December 01, 2016

Bondi to meet with Trump on Friday

@MichaelAuslen and @VeraMBergen

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, rumored to be in the running for a job in Donald Trump's administration, is scheduled to meet with the president-elect Friday.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller announced the scheduled meeting in a Thursday morning conference call, according to reporters who were on the call.

It is planned for 1 p.m. in Trump Tower. The presidential transition has been silent about what Trump and Bondi, who are personal friends, will discuss.

Bondi's name has been mentioned in connection to several high-level positions, including White House "drug czar" and U.S. trade representative. She could also be nominated as a deputy or assistant U.S. attorney general or as a candidate to chair the Republican National Committee.

However, she could also be wary of any job that would require a rigorous Senate confirmation process, as Bondi tends to cringe under critical spotlight.

Bondi was an early Trump supporter and appeared alongside him at rallies around the state, as well as at the Republican National Convention.

For the last week, Bondi has been out of the public eye, missing ceremonial events in the state Capitol, and her office has refused to respond to questions about where she is.

November 29, 2016

Does Pam Bondi want to face a Senate confirmation?


TP_405699_ELLI_0403_trumpsp (2)The steady trickle of political appointments by President-elect Donald Trump over the last month has so far not included one Floridian who is seen as very likely to win a top federal job: Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Speculating about Bondi's next career move has become a favorite parlor game in Tallahassee. A lot of ideas have been thrown around: White House drug czar, a nod to her first-term crackdown on so-called pill mills; assistant attorney general; U.S. trade representative. She was even seen as a potential U.S. attorney general until Trump tapped Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for the job.

However consider that more than 1,000 of the most desirable jobs in federal government require Senate confirmation. And Bondi has never been one to enjoy close scrutiny.

A controversy about a $25,000 check from Trump to Bondi's reelection campaign that came around the time other states were investigating and suing Trump University came to a boiling point this September in a tense press conference in the state Capitol. After weeks of Bondi refusing to comment, reporters asked pointed questions.

Bondi fired back.

"If I had returned it, you would have reported, 'Bondi accepted bribe, got caught, and returned it,' " she said. "There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return it."

Text messages released to the Times/Herald show that in early June, Bondi felt personally victimized by reporting about the Trump check.

"Shame on you," she wrote to one reporter. "You have destroyed my entire career ... Complete lies."

Bondi, whose resume includes nearly 20-year career as a Tampa prosecutor and six years as a conservative state attorney general, would likely have no problem winning approval from a Republican-controlled Senate.

But the confirmation process can be grueling and contentious. Bondi could face much quesitons from far more adversarial people than the Capitol Press Corps in Tallahassee.

Surely, that must be on her mind as she considers what jobs Trump may offer.

Still, it's not certain when a Bondi appointment may come.

Speculation has been fueled by her absence from the ceremonial organizational session of the Florida Legislature last week. The rest of the Cabinet was there. Bondi, who tends to avoide the spotlight in Tallahassee except during Cabinet meetings and ceremonial occasions, was absent.

Her office never responded to three emails asking where the Florida attorney general -- second in the line of succession to the governor's office -- was during the session.

On Monday, a spokeswoman provided no answer to questions about whether Bondi had plans to travel to New York, where Trump's team is interviewing job candidates, or about phone calls scheduled with the Trump transition.

Photo: Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times

November 11, 2016

Bondi gets top Trump transition job

via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi was named today as a member of Donald Trump's top transition team, joining a group of political insiders and newcomers, including members of Trump's family.

Bondi was with Trump for most of the campaign, save for a couple months when she stayed off the trail amid questions of a political donation Trump gave her in 2013 around the same time Trump University was being investigated. Bondi served as a prominent female voice for Trump as he reeled from the release of a video in which he made sexually aggressive comments toward women and suggested he attempted an adulturous affair. Bondi said his comments were "disgusting" but "I believe in forgiveness."

It had already been speculated that Bondi would play some role in his administration. Today she was named to the Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee, which includes several lawmakers, Trump's children, Jared Kushner, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Breitbart News' Steve Bannon.

The overall effort will be led by Mike Pence, who takes over the top job from Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor will serve as a vice chairman.

"Together this outstanding group of advisors, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, will build on the initial work done under the leadership of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to help prepare a transformative government ready to lead from day one,” the president elect said. “The mission of our team will be clear: put together the most highly qualified group of successful leaders who will be able to implement our change agenda in Washington. Together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding this nation - specifically jobs, security and opportunity. This team is going to get to work immediately to Make America Great Again.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Chris Urso, Tampa Bay Times

October 28, 2016

Pam Bondi: It's 'obvious' Supreme Court didn't halt death sentences in Florida


Confusion continues to surround Florida's death penalty after the state Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that death sentences must be made on a unanimous jury vote.

That decision upended a new law passed this spring that required a 10-2 vote by the jury to sentence someone to death after they have already been found guilty. It led to questions about whether the Legislature must act before death sentences can commence.

Not so, says Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Death penalty trials should continue.

Still, Bondi's office has asked the Supreme Court to clarify its rulings in Hurst vs. Florida and Perry vs. Florida, the two death penalty cases the justices decided on Oct. 14 that ruled a split jury could not sentence someone to death.

"We're just seeking clarification toclarify for the trial courts and just state the obvious," Bondi said.

In fact, she said, a circuit court judge in Ocala "erred" last week when it put sentencing on hold in a double-murder case.

“The death penalty is still constitutional,” Judge Robert Hodges said, according to reports in the Ocala Star-Banner. “But the process to get there is gone.”

That's the argument that some death penalty defense lawyers have made in the weeks following the court's Hurst and Perry rulings.

Other questions remain unanswered about the death penalty in Florida, as well. Namely, what happens now to the 386 death-row inmates convicted and sentenced under thrown-out laws?

The question has caused stress among prosecutors who worry a mandate from the Supreme Court to retry cases or resentence convicted murderers would cause a catastrophic backlog.

But Bondi's not worried. Reporters asked Tuesday whether she thought there would be "hundreds of retrials and hundreds of resentencings"?

"I don't, I don't," she said.

October 24, 2016

Bondi returns to Trump campaign trail

via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi reunited with Donald Trump this evening in Tampa, ending weeks of absence from the campaign trail as she faced scrutiny over ties to Trump.

"Eight years is enough," Bondi repeatedy said from the stage as she listed offenses of the Obama era.

Bondi vanished from the campaign trail in early September as the $25,000 donation Trump gave to her political committee got fresh life in the news. Then came Trump's comments about women. Bondi earlier this month called Trump's comments "disgusting" but said she believes in forgiveness.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative



Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images


October 15, 2016

Bondi calls Trump remarks 'disgusting' but says she believes in 'forgiveness'

via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi broke her silence Friday over Donald Trump, calling his comments about women “disgusting” but that she remains a supporter.

"I believe the statements that Donald Trump says are disgusting. Disgusting, period," Bondi said a luncheon with the Florida Federation of Republican Women in Pasco County.

"I have spoken to him multiple times (and) he believes what he said was disgusting. He is horrified, apologetic and as Gov. Pence, as Mike Pence, a great man said, he's an evangelical Christian, I believe in forgiveness. I believe what Donald Trump said was disgusting. I also believe in the Constitution of the United States of America."

Bondi's comments were captured by ABC Action News, which has video. It was the first time she had commented since the 2005 video of Trump making sexually aggressive comments surfaced.

Since the video came out, a growing number of women have come forward to say Trump made unwanted advances.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

September 30, 2016

Attorney: Bondi's office never checked for conflict of interest with Trump donation


Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has no written policy about checking for conflicts of interest and never looked into any possible conflict surrounding a $25,000 check from Donald Trump that has caused allegations of pay-for-play politics.

In a letter responding to requests filed by Massachusetts lawyer J. Whitfield Larrabee, a Bondi staffer wrote that "a search of our records has produced no public records responsive to your request." Larrabee provided the letter to the Times/Herald.

On Sept. 6, Larrabee, who has filed ethics cases alleging Bondi's political committee improperly accepted money from Trump, requested copies of "records setting forth the policy, practice or procedure of the attorney general's office for checking conflicts of interest" both in 2013 and in 2016, as well as any records of a check into the $25,000 check.

Even after questions were raised about the check, it appears no one in Bondi's office investigated whether there was any impropriety.

That check dominated presidential politics early this month as national news organizations stirred up a a third wave of questions about it. The September 2013 contribution from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to Pam Bondi's political committee, And Justice For All, came around the time that New York filed a lawsuit against Trump University, alleging it scammed students out of thousands of dollars.

Florida never followed suit, and records show that even when Bill McCollum was attorney general and as early as the first months of Bondi's term in 2011, the state showed little interest in complaints against Trump's real estate seminars.

Earlier this month, Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray told the Times/Herald that the attorney general's office does not require employees to sign a code of ethics and instead has distributed chapter 112 of the Florida Satutes, which includes ethics rules that all state employees are required to abide by.

Chapter 112 bans conflicts of interest, but Larrabee has raised concerns that the attorney general's office does not have a written policy about checking for them.

Bondi has insisted that she did nothing wrong. And in fact, she didn't even need the money, winning re-election handily in 2014 and with funds to spare.

"I just knew there was nothing improper," Bondi said at a press conference last week in the Florida Capitol. "I will never let money from anyone affect what I do. I'm proud of my office. I'm proud of the work that we do."

Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

September 20, 2016

Watch Pam Bondi answer questions about Trump donation


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."