Attorney General Bondi's Weekly Briefing
Yesterday, devastating news unfolded in Miami at Florida International University where a 950-ton pedestrian bridge collapsed on unsuspecting motorists. My heart absolutely breaks for everyone involved with this tragedy. My condolences go out to all the victims and their families during this difficult time. I am also praying for the heroic first responders that rushed to the scene and worked throughout the night to search and recover victims. May God bless and comfort the whole community of FIU and the City of Sweetwater.
Earlier this week, my Office of Statewide Prosecution stood with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to announce the conclusion of a massive investigation into more than five million dollars’ worth of SNAP/EBT benefits fraud. SNAP/EBT benefits, better known as food stamps, is funded by hardworking taxpayers. These benefits are designed to help some of our most vulnerable Floridians, such as seniors, children and underprivileged families. Anyone who is willing to defraud this system—which intends to aid those who need it most—is shameful.
Throughout the investigation, law enforcement conducted multiple undercover operations and even created a fictitious business using a mobile terminal where fraudulent transactions took place in the front seat of a car. The defendants allegedly swapped benefits for cold hard cash at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar. Many of these fraudulent transactions occurred at fictitious seafood and meat shops throughout the Jacksonville area. I want to thank the law enforcement agencies for their dedication to stopping this fraud. Law enforcement conducted 290 undercover transactions and met with more than 130 individuals for this investigation. It is because of their diligence and hard work that this scheme was put to an end.
My Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute more than 115 felony cases relating to this investigation. These schemes are very active in our state, and I look forward to my office holding these defendants accountable. Recently, my Office of Statewide Prosecution secured a conviction of a ring leader in another SNAP/EBT fraud case. Mark McCleese is responsible for more than 40 fraudulent transactions involving SNAP/EBT benefits, amounting to more than $21,000. McCleese has been found guilty and will face up to 40 years in prison. I applaud my Office of Statewide Prosecution for their tireless efforts to seek justice and their dedicated service to our great state.
We will not tolerate these disgraceful acts, and we will continue to protect our Florida taxpayers and the countless legitimate recipients of these benefits.
Attorney General Bondi Files Complaint to Save the Ritz Theatre
Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a complaint against the Ritz Theatre 100, Inc., a non-profit corporation tasked with renovating and operating The Ritz Theatre in downtown Winter Haven, and Stella C. Heath, Executive Director and consultant for the corporation. The complaint alleges that misconduct and mismanagement by the defendants have placed the future of the Ritz Theatre in jeopardy. Despite substantial grants, gifts, and funding from the State of Florida, the City of Winter Haven, and others to pay for needed renovations and operating costs, the Ritz Theatre remains underutilized, strapped for cash and in peril of closure.
Efforts by several community members to obtain seats on the Board of Directors to help redress management and financial problems have been rejected by the board, which instead improperly filed an unsubstantiated $250,000 lien against the Ritz Theatre property in favor of Heath.
Attorney General Bondi’s Office is seeking the appointment of a receiver to take possession of and preserve all assets of The Ritz Theatre 100, Inc., to manage the corporation and the theatre, to determine all outstanding indebtedness, and to report to the Attorney General’s Office and the court all steps needed to enable the theatre to fulfill its longstanding mission of serving the interests of the Winter Haven community.
The Attorney General’s Office also is seeking an accounting, as well as temporary and permanent injunctive relief, including relief from the improperly-filed lien, to ensure that the theatre’s mission is and will continue to be met.
To view the complaint, click here.
Attorney General Bondi congratulates James “Lee” Marsh on his appointment to the Second Judicial Circuit Court. Lee will be an excellent Leon County Circuit Judge. Lee served as Bureau Chief for Corrections Litigations in the Attorney General’s Office.