(Guest Editorial) The Everglades National Park and Lake Okeechobee are important national resources that garner a lot of media and political attention throughout the United States, and especially in #Florida. Many outstanding organizations have been formed for the purpose of helping to restore the river of grass, to improve the water flow and quality of Florida’s fragile lakes and estuaries and to protect endangered species and habitats in and around the Everglades. Most of these groups raise money legitimately, to promote their agenda through private donations, while other activist groups are formed purely for profit and rely on governmental subsidies and taxpayer funded assistance to pay for their staff of professional agitators and policymakers.
It’s often difficult to distinguish the good groups from the bad groups, but over time, they ultimately reveal themselves.
Along the treasure coast, one such group has been busy promoting their wasteful plan to purchase over a billion dollars worth of farm land south of Lake Okeechobee so water can be stored, treated and systematically released into the Everglades National Park.
Building reservoirs to hold and clean water before it’s released into the environment is not a new concept. The US Army Corps Of Engineers is currently constructing many of these water retention systems to the north of the lake, where over 90% of the water entering Lake O comes from, but building reservoirs south of the lake has been repeatedly rebuffed by the scientists from the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, which are responsible for maintaining florida’s watershed resources, and who have warned against the costly and unnecessary southern retention ponds.
The campaign to convince politicians to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee is being operated by a confidence man with a history of drunkenness, committing financial frauds against businesses and stealing from investors.
#Kenneth Hinkle might be new to the world of environmental activism but he has a lot of experience in promoting fraudulent financial schemes. His most recent scam is being run through a newly formed group that goes by the name of Bullsugar.
Bullsugar has only one stated purpose, and that is to force south Florida sugar cane farmers off their land, through eminent domain, in an effort to acquire their highly prized property south of Lake Okeechobee. Bullsugar claims that the farmers are polluting Lake Okeechobee through farm field runoff of fertilizer but scientists with the South Florida Water Management District maintain that almost all of the pollution entering the lake is caused from the northern watershed that sends tainted water from the cattle pastures, leaking septic tanks and sewage sludge storage areas that are located upstream from Florida’s largest source of fresh water.
Although their plan to store water south of the lake does not get much support from legitimate activist groups, Bullsugar has been receiving a lot of free media exposure from their expensive public relations campaign.
Conning Floridians is nothing new for Bullsugar operations manager Kenneth Hinkle. Hinkle has been sued several times for fraud, fined for endangering the environment, filed for bankruptcy, lost his home to foreclosure and he has recently been arrested for passing out in his vehicle while drunk driving. He is clearly not the type of person Floridians would choose to lead the largest environmental project in the state.
Hinkle has been a bartender for the past 11 years until Bullsugar hired him last year to lead their efforts in Florida. He has no college degree or any formal education in science or with regard to the environment – but he does have what the Bullsugar organization needs most – a leader with no moral compass. He’s broke and he needs the controversy he generates through the non-profit, and the donations, to survive financially.
Court records from 2008 and 2012 lawsuits against Hinkle describe him as a master manipulator who would attend swanky charity fundraising and social networking events throughout the wealthy Wellington, Palm Beach and treasure coast Florida communities to find investors for his financial schemes.
In a lawsuit, one of those investors, #Scott Brander, claimed that Hinkle approached him at a networking meeting and pitched him on a supposed deal with the Duffy’s bar and restaurant chain to replace all of their aging televisions with new, flat panel displays. Hinkle said that he needed $50,000 to purchase the new TV’s and then he would immediately sell them to Duffy’s and reap a $35,000 profit that Hinkle and the inventor would split, but once Hinkle got his hands on the cash he spent it on his own credit card bills, living expenses and to pay off Duffy’s for a previous scam he pulled on them in which Duffy’s was threatening to have him sent to prison, unless he returned the $35,000 he stole. Hinkle did eventually return the money to Duffy’s, but he had stolen it from Brander. After Brander sued him, Hinkle called the opposing attorney, in tears, and tried to get himself out of the lawsuit by claiming he was having marital problems and also explained that he was a grown man with no job and no career.
Going through a lawsuit for fraud could make anyone start to drink alcohol, but Kenny Hinkle already had a drinking problem. On march 28th, 2015, He was arrested for being drunk and passed out behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla on AIA and Seawalls’ Point Road at 7:00 PM after coming from a meeting that ended at 6:PM at the Oceanographic Society. Witnesses called police after seeing him slouched over in the driver seat of the vehicle with the car still running. Police arrested Hinkle on the spot and charged him with DUI after he failed the field sobriety test and posted a breathalyzer reading of almost 3.0 (over three times the legal limit). He was fined, sentenced to community service, placed on probation and ordered to undergo substance abuse treatment. His car was eventually returned to him but with the court requirement that it be equipped with an interlock ignition device to prevent him from driving while drunk.
During the impound of Hinkle’s car, the police officers took inventory of the contents and found several empty bottles of vodka in the center console. During questioning Hinkle claimed he was heading home after drinking only 1 glass of wine at the Florida Oceanographic Society meeting but police wrote in their report that his description of where he was coming from and going to was not consistent.
In addition to Kenny Hinkle’s fraud and drunk driving incidents, he also lost his home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy in 2012, reporting that he had debt of around $300,000 that he wanted forgiven, based on his inability to pay it off from his meager $22,000 annual income as a bartender.
Through his Bullsugar group, Kenneth Hinkle is proposing a billion dollar taxpayer funded boondoggle to store water where it is not needed. His history of drunkenness, financial fraud and bad life choices should preclude him from having any role in determining the best course of action for the Florida Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, especially since the professional scientists from the US Army Corps Of Engineers believe his plan could hamper the ongoing efforts of the $16 billion state and federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.