League of Women Voters wants Bondi to investigate concealed carry program

But Bondi's office said it doesn't have the authority to review this.
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is getting a boost from Publix in his bid for governor. [Octavio Jones | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is getting a boost from Publix in his bid for governor. [Octavio Jones | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Published Jul. 17, 2018|Updated Jul. 17, 2018

The Florida League of Women Voters wants Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the Florida Department of Agriculture's handling of concealed carry permits under Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In a request Monday, the League, a non-partisan organization, said the public needs assurance that they are safe after multiple reports that Putnam's office mishandled background checks on gun licenses during his tenure.

"The people of Florida deserve nothing less than the most rigorous rules in place to make sure guns don't get into the hands of the wrong people," said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "We demand competent oversight of the concealed-carry permitting process and we ask that the Florida Attorney General's Office investigate how that process ultimately failed at the state Department of Agriculture."

But in a letter to the League dated Monday, Bondi said it doesn't have the "authority" to investigate this, and instead referred the organization to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the Office of the Inspector General.

Putnam is a Republican candidate for governor and is running against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the August primary.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that an ex-supervisor in the Department of Agriculture sued in 2013, asserting she was forced out of the agency after sounding the alarm about "gross misconduct" in the handling of gun permit applications and that quotas for approving concealed weapon permits "guaranteed abuse." She settled with the agency in 2016 for $30,000.

Putnam's counsel, Steven Hall, said the allegations were "unsubstantiated." In a response to the complaint filed in a Leon County Circuit Court, the department denied most of the accusations.

In a deposition, Grea Bevis, director of the Department of Licensing, confirmed employees had a quota to review 75 applications for concealed weapons permits every day.

MORE: Ex-supervisor in Adam Putnam's gun-license unit warned of 'gross misconduct,' sued and got $30,000 settlement

The 2013 lawsuit came as Putnam's office finalized an investigation into 48 employees for not following department protocols when reviewing applications for licenses, including for concealed carry permits. Some employees failed to review the entire application, including background checks. One employee twice granted a gun license to a convicted felon.

Putnam's office put protocols in place so this wouldn't happen again. But in 2016, the department again distributed permits to ineligible people. This time, the agency wasn't reviewing the results of a background check because an employee couldn't log in to retrieve them. The problem went undiscovered for more than a year.

The department had to later revoke 291 permits and fired the employee. Putnam has defended his agency's response as decisive and swift to tackle the problem.

"This was a very serious issue," Putnam said last month. "We took immediate action."

The League also raised concerns with the Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General investigation. The report, finalized in June 2017, first claimed that all interviews were recorded and sworn. But Politico has since reported that two of the interviews were conducted over the phone and weren't recorded.

The Inspector General amended the report this year to clarify this discrepancy after it was discovered by Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat. Stewart has also demanded an outside investigation.

RELATED COVERAGE: Adam Putnam's office stopped reviewing concealed weapons background checks for a year because it couldn't log in

Adam Putnam blamed one employee for bungling gun background checks. Records show the issue went deeper.

Problems with concealed weapons permits in Putnam's office first discovered in 2012

Why does Florida's agriculture department handle concealed gun permits? The NRA wants it to.

Concealed weapons permit proposal delayed in Florida Legislature