the Florida diaspora

Leaders of the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida reacted to a new proposal seeking statehood for the U.S. territory. The new legislation was introduced Tuesday by Florida Rep. Darren Soto and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González at a news conference. Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Florida (PRFAA), Anthony Carrillo Filomeno, said the measure “is the right step to ensure the political equality of the 3.2 million American citizens on the island.” Unlike the 1.3 million Puerto Ricans who reside in Florida, those living on the island “do not have the right to vote ...

Imagineer shares more about change at Epcot’s Spaceship Earth

ORLANDO, Fla. — More details have emerged about changes to Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, thanks to a recent Instagram post by Imagineer Zach Riddley. They enhance the announcement regarding the celebrations tied to Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary this year. “Spaceship Earth is a unique structure recognized around the world,” Riddley writes. “To honor this idea, our Imagineers have created custom lighting features that literally emerge from her unique architecture. These features will shine across Spaceship Earth’s silver panels and ‘connect’ with one another, resembling shimmering stars in a n...

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