KISSIMMEE – Quick question: what do pizzas and crime have in common?
If you run a hotel or resort in Central Florida, it could be a lot.
“We finally won passge of the Pizza Flyer bill,” said Rich Maladecki, president of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association. “We first sponsored that bill back in 2005.”
The CFHLA is the world’s largest regional hotel association, and it represents the hotels, resorts, time shares and vacation homes in Central Florida – a booming industry, and a field that’s creating one in every four jobs regionally today.
But it’s also an industry that gets targeted by criminals – and often in slick ways. One of those most-often repeated crimes led the association to urge lawmakers to pass the so-called Pizza Flyer legislation, also known as the Tourist Safety Act. It’s an anti-crime bill that’s been a critical priority for the local tourism industry.
When the bill was originally introduced, Maladecki said, “It wasn’t as strong as we wanted it to be, so we had to get back to the drawing board.”
But the legislation that passed earlier this year, he said, addresses the concerns of hotel owners, and Maladecki noted that Gov. Rick Scott will sign it into law.
The new legislation targets organized crime units that hire young people to visit local hotels and motels, putting flyers advertising pizza deliveries under the doors of each room. The flyers and phone numbers are fake, intended to scam tourists who call and provide their credit card information to the criminals.
In many instances, the young people distributing the flyers are also encouraged to test the hotel door handles to see if they’re unlocked – and then to burglarize the room if they are.
The new bill makes it easier for law enforcement to target the people who create these scams. It increases the penalties, and uses civil forfeiture to confiscate the vans used to transport the young thieves to the hotels.
This legislation has been a critical priority for the local hospitality industry, which has been worried that these crimes will scare off tourists if law enforcement doesn’t get a handle on the problem.
Maladecki said the CFHLA would now work with the sheriff’s offices in Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties, and with the Orlando Police Department, to ensure this law gets enforced and that tourists get the protection they deserve from this billion-dollar industry.
Maladecki made his comments about the bill this morning, during the monthly meeting of another hospitality trade group, the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, which represents the growing number of vacation homes rented to visitors on a short term basis. The meeting was held at the Falcon’s Fire Golf Resort in Kissimmee, and Maladecki was the association’s guest speaker.
Some members of the vacation home industry complained that they still get pizza flyers stuck in the doors at their vacation homes, and that it’s become a real nuisance. Maladecki said they should notify their local law enforcement agency as soon as it happens.
“Every county law enforcement is going to react to that differently,” Maladecki said.
But he also noted that on July 12, the CFHLA would be sponsoring an orientation session with the Orange and Osceola County sheriff’s offices, “to roll out the new law and tell us what our legal rights are.”
He also noted that Orange County was so supportive of the bill that the sheriff’s office sent two police captains “up Tallhassee to testify on their own free time,” Maladecki said. “If a police representative or policing representative testifies, they (lawmakers) take that seriously.”
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