eye on Pinellas County: Oakton Institute to Florida's Office of the Attorney General: leave our whores in Pinellas County alone

Friday, February 04, 2005

Oakton Institute to Florida's Office of the Attorney General: leave our whores in Pinellas County alone

Page 1. So you thought the first time Trevor Aaronson crossed paths with Betty Sembler was when he wrote Suffering Together last December for New Times, a story about alleged abuses in a second-generation Straight in Lakeworth, Fl. called Growing Together. Well guess what, he thought so too--and you're both wrong. St. Pete's hookers used to transact business on N Fort Harrison Avenue until the vice squad put a sting out and arrested a bunch of them. But that did not deter these ladies from providing their services. They just moved down to 34th Street. Aaronson wrote about St. Pete vice squad officer Sandy Minor and his cohorts who have setup stings on 34th Street. And that's when Aaronson found out that the state legislature had stepped in. State Representative Frank Farkas (R), a chiropractor from Pinellas County, introduced a bill to the 2002 legislative session that is sure to end the scourge of prostitution that has plagued the sunshine state since Ponce de Leon first propositioned Pocohonas on the sandy banks of Lake Kissimmee.

It's quite an epitaph for a mere bone manipulator to solve a problem that has plagued mankind since before recorded history. The reasoning is that prostitutes don't sell their goods because it might feel good while making money at the same time. They don't do it because they can make as much in one evening tricking as they can clerking all week at 7/11. And they don't do it because they are damn good at what they do and it's the one thing they do better than anything else. No. Farkas said, "When we know that 90 percent of these prostitutes have substance abuse addiction, we know that jail is not the answer." So almost all prostitutes are drug addicts and the cost of drugs is so high they must sell their bodies to buy the drugs. Now Farkas didn't say, "therefore we must legalize drugs to make the price drop." What he did say is this, "we need treatment." [See Soliciting Hope by Trevor Aaronson in Weekly Planet and Prostitutes will get treatment, not jail by Leanora Minai in SPT]

Frank Farkas is a member of the House's powerful Health Care Appropriations Committee. In 2002 he proposed bill HB415 asking for a statewide initiative to force prostitutes to get drug rehabilitation treatment upon a second conviction in stead of jail. He proposed the program be called Project HOPE. The House agreed and state Senator Lesley Miller (D) from neighboring Hillsborough County sponsored the bill (SB 570) in Florida's Senate. The bill was passed but there wasn't enough money available in 2002 to implement it statewide so the legislature set aside $100,000 for Pinellas County and $100,000 for Hillsborough County to setup pilot programs. Aaronson wrote that Officer Minor (citing that both Farkas and Miller were up for reelection) had said about Project HOPE, "It's totally political. It'll take a lot more (money) than that."

Page 2. Well Officer Minor you are only 1/4 right. Project Hope is not only a political solution to a 10,000 year old crime, but it is also a business venture. And while 2002 was an election year for Farkas and Miller, there are other forces driving the politics as well.

Frank Farkas ran for and won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1998 and has won reelection every two years since. The Semblers have been generous to Farkas' campaigns. Their contributions include--1996: Betty Sembler - $250, son Brent Sembler - $100; 1998: Betty - $100, Brent - $250; 1999: Betty - $250; 2000: Brent - $500, son Gregroy Sembler $100; 2002: Betty - $500. Actually Project HOPE was first implemented in October 1996 by Operation PAR in Pinellas County. PAR's Project HOPE has received support from the St. Petersburg Police Department and the county. The $100,000 given to Pinellas County by HB415 went to Operation PAR. The $100,000 slated for Hillsborough County went to a drug rehabilitation there called DACCO. Betty Sembler is on the board of directors for Operation PAR. And she is not the only former Straight officer tied to Operation PAR. In fact, the infiltration of Operation PAR by former Straight officials is so pandemic that an excellent case can be made that Operation PAR is now the drug treatment arm of Betty Sembler's Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF) [formerly known as Straight Foundation]. Operation PAR won the 1996 Howard McGlasson Grant of $8,045 from the Pinellas County Community Foundation for its Project Hope. In 1996 the St. Petersburg Police Department and Operation PAR, Inc. received a $60,000 grant for the project from the Pinellas County Substance Abuse Advisory Board.

Project HOPE stands for Healthy Options Promoting Esteem. We find it particulary objectionable and hypocritical that for 17 years Betty Sembler operated a juvenile drug rehabilitation program known as Straight, Inc. that uses an unproven, experimental therapy that intentionally lowers a person's self esteem (in some cases to the point where kids have suicidal ideations or they resort to carving on their bodies) and then attempts to rebuild their self esteem in a new, positive straight image--and now her Operation PAR is working to rebuild self esteem for prostitutes by weaning them off drugs.

Three Strikes and you are out. Prostitution was just a misdemeanor in the land down under before Rep. Farkas took charge. But not anymore. For now on if you or your "john" get free educational help from the state in lieu of going to jail and subsequently get busted a third time, you will be charged with a third-degree felony! In December 1994 Renee Hughes says she got into a car with a man to have sex so she could buy drugs. She says he hit her in the head with a hammer or crowbar. That's a felony too. Renee spent the next month in a hospital. We just feel that what Renee did just does not rise to the level of what her assailant did. The stigma of a felony conviction harms a person's ego and self esteem in untold ways; its effects are almost always irreversible. Why do that to an unfortunate person. Perhaps Rep. Farkas should stick to bone massaging and leave fucking to the experts.

The other day one of Charlie Crist's lieutenants got ripped off in a hotel room in Tampa. Charlie Crist is Florida's Attorney General. Seems the assistant attorney general called a couple of escort girls up to his room. He says that while he was being escorted by the duo in the privacy of his room a man knocked on the door. He opened the door and was gassed with pepper spray. The assistant AG then says the trio robbed him and absconded with $500 of his money. The AG office has announced they are investigating. Investigating what? Besides, Farkas' bill requires that "johns" attend six educational classes to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. Will the assistant AG be required to attend these classes and will the state pay for his classes? The Oakton Institute has this message for the Office of Attorney General. Leave our whores in Pinelas County alone. Get your lassies in Tallahassee. And now you know the rest of the story.



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