1. Florida Politics

Old questions resurface as Attorney General Pam Bondi endorses Donald Trump

Pam Bondi, who endorsed Donald Trump on Monday, greets the GOP presidential front-runner at a campaign event in Tampa.
Pam Bondi, who endorsed Donald Trump on Monday, greets the GOP presidential front-runner at a campaign event in Tampa.
Published Mar. 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday became the first big-name Republican official in the state to endorse Donald Trump for president.

At a rally in her hometown of Tampa, the state's top legal officer — the woman Trump called "the most popular person in Florida, by far" — praised the Republican front-runner as an outsider who will keep Americans safe.

"Donald and I have been friends for many years," Bondi said, "and I can tell you some things about Donald that I have seen firsthand," alluding to how nicely he treats his family.

The endorsement, however, dredged up a nearly 3-year-old question from the last time Bondi and Trump made headlines together: Why didn't the Florida Attorney General's Office investigate fraud complaints against Trump University?

In the fall of 2013, Bondi was preparing for a re-election bid and a for-profit college called Trump University had just been sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The lawsuit alleged that Trump University had "scammed" more than 5,000 people out of more than $40 million by falsely promising to teach them the tools to Trump's real estate success.

With media scrutiny mounting, the Donald J. Trump Foundation that September contributed $25,000 to And Justice for All, a political committee controlled by Bondi.

Florida never followed New York's lead. Although there were complaints in Florida, the state never opened an investigation.

Charles Jacobson of Bradenton was one of the people who filed a Trump University complaint with Bondi's office. In 2011, he wrote that he "lost more than $26,000" to the college and had "since declared personal bankruptcy because of it."

"The determination was rightfully made that that complaint would be addressed in the ongoing lawsuit in New York," said Whitney Ray, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.

That decision didn't involve Bondi directly, Ray said.

"Absolutely not," he said. "It didn't rise to her level."

Jacobson's was the only complaint about Trump University that Bondi's office received from the time she took office in January 2011 until September 2013, Ray said. Lawsuits allege that as many as 20 complaints about various Trump events and seminars were "reviewed" by the state while the previous attorney general, Bill McCollum, was in office from 2007 to 2011.

But in the aftermath of media attention toward the for-profit college in 2013, two more people contacted Bondi's office with similar stories.

Neither of those cases was ever investigated, either.

The Trump presidential campaign did not respond to questions Monday.

In 2013, he wouldn't answer Times/Herald questions about why he was contributing to an attorney general's race in Florida. But he did release a statement calling Bondi "a fabulous representative of the people" and Schneiderman "a political hack."

As for Bondi, she praised Trump on Monday for bringing new voters into the political arena. He's an outsider who has never run for office before, she said, just like she was in 2010 when she first ran for attorney general after working as a prosecutor in Tampa.

"I felt Florida needed to be changed," Bondi said. "Now, our country and our world need someone who is going to protect our security like never before, and that's why I support Donald."

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.


  1. Richard Sajko of Valrico talks about how he killed one of the two bears on the back of his pickup truck in 2015 during the first Florida Black Bear hunt in 21 years at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary. The hunt was so controversial that state officials have not held a second one. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
    But commissioners leave the door open for future hunts in next decade
  2. An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
    Foreign citizens are allowed to buy guns if they first get a hunting license
  3. Marie Oneal sets up voting booths ahead of Election Day at the First United Methodist Church in Seffner on Aug. 27. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] [JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Delays in implementing key changes are facing insurmountable hurdles before the Nov. 3 general election.
  4. Ladarine Williams, an inmate at Avon Park Correctional Institution. The tire facility teaches inmates a vocational skill and helps instill work ethic and responsibility in the inmates. (Times file photo) [Highlands Today]
    The Florida Department of Transportation outsources a key part of toll-by-plate to a contractor who uses prison labor.
  5. Former television journalist Alan Cohn (left) and State Rep. Adam Hattersley are Democratic candidates in Florida's 15th Congressional District. (Photos courtesy of Alan Cohn and Adam Hattersley.)
    Republican Ross Spano is vulnerable, but dueling endorsements Wednesday show there will be a tough primary before anyone takes him on.
  6. Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner is challenging the state on its rules governing medical pot. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
    The Florida Department of Health is challenging a ruling that found a state law requiring medical marijuana operators to grow, process and sell cannabis and derivative products runs afoul of a...
  7. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
    “I think it’s really important to note that we are behind the curve on this,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.
  8. A Honeybell orange hangs from a tree affected by citrus greening in Cee Bee's Citrus' orchard in Odessa, in 2018. [GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES   |   Times]
    “I don’t know how many plagues were going to fight, but we’re getting very close to biblical proportions,” a top Florida citrus official told state senators.
  9. Copy of the Articles of Impeachment, Tuesday in Washington. House Democrats announced they are pushing ahead with two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - charging he corrupted the U.S. election process and endangered national security in his dealings with Ukraine. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) [PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS  |  AP]
    The new articles of impeachment carry historical echoes in some ways.
  10. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis raises his hands after being asked about his relationship with two Ukrainian businessmen during an announcement at a Palm Harbor Walmart Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. DeSantis refused to answer questions about the two men. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    During a news conference in Naples, DeSantis launched into a long-winded discussion of American history, which he said young people need to know better.