Article Courtesy of The
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
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
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
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
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
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.