Fluid politics

Clearwater has no Sam Donaldson in the media, so when Mayor Rita Garvey wrote in a public statement on Dec. 18 that she "never intended to raise any technical defenses" to her DUI charge (to which she that day pled guilty), no one threw her Dec. 15 interview with the St. Petersburg Times back in her face, in which she said she had gone back and forth whether to plead or to challenge the way the DUI test was administered: "One day it's one decision, and the next day it's another." To have challenged the test, of course, would have alienated her own police force. Nor did she apologize for previous lies about her drinking, e.g., that "one" drink that produced a 0.335 reading.

Catch all

Florida criminal suspects who would still be on the lam if they had kept a lower profile: (1) Jeffrey Scott Durham, wanted in Pinellas on nearly 50 theft charges, was picked up in Santa Barbara, Calif., after "America's Most Wanted" spooked him into fleeing and burning his van, which ignited his clothing and sent him to a hospital (where narcotics were discovered in his pocket); (2) Rickie Rhodes, 26, who pled guilty to murder in Orlando last week, got caught when he tried to stiff a tow-truck driver who pulled his car out of the mud; and (3) Taft Womack Jr., wanted on 72 fraud warrants, was caught without a driver's license at a DUI checkpoint in Pinellas. (He was sober.)

Mysterious ways

Last month, Greater Ministries International received a Ponzi scheme indictment from the feds in Tampa, and last week Jonathan Strawder, who has family ties to GMI but who calls his own holy organization Sovereign Ministries International, pled guilty to grand theft and securities fraud in Orlando. Strawder, only 26, not only got caught early in his program but also, the cash value of his cars and boats was high enough that his parishioners are expected to get back half their losses. This stuff all started with a great 1997 state appeals court ruling that money paid to GMI was a religious donation and not a regulatable security.

Stuff you might have missed ...

• Florida's third massive Medicare fraud indictment of the year was handed down in Miami, involving the home health-care business. They had people cleaning seniors' houses for free just so they could get their Medicare case numbers.

• By June, retailers should be able to have a computer system to verify ID instantly by retrieving your driver's license photo on a screen to compare it to whatever photo ID you're offering for writing your check or buying booze. Tallahassee sold the images for $22 million to a private database.

Pensacola News Journal investigation trashed Lake City's Anderson Columbia Co., the state's leading paving contractor, for overhiring lobbyists and underhiring job supervisors. Said a state honcho, "Our guys know they have to be out there 100 percent of the time, because they don't know what Anderson Columbia is going to do."

• White supremacist Gregory A. Collins, 21, sentenced last week to four years in prison for threatening the President, wasn't hard to find in that he wrote his explicit note ("You are going to die just like those people in Oklahoma City") from the comfort of his cell near Chipley, where he was serving time on an unrelated charge.

• A second grand jury in Lake County has refused to indict Heather Wendorf, 17, who was rendered an orphan in 1996 by the vampire cult she belonged to. Three are in prison, and her main man, Rod Ferrell, is on death row, but the worst the jurors could come up with was that she was, like, really, really insensitive to her parents' needs.

• Port St. Lucie police started what could be a major state crackdown on the horrifying crime wave of teen-age smoking, solely because departments can tap the state settlement with Big Tobacco for overtime pay if they say they need it to haul in all those slackers (penalties: $28 fines to loss of driver's license). (Suggestion: a settlement with Big Porn to get pedophiles off the street.)

• The brand-new Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami opened, with several dozen stores (including three megastores) and a 4,600-seat theater complex, but a parking garage that holds only 1,700 cars. Uh, we planned it that way, said the developers.

• Josephine Allen's lawsuit against Motley Crue finally drew a response from Motley's lawyer, demanding proof of injury. Allen says she was hit by stray parts at a 1997 concert in Zephyrhills when Nikki Sixx obliterated his guitar on stage.

• Pensacola police charged Marine Sgt. Rudolph Williams, Jr., 29, as one of the men who robbed a Toys R Us just hours after he stood in front of that very store with fellow Marines soliciting for the U.S.M.C. Toys for Tots campaign.

• Our jailed Palestinian researcher Mazen Al-Najjar, who in last week's The F State was bound for Guyana, is still in the pokey in Bradenton, having been turned down by that government, which read in the newspapers that he might be connected to terrorists.

• Two execs living in a gated community in Broward got into it over doggy doo. Golden retriever poops; neighbor rebukes; pooper's owner puts poop in neighbor's mailbox; neighbor punches owner's lights out.

• The feds announced five Miami cops are under investigation because of their sloppy handling of a drop gun they allegedly planted to save a colleague's butt when he fired too quickly to break up a fight. Sloppy: Cop left a fingerprint on the gun before planting it.

• Good news: Associated Press reported that Palm Beach County has a 20-disabled-person crew of police-trained volunteers who write double the number of handicap-parking violation tickets that regular officers do.

• I don't think so: Kendrick D. Simmons, 20, arrested in Tallahassee for sexual battery, told police, "I was going to turn myself in after Christmas."

• And, yet another shoplifting suspect was killed in a car chase with police, colliding with a flatbed truck after fleeing St. Augustine Outlet Mall.

Copyright 1998 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Chuck Shepherd, who lives in St. Petersburg, also writes the syndicated newspaper column News of the Weird.