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A Big Ol' 'Pants on Fire' for Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman

May 15, 2018 - 6:00am
Maggy Hurchalla, Craig Pittman and George Lindemann Jr.
Maggy Hurchalla, Craig Pittman and George Lindemann Jr.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman undermined the public's trust of venerable news organizations with his May 12 article, “Only in Florida: Battle over water, free speech pits billionaire vs. activist.”

Instead of checking the facts found in court records and legal documents, he took the lies being told to him as truth -- then repeated them as fact. He reinforced the hooey being circulated in underground networks in Martin County by lending it the weight of the Tampa Bay Times.

Apparently, Pittman thought his sources were as credible as his newspaper had been. He made a fatal assumption.

Among Pittman's sources were Janet Reno's sister, Maggy Hurchalla; and another, Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, an elected official charged with two criminal misdemeanors -- which Pittman failed to mention -- in addition to the civil infraction for public records violations that Pittman reported. She goes to trial in December.

Barbara Clowdus
Barbara Clowdus

The county has already been sanctioned civilly for Heard's (and others') alleged criminal actions to the tune of $502,000, which Pittman also did not report.

We know Pittman didn't read the Lake Point Restoration plan, because the original agreement counters much of what both he and the experts he consulted claim. Had he, or his numerous experts, truly read the plan, his story would have been different.

The South Florida Water Management District was responsible for the operation and management of the 2008 Lake Point project, part of the St. Lucie Watershed Protection Program. Not Lake Point.

It was at the District's “sole and absolute discretion” to move water out of the C-44 Canal (not Lake Okeechobee) to Lake Point's property and to improve water quality flows from Lake Point's property into the St. Lucie River estuary AND into the L-8 Canal to meet the region's water needs.

The plan would follow state law. It was not illegal, as Pittman inferred.

Pittman completely missed the strategic location of that land. The C-44 Canal is north of the property. The L-8 Canal is south of the property. He missed the fact that the District had wanted the property but could not buy it. He missed the fact that control of the project was by the District, which would ultimately own the land -- without spending one taxpayer dime.

He missed the fact that the District had the discretion, by state law, to approve the sale of water, if it is in the public interest by permit only. That's a crucial fact.

Even when Lake Okeechobee is not discharging millions of gallons of water into the St. Lucie River, the watershed drains more than twice that amount into the C-44 Canal. That water goes out to sea.

Lake Point's 2008 plan would divert some of that water onto its land and clean it with no taxpayer investment in the project.

If Lake Point had a buyer for the cleaned water -- which never materialized -- would that not be in the public's best interest?

The plan was not, as Pittman wrote, to sell water that Lake Point “found” on its land. The water would come from the C-44. The plan would not “upend” state water policy.

The commission majority wanted to cancel the contract because Hurchalla said its wetlands were being destroyed and that Lake Point was selling Martin County water illegally. Those were the lies that Hurchalla told Commissioners Heard, Ed Fielding and Anne Scott to repeat, all of which were later disproved in court.

They did what Hurchalla ordered. The county staff did what Hurchalla and her attorney, Virginia Sherlock, ordered. Sherlock even had her own desk in the county's legal department. Hurchalla had total control, which has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

It had everything to do with the corruption that comes with absolute power.

Yes, the 2016 election shifted the power on the Martin County Commission. The people threw out former-judge Commissioner Anne Scott because she neglected to reveal that she had more than one private email account with private emails from Hurchalla telling her what to do.

Circuit Court Judge Shields McManus called her actions “unlawful.”

Pittman also was dead wrong about the new commissioner. The campaign that changed the dynamics of the 2016 commission was not funded by Lake Point contributions. That was another lie, reported as fact.

Hurchalla's claim that wetlands were being destroyed at Lake Point was refuted as far back as 2012 by Martin County Ecosystem Restoration Director Deb Drum who replied in a public email directly to Heard (who relayed it to Hurchalla) that “no wetlands were destroyed at Lake Point.” Pittman could have checked the record, but he did not.

We know Hurchalla's legacy as an environmental icon is on the line as she faces the real prospect of losing all her financial assets, because of a lie that she's refused to retract, a lie that even her own expert's testimony unexpectedly refuted in court.

Lake Point's wetlands were restored, not destroyed.

Do Hurchalla's assets truly consist only of “two kayaks and an aging Toyota”? Not according to court records, which reveal a Bank of America total of around $60,000 and two safe deposit boxes. It also shows nearly $250,000 in a Merrill Lynch account of cash and investments, plus ownership of six parcels of land in Martin County. She has at least two other investment accounts, one at TDAmeriTrade and another at The GMS Group, plus three crowd-sourcing accounts, according to court records.

Despite the cash in her accounts, the county paid her court costs for more than three dozen evidentiary hearings and dozens of depositions, because she complained in court that she could not afford to pay the fees.

The county attorney said Martin County would pay them, which they did for four years, until he was asked by a new county commissioner to find another job. She is not a penniless environmentalist, as Pittman portrayed her.

A six-person jury looked at the evidence and found Hurchalla guilty of tortious interference with Lake Point's contracts. They did not buy the argument that Hurchalla was merely exercising her First Amendment rights.

They found her liable for $4.3 million in damages to Lake Point's business. The first appeal has already been dismissed but will be refiled. Meanwhile, the interest on her debt to Lake Point will continue to grow at around $250,000 annually.

One fact that Pittman got right was that George Lindemann Jr. went to prison two decades ago for the act most people cannot imagine -- having a non-performing race horse killed by a professional hit man.

Lindemann was the 24-year-old son of a multi-billionaire at the time with genuine potential as an Olympic equestrian. His had lived a life of privilege.

It was a convoluted tale, involving a girl and others, yet despite his family's wealth, Lindemann took responsibility, repaid the insurance company and served more than a year in prison. We believe Pittman when he described Lindemann's time in prison as “traumatizing.”

The experience also was transformational. Lindemann is now a patron of the arts in the Miami area and strengthened important environmental causes throughout the U.S., being named last year as Conservationist of the Year by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

He had given far more to the Florida Oceanographic Society in Martin County prior to the litigation than he ever had to any political campaign. He remains a major contributor to the Florida Audubon Society, the president of which is another Lake Point Restoration partner, Jud Laird.

Laird worked quietly alongside Eric Draper to get Amendment 1 passed two years ago and to get the SB 10 bill passed last year to build the EAA reservoir, in addition to all the other work by Audubon throughout the state.

The Lake Point Restoration project was one that could have been a win-win project for both private and public interests. All Hurchalla accomplished was to hurt a legitimate business, derail a good plan to benefit the St. Lucie River, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

We dare say that's not the legacy she intended.

Barbara Clowdus, editor and publisher of Martin County Currents, has been covering the Lake Point story since the last quarter of 2012.


READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS

SFWMD Plagued by Martin County's Public Records, Legal Shenanigans

Ruling in Hurchalla Lake Point Case Delayed by Yet Another Hearing

Comments

If you show me your friends I will show you your future. I cannot imagine the mental gymnastics required to support either position on this. What about the rest of us. Time to wake up folks before diatribe driven power players line their pockets with your future. Get involved.

regardless of who is culpable, let's not be lost on the fact that Lake Point was trying to make tons of cash selling water that they did not have the rights to. At the end of the day, that is the real story here...

EXACTLY - GET THE REAL TRUTH - http://www.slappmaggy.com/

Actually, no. That's not the story here. Lake Point was seeking potential markets, which they needed to ascertain prior to applying for permits. There was no infrastructure as yet, other than a pilot project to demonstrate the water could be cleaned successfully. They could not both mine rock and convey water on the same property. The permit applications would have allowed public hearings and time to submit public comments. That is the process that SHOULD have been followed -- as was the case when Lake Point applied for and received its permits from the DEP and the Army Corps -- instead of one person using her power and influence, in the shadows, to shut down the entire operation and destroy a business.

Thank you for the answer now I know who did the taking. Give an inch they take the rest. I for one am happy to see those that have been exploiting us and projecting a facade of public interest at the same time having a little light shined into their corners. What lives in the shadows is exposed in the light. Be a light and shadows fade,

RIGHTS - given and taken by whom?

Was Mr. PIttman or the Tampa Bay Times contacted for comment? If not, shouldn't they have been?

No, I was not contacted. If I had been, I could have pointed out all the inaccuracies in Barbara's piece -- she got the story about George Lindemann's dead horse completely wrong, for instance. More importantly, she says what Lake Point did trying to sell water was legal, which is contrary to the analysis of every expert on Florida water law that I spoke to -- not to mention the general counsel of the South Florida Water Management District. Of course the other thing I would have wondered about, had I been contacted, is why Barbara is considered an unbiased source on the subject of Lake Point when she took Lake Point campaign contributions when she was running unsuccessfully for the Martin County Commission. Anyway, thanks for running the old photo of me from before my hair got gray. I really appreciate that. Here's a link about the campaign contributions: http://floridapolitics.com/archives/tag/barbara-clowdus

Mr. Pittman, You are supplying a source for my campaign contributions that reflects the smears and misinformation with which Martin County residents must constantly contend. You bought into that misinformation and gave it credibility it does not deserve. You have no idea, absolutely none, what life in Martin County is like; however, eventually, I suspect you will begin to see how much even you were manipulated. Only then will you begin to understand my frustration and exasperation that prompted me to point out the major error in your story -- namely that the Lake Point plan was illegal. And if you truly want to know the list of contributions to my campaign, then please contact the Martin County Supervisor of Elections, Vicki Davis, and ask for them. Any other source is not credible. Lake Point did not contribute to my campaign. Neither did any developers nor any sugar companies. The list is available to the public. Just ask. And, by the way, U.S. Sugar has run full-page ads in every newspaper in this county ... except mine. If my memory is correct, The Stuart News ran something like 13 full-page ads over six months or so. Perhaps they'll consider running an ad in Currents, since you've brought it to their attention. Sorry about the horse. You had the advantage of talking directly to Mr. Lindemann. I have never spoken to him. Do not know him. Have never met him. But I hope to do so one day, and if he's upset that I called his show horse a race horse, I'll be sure to apologize.

Lindemann affiliates dumped $150,000 into anonymous political action committees in the most recent Martin County Commission race in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding. One of the candidates they backed, Stacey Hetherington, was a Lake Point employee. The other losing candidate, Barbara Clowdus, owns a monthly newspaper that has taken ads from the sugar industry. Clowdus frequently defends Lake Point and criticizes the county for being involved in lawsuits.

You are quoting from a non-credible source.

How is this non-credible click on Stacey campaign contribution and look at all the developers that have given her money is that not buying her?

that's what you say. Me thinketh you may protest a bit too loudly.

It would be nice if there were real leaders in Martin County instead of the us against them crowd. You see. When you absorb Liberal Progressives into the Rep party, ones like old Bab's here then things go to pot fast. Her side is no different than the other. Just different objectives. WIN AT ANY COST - TRUTH BE DAMNED is their motto ! Get real people. the lot of you are crooks and liars.

First of all, for an editor, you should know better than to publish without someone other than yourself reading the article. It lends to the same credibility you are admonishing. Second, the root cause of this problem is a UNI-PARTY system in Martin County. There is no active Democratic Party. At least on paper. The truth is that a weakened and spineless Republican Party has absorbed the local DEM's and Progressive Republicans into their ranks and leadership. These are the same that had disgraced Congressman Tom Foley at their Annual fundraiser as a VIP. Worse yet, they cashed his checks. Not only that. The current candidate for Florida House in Martin County is the Chairman of the Republicans. He took money from Tom and other questionable sources as well. A prior Martin Republican administrations used underhanded and sleazy tactics to try and abscond tens of thousands of donated dollars. Want to solve these problems. Elect Americans and not Progressive Socialists and Marxists like Heard, Fielding, Haddox... etc. etc. How about the DEM party put on their big boy drawers and step up to the plate and counter this type of malfeasance. Just sayin. Better yet. How about if the Republicans wake up and realize winning at any cost will cost you more than you have. Because now you do not have money, credibility or a clue.

Quick correction. Barbara wasn't the only editor to read her copy. I read it before we published it; besides the race/show horse identification, I stand by every word of it and thank her for writing it. With the exception of Judge William Roby, nobody has a better handle on the Lake Point case than Barbara. Had Craig Pittman asked his experts a straight, rather than a leading question based on something that wasn't, it's doubtful they would have answered as they did. The question he asked them wasn't applicable.

Then there were two people that missed a few typos in the article. Not just her then. Are you a copyright review editor?

If you mean, am I a lawyer -- the answer is no. Can't say I don't make mistakes. But after 50 years in this business, 38 of them as an editor, I feel as qualified to edit sensitive copy as most of the folks I've known at the Times.

especially for your good friend from your home of Martin County...

All one has to do is look no further than the CRA's in Martin County. Socialist Progressive tripe designed for weak minds.Hello people, time to wake up.

I have to agree but then again why isn't there a Democrat or Independent running for State Rep why when a good part of the district is in St Lucie they don't have someone running against Toby the self centered only out for him self candidate? I can tell you why MONEY MONEY MONEY. If some of these rich independents in the richest county in the state get off there wallets we would have change.

People like Heard and the current Repub chair guy need to go the way of the past. Americans at the helm. Vote the bums out of town.

They do have big mouths like Susan and Dianne though. Great Progressives from the hinterland. Transplanted Libs with no concept of Constitutional governance. You are right. We need to elect Americans. Not Socialists and Marxists.

Well at least they are better than the alternative

My Goodness - how bad must the other side be then if these crooks, liars and scoundrels are the best we have? Listen to yourself for a minute. Better than the alternative. Hogwash or brainwash.

Is it any worse than a decorated and dismembered Army Vet selling out the 2nd Amendment at the first turn? Republican? Conservative? Nope, Progressive.

He opposes assault rifles on the street like anyone with a brain would, including your hero Antonin Scalia. The 2d Amendment does not protect such devices. BTW, Brian Mast also opposes the sugar subsidy. There is no greater enemy of clean water in Martin County than Big Sugar and its' baby, Big Algae.

Yes, my weapons are designed to kill people. I use hollow point rounds in my semi-automatic handgun. I use high grain NATO rounds in 30 round magazines in my defense rifle. I use maximum spread and projectile in my shot gun. I use a partially serrated blade on my knife. However, I do not use “military grade” weapons. Nor does the rest of the citizenry use them. I keep my weapons for my protection and defense. Of which I have a natural God given right to self-defense. So that when randomness and mayhem catch up to me, I will be prepared to defend myself, those I love and those around me. I do so with full knowledge and understanding of the responsibility and lethality of the choice I make. If we use the argument that AR platforms and large capacity magazines should be banned because they are designed to kill then it must evenly be applied across all weapons used in mass killings. Knives, handguns, cars, trucks and bombs all have been used to kill large numbers of people by lunatics. Do we ban these too? Or is there something else at play here? Why do you suppose there is a cry to remove defense armament from the American people? read more here : http://NoMoMrNiceGuy.Wordpress.com

MegaDittos, Eric. This thread has wandered pretty far afield now. Shame people are hiding behind their anonimity (sp?) and throwing insults instead of facts.

Hope I didn't scare you Ocean Joe. Did I use trigger words that unbalanced your safe space? Sorry. Well.... not really

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