Florida’s Sunday Backroom Briefing: On the Path to Perdition

By DARA KAM AND JIM TURNER NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Ric Bradshaw and Jeffrey Epstein

Ric Bradshaw and Jeffrey Epstein

Sen. Lauren Book is continuing to mine for the public support the Plantation Democrat hopes will pressure Gov. Ron DeSantis into launching an independent investigation into how the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office handled sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

While the Republican governor mulls her request, Book’s taken to Twitter to solicit signatures demanding the independent probe.

“We need an FDLE investigation into how #Epstein was able to ENJOY — not SERVE — his time under PBSO supervision,” Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, tweeted Monday. She’s posted similar tweets throughout the week.

The names are being gathered for a massive drop-off in the governor’s office by Lauren’s Kids, the non-profit Book founded aimed at preventing child sexual abuse.

“There are several thousand signatures on the petition. Still no response from the Governor’s office…,” Claire VanSusteren, a spokeswoman for the senator, said in an email on Wednesday, when asked how the campaign was going.

As of Thursday morning, the governor’s office had not responded to requests to comment on Book’s call for an independent investigation. But last week, DeSantis said he was considering whether state law-enforcement officials had an oversight role.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has started internal affairs and criminal investigations into how his office handled Epstein, who is facing sex-trafficking charges involving minors in Florida and New York.

Epstein, who’s being held without bail in New York, previously served 13 months of an 18-month sentence under Bradshaw’s watch, after the financier pleaded guilty in 2008 to two state prostitution charges in Florida, including procuring a minor for sex.

The plea required him to register as a sex offender. While in custody, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County stockade, according to the Miami Herald, which has done extensive reporting on Epstein.

After more than three months in custody, Epstein was provided work release for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

“I know they are investigating it down in Palm Beach, but clearly when you look at how that happened, even if, like, 10 percent of the things about him are true, then that whole (plea) agreement was suspect and woefully below what he should have faced,” DeSantis said last week. “I’ll look at it and see, can the state can exercise some good oversight there.”

FRIED: ‘BIGGER PICTURE’ NEEDED FOR NAFTA

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continues to echo her Republican predecessor, Adam Putnam, while decrying the impact of the nearly 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, on Florida’s farmers.

However, she sees President Donald Trump’s effort to tweak the trade deal with Canada and Mexico — rebranded as the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or USMCA — as doing little to change the situation for most of the state’s 47,000 farms.

Fried acknowledges that some large agricultural interests in the Sunshine State are expected to benefit from the new deal now before Congress.

But, she said, the “bigger picture” must be considered. That means protecting smaller agriculture commodities that have been unfairly impacted by Mexico’s ability to dump “cheap, illegally subsidized” fruits and vegetables on the U.S. market without fear of retribution, Fried said.

“We certainly want USMCA to eventually be in the right proper posture, and that’s having the seasonal exemption for our fruits and vegetable growers,” she told reporters during a Monday conference call with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, in advance of this week’s Democratic presidential debates.

On Tuesday, Fried spread the message at Jubilee Orchards in Lake City, where she warned the trade deal could cause $389 million in losses to Florida agriculture.

Besides the seasonal dumping, Fried and other Democratic officials argued Trump’s international deals are also negatively impacting Florida’s rural communities.

Fried blamed China’s 25 percent retaliatory tariffs for cutting Florida timber exports to China by 64 percent, fruit juice exports by 65 percent, lobster from Florida by 34 percent and crabs by 79 percent.

And, after Florida’s timber industry was devastated by Hurricane Michael last year, Fried said Russia, Brazil and other nations have moved in to replace Sunshine State stock.

“Maybe the president thinks he is helping with tariffs and trade wars, but, as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and his agenda has been a path to perdition for Florida farmers,” Fried said.

DESANTIS WANTS WORLD CUP

Gov. Ron DeSantis will soon be making the case for Florida to host games in the men’s 2026 FIFA World Cup.

While attending the Major League Soccer All-Star Game Wednesday at Orlando City Stadium, DeSantis noted he has upcoming meetings in which he will push for Orlando and Miami to be among the 16 cities across North America where the games will be held.

“It’s a great return on investment and I think it’s a great thing for experience for a lot of our young kids and families,” the governor said. “But also, it will pump a lot of money into the economy.”

Orlando hosted five games in the 1994 tournament, when the U.S. was the sole host country.

In 2026, the games will be hosted jointly by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The U.S. is getting the bulk of the games, including the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and the final. Canada and Mexico will each host 10 matches.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “In one week, I’ll be legally married to the MAN of my dreams. Is this really happening? Pinch me.” — State Rep. Carlos Smith, D-Orlando (@CarlosGSmith).

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