News 2-6-2020

Law enforcement officers were honored yesterday at the Okeechobee County Sheriffs Department as part of a year-end awards ceremony. Sheriff Noel Stephen says this is the time to recognize all the men and women who go above and beyond the call of duty, recognize those officers or administrators who have achieved some longevity in the department and recognize brand new officers to the department who are just beginning their law enforcement careers. Stephen says recognizing and honoring these men and women is important because they’re all part of a family (Sheriff’s Department Awards 1). One of the biggest awards is the Medal of Valor and that went to Deputy Richard Varnadore, who saved a man and his family after they were involved in a plane crash last fall. Varnadore says at that moment, there wasn’t time to think (Sheriff’s Department Awards 2). Other awards presented include Law Enforcement Officer of the Year which went to Donnie Holmes, Dale LaFlam got the Lifetime Achievement Award and Volunteer of the Year went to Maggie Williams. There were also nine new Road Patrol and Detention deputies who received their badges.

Four former South Florida casino employees and their wives have been convicted of stealing $5.2 million from Miccosukee Gaming over several years. According to federal court documents, the men worked in the casino’s video game department. From January 2011 to May 2015, they tampered with computers in electronic gaming machines, causing those machines to generate false and fraudulent credit vouchers or tickets. They then enlisted others to exchange the vouchers for cash at the casino. The money was turned over to the employees’ wives, who moved the cash between multiple bank accounts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami announced Tuesday that Michel Aleu, Lester Lavin, Yohander Jorrin Melhen and Leonardo Betancourt have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal funds in excess of $1,000 from Miccosukee Gaming, conspiracy to commit computer fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Their respective wives have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering offenses. All eight await sentencing.

Karl Roblin, 24, of Lehigh Acres, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, followed by Lifetime Sex Offender Probation, for Lewd and Lascivious Molestation on a Victim Under 12 and Providing Obscene Material to a Minor. Roblin was also designated a Sexual Predator. In May 2019, a mother noticed changes in her daughter and then found out her daughter had been raped by the defendant. The crime occurred in Lehigh Acres. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigated and gathered extensive evidence in the case leading to the arrest of Roblin.

Bobby Beefcake Hodges III, 25, of Lehigh Acres, was found guilty as charged of two counts of Vehicular Homicide and one count of Fleeing to Elude a Law Enforcement Officer, for a crash that killed a pregnant woman. On April 12, 2018 Hodges was driving his SUV on Joel Boulevard in Lehigh. A Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy attempted to conduct a traffic stop but Hodges would not stop. He continued driving at a high rate of speed. The deputy did not pursue. Hodges then lost control and crashed the SUV. The vehicle rolled several times ejecting the 18-year-old pregnant passenger. The woman and her unborn baby were pronounced dead at the scene. Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano of our Homicide Unit and Assistant State Attorney Andrew Riordan prosecuted the case. Sentencing is scheduled for March 16th.

The State of Florida has received a failing grade for its smoking prevention programs. The American Lung Association says Florida is not funding half of the recommended level. The news comes amid Rush Limbaugh, conservative political commentator and Florida homeowner, announcing he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. According to an affiliate news source, the American Lung Association says Florida isn’t doing enough to help people quit or prevent smoking. Most states received F grades from the lung association. Steps for the state to receive a higher grade include regulating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, and increasing tobacco prevention and control funding to CDC recommended levels. It’s important to note there is a new federal law that just went into effect nationwide, banning anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products.

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced Jacksonville native Daniel Wynn as Florida’s Featured Artist for Black History Month. A U.S. Air Force veteran and celebrated artist, Daniel will have his work displayed in the Governor’s Mansion for visitors to enjoy. Daniel Wynn is a highly accomplished artist, designer and international exhibitor who works in acrylic painting, oil pastel, drawing and sculpture. He also promotes numerous community art programs and learning opportunities for children, teenagers and adult minority artists. In 1997, Mr. Wynn founded the nonprofit organization, City Kids Art Factory, to provide a safe and positive environment for children and teenagers to study and practice art. Soon after, he and several colleagues started the Jacksonville Consortium of African-American Artists to promote the history of African art and culture citywide. To learn more about Daniel and his art, visit https://www.wynn-art.com/artist_bio.html.