Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on December 19, 1999 · 48
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Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida · 48

St. Petersburg, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 19, 1999
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TO CONTACT US ABOUT NEWS: By phone: 226-3366 By fax: 226-3381 By e-mail: tampasptimes.com TA MPA MTATF 1 I 11 I U II II I VI 1 mm El f II El 1 SECTION SUNDAY, DECEMBER 19, 1999 THE TIMES MARY JO MELONE COLUMNIST Challenger for public defender must dig ll u U nen comes to slipping past V f f f trouble' Ju,ie Hot the Public W U defender of Hillsborough County, makes a greased pig look like he's dressed in Velcro. This trait of hers has not stopped Holt, as both her friends and her enemies know. If anything, it's added to her allure. She forges somebody else's signature on a check and puts the money, at least temporarily, into her account She ducks representing a defendant the public has no sympathy for. She hangs out with felons. She gets criticized by a grand jury and scrutinized by the state ethics commission, and the worst thing that happens to her is she is denied a chance to become a judge. To call her colorful as a peacock is charitable. So how can a man as gray and anonymous as Alan Sandler beat her when she runs for a third term next November? Sandler is 38. He used to work for Holt as a trial attorney. He has no experience in politics, although his father-in-law is a Hillsborough judge and his brother is the mayor of Oldsmar. Sandler is one of those dreamers of impossible dreams. He once thought he had a career ahead of him in professional soccer. Now he wants to be a tighter of wrongs in the courthouse and take on Julie Holt, even though his odds are about' as good as they are for the puniest dog chasing the mechanical rabbit at the track. In appearance, he is utterly unmemo-rable, with thinning dark hair, dark eyes, not much of a chin. He wears the lawyer's uniform of white shirt, dark slacks, careful tie. Not at all the Superman look. This is a man who has tried hard to be just one of the guys at the courthouse. But circumstance made him a bit player in the incident that almost put Holt in the deep, deep end of the pool. She had Mark Rodriguez, another lawyer in the PD's office, finish a divorce case left over from her private practice. The client wrote Rodriguez a check for $2,000, which Sandler believes is what Rodriguez told him was to be his payment Holt got the check first forged Rodriguez's signature and put it into her account, and said she paid him $1,000 and returned the rest to the client with a letter. Alan Sandler saw some of Mark Rodriguez's payment from Holt, cash in an envelope she left him in his office. San-. dler testified to the state ethics commission about what he'd seen, but only reluctantly because he says now he wanted to stay on good terms with Holt. Neither the original of the check nor the letter returning the $1,000 to the client was found. Neither Rodriguez nor Holt's client complained to police. So there was no crime, although an ethics investigator publicly wondered whether Holt had pocketed some of the money. Sandler worked in the Public Defender's Office for two years, from 1992 to 1994. He says he left on good terms, but trying to have it both ways now says that "if things had been run differently in Julie's office, I might have stayed on I began to feel that the clients didn't come first." He complains about what a lot of people who have worked for Holt complain of. High staff turnover. Terrible relations with the prosecutors, whom they have to work with, since most public defender cases are settled by plea bargains. Sandler has been a candidate only a week, and he talks like a man anxious about the way words come out of his mouth. He says he has nothing personal against Holt, but in Hillsborough County, politics is always personal. He doesn't have a campaign manager, but he has a ready army of volunteers to draw from Holt's enemies, including some people who have worked for her. This won't be enough. The Democratic machine is Holt's to use. For Sandler to win, he'll have to uncover more serious problems in the way Holt conducts herself publicly, and make voters understand them, as well as how Holt acts on the unshakable belief that she can do what she pleases. v X, if. . . - m ''to t'1 il-f070 041MM1 241S21 4070t 2IMM 4J094S 449951M 04)I407 04iJS 1810 rt iq ru 1480 ru n5 r) mm j us tora In to Iibm to SMpjecS Special to the Times Fingerprint expert Leslie Bryant, using a state database, can match fingerprints taken at a crime scene to those on file. Using the smudged fingerprint on a stolen car, upper left, Bryant found a match. But in many cases, including Eileen Mangold's 1989 murder, it was not that easy. Despite technological advances, the matching of fingerprints is usually a painstaking, frustrating undertaking. By KATHRYN WEXLER Timet Staff Writer TAMPA Like most fingerprints left behind by criminals, the one that expert Leslie Bryant is studying on a computer screen at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is sketchy. Case number 99-5428 is that of a fingerprint gleaned from the driver's window of an abandoned car stolen in Tampa eight months ago. And it isn't promising. On the computer screen, the upper edges of the print fade to white. On the left half, only a few muddy puddles of dark lines are visible. The print may be that of an index finger. It may not. Bryant, who has watched technology in fingerprint identification revolutionize detective work in the past 10 years, guides the computer mouse along the print's ridges, marking where they split and end. Maybe the computer software will find the same print from among A fingerprint match led authorities to a suspect this fall in the 1989 slaying of Eileen Mangold. the 10-million prints in the state's database. But it's not likely; only 1 in 4 prints are ever matched through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AP IS. Many more are so lacking in detail they're not worth running through the system. Please see FINGERPRINT 7B TOMATO PICKERS' PLIGHT amiDl Iff flDSERf m n 11 DM Farm workers during the tomato growing season support the strike but find it hard, if not impossible, to honor it By CURTIS KRUEGER Timet Staff Writer IMMOKALEE It's half an hour before dawn in Immokalee, a town where you can hear roosters crowing a block off Main Street. Gregorio Silvereo Ordas, a 50-year-old Mexican farm worker, stands in the littered parking lot of the Pantry Shelf, where a dozen converted school buses wait in the dark. He is nodding his head. Yes, he says, he supports the farm workers who have gone on strike to demand more pay and more respect. Yes, he says, he is planning to join a busload of workers who were preparing to travel to Tallahassee to seek help from Gov. Jeb Bush. He wears a T-shirt that says Del Pueblo Para El Pueblo from the people, for the people one of the slogans of the striking workers. But his family in Mexico is hungry. So he boards one of the school buses that will take him to a tomato field to work another day. This is the challenge for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the group or ganizing a strike in this breadbasket town that helps Florida produce 90 percent of the winter tomatoes grown in the United States. The group, which says it has more than 1,000 members, wants to force growers here to pay more than the roughly 45-cent per-bucket fee the farm workers earn. It says 75 cents would be fair. More than that, it wants to bring growers to the table to open an ongoing dialogue about working conditions. But to continue the strike, which began Monday, the group must ask its r . a V. . JT A. "J 'J.i tf hi ml ' i'l -r LJ.--.i Pi XL '1 I "si Times photot-JOHN PENDYGRAFT An Immokalee tomato field bustles Friday with farm workers running 30-pound buckets of tomatoes to waiting trucks. Each bucket is worth about 45 cents, a rate that has changed little in 20 years. An ongoing strike aims to raise pay. Lucas Benitez, a founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, shows a strike slogan, "I am not a tractor." members to stop picking tomatoes and look for other work. If they don't find it, they must survive on $7 per day from the coalition, plus a hearty lunch the group serves at" its small headquarters across the parking lot from where the busloads gather. Success for the strikers will be difficult In spite of the work action, big diesel trucks loaded with tomatoes still are rumbling out of the farm country, about 140 miles southeast of Tampa Bay area. Strikers insist they are making headway, but the growers are ignoring them, at least on the surface. On Friday, a contingent of abput 50 workers went to Tallahassee to seek the help of the governor's office. Ray Gilmer, spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said the coalition behind the strike Please see STRIKE 5B 4 m- JkJ yA : i '"V : ' 5 1 K-Ji;,, ia.,,.w...JiiL',.....ui-J..j,n IIMt1l w iiii'i'Hini- MiMiMhiMMaiaiiirtttiMM Before dawn Friday, Jose Antonio Salas, 41 , urges workers not to board buses going to the tomato fields. The strike faces an uphill battle because though many workers support the strike, they need the money more. Charity donors can get taken when they give By ANITA KUMAR Timet Staff Writer D0NT BE FOOLED: Do your homework and other tips on donating to charities this holiday season. List, 7B Susan Mittermayr received a call from a local charity a few years ago asking her to donate money to help the blind. To encourage her, the caller reminded .her that she had contributed to the group in the past. But Mrs. Mittermayr, a longtime supporter of several Tampa Bay charities, knew she had not. It was a ploy some charities use to entice donations. It didn't work. From that day on, Mrs. Mittermayr has refused to give money to groups that solicit her by phone or mail. And she only donates to charities she knows. "It really rocked me to my core," said Mrs. Mittermayr of St. Petersburg. "Here they are soliciting money for a charity, and they are basically telling a lie." Consumer protection experts say that some groups claiming to raise money for a good cause are just scams that line the pockets of a few. Even legitimate charities, they say, sometimes use tricks to increase contributions but give little money to their charitable cause. That's particularly true during the holiday season, when area and national charities bombard Tampa Bay residents with phone calls and mail full of emotional pleas for help. Your best protection when considering whether to give: Do your homework. Consumers should not base decisions on emotion but should take the time to ask questions and do their own research before donating. "Your approach should be no different than when you buy a dishwasher," said Todd Grandy, assis- Please see GIVING 7B

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