Friday, December 15, 2017
Editorials

Florida's fraud watchdog muzzled

Even as Florida was leading the nation in mortgage fraud, Tom Grady thought it wise to close half the state's regional offices charged with investigating the mortgage business. As head of the Office of Financial Regulation, Grady, a millionaire securities lawyer, took a bulldozer to the place, slashing office resources and personnel, including fraud investigators, and ousting a veteran administrator to put a crony of the governor's in his place. He also spent lavishly on his own travel. Though he's out of office now, Grady's poor management affected the state's ability to police wrongdoing in the financial sector, which may have been the point all along.

Grady was handpicked by Gov. Rick Scott, a neighbor in Naples, to take over as commissioner of OFR, the state agency that oversees and investigates mortgage brokers, banks and securities firms. He shares Scott's government-cutting, antiregulation ethos, and during his short tenure moved aggressively to pare back the office's physical presence throughout the state. Florida is known as a hotbed of mortgage and financial fraud. Fort Lauderdale is home to so many scammers it's known as "Fraud Lauderdale." But Grady, a former conservative Republican legislator, led the effort to chop more $3.5 million from the agency by eliminating 81 positions including investigators and closing regional offices in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Fort Lauderdale.

Grady, who is back in private practice, insists that the lost resources won't affect financial investigations. That would be more believable if during the six months Grady ran OFR he'd been more professional and less political. But Grady's actions suggest he saw his job as advancing Scott's plan to shrink government's size and influence and put friends in high places. For instance, Grady replaced a veteran division director with Greg Hila, an unqualified chiropractor-turned-real estate agent who played golf with Scott. And Grady's grand idea for boosting investigations into securities fraud was to establish an "all-volunteer" advisory council of securities lawyers to hunt and report on the wrongdoing they see. Never mind that lawyers who represent clients often have professional obligations to keep quiet.

Yet for all of Grady's zeal for cost-cutting, it didn't extend to his own expenses. There Grady didn't skimp, staying at a Ritz-Carlton at $296 per night in Sarasota, spending more than $6,000 for in-state travel, taking a car service instead of taxis and seeking reimbursement for more than $10,000 in office furniture. When Grady left OFR to become interim president of Citizens Property Insurance, he kept up the pattern, spending more than $10,000 on travel in just two months.

Grady saved the state a few million dollars at OFR, but he may have cost Florida's victims of financial fraud even more. By closing so many regional offices, Grady made it harder for the agency to effect a statewide presence and provide victims with locally delivered relief. Yes, it's smaller government — but it's also government doing less to protect financial consumers and investors.

Comments
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17