The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 7, 1997 · Page 1091
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 1091

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 7, 1997
Page 1091
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Page 1091 article text (OCR)

msl THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1997 11C Vet collected $354,954 not entitled to him David Yunnan? At Hamilton, oi course. Si .. . -ffl -0 DAVID YURMAN Im m m mtmm W I If MM M - i i i ; jj f,r- ft' VT I. I 4 III 'mUm-.m for cost of living, free medical care and eye glasses, clothing and car allowances, records show. In 1987, his license was revoked, but Hitt continued to collect money for adaptive car equipment. In 1987 he collected $986. In 1993 he took in $l,265r Hitt told authorities he could do no more than hand out tools from a sitting position, but coworkers and business associates testified in July that Hitt performed all the rigorous tasks of a painter. He climbed on scaffoldings and lifted heavy cans of paint. In all, Hitt received nearly a half-million tax-free dollars. Although he legitimately should have received some benefits, the government said he took $354,954 more than he deserved. In 1996 the FBI got a tip. They began following Hitt, photographing him while he walked around and used his right hand. The same day he went in for an examination, with his hand clenched and sitting in a wheelchair, he got picked up by friends to go shopping. Surveillance photos show him raising his right hand, clutching a shopping bag. In home videos, he walks around with a drink in his right hand while his severely disabled stepgrandson squirms on the floor. In one video, Hitt looks directly at the 'camera and laughs. "Show this ... to Social Security. Tell them things are tough," he says to the camera's lens. A 1995 report by the Government Accounting Office said the VA spent $374 million in overpayments in 1994, mostly because of changes in income of beneficiaries and problems coordinating efforts with the Social Security Administration. Fraud was not cited as a VETERAN From 1C "The VA is a large bureaucratic organization with a number of different layers of bureaucracy," Kessler said. "People that actually deal face to face with the veterans are very pro-veterans and encourage the veterans to apply for anything they may be eligible for." Kastrenakes said the VA doctor saw only a portion of the evidence against Hitt when he was recertified. "The VA did no investigation whatsoever into this man," Kastrenakes said. ! In fact, Hitt was injured in the war. Records show his right hand was caught in an ammunition-loading device when he was on a Navy submarine. His leg and shoulder were both injured. He needed surgery. ; Hitt wanted a career in the ljjavy, but had to take an honorary discharge, Kessler said. ; At first, Hitt was classified as 50 percent disabled. Over time, the VA lowered the rating to 10 percent. I In the mid-1970s Hitt started asking the VA to upgrade his disability rating. The condition was getting worse because of old age, he would tell them. Although rejected several times, he would almost always appeal. In 1977, Hitt's rating was increased to 40 percent. "I just, you know, wish there was something I could do or something anybody could do for me that I could get back like I was," he said during a 1980 hearing before a VA panel in St. Petersburg. That panel rejected Hitt, but in 1982 he got his wish: full disability backdated to 1981. ! That meant monthly stipends 7 , a- (Nv:" '! .,- NOTr NS KS;' 'WTf.., tSi-; f 1 THhCABl t COl l l CI ION' Starting at $2b0 HAMILTON t:AM!l Y-OWNri) ii vvn IKS SIM f- l'"i: William Hitt is seen in an FBI surveillance photo painting his Port St. Lucie home in 1991. Palm Beach, 215 Worth Ave. (Sfcl) 659-6788 I'alm Beach Gardens, The Gardens I5t.ll TTy-W, PALM BEACH PALM BEACH GARDENS PRINt'EION LAWRENC L V1LLE major source of overpayments in the report. The VA has made progress in correcting overpayments using data bases and other suggestions from the GAO report, said Ken McKinnon, an agency spokesman. Fraud, he said, is difficult to track. The people who process claims in the agencies' regional offices are not expected to check for fraud. That's the job of the inspector general's office in Washington, D.C. "We have 58 offices around the country. We don't have people following 5 million veterans around," he said. Science Museum expanding its horizons Classic Knot Eamn&s? At Hamillon, of courae. V from tHO. V mtSf STEPHANIE WELSHStaff Photographer Erich Landstrom with the Science Museum's new telescope. 'The planetarium gives you a sense of intimacy,' he says. 'The telescope gives you a sense of awe.' By Tim O'Meilia Palm Beach Post Staff Writer WEST PALM BEACH The South Florida Science Museum's .$200,000 computerized universe I opens its twinkling stars to the ! public this month or next. ; The voice of God already is on ' salary. He was hired out of cyber-! space on the Internet. ! Celestial as all that seems, I Erich Landstrom's work is more ! pedestrian these days. Dozens of ; times a day, he scuttles between ;the construction debris of the mu- seum's Aldrin Planetarium and his ! office upstairs in the dome of the Gibson Observatory. ! "Sometimes I feel like I'm go-; ing up to the bell tower," he jokes ;in his booming baritone, hunching j one Quasimodo-esque shoulder. 5 Hired Oct. 15, Landstrom, 27, !is the museum's new director of ! astronomy education for the plan-I etarium and the observatory. And ;he's the voice of God, too. He'll ; need extra-large business cards. ' Landstrom's accustomed to Imultifaceted jobs. Before coining ! to West Palm Beach, he was planetarium director at the Savannah !(Ga.) Science Museum by day and ; a 911 dispatcher at night. He also j wrote and performed a weekly 90- second radio spot. 1 "Savannah and this museum ! were at the same point. Savannah .'closed, but this museum is going ; after grants, fund-raising and seeking good programs," Landstrom said. In fact, the South Florida Science Museum set records in attendance and membership this fiscal year. Through September, 188,382 visited the museum, nearly doubling the previous high in 1996 of 98,335. Membership increased from 1,498 families to 3,756. Much of the increase was due to the four-month "Dinosaurs Outdoors" exhibit, which featured life-sized robotic creatures moving, roaring and even gnawing on one another. The museum's "Time Machine Earth" opens Dec. 14, an exhibit that propels visitors all the way from 65 million years ago to the future. Moving Dinamation creatures, such as a woolly mammoth and a saber-toothed cat, show "Ice Age Florida." HAMILTON I'AMII.Y CHVM'I) IKWM I KSsN( 1 I'd: Palm Beach, 215 Worth Ave. (561) 65W88 Palm Beath Gardens, The Gardens () PALM BEACH PALM BEACH GARDENS PRINCE EON EAVVKINUVTUE i my programs on to the next phase." Students will get a planetarium teacher with degrees in physics and English and a background in drama. "Physics teaches you how the world works. English shows you why Shakespeare is better than an Ann Landers column," Landstrom said. In his Darth Vader voice, Landstrom can quote from the Iliad and tell sixth-graders the story of why the Greeks named the twin stars in the Gemini constellation after Castor and Pollux. The myths help people recognize the stars when they lie in the back yard gazing up. "Looking into the sky is like looking into the past," Landstrom said. Look up tonight. The moonlight you see left the moon V seconds ago. The light from Saturn is 30 minutes old. The light that is Andromeda started from that galaxy 2' million years ago. Although the museum can lease pre-packaged planetarium shows, Landstrom prefers piecing together productions of his own. the slides and remember what you're trying to say at the same time," he said. "With this, you can concentrate on giving the important information." The thcater-in-the-round seating is being scrapped for traditional theater-style seats. "You don't want people focusing on a projector in the middle of the floor," he said. Education will take on a bigger role. The shows for students will coincide with the public school curriculum. "In this business, we're not doing research. We're doing education," Rollings said. "And we need an astronomer who can communicate on all levels." Rollings found Landstrom on the Interact, one of 20 applicants for the job. Landstrom's diverse background and his 2V years experience at a planetarium of similar size weighed in his favor. "He has an unending enthusiasm for getting people to look up in the sky," Rollings said, "lie can take our planetarium and astrono Landstrom is hoping planetarium improvements will be. far enough along to open the following week, but the opening could be delayed until January. While he is overseeing the planetarium renovation, he's also Organizing next summer's "Living and Working in Space" exhibit and writing the planetarium's first show. The planetarium was supposed to open Nov. 1, but workers found asbestos that had to be removed, and the electrical wiring had to be replaced. That delayed the opening and added $60,000 to the cost. A grant from the Janirve Foundation covered the original $140,000 budget. "I don't know where we're going to find (the $60,000)," said Executive Director Jim Rollings. "We're hoping to find a donor who wants to see their name on a plaque outside the museum." The computerized system will allow Landstrom to provide state-of-the-'art shows. "Now, you have to manually operate the star projector, work Most cities stagger their shows to avoid clash of classic cars w 4 f- j" ' - t . .. t - vw s ' f. J .-! U tmt Ml't 1H M , ... ruithorewWtitt:h 18K gold and dinmofids. i-, AtJthnnPd Caitifif Adfincy n 1 fx CRUISERS From 1C couple of weeks ago. "I said no soliciting." A year earlier, he said, he had been asked to leave the Top Dog show for handing out fliers to his show. It's just been those two confrontations, he said. But Ianieri and Guida aren't speaking. "You can feel the air a lot of times in Stuart when Tuesday night comes around," Guida said. "It's either her show or our show." Odd, said Mike Kelly, publisher of Mike Kelly's Cruise News in Orlando. "Most places have a few shows, but not on the same night and that close. It's bad planning. Someone should probably move." The classic-car show circuit is particularly big in Florida because of the weather, Kelly said. He knows of 107 weekly shows throughout the state, including the 350-car Disney show in Orlando. Many car owners visit several shows, and in Stuart, people cruise back and forth on U.S. 1 between the two. Except the loyalists. And if Bud Brown ever wants a change of pace, he said he'll just go to the newest car show in town at McDonald's on a Saturday night. HAMILTON FWIIIYCWM II It V I I I ti'.'.IM I I'll: Palm Beach, 215 Worth Ave. I56I)65M78H Palm Beach Gardens, Ihe Gardens (5MI 7T5-.XL TAI M BEACH TALM BEACH GARDENS PRINCETON I AURI ( I Ml 1 1 BOB SHANIEYStaff Photographer Jeanna Ianieri, owner of the Top Dog Cafe in Stuart, has been hosting classic-car exhibitions for the past decade. mJm

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