Posted on 09 October 2012 by admin
Posted on 05 October 2012 by admin
Toys R Us released its annual list of “hot toys” for the upcoming holiday shopping season that includes new hits like kids’ tablets and boy-band One Direction dolls, but other toys like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Furby are making a comeback, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Holiday sales can account for up to 40 percent of toy seller’s profits, but last year, national retail sales dropped 2 percent to $21.18 billion, according to research firm NPD Group, the Times reports. Here at the top 15 toys:
Doc McStuffins Time for Your Check Up doll by Just Play, $39.99: doctor doll based on Disney Jr. show character
Furby by Hasbro, $59.99: update on hit 1998 furry interactive toy robot
Gelarti Designer Studio by Moose Toys, $24.99: sticker set that lets kids paint and customize reusable stickers
Hot Wheels R/C Terrain Twister by Mattel, $99.99: radio-controlled car that takes on all terrains
Jake and the Never Land Pirates Jake’s Musical Pirate Ship Bucky by Mattel’s Fisher-Price, $44.99: ship from Disney Jr. animated series
Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Stars Harmony B. Sharp by MGA Entertainment, $69.99: version of popular button-eyed dolls that talk and sing
LeapPad2 Explorer by LeapFrog, $99.99: latest iteration of LeapFrog’s kids tablet with faster processor and more memory
Y Volution Fliker F1 Flow Series Scooter by Atomic Sports, $99.99: a three-wheeled scooter that is self-propelled by the rider’s movement
m Wii U by Nintendo, not yet priced: Nintendo’s new two-screen gaming console
Micro Chargers TimeTrack by Moose Toys, $34.99: miniature car racing track set
Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset by Playmates, $119.99: 42-inch playset that re-creates TMNT’s lair
Ninjago Epic Dragon Battle by Lego Systems Inc., $139.99: Ninja-themed Lego board game
Skylanders Giants Starter Pack by Activision Publishing Inc., not yet priced: a sequel to Skylanders Spyro’s adventure that combines real-life action figures with a video game
Tabeo by Toys R Us, $149.99: Toys “R” Us’ own tablet offering with enhanced safety features and 50 preloaded apps
Toys R Us has eight stores in Orlando and previously announced it will be hiring up to 500 seasonal employees in Orlando and 45,000 workers for the upcoming holiday season.
Posted on 03 October 2012 by admin
(Orlando, Florida) – Poor oversight at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allowed agency officials to waste as much as $762,000 at a pair of multimillion-dollar conferences that took place last year in Orlando, according to an investigative report released Monday.
The report, released by the VA’s independent watchdog, estimated that the agency spent about $6.1 million on the two conferences, including $762,000 that was identified as unauthorized or unnecessary. Among the wasteful expenses: $97,906 worth of promotional gifts for the federal workers attending the training sessions; $154,000 for contractor travel; $16,500 to produce daily “Happy Face” videos of those in attendance; and nearly $2,300 for beverages, such as soda and juice, consumed by conference officials and speakers.
The VA’s Office of the Inspector General determined that the conferences, in July and August 2011 at the Orlando World Center Marriott, fulfilled “valid training needs” by each offering 57 classes for the 1,800 employees who attended one or the other of the two events.
But the report also detailed a series of inappropriate actions and poor oversight in connection with conference expenses that it blamed on a lack of leadership within the agency.
“Overall, VA’s processes and the oversight were too weak, ineffective and, in some instances, nonexistent to ensure that conference costs identified were accurate, appropriate, necessary and reasonably priced,” the report concluded. “Accountability and controls were inadequate to ensure effective management and reporting of the dollars spent.”
The inspector general’s scathing conclusions resulted during the weekend in the resignation of John Sepulveda, the VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration.
The report said Sepulveda “abdicated his responsibilities” and also lied to investigators when he told them he had not been aware of a parody video — made for the conferences at a cost of $49,516 — based on the iconic opening scene from the movie “Patton.”
Several individuals testified that Sepulveda had seen the video in advance, and one said he requested minor changes in it prior to the conferences. Last week, Sepulveda acknowledged seeing the video in advance and apologized.
Congressional leaders on Monday denounced the excessive spending.
“Senior leaders took no action to stem excessive conferences costs and, in fact, endorsed and approved costs without proper oversight,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Miller said funds spent on the conferences had been drawn from VA medical accounts and could have been used to provide health care for military veterans.
U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, called for officials throughout the federal government to be held accountable for extravagant spending, saying “limited federal resources that could have helped our veterans were instead wasted and misused for personal gain.”
The inspector general’s report noted that the VA, when asked, was “unable to provide an accurate and complete accounting” of costs associated with the conferences. It stated that expense estimates for the two conferences changed multiple times during the course of the investigation, eventually settling at approximately $6.1 million.
The investigation also found that 11 VA employees had improperly accepted gifts from contractors seeking to do business, or already doing business, with the agency — something that’s prohibited by federal law. The gifts, with a combined value of $5,981, included $2,300 in free meals, $504 for limo rides and $890 in spa services.
In a statement issued Monday, the VA said the wasteful expenses and the actions cited in its inspector general’s report “represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment, and stewardship.” The agency said it concurs with the policy and program recommendations outlined in the report and would hold accountable those employees who had misused taxpayer dollars.
“Secretary [of Veterans Affairs Eric K.] Shinseki has taken immediate action to address the issues outlined in the IG report to strengthen oversight, improve accountability, safeguard taxpayer dollars and help ensure such incidents do not occur again,” the agency said in the statement.
Sepulveda’s resignation was effective Sunday, the agency added, which also happened to be the final day of the federal government’s fiscal 2012 budget year.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report. email@example.com or 407-420-5664; firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-824-8222
Posted on 25 September 2012 by admin
Posted on 25 September 2012 by admin
Posted on 24 September 2012 by admin
(Orlando, Florida) – The Mitt Romney presidential campaign is sending two of its big-name female backers — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – to Winter Park tonight for a ‘Women for Mitt’ rally. Details, per the campaign
Event: Women for Mitt “Stronger Middle Class” Rally
Location: 1300 S. Denning Drive, Winter Park, FL 32789
Program Time: 6:00pm ET
Who: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
Posted on 21 September 2012 by admin
The Romney campaign announced Thursday that the Wisconsin congressman will host a town hall meeting at the UCF Arena at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and tickets are free.
Posted on 12 September 2012 by admin
Orlando officials bent over backward in late 2010 to help open Draft Global Beer Lounge across the street from Amway Center. Between a renovation allowance, rent forgiveness, a grant and a donation from a city commissioner’s district budget, the city has given the bar owners more than $300,000 of taxpayer money. Now it turns out that the city’s tenants in the publicly owned building paid no rent for nearly a year.
Even so, city officials agreed three months ago to reassign the lease, allowing a new company controlled by the old tenant’s main investor — a player for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles — to shrug off the $57,000 in back rent and utilities owed to Orlando taxpayers.
“They allowed the same people … to start over from zero with a clean slate,” said Willie Fisher, one of the bar’s founders who is now in a legal dispute with his former partners.
Fisher said the transfer of the lease was rushed, improper and allowed only because one of his former partners has a separate professional relationship with City Hall’s top administrator and City Commissioner Daisy Lynum.
“It’s totally unethical,” Fisher said.
Fisher is referring to Kimberly Stewart, a member of Draft’s original parent company who is also a financial adviser. Lynum said Stewart at one time handled one of her retirement accounts. Orlando Chief Administrative Officer Byron Brooks said he remains one of Stewart’s investment clients.
But Lynum and Brooks were both unequivocal in saying that relationship had no bearing on the city’s decision to shift Draft’s lease to the new company.
“That is blatantly false and I’m offended that [Fisher] would even make such an assertion,” Brooks said. “I’ve not had any direct involvement with the lease or the lease arrangements.”
Jameil McWhorter, attorney for both the new company and the old company, blames Fisher and his partner Pat Nix for mismanaging the bar and failing to pay rent and other bills.
“The new owner of Draft is working very diligently to pay vendors, meet its financial obligations and handle its business affairs in an effort to remain a valuable employer and partner in the downtown area and to ensure that Draft is successful,” McWhorter wrote in an email to the Orlando Sentinel on behalf of Stewart and Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The club occupies the most visible spot in a row of ground-floor businesses in the city-owned Church Street Parking Garage, across the street from Amway Center. City leaders were excited to have the business move in, hoping the high-end bar would bring more foot traffic west of Interstate 4 and into Parramore.
The City Council approved a five-year, $4,456-a-month lease in November 2010, just a month after the Orlando Magic’s new home court opened. The owners invested in extensive renovations, adding restrooms, a commercial kitchen, and a new air-conditioning system, flooring, lighting and two bar areas.
But it wasn’t without help from taxpayers. City Hall chipped in $155,000 toward the renovation, didn’t charge rent for the five months it took workers to finish renovating the space and gave the business another three months of free rent once the doors opened to the public.
Around the same time, the City Council gave the business a $40,000 grant to pay for cash registers and other equipment under a program meant to assist minority-owned businesses. A month later, Lynum used a budget meant for capital improvements in her district to give Draft a $22,000 “emergency business assistance” grant.
Records show that the justification for using taxpayer money to help the business was the need to eradicate “slum and blight” conditions in Parramore by creating a vibrant retail area.
The business was supposed to begin paying rent in August 2011, but records show the tenant didn’t pay rent then or for the next 10 months. An internal memo indicates city officials met with the owners about the unpaid rent several times and were told business had been poor. As the rent bill mounted, the city made no move to evict its tenant, a company called 301 at 333 West Church Street Station LLC.
In May, the bar’s attorney notified the city that the two men who had negotiated the lease with the city, Fisher and Nix, no longer had control of the company. The new manager was Reshard Investment Holdings LLC, whose president is Rodgers-Cromartie.
According to records and city officials, Rodgers-Cromartie had been a silent investor in the bar but took a controlling interest when Fisher and Nix failed to repay his investment.
Less than a month later, city commissioners agreed to the tenant’s request to transfer the lease to a newly created company, RIH Draft LLC. Like its predecessor, RIH Draft LLC also is managed by Reshard Investment Holdings LLC, and thus controlled by Rodgers-Cromartie.
But as far as city leaders are concerned, the new company isn’t liable for the $57,000 in unpaid rent and utilities.
“It’s a different corporate entity … so it’s not responsible for the debt,” said Thomas Chatmon, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Board. “We want a viable business on that corner. It’s a key corner given its proximity to Amway Center and the foot traffic that creates, and it was important to us that it not go dark.”
City officials say Fisher and Nix owe the back rent, though they no longer manage the company named in the original lease. The new company began paying the bar’s monthly rent in July.
The former partners are now fighting in court over who is responsible for the bar’s debts.
Draft isn’t the first tenant in the same city-owned building to run into trouble. Among others, Johnson’s Diner closed in 2010, and Oopsy Scoopsy Yogurt Shop closed a few months ago, its owners charged with trying to defraud the city. Both businesses also received grants from the city.
Posted on 07 September 2012 by admin
Posted on 03 September 2012 by admin
Special to Central Florida Politics by Michael Freeman
ORLANDO – Political consultant Doug Guetzloe, the founder of the Ax the Tax grassroots political organization, has filed an appeal of his conviction on federal tax charges that left him facing a 15-month sentence in federal prison.
The appeal was filed on Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Middle District of Florida, in the case known as The United States of America versus Douglas Guetzloe. He is requesting a new trial based on what his attorneys say were errors made in the first one.
That included violating Guetzloe’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial jury, the appeal claims.
The appeal was filed by Federal Defender Donna Lee Elm of Orlando and Assistant Federal Defender Craig L. Crawford on Guetzloe’s behalf, and argues that his rights were denied last May when he was tried in federal court on tax filing charges.
Last May, a federal judge handed him a sentence of 15 months in federal prison on two misdemeanor tax filing charges. The District Court allowed Guetzloe to surrender to a federal prison chosen by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and he was recently ordered to report to the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta’s Satellite Camp on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The USP-Atlanta houses medium security male inmates and has a detention center for pre-trial and holdover inmates, as well as a satellite camp for minimum security male inmates.
The USP is located in southeast Atlanta.
On Friday, the report date dissolved by the court until further notice, and a status conference will be held on Monday, Sept. 4 to review his appeal.
Guetzloe had been hoping to avoid prison altogether, by appealing his conviction.
Last February, Guetzloe was tried in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida. The government had filed the case in the summer of 2011, charging the Orlando resident with two misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns in 2005 and 2006. In February, a 12-member jury found Guetzloe guilty on both misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns.
Federal prosecutors had claimed the political consultant had failed to file returns on almost $187,000 in income in 2005, and more than $188,000 in 2006.
On May 21, Guetzloe was given a sentence of 15 months in federal prison – 12 months on count one and three months on count two — followed by a year of supervised probation. On June 4, Guetzloe filed a notice of appeal.
At the time of his sentencing, Guetzloe had said “Everyone told me jail time was very slim.”
The appeal asks the courts to consider whether the District Court “abused its discretion in this case.” The legal document states that prior to the trial, Guetzloe and his legal team had filed a joint request with the government for various questions to be asked of prospective jurors, including whether they understood that in a criminal case, the burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that a defendant does not have to prove his innocence.
During jury selection, the appeal notes, the District Court did not ask these questions.
Guetzloe had also wanted to ask questions about the Internal Revenue Service, which the judge ruled were not necessary.
The appeal also states that while Guetzloe filed his tax returns late, he always paid his taxes – an argument that the District Court ignored.
“Despite filing most of these returns late, each time the tax return was filed, Mr. Guetzloe paid the required taxes, interest and penalties,” the appeal notes. “Throughout trial, Mr. Guetzloe did not contest the fact that he failed to file his indivual tax returns for tax years 2005 and 2006. Rather, Mr. Gueztloe argued that the offenses were not done willfully. The District Court denied Mr. Guetzloe’s motion for a judgment of acquittal on whether he acted willfully.”
In addition to being a political consultant, Guetzloe runs a radio station and news-based Internet site, The Phoenix Network, in Orlando. The future of that network, if he does go to federal prison, is an open question.
The Phoenix Network broadcasts live over the Internet, through a host Web site, www.PhoenixNetwork.US. From his office in Hovey Court on Delaney Avenue in downtown Orlando, Guetzloe is the host of The Guetzloe Report, an hour-long radio program that’s broadcast daily at 11 a.m.
Guetzloe had earlier expressed a sense of frustration about the sentence, since the prosecution had made a reference to his political activities with Ax the Tax when the sentencing recommendation was being made.
“It was not very long before the prosecution made it clear they were there because of Ax the Tax, when he said that ‘Doug Guetzloe has been trying to ax his taxes,’ ” Guetzloe said last May. “Forty percent of Americans fail to file their taxes on time, and they’re all subject to possible criminal prosecution. But there have been only three cases in this district where someone was prosecuted for this, me included, and that goes back the last three or four years.”
Guetzloe said this case wasn’t about failure to pay his taxes, but failure to file the paperwork with the IRS.
“This wasn’t about paying taxes,” he said. “I had already paid my taxes into the system.”
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