Local hero: Florida hotelier Harris Rosen keeps his giving close to home

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harris Rosen has a chain of eight hotels bearing his name in the Orlando area, but he makes most of his headlines these days for giving away his fortune.

The 80-year-old entrepreneur of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, adopted the Tangelo Park neighborhood near his hotels and has paid for preschool programs and college for local students. Among some of his other many causes: He endowed the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, and he has been involved in charity efforts in Haiti, the home country of many of his staff.

Rosen’s business also recently expanded its generous, self-funded health plan called RosenCare to cover the health clinic for teachers in Osceola County.

Rosen spoke to Reuters about how he came to make his fortune and then give it away.

Q: Who first taught you money values?

A: It came from my two granddads. Both of them came from Eastern Europe. One had a little restaurant on Lower East Side; the other made wooden barrels.

When my mom and dad got married, they went into business together to purchase little apartments where immigrants stayed. Unfortunately, there was a fairly significant depression in 1920s. They lost everything because they would not ask anyone to leave.

One night they came over, and said, essentially, you have something in your genes. You are going to be a businessperson, but don’t ever borrow money.

I’ve lived with that all my life: I’m going to be a businessperson, and I can’t borrow money. That’s impossible! The first hotel I bought, I put down $20,000 and assumed a $2.5 million mortgage.

I will tell you now with great pride 45 years later, though, with 7,000 rooms, we don’t have a penny of debt.

Q: What did your first job teach you?

A: When I was 10, I overheard fishermen talking about how badly they needed worms. So I went into the night crawler business. I hunted them with a flashlight, and then arrived early at fishing pier.

I learned that you try to find something that people need and want, charge a fair price and save as much as you can.

Q: Once you got some money together, what was your investing philosophy?

A: One of the first stocks I bought was Avon, because I met some of the ladies who ran the company. They said, “Harris, Buy the stock.” I couldn’t buy more than 10-15 shares, but I’d look at Avon every morning, and I did very well.

Then I bought Automatic Data Processing, because the grandmother of the company founder worked as a clerk in their sales office at the Waldorf Astoria where I also worked.

I don’t think I’ve owned anything other than my company for about maybe 45 years. I invest only in Rosen.

Q: When did you start getting very generous with employee benefits?

A: Early on, about 30 years ago, I discovered I wasn’t very happy with our whole health plan. I didn’t understand why our premiums would go up year after year.

We had a tiny little office where our accounting folks stayed, but they outgrew it. I said, we’ll convert it to primary care health center. I called a friend who knew insurance and said, ‘Help me start my own insurance company.’ Then I said: ‘Let’s look for a doctor.’

We focus on keeping people healthy.

Q: You have many charity projects, how do you decide how to give away your money?

A: About 25 years ago, sitting at my desk, I heard a voice and it said, “Harris, you have been blessed beyond anything you imagined, and now it would be appropriate to offer a helping hand to those in need.”

Q: How do you pass along this legacy of giving to your children and grandchildren?

A: I just think they need to do the kind of work that they enjoy. They need to be honest and treat people with respect, and if they are in the position to become philanthropic, what they need to do is express that generosity by helping others.

I’m very happy with the way things are working out. I love the opportunity that I have had to offer a helping hand to so many people.

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance. Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)

Judge denies motion to drop case against widow of Orlando gunman

FILE PHOTO: Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. on June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against the widow of the gunman in the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, saying that the gunman’s father’s work an FBI informant was not relevant to the case.

Over the weekend, prosecutors disclosed that Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique, had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before his son carried out the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016.

In opening their case, lawyers for Mateen’s widow, Noor Salman, argued that the judge should dismiss the charges against her or declare a mistrial because prosecutors had failed to reveal the FBI’s relationship to Mateen’s father and other evidence related to him beforehand.

Salman, 31, is accused of helping her husband carry out surveillance of possible attack sites and doing nothing to stop him. Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent who claimed allegiance to a member of the Islamic State militant group, was killed by police after more than three hours in the Pulse nightclub.

An FBI agent on Monday testified that years before Mateen carried out the attack, the agency considered using him as an informant, like his father.

Those discussions took place while the FBI was investigating comments made by the younger Mateen about overseas links to militants, Special Agent Juvenal Martin said in federal court in Orlando. That investigation closed without charges, he said.

Martin did not say why the FBI decided against enlisting Omar Mateen as an informant.

Salman’s attorneys say that the disclosure by prosecutors that Seddique Mateen had been an informant from January 2005 to June 2016 violated a Supreme Court ruling barring prosecutors from withholding evidence.

After resting their case, prosecutors said agents probing the nightclub rampage found receipts of money transfers made from the United States to Turkey and Afghanistan made by the elder Mateen. An active investigation was under way, they said.

If the defense had known about the transfers, it would have investigated whether Seddique Mateen was involved in the attack or had prior knowledge of it, Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Salman, said in the motion to dismiss.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Byron said, “It is not clear whether the purpose of the transfers was illegal.”

He said the omission of any evidence related to Seddique Mateen had no bearing on the culpability of Salman.

Salman faces possible life in prison if convicted on charges of aiding her husband in the attack and obstructing an investigation.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Additional reporting and writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)

Wife of Orlando nightclub gunman arrested on federal charges

Police in front of apartment building

By Daniel Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The FBI on Monday arrested the wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub last year, a massacre that intensified fears about attacks against Americans inspired by Islamic State, officials said.

Noor Salman, 30, is being charged with obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement.Salman’s arrest came seven months after her husband, Omar Mateen, went on a hours-long siege at the Florida club that ended when police killed him. She was due to appear in federal court in Oakland, California on Tuesday morning.

“Certainly I can confirm that an arrest did occur in this case,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told MSNBC.

“We said from the beginning we were going to look at every aspect of this case, every aspect of this shooter’s life to determine – not just why did he take these actions, but who else knew about them, was anyone else involved?” Lynch said.

Salman, who has a young son by Mateen, was arrested at her home outside San Francisco, The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. Salman has moved at least three times since the attack, attempting to avoid the news media, The Times said.

The daughter of parents who immigrated from the West Bank in 1985, Salman was repeatedly questioned by law enforcement interrogators after the club attack, telling them she was with Mateen when he bought ammunition and conducted surveillance of the club.

But she denied any involvement in the attack or any knowledge of her husband’s plans, she told the Times in an interview published on Nov. 1.

“I was unaware of everything,” Salman told the Times. “I don’t condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people.”Her husband, who was 29 at the time of his death, claimed a connection to or support for multiple Islamist extremist groups, including al Qaeda, Hezbollah, al Nusra and Islamic State, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told reporters a few days after the attack.

During the siege, Mateen spoke to a 911 emergency dispatcher and expressed solidarity with an al Nusra suicide bomber as well as Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

Representatives of the FBI could not be reached immediately for more details.

The Orlando massacre came about seven months after a husband and wife who sympathized with Islamic extremists opened fire in December 2015 on a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 and wounding 22 others.

(Additional reporting by Frank McGurty and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Orlando 911 calls tell of fear inside and outside of Pulse club

The Pulse night club sign is pictured through a fence following the mass shooting there last week in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 21,

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Panicked callers to 911 during June’s mass shooting in Orlando told police of buildings hit by stray bullets and wounded friends stuck inside the gay nightclub where a gunman pledging allegiance to Islamic State killed 49 people.

“Gun shots were just like crazy,” one caller outside the club told 911 operators, according to partial transcripts of the calls that were released on Tuesday.

Shooter Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 at the Pulse nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

One neighbor near Pulse told 911 operators people were banging on his door to escape the shooting and others were seeking cover behind parked cars.

People reported on the carnage inside the club.

“One of our friends sent us a text and he said that he’s been shot and he’s in the bathroom and no one sees him,” one caller told 911.

A woman told an operator her husband was in the club and he reported shooting.

“He told me he cannot get out. He’s over there (and) he said he cannot get out,” the woman said.

A man said: “I just got home from the Pulse club … My friends texted me (to) tell me there is a shooting going (on) A lot of my friends got shot.”

The operator responds by saying not to text or call the friend.

Authorities did not release the names of those who called 911 or those who were mentioned as being inside the club.

Mateen, 29, was killed by police inside the nightclub.

He pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State militant group during the rampage in which he used an assault rifle and pistol that had been legally purchased although he had twice been investigated by the FBI for possible connections with militant Islamist groups.

U.S. authorities believe that Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, with his wife and young child, was self-radicalized and acted alone without assistance or orders from abroad.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Florida gator that killed boy likely removed: authorities

Lane Graves killed by gator in Florida

(Reuters) – The Florida alligator that killed a vacationing 2-year-old boy at Disney World Resort has likely been removed from the area of the attack, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it had suspended trapping activities near where the boy, Lane Graves, of Elkhorn, Nebraska, was attacked last week.

The commission “is confident that the alligator responsible for the attack has been removed,” it said in a statement. Trappers have taken six alligators from the area.

The alligator snatched the toddler on June 14 as he played at the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon, a manmade lake at the Walt Disney Co resort.

Police divers found Lane’s body underwater the following afternoon, not far from where he was taken. An autopsy found that he died from drowning and traumatic injuries.

At the time, the resort had “No Swimming” signs that did not mention alligators. Disney has since installed signs by the lagoon warning guests of alligators and snakes.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)

Full Orlando 911 transcript released; gunman pledged allegiance to Islamic State

Makeshift memorial for victims of Pulse shooting

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI on Monday released what they said was the complete transcript of the phone conversation between the Orlando, Florida, shooter and 911 police operators as he threatened to strap explosives to his hostages.

The release of the full transcript came a few hours after the FBI had issued an edited transcript of the calls.

In the full transcript, the gunman, Omar Mateen, is quoted pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mateen, 29, killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida on June 12, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. He threatened to detonate a car rigged with bombs and to strap hostages into explosive vests, according to transcripts of the 911 calls he made while police tried to rescue people trapped in the club.

The FBI and Justice Department said they had released a redacted transcript of the conversations because of sensitivity to the interests of survivors and victims’ families, and the integrity of the investigation.

But the first transcript led U.S. House of Representative Speaker Paul Ryan and other politicians to call for the release of a full transcript after a political battle over gun violence brewed in the U.S. Congress.

Mateen’s conversations with a dispatcher and crisis negotiators were made public as police sought to fend off criticism that they may have acted too slowly to end a three-hour standoff at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“You people are gonna get it and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid,” Mateen said during one of the calls, according to the FBI transcript.

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Frank McGurty in New York, and Eric Beech, Mohammad Zargham and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Fiona Ortiz and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott)

U.S. to reveal details of Orlando nightclub gunman’s 911 calls

Mourning over Pulse Massacre

(Reuters) – U.S. authorities were due on Monday to release partial transcripts of 911 calls made during last week’s mass shooting by a gunman who slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, before being killed by police.

Omar Mateen, 29, is said to have paused during a three-hour siege to telephone emergency dispatchers three times and to post internet messages from inside the Pulse nightclub professing his support for Islamist militant groups.

The FBI was due to hold a news conference near the club at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) to provide an update on the investigation and to release the partial transcripts of the 911 calls.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said they would include the “substance of his conversations” recorded as Mateen carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but not any pledge of loyalty he is alleged to have made to the Islamic State militant group.

Authorities have said preliminary evidence indicates Mateen, who worked as a security guard, was a mentally disturbed individual who acted alone and without direction from outside networks.

Lynch, who is due to visit Orlando on Tuesday, told CNN on Sunday that investigators have been focused on building a full profile of Mateen, a New York-born U.S. citizen and Florida resident of Afghan descent, who has been described by U.S. officials as “self-radicalized” in his extremist sympathies.

The Pulse massacre, which also left 53 people wounded, led to a week of national mourning and soul-searching over access to firearms and the vulnerability to hate crimes of people in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

While in Orlando, Lynch will meet with investigators, as well as survivors and loved ones of the victims.

The massacre has triggered an effort to break a long-standing stalemate in Congress over gun control.

The Senate was set to vote on Monday on four competing measures – two from Democrats and two from Republicans – to expand background checks on gun buyers and curb gun sales for people on terrorism watch lists.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election, has said he shares the goal of keeping guns out of the hands of people on watch lists.

Trump said on Monday he was referring to security staff, not patrons, when he said that if more people had been armed in the nightclub, fewer would have died.

(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Roselle Chen in Orlando; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott)

Boy’s body found after gator attack at Florida Disney resort

search boats at Disney World

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Police using boats, divers and a helicopter on Wednesday recovered the body of a 2-year-old boy who was grabbed by an alligator in front of his family during a vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, officials said.

The child was snatched by the alligator as he played at the water’s edge on Tuesday night and dragged into a lagoon despite his parents’ effort to save him.

Officials told a news conference the boy’s body had been found and was intact.

The alligator was believed to be between 4 and 7 feet (1.2 and 2 meters) long. Wildlife officials earlier caught and killed five alligators from the lagoon to examine them for traces of the boy but found no evidence they were involved, said Nick Wiley, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The resort closed its beaches and recreational marinas on Wednesday as search teams had scoured the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made lake reaching 14 feet (4.2 meters) in depth.

The family, which was vacationing from Nebraska, was not named.

The dozens of sheriff’s deputies and wildlife officials searching for the boy on Wednesday, numbering as many as 60, had used sonar technology, helicopters and a team of divers.

There are signs prohibiting swimming at the lagoon but the boy was grabbed while his family relaxed nearby on the shore, authorities said.

The boy’s father rushed into the water and suffered minor cuts on his arm as he fought to wrestle his child from the alligator’s grasp, said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“The father did his best,” he said. “He tried to rescue the child, however, to no avail.”

Authorities said the boy’s mother tried to rescue him too. A lifeguard on duty also was unable to reach the toddler in time.

Alligators are not uncommon in the Seven Seas Lagoon, Wiley said. Alligators have killed five people in Florida in the last 10 years, according to official state data.

Wiley said the wildlife commission works with the resort to remove “nuisance alligators” – classed as those which have lost their fear of humans – whenever they are reported.

Disney has operated in the area for 45 years and never had this type of incident occur before, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told a news conference.

“Disney has a wildlife management system that is in place and they have worked diligently to ensure that their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife here in this area,” he said.

The Walt Disney World Resort is the world’s most-visited theme park. About 20.5 million people visited the park’s Magic Kingdom in 2015, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Laila Kearney, Amy Tennery and Jeffrey Dastin in New York, and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by W Simon, Bill Trott and Bill Rigby)

‘No question’ boy dead after gator attack at Florida Disney resort

A search boat is seen in the Seven Seas Lagoon, in front of a beach at the Grand Floridian, at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Authorities searched for the body of a 2-year-old boy on Wednesday after the toddler was dragged into a lagoon by an alligator in front of his family during a vacation at Walt Disney World resort in Florida.

The boy was snatched as he played at the water’s edge on Tuesday night, despite his parents’ effort to save him, by an alligator believed to be between 4 and 7 feet (1.2 and 2 meters) long.

Wildlife officials captured and euthanized five alligators from the lagoon to examine them for traces of the child but found no evidence they were involved, said Nick Wiley, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The resort closed its beaches and recreational marinas on Wednesday as search teams worked the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made lake reaching 14 feet in depth.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, speaking at a news conference about 15 hours after the boy was taken, said, “We know that we are working on recovering the body of a child at this point.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to bring some closure to the family,” he said.

The family, which was vacationing from Nebraska, was not named.

There are “no swimming” signs at the lagoon but the alligator grabbed the boy while his family relaxed nearby on the shore, authorities said.

The boy’s father rushed into the water after the alligator struck and fought to wrestle his child from its grasp, Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said earlier.

“The father did his best,” he said. “He tried to rescue the child, however, to no avail.”

The father suffered minor cuts on his arm in the struggle with the gator. Authorities said the boy’s mother tried to rescue him too. A lifeguard who was on duty by the lagoon also was unable to reach the toddler in time.

“The gator swam away with the child,” Williamson said.

SEARCH INCLUDES HELICOPTERS, SONAR

Dozens of sheriff’s deputies and wildlife officials were searching for the boy on Wednesday and expected to use sonar technology, helicopters and a team of divers.

Alligators are not uncommon in the Seven Seas Lagoon, Wiley said.

The wildlife commission works with the resort to remove “nuisance alligators” when they are reported, Wiley said.

Demings said Disney has operated in the area for 45 years and has never had this type of incident occur before.

“We know this is Florida and alligators are indigenous to this region,” Demings said. “Disney has a wildlife management system that is in place and they have worked diligently to ensure that their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife here in this area.”

Shares in the Walt Disney Company <DIS.N>, which were up about 0.5 percent in afternoon trading at $98.86, did not appear to have been affected by the incident.

A spokeswoman for Walt Disney World Resort said everyone there was devastated by the tragic accident. “Our thoughts are with the family and we are helping the family,” she said.

The upscale Grand Floridian Grand Resort and Spa is described by Disney as a lavish property combining Victorian elegance with modern sophistication, just one stop away from the Magic Kingdom on the resort’s monorail. Rooms start at $569 per night, according to its site.

Guests can rent motorized boats for cruising or hire a private cabana on shore. Children between 4 and 12 years of age also can embark upon “pirate adventures” on the lagoon.

Despite the prevalence of alligators in fresh water around Florida, Wiley said it was very rare for humans to be attacked.

In May, a Florida man was hospitalized after an alligator bit off his hand and forearm as he sought to elude authorities by running into a lake, according to police.

The alligator incident comes as the Orlando area reels after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub there on Sunday before dying in a gun battle with police.

It also follows an incident on May 28 when a 3-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, causing zookeepers to kill a gorilla to protect the child.

Wednesday’s incident was trending on social media where it reignited a spirited debate over responsible parenting, although some users expressed sympathy for the toddler’s family.

“Dear Internet, can we please have a bit more compassion for a family who saw their son dragged away by an alligator?!! #DisneyGatorAttack,” tweeted Jamie Lapeyrolerie (@jamielynne82).

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Laila Kearney and Amy Tennery in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by W Simon and Bill Trott)