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Siesta Key News Round Up

By Stan Zimmerman

Former SKA head pleads guilty to political dirty trick
Robert Waechter is now a felon, pleading guilty in circuit court to breaking election laws and impersonating another person with the intent to harass.

The case began when Waechter, a former president of the Siesta Key Association, bought a pre-paid debit card and used it to make political donations in the name of Lourdes Ramirez to democrats. She was thinking of running for the Sarasota County Commission as a republican.

Ramirez did not know it until a candidate sent her a thank-you card. She went to the county sheriff, which opened a case. They obtained video of Waechter buying the debit card, and further evidence of federal and state election law violations. Waechter paid $5,000 to settle the federal charges.

Ramirez met with the FBI, which took an interest in the case. When the asked State Attorney Ed Brodsky to take over the case, he refused. Instead he moved ahead with the state charges, and agreed to a plea deal demanding 90-days of house arrest, 100 hours of community and two years probation for Waechter.

Brodsky and Waechter have a history together. Wacheter donated $250 to Brodsky’s campaign in 2012, and endorsed Brodsky on several campaign fundraising fliers. Waecheter has been involved in multiple political campaigns, including acting as chairman of three sitting Sarasota County commissioners.

Ramirez decided late last year to run for a seat on the Sarasota County Commission, running to replace Nora Patterson who is stepping down due to term limits. Waechter has previously admitted to favoring her opponent, Al Maio.

New study on Big Pass due in March 

The growing controversy of using sand in Big Pass to renourish the beach on South Lido Key will get new ammunition in March. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to release a new study on the impacts, and how three groins rock groins will impact the flow of sand. It was expected in February, but the corps says new data it has received will push back the release date until March.

About the same time the Corps plans to apply for state permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The original application date was planned for late October, but discovery that some he land on the southernmost point of Lido is actually owned by Sarasota County threw a wrench in the plan.

It was previously believed the City of Sarasota owned all the property and would be the applicant. Now the county is involved too. The state permits are expected to take about one year to process.

Siesta Key residents, meanwhile, are antsy about taking material from the hitherto unmolested Big Pass. While Sarasota (and even Venice at one time) eyed the enormous sand deposit on the ebb shoal of the pass, it remains virgin. The Corp’s proposed use will be the first time a dredge has touched the pass.

Southgate to renovate

Sarasota’s first mall is about to undertake a massive re-do. The Southgate Mall at U.S. 41 and Siesta Drive will emerge larger (by 46,000 square feet) and airier, with plans for an outdoor activities including nightlife. Work will begin later this year.

The rehab and new construction will brighten the mall in the face of competition starting in October from the University Center at I-75, a high-end collection of retailers including an Apple Store.

All the work at Southgate is being performed at night, to avoid interrupting shoppers. The renovation will include new landscaping. While one Southgate anchor is jumping to University Center – Saks Fifth Avenue – other major tenants are biding their time like the Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma.

Meanwhile Southgate is luring new stores, including a food market and some downtown retailers. Plans for the upgrade were unveiled last May but work only recently began.

The retail Mecca is owned by the Westfield Group, an Australian-based mall operator. Southgate is Sarasota’s first mall, and has undergone facelifts, additions and modifications over the years.

Donna Chen’s killer gets prison          

On Jan. 7, 2012 Dona Chen was running with her dog on Midnight Pass Road near the St. Michael the Archangel Church. Meanwhile 22-year-old Blake Talman was drinking and drinking with his pals at the Siesta Key Public Beach.

Talman jumped into his car and took off down Midnight Pass road at 90 mph. He struck and killed Chen and kept on going, finally stopping after hitting a light pole. He was arrested for DUI manslaughter.

On Nov. 25 Talman pled guilty, and was sentenced by Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio to 15 years in prison, followed by five years probation. After release, his driver’s license is permanently revoked, and he must complete a DUI school and attend a victim impact panel.

He initially pled not guilty. Blood tests showed a 0.222 percent concentration of alcohol. Florida drivers are considered intoxicated with a 0.08 blood-alcohol ratio.