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Sheriff’s office, Seminoles dispute Bondi casino ‘money laundering’ claim

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Hillsborough County Sheriff‘s Office says it hasn’t investigated any links between drugsters and money laundering at Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, contradicting a claim made by Attorney General Pam Bondi last week.

“According to Chief Deputy Docobo, one of our detectives had a personal conversation with the Attorney General at a private function regarding money laundering in casinos. However our office has not conducted any investigation involving money laundering at casinos, nor do we have any official information that this type of criminal activity is/has occurred in Hillsborough County,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Bondi joined other anti-gambling forces at a press conference last week to publicly denounce a “destination resorts” proposal that would allow three casinos to open in the state. “Many money laundering cases” related to the casino, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, was one of the reasons Bondi gave for opposing the bill (SB 710).

The Sun Sentinel’s Nick Sortal blogged about the money laundering dispute:

But Bondi says that’s what she was told, and her office issued this statement Wednesday:

“At a charitable event on Nov. 12, I spoke with a deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office regarding the gambling issue. I was absolutely told that in many of the last drug trafficking cases that they made, the money was laundered at the casino.”

Seminole Tribe Chairman James Billie had a blistering response to Bondi’s accusations in an op-ed slated to run in the tribe’s newspaper later this month.

“As long as I have been Chairman, since way back in 1979, and during the years I was out of office, I have never seen any information, whatsoever, come across my desk about money laundering,” Billie wrote. “In all these years the Seminole Tribe has conducted Gaming, since 1979, no audit has ever found any fraud, theft, embezzlement or large variances of any kind.”

The dispute over money-laundering puts the AG and the tribe at odds even though they’re both on the same side in opposing the bill.

“I am very disappointed to hear one of our top Florida government leaders come forward with such a statement that is so damaging to the reputation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida without checking its accuracy or even contacting us for our comments,” Billie said in his column.

Bondi pranks urine-seeking Daily Show prankster

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A reporter with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” came up empty-handed when he asked Gov. Rick Scott for a urine sample yesterday.

But Attorney General Pam Bondi was ready when Aasif Mandvi demanded the same of her Thursday afternoon. The former FOX News legal analyst handed Mandvi a small plastic cup labeled with her name containing an amber liquid.

“Wow. That’s very interesting. Well, that’s very interesting that you should say that. Because as attorney general, I’m always prepared,” Bondi told Mandvi after he asked her to fill a pee cup. The exchange took place inside the basement Cabinet meeting room in the Capitol after Bondi participated in an anti-casino press conference.

“You have a sample of your urine?” an apparently surprised Mandvi responded. “How do we know it’s your urine? How do we know it’s not just apple juice?”

“Thank you. Have a great day. Have a great day. My name’s on the top,” Bondi said before heading back to her office.

Outside the conference room, Mandvi uncapped the clear plastic container and discovered the AG had pranked him.

“Yeah. It’s apple juice. She gave me apple juice instead of urine,” Mandvi told a gaggle of Capitol reporters. “So I guess she’s saying that her drug habit is more important than the Florida tax payer…knowing where their money goes.”

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said Bondi’s staff knew the Comedy Central crew were crawling the Capitol.

“We certainly tuned in to Gov. Scott’s press conference yesterday announcing the budget and when we knew Comedy Central was here we anticipated they would be interested in attending our press conference as well and planned accordingly,” Meale said.

On Wednesday, Mandvi interrupted Scott’s budget unveiling in the same meeting room to ask him to take a drug test. Mandvi was referring to drug testing Scott wants to require of all state employees and welfare recipients.

Scott didn’t comply with Mandvi’s request, but a few House members did, including Palm Beach County’s Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, according to The Daily Show crew. Other lawmakers who provided urine samples include Democratic Reps. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Scott Randolph of Orlando and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Both of the drug-testing laws are being challenged in court. Scott’s administration is defending the law requiring state workers to get tested and appealing a federal judge’s injunction against drug testing of welfare applicants.

Anti-gambling forces rake in Bondi support

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Count Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi among anti-gambling forces fighting a proposal to allow three casinos in the state.

Bondi will join a noon press conference hosted by “No Casinos” today, her office announced in a press release this morning.

Even without Bondi’s opposition, the “destination resorts” bill sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Erik Fresen is facing an uphill battle.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee wound up its second workshop on the proposal (SB 710) yesterday, logging nearly six hours of testimony in the two meetings.

Near the end of yesterday’s discussion, committee chairman Dennis Jones, who supports the plan conceptually, expressed frustration.

“It seems like more questions are arising every week that we don’t have answers to,” Jones, R-Seminole, said.

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, whose committee has to sign off on the bill before it heads to the Senate floor, blasted the measure during yesterday’s meeting.

“I think this legislation is a major change in the culture and brand in the state of Florida and frankly I think it expands gambling to the point where I am concerned about it,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said during yesterday’s meeting.

Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, insists that her bill allowing the three high-end casinos and creating a statewide gambling commission won’t grow gambling in the state but will enable the state to establish a “strategic vision” for gambling.

But she acknowledged she’s got her work cut out for her. Bogdanoff, whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, compared her goal to overhaul gambling in Florida to former Gov. Jeb Bush‘s education reforms.

“It was a holistic view and everybody bought into it,” she said. “I don’t have a popular governor advocating at that level. I’m just a lowly senator from Palm Beach and Broward County.”

Gov. Rick Scott has not said whether he supports the proposal, but has said he does not want the state to be dependent on taxes generated by the casinos.

Bondi to co-host GOP presidential debate

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Bondi with Fox News correspondent John Roberts

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will co-host the GOP presidential debate on Fox News this weekend, according to a press release distributed by the Republican Party of Florida this morning.

Bondi, a Fox fave who often appeared on the news channel as a legal analyst before her election in January and a frequent guest star since, will join fellow Republican attorneys general Ken Kuccinelli of Virginia and E. Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s show Saturday night at 8 p.m.

Bondi is leading the charge in the multi-state federal health care lawsuit, launched by her predecessor Bill McCollum, now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Undoing the health care law is among the GOP presidential wannabes’ top campaign pledges.

“This forum is an excellent opportunity to engage each of the candidates in a candid conversation about issues that are important to voters in our state and across the nation,” Bondi said in the press release. “This will be a historic election, and I am excited to play a part in helping voters gain a better understanding of candidates’ beliefs on fundamental issues such as constitutionalism and the role of government.”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum have all agreed to participate in the forum, according to the release.

Judge orders Scott admin to ‘cease and desist’ prison privatization bidding

Saturday, November 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Tallahassee judge has ordered Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to “cease and desist” the bidding process for a prison privatization plan she earlier ruled was unconstitional.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford late Friday night put the brakes on Department of Corrections officials’ attempt to bypass her earlier decision that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization of the 18-county region in the southern portion of the start violated the state constitution.

In her order, Fulford pointed out that corrections officials reneged on a pledge made Thursday not to move forward with the bidding before a Nov. 16 hearing. Later the same day, the department announced it was reopening the procurement and bids would be accepted after Nov. 10, Fulford wrote.

Fulford ruled on Sept. 30 that lawmakers should not have included the privatization plan in the must-pass state budget but instead should have ordered it in a stand-alone bill.

Scott opted not to appeal, but Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a last-minute appeal late Monday on behalf of state lawmakers, setting the stage for Friday’s court showdown.

In granting the emergency stay to the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Fulford wrote that “defendants are not likely to succeed on the merits on appeal.”


UPDATE: Scott administration moves forward with prison privatization despite court ruling

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford will hold a hearing at 4:30 p.m. today on the privatization lawsuit. The Florida Police Benevolent Association is asking for an emergency stay to stop the procurement process.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration has re-opened bids on privatizating prisons in an 18-county region in southern Florida despite a recent court ruling that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization plan is unconstitutional.

Scott opted not to appeal. But Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday filed an appeal on behalf of the legislature challenging Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling. That appeal opened the door for state Department of Corrections officials to re-open the bids, Department of Corrections officials said in a press release issued late Thursday.

Bids will be due within a week but because of the ongoing court battle “the agency will not sign a contract until the litigation is complete,” the release said.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit, intends to ask the First District Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing and is asking Fulford to reinstate the stay on the bids she previously ordered.

Boca Raton-based GEO Group is one of the contenders for the privatization plan intended to cost the state 7 percent less than what the department is currently spending on the region’s 29 prisons and other correctional operations.
Read the corrections department press release after the jump.


Long-awaited prescription drug database up and running

Monday, October 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After nearly a decade, Florida doctors can now check out their patients’ prescription drug history in an online database aimed at curbing “doctor-shopping” and other illicit pain pill abuses.

The Elecronic – Florida Online Reporting of Conrolled Substances Evaluation (E-FORCSE) went live today after narrowly escaping being killed earlier this year by Gov. Rick Scott and other high-ranking GOP lawmakers.

Last month, all of the state’s 4,000 pharmacists and dispensing pracitioners began entering information about controlled substances, including highly addictive pain medication such as oxycontin and hydrocodone, into the database, as required by a law passed by lawmakers this spring.

After today, doctors can tap into the database to view their patients’ prescription drug history and view when and where they filled their prescription and who wrote it. Law enforcement officials will be able to access the database to investigate drug-related crimes.

Supporters of the system, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Surgeon General Frank Farmer, hope doctors use the database even though they aren’t required to. Bondi was instrumental in getting lawmakers to reach an agreement over the database this spring.

The Florida Medical Association and the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association are asking their members to participate.

“The prescription database is perhaps the single most important patient safety program to launch in recent memory,” Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. Fasano has tried for nearly a decade to get the database up-and-running. Lawmakers were so skittish about the database they forbade the use of state money to create and operate it. The Prescription Drug Program Monitoring Foundation, the non-profit organization footing the bill for the system, and the state have received $800,000 in federal grants for the database.

“After many years and many obstacles to overcome, the database is going live at a time when it is needed most. Although we will never know the number of lives that will be saved, we will know that many lives will not be lost as long as the database is consulted by every doctor every time he or she considers writing a controlled substance prescription,” Fasano said.

AG Bondi joins multi-state lawsuit against EPA over clean air standards

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 24 other states in a lawsuit against President Obama’s administration over clean air standards even though the feds, under pressure from Republicans and states, last week weakened the rule.

Bondi and the other states are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to put off implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule utilities complain is too costly. The new consumer protection standards reduce power plant emissions that cross state lines and are set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

The lawsuit alleges the costs to utilities to implement the standards and the threat to the nation’s power supply outweigh the benefits to consumers. The Obama administration estimates the cleaner air standards could save up to $280 billion in health benefits by preventing premature deaths, heart attacks and lost work days within two years of going into effect.

“We cannot allow Floridians, many of whom are already suffering financial hardships, to bear the brunt of costly federal regulations,” Bondi said in a press release attached to an amicus brief filed yesterday. “The brief asks the Environmental Protection Agency slow down the implementation of their burdensome regulations in order to correct technical issues and consider the consequences.”

Bondi is leading the charge against Obama’s administration in a multi-state lawsuit over the federal health care law now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bondi asks private lawyers for help with oil spill litigation

Friday, October 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a request for proposals from private lawyers for help in legal action related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In a press release issued late this afternoon, Bondi said the one-page RFP doesn’t mean the state is going to be suing BP or any of the other parties involved in the massive oil blow-out that stained Panhandle beaches and strained the entire state’s tourism industry last year.

“The proposal is part of an exploratory process that is non-binding and does not signify imminent litigation,” the release said.

Interested lawyers should show their experience in other similar cases, familiarity with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and how well-suited their firms are to handle complex, expensive litigation. Lawyers also have to say if they want to be paid hourly, by a contingency fee or a combination. Florida law has a sliding scale capping how much the attorney general can pay outside firms ranging from 25 percent for recoveries up to $10 million to 5 percent for settlements over $25 million.

Yesterday, Bondi gave the U.S. Justice Department guidelines on what she wants from an audit of BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, prompted by complaints about his handling of the $20 billion fund for victims of the oil spill.

Bondi asked that the audit look at:
- Discrepancies in payments to similarly situated claimants;
- Documentation required by Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility;
- Whether Feinberg’s delays in processing interim payments forced claimants to accept “quick pay,” or final settlements, which require them to sign away their right to sue in the future;
- How different industries are being treated;
- The extent to Feinberg relied on how close a claimant was to the oil spill to decide whether or how much a claimant deserved.

Two Delray Beach residents have been charged with bilking the GCCF of more than $340,000 and using the money to rent luxury homes and buy expensive cars and boats. The duo made their first appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Miami today in what the U.S. Attorney’s office is calling “the largest financial loss case brought to date arising from claims filed in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident.”

Haridopolos agrees to CFO Atwater’s request for public meeting on SBA investment

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has agreed to call in State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to answer questions about a $125 million investment after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Haridopolos’ predecessor, asked for the public meeting.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, asked Haridopolos on Thursday to bring Williams in to satisfy Sen. Mike Fasano’s demands for information about an investment earlier this year in hedge fund Starboard Value and Opportunity. Williams gave Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a bill for more than $10,000 in response to a public records request for documents regarding the investment, which was in the works for more than two years before the investment was made in April.

“It is my deep belief that you and the other members of the legislature, elected to represent the interests of Floridians, should have full and open access to information wherever it might reside throughout government, including the SBA,” Atwater wrote in a letter to the senate president.

Atwater also said Fasano should not be charged to review the documents and that he trusts Fasano to keep any confidential information in the records private. On Monday, Fasano asked Haridopolos to subpoena Williams and the documents or to order him to appear before a Senate committee to explain the investment and the public records charges.

“Being that the CFO is a champion of transparency and given his expertise in this realm, I plan to take his recommendation and hold a meeting that will be open to the public and ask the Director of the SBA, Ash Williams, and his staff to be available to answer any questions that the public or my fellow legislators may have about the investment, as well as the public records request,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement late Thursday. “Like CFO Atwater, it is my hope that this meeting will alleviate any questions that lawmakers or the public may have regarding this investment and the SBA, and the IAC may continue to conduct business.”


Bondi, Negron seek to tackle latest Rx abuse victims – newborns

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Newborns are the latest victims of the prescription drug epidemic plaguing Florida and the country, Attorney General Pam Bondi said today.

That’s why Bondi is asking lawmakers to help her create a task force to find out how rampant the problem is and come up with solutions before prescription drug-addicted babies become a crisis as difficult to address as pill mills.

“We do not want this to become the next crack baby epidemic…and that’s where we’re headed,” Bondi told reporters at a press conference flanked by supporters of the legislation, including Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Committee. Bondi was also joined by Stephanie Haridopolos, a family practice physician and the wife of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

Bondi said she and Stephanie Haridopolos recently visited the neo-natal intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa. Kenneth Solomon, the unit’s director, said Wednesday that about 25 percent of the babies in his unit are there because they are withdrawing from drugs. The majority of the babies are addicted to oxycodone, Percocet or methodone, Solomon said. Twenty percent of the babies born addicted to drugs in his unit wind up in foster care, he said.

Usually, babies and mothers spend up to 72 hours in the hospital. But babies addicted to drugs can spend up to two months in the NICU at three times the cost, Solomon said. The babies suffer from extreme sensitivity to light and sound, fevers, incessant crying and respiratory problems, are often born prematurely and sometimes must be readdicted to the drug before the withdrawal procedure can begin, he said.

“Instead of getting milk, those babies are getting methodone,” Bondi said. “And it’s got to stop.”

As the Senate’s chief of state spending on health care, Negron said lawmakers need to step in immediately to assess the problem.


Bondi, lawmakers go after timeshare fraudsters

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Saying she’s fighting for consumers, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked lawmakers to help her tighten Florida laws to protect vacationers – especially the elderly – from timeshare resale scammers.

The scam involves timeshare resale marketers promising timeshare owners that they’ve already got a buyer, getting a deposit for their “brokering” services, keeping the money – and disappearing, Bondi said.

“That has got to stop,” she said.

So far this year, Bondi said her office has received nearly 7,000 complaints about the timeshare resales – more than the number of all other consumer-related complaints combined.

The most common complaints include false claims that the marketer has a specific buyer ready to purchase or rent the timeshare; unkept promises that the property would be rented within a certain period of time; and failure to honor cancellation policies, Bondi said.

The bill, still in the works, will be sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and has the support of the AARP.

Bondi said the state’s unfair and deceptive marketing and advertising laws need strenghtening to help prosecute the fraudsters.

The bill will likely include provisions restricting timeshare resale advertisers from:
- saying that they have a buyer if they don’t;
- misleading a customer about their sales success rate;
- acting as brokers for actual timeshare sales.

And the bill will also give sellers the opportunity to cancel their contracts with the advertisers within seven days.

Bondi slams SBA chief for $10K public records bill

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi took State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to task after Williams gave a state senator a bill for more than $10,000 for a public records request.

Appearing before the Florida Cabinet this morning, Williams defended the charges, saying the request was unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Williams told state Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who made the public records request, it would take 300 man-hours and more than seven weeks to produce the 6,000 documents Fasano is seeking.

Williams told the Cabinet that estimate was, if anything, a low-ball.

But Bondi, a former state prosecutor who also served as the Tampa state attorney’s spokeswoman, said she’s “lost sleep over the bill” and that her office charged much less for a public records request resulting in more than 25,000 pages of documents. She ordered Williams to provide an explanation for why the request would take so much time and cost so much.

“If you’re going to charge that amount for documents, you need to give a very detailed breakdown as to why you are charging that much, the hours involved,” Bondi said after the meeting. “If it’s a cost that large, you have to better break it down and justify it. It very well may cost that. I’d just like to see a better breakdown. I mean, that’s a lot of money.”

After receiving the bill, Fasano asked Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to subpoena the documents or order Williams to appear before a committee.

Williams told the Cabinet Tuesday morning the agency would be obligated to provide the information if ordered and that the SBA previously has given lawmakers un-redacted information on the condition that it remains confidential.

Fasano last month began seeking the information from the SBA related to a $125 million state pension fund investment in a hedge fund called Starboard Value and Opportunity.

Bondi, 25 other states appeal to U.S. Supremes on federal health care law

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Without waiting for President Obama’s administration to appeal lower court rulings, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and 25 other states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the federal health care law is unconstitutional.

Florida led the challenge against the Obama administration, arguing that its requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance – also known as the “individual mandate” – is unconstitutional.

Last month, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but upheld the remainder of the sweeping health care law, including a dramatic expansion of Medicaid.

But even Obama’s attorneys believe that much of the law relies on the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance.

Although several other cases are working their way through the courts, attorneys on both sides believe that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Florida’s multi-state case will ultimately decide the matter.

Bondi’s lawyers argued that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces individuals to engage in commerce and is an imposition on states because of increased Medicaid costs which they cannot avoid.

“Both features of the Act raise constitutional issues that go to the heart of our system of limited government and the Constitution‘s division of authority between the federal government and the States. Of the various challenges working their way through the federal courts, only this case allows the Court to address both of these fundamental questions,” lawyers representing Bondi and the National Federal of Independent Businesses, wrote in the appeal filed today.

Bondi is holding a noon press conference on the filing today in the Capitol.

Federal court finds individual mandate unconstitutional, leaves remainder of law intact

Friday, August 12th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Striking a blow to the White House, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Barack Obama’s health care law requiring Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta also found that the remainder of the law can remain intact.

Florida former attorney general Bill McCollum launched the lawsuit against the federal government over the sweeping law. Twenty-five other states have since joined the suit, now likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Personnel problems in Bondi’s office deepen in wake of foreclosure fraud firings

Thursday, August 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Andrew Spark, one of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s assistants in her Tampa office, abruptly resigned Thursday – a day after releasing a 16-page memo harshly criticizing his boss’s administration.

Spark, an assistant state attorney general in the Tampa office of economic crimes, said his memo was motivated by the forced resignations of former state foreclosure investigators June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards.

Spark’s concerns include former Economic Crimes Division Director Mary Leontakianakos taking a job in June with the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson – a firm that paid $2 million in March to settle a state investigation into its foreclosure practices. Leontakianakos resigned her director’s job in December with an effective date of Jan. 3.

Spark also mentions the resignation of former Deputy Attorney General Joe Jacquot, who went to work for Lender Processing Services – another company under investigation by the state – and concerns he has about his investigations of two companies that serve foreclosure summonses to home owners.

“The people of the State of Florida are entitled to fair and honest government, independent of personal connections and powerful interests,” wrote Spark, who has worked for the attorney general for about seven years.

After Spark’s resignation, Bondi said he was the subject of an ongoing investigation for using the services of a business he was investigating.

“It is exceptionally troubling for the people of Florida that Spark’s memo disclosed information pertaining to active investigations into foreclosure-related businesses that could compromise those cases,” Bondi said.

Read The Palm Beach Post writer Kimberly Miller’s story here.

State lawmakers expand inquiry into Bondi foreclosure fraud firings

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

From The Palm Beach Post‘s Kimberly Miller:

Two Democratic state lawmakers seeking federal assistance to investigate the ouster of state foreclosure fraud investigators have expanded their public records request of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, say the request is in response to information they received about high-level attorney general lawyer Joe Jacquot going to work for Lender Processing Services, or LPS, as well as a former general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott’s former health care company, Solantic.

The Jacksonville-based company is under investigation by the attorney general’s office for its foreclosure-related practices. Shortly after Jacquot left Bondi’s office and went to work for LPS, Bondi fired two foreclosure fraud investigators.

“A number of troubling questions have come to our attention involving past and current employees of the Attorney General’s office and at least one mortgage processing company currently under investigation,” the two lawmakers wrote in a press release today. “In particular, we are especially concerned with the sudden departure to Lender Processing Services of your former special counsel, Joe Jacquot, and the subsequent dismissal of two apparently top notch foreclosure fraud attorneys _ June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards.”

Lender Processing Services is a former subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial. Both companies gave big donations _ to both Republicans and Democrats _ during the 2010 general election.

The Republican Party of Florida received about $19,000 from Fidelity, while the Democratic Party picked up $6,000. Fidelity also gave $2,000 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, and $1,500 to winner Rick Scott.

LPS gave $36,500 to the Republican party and an additional $12,500 to the Democratic party.

Read Kimberly Miller’s blog here.

Bondi asks U.S. Supreme Court to re-order execution

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to override the Florida Supreme Court’s stay on the execution of convicted cop killer Manuel Valle.

Valle’s death warrant, the first and only signed by Gov. Rick Scott since taking office in January, set his execution by lethal injection for Aug. 2. But the Florida Supreme Court yesterday put the execution off for a month until a hearing on a controversial new drug is held.

In a 4-3 ruling, the divided Florida high court ordered a Miami judge to hold a hearing on the new drug, pentobarbital sodium, an anesthetic Department of Corrections officials decided in June to replace sodium thiopental. Sodium thiopental’s manufacturer stopped making the drug early this year, leaving corrections officials in states like Florida scrambling to find a substitute.

But Lundbeck Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, recently announced that the drug is untested and unsafe for use in lethal injections. Lundbeck stopped selling the drug to distributors who intended to resell it for use in executions.

In her 12-page filing Tuesday, Bondi argued that the Florida justices “improperly granted the stay” because Valle’s lawyers failed to demonstrate that he would be subjected to a “substantial risk of harm,” the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in determining cruel or unusual punishment in a case called Baze v. Rees, known as “Baze.”

“In Baze, a plurality of this Court held that an inmate was required to show that the protocol created a ‘substantial risk of serious harm’ that was ‘objectively intolerable’ to demonstrate that a lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional,’” Bondi’s motion said. “It noted that the mere fact that an execution method ‘may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death’ did not meet this standard.”

Bondi also disputed the testimony of Valle’s expert witness, pediatric anesthesiologist David Waisel. A lower court had rejected Waisel’s testimony but the state Supreme Court ordered that it be taken into consideration in the hearing on the new drug. Part of Waisel’s testimony included a description of what may have been a botched execution in Georgia using pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal.

“Since the claim has already been rejected in Georgia and Florida’s protocol contains similar provisions for a consciousness
check and not continuing the protocol until an inmate is unconscious (as noted in Justice Cannady’s dissent in the Florida
Supreme Court), the Florida Supreme Court erred in finding that this assertion was sufficient to grant a stay. The stay should be vacated,” Bondi wrote.

Rick Scott signs pill mill bill into law

Friday, June 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law pill mill bill banning doctors from dispensing most narcotics, tracking wholesale distribution of most highly addictive pain medications and keeping intact the state’s prescription drug database.

Scott says the new law will be a model for the nation.

“I am proud to sign this bill which cracks down on the criminal abuse of prescription drugs,” Scott, on a three-city ceremonial bill signing tour today, said in a statement. “This legislation will save lives in our state and it marks the beginning of the end of Florida’s infamous role as the nation’s Pill Mill Capital.”

Lawmakers approved HB 7095 after a contentious struggle over the future of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a yet-to-be-implemented database aimed at cracking down on “doctor-shopping” and illicit prescription drug sales.

Attorney General Pam Bondi was instrumental in bringing House and Senate GOP leaders together on the final deal, passed in the final days of the legislative session that ended last month.

Drug tests for welfare recipients now the law

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Welfare recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to be drug-free to receive cash benefits under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott today.

Under the new law, applicants for the benefits will have to pay for the drug tests but will get reimbursed if they are drug-free. If they’re not, their children will still be able to receive benefits through another family member or someone else designated by their parent.

More than 21,000 Floridians now receiving benefits as heads of households will now have to pay for and undergo the screening.

Scott and state lawmakers contend Florida needs the new law to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. Opponents of the measure cite studies have shown that there’s no more widespread drug abuse among welfare recipients than the general public.

“While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott said in a press release. “This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.”

The ACLU of Florida blasted the new law.

“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse,” said Howard Simon, the civil rights organization’s executive director.

A federal court in 2003 struck down a similar law, finding that it violated Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches.

Scott is also requiring state workers to undergo random drug tests, prompting threats of lawsuits. The ACLU is making an announcement regarding that policy tomorrow morning, indicating a lawsuit is likely.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Scott today also signed into law a bill banning certain bath salts that have resulted in a rash of overdoses in Florida and other states.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in January issued an emergency order criminalizing the sale of “bath salts” made up of the dangerous synthetic drug Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. The drug cocktail apparently gives users super-human strength.

Florida poison control centers have reported 61 calls of “bath salts” abuse, the second-highest volume of calls in the nation, according to Scott’s office.

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