Inexpensive Apartments in Pensacola, Florida

Inexpensive Apartments

Inexpensive Apartments in Pensacola, Florida

May people live in big houses while others live in flats, condos and apartments as well. There are many people who straight away look for apartments when they move to a new city. This is because they want apartments pensacola, Florida, which are inexpensive so that they can focus on their other needs for the time being. Read More

Dosev challenges Gaetz for GOP nomination

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@JennieMnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — Cris Dosev ran his first campaign for Florida’s District 1 congressman in 2016 against seven other Republicans.

This time, he has a good feeling about the November election.

″(In 2016) name recognition was everything,” Dosev said Monday during an interview at the Daily News office. “And needless to say, the Gaetz name was very popular in the community. From our perspective, we were very proud of our efforts. We went from zero percent in the polls to over 20 percent in three and a half months. We look at this particular election as a runoff. We think that there’s a lot of room there for picking up some voters.”

Dosev is the son of immigrants. His mother is from northern Spain and his father is from Bulgaria. After a career as an officer in the Marines, Dosev became a real estate developer and small business owner in Chicago where he grew up. He moved to Northwest Florida in 2009 with his wife and children.

The Pensacola man said he’s running again for Congress because he believes he best represents the district.

“I grew up shoveling coal and shoveling snow in Chicago,” he said. “I know what it means to work. I know what it means to have to put food on the table. I know what it means to defend our country.”

While Matt Gaetz has been a popular figure on cable news, Dosev said he believes it’s an “obvious weakness.”

“He may be popular in Washington and more so popular here, but at the end of the day it comes at a cost,” he said. “Because he’s made some really, really poor decisions.”

Dosev said he takes issue with Gaetz being the lone “no” vote on an anti-trafficking bill last year and called the freshman congressman’s bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency a “stunt.” He’s also concerned that Gaetz is spending too much time on his work to change marijuana to a schedule III drug to expand medial marijuana research.

“It’s problematic,” Dosev said. “We have real issues to concern ourselves with. Moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III may seem very important to him, but it’s not nearly as important to people in Northwest Florida, particularly veterans. Veteran administration has not improved, military readiness has not improved. We’re still scavenging parts off of aircraft. Why is it that (Gaetz) is busy at cannabis conferences?”

Dosev also referenced to Gaetz’s State of the Union guest, alt-right activist Chuck Johnson. Gaetz later apologized for inviting Johnson.

“Certain optics are just bad,” Dosev said. “Inviting a holocaust denier to the State of the Union? First, he embarrassed the people here in Northwest Florida. What the people here deserve is a congressman and not a showman. There’s some major differences between Matt and I. One of them is that I’m the adult in the room.”

Gaetz said he’s not worried about campaigning for the upcoming election.

“I’m focused on doing the job,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

On his website, issues that are important to Dosev include protecting the 2nd Amendment, repealing and replacing Obamacare and enforcing immigration laws. When it comes to issues closer to home, Dosev said he wants to focus on protecting military benefits, diversifying the economy and improving infrastructure.

“I’m very pleased in what I’ve seen in the way of development,” he said. “Though you come up with traffic issues. Between building new bridges, new feeder ramps or whatever it is that needs to be done to accommodate the growing population, I think all of those issues are very important. I look forward to finding solutions.”

Across the United States, politicians have been talking about a possible “blue wave” in mid-term elections. In District 1, there are two Democrats running for Congress. Retired Navy Commander Phil Ehr has qualified to be on the ballot and and Milton pediatrician Jennifer Zimmerman is raising money to get on the ballot.

Dosev said he doesn’t believe the district will turn blue, but if elected he said he would represent all Northwest Floridians.

“Everyone wants to have a viable economy,” he said. “Everybody wants a military that’s strong. Everyone wants clean air, clean water and clean beaches.”

For more information about Dosev, visit crisdosev.com.

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Luther Lee Gilchrist

Luther Lee Gilchrist died peacefully at the Hospice House on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. Born on January 10,1943, he was the son the late Ethel Lene Palmore Gilchrist and Joe L. Gilchrist.

He was retired from Self Regional Healthcare after working for 20 years. He attended Bailey Bethel AME Church.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Joseph Gilchrist, and a sister, Roselene Gilchrist.

Those he leaves to cherish his memory are a devoted and caring friend, Willie Anderson of McCormick; a son, Christopher (Yulonda) Gilchrist of North Augusta; a daughter, Shirley Murray of Greenwood; a stepdaughter, Loretta Gray (Gerrick), of McCormick; three sisters, Annie L. Byrd (Hosie) of Hodges, Juanita Gilchrist of Pensacola, FL, and Viola Gilchrist of Greenwood; a brother, James Gilchrist of Greenwood; a maternal aunt, Lucille Palmore Logan of Philadelphia, PA, and a paternal aunt, Eddie Mae Gilchrist Dorn of Greenwood; 12 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends who loved him dearly.

Funeral services are 11:00 am on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at Bailey Bethel AME Church, conducted by Rev. Willie P. Black. The body will be placed in the church at 10:00 am. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. The family is at the home, 230 East Cambridge Avenue Apartments, Apt. 211. Online condolences may be sent to robson@nctv.com. Arrangements are being handled by Robinson & Son Mortuary, Inc.

LUTHER LEE GILCHRIST

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Billy Walters on his conviction, gambling — and ex-friend Lefty

THE WORLD’S MOST feared sports gambler is out of the game.

William "Billy" T. Walters, 71, who in his prime had the financial muscle and acumen to move betting lines worldwide and scared Las Vegas sportsbooks and offshore gambling operators to the degree that they refused to take his bets, is laying low inside the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp, a minimum-security facility housed on a naval air station in the Florida Panhandle.

Walters is up at dawn and goes about his day in a Christmas green, prison-issued uniform. The sugar-white beaches gather waves just 15 miles away, but they’re out of sight and mind. So, too, is Walters’ pampered life of private jets, designer homes in places such as Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and rounds of golf at plush courses. His business life outside of sports gambling — playing the stock market and managing his car dealerships and commercial real estate ventures — also has been neutered.

So Billy Walters waits. Waits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan to hear an appeal this spring of his conviction in the insider trading case that sent him to federal prison for five years. Waits to see whether good behavior in prison will cut his sentence. And waits to learn whether the U.S. Supreme Court will do — possibly as soon as next week — what seemed unthinkable during his gambling career that stretched over four decades: decide whether to legalize sports gambling and thereby divvy up a market that could be worth as much as $5.8 billion in annual revenue.

"My whole passion, my whole life is about nothing but gambling," Walters said in an October interview at his Las Vegas golf club, just ahead of his reporting to prison. "That is what I wanted to do. … I probably came in as a gambler, and I am going to go out as a gambler."

The morning of that interview, Walters sat behind his desk at the Bali Hai Golf Club he owns, oblivious to the NFL games that were soon to kick off. Even in prison and unable to gamble, he still might be able to make some money on the league: The soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders had opened negotiations with his business representatives to convert the 7,000-yard Bali Hai course into stadium parking.

Before he entered federal prison, Walters spoke at length with Outside the Lines, eager to discuss the insider trading conviction and his life-changing trial. He lamented not testifying in his own defense. He groused about how his one-time friend and gambling partner, golfer Phil Mickelson, left him high and dry and might be most responsible for him being in prison. And he spoke about finding perspective in recent years and how he had prepared to contend with the loss of luxury, freedom and adrenalin-inducing challenges that defined him for decades. Once inside the prison, though, Walters and his team have become far more careful in recent months, not wanting to anger a court system that could set him free early, unwilling to draw publicity to himself or even risk affecting prison privileges such as leisure and library time. He corresponded briefly, though, about the pending Supreme Court decision, saying legalizing his livelihood would create revenue for states and create jobs.

Billy Walters, widely considered the most successful sports bettor in U.S. history, leaves a federal courthouse in 2016 after being indicted on insider trading charges. AP Photo/John Locher

THE MINIMUM-SECURITY camp Walters lives in is deemed one of the easiest places to serve a federal sentence. Most inmates are white-collar criminals in for less than 10 years. It is confinement, though: visitors only on weekends; lights out by 9:30 p.m.; lunch as simple as two hot dogs, coleslaw and a bag of chips.

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy spent 11 months inside the Pensacola facility a decade ago after pleading guilty to participating in a gambling scandal conspiracy. He remembers the prison attire, the dozen inmates crammed into a room with six sets of bunk beds, afternoons in the weight room and evenings in the library, damp winter days and nights without heat, filling up on cans of tuna purchased from the commissary.

"Once you get into a routine, it’s very relaxed," Donaghy said. "As long as you keep to yourself, you should not have too many problems."

Neither Walters, his attorney nor his wife would comment about how Walters has adjusted to prison life. They essentially refuse to tolerate questions about it.

Donaghy figured Walters hasn’t had to worry about much; inmates are unlikely to be a concern: "They are going to worship him, because they are going to know he has money. They are going to do what they can to do favors for him."

Walters does indeed have money, having made hundreds of millions of dollars from the stock market, his auto dealerships, his real estate and his true wheelhouse, sports gambling.

Walters grew up poor in the hills of Munfordville, a rural Kentucky outpost between Louisville and Nashville. His father was a gambler and died before Walters’ first birthday. His mother was a hard drinker who walked out on her son and two daughters. Young Billy was raised in a house with no running water or indoor plumbing by his grandmother, who died when he was 13. He was married at 17 and became a father at 18. He was $200,000 in debt not long after moving to Las Vegas in the early 1980s, but few people have out-hustled the fearless multimillionaire, one equally comfortable chatting up the hired help as he is boardroom tycoons.

Walters can be both kind and a bully, charming and scheming. He balanced his opulent lifestyle with lavish gifts to charity as well as to presidents, governors and city council members.

Walters is supremely confident, and he rarely operates without a plan. He had one going into prison.

"I know exactly how I exist in that environment," he said in a final pre-prison interview. "I am going to stay busy. Sports betting, that is over. That is another part of my life. Running these businesses, it is over. It is history. I am in there, and I have to have a different purpose, whether it is improving somebody else’s life or I do a lot of reading. …

"The biggest challenge I will have in there — I have a very active mind. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off. I can’t. The challenge I’ll have in there is me making sure I am involved in something that is going to keep me mentally active and something I am going to be interested in."

The minimum-security federal prison camp in Pensacola, Florida, that houses Walters. Federal Bureau of Prisons

PART OF WALTERS’ plan is also to avenge his insider trading conviction.

Nearly a year ago, on April 7, a jury convicted Walters of 10 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. Prosecutors said Walters illegally made $40 million by trading Dean Foods Co. stock from 2008 to 2015. Thomas Davis, former Dean Foods board chairman, testified that he told Walters about major Dean Foods developments before they became known publicly.

"I just lost the biggest bet of my life," Walters said minutes after the jury had returned its verdict. "To say I was surprised would be the biggest understatement of my life. Frankly, I’m in total shock."

The case dragged in Phil Mickelson, too. Prosecutors said Mickelson made nearly $1 million after Walters told him in 2012 to buy Dean Foods stock. Mickelson gave the profits to Walters to cover gambling debts he had owed him, prosecutors said. Though Mickelson never faced charges in the case, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued him over the stock trades, and Mickelson agreed to repay the money.

Walters recites a litany of reasons why he believes his conviction was unfair, from alleged FBI corruption to a slanted case against him to make up for all the other times over decades prosecutors had tried but failed to catch him doing something illegal.

But Walters also blames his former good friend and gambling partner, Lefty.

During the investigation, Mickelson twice told FBI agents he had no knowledge of insider trading involving Walters, but when it came time to show up in court, Mickelson stayed away. Mickelson’s longtime attorney Glenn Cohen declined comment when reached by Outside the Lines.

Court filings show that Mickelson’s attorneys had said if he were to be called to testify in Walters’ trial, he would exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Walters’ camp, however, said prosecutors never attempted to compel Mickelson to testify to get at the truth, something they could have done by offering him immunity from prosecution.

"Here is a guy that all he had to do was come forward and tell the truth," Walters said in October, as he leaned forward in a chair behind his nearly 10-foot-wide office desk, its marble top home to three computer monitors. "That was all he had to do. The guy wouldn’t do that because he was concerned about his image. He was concerned about his endorsements.

"My God, in the meantime a man’s life is on the line. He’s going to go to prison. And you got prosecutors up there during the entire trial, the entire month — all they talked about over and over was me giving my friends insider information. That is all they talked about. And they knew those jurors were all up on the internet reading that stuff about Phil [profiting from the Dean Foods stock purchase]."

Mickelson still starred in the courtroom, even if he weren’t there in person. He was mentioned by name at least 122 times during the three-week trial, the majority of mentions from prosecuting attorneys.

Both Walters’ team and prosecutors agreed that, in the summer of 2012, at the height of the insider trading, the professional golfer owed a sports gambling debt to Walters of $1.95 million. Also stipulated was that Mickelson had accrued and repaid similar gambling debts in the past to Walters.

The government argued that Mickelson’s text and phone communication with Walters in July 2012 was tied to Dean Foods information Walters had been hearing from Davis, the former board chairman. On July 30, Mickelson purchased 3,900 shares of Dean Foods in an account under his and his wife’s name. He purchased another 240 shares in trust accounts for his then-minor children. A day later, Mickelson invested $2.4 million in an additional 196,100 shares.

Federal investigators found the trades were Mickelson’s first Dean Foods stock purchases, though it was revealed that as early as 2008 Walters himself held four million shares of Dean Foods stock. Walters said he researched and knew the inner workings of the company as well as anyone, and by the summer of 2012 the stock was vastly undervalued and a "free roll" — gambler’s parlance for a wager with limited downside and a huge upside.

After a positive second quarter report and news in early August of a possible spinoff, the value of Dean Foods — the nation’s largest milk processor — spiked almost 40 percent, $12.42 a share to $17.46. Federal investigators found Mickelson cashed a $930,000 profit the next day when he sold all his shares and those of his children. In this instance, Walters held off selling his shares for nearly a year, but the government claimed that over the course of the nearly seven-year insider trading plot he netted more than $43 million, both from purchasing stock but also by avoiding losses by selling Dean Foods shares after receiving helpful insight from Davis.

"Mickelson made just under a million dollars — money that ultimately he transferred right back to the defendant because of a gambling debt," prosecutors told the jury. "Of course, Phil Mickelson could pay it back, but this was another way for Billy Walters to feed himself, by giving Mickelson this sure thing. Information that he knew was going to happen, he knew that the money would come back around, and that’s exactly what it did."

For four decades, other gamblers have tried to be Billy Walters while investigators have tried to bring him down. And for four decades, the world’s most successful sports bettor has outrun them all.

Walters’ attorney, New York-based defense counsel Barry Berke acknowledged his client previously shared sports and stock tips with Mickelson. He scoffed, though, at the notion of Walters passing along inside information to his celebrated, now ex-friend.

"So, if you’re Bill Walters — and you believe that someone has given you illegal inside information, the last thing you would do is give it to Phil Mickelson, one of the most famous athletes in the world," Berke told jurors. "That is immediately going to track regulatory scrutiny and lead back to Bill Walters."

During the trial, prosecutors showed that Mickelson transferred nearly $2 million to cover his sports gambling debt to Walters on Sept. 19, 2012 — a month after his big stock win in Dean Foods. Mickelson was spared criminal charges and an embarrassing court appearance, though the Securities and Exchange Commission later identified him as a "relief defendant" in a civil complaint and required repayment of $930,000 in trading profits and $105,000 in interest.

Mickelson’s gambling past has been well-documented. For example, in 2016, Outside the Lines reported Mickelson’s connection to an illegal offshore gambling operation. Federal court filings revealed an intermediary had acted as a conduit to pay a $2.7 million gambling debt Mickelson owed an offshore sportsbook.

Gregory Silveira, a California-based agent for the offshore site, subsequently pleaded guilty to money laundering charges and remains incarcerated at a federal prison camp in Arizona. Mickelson was not criminally charged, though the government kept the nearly $3 million that was being transferred to allegedly pay off the gambling debt.

Mickelson’s camp describes him as a victim in the Walters insider trading case, though his personal attorney, Cohen, declined to say why. Phone calls were not returned by Washington, D.C.-based attorney Gregory Craig, former White House counsel to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who represented Mickelson during the federal investigations.

In Walters’ mind, Mickelson held the key to his freedom, if he had just explained to jurors what had really happened.

"It was clear from the pleadings, the public documents during the trial, Mickelson was interviewed on more than one occasion [by FBI agents]," said Richard Wright, Walters’ longtime personal attorney. "And he denied any wrongdoing on his behalf as well as Bill’s behalf. Essentially denying he got any tips. He had denied that to the government. …

"If he had testified, he would have denied he had any insider information from Bill Walters. In my judgment, it would have helped us. I can’t say, ‘Oh, that means we absolutely win or anything, but it would have made someone else’s credibility an issue. And it just adds up."

From a legal perspective, Wright understands Mickelson being a courtroom no-show.

"Obviously if you look at it selfishly like any lawyer, if I can keep my client off of the stand that is the safest, most conservative approach that anyone can take," Wright said.

Walters’ lawyers are expected to present oral arguments as early as May before a three-judge panel representing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, seeking to overturn his conviction — or, at the very least, allow for a new trial. The appeal alleges government misconduct, arguing that the trial judge did not allow an evidentiary hearing and that the key witness, Davis, perjured himself at trial, and the government knew it. A decision is possible before the end of the year.

Davis initially told investigators that he and Walters did nothing wrong, but after cutting a deal for a reduced prison sentence, Davis told a different story in court. He told of having provided Walters non-public information about Dean Foods over a lengthy period of time. He told of passing along such information as earnings projections, operating plans and specific company transactions. He told of being indebted to Walters for nearly $1 million in two loans. As he became more indebted, Davis added: "[Walters] became more demanding of information."

As part of his deal with the government, Davis pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts, including securities and wire fraud, obstruction of justice and perjury. With Davis facing at least 10 years under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors recommended he not be imprisoned due to his cooperation, but the presiding judge sentenced the government’s star witness to two years in prison, labeling Davis "a phony, fraud and a crook." Davis, who at one time enjoyed minority ownership in both the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, is serving time at a federal prison camp in Texas.

Davis helped the government finally get its man after decades of trying, yet not without a government black eye suffered by the FBI and Justice Department, both of whom have taken reputational hits of late. Federal documents show the case against Walters, which at the time focused on billionaire investor Carl Icahn and well-timed trading in Clorox stock, was dormant in 2013 when the lead FBI agent who had investigated the matter began leaking secret grand jury information to New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporters.

It was Walters’ attorneys who raised the specter of the government leaking grand jury materials to the media, alleging the leaks were orchestrated to bring exposure to a case going nowhere. Details from the illegal leaks were published the year before Walters’ grand jury indictment and included specifics on trades being examined and records being analyzed, the identity of those approached by the FBI as well as supposed targets of investigation.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, initially denied the leaks ever took place, dismissing the allegation to the judge as "baseless." He described defense efforts to unmask the leaker as a "fishing expedition." Soon after, in December 2016, Bharara acknowledged the leaks as an "incontrovertible fact" and identified the source as David Chaves, an FBI white-collar crime specialist and supervising investigator on the Walters insider trading case.

At the time, Walters’ attorneys argued unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out. Chaves eventually left the FBI and remains under criminal investigation by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The government’s leaking of information and subsequent reaction to it remains a significant part of Walters’ appeal.

Bharara did not respond to messages left for him with the NYU School of Law, where he’s currently an adjunct professor. Chaves’ attorney, Sean P. Casey, declined comment. "Imagine the irony of this, an FBI agent leaks inside information to try and catch somebody leaking insider information," said Wright, Walters’ Las Vegas-based attorney.

From the start, Walters and his camp butted heads with the government over what they perceived as grandstanding by Bharara, who declined Walters’ offer to self-surrender when it became clear he was going to be charged with insider trading. Instead, a security staffer rushed into Walters’ office late one morning in the spring of 2016, telling Walters about two armed, plainclothes law enforcement-types lurking about the Bali Hai clubhouse. Walters later strode into the clubhouse restaurant for lunch and eyed a woman, whom he perceived to be a federal agent, with a holstered gun. He alerted his attorney.

"My attorney calls the prosecutors in New York and says, ‘Look, Mr. Walters has been trying to surrender himself for two months. You have people surveilling his business. Can he surrender himself?"’ Walters recalled. "Well, they didn’t mean to arrest me that day. They were running surveillance, and they were going to arrest me the following morning, real early. So, when he called them, they panicked, and they came down, and they arrested me."

But they didn’t take him to jail right away.

Instead, with his attorney’s consent, Walters spent the night with FBI agents at the J.W. Marriott in Summerlin, a casino-resort on the western outskirts of Las Vegas. He was arraigned the next day, though not before Bharara — once dubbed the "Sheriff of Wall Street" — held a media conference in New York. "Have you ever heard of a guy who got arrested, that they stuck in a hotel, so they could have a press conference?" Walters asked.

Prosecutors said Phil Mickelson made nearly $1 million after Walters told him in 2012 to buy Dean Foods stock. Mickelson gave the profits to Walters to cover gambling debts, they said. Mickelson never faced charges but paid a federal fine. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

AS WALTERS CONTEMPLATES his fate in prison, the U.S. Supreme Court contemplates making his livelihood legal in the United States — something once unthinkable.

From prison, Walters responded favorably to the possibility of legalization while emphasizing the need for uniform and proper regulation by individual states that get into the game. Based on personal experience, he said that state regulations should ensure customers will be treated equally — sportsbooks should not be allowed to close the accounts or dramatically reduce the betting limits of successful players, as occurred with Walters in Las Vegas.

Walters wrote, through his attorney: "There are a number of benefits — jobs, taxes, allowing Americans to engage in an activity that is already taking place legally [in Nevada and offshore sites]. License the people involved to keep out the criminal element."

In a 2015 ESPN The Magazine profile, Walters voiced frustration over what he said were draconian laws that drive a massive market of betting dollars to poorly regulated offshore locales.

"Everybody in this country bets on sports. If you were to take away the office pools, fantasy pools, people betting on sports, I guarantee the [TV] viewership would be cut in less than half."

Attorney Richard Wright said his client, Walters, had to set up an elaborate business to bet domestically and internationally.

"Basically, in Bill’s gambling world, in order to do it all lawfully, he operated in Nevada legally with all of the books. And in order to operate in the rest of the world, he had to go completely to [Panama]. … It was just like he was in Nevada and then he moved out to Panama and did the same thing from Panama, where he could bet in England, Australia, Ireland, everywhere."

Under a legalized system in the United States, his attorney said, Walters could have operated his gambling business far more cheaply and put his employees to work domestically. And Walters suggests with a potentially larger gambling market, he could wager greater sums and win even more money.

Walters in October at his Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas, just ahead of reporting to the federal prison camp in Pensacola, Florida. Mike Fish/ESPN

AS BILLY WALTERS sat during his final pre-prison day in his Las Vegas office at his Bali Hai Golf Club in October, he still hadn’t fully accepted all that went along with defeat. He could understand the government probing complicated, multimillion-dollar transactions, but not uncovering anything approaching a crime, in his mind.

So, he didn’t see the verdict coming. He hadn’t prepared his family. He hadn’t prepared his employees. He was flu-ridden when he was convicted on all 10 counts last April, after four hours of jury deliberation. He headed to a home in California a beaten man.

"I would say for the next two days — I am sitting there deathly sick," Walters said. "I have been in trial for 30 days. I’d been going to court every day, getting up early, staying late, and going through quite a bit of tension. I was in my office, in a recliner. I think for two days it was almost like those two days didn’t happen. And then after that, I snapped out of it and realized what it was. I had to get up and go to fighting."

Ever the gambler, Walters fancies his current fate as just another game of chance.

"To me, I equate this to playing poker," Walters said. "I am in a nine-hand poker game, and I just played a pot and now they dealt the cards. I have a new hand. I have to take the set of facts and the circumstances I have today. I got to look at the potential outcomes of it. And I have to be realistic with it.

"OK, so I go to prison, I am going to make that the best possible situation I can make in the environment I am in for the time that I am there. That is what my life is going to be. It is just that simple. Because of my son and my interaction with the handicapped and mentally challenged people, I think I have a pretty good handle on things as far as perspective is concerned. I go over to Opportunity Village [Walters is a major benefactor of the Las Vegas-based nonprofit serving adults with intellectual disabilities] and see people there who through no fault of their own have been dealt the rottenness hand in life. They come over there every day. They work. They make no excuses. You ask them how they are doing, and I never heard a negative word out of one of them in 25 years.

"You look at something like that and what I got is a temporary situation. It is not a good situation. It is clearly something I never dreamed would happen. And what has happened and the way it happened is as bad as it gets, but I do have a perspective. This will end. I don’t know when it will end, but it will end. My life will go on. And I don’t have anything I can’t recover from. So, from that point — I been married 41 years. I got a great wife. In my trial, there were way over 100 people that sent letters in. So, we have a lot of friends. Frankly, I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate men in the world. I really do. Like I said, I got things in perspective."

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Property appraiser loses Beach tax appeal

The Florida Supreme Court has denied a request by Escambia County Property Appraiser, Chris Jones, that the Court review two recent lower court decisions in favor of Pensacola Beach taxpayers.

The ruling by the high court lets stand the decisions in Island Resorts v. Chris Jones, Beach Club v. Chris Jones and Portofino v. Chris Jones. All three of those decisions found that the plain language of the controlling Florida statutes makes leasehold interests in county-owned property subject, exclusively, to intangible personal property taxation – not ad valorem taxation.

Following the decision in Island Resorts in 2016, Jones petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for review, and that petition was also was rejected. Jones claimed that Beach Club and Portofino raised different issues as they involved condominium improvements on county-owned land.

That argument was rejected by the First District Court of Appeals last year, and the Florida Supreme Court rejected that petition in its ruling released today.

“This ruling effectively ends the issue of whether the land at Pensacola Beach, leased by Escambia County, is taxable to leaseholders,” said Ed Fleming, who together with Todd Harris, represented the leaseholders.

“This issue has been definitively ruled on by the First District Court of Appeals three times, not including six requests for rehearing. The Property Appraiser’s attempts to overturn those rulings have now been rejected three times by the Florida Supreme Court.”

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Causes: UWF, Sacred Heart, 90Works receive generous donations

(Photo: Special to the News Journal)

Our community has a generosity of spirit throughout the year. Here are good things happening in the area and opportunities to help organizations trying to make life brighter for people in need:

THANK YOU FOR GIVING
UWF receives $39K for Larry Butler Memorial Music Award

The University of West Florida has received a $39,550 donation to the UWF Department of Music in support of the Larry Butler Memorial Music Award.

The donation will help fund student participation in academic competitions and performance-related travel experiences.

The funds are a result of a special concert at the Flora-Bama and a private concert in the home of Teri Levin, featuring Don Schlitz, a Grammy award-winning songwriter and newly inducted member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as part of the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival in November.

The Larry Butler Memorial Music Award was created in 2015 by Peggy Butler in memory of her husband, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer and Pensacola native. More than $93,000 has been raised by the Butler family and friends to support the Department of Music.

More: Causes: Meet United Way of Escambia County’s new ambassador class

Peggy Butler said the award was created to meld three of Butler’s passions: music, Pensacola and UWF.

For more information about the Larry Butler Memorial Music Award, contact the UWF Foundation Inc. at 850-474-3118.

Gamers support Sacred Heart’s mission to care for kids

Sacred Heart Foundation recently partnered with Pensacon, its video game provider SuperCon2K Series and popular Twitch streamers James Werk and GSXR Clyde to raise money for the new Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart.

During the three-day Pensacon 2018 event at Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacon Charity Stream helped raise more than $12,500 through Extra Life. Extra Life is a grassroots experience that mobilizes gamers to support local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals that treat sick and injured babies and children in their communities.

Pensacon Charity Stream helped raise more than $12,500 through Extra Life for The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart.

(Photo: Special to the News Journal)

Extra Lifers raise money throughout the year, culminating in a massive, international, 24-hour fundraising and gaming marathon.

You can sign up and dedicate a day of play for children in Northwest Florida by visiting Extra-Life.org, or call Adrienne Maygarden, director of Sacred Heart Foundation, at 850-416-4663.

Community Foundation helps to fund efforts by 90Works

90Works recently received an $8,989 grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Florida.

Founded in 1985 and rebranded in 2014, 90Works is a nonprofit organization — formerly Families Count — with a new mission for serving families in need. Their vision is to help people move from being in crisis and vulnerable to safe, stable and thriving.

90Works recently received a $8,989 grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Florida.

(Photo: Special to the News Journal)

90Works has a 90 percent success rate getting people self-sufficient in 90 days. The organization coordinates housing, jobs, transportation, safety and health care.

The Community Foundation helps donors establish giving funds that reflect its philanthropic interests while making a positive impact on the community. Donations may be made to Community Foundation of Northwest Florida, 17 W. Cedar St., Suite 2, Pensacola, FL 32502.

EVENTS THAT HELP
Live Painting Happy Hour benefits Ballet Pensacola, PLT

The Pensacola Cultural Center, Ballet Pensacola and Nina Fritz are combining forces for a fundraiser from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, March 29, at the Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.

Participants can watch artist Nina Fritz paint Ballet Pensacola’s professional dancer Scarlett Rustemeyer while enjoying hors d’oeuvres provided by The Fish House, drinks, and music. At the end of the evening, Fritz’s painting will be raffled off.

Tickets are $25 and include food, a specialty cocktail created by Old Hickory Whiskey Bar, and one entry into the drawing for the painting. Additional entries for the drawing are $10, with a ticket to the event.

A cash bar serving cocktails, beer and wine will be available. In addition, Fritz’s art will be on display in the Atrium of the Cultural Center. Pensacola Little Theatre will receive a significant donation for every painting sold.

Pelican unveiling to kick off Donate Life in Escambia

A “pelican unveiling” at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, will celebrate National Donate Life Month in Escambia County.

The kickoff will be in the courthouse complex courtyard next to the Tax Collector’s downtown office at 213 Palafox Place.

This event and month-long celebration is designed to raise awareness of the life-saving role that residents can play by registering as an organ, tissue and eye donor.

Tax collector employees help register potential organ donors by asking all driver license customers if they would like to join the registry. Eighty-five percent of Florida’s donor registrations now occur through driver license transactions. Donate Life Florida hit the 10 million donor mark this month and is the nation’s third largest registry.

One person can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance dozens more through tissue and eye donation. Florida offers three simple ways to register:

On Donate Life Florida’s website at DonateLifeFlorida.org.When renewing your driver license or identification card online at GoRenew.com.When obtaining a new or renewed driver license or identification card in one of our tax collector offices.

For more information, visit EscambiaTaxCollector.com or 850-438-6500. To learn more about organ donation, call 877-357-4273.

Golf Ball Gala a hole-in-one for First Tee of Northwest Fla.

Dress up in your sharpest golf attire and come party with First Tee of Northwest Florida at The Golf Ball Gala.

The gala will be from 6-10 p.m. Friday, April 6, in The Grand Ballroom at Skopelos at New World, 600 S. Palafox St.

There will be a Masters-inspired cocktail buffet, bar and live music. Coverage of the 2018 Masters Tournament will be played on large screen. Live and silent auctions are planned as well as a $5,000 putting contest.

Tickets are $75, and group discounts and VIP tickets are available. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit TheFirstTeeNWFlorida.org or call 850-456-7010.

Flea Across Florida offers opportunity for nonprofits

For eight years, Flea Across Florida has brought thousands of visitors to small communities across the state on U.S. 90.

This is a great opportunity for nonprofits, churches, or individuals to hold sales along the route, or to rent spaces to those wanting to participate and set up.

This event on April 13-14 is a mixture of individual yard sales, businesses offering specials, and retail vendors set up at Flea sites. It is a treasure hunt for the thousands of participants looking for great bargains, hidden treasures, or the adventure of traveling along U.S. 90 through small communities.

For more information, or to have your sale site listed on the event Facebook page for free, contact Jeanne@jeannedesign.net.

The Facebook page is also a great way to stay informed of the clusters of participating sites.

To learn more about the event, contact Kim Macarthy 850-554-3906.

Camp Bluebird open for registration for adult cancer patients

Adults who have been diagnosed with cancer are encouraged to register now for an upcoming Sacred Heart Health System program that offers support, encouragement and renewal. All adult cancer patients are eligible, even if they are not seeing a Sacred Heart physician.

Camp Bluebird, a retreat experience for people coping with cancer, is scheduled for April 25-27 at Sacred Heart’s Miracle Camp. This gathering of cancer survivors and volunteers will celebrate 20 years of Camp Bluebird in Northwest Florida.

The Miracle Camp complex is nestled in a 40-acre nature preserve on Beulah Road and includes dorms, a dining hall, activities center and nature trails. Camp Bluebird activities include arts and crafts, pampering, education, optional sharing sessions, entertainment and more.

For more information and to download a registration form, visit campbluebirdfl.com or call Tim Gilbert, camp director, at 850-698-2202.

SEEKING SUMMER HELP
Autism Pensacola looking for help at Kids for Camp this summer

Autism Pensacola is currently accepting applications for instructors in its summer program. The unique learning lab offers hands-on, ongoing coaching and support.

Dates for the camp are June 18 through July 24, with staff training from June 12-14. Kids for Camp is located at Capstone Academy, Holm Elementary, and Washington High in Pensacola.

Kids for Camp will be June 18 through July 24, with staff training planned from June 12-14.

(Photo: Special to the News Journal)

Kids for Camp is supported through community partnerships with the Autism Center of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, Escambia County School District, and Capstone Adaptive Learning and Therapy Centers, along with the support of generous people and businesses in the greater Pensacola area.

For information on how to apply, go to autismpensacola.org/our-programs/kids-for-camp, call 850-434-7171, or email jessica@autismpensacola.org.

SEEKING VOLUNTEERS
Panhandle Butterfly House offers 2 training sessions in April

The Panhandle Butterfly House is seeking seasonal volunteers to serve as docents Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, May through August. Volunteers work in teams, educating visitors on the biology and habitat of butterflies and their importance in our ecosystem.

New volunteers are paired with seasoned docents to learn the ropes. Training will be held in the Navarre Visitor Center conference room, 8543 Navarre Parkway in Navarre. Contact pbhdocents@gmail.com for details and registration.

There are two options for docent training:

Friday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.Monday, April 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Panhandle Butterfly House will also offer pre-scheduled Kinderpillar School tours for groups of 10 or more (including adults) Monday through Wednesday starting May 7 through the end of August. Admission is $2 per person.

Tours will consist of a basic lesson on butterfly conversation, the life cycle and habits of the butterfly followed by a journey through the vivarium, viewing live Florida butterflies along with their nectar and host plants, and the nursery showing metamorphosis. Larger tours may have rotations on beneficial insects and the ecology of the panhandle’s estuary.

To schedule a tour, email pbhtours@gmail.com with the following information:

Name of groupContact name, phone number and emailAge range of youthNumber of youth and adult chaperonesRequested date(s)
FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
IMPACT 100 annual Nonprofit Workshop set for April 19

IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area has announced its annual Nonprofit Workshop. The workshop is open to all nonprofit organizations in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to learn about the grant process, get tips for writing a successful grant, and be inspired to create a winning project for the 15th year of giving.

The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. DeSoto St. Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m.

This year’s workshop will feature Wendy Steele, founder of IMPACT 100. Steele will present “15 Years. 10 Million Dollars. Still making an IMPACT.”

The workshop will focus on the IMPACT 100 grant application process for 2018 with a review of all required forms and instructions for digital grant submissions. Construction and permitting will also be discussed. A panel discussion with board members, previous grant recipients, focus area committee chairs and co-chairs will cap this event.

After the workshop, attendees are invited to stay for a Nonprofit Social from 12:45-2:30 p.m. This event offers an opportunity to meet and network with other nonprofit organizations. The board members of IMPACT 100 will facilitate small group discussions among the attendees. A boxed lunch will be provided.

All nonprofits are encouraged to attend both events. Space is limited, and registration is required at impact100pensacola.org no later than April 16.

This year, IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay area will award 11 project grants of $100,300 to nonprofit organizations in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Letters of Intent to Apply for a grant are due by noon April 3. A Letter of Intent must be submitted in order to apply for a grant; however, submitting an LOI does not obligate an organization to submit a grant application. Grant Applications must be submitted by noon June 13.

Additional information is available at impact100pensacola.org.

Source Article

“They Could Have Made a Different Decision”: Inside the Strange Odyssey of Hedge-Fund King Eddie Lampert

Photograph by Nigel Parry.

Few people on Wall Street are as polarizing as Eddie Lampert, the billionaire majority shareholder of Sears and Kmart. His friends say he is reticent, while his critics find him aloof. His pals talk about his very high standards, while some observers say he is condescending, overly critical, and disengaged. Some people praise his determination and persistence, while others see only inexplicable stubbornness in sticking to failed ideas. “His critics will say he’s not really a team guy. He is a team guy,” insists Lampert’s close friend David “Tiger” Williams, a well-known Wall Street trader. “The Eddie I know works incessantly because he’s a ‘figure-it-out guy.’ ”

Williams believes that Lampert is a target for criticism because he is “a very shy person” and avoids the public eye. But Mark Cohen, who was C.E.O. of Sears Canada from 2001 to 2004, and now is a professor at Columbia Business School, says that Lampert is “the wizard behind the curtain, managing the business from Florida or Connecticut or aboard his yacht” via teleconference and taking from the company all he can. While admitting he runs the company primarily from Florida, Lampert counters that he has put a fortune of his own money into the business. Cohen responds that Lampert’s money is collateralized against hard assets, of which Lampert will take control if the company defaults on the loans. (A spokesperson for Lampert says that can happen only if Lampert is the highest bidder, and the purchase is approved by the bankruptcy court, “generally speaking.”)

Once a wunderkind, who at 25 established his own hedge fund, ESL, Lampert is 55 now and celebrating the silver anniversary of managing his own money and that of a few select billionaires, such as entertainment mogul David Geffen, Michael Dell, Thomas Tisch, and the Ziff publishing family. He has had legendary successes, such as his investment in AutoZone, the auto-parts retailer, in which he made a profit of around $750 million, at least 20 times his investment, and AutoNation, the car dealership, from which he has made $1.5 billion (and in which he still owns a large stake). He has also made winners out of Honeywell, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Liz Claiborne Inc.

But today those triumphs are largely obscured by his worst mistake: the 2005 merging of Sears, the iconic retailer whose doorstop mail-order catalogue was once a fixture in nearly every American home, with the downmarket Kmart chain, which he had brought out of bankruptcy in 2003. Twelve years on, this blundering into retail has made him a poster boy for what some people think is wrong with Wall Street and, in particular, hedge funds. Under his management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from 5,670 at its peak, in the 2000s, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have been thrown out of work. The pension fund, for retired Sears employees, is underfunded by around $1.6 billion, and both Lampert and Sears are being sued for investing employees’ retirement money in Sears stock, when the top brass allegedly knew it was a terrible investment. (Lampert’s spokesperson responds, “ESL never encouraged anybody to invest in Sears Holdings stock. The associate stock-purchase plan began in 2006. It was perceived to be an effective employee retention and incentive tool.”)

In 2013, Lampert, who was chairman of the board, had himself named C.E.O. of Sears Holdings, as the combined company is known. He’s had a rough four years since then. The company has suffered some $10.4 billion in losses and a revenue decline of 47 percent, to $22 billion. Those stores that remain open are often shabby, with minimal inventory and few customers. A year ago the company admitted, for the first time, that there was some risk of its ability to continue as “a going-concern,” a technical accounting term that sent shudders through the ranks of Sears’s employees, vendors, and creditors, because it is often a precursor to a bankruptcy filing.

On July 20, Lampert announced that Sears would allow its Kenmore appliances—one of the store’s most profitable brands, formerly sold exclusively in Kmart and Sears outlets—to be sold on Amazon. On his Sears blog, Lampert called it a “game-changing agreement.” But critics branded it as just the latest example of Lampert’s selling off the company’s assets in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. “We suspect this is a move to beautify the Kenmore brand for divestiture and help alleviate some pressure, temporarily, of Sears as a going-concern,” Bill Dreher, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group, wrote his clients.

The vultures are circling, waiting for Lampert to throw in the towel so they can try to make money by buying Sears’s discounted debt. But Lampert continues to claim that’s not going to happen if he can help it.

The spate of negative media coverage and the dire predictions of Wall Street investors might explain why Lampert, generally regarded as reclusive, agreed to sit with me for an interview, in what his spokesperson calls his first “one-on-one first-person interview in several years,” which I calculate to be 15. (In May, Lampert did a short Q&A with Lauren Zumbach in the Chicago Tribune.) His desire to keep an unusually low profile may have something to do with the fact that he was kidnapped in 2003 and held for ransom by four young men over a long weekend.

Lampert’s Greenwich estate fits the image of how you’d expect a billionaire hedge-fund manager to live. Assessed at nearly $26 million, it consists of six acres on a spit of land that juts into Long Island Sound. The main house is around 10,000 square feet, with a lot of stone and glass. After I was buzzed through the security gate, a guard popped out of nowhere to usher me into a grand but sparely furnished room facing Long Island Sound. On the walls hung a few large, expensive-looking fine-art photographs. Suddenly, from a side door, Lampert emerged with two handlers from Teneo, the financial-advisory and public-relations firm, who would monitor our conversation.

Lampert looked fit, if a bit awkward, in a gray polo shirt buttoned to the top. He was shod in a pair of brand-new “pure platinum” Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit sneakers. He, his wife (Kinga, 43), and their three children spend most of their time in Florida, where the children go to school. He made the point to me that, in Florida anyway, he’s not the least bit reclusive. “I’m out there like a normal person, and I really enjoy that,” he says. (Perhaps it’s just coincidence that Florida, unlike Connecticut and New York, has no state income tax.) He also has a home in Aspen.

Lampert rarely visits Sears Holdings headquarters, outside of Chicago—some say only once a year, for the annual board meeting. Lampert dismisses any criticism of his long-distance management style, saying he’s a big believer in handing over power to his management team. “There are cultures where people work from home, and they still get things done,” he says. “The ability to trust people, the ability to empower people, that’s the model.”

Mark Cohen, for one, isn’t having it. “He’s had a puppet board who have never pushed back in any way that anybody has ever seen, and why would they?” he says. “They’re all handpicked Eddie acolytes, and people have asked me for over a decade, ‘How does he get away with this—it’s a public company and why isn’t the board in action [given] the continued failure of the business?’ To which I say, ‘The board is meaningless . . . There’s no governance here whatsoever.’ ”

Lampert’s spokesperson responds that the board “currently has six members . . . who are deeply committed to the maximization of stockholder value. . . . [They are] deeply informed and involved.”

Cohen points out that current Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin “has been a shareholder and a member of the board of directors of Sears Holdings from the day that the combined company was formed [until becoming Treasury secretary], so he spent 11 years at Eddie’s side. . . . [With] all of Trump’s focus on jobs, job preservation, job creation, somebody ought to ask his secretary of the Treasury what his involvement has been for 11 years in the destruction of well over 100,000 jobs at Sears.” (A spokesman for Mnuchin declined to comment.)

TURNING TABLES? Eddie Lampert, photographed at home, in Florida. Photograph by Nigel Parry.

Lampert is no stranger to the plight of hourly workers, struggling to make ends meet, because he grew up as one. His early years were spent in Roslyn, New York, an affluent village on the North Shore of Long Island. His father was a successful attorney, his mother a stay-at-home mom, for him and his sister, Tracey, but when Lampert was 14 his father died of a heart attack. “That was the end of camp or going away to Europe like the other children,” his mother told The Wall Street Journal in 1991. She went to work as a salesclerk at Saks Fifth Avenue in Garden City for the next 20 years. “Eddie was very strong . . . trying to be the man of the family,” she recalled. During summer vacations he worked in a warehouse packing boxes.

“There were a lot of times,” Lampert says, “when [my mother] came home, and it’s like, ‘I’m going to lose my job. I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll have to sell the house.’ ”

At Yale, which Lampert attended with help from financial aid and student loans, he was the student who, at finals time, would move into the library and stay there. “He was very, very serious about doing the work,” says his friend Benjamin Bram, a founder of Watermill Trading. Lampert, Bram, and Steve Mnuchin (who was in the class behind the two of them) roomed together off campus.

At Yale, Lampert made connections that would be important to his future. His membership in the elite secretive fraternity Skull and Bones opened to him a rarefied world inhabited by the likes of George W. Bush and Stephen Schwarzman, now C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group. The holy grail among this set was Goldman Sachs, then, as now, Wall Street’s most prestigious firm. The summer after his junior year Lampert got a highly coveted Goldman Sachs internship. It probably hadn’t hurt his chances that Mnuchin’s father, Robert, was one of the firm’s senior partners, in charge of the equity division.

After graduation, Lampert ended up in the risk-arbitrage department at Goldman, reporting directly to Robert Freeman, the partner in charge of the firm’s business of buying and selling stocks involved in takeover transactions. “[Eddie] just had a drive and ambition amongst a group of pretty ambitious guys that I thought was unique,” Freeman says. “He was like a young bucking bronco . . . on a fast track to be successful.”

In February 1987, Freeman was led off the trading floor at Goldman by a U.S. marshal and arrested outside the firm’s Broad Street headquarters on charges of insider trading. “If you were at Goldman Sachs and you were a person working for Bob Freeman, you probably saw your career flashing before your eyes,” says a former Goldman colleague. Eventually, Freeman pleaded guilty to one felony count of insider trading and ended up serving four months in a minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Florida. Lampert gave a deposition in the case but was never implicated in any wrongdoing. “It was certainly an experience that [Lampert] wishes had never happened and one that he learned a great deal from,” says Lampert’s spokesperson.

After that experience, Lampert resolved to leave Goldman Sachs. During the summer of 1987, he met Texas billionaire investor Richard Rainwater on Nantucket. Over lunch Rainwater told Lampert, “There is life after Goldman.”

Lampert took the advice to heart. A year later he left the firm and started ESL with $28 million in seed money from Rainwater. The fund, Lampert explains, was dedicated to long-term investing—something, he claims, few others aside from his hero Warren Buffett were doing at the time. Rainwater also introduced Lampert to important future clients, such as Geffen. Within a year, though, Lampert and Rainwater had a falling-out. According to The Wall Street Journal, their dispute was about ego, strategy, and turf. “He’s so obsessed with moving in the direction he wants to move that sometimes people get burned, trampled on, bumped into,” Rainwater said of Lampert. “I think he has gone about alienating himself from almost everyone who he’s come into contact with.”

A former colleague agrees: “He’s really an extreme guy. There’s something odd about him, I think, his lack of emotional connection to people. . . . It’s so important, but some people just don’t have that. They’re off in their own little world.”

AutoZone was Lampert’s biggest coup. After acquiring 30 percent of the company, he orchestrated a series of aggressive stock buybacks that had the effect of driving up AutoZone’s earnings per share by reducing the shares outstanding. The stock price went through the roof. In 2012, he sold his stock for between $500 and $600 per share—for a total of around $1.5 billion. “For people to say he knows nothing about retail is a little tiresome, because in AutoZone he made a bundle of fucking money,” says Tiger Williams.

But there is a big difference between retailing auto parts and selling the thousands of diverse products—from pajamas to tractors to cosmetics—offered by Kmart and Sears. Nevertheless, Lampert’s success with AutoZone led him to believe he could handle rescuing Kmart, which had been fighting a losing battle with the big-box stores, such as Walmart.

In 2003 he bought the majority of Kmart’s debt before the company went into Chapter 11, after which he took control of it. He immediately set about reducing inventory in the stores, slashing expenses, and cutting back on advertising. “Lampert has a view, which he shares publicly, that he doesn’t believe in the traditional manner of how retailers run their business,” says Cohen. “He thinks investment in stores is not appropriate.”

“We were focused on getting each store profitable and running each store well,” Lampert explains. The plan, he says, was for the world to know that Kmart—which at this point was not in debt—had “undeniable financial strength. . . . Even people who didn’t think Kmart would last a year out of bankruptcy, they said, ‘Well, Kmart may still not be successful, but I get you’re not going out of business anytime soon with all that cash.’ ”

At 7:30 P.M., on January 10, 2003, the Friday before the week during which the finishing touches were to be put on the Kmart reorganization, Lampert went to get his car in the garage of his Greenwich office building. Suddenly he was shoved into the backseat of a rented black Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle and driven, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a Days Inn, 55 miles away in Hamden, Connecticut. Four young men held him hostage for the next 28 hours in a $49-a-night room. They told him that unnamed AutoZone officials had offered to pay them $3 million to murder him, and they taunted him with a shotgun. On Saturday morning, two of the kidnappers used Lampert’s credit card to go on an $800 shopping spree for electronics equipment.

Lampert and two of the kidnappers, who had stayed behind at the Days Inn to guard him, settled on a $5 million payoff. On Sunday, at around two A.M., one of the kidnappers drove him back to Greenwich and let him out on a highway off-ramp to get the money, according to published reports. Why they would have made such a stupid move has not been answered until now.

Lampert, who had not slept in days, walked the half-mile to the Greenwich police station. Tracing the stolen-credit-card transactions (the kidnappers had also purchased a pizza with one), police arrested four local men soon thereafter: Renaldo Rose, a 24-year-old ex-Marine; Shemone Gordon, 23; Devon Harris, 19; and Lorenzo Jones, 17.

In the years since, Lampert has not talked publicly about the kidnapping, nor have the more puzzling aspects of the case been cleared up. When I asked him about it, he frowned. “You’re not going there, are you?” he says. “I don’t really want to talk a lot about it for a lot of reasons, but I know it’s not an unimportant event.” All he’ll say is that the experience was “not good” and “they could have made a different decision—let’s put it that way.” Did it change your life? I asked him. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “I’m just not comfortable talking about it.”

In 2004, Renaldo Rose, the ringleader, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released early, in July 2016, and returned to his native Jamaica, where he now runs the Foreign Ink mobile tattoo studio, out of a van. Reached by phone, he willingly gave his version of the kidnapping. He recalls that, after serving in the Marines, he “hooked up with some friends and they were already doing jobs.” They encouraged him to focus on wealthy local targets, and he read about Lampert in a news article “that showed he was one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, at the time.”

Rose says that after being abducted Lampert “freaked out and one of the guys started punching him in the head. So I had to yell at them: ‘Listen, you both calm down. Keep quiet and you’re gonna be all right.’ I made [Lampert] a promise, ‘Listen, you don’t give us no problem and we’ll let you go.’ And he did, so he never freaked out again after initially.”

It still haunts Rose today that he might not have gone to prison had he killed Lampert and the other kidnappers: “So it was either like, O.K., get rid of everybody. [But] with Shemone Gordon, [Lampert] was like family almost. He argued against all that. I still think we should have just got rid of everybody. But, I don’t know. I did have to consider that. Lampert . . . never gave any problems, so I kind of had to keep my word on that.”

Rose dismisses the idea of the AutoZone executives offering $3 million for Lampert’s murder as the fabrication of one of his cohorts. But he recalls an intriguing exchange that he says took place between Gordon and Lampert:

“I heard Eddie. I heard some of the discussions, because there was even a discussion when it came to him buying Kmart. He was asking questions such as ‘When I get out of here, do you think I should do it?’ . . . He said he felt that Kmart was tied up with something with the Mob or Mafia. They used it as a piggy bank. That was the first time I’d ever heard. I’m like, ‘Shit. The Mafia is still around?’ But he was really hesitant about doing it.” (Through his spokesperson Lampert denies he made such comments.)

In the end, Rose says, the main reason he decided to let Lampert go was that his partners were so inept. By using Lampert’s credit card, against Rose’s instructions, his partners in crime had alerted police to their whereabouts. Rose says they released Lampert not to get the ransom money but to call off what was by then a hopeless caper.

The next week Lampert completed the Kmart deal and soon set about his cost-cutting strategy. It yielded results. “His cash flow exploded, and he was being touted by the financial media as the next Warren Buffett,” remembers Cohen. In 2003, Lampert says, operating profit was around $400 million; the next year it was $900 million. In 2005 he decided that Kmart should buy Sears. “Kmart was a turnaround,” he says. “Putting Kmart and Sears together was a transformation.”

Lampert explained his strategy for the combined company: “When we put Sears and Kmart together, part of the idea was we had all of these Kmart stores that were off-mall,” he says. “Sears was sort of stuck in the mall, and Sears, before we made the acquisition, was starting to move off-mall.” Lampert’s vision was to keep Kmart and Sears stores as close to Walmart as he could get them. “That’s where all the people in town are going,” he says. He believed that Sears and Kmart were differentiated enough from Walmart to be complementary, not competitive. He says he invested a lot of capital in Kmart stores but didn’t get a return on his investment.

“I’m not sure Kmart on its own could ever be a great retailer,” he says. “But you put Kmart and Sears together, in combination they had a chance . . . Kmart had the locations and Sears had the brands.”

Lampert also says that starting in 2006 he began making “countercultural investments in online commerce.”

“I’m told, for about two years, Lampert actually attempted to run the business,” says Cohen. “So for about a year and a half or two years the financial performance of Sears Holdings looked pretty good, but in fact all that he was doing was completely cutting capital expenditures and operating expenses.”

Lampert’s spokesperson responds, “Managing capital expenditures and expenses tightly has been required, not optional, to improve the company’s operating performance and financial flexibility in order to achieve its long-term transformation.”

The combined company never really found its niche—which was supposed to be somewhere between Walmart, on the low end, and Macy’s, on the high. And then came the 2008 financial crisis, when, according to Cohen, “Lampert stopped appearing to support the business in any conventional way and started to invest free cash flow in derivatives. He hived off Sears Roebuck’s three consequential brands—Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard—into a Caribbean-based wholly owned sub of ESL so the company was paying royalties to Eddie Lampert for the use of its own trademarks.” (Lampert’s spokesperson calls this “completely false . . . There is no Caribbean-based wholly owned subsidiary of ESL nor any subsidiary nor any payments to ESL or a subsidiary of ESL for any of the trademarks.”)

The company has been in steep decline ever since. “There are a lot of decisions made over a long period of time, including by me, that may not have been always the best decisions,” Lampert admits. “But I did have a point of view in terms of how shopping habits were going to change. I could have put a lot of capital in a Kmart or Sears store and it could look like Bloomingdale’s or it could look like Saks, but we didn’t have access to products that would be consistent with that. In other words, if I built an equivalent of Nordstrom’s, it’s not like all of a sudden Nike would be selling to us.” Or that Nordstrom’s customers would be coming through his doors. Instead, he says, he targeted his capital on improving his customers’ online experience. “I did believe that people are going to be one click away from the best possible experience, the cheapest price, and whatever product they want,” he says. “And I could have a better Web site than Nordstrom’s. I could have a better Web site than Bloomingdale’s. In other words, I don’t need to invest in fixtures, but I do need to invest in the features and the experiences.”

But Lampert was evidently ahead of his time in trying to get Sears buyers to shop online. At the time they were just not comfortable enough with the technology to do so. Whatever the reason, Sears’s Web site never remotely rivaled the sales in the stores. Or on Amazon.

Now that Amazon is eating Sears’s lunch, Lampert is faced with his latest challenge: staving off a Sears Holdings bankruptcy, and he is using every corporate-finance strategy in the book.

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In addition to making billions of dollars in loans to the company to provide Sears Holdings with more cash, he has announced the closing of some 300 more stores since the beginning of 2017. He sold Sears’s Craftsman line of tools to Stanley Black & Decker for around $900 million. He is considering the sale, or monetization, of the DieHard battery and auto-center brands. “Most of the big transactions that he’s been into, like the sale of Sears Canada stock or the sale of Lands’ End, have involved or are caught up in special dividends where he’s taken the cash out and returned it to shareholders,” argues Cohen, “and of course he’s the principal shareholder.”

Lampert has spun off Lands’ End, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, and Orchard Supply, each into its own public company. “We’re fighting to survive—that’s pretty clear,” Lampert says.

His critics see things differently. Robert Chapman, a California-based hedge-fund manager, calls Sears Holdings “a total shit show” that is in “secret liquidation” mode. He says he recently came out of a Kmart in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that offered so many bargains he couldn’t believe his eyes. “He’s not calling it a liquidation sale,” he says of Lampert, “but if you’ve gone into one of the stores, it’s a liquidation deal.”

Cohen says, “[Lampert] is a guy who may have harbored some notion of running this business, but if he did he’s pivoted to just simply manipulating it, if you will, for his own benefit. . . . This is the creative destruction of a very weak brand [Kmart] and a perfectly viable brand [Sears], both of which together were doing something like $50 billion when he took over, and he’s getting away with it because he’s been able to treat this like a private company. No public company would ever allow a chief executive officer to remain in their seat who was so intimately tied to these manipulations and presiding over the failure of a business like this. This is not normal, if anything is normal these days. This is certainly not normal.”

Cohen believes that a bankruptcy filing is inevitable, and that Lampert will end up benefiting from it because he will be able to “walk away” from onerous store leases and other liabilities, such as the underfunded pension plan, and get rid of those assets that he hasn’t been able to sell. Since he’s the largest Sears Holdings creditor, Cohen says, “he’ll then bring this thing right back out as a new company, and he’ll become the new shareholder, and he’ll start this process all over again because Sears still has a substantial inventory of at least theoretically valuable real estate, and as long as there’s any plus value to any consequential outcome it’s all to his benefit.”

For his part, Lampert says he is going to keep fighting for as long as it makes sense: “I believe in what’s possible, and we’re doing things that are necessary to keep the company going. . . . It’s definitely not just humbled me, but it’s expanded my awareness of real issues that exist in our society. . . . I feel like I can make a contribution by being involved, O.K.?”

Cohen takes a more cynical view. “This is all just a perversion of our free-market system,” he says. “This is the actions of a controlling shareholder treating a company as if it is truly private, with no oversights, no constructive oversight whatsoever, with no intent to protect any of the requisite constituencies other than essentially himself.”

Lampert’s spokesperson says, “There is no merit to the speculation that Mr. Lampert is working to benefit from the ‘liquidation’, ‘failure’ or ‘bankruptcy’ of Sears Holdings . . . All shareholders—and the Board of Directors that represents them—ensure there is oversight of their interest in the Sears Holdings, as do several other stakeholders (lending partners, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, vendors, employees, members, etc.) who have their own different interests in the Company. So, it is untrue and unfair to allege that the company is being manipulated to only serve the interests of Mr. Lampert.”

Despite Lampert’s optimism, Sears continues to decline. Many other big-box retailers had a surprisingly robust 2017 holiday sales season, but sales at Sears suffered mightily, down around 17 percent. Lampert once again tried to reassure the company’s suppliers and equity holders that it had enough cash to pay its bills as they became due. On January 10, he announced that he had arranged an additional $300 million of new loans to ease the terms on other loans that Sears already has, in order to buy more time. He also announced that Sears would find another $200 million in cost savings not related to already announced store closings. Nevertheless, the fourth-quarter 2017 loss could be as much as $320 million, and Lampert announced he is going to close another 103 Sears and Kmart stores by this month.

Despite everything, the Sears Holdings stock price has slumped to $2 a share, down considerably from the high of $134 per share some 11 years ago. Sears Holdings now has a market value of around $250 million, making Lampert’s nearly 60 percent stake worth $150 million.

At the end of our interview, Lampert made it clear he’s not done yet. “Put it this way, if I consider all the other alternatives, they’re not great for a lot of people and I just want to be responsible. If I didn’t believe that this company could be transformed still—the window is definitely shrinking—but if I didn’t believe that, I would try to take a different path. But I don’t know what that path exactly would be. It’s not a question of giving up or not giving up.”

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Tuesday's Afternoon Update - Florida Trend

Tuesday’s Afternoon Update

What you need to know about Florida today

America’s flood insurance chief has a message for all Floridians: You’re at risk

The National Flood Insurance Program provides nearly three times the number of policies in Florida as any other state. But the number of Florida homes covered in high-risk areas has dropped by 15 percent over five years. More from the Miami Herald.

Cortez commercial fisher seeks constitutional change

Cortez commercial fisherman Mark Coarsey will take his passion and petition to oppose the gill net ban to a statewide audience March 13. Coarsey is fighting to revamp restrictions promulgated by state agencies he considers out of touch with the commercial fishing industry. More from the Anna Maria Islander. Read More

Sci-Fi Speed Dating Employee Claims Boss Sexually Assaulted Her at ...

Sci-Fi Speed Dating Employee Claims Boss Sexually Assaulted Her at Pensacon

NBC15 is a weather and news TV station serving the Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL regions — which included the Pensacon comic convention that ran in Florida last week. They are reporting that a female booth worker, Kristen Reynolds, claims she was sexually assaulted by her boss when walking from the Pensacola Bay Center toward the Grand Plaza Hotel parking lot.

She told NBC 15 that she has worked for a speed dating company, who were operating at the show, for six months and that this was her third comic-con working for the company. She states she has filed a report with the Pensacola Police Department. Read More

Impeach Donald Trump Now, New Billboard Tells California Drivers ...

Impeachment billboard going up near Trump’s Florida home

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (RNN) – It’s not up yet, but a pithy political billboard calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment is already making headlines.

The sign will tower over I-95 about two miles from Trump’s South Florida residence Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach.

The message: “Impeachment now, Make America America Again!”

The left-wing Mad Dog PAC is behind the billboard and others across the country that target Republican lawmakers and conservative causes.

A recent billboard put up by the group in Pensacola, FL, reads, “The NRA is a terrorist organization.”

The political action committee was founded by Claude Taylor, a former White House staffer during the Clinton administration. Read More

State of Housing and Economic Study of Escambia County – March 14 ...

State of Housing and Economic Study of Escambia County – March 14

Dr. Rick Harper will present the State of Housing and Economic Study of Escambia County at a luncheon on Wednesday, March 14 at Skopelos at New World Landing. The study and luncheon are sponsored by Home Builders Association of West Florida, Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, and the Pensacola Association of Realtors.

“We are excited to share the data that Dr. Harper has collected for this study,” said Home Builders Association of West Florida Executive Director David Peaden. “This information will be useful in helping our decision-makers plan for future growth in Escambia County. Read More