Journalism is often called the first draft of history. Many times, stories simply recount what has happened. But on some occasions, journalists get the chance to change the course of history. In 2019, several Miami New Times pieces did just that.
This year, our reporters helped free a man from immigration detention, held the Florida Democratic Party to its word, and encouraged state lawmakers to ban evictions during hurricanes. We worked tirelessly to hold public officials accountable and to get justice for those in need. Here are seven stories that made an impact in 2019.
1. Forced Florida Democrats to return private prison money. Last year, the Florida Democratic Party announced it would no longer accept money from the private prison industry. But lo and behold, the party was happy to take a $10,000 check from G4S Secure Solutions, a company that provides inmate transport in the United States and runs private prisons in other countries. After staff writer Jerry Iannelli wrote about the questionable donation, the party was forced to return the money.
2. Exposed a state Senate candidate who is now in prison. In 2016, New Times wrote about Anis Blemur, a North Miami real-estate broker running for Florida Senate. An Illinois doctor who had given Blemur $70,000 to purchase an investment property says Blemur pocketed the money and became evasive when the doctor began asking questions. It turned out Blemur had a long history of allegations of fraud. After New Times' story was published, FBI investigators began looking into the claims against Blemur and eventually arrested him on charges of wire fraud. This past July, Blemur was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.
Maria Cazañes is one of 470 Miami-Dade families evicted during Dorian, but our reporting on Florida's lax tenant protections may spark legislative change.— Jess Nelson (@_JessNelson_) October 9, 2019
A "Declared State of Emergency" bill to eliminate hurricane evictions has now been submitted to the Florida House & Senate.
3. Inspired a state bill to eliminate evictions during hurricanes. The eviction of longtime South Beach resident Maria Cazañes turned into quite a spectacle. As photos and videos of the harsh eviction spread on social media, New Times writing fellow Jess Nelson ran to Cazañes' apartment and wrote a story about how police were forcibly removing the 75-year-old from her apartment just days before Hurricane Dorian was expected to make landfall. The coverage spurred state lawmakers to write a bill that would pause all eviction proceedings in emergency situations.
4. Removed listings for a Miami Beach vacation rental with a very racist owner. This summer, a black visitor from London reserved a vacation rental in South Beach on Booking.com. But after she supposedly took too long to respond to a message, the condo owner launched into a racist tirade in which she called the guest the N-word and likened her to a monkey. After New Times staff writer Brittany Shammas began making calls, the rental listing was removed from Booking.com and Airbnb.
5. Helped free a man from immigration detention. In May, a British tourist who had overstayed his visa was detained at a vacation rental in Tampa. Karamjit Singh was booked into an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Glades County, where he became suicidal, he said. During his stay, Singh said, guards withheld his medication and mocked him for his mental health issues. Shortly after New Times staff writer Manuel Madrid wrote a story about Singh's detention, internal investigators with ICE visited Singh and promised to look into his complaints. He was soon deported to the United Kingdom, as he had wanted all along. Singh's brother told New Times: "ICE have never so far engaged with his case in this way, so it looks like your story may have done some real good."
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6. Stopped Caliburn International, a for-profit corporation that operated the Homestead migrant children's shelter, from going public. Earlier this year, Caliburn International announced plans to sell $100 million in shares on the stock market. New Times staff writer Jerry Iannelli wrote that the company, which at the time operated the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, planned to cash in. And he found documents showing that Caliburn boasted its revenues were rising due to high demand for medical services at the Homestead detention center. Not long after the story was published, Caliburn backtracked on going public, citing market forces. "Due to variability in the equity markets, we are withdrawing our public offering," CEO Jim Van Dusen stated.
THANK YOU for the amazing support! Snapchat reversed their decision. We’re back to give millions of people inspiration and happiness on the daily. I am eternally grateful to the tireless fighters in the #DMPLA #FreedomRings— Dr. Miami (@TheRealDrMiami) October 27, 2019
7. Restored Dr. Miami's Snapchat account. Who says all public service journalism has to be serious? In October, New Times staff writer Alexi C. Cardona wrote about plastic surgeon Dr. Miami's ban from Snapchat for posting a video of a penis enlargement surgery. Dr. Miami, AKA Michael Salzhauer, argued that Snapchat was using a double standard, because his videos of labiaplasties were never flagged. After Cardona's story was published, Snapchat caved and restored the doctor's account. You're welcome, everyone.