Monday, November 28, 2011

Investigators Turn Up More Conflict of Interest at Florida AG Bondi’s Office

In New York we see elites attacking the Attorney General for doing his job. In Florida, however, there’s a different dynamic going on.

June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards,

I’ve written about June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards, the two foreclosure fraud investigators at the state Attorney General’s office fired for being too competent in their investigations. This appeared to be a US Attorney-like scandal at the state level, but I wasn’t hopeful that much would come of it. Boy, was I wrong. The news media in Florida picked up on this and wouldn’t let go. Set against a backdrop of a foreclosure crisis, firing the people closest to getting at the corruption and fraud resonated sharply against the Attorney General, Pam Bondi, and her staff. Bondi, after making nods toward defending the decision, then initiated an outside investigation into the firing. And that still wasn’t enough to satiate the press. This is a devastating article from the Orlando Sentinel a couple days ago:

Attorney General Pam Bondi

Eight months after she took office as a first-time elected official, Attorney General Pam Bondi is facing a management crisis replete with allegations of old-fashioned political interference in cases and a revolving door between lawyers and the companies they investigate.
An outside investigator is looking into the circumstances surrounding the May firings of foreclosure fraud investigators June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards. This week, another investigator abruptly resigned after giving the media a 16-page memo noting that two other high-profile lawyers in the attorney general’s office had taken jobs with companies under investigation, and accusing top management of interfering in an investigation of a prominent Tampa car dealership [...]
The latest blast came from Andrew Spark, who resigned from Bondi’s Tampa economic crimes office and said in a 16-page, memo that he was speaking out because the public deserved “fair and honest government, independent of personal connections and powerful interests.”

Bill McCollum
 He complained that two top lawyers, former assistant attorney general Joe Jacquot and former Economic Crimes Division Director Mary Leontakianakos, had both taken jobs with foreclosure companies under state investigation, Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services and the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson in Fort Lauderdale. Both had worked for Bondi’s predecessor, Bill McCollum, who lost a primary bid for governor last fall.
Jacquot said Friday he had avoided any involvement in the investigation into LPS months before taking a job with the company, and is legally banned from representing the company before his old office. Leontakianakos, a 25-year veteran of four administrations, was hired this summer by the Watson law firm two months after it reached a $2 million settlement with the AG’s office. She said Friday she cleared the job with the state Ethics Commission and made certain the investigation into the Watson firm was closed before she interviewed for the job.

So not only were Clarkson and Edwards fired for, among other things, pursuing investigations against LPS, but other lawyers at the AGs office were JOINING LPS after they settled with the state.
Some of Bondi’s other troubles concern an adverse judicial ruling that really undercuts her consumer protection responsibilities. And that’s just garden-variety ideology trumping the law. But even in that case, Bondi’s office declined to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, apparently preferring to tie their own hands.
The pressure is on Pam Bondi. I didn’t think that, in this environment, she would go the way of Alberto Gonzales. But with an independent investigation sure to produce more revelations, it’s certainly possible.
UPDATE: The Sentinel article made it sound like Bondi’s office settled with LPS, but their only settlement as it relates to foreclosure fraud was a $2 million deal with the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, a foreclosure mill law firm.

By: David Dayen Monday August 15, 2011 6:55 am

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