Attorney General Pam Bondi is forcing businesses who settle unfair trade actions with her office to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
She also is directing contributions to her Office’s own nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.
Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto” against Bondi in Leon County Circuit Civil court. Such actions are filed against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.
The petition says Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse.
“Our office has not been served at this point; however, after a preliminary review of the information you provided us, we believe these claims to be without merit,” Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.
Specifically, between 2011 and 2016, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, the petition says. Bondi was first elected in 2010.
That’s out of 55 businesses who paid $20.2 million “in forced contributions to charitable organizations” to settle cases in the same timeframe. An exhibit that included the names of the charities in question was marked “confidential” and unavailable for public view Monday.
One of the settlement conditions was contributing to a charity “as part of a resolution to end the (Attorney General’s office) investigation,” it says. Overall, there were 278 “Assurance of Voluntary Compliance” agreements.
Bondi’s office had taken action against Smith, who invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms, said attorney Scott Siverson of Orlando.
Smith filed a verified petition, meaning he declared under penalty of perjury that the allegations in his complaint are true. He wants a judge to prohibit Bondi from ordering payments to any more unregistered charities and to Seniors vs. Crime.
Siverson said his client was in Hawaii on business and unavailable.
Seniors vs. Crime, which is registered as a charity, is a “non-profit organization that operates as a Special Project of the Attorney General’s Office.” It aims to “reduce the victimization of senior citizens who are often targeted for specific crimes or scams based on their age,” according to its website.
Between 2011 and 2015, the organization received $485,500 in contributions resulting from settlements, the petition says. In the same time, “no other Florida charity received an amount close to (that).”