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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Group asks Rick Scott to return $500K contribution



A liberal veterans group called on Gov. Rick Scott to return a $500,000 campaign check from St. Petersburg mogul (and Vietnam veteran) Bill Edwards, saying Scott should not take the money following news of Edwards' company being hit with a record fine for violating the “Do Not Call” telemarketing rule.

“Surely Governor Scott will not willingly retain political contributions -- totaling a half-million dollars -- derived from funds that may have been the fruit of misrepresentations to veterans,” VoteVets.orgFlorida chairman Pablo Pantoja said in a statement. “He should return these tainted contributions immediately. Quite simply our veterans deserve better.”

Update: Pantoja, a 33-year-old veteran of the Iraq War, made headlines last year when he left his post as Hispanic outreach director for the Republican National Committee. He became a Democrat because he grew uncomfortable with the GOP's embrace of tea party positions, and he did not see the party as inclusive, he said. 

A representative from Scott’s political committee could not immediately be reached.

It was the second time news of the FTC penalty came up Wednesday. Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner brought it up at a mayoral forum hosted by Suncoast Tiger Bay in St. Petersburg.

In June, the Federal Trade Commission announced a civil penalty of $7.5 million against Mortgage Investors after the agency said the company called more than 5.4 million phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry about home loan refinancing services to current and former members of the military.

The 75-year-old company has grown into one of the country’s largest refinancers of home loans for veterans, the Times reported in June. More from the Times report:

As part of the pitch, the FTC said, the telemarketers allegedly led service members to believe they could receive low-interest, fixed-rate mortgages at no cost, "often quoting rates that they implied would last the duration of their loan."

In reality, regulators said, the company was only offering adjustable rate mortgages which left consumers liable for higher payments with rising interest rates. It also required consumers to pay closing costs.

Further, the FTC said, Mortgage Investors allegedly misled consumers about a corporate affiliation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Edwards is a big Republican donor and a big player in St. Petersburg. He bought the city’s BayWalk complex and was awarded a city contract to manage the Mahaffey Theater.

Lerner earned Tiger Bay’s Fang and Claw award for asking St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Democratic challenger Rick Kriseman if they would have still awarded the Mahaffey contract to Edwards had they known about the FTC allegations.

Foster defended Edwards. The Mahaffey contract is managed “by a wildly different” entity within Edwards’ empire, Foster said. That’s Big 3 Entertainment.

“And secondly, Bill Edwards has been an incredible philanthropist,” he said, ticking off his investment in the arts and downtown St. Pete. bills itself as a nonpartisan group but its PAC donates to Democratic candidates and against Republicans. In its press release, the group highlighted a 2011 Times profile of Edwards, a Vietnam veteran, in which he said he wrote his company’s telemarketing pitches himself in a script called “the book.”

Being a veteran is key to the success of his business, he said, and he mentions it in much of the advertising. He calls the script he personally wrote for telemarketers "the book." They are not to veer from it. It's based on sales principles he has culled from 20 years along with "understanding, firsthand, veterans, how they think, speak, analyze and relate to people."

[Last modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:25pm]


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