Woman gets probation in church scam

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DuncanPORT CHARLOTTE — A North Port woman accused of scamming church members by falsely claiming her sons were killed fighting overseas has been sentenced to three years’ probation.

Shirley Ann Duncan, 50, of the 2200 block of Ryecroft Street, North Port, pleaded no contest to attempted criminal use of personal identification during a pre-trial hearing May 14 at the Charlotte County Justice Center, according to Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

Prose-cutors dropped a charge of obtaining less than $20,000 of property by fraud.

Circuit Judge Amy Hawthorne adjudicated Duncan guilty. In addition to serving probation, Duncan must pay restitution to and have no contact with her victims, pay court costs and undergo a mental health examination, authorities said. The value of the cash and gifts she received was more than $1,000, but the amount of restitution will be determined later, Syoen said.

Duncan could not be reached for comment Monday.

In September, Duncan began telling members of Community Life Center on Edgewater Drive in Port Charlotte that she had lost three sons to wars in the Middle East, and a fourth was wounded and not expected to survive, according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office report. A few weeks later she reportedly claimed the fourth son had died.

To authenticate her story, Duncan altered an old document sent by an adjutant general in the Secretary of War’s office to notify a mother of a son lost during World War II. Duncan made the letter look like it was addressed to her, authorities said. However, CCSO detectives later discovered the man who had signed the document, Gen. J.A. Ulio, had been dead for more than 50 years.

A group at the church organized a memorial service for all four sons. Duncan collected numerous donations of cash, housewares, clothing and furniture worth more than $1,000 from church members, according to the report.

But at least one church member was suspicious and contacted Duncan’s son, who was alive and well and serving in the Army at Fort Knox, Ky. The son contacted local authorities about his mother’s claims, informing them that he only has one brother, who had never served in the military.

Duncan was arrested and charged Jan. 24.

Mark Coffey, pastor at Community Life Center, said that even after Duncan was charged, members of the church gave her the option of returning to the congregation.

‘Our intent was never to close our doors on her,’ Coffey said Monday. ‘We just pray that she has learned from her mistakes and that she can move on with her life.’

Report: Waitress reports herself for smoking pot

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Tuesday, May 21, 2013



PORT CHARLOTTE — A 20-year-old waitress was arrested Saturday after she became paranoid that someone was following her after she allegedly smoked pot.

So, she called the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, telling authorities she had just smoked marijuana and was not feeling well, according to a report.

Bethanie Mary Wark, 1100 block of Sandy St., Port Charlotte, believed she was being followed by a man named ‘Joey’ and stopped at a Circle K, 1783 Tamiami Trail, in Port Charlotte to call authorities.

When a deputy arrived around 10:30 p.m., she told him she had just smoked weed and was afraid it was laced with another drug, a report said. Wark pulled a clear baggie containing approximately 6 grams of marijuana from the pocket of her work apron and handed it to the deputy, saying she had just purchased it and did not want it, according to the report.

Charlotte County Fire/EMS transported Wark to Fawcett Memorial Hospital because she was having difficulty breathing and possibly hallucinations, the report states. The deputy followed her to the hospital.

After Wark was treated and released at the emergency room, she was arrested early Sunday morning on charges of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and taken to Charlotte County Jail, according to the report.

On the way to the jail, she stated that ‘Joey’ was following her and had recorded her conversation with the paramedics while she was inside the ambulance. The deputy assured her that no one was following her or recording her, a report states.

Ward posted a $2,000 bond and was released Sunday.

Sunday Favorites: Maroons Unchained

Slave Rebellion Leads to War and Cost Country Millions

Published Sunday, May 19, 2013 12:05 am


MANATEE COUNTY – The largest slave rebellion in American history is seldom talked about. It is a story of self-emancipated Africans, knocking down the bounds of pain and degradation, freeing themselves to grab the most basic of our freedoms: that all men, no matter what race, creed or color, are created equal.

The story starts not on those often famed and largely misunderstood Civil War battlefields, nor in the Oval Office where Abraham Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation not long before his assassination. This story starts in the untamed wilds of Florida, where those freed slaves first encountered the natives of the land.

Nearly a century before Harriet Tubman secretly led more than 300 slaves north to freedom, slaves were escaping south into the Florida wilderness and forming alliances with another group of exiled people, the Seminole natives.

The Seminole Nation was the collective name given to the combination of various groups of Native Americans and black people who settled in Florida in the early 18th century — who were the first associated with Alachua County (of which Manatee County was part of).
Over time, the groups melded together and formed what history refers to as a race of “maroon people.”

While many have heard the term Black Seminoles, their efforts against the U.S. Government have been suppressed and are hardly mentioned in history books. However, according to to Dr. Martha Bireda, founder of the Blanchard House Museum in Punta Gorda, they produced the largest slave rebellion; there was no other effort in the U.S. that compared in size or duration, she said.

‘This is the story of self-emancipated Africans,’ Bireda said. ‘No one helped these people escape; they did it on their own.’

The fugitive slaves and free blacks besmirched the country’s leading generals and inspired fear across the South, according to the Black Seminole Rebellion exhibit at www.blackhorse.com.

In the 50 years preceding the Civil War, blacks had the most significant influence shaping Seminole affairs, including the First and Second Seminole wars. But the alliance of the Africans and Native Seminoles was a source of concern to the U.S. Government because the Seminoles were seen as a major threat to the institution of slavery.

The relationship between escaped slaves and Seminoles was a fundamental concern during the Second Seminole War, the longest and most costly of any Native American War in history. The war was initiated by the slave industry and fought specifically over the issue of slavery and removal of Seminole peoples west to “Indian Territory.”

History books refer to two events that supposedly ignited the war. The first being the U.S. government’s decision to enforce the Treaty of Payne’s Landing at Fort Gibson; that is, an agreement made by seven Seminole Leaders who agreed to move west to Arkansas territory and join their known archenemy, the Creek Indians, in exile. The greater majority of natives violently opposed this migration. The Seminole Nation was outraged; it was the beginning of the Second Seminole War, or the Seven Year War, which lasted from 1835-1842.

Abraham, a famous “maroon” leader, was one of the seven who signed the treaty. Historians have theorized that the leaders were tricked into signing the agreement. However, Bireda said the allegiance was only a ploy for Abraham to receive the supplies he needed to attack U.S. Troops. Abraham gave the impression that he was in favor of enforcing the treaty. He requested gun powder, and arms from Cuba and secretly instructed slaves still living on plantations to revolt when the war began and join forces with the native nation.

U.S. Troops initiated a policy designed to separate the African and Native Seminoles. This policy called for the re-enslavement of Africans in addition to the deportation of natives.
Abraham led his troop of half breeds, strategizing Guerrilla war tactics, which were used to attack U.S. Troops, and negotiating with U.S. Military when necessary.

For the most part, Abraham’s military tactics were successful during the war, but he was forced to surrender during the Battle of Big Cyprus in the Everglades. Abraham eventually worked with General Jessup to convince members of the Seminole Nation that emigration was the only way to truly find peace. Abraham left Florida in 1839 accompanied by his family and 90 other black Seminoles.

During the Second Seminole War, the U.S. government lost 1,500 troops and spent $40 million to return 300 to 500 slaves to their masters. Bireda estimates that the capture of each slave cost the U.S. $80,000 and the lives of three soldiers.
Most of the Seminole Nation left Florida, but a few stayed. Those holdouts still exist in the deep swamps of Big Cypress, the same place where their ancestors had raised a white flag so many years ago.

Merab Favorite is a published author and columnist for the Bradenton Times. She can be reached at merab.favorite@thebradentontimes.com.

FBI investigating former Edison instructor

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Saturday, May 18, 2013



PUNTA GORDA — A former assistant instructor at Edison State College Charlotte Campus is under investigation by the FBI on charges of child pornography.

He faces multiple sexual battery charges in Charlotte County after he reportedly engaged in sexual activity with underage girls, including a relative. He’s accused of having sex with the underage relative, both electronically and physically, according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office report.

Quinton Paul Handlon, 42, of Tallahassee, was charged Thursday in Charlotte County with sexual battery on a victim under age 12. On Thursday, a charge of lewd and lascivious battery on a victim between the ages of 12 and 16 was added for another victim, who was 13 when the act allegedly occurred. He also faces four counts of sexual battery by a custodian against a victim between the ages of 12 and 18.

According to the report, he was sexually involved with the relative over the course of five years from the time the girl was 11 years old. He also allegedly committed a sex act with her friend on an overnight trip in 2009.

However, the case stretches across several jurisdictions and involves different agencies, including the FBI, which conducted a undercover operation from October 2012 through April 15, secretly posing as the victim on her account. Emails during this time contain acknowledgment of receipt of child pornography, the report states.

The victim stated that most of the physical sexual acts occurred while she was at her grandparents’ Port Charlotte home, the report states.

But Handlon is alleged to have engaged in sexual conversations with the girl, sometimes contacting her while he was working at the Florida Department of Revenue in Tallahassee, according to the report. FBI agents determined the source of the email through the IP address, a report states.

Phone calls to the Department of Revenue in Tallahassee were not returned Friday.

Handlon allegedly instructed the victim to take pictures and make videos on a phone he had provided for her. If he was dissatisfied with what she sent him, he would threaten to take her phone away, a report states.

Handlon would also encourage the victim to ask her friends to send him photos and videos and engage in sexual acts with him and the victim, according to the report. On April 14, while unknowingly speaking to an undercover FBI agent, he asked for a sexually explicit photo of the victim’s 4-year-old sister.

In a conversation with an undercover federal agent on March 30, Handlon allegedly said he was bored at work and came up with a business plan to build a website especially for the victim with videos and photos of a sexual nature.

‘We can build the site around you,’ he wrote. ‘As we build, we can make more and more girls until we have a booming business.’

The CCSO became involved in the case April 15 when the victim gave her friend, ‘B,’ access to her account. The report states ‘B’ showed her mother some of Handlon’s comments and the mother immediately alerted the CCSO.

The mother said ‘B’ had also been sexually battered by Handlon when the girl accompanied the victim on an overnight trip to Universal Studios in 2009 under Handlon’s supervision.

At the time, Handlon allegedly pushed ‘B’ down on the bed and committed sexual acts with her. Debbie Bowe, spokeswoman for the CCSO, said the girl was likely 11 years old during the trip, depending on what time of year it was. Bowe said the exact time of year is unknown at this time.

According to the report, another victim was 13 when Handlon is alleged to have taken her for a ride in his car. While they were riding, the victim said Handlon was rubbing various parts of her body against her will. He continued to touch her inappropriately even though she continued to slap his hand away.

According to the report, Handlon’s sister, now 35, filed charges against him in 2005 after she woke up from an alcohol-induced slumber to find Handlon had removed her bathing suit and was on top of her performing a sex act. However, the woman never pursued the charges against him because she said that no one in her family would stand behind her, according to the report.

Before working at the Federal Department of Revenue, Handlon worked at Edison State College in Punta Gorda from the beginning of 2012 until he resigned on Feb. 28, according to Edison spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern. He provided group and individual instructional support for specialized academics, according to his job description.

Handlon was arrested in Leon County on May 8 and transported to the Charlotte County Jail, where he is being held without bond. His criminal arraignment is set for July 17 at 9 a.m. at the Charlotte County Justice Center in Punta Gorda.

Three arrested in grow house bust

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Saturday, May 18, 2013

052013_weed_3PORT CHARLOTTE — A routine stakeout Sunday took an unexpected turn when deputies got a whiff of some potent purple haze marijuana thriving inside an elaborate grow house on the 21300 block of Hepner Avenue, according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s report.

Three were arrested in a drug bust Thursday, which yielded 122 marijuana plants with a total weight of 178.5 pounds of pot, according to the report.

Clyde Wiley ‘Bucky’ Dennis, 43, of the 5000 block of Melbourne Street, Port Charlotte; Omar Eduardo Sanchez, 55, of the 21300 block of Hepner Avenue (where the bust occurred), Port Charlotte; and Ryan Adam Smith, 28, of Peekskill, N.Y., were charged with trafficking in more than 25 pounds of marijuana, cultivation of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

052013_weedThe CCSO deputies who originally discovered the grow house were looking for someone on an outstanding warrant when they smelled the marijuana coming from the home, according to the report. They notified the CCSO Narcotics Unit, which took over the investigation.

On Thursday, a SWAT team raided the residence. Two men, later identified as Sanchez and Smith, dressed in full-body chemical suits, ran out a side door and were attempting to dispose of their suits behind a shed in the back when they were taken into custody, the report shows.

The CCSO narcotics unit found a large-scale operation inside the home, with every room being used to grow marijuana, the report states. Each room had high-tech equipment like high-output grow lamps that were suspended from the ceiling, modified ventilation systems with additional air-conditioning units, and commercial hydroponic fertilizers. The electricity had been diverted from the meter and was running out of the ceiling, according to the report.

052013_weed_2The report details how deputies observed Dennis coming to and from the home on several occasions, including on previous dates. While the narcotics unit was searching the home Thursday, Dennis again drove up to the residence in his pickup, the report states. Based on his activity there and his alleged involvement in the operation — including statements he made to a deputy, his possession of keys to the home — he also was arrested.

All three men were taken to the Charlotte County Jail. Dennis and Smith were released Friday after posting $28,500 bond each. Sanchez still was being held at the jail, also on $28,500 bond.

Two men arrested in Placida robbery

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Friday, May 17, 2013



PLACIDA — Two Rotonda West men were arrested Wednesday in connection with the armed robbery of a local convenience store Tuesday evening, as well as a Rotonda residential burglary that occurred a few nights prior, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Karl William Recine, 26, of the 100 block of Annapolis Lane, and Matthew Ryhan McNanna, 25, of the 100 block of Rotonda Circle, both face charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling and grand theft auto, after they allegedly stole a motorcycle from a Rotonda West residence Sunday night and used it in connection with a robbery Tuesday at Barracuda Bill’s Mobile convenience store in Placida.

McNanna also was charged with armed robbery with a firearm, grand theft, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and committing a second-degree felony while wearing a hood or mask after detectives believe he was the helmet-clad robber who held the store clerk at gunpoint around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday with a sawed-off shotgun and made off on a motorcycle with a backpack filled with an undisclosed amount of cash, according to a sheriff’s report.

‘(The victim) is still a little shook up about the whole thing,’ said Vince Vuolo, a cashier at Barracuda Bill’s, on the 8600 block of Placida Road. ‘He’s not sure if he wants to work the 3 (p.m.) to 11 (p.m.) shift anymore, and I don’t blame him.’



Another clerk told authorities he was on his way to work when he saw a motorcycle with dual headlights traveling at high speed. This was shortly after the robbery.

Detectives believed the motorcycle matched the description of a green 2001 Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle that reportedly was stolen early Sunday morning from a residence on the 200 block of Annapolis Lane in Rotonda West.

The CCSO street crimes division began watching Recine’s Annapolis Lane residence Wednesday because there was a warrant out for his arrest and he lived near where the burglary occurred, a report stated.

Around noon Wednesday, a woman driving a Saturn reportedly picked up both Recine and McNanna at Recine’s house. Detectives pulled the woman over for running a stop sign on Rotonda Circle, the report shows. Inside the vehicle, they reportedly found a blue bag containing two bricks and clothes matching the robbery suspect’s description, along with black spray paint and the same type of red bank-deposit pouch used at Barracuda Bill’s.

McNanna later told detectives that he stood as lookout when Recine stole the green motorcycle, and that he helped Recine push it to his house on Annapolis Lane and spray-paint it black, a report stated.

McNanna reportedly told detectives he and Recine had planned the robbery together because Recine needed $800 for bond money. He said they put bricks in the bag to sink the evidence, the report shows.

McNanna claimed Recine had committed the robbery, but detectives believed McNanna did it because he better matched the witness’ description and knew too many details of the crime, according to the report.

McNanna and Recine were arrested Wednesday night. In addition to the other charges, Recine was charged with being a principal in the first degree to armed robbery with a firearm, along with an unrelated charge (from the warrant) of failure to appear, on the original charges of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Both were held without bond at the Charlotte County Jail.

Man ‘bugs out’ at carwash

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, May 16, 2013



CHARLOTTE HARBOR — A Palmetto man was arrested Tuesday at a local car wash after he allegedly started an altercation with employees when they couldn’t get the bugs off his pickup, according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s report.

Thomas Marion Murray Jr., 45, was charged with two counts of battery after allegedly starting a disturbance at the Touch of Class Car Wash on the 4700 block of Tamiami Trail.

Murray told deputies he paid $35 for the wash and bug-removal treatment, but the vehicle was not free of bugs after it was washed. Murray reportedly said he requested that his pickup be cleaned two more times, and still was not satisfied.

A manager told Murray there was nothing more staff could do and asked him to leave the property, the report states. Murray refused, and then got into a heated argument with the manager, according to the report.

The argument got physical when Murray allegedly ‘bowed up’ to the manager, chest-bumping him and poking him with his finger.

At that time, other employees at the car wash reportedly became involved, stepping between the two to break up the fight. Murray pushed one of them and grabbed another by the throat, the report shows. Several employees finally pushed Murray into a Christmas palm in the waiting area, which ended the altercation.

Murray reported the incident to deputies around noon, saying he had been punched in the chest by a car wash employee, according to the report.

The deputy determined Murray was the primary aggressor and arrested him. The report noted that while taking inventory of Murray’s pickup, the deputy found a Colt .380 semiautomatic handgun and 11 rounds of ammunition.

Murray was taken to the Charlotte County Jail, where he was released Wednesday after posting $3,000 bond.