Report clears Bondi in firing of foreclosure attorneys

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There is no indication that Attorney General Pam Bondi or anyone else in her office broke any rules in the dismissal of two assistant attorneys general involved in foreclosure investigations, according to a report issued Friday by investigators from the Florida Department of Financial Services, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

“During the course of the inquiry there was no specific allegation of wrongdoing made by any person, and no discovery of evidence of wrongdoing on the part of anyone involved in the matter,” said the report, by FDFS Inspector General Ned Luczynski and Tracy Corbitt, director of investigations.

The 85-page report of the investigation, which was assigned to Luczynski by CFO Jeff Atwater at Bondi’s request, documents the decision to force the resignation of June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards, who were based in Bondi’s Fort Lauderdale office. Democrats had demanded an investigation, charging that Bondi had terminated the two lawyers because they were too aggressive when pursuing foreclosure fraud cases.

According to the report, Richard Lawson, the director for the division of economic crimes, said he decided to fire the two attorneys based on concerns about their professionalism and the leak of a multistate subpoena in one of the foreclosure cases to a local blogger.

A controversial slide show by the two attorneys, which incensed attorneys for a company being investigated by Clarkson and Edwards, also figured prominently in the decision.

“Lawson testified Clarkson’s and Edwards’ terminations were not politically motivated. … Lawson indicated Clarkson and Edwards were not let go because they were too aggressive,” the report said.

But Clarkson and Edwards said they believe that pressure from Tallahassee was one of the main reasons they were let go, though they also said that Pam Bondi’s name didn’t come up when one of their supervisors told them they were gone.

“I think it was at least political, if not something worse like corruption, because there’s no particular reason that either one of us should have been let go under those circumstances or in that manner, and I don’t think there’s ever been anyone else fired from the office under those circumstances in that type of way,” Edwards told investigators.

Bondi’s critics quickly slammed the report as a whitewash by the office of Atwater, who like Bondi is a Republican.

“The termination of these attorneys is a violation of state policy by obstructing the prosecution of mortgage and foreclosure fraud,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando. “The inspector general’s report focuses, instead, on minutiae in order to avoid making a call on the big picture.”

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also said she was unconvinced.

“While no one suggested any law was broken, what was suggested is that the pact between the attorney general’s office and the duty to protect consumers was broken with the dismissals of Ms. Clarkson and Ms. Edwards. … Unfortunately, this report appears to bring us no closer to the answers,” Sobel said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.