Assistant Principal And Her Daughter Charged With Hacking To Rig Homecoming Queen Vote

An assistant principal and her daughter have been arrested and charged with illegally accessing students’ computer accounts at a Florida high school to rig the vote for homecoming queen, officials said.

Laura Rose Carroll, 50, who is an assistant principal at an elementary school, and her 17-year-old-daughter have been charged with a variety of offenses, including conspiracy, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and criminal use of personally identified information, said a statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Carroll’s daughter was crowned homecoming queen at Pensacola’s Tate High School last year before the fraud was discovered, officials said.

Hundreds of votes were later tagged as fraudulent after an investigation. Some 117 votes alone came from the same IP address linked to Carroll’s phone, investigators discovered.

Several students reported that Carroll’s daughter talked about using her mother’s school computer account to access student files in order to cast votes that appeared to be from them, according to officials.

Carroll was booked into the Escambia County Jail on Monday, and her bond was set at $8,500. Her daughter was taken to the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

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March 16, 2021 at 12:39AM

Psych Eval For Florida Man Accused of Accosting Stuffed Doll

MARCH 8–A judge today ordered a psychological evaluation to help determine the competency of a Florida Man charged with having sexual contact with a pair of large stuffed animals at a Target store, court records show.

During a Circuit Court hearing this afternoon, Judge Cathy Ann McKyton appointed a psychologist to examine Cody Meader, 22, who has been charged with criminal mischief and exposure of sexual organs, both misdemeanors.

A further hearing on Meader’s ability to stand trial has been scheduled for next month.

As detailed in police and court records, a Target loss prevention officer told cops that he watched as Meader took a stuffed unicorn to the children’s bedding department, where he exposed himself and “took the unicorn and placed it against his penis and began a sexual motion like the subject was trying to have sex with the unicorn.”

The Target employee said that when he walked into the aisle where Meader (seen above) was, the suspect “stopped and placed the unicorn back on the shelf.”

Meader, wearing shorts and a Star Wars t-shirt, then went to the front of the St. Petersburg store and “picked up an Olaf snowman stuffed animal and began having sex with this stuffed animal and it was all on video,” according to the Target worker’s witness statement. “The subject finished having sex with the stuffed animal and ejaculated on it and then wiped it off.”

While Meader was engaged with the Olaf doll, police were already en route to the store, which is about 10 miles from the defendant’s residence. As seen above, a store surveillance camera recorded Meader’s interaction with Olaf, a character from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

After watching the video, a cop reported that Meader could be seen “on top of the Olaf doll behind the table display. He was face down and appearing to be ‘humping’ the doll.” When Meader was finished, the cop added, he “got up off the floor and wiped the doll off on the front of his shorts.”

Upon being read his rights, Meader “admitted to doing ‘stupid stuff’ and admitted that he had ‘nutted’ on the Olaf stuffed animal,” according to an arrest affidavit. As seen in images below and at left, police photographed both stuffed animals before the merchandise was “destroyed due to circumstances.”

If Meader’s case proceeds to trial, prosecutors have said they will seek to introduce evidence showing that the Target incident was not the first time he engaged in such illicit activity. Years earlier, police were called to a Walmart in Clearwater to formally trespass Meader from the store. A loss prevention officer told officers that Meader, then a juvenile, was “performing sexual acts with stuff animals located in the store,” according to a Clearwater Police Department report. (3 pages)

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March 8, 2021 at 10:24PM

Former Florida Prepaid College Program Contractor Sentenced To 33 Months In Prison For Conspiracy, Mail Fraud, And Aggravated Identity Theft

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Jamilla Ciar Hall of Tallahassee, Florida, has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft arising out of her work with the Florida Prepaid College Program. Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, announced the sentence, which was handed down on Tuesday following Hall’s guilty plea last September.

“This woman abused her position of trust to rob money from the Florida Prepaid program – but worse, she robbed from unsuspecting parents who invested in a future college education for their loved ones,” U.S. Attorney Keefe said. “She thought she had discovered a path to easy money, but instead, choosing that path has led her to prison.”

The Florida Prepaid College Board, which administers the Florida Prepaid College Program (“Florida Prepaid”), contracted with Intuition College Savings Solutions to provide customer service and records administration services for Florida Prepaid. While working for Intuition, between July and December 2018 Hall accessed the personal identification information of Florida Prepaid account owners and beneficiaries, and then fraudulently changed mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses associated with those Florida Prepaid plans. She then fraudulently submitted forms to cancel accounts, using the personal identification information of the account owners and beneficiaries. Refund checks for the Florida Prepaid plans she cancelled were mailed and delivered by the United States Postal Service to Hall at the addresses she fraudulently submitted. She personally cashed some of the refund checks and gave some to others to fraudulently cash. In total, Hall fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain approximately $42,000 in funds to which she was not entitled.

“Hall took advantage of hardworking families that utilize the Florida Prepaid program to provide their children an opportunity for a college education,” said FDLE’s Tallahassee Regional Operations Center Special Agent in Charge Mark Perez. “Hall’s arrest and sentencing assures families that the Florida Prepaid program is a safe and secure way to save for their children’s future. Those that take advantage of these families will be brought to justice.”

Hall pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. Her 33-month prison sentence will be followed by 3 years of supervised release. Hall was also ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

“Tuesday’s sentencing is a reminder that financial crimes are not victimless crimes,” said United States Secret Service Resident Special Agent in Charge Seth Reister, Tallahassee. “The defendant victimized the community for her own personal gain by taking advantage of multiple Florida Prepaid customers. The U.S. Secret Service and its law enforcement partners such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, will continue to investigate and pursue prosecution of those who engage in identity theft or financial fraud.”

This sentencing was the result of a joint investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the United States Secret Service. Assistant United States Attorney Justin M. Keen prosecuted the case.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

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February 18, 2021 at 05:39PM

Hackers Attempt to Poison Florida Water Supply

Hackers remotely accessed the water treatment plant of a small Florida city last week, briefly and dangerously changing the amount of  sodium hydroxide in the drinking water to levels that could have poisoned residents, in the kind of critical infrastructure intrusion that cybersecurity experts have long warned about, reports the New York Times. The attack in Oldsmar, a city of 15,000 people in the Tampa Bay area, was caught before it could inflict harm, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County said at a news conference on Monday. The authorities said the intrusion unfolded last Friday morning, when an employee noticed that someone was controlling his computer, and lasted between three and five minutes.

Though it was thwarted, a cyberattack like this one on a water treatment facility that contaminates a town’s water has long been feared by cybersecurity experts. Around the country, water plant operators, including those at dams, oil, and gas pipelines, have accelerated the transformation to digital systems that allow engineers and contractors to monitor temperature, pressure and chemical levels from remote work stations that experts warn can be exploited by hackers looking to exact harm. While large utility companies usually have complex protections in place, smaller water supply companies, electric power suppliers and manufacturers often do not. No suspects have been identified in the Oldsmar attack, and it was unclear on Monday whether the hackers were in the United States or abroad. The F.B.I. and the U.S. Secret Service have been notified.

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February 9, 2021 at 11:37AM

Former Tallahassee Federal Correctional Officer Indicted For Sexual Abuse Of Multiple Inmates

A federal grand jury in Tallahassee has returned a three-count indictment charging a federal correctional officer with sexually abusing three inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. Jimmy Lee Highsmith was charged with Sexual Abuse of a Ward. Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, announced the indictment, which was issued on February 2.

“The public places its trust in sworn law enforcement and correctional officers that they will represent the finest in our society, not the worst. Sadly, the charges contained in this indictment reflect the worst – an individual allegedly taking advantage of his position of trust to inflict harm on those under his care,” U.S. Attorney Keefe said.

Highsmith, 41, of Yazoo, Mississippi, was arrested last night by federal agents. His initial appearance will take place at 4:30 p.m. CST this afternoon at the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi. Highsmith’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for February 17 at 1:30 p.m. EST before United States Magistrate Judge Fitzpatrick at the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee.

The indictment alleges that while employed as a U.S. Bureau of Prisons Correctional Officer at Federal Correctional Institution Tallahassee, Highsmith engaged in sexual acts with three inmates who were under his custodial, supervisory and disciplinary authority. The criminal conduct allegedly took place between March 2014 and September 2018. If convicted, Highsmith faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine, per count.

Assistant United States Attorneys David L. Goldberg and Lazaro P. Fields are prosecuting the case, which resulted from a long-term investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General.

An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website.  For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

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February 4, 2021 at 04:38PM

Gov. DeSantis’s Proposed Law Penalizing Social Media Companies for De-Platforming Politicians Is ‘Hilariously Unconstitutional’

Despite his degree from Harvard Law School, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s latest fusillade against Silicon Valley has left legal observers wondering whether he has read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The pro-Trump Republican zealously advocated for a series of self-styled anti-censorship laws that three legal experts contacted by Law&Crime noted amount to unconstitutional compulsory speech for private companies—in direct contravention of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

And DeSantis could have learned as much by reading a famous high court case involving his hometown paper.

In a last-minute press conference largely focused on denouncing “Big Tech” and “cancel culture,” DeSantis unveiled a proposal to penalize social media companies that suspend or block candidates for political office with hefty fines.

“We’ve seen the power of their censorship over individuals and organizations, including what I believe is clear viewpoint discrimination,’’ DeSantis said. “Under our proposal, if a technology company de-platforms a candidate for elected office in Florida during the election, a company will face a daily fine of $100,000 until the candidate’s access to the platform is restored again.”

DeSantis made his announcement on the same day that attorneys for Donald Trump formally argued that the former president’s false claims of election fraud and the role his words played in inciting his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol were protected by the First Amendment.

The governor even specifically cited Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Trump from its platform as a reason why his proposal was vital to upholding vital free speech principles.

But legal experts were quick to point out that DeSantis’s proposal was itself an unequivocal attack on constitutionally protected free speech.

“Governor DeSantis’ proposal is neither novel nor constitutional. It raises the same issue as a previous Florida law which required newspapers that criticized a political candidate to publish that candidate’s response,” First Amendment attorney Ari Cohn said in an email to Law&Crime.

That 1974 case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo, was cited by all three experts Law&Crime contacted.

“The Supreme Court struck down the law, ruling that it violated the newspapers’ First Amendment right to choose which content to run or not run,” Cohn said. “In invalidating that law, the Court expressly rejected the very same argument people make for regulating content moderation today: that concentration of ownership and ‘monopoly of the means of communication’ justifies forcing private parties to carry certain speech. But the Court found it unconstitutional then, and it remains unconstitutional now.”

Professor Daxton “Chip” Stewart, a media law expert who referred to the proposal as “hilariously unconstitutional,” said that DeSantis exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of corporations’ rights.

“Basically, DeSantis seems to forget that private companies like Facebook and Twitter have First Amendment rights, too,” Stewart noted. “The government can’t force them to host speech they don’t want to, or threaten punishment like these absurd fines for refusing to give platforms to people they find intolerable. Just as a platform can remove accounts of terrorists or the KKK or a cabal that conspires to violently overthrow the government, they can remove accounts of any other individual.”

Stewart also noted that the Tornillo decision provided astute guidance on the matter.

“The [Tornillo] logic carries over to this kind of situation – platforms, as private companies, are allowed to make editorial decisions. The state of Florida could no more fine Facebook for refusing to host a racist or fascist politician than it could force a newspaper to publish an op-ed by that politician,” he wrote. “Sure, they may be shielded from liability for making those decisions under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but that’s a different law for a different situation. It doesn’t alter the First Amendment at all. It seems that a lot of the time that these politicians complain about Section 230, what they really don’t like is that platforms have free speech protections just like regular citizens do. And you can’t undo that by repealing or changing Section 230.”

First Amendment attorney Marc J. Randazza lauded DeSantis’s overall objective, but said the proposed measure was not a viable means of achieving those ends.

“I respect what DeSantis is trying to do, but unconstitutional acts engaged in for a good reason do not transform them into constitutional acts,” he wrote, adding that the governor should start by “re-reading Miami Herald v. Tornillo.”

DeSantis did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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February 3, 2021 at 01:54PM

Florida Activists Call Anti-Protest Laws Biased

After months of public outrage and accusations of discrimination over disparate penalties against Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists who clashed with Proud Boys and counterprotesters during a demonstration in New Port Richey, Fl., last summer,  local  police dropped the citations against seven BLM demonstrators. But the incident has raised concerns about a push by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida GOP lawmakers for a sweeping state bill to crack down on disruptive protests, creating new classes of crimes that include up to 15-years in jail if police declare that nine or more people have participated in a riot, reports the Washington Post. Dozens of Floridians showed up at the state capitol in Tallahassee Wednesday to testify against the governor’s protest bill in front of a House committee, arguing that the measure would cripple free speech and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to discriminate against people of color

DeSantis initially proposed the legislation amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, singling out tactics associated with racial justice protests: damaging memorials and blocking roadways, while providing protection from lawsuits for drivers who push through such protests. At least 28 states considered similar bills that created new or harsher penalties for protesters last year,  In addition to creating new crimes and penalties for damaging memorials, the bill increases penalties for battery of a law enforcement officer and outlaws “mob intimidation,” defined as two or more people attempting to compel another “to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.”

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February 3, 2021 at 11:06AM

Attorney Disbarred for Making Porn Films in Florida Jails

This is a cautionary tale for any attorney out there who may be contemplating making porn movies in jail.

The Florida Supreme Court on Jan. 21 disbarred a lawyer who pleaded guilty in connection to soliciting sex from female inmates and making what were described as “porn films.” A referee’s report, which records showed was uncontested, tore into Andrew B. Spark, saying he acted selfishly, had a pattern of misconduct, thought what he did was not illegal, and preyed on vulnerable detained women.

His name may be familiar to Law&Crime readers. We wrote about him back in 2017 after he was arrested in Pinellas County. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri opened his press conference saying that Spark pretended to be the personal attorney of a woman currently sentenced for sexually assaulting a 7-year-old. She was surprised to see him in the private attorney visitation room. He solicited her for sex on camera in return for money, according to this story. She said no, but left the door open for it to happen in the future.

Gualtieri said that Spark first met the woman and her co-defendant husband two years before at a porn convention. The attorney attempted to solicit the woman for sex, but they could not sort out a price at the time.

The sheriff said investigators said that they found evidence Spark did have sex with another female inmate at least six times.

According to the referee’s report, the ensuing investigation turned up that Spark solicited sex with another woman at the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County.

According to the report, Spark reached out to a friend for a sample modeling contract in the porn industry. He used that as the basis for his own modeling contract to use with the inmates, wrote the referee. As part of the document, the women would agree not to reveal his identity without his written permission. Under the terms of this contract, violating this would leave them open to damages of $1 million.

Evidence shows Spark made a $10 deposit into the account of the woman at the Falkenburg Road Jail.

Spark’s disbarment is being applied retroactively to his suspension dated July 15, 2019. He is currently serving probation for two counts of introduction of contraband into a detention facility. He already wrapped up his year of probation for a count of the misdemeanor prostitution-related charge. Law&Crime could not immediately reach him for comment.

[Mugshot via Pinellas County Jail]

The post Attorney Disbarred for Making Porn Films in Florida Jails first appeared on Law & Crime.

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February 2, 2021 at 02:45PM

Florida Man Claimed Heroin Was Laxative

FEBRUARY 1–An ex-con facing a felony narcotics collar insisted to Florida police that the substance he was found in possession of was not heroin, but rather a chocolate laxative, according to an arrest report. 

Steven Coplen, 29, was driving near his home in Crestview Saturday when he was pulled over for an expired vehicle registration.

A subsequent search of the auto turned up assorted drug paraphernalia, Oxycodone pills, and a plastic bag with methamphetamine residue. Cops also discovered heroin under the driver’s seat and on the passenger floorboard, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office report.

Coplen, however, denied he was holding heroin, instead claiming that the substance was a “chocolate laxative,” a la ex-lax. Pictured above, Coplen did not offer an explanation as to why some of the purported laxative was stashed under his seat.

Arrested on multiple felony drug charges, Coplen was booked into the county jail, where he is being held on $15,000 bond.

Coplen’s rap sheet includes convictions for grand theft, heroin possession, probation violation, and methamphetamine possession. He was sentenced in May 2019 to 18 months in prison on the theft and drug charges. He was released from state custody last May.

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February 1, 2021 at 11:38AM

A Florida Senator Wants to Exclude People With Felony Convictions from the State’s Minimum Wage Increase

It’s the latest bill in the state legislature’s long history of meddling with voter-approved amendments.


Just months ago, Florida residents overwhelmingly voted to approve “Amendment 2,” a ballot initiative that raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by September 2026. Today, St. Petersburg State Senator Jeffrey Brandes—a well-connected veteran of the Florida GOP—filed SJR 854, a measure that will, if enacted, exempt some Floridians from the increased minimum-wage protection.

The Florida legislature has long treated grassroots ballot initiatives with open contempt. In 2017, after more than 70 percent of state voters elected to legalize medical marijuana, state lawmakers responded by temporarily making it illegal to smoke medicinal weed. In 2018, when a supermajority of Floridians voted to return voting rights to at least 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people, the GOP-dominated legislature passed a glorified poll-tax that made sure that 800,000 of those people remained ineligible to vote. This week, like clockwork, the state Republican Party—dominated by pro-Trump apparatchiks and a smaller Libertarian-minded wing—has launched its plan to kneecap the minimum wage increase, which passed with over 60 percent approval.

Brandes is now proposing amending the state constitution once more, to allow state lawmakers to “reduce the Minimum Wage rate for prisoners in the state correctional system, reduce the Minimum Wage rate for employees convicted of a felony, reduce the Minimum Wage rate for employees younger than 21 years of age, [and] reduce the Minimum Wage rate for other hard-to-hire employees…”

Given Brandes’s connections within the party, as well as the state GOP’s general antipathy toward raising the minimum wage, it’s quite likely the measure could reach voters by November 2021. (More than 60 percent of Florida voters must approve amendments to the state constitution for changes to take effect.) The state GOP has prioritized a number of other draconian bills, including a much-criticized proposal from Gov. Ron DeSantis that would crack down on peaceful protesters and make it legal, in some cases, to run demonstrators over.

That this proposal targets both currently and formerly imprisoned people is something of a shock for those following Brandes’s career: Over the last handful of years, there has been arguably no more successful justice-reform champion in Tallahassee than Brandes. He has leaned on his professed small-government Libertarian ethos to try to reform the state’s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, force cops to get warrants before monitoring citizens’ cell-phone data, push more people into pre-arrest diversion programs, and reduce the state’s reliance on cash bail. While there have certainly been Democratic members of the state legislature who have proposed justice-reform measures, Brandes has been able to use his pull as a member of the state’s dominant party to pass significant reforms.

This week’s measure shows exactly how far the state will get by relying on someone like Brandes to fix its problems. What’s more, it could provide a new push for progressive members of the U.S. congress to pass a $15 minimum-wage-hike, rather than leaving the matter up to individual states.

Brandes did not immediately respond to a request from The Appeal, but he spent the day defending his bill on Twitter by claiming that lowering the minimum-wage for teens or the formerly incarcerated will somehow help, rather than hurt, them. He cited multiple right- or Libertarian-leaning think tanks, which allege that minimum-wage hikes would lead to a spike in unemployment for those groups. A significant amount of research contradicts those claims.

“Pretty clear higher wages keep people out of prison too,” progressive Orlando State Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted in response to an article about the bill on Wednesday.

“…once they get a job,” Brandes replied, adding later that, in his opinion, the bill will help the formerly incarcerated back on their feet after leaving prison.

In a text message to The Appeal, Eskamani said that instead of forcing the recently incarcerated into low-paying jobs, the state should focus on jobs-training programs to help people leaving prison.

“Instead of carving out ‘hard to hire employees’ from benefiting with an increase to the minimum wage we should help hard to hire employees be hirable!” she said. “Automation is already here and yet we face many talent gaps in areas like construction and manufacturing. Let’s get folks trained and hired there, where they are needed. But hand picking select groups of people to be exempt is not to the spirit of Amendment 2, and won’t help is reducing recidivism rates either.”

via The Appeal https://theappeal.org

January 27, 2021 at 09:27PM