Thursday, May 30, 2013

Not this shit again...

Just when we thought the maquinita war was over, our least favorite local newspaper does a puff piece about the stupid machines...
“No! No! No! Arrrrgh,” cried out Barbara Sciandra in a strangled tone, hands clutching the sides of her head in anguish as the numbskull newbie in front of the video slot machine — that is, me — botched yet another game, another 8 cents frittered away to rookie incomprehension.
“Sorry,” she continued a moment later, in a calmer tone. “But you had three ‘cross fever’ symbols in the corners. You should have held them and raised your bet. If you get four, a jackpot is almost inevitable.”
Actually, the jackpot would have been entirely theoretical, as were those 8 cents I lost. We were playing the machine secretly and for free, in a South Florida arcade closed last month when the Florida Legislature passed a harsh new video gambling law.
The owner opened it up, reinstalled the computer motherboards in several of the machines, and invited a few of the arcade’s regular customers back for an afternoon so I could test one of the frequent criticisms of the slots: that they’re pure games of chance in which skill plays no part.
The no-skill allegation came up again during the legislative debate this spring over a bill, which eventually passed, to ban video gambling in senior arcades, gas stations and mom-and-pop cafes. “They are not games of skill,” lobbyist Ron Book — who represents pari-mutuel racetracks, which wanted to stamp out competition for their casinos — told the Florida House. “They are clearly games of gambling and chance.”
Nobody denies the machines involve gambling; you play them for pennies in hopes of winning a much more valuable prize. And they certainly involve an element of chance, like all games, even chess. (Many statistical studies have shown that the player who gets the white pieces and the first move, which is typically decided with a coin flip or something similar, wins between 52 and 56 percent of the time.)
But if skill plays a part in the video games, even a small one, then they aren’t gambling devices under Florida law. And if my afternoon at the arcade means anything, skill matters a lot.
Three arcade regulars — including a mentally handicapped woman — beat me like a drum for hours as we tried out various machines. Regular players (some of them visited the arcade six times a week before the new law closed it) have learned strategies and physical skills that help them win on a regular basis.
“Don’t feel bad,” another regular — retired furniture saleswoman Gail May, herself a pretty fair player — consoled me as Sciandra piled up winnings while I lost and lost and lost. “I don’t think I’ve seen her leave this place once without at least a $25 gift card,” one of the prizes that the arcade used to award to big winners.
“It’s like anything else, if you practice and pay attention and work at it, you can win,” said Sciandra, 72, who retired a few years ago from her job as a cafeteria worker in the Broward school system. “Not everybody does that — some people are content to just punch the button and let the game play out, like you would a regular slot machine in a casino. But that’s not the way I do it.”
The video slots (or maquinitas, little machines, as they’re often referred to it in Miami-Dade County) superficially resemble their casino counterparts. You put in a coin (or swipe a smart card), punch the start button and several rows of little images — fruits, bells, bugs, flowers, whatever — start spinning. You punch another button to stop them, and if the images align in designated patterns (five grapes in a row, for instance) you win credits that can be turned in for prizes.
But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike casino slots, where the player does little more than stick in a coin, video slots offer players ways to alter the action through betting strategies and physical and mental skills:
• Many of the video machines allow players to hold onto some of the images, double their bets and play again — not unlike tossing out cards and drawing others in poker. That’s what Sciandra wanted me to do with those “cross fever” symbols, hold them for another play. “You can really raise your odds that way,” she said.
• Wild-card images that make it easier to complete a pattern, or raise the value of a jackpot, or offer some other advantage, periodically flicker across the game screen. An alert player with quick eye-hand coordination can lock them in, improving his chances of a win.
• Some machines have what are known as “skill stop” buttons that allow the player to individually freeze each column of spinning images. Because the images spin in repetitive patterns, that means a good player could line up, say, five cherries, one at a time, to win.
Many critics of the machines don’t believe that’s possible. (Lobbyist Book, in his speech to the Florida House, specifically denounced the idea as a fraud.) And, watching the mad blur of the spinning images, I certainly thought it was impossible.
But that was before I watched Gale Davis play Queen Bee, the Rolls Royce of video slots, the machine that’s used in video-slot tournament pay. Gale’s husband owns a senior arcade in Port St. Lucie (they were just visiting South Florida for the day) and she has put in countless hours on the Queen Bee. She can read its swirling colors like a book.
“We’re going to look for birds down here in these two panels in the lower right,” she announced after watching the images flicker for 10 or 15 seconds. Waiting... waiting... and then she pounced on the stop-button. “Yessss!” she squealed — and sure enough, there were the birds. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was what she was excited about. She was relentlessly successful in picking her target, hitting 10 out of 12 at one point.
The 59-year-old Davis was, nonetheless, apologetic. “This isn’t my regular machine,” she explained. “So the patterns that the images move in are different. But there’s always a pattern, and you can figure it out if you play for a while. See how each image is a different color? So even though it’s moving so fast that you can’t really make out the flower image, you know where it is because the yellow flashes by. Of course, the machine tries to fool you. See this little picture of a green bug? When it’s spinning, it looks red. But you can learn things like that.”
None of this is a surprise to the owners and operators of video slots. “I had a lot of regulars who went months at a time without paying me a single dime,” said Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade Association, who owns a now-shuttered senior arcade in Pompano Beach. “They just kept playing on their winnings. The arcade makes its money on the large number of customers who are just there for the fun of playing and don’t work at it very hard. But I’ve got some who just win all the time.”
The question of whether the games involve skill is much more than academic. Fontaine nearly went to jail over it in 2006 when Broward prosecutors charged her with operating an illegal gambling house (a felony) and possession of an illegal gambling device — a Queen Bee machine just like the one I played. She won the case at trial, but only after spending $250,000 on her defense.
Fontaine's case is just one of eight during the past few years in which arcade owners have beaten back courtroom attempts to label their games pure matters of chance. Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Wolf, who represents the Florida Arcade Association, says jurors who actually see how the machines operate inevitably think that luck is not enough to beat them. “The application-of-skill issue has been tried in many courts across the state,” he said, “all with a finding that there is.”

Read more here:

FUCK!  While the Miami Herald's Glenn Garvin is sitting around with these old farts playing slot machines trying to figure out an angle to appease the illegal gaming industry, let's take a look at a video I made a few years ago showing an old man getting a $900.00 pay out from one of these harmless machines...

Funny, how that old man getting paid out by that machine spent all afternoon pumping nearly $2,000 into that machine before it paid out the $900 in that video.  How harmless is that?  As far as the games being "games of chance" that's even more bullshit as the business owner had showed me in the past how he manipulated the dip switches on the machines circuit boards to alter how often they paid out or not!  I've been personally fighting these god damn machines for the last 8 years as a tenant in one of my commercial properties had a cafeteria with seven of these machines.  I tried for years to get the machines out both with the county and the city police to no avail.  The funniest part of all of this is that my property was located just three blocks west of another cafeteria, Via del Rio, that had even more of these machines, plus illegal drug dealing, prostitution, etc.  

For years despite all the fighting, stabbings and shootings at that cafeteria, we could never figure out how they continued to do business with relative impunity from the police till one day someone told me that the business owners husband was someone high up in the City of Miami PD.  Turns out that person was none other than former City of Miami police officer Hector Mirabile who went on to become the City of South Miami city manager!    Mr Mirabile and his family owned the cafeteria/pool hall/illegal gambling den/etc till a City of Miami cop shot and killed one of their patrons...

Shortly after this murder, the Mirabile's sold the business to my ex tenant and rid me once and for all of all these god damn machines from my property.

It's too bad Mr. Garvin didn't go out to the bars and corner markets of Miami and Hialeah before he wrote this article rather than go hang out with the old folks in Broward county.  What a crock of shit.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An update on embattled City of South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro's ethics case.

There's been plenty of rumors leading up to the deadline given to embattled City of South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro to accept a plea in his ethics case that's before the Miami Dade county ethics commission.  We've heard all sorts of stories ranging from the ethics commission dropping the charges or even having the chief admit no guilt and pay a fine.  To say those rumors were disheartening would be an understatement, if indeed any of those rumors were true, it would just feed into the overall belief that the Ethics Commission is nothing but a paper tiger that was solely in existence to give free passes to those who are politically connected in our town.

With that said, I reached out to my source at the ethics commission to see what was going on since the deadline that we were told for the plea offer, May 22, had come and gone and to see if this rumor about the chief dispensing of the case with a simple fine and no admission of guilt was true.  The response I got regarding the rumors was short and sweet, THEY ARE FALSE and it appears that the ethics case is going to trail!

It looks like it's going to be an interesting next few months as the ethics commission moves forward with it's case against the chief.  Till then, next week we'll pick up where we left off with our first amendment rights being trampled on by the state attorneys office and we'll deal with a public information request from the City of South Miami regarding the federal NCIC database.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Freedom of speech? Just watch what you say!

Our regions preeminent legal blogs are up in arms because the Florida bar has gone after one of their fellow bloggers in Broward county.  The Justice Building Blog, South Florida Lawyers Blog and the Southern District of Florida Blog put together a joint post yesterday addressing their displeasure withe the Florida Bar's actions against attorney Bill Gelin who runs the Broward JAA blog.  From their joint post...
You lose your rights, not with a bang, but with a whimper. One small encroachment after another. A bureaucrat pushes the edges here, a prosecutor challenges the boundaries in a few cases there. No one says or does anything and then you look up and suddenly a cherished right is gone.
Nothing is more insidious and dangerous to our constitutional rights than a bureaucrat who, under the cover of a government agency, seeks to intimidate someone.
I couldn't have said it better myself especially in light of the recent scandals with the AP News phone records and the IRS mess.  While the bar is a big deal to the lawyers who run those blogs, it doesn't mean shit to me, even though they have come after me in the past.  What makes this mess hit home for me is that I was targeted in a similar fashion a few years back.  For those of you who have followed our blog from its inception, you may remember we conducted our blog anonymously for the first couple of years of it's existence.  Back then we took great joy in ripping apart cases that the State Attorneys office and the local police departments were royally fucking up, specifically cases that were investigated by former detective Jorge Baluja of the Miami Dade PD and that asshat of all asshat's assistant state attorney Bill Kostrzewski.

Back then I made such a fool of ASA Kostrzewski that revealing my identity became an obsession for this inept career prosecutor who should have lost his job years ago.  Things reached a boiling point when I watched him make a fool of himself and subsequently get berated by Judge Mary Barzee at which point I couldn't contain myself and started laughing at him  in open court.  After the hearing, prosecutor Kostrzewski (AKA Special K) chased me down the hallways of the courthouse and confronted me while going down the escalator.  While I resisted engaging in his hysterical high fagotry especially since the ruckus he created attracted the attention of the cops and security guards that populated the lobby of the courthouse , I simply responded with "Nice job Bill, see you next time!".

That was all well and good, that is until a few hours later when I received an alarming email from the company that hosts the domain name for this blog (, now keep in mind up until the receipt of this email, no one knew who was behind this blog, believe it or not, not even my family and friends.  As always, click on the image to enlarge...

You can imagine my reaction...

The instant I read the email, specifically the part that stated "We have not complied because the subpoena had some invalid information listed on it" I knew it was my favorite prosecutor who was behind it.  Forget about my first amendment rights to write whatever the fuck I want about whoever the fuck I want, this asshole was further violating my constitutional rights by sending a bullshit subpoena with no legal basis to to find out my real identity!  Remember, I was doing nothing wrong and was not involved in any of the cases that I was writing about, so where does this asshole get off trying to fuck me like this?  What legitimate use did uncovering my identity have?  FUCK!

We'll continue the discussion tomorrow, with that said, a simple bar complaint doesn't seem that bad now does it?  Also, for those anonymous bloggers out there, keep in mind, your identity is only one illegal subpoena away...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is a very bad sign...

I can't believe the entire country isn't up in arms over this story...

The Associated Press is protesting what it calls a massive and unprecedented intrusion into its gathering of news. The target of that wrath is the U.S. Justice Department, which secretly collected phone records for several AP reporters last year. The AP says it's caught in the middle of a Justice Department leak investigation.

The scope of the Justice Department subpoenas is what gives David Schultz, a lawyer for AP, pause.

"It was a very large number of records that were obtained, including phone records from Hartford, New York, Washington, from the U.S. House of Representatives and elsewhere where AP has bureaus. It included home and cellphone numbers from a number of AP reporters," Schulz says.

It's not clear what the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is investigating. But the AP thinks it might be related to its story from May 2012 that described the CIA stopping a terrorist plot to plant a bomb on an airplane with a sophisticated new kind of device.

How that story came to be is the subject of a criminal leak investigation. But the AP says the Justice Department might now be flouting the First Amendment to try to build a case.

"This sort of activity really amounts to massive government monitoring of the actions of the press, and it really puts a dagger at the heart of AP's news-gathering activities," Schulz says.

The phone records don't include the substance of the calls — they're just a written tally of who called whom and how long the calls lasted.

Justice Department officials didn't want to talk on tape. But a spokesman for Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney in D.C., said he follows laws and Justice Department rules.

What are those rules?

For starters, the attorney general himself needs to sign off on a subpoena to a reporter. And prosecutors must demonstrate that they made every effort to get the information in other ways before even turning to the press.

But those rules also say prosecutors need to notify the media organization in advance unless that would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.

David Schulz, the lawyer for AP, says the guidelines for the Justice Department's dealings with reporters date back to a dark time.

"They were put into place after Watergate, when everyone was very alarmed by the abuses and excesses of the Nixon Justice Department in subpoenaing reporters and trying to get information about their sources and activities," he says.

Three years ago, the Justice Department's inspector general found evidence that the FBI was getting phone records from The Washington Post and The New York Times in the Bush administration without following those guidelines.

Now lawmakers from both political parties are asking the Obama administration tough questions.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, a fierce critic of the administration, said the Justice Department is behaving like it's above the law.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who normally defends the Obama White House, said he's troubled and wants an explanation.

As for the civil liberties community?

"I think my first reaction to this story is shock," says Ben Wizner, a lawyer at the ACLU. "This looks like a fishing expedition. And even if the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of a leak, this kind of subpoena has to be a last resort and can't possibly be as broad as this one."

The last time phone records for a reporter were the focus of a secret subpoena was back in 2001, in a case that involved a different AP reporter.

Back then, former Justice Department prosecutor Victoria Toensing said this on PBS NewsHour: "You shouldn't get a story that violates the law, and if you do, then the government should take all steps to see that that doesn't happen again so people have confidence in their judicial system."

This Justice Department will have a chance to explain itself later this week when Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill.

It seems that with every passing day our rights are eroding away more and more.  The timing of this story couldn't be better though, with all the rumors and allegations of the City of South Miami PD illegally using the state's D.A.V.I.D. system to obtain private information on the chief's perceived adversaries or if you're to believe all the rumors, we're told that some folks over at the PD are listening to certain people's phone conversations!

Regardless of what's going on over at the City of South Miami, there's an even bigger story out there.  Years ago, back when I was writing this blog anonymously, the Katherine Fernandez Rundle's state attorneys did something similar to me and as the article states "went on a fishing expedition" for no apparent reason other than the fact that they didn't like my criticism of how they were handling a handful of cases.  We'll discuss  next time.

By the way, for those of you counting, the deadline for embattled City of South Miami police chief Orlando Martinez de Castro to accept the plea offer from the Miami Dade Ethics Commission is only six calender days away... 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The clock is ticking for embattled City of South Miami police chief Orlando Martinez de Castro...

That's right folks!  You all remember the ethics complaint we filed against embattled City of South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro, don't you?  For those of you who don't remember, after we discovered that the Chief was steering city business to his family's tag agency, we went ahead and met with the head of the Miami Dade County Ethics Commission, Joe Centorino, and filed a formal complaint against the chief for his nefarious activities.  If you're keeping track, that was over a year ago, we keep pestering the folks over at the ethics commission and have even met with the investigators in charge to get an answer on what's going on with the case against the chief.  At first I was told that they couldn't comment on the case then it seems that they warmed up to me and gave me details of what was going on, unfortunately though, I can't discuss what they told me!

Now our sources tell us that despite of the stall tactics the chief and his lawyers have used to avoid depositions and a trial, the ethics commission has given the chief an ultimatum, he's got till May 22, 2013 to accept a plea deal or his case goes to trial.  The only problem with the plea offers he's gotten is that if he were to accept either one of them, he'd automatically lose his job as the police chief of South Miami.  

Isn't that ironic?  It seems like just yesterday when the three tellers that worked at the chief's wife's tag agency were getting a plea deal crammed down their throats in the bullshit case the chief and his wife put together against their former employees, now it's the chief himself who's contemplating a plea deal that could mean the end of his law enforcement career!

It's rather obvious that the chief won't accept a plea deal, so despite the deadline, we're going to have to wait for his case to go to trial.  It's refreshing to see the folks over at the Ethics Commission take a stand and see this case through the end rather than give the chief a slap on the wrist and send him on his way.    

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do you think someone in law enforcement is abusing the state's D.A.V.I.D. system to get information on you?

A few weeks back we discussed the potential for a law enforcement officer to abuse the state's Driver And Vehicle Information Database aka D.A.V.I.D. to glean personal information on someone that they have no open criminal investigation into or otherwise have no reason to inquire about.  Think about it, say you're a cop and see a hot chick driving next to you, you want to get more information on them, IE home address, name, etc so you go ahead and run their license plate number through the D.A.V.I.D. system and just like that, viola, you have everything you need to know about them, home address, name, date of birth, etc.  Or how about if you're in law enforcement and there's someone that you don't care for that's bothering you, you want to know a little more about them?  Simple, plug their name into the D.A.V.I.D. system and you got everything you need to know about them, home address, criminal history if any, etc.

Now, during the course of our coverage of the goings on over at the City of South Miami, we've been told time and time again that the cops over there, specifically the chief, Orlando Martinez de Castro, abuse both the D.A.V.I.D. system as well as the federal N.C.I.C. system to obtain information on people they don't like.   We also uncovered evidence of these types of abuses when we discovered that embattled City of South Miami police chief, Orlando Martinez de Castro was being sued because of his departments abuse of the D.A.V.I.D system.  So what's the big deal?  It's simple, it's illegal for cops to abuse these databases in this manner, if you bust them doing so, they'll get their asses handed to them on a plate.  But how are you supposed to prove that someone is abusing the system?  After a few months of researching the subject and with the help of one of our readers, we've finally figured out a simple method for a citizen to find out whether or not someone in law enforcement is using these databases to illegally obtain private information.  Here's a simple step by step procedure for finding out if a law enforcement officer has been poking around the state's databases looking you up:

  • Send a D.A.V.I.D. audit request to  and  Include your name, date of birth, drivers license number, and your home address.
  • Include the areas of Florida you want searched.  If you think someone in South Miami is looking you up, I'd suggest you have all of Miami Dade county searched, or for shit's and grins, just go ahead and specify the entire state of Florida, searching both local police and the sheriff's requests.
  • When you make the D.A.V.I.D. audit request, include the date range you want searched, for example, I started writing about South Miami about a year and half ago, so in my instance it would make sense to search from January 1, 2011 to "present".

If you follow those simple steps, the good folks up at the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles will give you a report either by email, regular mail or both depending on what you specify at the time of your request.  The costs aren't all that bad either, the state charges $19.08 for the first hour of search, and bill you for anything beyond that. I'm going to assume that they won't go nuts like the MDPD did when they asked me for nearly $500,000 a few years back in response to a simple group of emails I asked for in a public information request!

While you're at it, you might as well go ahead and ask the state for a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Transaction Audit Report (aka FDLE TAR report) so you can see if anyone else has been  asking the state for public records that pertain to you.  You can get a FDLE TAR report by sending an email request with your name, date of birth, drivers license number, and your home address to , make sure your request is marked "Public Records Request".

So there you have it.  We no longer have to hear rumors and worry about cops abusing the D.A.V.I.D. system, now we can get the proof!  If indeed these databases are being abused, then lookout as the cops doing so are going to be in deep shit!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Please Help me! Oh no, please don't!

We left off on Wednesday with one of our readers asking us for help because they were defrauded by someone that we wrote about years ago and after being screwed out of a ton of money, no one in law enforcement was interested in taking their case.  Now after we went ahead and set the stage to introduce the story and write about the instance where the reader was screwed, both the reader and the detective working the case reach out to me and ask me to not write about the case because it's an ongoing investigation.  Honestly, WTF?  All of a sudden the cops are interested in the case?


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Way back when...

Way back when when I first started writing this blog, before we somehow got all politicized and started writing about political goings on in South Florida, we used to write about fraud, specifically financial and mortgage fraud.  Despite how much fraud we investigated and wrote about, with a few exceptions the authorities that follow our blog, DOJ, FBI, ICE, MDPD, City of Miami PD, etc for the most part ignored what we'd written.  Here we are now several years later and it seems like one of two things have happened, our nearly 1000 posts have become a treasure trove of information for law enforcement who are now getting around to investigating some of the people we wrote about or our blog has become an excellent resource for victims of people we've written about in the past.

Case in point, back in 2009 we wrote about a title company called Red Door Title aka Red Door Title Insurance Agency that was owned by a woman named Ana J. Amador.  In particular what we wrote about was a transaction they conducted involving a home located in Coconut Grove, specifically the home located at 3146 Hibiscus Street.  It didn't take much to figure out just what had gone on in this transaction, a simple examination of the warranty deeds tells the story, take a look...

Based on the documentary stamps (60 cents/100 dollars) the sales price of this home on July 18, 2008 was $218,000.  Now lets look at the next warranty deed that was issued by the same title company, Red Door Title, the VERY SAME DAY:

Based on the documentary stamps on this sale we can conclude that the home sold for $470,000 THE VERY SAME DAY! Once again we see a $252,000 profit in a MATTER OF HOURS!  This is a classic example of the type of fraud that was going on back during the peak of the housing bubble here in South Florida.  The way the scam would work is as follows:
  • Find a home that's in a depressed marginal neighborhood that is close to a better neighborhood that you can draw higher appraisal comps from, IE West Coconut Grove.
  • Find a straw buyer with good enough credit to get a loan.
  • Find an attorney or title agent that's a willing participant in this organized scheme to defraud the lender.
So now that we have all the crucial ingredients we move on to the scam...
  • The title agent conducts the closing from the interim buyer to the straw buyer before the actual seller gets paid for the property.
  • The title agent then funds the purchase of the home from the original seller to the interim buyer.
 And that's it, both the closings are done simultaneously, the banks money is used to purchase the property from the seller who sells it to the middle man who then flips it to the straw buyer who never makes a payment on the loan and the home subsequently goes into foreclosure.  The instance that we wrote about back in 2009 at 3146 Hibiscus netted the fraudsters $252k yet despite the fact that I laid out the case on a silver platter and handed it to the appropriate authorities as well as members of the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud task force, nothing happened.  It seems that the authorities were to busy investigating me and trying to figure out who I was rather than go after the real bad guys.  

So here we are several years later and what's happened?  In this instance the title agent that we wrote about, Red Door Title, has moved on to somewhat less sophisticated frauds, we'll discuss tomorrow...