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Oil Spill Victims Question Woman's Advice, WCSO Investigating

By: Jacquie Slater Email
By: Jacquie Slater Email

July 25, 2012 - Noon

A woman claiming to help people impacted by the oil spill is now being investigated by the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office.

Eyewitness News first told you about the meetings 54-year-old Susan Hayden Daniels was holding in our area. As a result of our investigation, The Florida Bar is now investigating to determine if Daniels, a former attorney, was illegally giving legal advice. Now authorities are getting involved.

The Wakulla County Sheriff's Office says they're investigating a possible fraud case involving Daniels of Jupiter, Florida.
Deputies say on Friday and Saturday, July 20 and July 21, Daniels met with local fishermen at the Moose Lodge in Panacea, claiming she was representing a Texas law firm handling Deepwater Horizon claims.

Deputies say during those two meetings, Daniels ordered 75 meals from Posey's Steam Room. They say she provided a credit card to pay for the meals, but her card only partially covered the cost.
Investigators issued a warrant for Daniels after they say she refused to return to Wakulla County to address the issue.

Wakulla investigators say they have also been in contact with the Florida Attorney General's office and Florida Senator Bill Nelson's office.

They want to determine if any illegal activity has occurred related to the claims process or personal information received from Panacea area commercial fishermen or other people who attended those meetings..

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[UPDATE] July 24, 2012- 11pm

Susan Hayden Daniels set up shop in Panacea last week. In town hall style forums residents say she claims chemicals sprayed following the BP Oil Spill are making them sick and that it isn't safe for them to stay in Wakulla County or work on the water.

"There's some of us ain't been to work, you know, in four five days. You know, we don't wanna kill nobody.We don't wanna sell nobody no bad seafood, or eat seafood, or get any more of this stuff on as possible," said a Panacea based fisherman.

"She was basically warning people about the chemicals that are being sprayed over our waters. That it's gonna kill us within five years. I mean she had us terrified," said a concerned citizen.

Daniels set up shop in Panacea last week. Through word of mouth, residents heard about a woman promising to help them in law suits against BP.

Most of the people attending the meetings are commercial fisherman. Daniels says around fifty percent of them have difficulty reading or writing.

"I help them fill out the claim forms for this BP Oil Spill. I take them to the hospital when they get sick," said Daniels.

Some people at the meeting began questioning the legality of what she was presenting them. On forms Daniels hands out, she says she is with a group called The Mediators out of Jupiter, Florida. She also handed out forms saying people would be represented by Brent Coon and Associates, a law firm based out of Texas. A call to the Florida Bar revealed Daniels hasn't been authorized to practice law in Florida since August of 2011. Eyewitness News reporter Jacquie Slater confronted Daniels at one of her meetings.

"I came here to help the people," said Daniels
"So you're gonna say this paper didn't come from you?" Slater asked.
"Ma'am, with all do respect, I have not given legal advice, tax advice, or medical advice. I am not....." said Daniels.
"You didn't tell anybody how much to write down on these forms?" asked Slater.
"I beg your pardon?" asked Daniels.

"You didn't tell people to write down 250000 in lost wages on a form?" asked Slater

"I talked to every person individual," said Daniels.

"She did not talk to people on an individual basis. We were all in a room as a group and she stood in front of the group as a spokesperson," said a concerned citizen. "She told everybody that it doesn't matter what your address is, make sure you have Wakulla County 32346 on there. She told us exactly what to circle. She told us to put our estimated lost wages would be 250000 or more."

The Florida Bar said based on the forms Daniels is handing out, she appears to be presenting herself as legal representation.

"You can't do that in Florida unless you are a member of the Florida Bar in good standing. And so it's problematic that this contract, your contracting with someone for them to provide you legal services that they can't provide," said Lori Holcomb of The Florida Bar.

Some residents are concerned Daniels is creating panic.

"She's come in here and she's told people cause you have a laceration on your arm, that's cause of the water and you're not gonna get healed up," said a citizen.

They want other people that were at the meetings to think before they sign over their personal information to Daniels.

"I believe we're gonna get help. Somebody's gonna come through for us. Um, but, uh, I don't think she's the one that's gonna give it to us," said the concerned fisherman.

Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office Release:

Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office detectives continue to investigate a possible fraud that occurred on Friday and Saturday, July 20 and July 21 at the Moose Lodge in Panacea, according to Sheriff Donnie Crum.

A woman, Susan Hayden Daniels, 54, of Jupiter, met with Panacea fishermen claiming she was representing a Texas law firm handling Deepwater Horizon claims.

During the course of the two meetings, Daniels ordered 75 meals from Posey’s Steam Room. Daniels provided a credit card to pay for the meals but her card only partially covered the cost. WCSO investigators discussed the outstanding bill with Daniels by telephone and she refused to return to Wakulla County to address the issue. As a result, Daniels has an active warrant for defrauding an innkeeper.

WCSO investigators have been in contact with representatives of the Florida Attorney General’s office and Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office in an effort to determine if any illegal activity has occurred related to the claims process or personal information received from Panacea area commercial fishermen.

State aquaculture officials report that any information regarding dangers of catching or eating Florida seafood is false. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials continue to monitor water quality and report that the water and seafood are not tainted in any way.

The public is strongly encouraged to carefully verify anyone claiming to represent their interests in litigation over the Deepwater Horizon claims process which is now based at U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Avoid giving out personal information at any time.

An official site for fraud complaints related to Deepwater Horizon is available to anyone who thinks they may be a victim. The telephone number is: 877-623-3423. The line is active and they are accepting calls. A web site is also available for citizens to visit: http://www.deepwaterhorizoneconomicsettlement.com/fraud.php.

The overall investigation is ongoing and efforts are underway to bring Daniels back to Wakulla County to face charges in Crawfordville.

WCSO will forward the investigative report and it will be assigned to Federal Law Enforcement officials appropriate to the information.

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[UPDATE] July 24, 2012- 6pm

Susan Daniels has not been authorized to practice law in Florida since August of 2011. The Florida Bar says that means she may have been misleading people in Wakulla County by saying she could help them file lawsuits against BP.

Daniels set up shop in Panacea late last week and recruited people to attend group meetings. People who were there say Daniels gave them packets of forms to fill out, saying they could make hundreds of thousands of dollars if they file a lawsuit. Those in attendance said Daniels instructed them how to fill out the forms, including how much to put down for lost wages. The Florida Bar said with an inactive status, Daniels would not be in a position to legally offer advice or services to prospective clients.

"You can't do that in Florida unless you are a member of the Florida Bar in good standing. And so it's problematic that this contract, your contracting with someone for them to provide you legal services that they can't provide," said Lori Holcomb of The Florida Bar.

Daniels also handed out forms saying residents would be represented by Brent Coon and Associates, a law firm based out of Texas. The Florida Bar said without a Florida based attorney in their firm, Brent Coon does not have any legal right to solicit clients in the state of Florida. Eyewitness News called that firm and they claim they did not authorize Daniels to be holding these meetings.

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July 24, 2012- 5pm

Susan Hayden Daniels set up shop in Panacea last week. In town hall style forums residents say she claims chemicals sprayed following the BP Oil Spill are making them sick and that it isn't safe for them to stay in Wakulla County or work on the water. Residents tell us Daniels said she could help them receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements against BP. Some people said it all sounded too good to be true and contacted us for help.

On papers given to residents, Daniels says she is affiliated with a group called The Mediators out of Jupiter, Florida. Residents say they were confused as to who would be representing them, Daniels or Brent Coon and Associates, a Texas based law firm. One paper given to residents said any settlements would be paid to The Mediators. Another said payments would go through Brent Coon and Associates.
Daniels' license to practice law in Florida has been inactive since August of 2011.

While looking at the forms herself, Lori Holcomb of the Florida Bar said Daniels seems to be practicing unlawfully.
Holcomb said anyone who gave Daniels their information can file a formal complaint with the Florida Bar Association.
A call to Brent Coons and Associates led to the law firm releasing the following statement:
"We are not aware of her efforts to conduct town hall meetings regarding the oil spill or to represent to the general public that she is somehow directly associated with our law firm. "
They do admit to working with Daniels as a consultant in the past. They say they do not support her claims that the chemicals are the cause of the illnesses.

They said, "We encourage Ms. Daniels and others dedicated to this cause to temper their comments and actions to the known facts and science."

The Wakulla County Sheriff's Office has issued a warrant for Susan Daniel's arrest. They say she didn't pay all of her bill at a local hotel and is being charged with defrauding an innkeeper for less than $300.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is encouraged to contact the WCSO. Coming up tonight at 6 we'll hear more on the Florida Bar's reaction to this story.


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