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Duke phaseout seen natural part of Cleveland takeover
week of February 15, 2018

Long before the Cleveland Clinic offered to lend its aura of renown to Indian River Medical Center, there was another momentous, if much less extensive, affiliation with a prestigious institution: Duke University Health System, whose main campus is a nationally ranked, internationally recognized academic medical center. It was 2005 when IRMC leadership decided to subscribe to the Duke Health affiliation for its planned Welsh Heart Center. It was a major stride for the community hospital and one that would shape its future in ways barely imaginable at the time. A decade later, IRMC signed on with Duke for a second center of excellence, the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center. Together the heart and cancer centers brought the aging 37th Street hospital into the 21st century, with state-of-the-art treatment capabilities, excellent doctors and in the case of the cancer center, a physical extension of the hospital that would strikingly update its rear façade. Now, it appears the Duke brand may be replaced by an even bigger name, and in a far more extensive integration. With a letter of intent due to be signed any day, the Cleveland Clinic will enter into exclusive negotiations with IRMC to take over the publicly-owned hospital. READ FULL STORY

Johnny Benjamin’s woes started with Michigan pot bust
week of February 15, 2018

Dr. Johnny Benjamin’s legal troubles and alleged dealings with illicit drugs started nearly a year before Indian River County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested him at his island home. The doctor was later charged by federal agents for alleged attempted possession and distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, namely the dangerous opiod cocktail of fentanyl-laced oxycodone. Newly filed court documents suggest the Vero Beach spine surgeon, who is behind bars in Miami awaiting trial, struck a plea deal in Michigan after a state trooper stumbled upon a suspected marijuana grow operation linked to him. Benjamin, 52, was booked in the Sanilac County Jail Dec.14, 2016, two months after police responded to an alleged electricity theft at the home. The property in rural Sanilac Township had been deeded earlier that year to Marsha Benjamin, a woman the doctor claims he married years ago in Vero Beach, though federal prosecutors point out the county has no marriage certificate for the two on file. Benjamin was charged with violating Michigan’s Controlled Substance Act, accused of marijuana production and the possession of dangerous drugs, according to records obtained by Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY

Polish-American group wins lengthy legal battle to reclaim club on U.S. 1
week of February 15, 2018

A group of Polish Americans won a major battle in a long-running legal dispute Monday when an Indian River County judge ruled that a 2015 takeover of the old Polish-American Social Club was unauthorized. The Hon. Paul Kanarek found that action by an insurgent board of directors that dissolved the old club and transferred its assets to a new Vero Beach Social Club violated the original club’s articles of incorporation. “The articles are clear: the dissolution of this corporation required the vote of the general membership and approval of the general membership,” he said. “If they didn’t have authority to dissolve the corporation, they didn’t have authority to distribute the property.” Kanarek’s order comes two-and-a-half-years into the legal battle over the clubhouse on U.S. 1 near 39th Avenue and an estimated $1.25 million in assets once set aside to promote the culture and heritage of the Eastern European nation. Following years of disagreement over club’s direction, the board of directors then in place formed a new corporation – the Vero Beach Social Club – in 2015. It then transferred the Polish-American Club’s assets to the new nonprofit and, without a vote by its membership, dissolved the original corporation. READ FULL STORY

Christmas tree-like cell tower rises over Shores town offices
week of February 15, 2018

Indian River Shores’ stealth “monopine” cell tower went up almost as quickly as Jack’s famous beanstalk, hoisted into place and adorned with green fiberglass branches, adding a 115-foot pine tree-type structure to the town’s landscape. The main tower structure was delivered in two pieces by truck on Feb. 6 and assembled like a Christmas tree. Then the “branches” were installed and covered with special “socks” designed to mimic pine foliage, but not to block radio-frequency waves. “I was pleased with how fast the tower was up and branched,” said Town Manager Robbie Stabe. Stabe said there were no surprises in the construction, which made up a little bit for all the many delays in years -long planning, approval and permitting process. “The tower is exactly how Larson Camouflage depicted it and I personally think it looks even better than the pictures they sent us,” he said. “Every resident that has shown up at the site had positive comments. Several said ‘It’s not as tall as I pictured it would be.’” READ FULL STORY

County eyes Aviation Blvd. extension to the hospital
week of February 15, 2018

With 37th Street – lined by dozens of medical offices, rehab facilities and imaging centers – nearing its maximum traffic capacity, county officials are devising a plan to make it easier to get to Indian River Medical Center from the west of town by extending Aviation Boulevard from U.S. 1 northeast to the hospital. "We're very early in the process," county Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka said last week. "Right now, there's not much more than a sketch of where we think we're going to put the road." The proposal, presented to county commissioners by Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Matson two months ago as an alternative to widening 37th Street, calls for the extension of Aviation Boulevard across U.S. 1, through mostly vacant lots and intersecting with 35th Lane on the south edge of the hospital property. Matson said the project – from purchasing the right-of-way needed for the road to its construction – probably will take five years to complete, "assuming we have the funding." READ FULL STORY

Medical center again outsources emergency room
week of February 8, 2018

While all eyes were on last week’s vote to pursue negotiations with Cleveland Clinic to take over Indian River Medical Center, the IRMC board of directors hired a new company to run the hospital’s emergency room. Envision, parent company of physician outsourcing giant EmCare, is the third outside company in four years to staff the medical center’s ER. The last group, Apollo, was let go in May 2016 and the hospital resumed staffing the ER with its own physicians for the first time since 2009. The IRMC board of directors approved its patient care committee’s recommendation of Envision just weeks after the Justice Department announced the company settled a massive fraud case dating back to 2008. The $29.6 million settlement with Envision and its ER services division, EmCare, involved the company’s contracts with the now-defunct Naples-based health system giant, Health Management Associates. Whistleblowers alleged that the for-profit HMA was paying off EmCare doctors to admit ER patients as inpatients when their conditions didn’t warrant it. The alleged fraud cost taxpayers millions of dollars in higher Medicare costs, since Medicare pays about three times as much for inpatient care as it does for outpatient. READ FULL STORY

Impact of future Cleveland Clinic changes weighed
week of February 8, 2018

Indian River Medical Center officials continue to show concern not just for lives, but livelihoods, as they negotiate a hospital takeover agreement with Cleveland Clinic. The hospital, with 1,750 workers, is second only to the school district in number of employees locally, and the potential economic impact of changes at IRMC weighed heavily on the minds of hospital board members and Hospital District trustees as they considered their votes last week. Jamie Burgdorfer, the investment banker who has advised hospital officials through the partner-selection process, told the boards that there would be change no matter which of the four finalists they picked, including new construction, the hiring of employees, and physicians moving to the area. But with Cleveland Clinic, Vero can expect the “super-dramatic impact” of a national brand, with reverberations in everything from philanthropy to the housing market to enrollment in schools, including the barrier island prep school, St. Edward’s. “The economic impact could be significant and therefore represent dramatic change,” said Burgdorfer, wrapping up a presentation in advance of the Jan. 30 votes that selected the Cleveland hospital company. READ FULL STORY

The Moorings plans major expansion of the club’s racquet sport facilities
week of February 8, 2018

The Moorings is planning to embark in May on a $2 million project to upgrade and expand its racquet sport facilities. The project is the next step in an ambitious capital improvement campaign that in 2015 saw the island club purchase the Hawk’s Nest Golf Club – a long-sought, championship-level course that has helped The Moorings club grow its membership to more than 1,000. The racquet-sports plan includes the relocation of two tennis courts and the conversion of a third into a stadium court that can be used for exhibitions, inter-club team competitions and the annual King of the Hill fundraising tournament. HydroCourt underground watering systems will be installed beneath all three new courts, which also will have LED lighting. Fixed bleachers will be built adjacent to the stadium court, which is currently Court 4. The relocation of the two easternmost courts – Courts 5 and 6 will be shifted to the northwest, behind the new stadium court and closer to the St. Edward’s School property line – will allow for the construction of a four-court pickleball complex, which also will include LED lighting. READ FULL STORY

Vero City Marina to finally get needed repairs, renovations
week of February 8, 2018

The Vero Beach City Council was set to award a contract this past Tuesday night for desperately needed renovations to 30-year-old bathrooms and laundry facilities at the city marina, which is brimming with boats this time of year. Longtime Harbormaster and Marina Director Tim Grabenbauer said the marina’s business has been bolstered by a rebounding economy, brutal weather up north and conditions at competing marinas that still have unrepaired storm damage dating from Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. As of Monday, the Harbormaster said he had about 90 vessels bobbing around the marina’s mooring ball field, plus another 25 to 27 new guests renting out slips each week. Ahead of the council vote, staff recommended the $114,600 renovation contract be awarded to Vero Beach-based Bill Bryant Construction, which was the lowest in-county bidder, within 5 percent of a Brevard County firm that bid slightly less – close enough to trigger the local preference provision in the Vero city code. READ FULL STORY

County gears up for next round in battle against All Aboard Florida
week of February 8, 2018

In the wake of multiple fatalities, officials in Martin and Indian River counties are gearing up for a second expensive legal battle against All Aboard Florida in an attempt to derail plans for the high-speed passenger train before it hits the Treasure Coast. Hundreds gathered last week in downtown Stuart at a meeting of the Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida to discuss legal, political and advocacy efforts against Brightline’s planned expansion north from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Among those in attendance at the Lyric Theater were Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari and County Attorney Dylan Reingold. Concerns over safety have increased following Brightline’s introduction of service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, starting with VIP runs Jan. 12. Two people were killed and a third injured by the high-speed engines in the first days of operation after they tried to cross the tracks despite safety warnings. There was another fatality and a derailment during trial runs on the West Palm to Lauderdale route. READ FULL STORY

School Board split over size of raise for Rendell
week of February 8, 2018

Despite problems and failures at the Indian River County School District under his leadership, Superintendent Mark Rendell is getting a raise. The only question is how much. Rendell recently pushed through a $1,200-a-year increase for upper-level management – principals and above on the organizational chart – and at a recent workshop a couple of board members said that should be the raise he gets as well. But one board member – Tiffany Justice – pushed for a bigger increase for Rendell, and board Vice Chairman Charles Searcy seemed to agree. “Several superintendents around the state are getting raises,” Justice said, claiming proposed legislation could eliminate elected superintendents, leaving only board-hired superintendents. “Appointed supervisors will be in demand. Perhaps we need to renegotiate his contract for additional money.” “We got some pretty good grades over the last three years and we need to reward him,” Vice Chairman Charles Searcy said. Board Member Laura Zorc said she was “satisfied” with the $1,200 bump and wouldn’t consider a bigger raise unless Rendell’s whole contract was opened up for renegotiation. Board Member Dale Simchick agreed. READ FULL STORY

Shores delays approval of John’s Island reuse water pipeline
week of February 8, 2018

Indian River Shores needs more time to review its utility pact with the City of Vero Beach before signing off on a plan for John’s Island and Indian River County to bring 1 million gallons of reuse irrigation water to the barrier island daily via a new 16-inch pipeline under the Indian River Lagoon. The matter came up at the most recent Shores Town Council meeting, with representatives from the gated community and Indian River County Utilities – but not the City of Vero Beach – present. Town Attorney Chester Clem said he wasn’t prepared to give the legal all-clear for the deal, because he wanted to make sure the town does not run afoul of a May 2012 renewal franchise agreement it signed with Vero for water, wastewater and reuse water. “We need to get all the parties together and make sure everybody is in agreement, that we’re all on the same page,” Clem said, adding that a lawyer could read the documents in various ways. READ FULL STORY

County urges state lawmakers to keep beaches open
week of February 8, 2018

The Indian River County Commission has weighed in against bills that have been introduced in the Florida Legislature that could allow owners of oceanfront houses to bar the public from the beach in front of their homes. Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to legislators in Tallahassee stating that all 24 miles of the county’s ocean beaches should remain accessible to the public. According to the Florida Constitution, in accordance with traditional common-law understandings of property rights, beachfront property owners do not actually own the beaches. Article X, section 11 of the constitution states, "The title to lands under navigable waters, within the boundaries of the state, which have not been alienated, including beaches below mean high water lines, is held by the state, by virtue of its sovereignty, in trust for all the people." Three counties among the 67 in Florida – Volusia, St. John’s and Walton – also currently have laws on the books proclaiming beaches must be accessible to the public under the “Customary Use Doctrine,” which asserts the public’s long and historic use of beaches establishes a right of continued use over and above any private interest. READ FULL STORY

Vero puts up signs in bid to put a damper on panhandling
week of February 8, 2018

Responding to residents' complaints about the increase in panhandling at some of Vero Beach's busiest intersections, city officials last week erected signs it hopes will discourage motorists from giving roadside handouts. The signs read: "DUE TO PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS, PANHANDLING IS DISCOURAGED" in red lettering, with "Please Donate To Local Charitable Organizations" underneath in smaller black letters. The signs were installed at four locations where panhandlers have been most visible: State Road 60 eastbound at U.S. 1; U.S. 1 southbound at 17th Street (near Walgreen's); 17th Street westbound at U.S. 1 (near CVS); and 17th Street eastbound at U.S. 1 (near the Chevron station). City Manager Jim O'Connor said he approved posting the signs after consulting with City Attorney Wayne Coment and Police Chief David Currey on the wording. "Panhandling is not illegal, so we had to be careful with the wording," O'Connor said. "Wayne and I looked at what they were doing to address the problem in other cities across Florida, and there was a wide array of signage. READ FULL STORY

Disney Vero Resort guest says mold caused health problems
week of February 8, 2018

A couple from Indiana is suing Disney Vacation Club Management alleging mold in their room during a 2013 stay in Vero Beach caused serious health concerns. The complaint filed in Indian River County claims negligence at the island resort located a block south of the Wabasso Causeway. Disney denied wrongdoing in court filings. An Orlando-based spokeswoman for the company told 32963 the lawsuit was unfounded. “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will respond to them, as appropriate, in court,” said Kim Prunty. Neither Disney nor its attorney offered any further comment. Thelma K. Walls, of Nashville, Indiana, stayed at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort in 2013 from Nov. 29 through Dec. 2. It was during that visit, she claims, she was exposed to mold. Walls filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Dec. 4, just days after her trip. She told regulators her room smelled and the stench lingered even after the owner cleaned the carpet, according to records from the Department’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic closer to putting Vero on its map
week of February 1, 2018

After three years of ruminating on how to lift Indian River Medical Center out of financial decline, the boards of Vero’s publicly-owned hospital have picked a path from small-town to world-class. Tuesday afternoon, following a morning of presentations, Indian River Medical Center officials selected Cleveland Clinic as their partner of choice, the IRMC board of directors voting unanimously and the Hospital District trustees splitting four to three. They now move into the negotiation phase of a deal for Cleveland to take over the hospital. If all goes well, by the end of the year, Vero Beach will join Abu Dhabi and London’s Belgravia neighborhood – with views of Buckingham Palace – as the latest entry on the Cleveland Clinic’s map. The system, with eight regional hospitals in northeast Ohio, also has facilities in Las Vegas and Toronto. Its only Florida hospital – until now – is in Broward County. If plans presented to Vero officials in Cleveland last month work out, Cleveland Clinic Weston will soon be joined by not only Vero but as many as five other hospitals in the state, all in a three-year time frame. READ FULL STORY

IRMC board is unanimously for Cleveland
week of February 1, 2018

Two months ago, a starry-eyed Indian River Medical Center Board of Directors picked out Cleveland Clinic from among eight carefully curated healthcare systems that had put together preliminary proposals to take over the hospital. And that was it; they wanted to stop right there. No, no, no, their advisor told them. You have to pick some more. Turns out, they had it right the first time. Though it was wise to go through the process, Cleveland had their hearts. “It was exactly a year ago that Marybeth (Cunningham) and I talked about the future of IRMC and the right structure going forward,” Board Chairman Wayne Hockmeyer said, as if he were beginning a toast to something momentous, even before the ‘aye’s’ were spoken. “This has been a very deliberate, thorough, careful, diligent process,” said Hockmeyer, the retired chief of immunology at Walter Reed Medical Center and founder of the biotech firm Medimmune. READ FULL STORY

Hospital district picks Cleveland on 4-to-3 vote
week of February 1, 2018

The Indian River County Hospital District’s 4-to-3 vote to enter into negotiations with Cleveland Clinic masked the fact that each of the four suitors of Indian River Medical Center had at least one advocate among the seven trustees. In fact, during discussions that preceded vote, the takeover candidate that had the broadest support was the Adventist Health System, the first choice of Dr. Michael Weiss and the second choice of all six of the other trustees. As the discussion went around the table Tuesday, each of the first four trustees to speak had a different view as to which health system would be the best partner for IRMC. Weiss, the first to speak, said he favored Adventist. But Ann Marie McCrystal, up next, said she had come to conclude “for our hospital and this community, our best placement would be with Cleveland Clinic.” “Not so,” said the third speaker, Tracey Zudans. “I was not impressed with my visit to Cleveland Clinic on a touchy-feely basis,” she said. “I was turned off by the idea of standardization and efficiency. HCA would be my first choice.” READ FULL STORY

Johnny Benjamin claims his stash of pills seized illegally
week of February 1, 2018

Attorneys for Dr. Johnny Benjamin, the Vero Beach spine surgeon facing life in prison on federal drug charges, has asked a judge to suppress evidence they say was illegally obtained at the Melbourne International Airport. Benjamin, dressed in medical scrubs, was stopped Oct. 6 with thousands of pills that appeared to be oxycodone tablets and a ticket to Philadelphia. He was arrested six days later. Donnie Murrell, a West Palm Beach defense attorney, asked in a Jan. 12 motion that the pills found in Benjamin’s backpack at the airport, videotape of the seizure and statements the doctor gave to the police not be allowed as evidence. The DEA had no probable cause to search Benjamin so its agents asked the airport police to look in his bags, argued Murrell, who did not respond to a request for comment. “This was illegal.” More than 40 years ago, the courts anticipated law enforcement would try to take advantage of warrantless, administrative searches and ruled evidence obtained this way should be inadmissible, he said. Airport searches are strictly limited to preventing firearms or explosives from being taken onto a plane. READ FULL STORY

Long-awaited Shores cell tower to be delivered to site next Tuesday
week of February 1, 2018

The long-awaited Indian River Shores “monopine” stealth cell tower will be delivered by truck on Tuesday to the construction site at the rear of the Shores Public Safety Complex if all goes as planned. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said as of last Monday afternoon plans were still on for the 115-foot-tall structure to arrive in two primary sections and be fitted together atop a concrete foundation poured more than a month ago and cured for durability. Once upright, the tower will be adorned with fiberglass “branches” that will be attached to the main pole. The branches will arrive the same day as the tower and be stored on-site until crews are ready to install them. More important than the green tree boughs is the cellular transmission equipment that will go atop the tower. Verizon Wireless has signed on to lease a spot on the tower. The town’s contractor, Datapath Towers is still in negotiations with AT&T. Town Council members have stated that residents have been telling them they’re switching their mobile services to Verizon, and are excited about getting service strong enough to use inside their homes. READ FULL STORY

Click. Click. Have you voted yet? Click. Click.
week of February 1, 2018

The keys to happiness in Vero Beach, according to Coastal Living magazine, can be found on your personal computers, laptops and smart phones – and the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce wants you to reach for them. Then click every minute of every hour of every day. From now until 5 p.m. Feb. 6. That's when Coastal Living's online-only voting ends for its "America's Happiest Seaside Town" contest, which includes Vero Beach among its 10 finalists for the 2018 title. And the local Chamber is taking this event seriously, fully embracing the non-scientific, criteria-doesn't-matter, anyone-can-vote-as-much-as-they-want rules of the contest. Already, the Chamber has sent out press releases to local businesses and media, alerting them to the contest and urging people here to vote in an effort to "make it to the No. 1 spot and earn the official designation" as America's Happiest Seaside Town. The release includes the necessary link – – accompanied by the words: VOTE NOW. READ FULL STORY

Riomar oceanfront lot sells for ‘bargain’ $4.4 million
week of February 1, 2018

One of the last prime pieces of oceanfront development land in Riomar sold last week for the “bargain” price of $4.4 million. Treasure Coast Sotheby’s agent Rory O’Dare, who handled the transaction and also owned the property, said the buyers were a local family who live in John’s Island. He said they plan to build “a modest home” that will be about 5,000 square feet. Situated behind a live reef that shelters the accreting shoreline and creates Hawaii-style surf when conditions are right, the 1.5-acre property at 1930 Ocean Drive has 154 feet of Atlantic Ocean frontage, with a deep buffer of dunes and sea grass. It’s also a golf course property, stretching for 267 feet along the southern edge of Riomar County Club. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime legacy property,” said O’Dare, who has a long history with the scenic piece of land. “There is nothing else like it and it will never be reproduced. They are not building anymore golf courses on the ocean in Florida.” READ FULL STORY

Contractors sued over collapse of Portales De Vero parking lot
week of February 1, 2018

A massive hole left behind after a 50,000-pound truck-mounted crane collapsed the parking lot of an Ocean Drive building last year required more than $33,000 in repairs. Now, the insurance company for Portales De Vero wants the contractors involved to pay up. Frontline Insurance Unlimited filed a civil negligence complaint with the 19th Judicial Circuit in Indian River County, arguing liability for the accident rests with Jimmy’s A/C and Refrigeration and Beyel Brothers Crane and Rigging of South Florida. Portales De Vero, a white two-story commercial complex with a large breezeway and popular dining options located at the intersection of Ocean Drive and Flamevine Lane, retained Jimmy’s A/C to install a 4,000-pound air conditioning unit on April 25, the lawsuit contends. The Vero Beach company then subcontracted Cocoa-based Beyel Brothers to lift the two-ton machine onto the roof. But the air conditioner hardly got off the ground before a frightening accident ensued, according to the complaint drafted by attorneys Phillip Sheehe and Karen Fultz on behalf of Frontline and Portales De Vero. READ FULL STORY

Speed bumps, but no road blocks, for Vero electric sale
week of January 25, 2018

No barricades have been thrown up yet to block the sale of Vero Beach electric to Florida Power & Light, but a handful of Vero’s sister cities in the statewide power co-op may act as speed bumps as the city rushes to exit the electric utility business for good. Nineteen equity member cities in the Florida Municipal Power Agency must approve releasing Vero from its long-term obligations to the co-op in exchange for $108 million. After tedious negotiations – which saw the FMPA’s chief legal counsel put 4,000 miles on his vehicle traveling around the state with CEO Jacob Williams selling the Vero exit plan to the cities’ elected boards – more than two-thirds of the cities had voted in the affirmative as of press time. Four cities – Lake Worth, Alachua, Clewiston and Fort Meade – raised a variety of issues or concerns, but both Williams and Vero leaders believe those can be successfully addressed. READ FULL STORY

Who will take over hospital? Final vote Tuesday
week of January 25, 2018

Marriage metaphors are getting a workout as Indian River Medical Center officials gear up for a final vote this coming Tuesday, Jan. 30, to pick one of four heathcare systems vying to take over Vero’s hospital – but, so far, no one has used the term ‘bridezilla’ in the two-month intensive courtship. Hospital leaders intend to keep it that way after a key adviser warned that weary suitors could get cold feet. Key to averting that outcome is the pace of the process, a timeframe so tight it had officials visiting eight hospitals in four days. “Time is your enemy,” said Jupiter Advisory’s Jamie Burgdorfer, who has shepherded the two boards – IRMC and the County Hospital District – through the partnership process since August. Last week there were some last-minute jitters about those boards having only two days to review the final proposals. But once an accord is reached on a finalist this coming Tuesday – or later, if the boards can’t agree – the pace should slow, at least for the boards. IRMC officials will produce a non-binding letter of intent and the partner of choice will have exclusive rights to begin negotiations in earnest, typically for 90 or 120 days. That means a binding definitive agreement should be reached by late spring. READ FULL STORY

George Heaton strikes plea deal in Vero Beach Hotel and Spa financing scheme
week of January 25, 2018

George Heaton, developer of the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, faces up to five years in prison after entering into a plea deal last week to a single felony charge of conspiracy to make false statements to a federally insured institution. Heaton, 74, thus escaped more serious charges, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, for his role in a complex scheme whereby he deceived banks about the sale of condo units at the Vero Beach Hotel to obtain the money he needed to finish construction. He also was ordered to pay some $263,000 in forfeiture to compensate for the financial crime, and could well be forced to reimburse banks for the estimated $3.5 million federal prosecutors said they lost in the scheme. During the real estate slowdown a decade ago, Heaton needed to show a certain number of condo sales in order to get construction financing released for the luxury hotel and condo property on Ocean Drive. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach Rowing hires director to take club to the next level
week of January 25, 2018

As Austin Work drove east through Texas last Saturday, eager to embark on his new job as the full-time rowing director of Vero Beach Rowing, his 7-year-old Australian shepherd was resting comfortably on his lap. “Her name is Stella,” Work said, “and she’s a great boathouse dog.” All she needs now is a boathouse – and that’s in the works. “This club is ready to take off,” said Work, “and I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it and nurture its competitive aspirations.” The rowing club launched in January 2017 a campaign to raise the $2.3 million needed to build a 12,000-square-foot boathouse and rowing center on leased, city-owned land at MacWilliam Park, under the east side of the Barber Bridge. The center, which will include an already-completed, 100-foot-long floating dock, would provide a base for the club’s operations, training facilities and secure storage for its boats. Thus far, the club, which was founded in 2008, has raised $1.8 million and hopes to reach its goal by the end of March, with plans to break ground early this summer. READ FULL STORY

John’s Island real estate market hot after a record year in 2017
week of January 25, 2018

Realtors around town are talking about the bustling real estate market in John’s Island. “JI is always popular and with recent upgrades it has become a lifestyle choice once again,” says Sally Daley, owner of Daley and Company. “It is very active,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Kay Brown, whose parents lived in the club community. “I have a lot of friends up there and there is very little product available. They had the best year last year, as far as I know, that they have ever had.” John’s Island Real Estate Broker Bob Gibb confirms, “It was a record year for us. We had 141 properties closed or pending by the end of December, and our dollar volume was up 40 percent over 2016.” The 141 sales number understates the company’s accomplishments. While most realtors count transaction “sides” – meaning they count it as two if they represent both seller and purchaser – John’s Island Real Estate counts properties. READ FULL STORY

Vero approves extra $200,000 for emergency beach repairs
week of January 25, 2018

Hurricane Irma’s appetite for Vero’s dunes at Conn Beach and Humiston Beach Park, on the heels of her sand-chomping predecessor Matthew in 2016, is proving to be costly for Vero Beach taxpayers. The City Council last Tuesday approved a $200,000 change order expanding the scope of a post-Matthew dune repair project to shore up those two beaches, even though there is no money in the 2017-18 budget for the repairs and the expenditure will eat up nearly a quarter of the city’s emergency fund. The matter was approved on the council’s consent agenda with no discussion, bringing the total cost of emergency sand for Matthew and Irma up to $272,000. When asked his feelings about spending unbudgeted money for emergency sand, Mayor Harry Howle said he would prefer not to spend $200,000 on beach replenishment, but that it is a necessary to retain one of the top amenities and biggest tourist attractions in Vero. READ FULL STORY