Interim chief tapped for financial regulation agency

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An interim commissioner was named Wednesday to lead the state Office of Financial Regulation, as Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet agreed to continue reviewing five applicants to replace outgoing Commissioner Drew Breakspear.

Pam Epting, deputy commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, will temporarily replace Breakspear, who resigned under pressure from state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Scott and the Cabinet, which includes Patronis, agreed to boost Epting’s pay by $10,000 and to potentially consider additional applicants for the commissioner’s job.

Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi expressed support for the five applicants, who were briefly interviewed by phone Wednesday. The regulatory agency employs about 360 people.

“I think we’ve got some great candidates here,” Scott said. “I would personally like to take a little bit more time to review their backgrounds and spend more time talking to them.”

Patronis said he’d like to open the process for more applicants.

“If we’re going to have this window open for another month, if we have another quality candidate, I’d just like to have them under consideration,” Patronis said.

A replacement for Breakspear is now expected to be named at an Aug. 14 Cabinet meeting. The state will also accept additional applications for the position through July 15.

Patronis had recommended interviews for state Rep. Jay Fant; banking lobbyist Scott Jenkins, who most recently was with Wells Fargo in Tallahassee; and Linda Charity, a former official with the Office of Financial Regulation who twice served as the interim commissioner.

Patronis asked Fant, R-Jacksonville, about what he learned from his role in running a family-run bank, First Guaranty Bank & Trust, that failed in 2012 and was seized by regulators before being sold to another Florida bank.

Fant, who abandoned a run for attorney general to apply to replace Breakspear, put the bulk of the blame for the bank’s failure on a federal government bailout, which he contended only aided large banks and did not make emergency capital available to smaller institutions.

“As a result, in Florida alone we lost 60, 60 banks, community banks, ours included,” Fant said, without deeply addressing an increase in loans made by First Guaranty before the recession that drew questions from regulators.

At Bondi’s request, Scott and the Cabinet interviewed William Jannace and Kevin Rosen, who are in the private sector and have lengthy backgrounds as financial-industry regulators. Questions also involved issues such as regulating cryptocurrency, cybersecurity, the movement of medical marijuana money among financial institution and fraud.

Jannace, of Bayside, N.Y., has held positions at the American and New York stock exchanges and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, (FINRA), which is a private, self-regulatory organization.

Rosen is a partner with Shutts & Bowen in West Palm Beach. He practices law in securities and financial regulation and spent 16 years with FINRA as a senior regional counsel. He also worked as a senior attorney for the Florida Department of Banking and Finance from 1995 to 1998.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is another member of the Cabinet, and Scott didn’t recommend any of the applicants for the interview process.

Epting has been with the state agency since 1986. Her current pay is posted at $125,000 a year.

Breakspear on May 31 submitted his resignation from his $135,158-a-year job, effective June 30, amid pressure from Patronis, who pointed to a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication” from the office.

With an application period from June 8 through last Friday, the position drew 34 candidates.

Breakspear was appointed to the position at the end of 2012 by Scott and the Cabinet --- at the time Jeff Atwater was chief financial officer.