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Sink takes on state's top financial regulator at contentious Cabinet meeting

TALLAHASSEE — Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink lambasted the state's top financial regulator at the Cabinet meeting Tuesday for not aggressively pursing litigation against Bank of America — her former employer — for its deal with Merrill Lynch.

"I'm not really impressed with the comments you made," Sink said bluntly. "The last commissioner lost his job because he hid behind not having the powers or not having the resources. My main frustration … is the sense of do-nothingness and inaction in the face of all sorts of scams in our state."

The public scolding of Thomas Cardwell, the commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, stood in stark contrast to the typical decorum in the Cabinet room, where the state's top four officials meet twice a month. And for another reason: Cardwell was Sink's pick for the job.

Given an opportunity to respond, Cardwell fought back. "This is not an excuse," he said, preceding it with the standard "with all due respect."

Sink wants Attorney General Bill McCollum and the state's financial regulators to aggressively pursue litigation. She applauded New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who sued former Bank of America's chief executive Ken Lewis for fraud in the purchase of Merrill Lynch.

Cardwell said the state's interests are well represented by three pending legal actions, one of which involves the state's pension fund as a party trying to recoup damages. He also said Florida's laws at the time of the deal don't allow it to recoup losses on behalf of individuals.

McCollum, a Republican, came to Cardwell's rescue at one point, squaring off against Sink, his Democratic gubernatorial rival.

Outside the meeting, McCollum's campaign called Sink's efforts a stunt, but McCollum refused to stand by the claim. Sink, meanwhile, called the accusation "a bunch of bull."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Sink takes on state's top financial regulator at contentious Cabinet meeting 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 10:37pm]

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