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Inside Politics: Host for Romney event a convicted drug dealer

- - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MIAMI — Mitt Romney held a campaign event Monday evening at a Miami juice shop owned by a convicted cocaine trafficker.

Mr. Romney appeared at El Palacio de los Jugos, which is owned by Reinaldo Bermudez. Court records show that Mr. Bermudez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 1999 and served three years in federal prison.

Appearing with Mr. Romney was Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Both men handed out juices to an excited crowd after making brief remarks. Mr. Romney was filming a campaign ad at the juice shop, aides said.

In media reports in November 1997, Mr. Bermudez was identified as one of 12 people accused in a Colombian drug smuggling operation. The arrests followed a seven-month investigation led by the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Agents seized about 2,850 pounds of cocaine at three South Florida ports over several months.

Agents first seized 430 pounds of cocaine at the Port of Palm Beach in July 1997 and then 117 pounds in late September at the Port of Miami. Those shipments were concealed in containers filled with fish imported from Trinidad, an island in the south Caribbean. The largest and final seizure came in late October at Port Everglades, where officials found 2,304 pounds of cocaine in a container of soap imported from Venezuela.

COLORADO

No press at Ryan's first meeting with donors

DENVER — Mitt Romney's campaign blocked reporters from covering GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's first meeting with donors in Las Vegas.

Tuesday night's event at the Venetian hotel was expected to draw casino owner and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

The decision to block access marks an apparent break from rules previously established by Mr. Romney's campaign.

Reporters usually are allowed to cover President Obama's fundraisers held in public venues.

A Romney aide not authorized to speak on the record said the event was closed to the media because it was a "finance meeting" instead of a fundraiser. The aide said fewer than 40 people — the typical threshold for access — were scheduled to attend.

Mr. Ryan attended two Denver-area fundraisers on Monday night at which media coverage also was prohibited.

CAMPAIGN

Pew report gives Obama edge in digital stumping

A new report says President Obama has an advantage over Republican Mitt Romney when it comes to reaching voters online.

The Pew Research Center says Mr. Obama has been more aggressive about communicating through digital and social media platforms. During a two-week period in June, Mr. Obama's campaign tweeted an average of 29 times a day. Mr. Romney tweeted about once.

Mr. Obama's team also has been more active on YouTube, blogs and photo-sharing sites.

Mr. Romney's digital director, Zac Moffatt, says more is not always better. He says the campaign is working to get voters to engage in an online conversation — not just to read campaign posts.

Both campaigns are focusing their digital efforts on the economy.

STATE

China warned not to use talks to create division

China should not use bilateral talks to attempt to "divide and conquer" nations with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, the United States said Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's comments follow a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to two of those states, Malaysia and Brunei.

Ms. Nuland would not say whether the U.S. suspects Beijing's intentions in those talks. A meeting last month of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended in acrimony over the South China Sea, as host Cambodia, a close China ally, refused to sign off on language sought by the Philippines and Vietnam mentioning their individual disputes with China.

"What we're most concerned about at the moment is that tensions are going up among the stakeholders so we want to see a commitment to a deal that meets the needs of all," Ms. Nuland said.

The U.S. and China are increasingly at odds on the issue. Earlier this month, the U.S. criticized China's establishment of a municipality and military garrison on a remote island in the South China Sea as risking an escalation in tensions.

China has pushed back, and Monday, state-run news agency Xinhua published a commentary criticizing Western nations of "betting on a divided Asia" because of the region's economic vitality while their own economies are waning.

NORTH CAROLINA

Cities welcome conventions by raising roof on rent

CHARLOTTE — Forget symbols of elephants and donkeys.

Some residents of Charlotte and Tampa, Fla., are seeing dollar signs when it comes to the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

They're hoping to make a quick buck by renting out their homes to some of the thousands of delegates, journalists and protesters who are expected to flock to both cities for the political extravaganzas. They're aiming high. Some are asking for rents ranging from $7,000 to $20,000 a week.

Charlotte and Tampa officials say they have enough hotel and motel rooms to handle the crowds. But some listed their homes just in case people wanted an alternative to hotels.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports