With promise to fight fraud, Attorney General Ashley Moody proves herself no Pam Bondi

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Editorial Board

Published February 20, 2019


After years of neglect by her predecessor, it’s encouraging to hear newly elected Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody vow to fight financial fraudsters and the scams they commit against Floridians.

To pull it off, she’ll need to light fires in the bellies of her fellow agency heads, push for a zero-tolerance culture in the state’s financial industry and develop an intelligence-gathering system that quickly spots scams as they evolve.

During the tenure of former Attorney General Pam Bondi, who recently migrated to a Washington lobbying firm, Florida flourished as the nation’s fraud capital. While her office touted some victories, Bondi never became the crusader we need to fight identify theft, scams against seniors and the rampant fraud that keeps our health, home and car insurance premiums among the nation’s highest.

During the campaign, Moody gave us reason to believe she would be Bondi 2.0. She supported letting people openly carry firearms in public, backed the Stand Your Ground self-defense law, supported Bondi’s lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, opposed the new state ban on people aged 18-21 buying firearms and criticized Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for non-violent felons.

Newly elected Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody vows to make fighting fraud a top priority. Despite fears that she would become Pam Bondi 2.0, Moody's early agenda is one we can all support.


But at the recent annual Associated Press Legislative Day in Tallahassee, Moody, a former Florida circuit judge and federal prosecutor, focused less on politically divisive issues and more on goals we can all support. They include fighting the opioid epidemic, suppressing human trafficking, improving services for the mentally ill and increasing support for law enforcement members.

Most of all, we were heartened to hear she’s determined to make attacking fraud a top priority. She asks that we hold her accountable.

To show that her promises have teeth, she named John Guard, a former federal prosecutor, as her chief deputy attorney general, and Richard Martin, a longtime business litigator for the Akerman law firm in Tampa, as general counsel.

Bondi, by contrast, did nothing to protect Florida investors from one of the biggest, most recent frauds. She left it up to the feds and other states to pursue the Woodbridge Group of Companies, which got its start in Boca Raton and built an alleged $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, sucking in nearly 1,000 Florida real estate investors and thousands more nationally.

The scheme might still be ongoing but for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which sued Woodbridge and its founder, Robert Shapiro, to retrieve investors’ millions. The commission settled its civil cases against Shapiro and his companies, but the recovery process continues to this day in federal bankruptcy court.

Neither did Bondi, a big fan of President Donald Trump, address student complaints about “Trump University,” which charged hefty tuition fees to learn the real estate investment game. Trump U. ceased to exist amid a high tide of student lawsuits. Bondi declined to investigate, but did accept a $25,000 re-election campaign donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation. She denied any connection between the two.

Attorneys, who pursue fraud cases on behalf of Florida victims, think Moody has the right background to press her agenda. Federal records show that while she was an assistant U.S. attorney, Moody spearheaded roughly 230 cases, many in the area of economic crimes.

To pursue white-collar crooks, Moody and her colleagues will need to demonstrate to fraudsters that they’re looking for trouble before or as it develops.

In the Woodbridge case, for example, there was ample public evidence that trouble was brewing as purported financial advisers touted unregistered securities to unsuspecting investors through newspaper ads, lunches, dinners and financial radio talk shows.

Despite the heavy sales activity from South to Central Florida, there is no evidence that Bondi or fellow Cabinet officer Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer, did anything to stop the Ponzi scheme. It was only after the SEC stepped in and Woodbridge entered Chapter 11 that the state Department of Financial Regulation took legal action against the company’s sales agents.

Bottom line, early intelligence is the key to cutting off schemes that drain the savings of the state’s senior citizens.

In Tallahassee, Moody declared she will methodically engage her staff, other agencies and lawmakers to make consumer protection a reality in Florida.

Her follow-through would represent a breath of fresh air for consumers and investors who are tired of choking on dinner-time pitches too good to be true.