As of Dec. 5, 2005 Sembler had gotten through step 3 of the approval process (approval by the Pinellas Planning Council), but barely. Both seller (Essilor) and potential buyer (Sembler) have hired the same attorney to get them through the negotiations, Timothy Johnson, Jr., founder of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, (formerly Johnson, Blakely, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel) in Clearwater--the largest law firm in Pinellas County. Using blue blood attorney Tim Johnson is not a bad idea. He has a solid reputation for understanding the maze of government requirements in the approval process for land use and transportation issues. The politicians in Seminole trust and respect him--his uncle was the former "Mr. Seminole." And besides Sembler has effectively used Tim Johnson before--often.
Sembler has bought his way into national and state politics. [See Sembler family contributions, national/state.] The company is so into having good relations with politicians that it has a Vice President of Political and Community Affairs. But does Sembler political largess filter down to the lower levels of politics? Recently Carrie Johnson of The St. Petersburg Times wrote an article titled, Sembler family is flexing its political muscles in city. In her article she quotes Sembler Company CEO Craig Sher who says, "I would take offense to the notion that any politician is in the pocket of anyone. I don't believe a $500 contribution is going to influence anyone." In Florida $500 is the maximum an individual can contribute to the campaign of someone running for public office. We took exception to what Mr. Sher said in our article We take exception to Craig Sher's comment about buying politicians for $500. You should read it. Sembler has made so many $500 contributions via so many different entities that it will make your head spin. Our article responding to Craig Sher focuses primarily on candidates for state office. In this report we concentrate on candidates for municipal and county government offices. And we start with the ever lovely, Susan Latvala.
Pinellas County Commissioners
As of 2004 Sembler Company had built 140 Eckerd drug stores for his friend Jack Eckerd. Mel Sembler is Mr. Republican Party in Pinellas County and Jack Eckerd was the former chairman of the Florida Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. Jack Eckerd once ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for governor against Bob Graham. W. J. "Jack" Latvala chaired the statewide Young Republicans organization while at Stetson University and later became the executive director of the state Republican Party in Tallahassee. In 1979 Jack Eckerd wanted more GOP candidates elected to the state legislature, so he hired Jack Latvala and moved him to Pinellas County. Latvala founded a very successful direct-mailing company that included many companies and elected officials like George Bush and Connie Mack as clients.
Follows are in-kind contributions to Mr. Latvala's 1996 campaign for state office made by the Republican Party of Florida:
Follows are contributions by Sembler entities to the Republican Party of Florida:
Here are some individual contributions to Jack Latvala.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS)
11/02/1999 500.00 CHE SEMBLER, BETTY S.
Here are some contributions to the campaign of Jack's wife Susan Latvala who is a Pinellas County commissioner:
Apr 08, 2002 Brent
APR 15, 2002 Walter
Jun 18, 2002 Johnson,
Blakely, Pope, Bokor, RUppel & Burns, PA
Jun 20, 2002 E. Armstrong
Sep 19, 2005 Timothy
Sep 20, 2005 Walter
Sep 20, 2005 Betty
Sep 30, 2005 Ed Armstrong
Sep 30, 2005 Kwall,
Showers & Coleman, P.A.
For 17 years Melvin and Betty Sembler operated Straight, Inc., a controversial juvenile drug rehabilitation program. Eventually all programs in the chain were closed down amidst state criminal and/or health investigations. In 1985 Mel and Betty changed the name and mission of Straight. Straight no longer treats kids for addictions. Its new name is Drug Free America Foundation. Commissioner Susan Latvala is on DFAF's Advisory Board along with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Gov. Jeb Bush, Jeb's wife Columba, and Jeb's Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.
Today Betty has a new drug program--Operation PAR. Susan Latvala is the executive director of Operation PAR.
John Morroni Chairman
Ronnie E. Duncan