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  1. Florida Politics

Pam Bondi to speak before group with ties to Scientology

Pam Bondi
Published Sep. 7, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Pam Bondi is preparing to speak next month to a group that has ties to the Church of Scientology.

Bondi will discuss human trafficking and anti-drug initiatives at an event sponsored by Florida Citizens for Social Reform, a social welfare group and onetime political committee associated with the Church of Scientology. Bondi's Oct. 1 appearance will be held at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the flagship of Scientology's Clearwater spiritual headquarters.

"Considering the seriousness of this issue, the attorney general is open to talking to any organization about what our office is doing to combat this awful crime and educate them on what they can do to help," Bondi spokeswoman Kylie Mason said.

The Church of Scientology has been under fire for its own practices. In 2009, the FBI launched an investigation into the church's treatment of workers, focusing on physical and mental restrictions and questioning whether they constituted human trafficking.

No charges were filed in the investigation, which primarily looked into church work sites in California.

Additionally, the church has been the subject of investigations by the Tampa Bay Times and the HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, released last year, which is based on a book by Lawrence Wright, a staff writer with New Yorker magazine.

Scientologists created Florida Citizens for Social Reform in 2004 as a state-registered political committee. It is now listed as a nonprofit social welfare organization with the IRS.

Steve Sigal, who cofounded Florida Citizens for Social Reform, said the group is not political, though it has hosted candidate forums and events featuring political figures. And, he added, it is not affiliated with the Church of Scientology. The church provides space at the Fort Harrison for the group's events.

Bondi has made human trafficking a key issue since taking office in 2011. As of July, her office had nine active human trafficking cases, seven closed cases and 10 investigations, Mason said.

This is not the first time Bondi has taken part in an event associated with the controversial Church of Scientology. In 2014, when she was running for re-election, six prominent Scientologists held a fundraiser on her behalf in Clearwater.

Then-campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson connected that event to the issue of human trafficking at the time .

"It's like-minded folks sharing the same goals: protecting children against drug overdoses and human trafficking," Johnson told the Times.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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