TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Attorney General Pam Bondi is rarely out of the news. Her name was among those that surfaced amid speculation about Gov. Rick Scott's next lieutenant governor after Jennifer Carroll resigned. She's nationally known for Florida's lead role in a 26-state lawsuit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And she's following a full slate of legislation, in some cases for the third year.
Bondi is a graduate of the University of Florida and Stetson Law School. She was a prosecutor in the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office for 18 years before running for attorney general in 2010. She's known for her passionate advocacy, her fierce rhetoric and for working closely with law enforcement on such issues as synthetic drugs, pill mills and drug-addicted newborns.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Pam Bondi:
Q: Florida received a record $8.4 billion in a mortgage settlement with the five largest servicers. Explain why you're tracking what the Legislature does with it.
BONDI: That money is meant to go back to homeowners. That money is meant to go to people who are victims of robo-signing, of delays in their loan processing, of all kinds of misdoings by those top five servicers. And so an example is California. I think they may be the only state that received a larger settlement than Florida. And you know what happened with that money? Every penny of it, basically, was raided by the Legislature to go balance their budget deficit in California.
And that's not what that settlement money was sent for. And I am so proud of our House and our Senate and our governor for committing to put the money where it's meant to go. We've already allocated $60 (million) or $70 million through the (Legislative Budget Commission) to go out to help immediately, right away, with legal aid, counseling – not counseling in the traditional sense, but counselors in the industry to help people deal with their homes in the foreclosure crisis. And now there's another $200 million going through the House and the Senate, through the appropriations process.
Q: You've been talking to legislative committees about human trafficking, urging them to crack down on perpetrators and help victims.
BONDI: Well, human trafficking is a $32 billion business. Twenty-seven million people worldwide are victims of trafficking, and in the United States alone, 2 ½ million people – it's real. It's so ugly that I think people don't believe that it's happening.
Kristi House in Miami, our state attorney in Miami, Kathy Fernandez Rundle, they've done a wonderful job of combatting it, but it's all over our state. And so last session we fought to get some tougher penalties on human trafficking. My statewide prosecutors now have jurisdiction to join with the federal authorities, with the state attorneys, to take on these cases. And what struck me was, of the calls to the national human trafficking hotline, nationwide, Florida ranked third in the number of calls. So we've got to make Florida – and we are making Florida – a zero tolerance state for human trafficking.
A lot of it falls under domestic servitude, which is horrible. Many of these are 13- and 14-year-olds. Some are illegal aliens who've come here for refuge, and they're being trafficked. And they're scared, obviously, to report it, because they have nowhere to go. A lot of them are runaways, kids who've been bounced from foster home to foster home, and where do a lot of them want to go? Florida.
It affects everyone, and it's a horrible, ugly, ugly business. Anybody who's going to exploit our children needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Q: You've filed a petition to allow a medical examiner to exhume the bodies at the Dozier School for Boys. Do you have any idea when the judge will rule?
BONDI: No, we don't, but we're hoping sooner rather than later. I know (University of South Florida anthropologist) Dr. (Erin) Kimmerle wants to start her exhumations as soon as possible because of the rainy season coming up in a few months.
There's so much that we don't know. And my office – because we have a great relationship with the sheriff there, with the medical examiner, with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with the families – everyone has a great relationship, but it's just getting it all done and all working together. So my office has now come in, and we're assisting the medical examiner, and we have requested an order to exhume these bodies. And so we're waiting on a ruling on that order. Hopefully the judge will allow us to go through with this, because these families deserve answers. We don't even know how many bodies are buried there. And these are kids.
Q: You've made synthetic drugs a top priority almost since taking office. Where are you with that now?
BONDI: A month after I came into office, Sheriff [Frank] McKeithen in the Panhandle wrote me a letter…I'd had no idea that this was a problem. And when it started in Florida, it was only in the Panhandle, because it had been outlawed by Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and they moved to the Panhandle. And these are creative chemists, and they're making these synthetic drugs that are killing our kids.
At that time I started calling law enforcement from central Florida down south. No one had heard of it. Many hadn't had any problems with it at all. Look what's happened in two years: It's spiraled out of control. So the first session I signed an emergency order and outlawed six compounds. By the time it went through session, we had nine, then last session we outlawed approximately 90, and I just signed another emergency order a few months ago, outlawing an additional 22 compounds.
These creative chemists are taking basically household items and mixing them up to create synthetic drugs. And here's the part that scares me to death: People think – they call it synthetic marijuana, but this is not synthetic marijuana. This is synthetic heroin, LSD, PCP, acid. It's a hallucinogenic, it makes you extremely violent. You can go into seizures. And after we started passing the legislation outlawing these compounds, calls to poison control were on a decline.
Now we have more before the Legislature this session. We're going to put these guys out of business…If you know of a convenience store that's selling this stuff, call the police or call my office, and we'll get rid of it.
Q: Is your hat in the ring for lieutenant governor?
BONDI: Well, I'm passionate about being attorney general. I was a prosecutor for almost 20 years when I lost my mind and decided to run for attorney general. I love practicing law. I feel like I can continue my work as a prosecutor and even more as attorney general. My only plans are to run for re-election, because I think if you're in this office not looking at the next, you can get so much done. This office deserves stability. This office – hopefully, if I'm blessed to be re-elected, then we'll have eight years of stability in this office.
And there's so much more we want to do. I could talk all day about it.
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