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2/24/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

So this is the way the booby crumbles.

Late last year, we told you about alleged lady-loving Winter Park undercover officer Carlos Calderon’s wild nights of reckless abandon at breast-shaped Club Harem (see “The booby trap,” Oct. 21). His mission, which he chose to accept, was sniffing out low-end drug deals between drinks and lap dances on the taxpayer dime as an officer of the Winter Park Police Department. During his immersive, eight-month solo investigation of the club, it seemed that the lifestyle to which he was growing accustomed grew equally accustomed to him, and he ended up wooing veteran dancer Michelle Merry in a thoroughly modern manner involving some naughty text messages on a relatively untraceable T-Mobile Boost cell phone and some tongue-kissing.

Innocent enough, in a Cinemax kind of way. But when attorney Mark Blechman – representing Shawn Dawson, one of the alleged dealer defendants busted in Calderon’s investigation – dug a little deeper into the details of the prosecution’s only real witness, he found that Calderon lied under oath about having ever fiddled with the stripper. Moreover, the Winter Park Police weren’t immediately compliant with requests to dig up cell phone records pertaining to Calderon while he was out protecting Winter Park citizens. Even Circuit Judge Bob Wattles (RIP) found the whole situation suspicious and applied pressure on the cops to come up with the goods. Blechman, at the time, was pretty confident that he had a case against the one wobbly leg that the prosecution was standing on.

Now he definitely does. Last week, Calderon was terminated from the Winter Park police for reasons involving the Club Harem case. According to Club Harem’s attorney, Steve Mason, the decision isn’t a complete shock. Mason recently filed a complaint against the cops’ perceived harassment of his client, and over the past two weeks, the Winter Park police have been in communication with him, hoping to schedule an actual interview with Merry (all they had was a sworn deposition from the dancer). Mason thinks the cops sensed that the problem was bigger than any breasts they would want to handle.

“When one of these agencies terminates one of their undercover officers, for them to cut him loose, they’re looking at serious problems,” he says.

We put in a call to the Winter Park Police Department’s attorney, Larry Brown, but – surprise! – heard nothing back. 

As for Blechman, he’s quick to point out that Calderon effectively perjured himself, and that’s a “shame.” Nah. Not really. Now that the prosecution effectively has no case, Blechman’s feeling pretty good. “I’m looking forward to trying this case,” he says.

Call it an anti-Teabagger rally – an AnTea Party, perhaps?

Three dozen progressive activists held a brief rally Feb. 17 on the plaza at Senator Beth Johnson Park next to the Orlando Chamber of Commerce building. The “speak out session” was a reaction to corporate political influence, said Denise Diaz, organizer for Central Florida Jobs With Justice. That’s a hot topic, in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that companies are people too, and so can give unstintingly to push their political agendas. But most of the rally focused on getting health-care reform through Congress, including a government-backed basic plan.

Through a bullhorn, Diaz and other speakers accused the chamber’s corporate backers of enriching themselves at the expense of the majority of Americans, then blocking any attempt to alleviate the resulting poverty. There was no foot traffic on South Ivanhoe Boulevard to see the crowd waving signs, but they drew a few approving honks from passing cars. No evident interest was displayed by the chamber, which has reflective windows.

Most of those present were already active members, or leaders, of progressive groups seeking to rekindle the passionate flames of fall 2008. Lonnie Thompson, president of the Florida Consumer Action Network, and Joy Edery, Employee Free Choice representative in Florida for Communication Workers of America, were among several speakers exhorting people to call Congress and demand health-care reform.

But some people spoke up about their personal situations, like Sue Jantz from Mount Dora, who said she’s now considered uninsurable – so a “reform” package that simply requires people to buy private insurance would be an unfunny joke to people like her.

The rally split up into groups headed for U.S. senators Bill Nelson’s and George LeMieux’s local offices, to present petitions and harangue staff about health care. About half the crowd made it to Nelson’s office, tucked down a bland hallway in the Landmark Center. Before a grinning picture of Florida’s Democratic senator, they recited their talking points to Lisa Marshall, Nelson’s deputy director of constituent services. She nodded mechanically at their litany, replied with her own stories of health-care needs, and assured them that “Bill” has always backed universal health care and will vote for whatever legislation he thinks will pass. That wasn’t necessarily cheering news to those holding out for a public option, which is in the Senate’s version but not in the House proposal.

So by now you’ve heard of Orlando artist Doug Rhodehamel and his paper-bag mushrooms. (If not, go do a little remedial reading on his website, www.dougrhodehamel.com, and come back to this item when you’re done. We’ll wait.) They’re simple and creative, and they seem to pop up everywhere. And not just in Orlando: Rhodehamel’s spores have also sprouted in Canada, Germany, London and Taiwan.

Now he’s going global with the Spore Project, which is a push for as many people as possible making ’shrooms out of paper bags, all over the world, planting them and taking pictures. He’ll start posting the pictures on his website in May. Better still, Rhodehamel is taking one giant leap for funguskind by asking NASA to include an easily deployable “space spore” on the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission scheduled for mid-May. “It’s small, compact and deploys in seconds,” Rhodehamel says on his website, which also includes a link to a video of the space spore unfurling – set to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, natch. No word yet on whether the idea will float with NASA.

Hey doctors: Perform an abortion in Florida, go to jail for life! That’s the gist of a new bill introduced for the 2010 legislative session by Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Republican from Palatka. This forward-thinking bit of doggerel would criminalize something that is legal under federal law, prohibit women impregnated by rape or incest from seeking an abortion, and require a second physician to sign off on the procedure if a first doc opined that the mother’s life was in danger. It’s HB 1097, if you’d like to look it up for yourself.

So far, no Senate companion bill has been filed. But this is Florida in an election year, and no measure goes too far when it comes to appealing to the wingnuts.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com
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