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Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer

Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website Gangrey.com.

Montgomery grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University, where he played defensive back for the football team, the Wonder Boys. He worked for the Courier in Russellville, Ark., the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, the Times Herald-Record in New York's Hudson River Valley and the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2006.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Jennifer, and three children.

Email: bmontgomery@tampabay.com

Twitter: @Gangrey

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  1. Former Tampa FBI agent Joe Navarro details 'unprecedented' Cold War spy sting in new book

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — A faint quiver of cigarette smoke in a mobile home in Tampa launched the most extensive espionage investigation in FBI history, a case that brought down a Cold War spy ring so successful that it had left the West wide open to a Russian attack.

    As national attention focuses on Russian meddling in U.S. elections, a new book by a former FBI agent in Tampa highlights the potential lethality of foreign intelligence and the agency's role in disrupting black operations involving Americans who might live right next door....

    Roderick James Ramsay was sentenced in 1992 for his role in a spy ring that was selling classified secrets about European defenses.
  2. Can a pontoon boat survive the trip from Clearwater to Cuba? (w/video)

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER BEACH — Some adventurers go looking for new worlds or new records.

    First to Mars. Fastest around the Earth.

    Important stuff, at least to them.

    But sometimes there's just a guy, and that guy has a dream of getting to Cuba on a pontoon boat.

    Meet Jim Wolf, 52, who spends part of the year in Clearwater and part in Alma, Mich., where he is president and CEO of Avalon & Tahoe Manufacturing Inc., a private, family-run pontoon boat builder....

    Doug Haskell, of Manitou Beach, Michigan, prepares a 27-foot Avalon Ambassador Elite pontoon boat on Wednesday  for its journey to Havana, Cuba, and back -- 700 miles total. Haskell and the boats crew were launching from Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  3. Sand, sea and sunsets aside, 'Mad Beach' just can't relax

    Human Interest

    MADEIRA BEACH — In a town where a playful wind tosses sand across Gulf Boulevard like summertime snowflakes, they're talking about death threats. They're serving up blackened grouper sandwiches at Dockside Dave's, and lawsuits and ethics complaints down the street at City Hall. As tourists call for room service, residents call for the heads of elected officials.

    Welcome to self-anointed "Mad Beach," where sleepy-town politics have grown so serious the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office posts two deputies at City Commission workshops. So volatile are the public meetings that one man, dressing down commissioners this month in a sleeveless shirt, called them "Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and WWE all mixed together."...

    Sam Baker, 85, treasurer of the Madeira Beach United group, stands on the dock at his home recently. The group is concerned about two high-rise development projects proposed for Madeira Beach.
  4. Disgraced commissioner Joe Kotvas: 'It is time for the truth of this dark time in my life'

    Human Interest

    TAMPA ­— Joe Kotvas made a mistake. He admits this now, or at least he admits he would have done things differently one very important morning in 1983, when that corrupt politician Jerry Bowmer walked into Kotvas' County Commission office and then walked out, leaving there on Kotvas' desk an envelope filled with enough cash to make a poor man sweat.

    If he could go back, Kotvas says now, 34 years later, he would grab that envelope and storm out and catch Jerry Bowmer. And feed it to him, from the sound of it. Kotvas would avoid all the newspaper headlines and perp walks, avoid two trials, avoid prison time and a broken back. Maybe he'd rise to be the public servant he always dreamed about....

    After his civil rights were restored, Joe Kotvas made an unsuccessful bid in 1996 to return to the Hillsborough County Commission. He has run three times for public office, without success.
  5. USF's Erin Kimmerle honored by Hillsborough Bar for Dozier School for Boys work

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Bar Association on Thursday bestowed its prestigious 2017 Liberty Bell Award on Erin Kimmerle, the forensic anthropologist from the University of South Florida who led efforts to unearth remains from the Dozier School for Boys and return them to families.

    The award "recognizes an outstanding non-lawyer citizen whose community service strengthens the effectiveness of the American system under the law."...

    Erin Kimmerle led the work to exhume remains at the Dozier School for Boys.
  6. Florida faces its past and is sorry, but does an apology really matter?

    Human Interest

    In the years after they left the reform school, the former wards learned how to bury their shame. They learned to cry themselves to sleep, to sleep through nightmares, to sleep with the lights on. They found outlets for their anger at the end of a thrown fist and relief for their pain at the bottom of a bottle.

    When they summoned the guts to tell their stories of being raped and beaten bloody with a leather strap by guards who cashed state paychecks, they wanted one thing....

    In the nine years since the Florida School for Boys in Marianna closed, USF anthropology researchers unearthed the bodies of more than 50 boys from unmarked graves.
  7. Doug Hughes finally sends his letters to Congress, minus the gyrocopter

    Public Safety

    RIVERVIEW — Doug Hughes, the former mail carrier who landed his gyrocopter at the U.S. Capitol building to protest big money in politics, finally achieved Wednesday what he set out to do two years ago.

    At the post office in Riverview where he worked for 12 years, he mailed 535 letters to 535 members of Congress demanding that they take a stand against the influence of big donations in political campaigns....

    Each of Doug Hughes’ 535 letters bears a stamp with a circus theme, which he selected intentionally.
  8. Tampa Bay Times investigation: Why Cops Shoot

    Blog

    The Tampa Bay Times asked all of Florida’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies for reports generated when an officer fired a gun and someone was injured or killed from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. Almost 160 agencies said they had at least one police shooting. The others, mostly small agencies with few officers, said they did not have any police shootings during those six years....

    Pasco County deputies faced a suspected bank robber during a standoff in 2010.
  9. Meet Aramis Ayala: the Florida State attorney everyone is talking about

    Blog

    When Aramis Ayala began campaigning for state attorney in this Central Florida district last year, so few people knew her that she handed out cards informing voters how to pronounce her name.

    While she'd worked for eight years as a public defender and nearly two years in the Orlando state attorney's office, she was a political novice seeking public office for the first time. She worried about name recognition in a race against her boss, who had swept into office in 2012 thanks in part to his high-profile role in the infamous Casey Anthony trial. The Michigan native didn't even live in Orange or Osceola counties; she promised to move into the district....

    Aramis Ayala
  10. Aramis Ayala: the Florida state attorney who refuses to pursue the death penalty

    Public Safety

    ORLANDO — When Aramis Ayala began campaigning for state attorney in this Central Florida district last year, so few people knew her that she handed out cards informing voters how to pronounce her name.

    While she'd worked for eight years as a public defender and nearly two years in the Orlando state attorney's office, she was a political novice seeking public office for the first time. She worried about name recognition in a race against her boss, who had swept into office in 2012 thanks in part to his high-profile role in the infamous Casey Anthony trial. The Michigan native didn't even live in Orange or Osceola counties; she promised to move into the district....

    Incumbent Jeff Ashton was defeated by Ayala in the primary.
  11. National Hurricane Center rolls out new look for 'cone of uncertainty'

    Hurricanes

    As storm forecasters have grown more certain over the years about the potential path a hurricane will take, the popular "cone of uncertainty" used in models has grown smaller. But widespread misunderstanding of the cone has prompted forecasters to try to improve the tool.

    This year the National Hurricane Center will use a modified tool with an even sleeker tracking cone and an advancement they hope will help people not directly in a storm's path better understand the potential danger they face....

    George Thornton inspects damage to the Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant  in St. Augustine, after last year's Hurricane Matthew raked Florida's east coast. The National Hurricane Center has announced some new products for the 2017 hurricane season.  DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times

  12. What kind of person leaves a child in a hot car to die?

    Accidents

    Last year, it happened in Fresno, Calif., to a grandmother so distraught she could not tell responding police officers a single thing, couldn't form words. It also happened in Salisbury, N.C., to a mother who left her daughter in a black Chevrolet outside a medical center, where she worked. It happened again near Dallas, Texas, to 2-year-old Boi Lei Sang, whose parents were at bible study at Rehoboth Praise Assembly when they noticed on a hot day that only four of their five children were inside the church....

    A display in memory of two-year-old Jacob Manchego hangs outside BFF Kidz day care center Wednesday afternoon. Manchego died Tuesday after his half-sister went to work at the day care center and left him in her car for more than five hours. [Anastasia Dawson]
  13. Review: Mullen's 'Darktown' a compelling history-based crime novel

    Books

    Thomas Mullen's latest novel, Darktown, was snatched up by Jamie Foxx's production company to be made into a television series before it even hit shelves last fall. Just a few pages in and one can see why.

    The captivating murder mystery and police procedural is precisely right for this time, when it would do good for many Americans to learn something about the complexity of race relations and policing in the post-World War II South. This suspenseful novel penetrates that historical void in American policing that's easily forgotten but was the foundation for what has come to be known as modern community policing....

    Darktown is inspired by the real-life story of the first black police officers hired, due to political pressure, by the Atlanta Police Department.
  14. Epilogue: Jamie Hawkins-Gaar, 'the funniest guy in the room', died while on a run

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — When young Jamie Gaar began courting the woman who would become his wife, he tried to impress her by making oatmeal pancakes for her birthday.

    "They were awful," she said recently.

    He tried again, but made brownies this time.

    "I don't know how you mess up brownies," she said. "But he did."

    Alas, as the lovestruck are inclined to do, he kept trying. He devoured cooking videos on YouTube. He consumed columns from Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times. He asked chefs he bumped into why certain spices work well together on the palate while others clash....

    Jamie Hawkins-Gaar is seen in this undated family handout photo courtesy of Katie Hawkins-Gaar.
  15. Closing of Ringling Bros. circus brings back 146 years of memories

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    You've heard, of course. The curtain has come down on The Greatest Show on Earth. Barring unexpected salvation, Sunday's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show will be the last here. In May, after 146 years, it all comes to a stop.

    The news has given way to nostalgia.

    "I was 6 months old my first time," said Richard Knight Sr., 35, sitting outside Amalie Arena earlier this week, waiting on the show. "I've seen the pictures, me smiling. Dad was rarely around. My mom always told me, 'You were happiest at the circus.' "...

    Clowns perform at the Ringling Bros And Barnum & Bailey Circus at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The circus has announced it will be shutting down in 2017 after more than a hundred years in operation.