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Crimes and Courts

Florida National News President Statement on the Fatal Shooting of Spectrum News 13 Reporter



19-year-old Keith Melvin Moses, the suspect in a series of shootings today that left three dead, in OCSO custody. This is a sad day for our community. Three were murdered today, including a woman in her 20s, a 9-year-old girl and a @MyNews13 employee. Photo by Orange County Sheriff's Office

ORLANDO, Fla. (February 22, 2023) – After reports of a Spectrum News 13 journalist being fatally shot Wednesday along with a nine-year-old and a 20-year-old woman in Pine Hills, Florida National News President & CEO J. Willie David III released the following statement:

“Our whole Florida National News team sends condolences to our colleagues at Spectrum News 13 as well as the affected families of the victims in the wake of Wednesday’s senseless shootings. We can no longer afford to have dangerous suspects erode the value of human life with gun violence. We in the media are calling on state and federal lawmakers to take immediate action to end needless tragedies like this. What will it take?

“We tried to create accountability with school students, not enough was done. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords got shot in the head—a federal lawmaker. Still not enough. Then five cops were gunned down in Texas. Still not enough. Dylann Roof shot up a church. Still not enough. PULSE Nightclub got shot up and Orlando lost 49 souls. Still not enough. Vulnerable children in Uvalde, Texas and Sandy Hook, New Jersey were killed. Still not enough. Now this gun violence has reached our doorstep. Our job is to cover stories, now we’re a part of this chaos.

“Journalism is pivotal to our democracy, and we honor Spectrum News 13’s hard work to keep the community informed. We work shoulder to shoulder with these great people.

“We wish the child’s mother and the Spectrum News 13 photographer a full and speedy recovery.”




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Central Florida News

Orange County Sheriff’s Office: Deputy Arrested, Fired for Soliciting a Minor via Computer



Former Orange County Sheriff Deputy Charles Cruz was arrested and booked in the Orange County Jail Friday. Photo: Orange County Jail.
Former Orange County Sheriff Deputy Charles Cruz was arrested and booked in the Orange County Jail Friday. Photo: Orange County Jail.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – The Orange County Sheriff’s Office reports that Deputy Charles Cruz was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on charges of soliciting a minor via computer on Friday. He has been relieved of all law enforcement duties without pay.

On February 19, while working as a patrol deputy, Cruz responded to a call for service at the home of a minor who was already working with the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit because she had been a victim of Sexual Cyberharassment. The call for service was related to a report of someone throwing an object through a window at the victim’s home, possibly the suspect in the Cyberharassment case.

In the course of his criminal mischief investigation, Cruz made inappropriate contact with the minor victim. That contact, via text message, became more inappropriate as he tried to gauge the minor’s interest in meeting him in person. The inappropriate contact was discovered on February 23 by the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit, which was examining the victim’s phone in connection to the Sexual Cyberharassment case.

On the evening of February 23, a detective in the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit assumed the identity of the minor, and chatted with Cruz via text. In the course of the conversation and while on duty, Cruz made sexually explicit comments to the person he believed was the minor. He was immediately located, relieved of duty, arrested and transported to the Orange County Jail.

Cruz was hired in August 2021 and worked in the uniform patrol division. Once the criminal proceedings are complete, an OCSO administrative investigation will be conducted.

“These are very serious criminal allegations, and there is no place in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for anyone that would abuse their power to victimize a minor. To make matters worse, this deputy preyed on a young woman who was already a victim of sexual cyberharassment,” said Sheriff John Mina. “As law enforcement officers, we are held to the highest standards of conduct whether on duty or off duty. He will never patrol the streets of Orange County again.”

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Crimes and Courts

White supremacist gets life in prison for Buffalo massacre



Payton Gendron listens as he is sentenced on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023 in Buffalo, N.Y. Gendron, a white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison after listening to relatives of his victims express the pain and rage caused by his racist attack. (AP Photo/Pool)
Payton Gendron listens as he is sentenced on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023 in Buffalo, N.Y. Gendron, a white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison after listening to relatives of his victims express the pain and rage caused by his racist attack. (AP Photo/Pool)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday after relatives of his victims confronted him with the pain and rage caused by his racist attack.

Anger briefly turned physical at Payton Gendron’s sentencing when a man in the audience rushed at him. The man was quickly restrained; prosecutors later said he wouldn’t be charged. The proceeding resumed after about 10 minutes, with more emotional outpouring from people who lost loved ones or were themselves wounded in the attack.

Gendron, whose hatred was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the testimony and apologized to victims and their families in a brief statement.

Some angrily condemned him; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several pointed out that he deliberately attacked a Black community far from his nearly all-white hometown.

“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones Sr., the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said as sobs rose from the audience. “You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet, and it was a big mistake.”

“I hope you find it in your heart to apologize to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason,” Jones said.

Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.

“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” Judge Susan Eagan said as she sentenced him.

Gendron, 19, also faces separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the U.S. Justice Department chooses to seek it. His defense attorney said in December that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court as well to avoid execution. New York state does not have the death penalty.

Gendron wore bullet-resistant armor and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack with a semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Tamika Harper, a niece of victim Geraldine Talley, said she hoped Gendron would pray for forgiveness.

“Do I hate you? No. Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life,” she said, speaking gently. “Think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever.”

Gendron locked eyes with Harper as she spoke, then lowered his head and cried.

Kimberly Salter, the widow of security guard Aaron Salter, explained that she and her family were wearing “red for the blood that he shed for his family and for his community, and black because we are still grieving.”

Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, said he was haunted by seeing the victims where they lay as he was carried out of the store.

“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.

Barbara Massey Mapps excoriated him for killing her 72-year-old sister, Katherine Massey. As Mapps shouted and pointed at Gendron, a person in the audience took a few steps toward him before getting held back.

“You don’t know what we’re going through,” a man shouted as he was led away by court officers. For several minutes thereafter, family members hugged and calmed each other.

Eagan then ordered Gendron back in and let the proceeding resume after admonishing everyone to “conduct ourselves appropriately.”

In his short statement, Gendron acknowledged he “shot and killed people because they were Black.”

“I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me,” he said as a woman in the courtroom audience stood up, screamed that “we don’t need” his remarks and stormed out.

There were only three survivors among the 13 people he shot while specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.

His victims at the Tops market included a church deacon, the grocery store’s guard, a neighborhood activist, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.

In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the U.S. He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

The mass shooting in Buffalo, and another less than two weeks later that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls, including from victims’ relatives who traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before lawmakers.

New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semiautomatic rifle sales to most people under age 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armor.

President Joe Biden signed a compromise gun violence bill in June intended to toughen background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.

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Crimes and Courts

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested



MIAMI (AP) — Federal authorities in Florida have charged 25 people with participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal shortcut for aspiring nurses to get licensed and find employment.

Recently unsealed federal grand jury indictments allege the defendants took part in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools, federal officials said during a news conference in Miami on Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutors said the scheme also involved transcripts from the nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses. The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.

“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.

Lapointe added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”

The fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who purchased them to sit for the national nursing board exam. If they passed, they were able to obtain licenses and jobs in various states, prosecutors said.

The schools involved — Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute — are now closed.

Some of those who purchased degrees were from South Florida’s Haitian-American community, including some with legitimate LPN licenses who wanted to become registered nurses, the Miami Herald reported.

“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money,“ acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said Wednesday.

He said it’s particularly disturbing that more than 7,600 people around the country obtained fake credentials and were potentially in critical health care roles treating patients.

The selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to “willing but unqualified individuals” is a crime that “potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar. Pérez said investigators have not found, however, that any of the nurses caused harm to patients.

The students paid a total of $114 million for the fake degrees between 2016 and 2021, the newspaper reported. About 2,400 of the 7,600 students eventually passed their licensing exams — mainly in New York, federal officials said. Nurses certified in New York are allowed to practice in Florida and many other states.

Many of those people may lose their certification but likely won’t be criminally charged, federal officials said.

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