September 20, 2016

Watch Pam Bondi answer questions about Trump donation

@ByKristenMClark

After weeks of silence on the issue, Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi answered questions for more than 15 minutes Tuesday morning about a controversial $25,000 campaign donation she previously accepted from Donald Trump, as her office fielded a complaint about his Trump University real estate seminars.

Bondi convened the press conference shortly before the Florida Cabinet's monthly meeting at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Watch her comments and answers to reporters' questions in the videos below, and read the full story here.

Will the governor and Cabinet hold FDLE accountable for investigating inmate deaths?

Prison deathsSix years after 27-year-old prison inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution  after being gassed by corrections officers, an investigation has still not been complete and witnesses to the incident, who allege he was tortured and beaten by corrections officers, have still not been interviewed, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

On Tuesday, the head of the agency charged with investigating the state's role in the death, Rick Swearingen, faces his six-month performance review before the governor and Cabinet today. The governor and Cabinet jointly are responsible for oversight of FDLE.

On Monday, the Herald/Times asked if the governor and Cabinet believed FDLE was sufficiently following up  on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections, as the agency had told legislators it would do. For the past three years, the Miami Herald has chronicled or revealed details about many of the deaths.

The question was not about the pending investigation but how the governor and members of the Cabinet is holding FDLE accountable regarding its performance about an inmate death nearly six years ago and other deaths the agency is charged with reviewing. 

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater responded. No one chose to answer the question, or explain why they didn't want to answer it. We did not receive a response from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Here is what we asked:

"We are writing today about a federal lawsuit being filed in connection with the death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo in 2010. We understand the investigation was re-opened by FDLE, however, many of the witnesses in the case and others have not been interviewed, according to the lawsuit. 

"As you prepare the performance review of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Tuesday, could the governor provide us with an answer to this question:

"Have you have been assured that Commissioner Swearingen and his staff are sufficiently following up on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections? If you are confident these investigations are underway, please explain how you reached that conclusion."

Here's how the governor's office answered the question at 9:47 p.m.

"Commissioner Swearingen has done a great job in his leadership role at FDLE. We look forward to his performance review tomorrow,'' said Lauren Schenone, the governor's press secretary. "Florida is now at a 45-year crime low because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers, and Commissioner Swearingen has dedicated his career to making sure Florida is the safest state in the nation.”

Here is how the office of CFO Atwater responded: "Our office has not had specific conversations about inmate investigations," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Atwater.

Here is how Bondi's office responded: "It would not be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation,'' said Kylie Mason, Bondi press secretary. "Furthermore, any discussion relating to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen's performance review must be addressed in the open at the public Cabinet meeting."

September 15, 2016

Democratic Party complaint: Trump broke Florida election law

@MichaelAuslen

TP_402180_BORC_1_flaprimaryThe Florida Democratic Party on Thursday morning filed an election complaint against Donald Trump, claiming he violated Florida election laws early this year when he reimbursed his foundation $25,000 for an illegal contribution to Attorney General Pam Bondi's reelection.

In 2013, the  Donald J. Trump Foundationg gave the Bondi-controlled political committee And Justice for All $25,000. But that donation violated federal tax law because charities cannot contribute to political causes. So earlier this year, Trump personally reimbursed his committee.

That, allege the Democrats, is a violation of a state law that says "A person may not make any contribution through or in the name of another, directly or indirectly, in any election."

Because of the reimbursement from Trump's personal wealth, they say, he has essentially donated to Bondi under the name of his foundation, which has separate accounts.

FDP chairwoman Allison Tant filed the complaint Thursday morning with the Florida Elections Commission.

The law exists to prevent people from using reimbursements to get around campaign finance caps. But while there's no maximum contribution for a political committee like And Justice for All, the law against donating in someone else's name applies.

After news broke earlier this year that the $25,000 contribution could be in violation of tax laws, accountant Nancy Watkins, treasurer for Bondi's political committee, said she sent a refund to Trump.

"It was refunded and he declined to accept the refund because he had already taken care of the issue," she said.

The contribution has caused a firestorm for Trump but also for Bondi, who in various complaints by liberal-leaning groups has been accused of bribery and pay-for-play politics.

Trump's donation came around the time that New York's attorney general filed a lawsuit against Trump University alleging it scammed thousands of people. Florida has never opened any investigation into similar complaints.

Photo: James Borchuck, Tampa Bay Times

September 14, 2016

Hillsborough state attorney wants another prosecutor to handle bribery complaint against Trump, Bondi

@MichaelAuslen

Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober has requested that a different prosecutor handle a complaint alleging that Donald Trump bribed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Ober received a complaint from J. Whitfield Larrabee, a lawyer from Brookline, Mass., requesting an investigation by the state attorney's office into a $25,000 campaign contribution by the Trump Foundation to Bondi's reelection in 2013. The donation came around the time other states were investigating fraud complaints at Trump University, which Bondi's office declined to do.

But Ober has a conflict of interest, he says. Bondi worked as an assistant state attorney in that very office for 19 years, including nine years under Ober's leadership.

"General Bondi is a personal friend to Mr. Ober and other members of his staff," wrote Michael Sinacore, chief assistant state attorney, in a letter to Scott. "To avoid the appearance of impropriety, State Attorney Mark Ober requests taht another state attorney be assigned to discharge the duties of the state attorney in this matter."

The request was first reported by the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday.

Scott now can choose which of the other 19 state attorneys in Florida should consider an investigation into Bondi.

Though the request came from Ober's office Aug. 22, it has not yet been acted on by the governor.

“We received the letter and will process this reassignment request with the same protocol as other reassignment requests," Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in a statement.

It's common for state attorneys to request their cases be reassigned when they see a conflict of interest. However, it's less common for the subjects of a complaint to be Florida's top legal officer with ties to every state attorney.

Bondi's office and Trump's campaign have repeatedly insisted that the bribery allegations are not true. Addressing reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Scott, who chairs a pro-Trump super PAC, echoed those complaints.

“It’s just partisan politics," Scott said.

September 13, 2016

Congressional Democrats call for federal investigation into Trump, Bondi

@MichaelAuslen

Congressional Democrats are calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Donald Trump’s $25,000 donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013, saying that it is a case of “bribery.”

In a Tuesday afternoon letter signed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, including Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, members of Congress called for the  DOJ to look into bribery laws that may have been violated.

The Donald J. Trump Foundation gave Bondi’s political committee, And Justice for All, $25,000 in September 2013 around the same time her office decided not to pursue an investigation into Trump University.

“This fact pattern indicates that these payments may have influenced Mrs. Bondi’s official decision not to participate in litigation against Mr. Trump,” the members of Congress wrote in the letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

They are not the first people to call for an investigation. Democratic activist groups have done the same. Several newspaper editorial boards in Florida have as well, including the Tampa Bay Times last Thursday.

Bondi’s office was not immediately available for comment. However, a spokesman, Whitney Ray, has maintained for months that the decision of whether or not to investigate Trump University following consumer complaints never reached the attorney general’s level and was entirely handled by staff.

The New York attorney general did investigate Trump University, and lawyers in California are pursuing a class action lawsuit.

Though three years old, the $25,000 check came back into the news recently after Trump paid a $2,500 fine because of tax law violations. Charities like the Trump Foundation cannot contribute to political causes.

But congressional Democrats are concerned about a different issue.

“Our concerns extend beyond Mr. Trump’s violation of tax laws,” they wrote.

“We also note that this allegation — that Mr. Trump bribed a Florida state official to protect his business interests — is consistent with Mr. Trump’s own statements about using money to influence politics.”

Earlier Tuesday, Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, called for a DOJ review.

"I went to law school," said Deutch, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "You've got to think about ethics and you have to worry about conflicts of interest all the time."

September 12, 2016

Democratic group files FBI complaint against Bondi, Trump

@MichaelAuslen

TP_405699_ELLI_0403_trumpspA Democratic group has filed a complaint with the FBI questioning contributions from Donald Trump to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, calling it a "prime example of public corruption."

The complaint by the Democratic Coalition Against Trump highlights $651,000 in contributions received by Bondi and her political committee, And Justice for All, when she was seeking reelection in 2013 and 2014.

Among them is a $25,000 check that came as Bondi's office was reviewing a New York lawsuit alleging that Trump University scammed thousands of people. Bondi and her predecessor, Bill McCollum, received more than 20 complaints about Trump University.

As well, the anti-Trump group's complaint points to two $500 donations by Trump and his daughter, Ivanka. And it raises questions about money given by Republican groups.

In July and August 2014, Donald and Ivanka Trump gave a combined $125,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, which spent more than $1.4 million in support of Bondi's reelection.

And they ask that the FBI investigate a $500,000 donation to And Justtice for All from the Republican State Leadership Committee, though there are no known links between that group and Trump.

Both Bondi and Trump have insisted that they never discussed Trump University when Bondi called to ask for a campaign contribution. Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Bondi, said in an email last week that "the matter never rose to the attorney general's level for any decision of any kind."

Last week, the Democratic Coalition Against Trump filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging bribery and civil rights violations.

Photo: Loren Elliot, Times

September 08, 2016

Trump has 'never' spoken to Bondi about Trump U, his camp says

via @learyreports

With attention swelling over Donald Trump’s $25,000 donation to Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Trump campaign insists the two never discussed allegations facing his real estate seminars.

“Mr. Trump has never under any circumstances spoken to AG Bondi about Trump University,” spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Tampa Bay Times.

“It is my understanding that AG Bondi was never investigating Trump University and that this was merely mentioned at a staff level. Regardless, Mr. Trump was not made aware of any investigation or discussion about a potential investigation.”

Bondi has said questions about Trump University, also known as Trump Institute, never reached her desk and her office only received one complaint. Records show staff discussed the issue, which first surfaced under her predecessor, Bill McCollum. He previously told the Times it did not reach his desk, either.

Now Bondi finds herself embroiled in a national media story over Trump’s contribution to her political committee just days after her office told the Orlando Sentinel in 2013 it was looking into the matter. Bondi, who has endorsed Trump and appears at his Florida rallies, never took action.

Continue reading "Trump has 'never' spoken to Bondi about Trump U, his camp says" »

September 06, 2016

WaPo: Trump says Bondi donation wasn't attempt to avoid investigation

From the Washington Post:

Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University.

“I never spoke to her, first of all; she’s a fine person beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She’s a fine person. Never spoken to her about it. Never,” Trump said Monday while speaking to reporters in Ohio. “Many of the attorney generals turned that case down because I’ll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her.”

The large donation, made by the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2013, violated federal rules that prohibit charities from making donations to political candidates. Trump and his team also failed to disclose the large gift to the Internal Revenue Service, instead reporting that the donation was given to an unrelated group with a similar name — effectively obscuring the contribution.

Bondi ultimately decided not to open an investigation against Trump’s embattled for-profit education business.

More here.

July 20, 2016

Take a peek at what Rick Scott and Pam Bondi plan to say at GOP convention

@PatriciaMazzei

CLEVELAND -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott gets first billing Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, followed a bit later in the night -- when likely more viewers will be watching -- by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Here are excerpts of what they plan to say, provided by convention organizers:

Scott will speak about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando "and the growing worldwide threat of Islamic extremism":

“I cried with the grieving moms and dads and brothers and sisters of the 49 people slaughtered by an ISIS-inspired terrorist. This war is real. It is here in America. And the next president must destroy this evil. Donald Trump is the man for that job.”

“Today, America is in terrible, world-record-high debt. Our economy is not growing. Our jobs are going overseas. We have allowed our military to decay, and we project weakness on the international stage. Washington grows while the rest of America struggles. The Democrats have not led us to a crossroads, they have led us to a cliff.”

Bondi will focus on "restoring the rule of law":

“Hillary will stack the Supreme Court with liberal justices who will allow government to continue its rampage against our individual rights with utter contempt for our Second Amendment.

“I know Donald, and he will appoint conservative justices who will defend, rather than rewrite, our Constitution. Are you ready to send ISIS a message that we’re really coming after them? When Donald Trump is president, he will.”