Roger Stone sued by federal government for nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes and interest

Roger Stone, longtime political ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives for a status hearing in the criminal case against him brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Robertsle
Roger Stone.

  • GOP strategist and Trump ally Roger Stone and his wife were sued by the federal government for $2 million in unpaid taxes.
  • The complaint accused the couple of using their company to avoid paying personal income tax.
  • Stone was indicted in 2019 on several charges connected to the Mueller investigation on Russian interference in the 2020 election. He was later pardoned by Trump.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former GOP strategist Roger Stone was sued Friday by the federal government for nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties.

The complaint was filed Friday against Stone and his wife Nydia Stone to collect unpaid federal income tax liabilities for nearly $1.6 million between the years 2007 through 2011, as well as more than $400,000 in 2018, according to court documents.

The suit, which is not an accusation of criminality, was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Stone was indicted on several felonies in January 2019 – including making false statements to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering – in connection with the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Former President Donald Trump commuted Stone’s 40-month prison sentence in July last year, then later granted Stone a full pardon on the felony charges in December 2020.

According to the complaint, the Stones used a company they owned called Drake Ventures to pay their federal taxes. After Stone was indicted in January 2019, they opened a trust through the company to help them purchase their residence in Florida, which has no state income taxes.

“Although they used funds held in Drake Ventures accounts to pay some of their taxes, the Stones’ use of Drake Ventures to hold their funds allowed them to shield their personal income from enforced collection and fund a lavish lifestyle despite owing nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties,” the complaint read.

The Stones failed to pay their $20,000 monthly installment payment to the IRS in March 2019, according to the complaint, causing the agency to terminate its installment agreement, according to the lawsuit.

“The Stones intended to defraud the United States by maintaining their assets in Drake Ventures’ accounts, which they completely controlled, and using these assets to purchase the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust,” according to the complaint.

In a statement to CNN, Stone called the complaint “preposterous.”

“They are well aware that my two-year struggle against the epically corrupt Mueller investigation has left my wife and I on the verge of bankruptcy,” Stone said in the statement. “I have continued to eke out a living through my company Drake Ventures.”

“To describe my current lifestyle as ‘lavish’ will be proved to be ridiculous in court. The political motivation of the DOJ Will be abundantly clear at trial,” he continued.

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A triplex penthouse that was once Miami’s most expensive listing just sold at a 27% discount after 6 years on the market. Take a look inside.

miami beach penthouse
The penthouse offers stunning views of South Beach and downtown Miami.

  • Real-estate developer Ian Bruce Eichner sold his Miami Beach penthouse for $35 million after 6 years on the market, per the WSJ.
  • The 11,031-square-foot condo occupies three floors at the top of a 42-story tower.
  • I toured the penthouse in May 2019, when it was the priciest listing in Miami-Dade County.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Real-estate developer Ian Bruce Eichner has sold his three-level Miami Beach penthouse for $35 million, six years after he put it on the market, Candace Taylor reported for The Wall Street Journal.

continuum miami

The 11,031-square-foot condo, at the top of the 42-story Continuum tower in the South of Fifth neighborhood, was Eichner’s personal penthouse. He first put it on the market it in 2015, and it was most recently listed for $39.9 million, per the Journal.

Eichner, who founded the Continuum Company, finished the Continuum condo in the early 2000s. 

Before selling it, Eichner had been renting out the penthouse for up to $200,000 per month, the developer told the Journal. 

In May 2019, I got a tour of the Continuum penthouse, which was then the most expensive condo for sale in Miami-Dade County, listed at $48 million.

penthouse miami beach

The final sale price was a roughly 27% discount from its 2019 asking price.

When I visited, the penthouse was listed with Eloy Carmenate and Mick Duchon of Douglas Elliman. Both agents are now at Corcoran and held the listing there, according to the Journal. 

 

During my visit, my first look at the triplex penthouse was the grand entryway.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

During my tour, I found that the living room, pictured below, was decorated in neutrals with black and gold accents.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

The formal dining room stuck to the white-and-marble theme.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

The eat-in kitchen has stainless-steel appliances and marble countertops to match the floors …

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

… as well as three ovens and a built-in espresso machine.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

The penthouse has seven bedrooms, each of which has floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

This bedroom opens up to a long terrace that connects to the master suite.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

In the master suite, wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows fill the room with sunlight and open up to views of the ocean.

penthouse miami beach

Source: Douglas Elliman

A private terrace off the suite overlooks South Beach and downtown Miami.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

It also offers views of Fisher Island, the richest ZIP code in the US, where the average income is $2.2 million and the beaches have sand imported from the Bahamas.

fisher island miami

Source: Insider

The master bathroom features marble floors, double vanities, and large mirrors.

penthouse miami beach

Source: Douglas Elliman

A marble soaking tub overlooks the ocean.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

The bathroom also has a walk-in double shower and its own small terrace.

miami beach penthouse

Source: Douglas Elliman

And then there’s the penthouse’s main terrace, a massive 6,091-square-foot outdoor space.

miami beach penthouse

Among the home’s other amenities is a screening room.

The penthouse also has a private pool, which sits on the level above the main terrace and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

miami beach penthouse

Eichner, who’s based in New York City, told the Journal that he was looking for another vacation home in the Miami area.

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Matt Gaetz teased a ‘fight back’ ad, trying to shift attention from sex-trafficking allegations by alleging that CNN is out to get him

Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

  • Matt Gaetz tweeted an ad due to air in a self-styled fightback after allegations against him.
  • Gaetz was accused of trafficking teenagers and paying for sex, which he strongly denies.
  • His ad features undercover footage of a CNN employee, presented to suggest the network is trying to harm him.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rep. Matt Gaetz is planning to push back at allegations he was involved in sex trafficking via an ad campaign targeting CNN, according to reports.

Politico first reported on the planned six-figure ad campaign, in which Gaetz will portray the federal investigation into the trafficking allegations and media coverage of it as part of a “fake news” plot to oust him from Congress.

Gaetz tweeted the video on Wednesday:

The Florida lawmaker has strenuously denied allegations of trafficking, that involve claims he was involved in a sexual relationship with a minor.

The ad will run on local networks in Gaetz’s district, as well as on some national TV networks, the Friends of Matt Gaetz campaign committee told Politico.

The clip shows that the ad will feature footage from Project Veritas, the conservative activist group that aims to expose what it claims is bias and malpractice in liberal institutions and the media.

The groups has been accused of unethical practices and spreading disinformation by deceptively editing its clips.

The ad attacks CNN, featuring hidden-camera footage of Charles Chester, a technical worker at CNN, discussing its coverage of the Gaetz scandal.

Chester, who does not appear to be a journalist, describes Gaetz as a “problem for the Democratic party” and suggests that CNN will produce further stories to “keep hurting him.”

Chester was lured into discussing CNN by a female Project Veritas employee who posed as a Tinder date and secretly filmed their conversations, a CNN source told Mediaite.

Gaetz became known as one of Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress during the Republican’s 4 years in office.

The investigation into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in trafficking stems from a separate criminal probe into an associate, Joel Greenberg.

Greenberg worked as a local tax official, and is suspected of crimes including trafficking, financial offences, and a bid to smear a political rival with false rumors.

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Cruise lines and Florida are on track for a standoff over COVID-19 vaccine requirements

carnival cruise
The Carnival Ecstasy docked at the Port of Jacksonville on March 27, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning businesses from requiring vaccines applies to cruise lines.
  • However, several cruise lines have already announced vaccine mandates.
  • DeSantis has been vocal about the cruise industry and previously said the state would sue the CDC to bring cruises back sooner.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Florida and cruise companies could be locked in a battle over vaccine requirements as the state puts a ban on vaccine passports while cruise lines continue to mandate the jabs for passengers and crew.

On April 2, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning vaccine passports and local businesses from requiring this proof of vaccination. This ban applies to cruise lines as well, DeSantis’ press secretary Cody McCloud told Insider in an email.

“The Governor’s Executive Order provides that businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business,” McCloud told Insider in an email. “Therefore, the Executive Order prohibits cruise lines from requiring vaccine passports for their Florida operations.”

Read more: The Great GOP Migration: How South Florida became a shadow capital for Trump conservatives

However, many cruise lines have already announced some form of a vaccine requirement, whether it be for crew, guests, or both. This includes Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which recently unveiled a sweeping vaccine requirement for its Norwegian, Oceania, and Regent Seven Seas brand. Other cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, have held off on guest or crew requirements, instead opting to announce select “fully vaccinated” sailings.

However, major cruise lines – with the exception of those with a sweeping vaccine mandate – have withheld announcing a vaccine policy for future sailing series departing from US ports. So far, all of Royal Caribbean’s cruises operating under a vaccine order will be sailing out of international ports located in countries like Israel, Bermuda, and Cyprus.

DeSantis’ decision to prohibit cruise lines from requiring vaccines could prove to be yet another major issue for cruise companies, many of which have historically sailed out of Florida ports. But some experts have questioned DeSantis’ ability to impose such a ban upon cruise lines, according to a report from the Sun Sentinel.

This includes Jim Walker – an attorney based in South Florida with a specialization in maritime law – who told the Sun Sentinel that DeSantis may not have the jurisdiction needed to either prohibit cruise lines from enforcing a vaccine mandate or bring cruises back.

Regardless, it could be a while before we see any stand-off between the state and cruise lines interested in sailing out of Florida with a vaccine requirement.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to give cruise lines the green light to resume sailing and has shied away from enforcing an industry-wide vaccine mandate. As a result, no major cruise lines will be sailing from US ports in the near future, even if the ship is traveling with a vaccine mandate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg has been accused of everything from acting as a vigilante police officer to trying to hack rival politicians

Joel Greenberg, tax collector for Seminole County
  • Embattled former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg had a troubled tenure in office, the NYT reports.
  • Before being charged with federal crimes, Greenberg was accused of abusing his office and wasting taxpayer funds.
  • Greenberg, an associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz, is now a key player in the investigation against Gaetz.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Embattled former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg, now a major player in the federal probe against Rep. Matt Gaetz, had a long history of being accused of official misconduct, including having complaints filed accusing him of acting as a vigilante police officer and abusing taxpayer funds.

A new examination of Greenberg’s tenure by The New York Times on Sunday uncovered numerous warning signs about Greenberg’s conduct in office. After a somewhat troubled youth, Greenberg was elected to the position of tax collector in the county in 2016, defeating the longtime incumbent in a primary challenge.

The Times said that Greenberg soon found himself “bored” in his position and sought ways to use it to his personal advantage, a tendency that would lead to his downfall and formal resignation in 2020.

Read more: Matt Gaetz is employing Trump-style fundraising pitches – including automatic recurring contributions that could dupe donors

In a complaint filed with the county’s sheriff’s office and reported by The Times, a woman said that in 2017 Greenberg pulled her over with his tax collector’s badge around his neck and yelled at her for apparently cutting him off, saying she drove “like a bat out of hell.”

Greenberg was also accused of spending over $1 million in taxpayer funds for gear including weapons and a drone, creating “no-show jobs” for family and members of his wedding party, and of trying to solicit help to hack computers belonging to member of the county commission who had criticized him.

One lawyer who represented one of Greenberg’s former employees told The Times: “It’s like the Tiger King got elected tax collector.”

Greenberg was also accused of stalking Brian Beute, a rival Democratic candidate for tax collector and local music teacher who had advocated against a real estate development supported by Greenberg.

Greenberg’s actions, according to the indictment against him, included sending a fake anonymous letter to the school claiming Beute had an inappropriate relationship with a student (and making a Facebook account to perpetuate the same false claims) and creating a fake Twitter account posing as Beutler that posted white supremacist and pro-segregationist content.

Greenberg was first criminally charged with stalking Beute and unlawfully using his identity by federal prosecutors in June 2020.

He now faces over 30 federal charges ranging from sex trafficking of a child, aggravated identity theft, creating fake IDs, wire fraud, illegal monetary transfers, and conspiracy to bribe a public official to defraud the Small Business Administration for COVID-19 relief funds, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The Sentinel reports that Greenberg is expected to strike a plea deal to plead guilty to some of the charges by mid-May. Greenberg faces 10 years to life in prison on the sex trafficking charge alone.

During his tumultuous tenure as tax collector, Greenberg became friends with Gaetz, and was brought into the fray of Republican politics in the state. He even spoke at a rally for former President Donald Trump in 2016.

Gaetz is under federal investigation for possible trafficking of a minor across state lines. Authorities are also examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid women for sex. Gaetz has denied the accusations and has not yet been charged with a crime.

Insider’s Sonam Sheth recently reported that the extent of Greenberg’s current legal woes could up the pressure on him to cooperate against others involved in the charges against him, and potentially cause serious trouble for Gaetz.

Read the original article on Business Insider

‘I’m not going anywhere’: Matt Gaetz defiant in Florida speech after House Ethics Committee opens investigation

Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to reporters outside a closed-door meeting where Catherine Croft, a State Department adviser on Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida was defiant in his attempt to remain in office during a Friday speech.
  • Gaetz currently faces investigations by the US Department of Justice and the House Ethics Committee.
  • “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on Friday was defiant in his attempt to remain in office, brushing aside the damaging set of developments surrounding a federal sex trafficking investigation that has unfolded in the media over the course of nearly two weeks.

While attending the “Save America Summit,” part of a four-day conference at the Trump National Doral resort in Miami, Gaetz, who was billed as the keynote speaker for the event, said he was here to stay, according to The Daily Beast.

“This past week has been full of encouragement,” he told the group of attendees. “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life, to wild conspiracy theories. I won’t be intimidated by a lying media, and I won’t be extorted by a former DOJ [Department of Justice] official and the crooks he is working with.”

He added: “The truth will prevail.”

Gaetz has denied that he paid women for sex – including, potentially, an underage girl – blaming the media for amplifying the allegations against him.

“I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

Women for America First, the group that organized the conference, advertised Gaetz’s appearance by calling him “a fearless leader in DC” who stood up for former President Donald Trump’s “America First Agenda.”

In his speech on Friday, Gaetz, who was one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, contended that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from the former president.

Read more: Visa’s PAC gave politicians $139,000 in March after vowing to pause contributions because of the Capitol insurrection

But even Gaetz wrapping himself around the Trump legacy could not curtail the swirl of controversies that awaited him outside the resort.

On Friday, the House Ethics Committee announced that they were opening a bipartisan investigation into allegations against Gaetz of sexual misconduct, illicit drug use, and the sharing of nude images on the House floor.

Trump was urged by advisors not to publicly back Gaetz until more was known about the allegations of sex with an underage girl, according to The Daily Beast.

When the former president issued a statement regarding Gaetz this week, he refuted a report that the congressman had asked for a blanket pardon.

“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”

Many Republicans and conservative media figures have been quiet about Gaetz in the wake of the allegations, especially after a widely panned March appearance on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that the host himself said was “one of the weirdest interviews” that he’s ever done.

According to The Daily Beast, out of 16 top Trump administration officials contacted by the publication, none would back Gaetz on the record.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A college student hit a police officer over the head with his skateboard during the Capitol riot, says indictment

capitol riot siege
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • A college student has been charged for striking a police officer with his skateboard during the Capitol riot.
  • Grady Douglas Owens, 21, was caught on bodycam footage striking the officer over the head.
  • The officer, who was not named, was left with a concussion and an injury to his finger.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Florida college student has been charged with striking a Metropolitan Police officer over the head with a skateboard at the Capitol riots, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Grady Douglas Owens, 21, from Winter Park, Florida, was arrested on April 1 after being caught on bodycam video using his skateboard, which bore the phrase “White Fang,” to hit a police officer over the head.

The officer, who has not been named, was left with a concussion and an injury to his finger, according to an affidavit released earlier this month.

Read more: Visa’s PAC gave politicians $139,000 in March after vowing to pause contributions because of the Capitol insurrection

The 21-year-old, who is a student at Full Sail University, has been charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, and violent entry of the Capitol building, among other things. He faces 36 years in prison if convicted.

Federal investigators were able to track him down with the help of social media. His Instagram account, which described him as a “mix and mastering engineer,” according to the New York Post, has since been taken down.

An employee of Full Sail University later positively identified him.

More than 400 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Of the cases, at least 32 are from Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The Great GOP Migration: How South Florida became a shadow capital for Trump conservatives

Trump mask Miami
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump in Miami after the 2020 election.

  • As conservatives flee Blue State hostility and lockdowns, South Florida has become a GOP power base.
  • The GOP social calendar orbits Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, while revelers party mask-free at swank house parties and penthouses.
  • Greater Miami has lured California tech and right-wing news. Florida’s politics is meanwhile shifting Red.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Brittney Reed needed to get in front of Donald Trump and it had to happen fast.

It was the eve of two special elections in Louisiana, and Reed–the head of the Louisiana GOP–knew an endorsement from Trump could make the difference. So, she had secured a last-minute ticket for a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago and flew to Palm Beach to make her case in person.

It was mid-March, and Mar-a-Lago had partially closed a section of the club after several workers tested positive for COVID-19. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who became a national figure for loosening coronavirus restrictions, had booked the club for the evening and his event went on as planned.

When DeSantis and Trump finished their remarks, Reed made a beeline for the former president to discuss the two Republicans she wanted in Congress: Julia Letlow, the widow of congressman-elect Luke Letlow, who had died from COVID complications, and Claston Bernard, a former LSU track star.

Trump turned to DeSantis and others around him.

“Ron, what do you think of this race here?” Trump said, according to sources with knowledge of the event. (Representatives for Trump, DeSantis, and Bernard did not respond to Insider’s questions about the encounter.) “Is it possible, what do you think?”

The crowd agreed that Letlow was a good bet, while DeSantis said Bernard’s seat “wasn’t winnable” because the district was heavily Democratic. Trump had praised Letlow before, but it wasn’t widely known his removal from social media platforms had silenced the former president’s preferred megaphone. “How am I going to do this endorsement if I do it?” Trump asked.

Mar a Lago better
The Atlantic Ocean is seen adjacent to former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, in 2018

“Put a press release out. We’ll get it everywhere,” Reed said.

The following day, Trump released a statement promoting Letlow’s candidacy. She won easily.

Mar-a-La-Go-Go

South Florida has long been a haven for those fleeing frigid winters and high taxes. Once the pandemic began, a jet set of monied Manhattanites, tech entrepreneurs, and untethered influencers restless from Blue State lockdowns flocked to Miami en masse — helping turn Greater Miami into a conservative power base.

Once Mar-a-Lago went from being Trump’s “Winter White House” to full-time residence, the Republican Party’s social calendar has increasingly orbited his beachfront Xanadu.

“Republicans used to go to the Upper East Side to raise money but most of those people aren’t even in New York anymore. They’re in their second home in South Florida,” said Adam Weiss, a Miami-based public relations executive. “Now that New York completely shut down, that drove a whole new group of people to come down here.”

So far this year, Trump’s members-only resort has hosted high-dollar soirees for DeSantis, Utah Senator Mike Lee, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Alabama Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard.

“I have to say, I’m getting calls from senators, they all want our endorsement and I’m being very selective,” Trump said at the Noem gathering, which donors paid $4,000 to attend.

Party honchos even relocated their confabs to South Florida to ensure a Trump appearance.

The American Conservative Union switched its annual CPAC event from suburban Maryland to Orlando in February to avoid limits on large indoor gatherings. It was there that Trump made his first public remarks since leaving office.

Trump won
Former President Trump’s supporters gather near his Mar-a-Lago home on Feb. 15, 2021.

The Republican National Committee picked Palm Beach for its spring donor retreat in April and set a portion of the weekend at Mar-a-Lago to appease Trump after officials angered the former president by using his image in its fundraisers.

When Air Force One touched down in West Palm Beach on Jan. 20, hundreds of MAGA-hatted faithful lined Southern Boulevard gripping blue “Trump 2020” flags and hand painted “Trump Won” signs as the former president’s motorcade whizzed by.

It was a far friendlier atmosphere than he had lately experienced in Manhattan, where raucous protesters would pack Fifth Avenue, at the foot of Trump Tower, whenever Trump returned from Washington.

“It’s a wealthy place and there’s not many places where there are so many heavy hitters who are Republican,” Weiss said.

Arrest Trump 2
A protest in front of Trump Tower on March 8, 2021 along New York’s Fifth Ave.

“Isn’t it so nice that Miami is open?”

Power lunches in Palm Beach still reign among Trump’s inner circle. Rudy Giuliani is known to hold court at The Breakers and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been seen dining at La Bilboquet, a Worth Avenue outpost of a high-end Manhattan eatery that opened in February. The afterparty crowd for Mar-a-Lago events often hits Cucina Palm Beach where Kimberly Guilfoyle, who purchased a $9.7 million mansion with her boyfriend Don Jr. in nearby Jupiter, has been spotted dancing on the tables.

The love for Trump spreads 70 miles south of Mar-a-Lago to Miami, a city that never sleeps thanks to many coronavirus restrictions lifting months ago.

They pack into Carbone, one of the restaurants dotting Collins Avenue in South Beach. Or Socialista, a swanky lounge attached to Cipriani Restaurant, where transplants from San Francisco start-ups rub shoulders with maskless models and the occasional conservative influencer, before moving on to an all-night party at a South Beach penthouse or at the Star Island mansion of plastic surgeon Leonard Hochstein and “Real Housewives of Miami” star Lisa Hochstein.

“Isn’t it so nice that Miami is open?” one tech founder, who called himself a COVID refugee, said. “I’m so over COVID.”

But the hottest reservation in Biscayne Bay is Joia Beach, a Mykonos-inspired beach club with views of megayachts and the Miami skyline.

There’s currently a three-month wait on Open Table but VIPs like Akon, Maluma, Adriana Lima, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, and Tiffany Trump have snagged tables to nibble on Tasmanian trout crudo ($20), Turkish octopus ($30), and winter fennel and crab salad ($28).

It helps to be on a texting basis with one of the restaurant’s partners. Others have tried more unusual measures.

“People have swam in,” Marko Gojanovic, a Joia Beach partner and real estate agent, said. “There are people who have tried to pull jet skis in areas we can’t see. People have paddled up to us. Thank God we have security.”

Ron and Kim
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Kimberly Guilfoyle at a Trump campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport in 2020.

Coronavirus is still raging in Florida a year after the pandemic began. The state has had more than 2 million cases and 33,000 deaths, with a quarter of the state’s total occurring in Miami-Dade County alone. But South Floridians–old timers and new arrivals alike–have largely shed their coronavirus concerns like a chunky sweater at the beach.

No one shames people for forgoing masks at hotels and restaurants or packing house parties. Mar-a-Lago remains a mask-free zone.

Contrast that to what happened in the northeast last winter, when a video of a Queens Republican club’s Christmas party, featuring a maskless conga line, gained 3.7 million views online and drew torrents of condemnation. Manhattan Young Republicans were so spooked by the media they held their winter gala at a secret location in New Jersey.

Washington has become less hospitable to Trump-friendly conservatives too. American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp said he’s had several hostile encounters with progressives in public. He and his wife, former White House communications aide Mercedes Schlapp, are eyeing a move south.

“I was eating a salad last weekend at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria and was berated by a woman who called me an ‘a–hole,'” Schlapp said. “Usually you have to cut someone off in traffic to earn that kind of title but here you just have to be someone recognized for being a Republican.”

The Great Republican Migration

South Florida has been beckoning conservatives for years, but locals say the influx has accelerated since Trump took office in 2017.

Thank U Trump
Supporters of outgoing US President Donald Trump await his return to West Palm Beach, Florida.

Fox News is still headquartered in Manhattan but other right-wing outlets have proliferated along the Gold Coast. Newsmax, the Boca Raton-based cable channel, is adding a news bureau in Miami later this year. Conservative radio host and Palm City resident Dan Bongino is one of several commentators trying out for the slot that Rush Limbaugh anchored from Palm Beach until his death earlier this year. Far-right podcaster Bill Mitchell has been broadcasting his YourVoice America program from Miami since 2019. And MAGA influencer Maggie Vandenberghe fled California for Palm Beach this winter.

The party’s donor class soon followed. Billionaires fleeing Blue State progressivism decamped to Miami’s most exclusive islands. Palantir co-founder and Republican megadonor Peter Thiel plunked down $18 million in September for a Venetian Islands chateau where MTV’s “The Real World: Miami” was filmed. Founders Fund partner Keith Rabois chided San Francisco for being “massively improperly run and managed” before dropping $29 million on an estate near Thiel in December, while Blumberg Capital’s David Blumberg blamed “poor governance” in California before making his cross-country journey.

“Miami should be the easiest and cheapest city in the country for somebody to start a business,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “I want to make sure everyone around the country knows that Miami is here to help you grow, not keep you from growing.”

A political shift is underway

Florida’s transformation from swingy purple to deeper red would have been unthinkable two decades ago when George W. Bush won the state and the presidency by a minuscule 537 votes. Southeast Florida swelled more than a million people since 2000 but it is far less of a Democratic stronghold than it used to be.

Trump and FL GOP
US President Donald Trump at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in 2019, with Governor Ron DeSantis and Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.

President Barack Obama won Palm Beach County by 24 points and Miami-Dade by 16 points in 2008 en route to statewide victories during both presidential campaigns. But Trump won twice by making up ground in Democratic counties.

Florida Republicans knocked doors for months boosting turnout while the Biden curtailed canvassing during the health crisis. The Trump campaign also accused Democrats of supporting socialist policies — a message that resonated among Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants who fled brutal left-wing regimes.

“Democrats were flat-footed in dealing with accusations of socialism in commercials where people had lived under the boot of socialism,” Dan Gelber, Democratic mayor of South Beach, said. “I don’t think we responded aggressively enough.”

Latino voters in Miami-Dade also feared economic damage from school and business closures more than getting sick, according to voter data Equis analyzed.

miami volleyball
Beachgoers play volleyball on Dec. 19, 2020 in South Beach.

“As bad as the coronavirus pandemic was in terms of caseloads and deaths, apparently a lot more Floridians were concerned with the economy and that certainly helped Trump,” Aubrey Jewett, University of Central Florida political science professor, said.

Trump’s presence in Florida has benefited the state’s ambitious officeholders. Ron DeSantis has become a 2024 frontrunner in several polls after being one of the first governors to reopen his state. Marco Rubio has a clear shot at re-election and is again seen as a likely presidential candidate.

While the coronavirus has sped up the conservative influx, it’s not clear what will happen once the pandemic recedes. New arrivals could stay in South Florida now that remote work has become more prevalent and there’s less of a need for face-to-face meetings.

There’s always been a stigma about Miami but people told me in their New York circles that stigma has been lifted,” said Reid Heidenry, a Sotheby’s agent who sold over $100 million in real estate in the past year, said. “In the business world, it’s now socially acceptable to live in a place like Miami Beach.”

Whether a COVID refugee or long-time fixture of Miami Beach, there’s one thing that’s indisputable across party lines.

“Freedom tastes pretty good,” Zangrillo said at a house party.

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‘Matt Gaetz wants to date your child’ billboard goes up in Florida

matt gaetz FL billboard
A billboard saying “Matt Gaetz wants to ‘date’ your child” went up in Florida this week.

  • A billboard emblazoned with “Matt Gaetz wants to ‘date’ your child” has gone up in Florida.
  • The billboards were paid for by a liberal political action committee called Mad Dog.
  • Gaetz was also the star of other snarky billboards in Florida, one of them mocking his 2008 DUI.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A billboard emblazoned with “Matt Gaetz wants to ‘date’ your child” has gone up in Florida, trolling the beleaguered Florida lawmaker for his federal sex trafficking investigation.

The billboards were paid for by a liberal political action committee (PAC) called Mad Dog.

Local media outlet Northwest Florida Daily News reported that the billboard is located on State Road 85, a busy north-south state highway near the Hub City center in Crestview, Florida.

Rep. Gaetz has spent the last weeks grappling with the biggest political scandal of his career, as he is currently the subject of a Justice Department probe into whether he paid for a 17-year-old to travel with and have sex with him.

Gaetz has since emphatically denied all the allegations and asserted on multiple occasions that the investigation was part of a long con to extort $25 million from his family.

Gaetz also starred in previous Mad Dog billboards in Florida. One went up in 2018 that said “Rep. Matt Gaetz: how many DUIs have you had? The voters deserve to know” – featuring Gaetz’s mugshot from his 2008 DUI,

Another, which went up in 2019, featured Gaetz’s mugshot and displayed the words “GOP” integrated with the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union’s flag.

The billboard’s appearance on Thursday coincided with new revelations that Gaetz sent $900 via Venmo to political ally and accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg.

The Daily Beast reported that Greenberg then sent $900 in split-up, varied amounts to three women, including an 18-year-old who currently works in the porn industry, earmarking the money as being for “Tuition” and “School.”

Greenberg, who used to work as a tax collector in Florida, was indicted on 33 charges, including sex trafficking crimes involving a 17-year-old girl, and is expected to co-operate with law enforcement to swing a plea deal.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says his state is suing the CDC to bring back cruises

ron desantis florida vaccine 60 minutes
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state will sue the CDC to bring back cruise ships “immediately.”
  • The CDC has put a hold on the cruise industry since the COVID-19 pandemic first began.
  • The cruise industry has fought back, instead arguing for a cruising return from US ports by July.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that the state will be suing the federal government and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring back the cruise industry “immediately.”

“On behalf of the tens of thousands of Floridians whose livelihood depends on the viability of an open cruise industry, today Florida is fighting back,” DeSantis said in a news conference in Miami.

The CDC has maintained its halt on cruising since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when cruise ships around the world initially became superspreaders. However, several major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean have since found workarounds to this by offering “fully vaccinated” sailings from ports outside of the US, including Bermuda and the Caribbeans, a move DeSantis says takes business away from Florida.

“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year,” DeSantis continued. “I think we have a good chance for success.”

On April 2, the CDC announced fully vaccinated people could travel safely in the US without quarantining or testing. Shortly after, the agency also issued an update to its conditional sailing order, which was first initially unveiled in October 2020 to replace a no-sail order imposed on the US cruise industry.

But despite the industry’s demands to resume sailing by July, the CDC didn’t announce a sooner sailing return in its updated order. Instead, it implemented what the Cruise Lines International Association has called “unduly burdensome and largely unworkable” requirements.

“I challenge you to tell me of another venue anywhere that has this kind of ironclad health and safety protocols in place,” Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line parent CEO, told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on “Mad Money” on Monday. “Cruise ships will de facto become the safest place on earth.”

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