Protesters hold hands and form a circle outside Gov. Rick Scott's office after it closed Friday during a rally over the Trayvon Martin case. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
BY JAMES L. ROSICA Tribune staff
Published: July 23, 2013
Updated: July 23, 2013 at 12:02 PM
TALLAHASSEE - State authorities on Monday sent a warning letter to the lead group behind the now-weeklong Capitol sit-in, saying the organization wasn't registered to solicit donations and could be fined.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which enforces Florida's charitable contributions law, sent the letter to Dream Defenders' business address in Hialeah. A copy of the letter was provided to The Tampa Tribune.
Dream Defenders filed papers with the Department of State in August 2012 to be recognized as a nonprofit corporation. The group did not, though, file paperwork with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to be allowed to solicit donations.
The group's stated mission in corporate filings is "to work with students and community members and train them in civic engagement." It does solicit donations on its website.
Erin Gillespie, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, said the goal of the department is compliance, not punishment. But, she added, "We certainly can fine them if they do not cooperate."
Ahmad Abuznaid, a Florida attorney and the group's legal director, on Monday night described the omission as a "rookie mistake."
He said he wasn't aware of the filing requirement and will submit the necessary paperwork. Abuznaid said he also filed for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service and the state's revenue department.
"We're trying to do big things," he said. "Like our society, I guess we have some things to fix even among ourselves."
The sit-in, which began July 16, was sparked by the acquittals in the George Zimmerman trial.
Zimmerman, a community-watch volunteer, shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a February 2012 confrontation in a gated community in Sanford. A struggle ensued, and Zimmerman said he fired his handgun in self-defense. A six-member, female jury cleared Zimmerman of all charges in Martin's death.
Protesters have demanded that Gov. Rick Scott call lawmakers back into special session to revisit the state's "stand your ground" law and consider a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act. Scott met with some of the group members and refused their request, saying he supports the state's self-defense laws.
He did send Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters to meet with them on Monday because of their concerns that school zero tolerance policies fuel what they call the "schools-to-prisons pipeline." Martin, who lived in South Florida, was visiting his father because he had been suspended after a marijuana possession charge.
Shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, at least five uniformed Capitol Police officers kept watch on the sit-in. About 45 protesters occupied the hallway outside the governor's office, singing, "They can try to break us down, now we're going to stand our ground" and "We're staying, we're staying for Trayvon."