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Attorney General Bondi's 'money laundering claim draws scrutiny

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who last week spoke of “many money laundering cases” involving the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, now says her information came from a conversation she had with a detective at a party.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the state attorney’s office and the Seminole Tribe of Florida all contend there has never been even one such case – and Tribal Council Chairman James Billie is outraged.

At a news conference last week denouncing a bill that would add up to three destination casinos to the state, Bondi said: “I went and spoke to many law enforcement officers and in Hillsborough County, many of the last drug trafficking cases that they made, the money was laundered through the casino.”

When pressed to name which casino, Bondi, a former Hillsborough County assistant state attorney, said it was the Hard Rock Tampa.

The local sheriff’s office contradicted her claim in a news release Wednesday, saying “Our office has not conducted any investigation involving money laundering at casinos, nor do we have any official information that this type of criminal activity is/has occurred in Hillsborough County.”

But Bondi says that’s what she was told, and her office issued this statement Wednesday:

“At a charitable event on Nov. 12, I spoke with a deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office regarding the gambling issue. I was absolutely told that in many of the last drug trafficking cases that they made, the money was laundered at the casino.”

She declined further comment, but the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a detective had had a conversation with her.

Tribal Council Chairman James Billie’s statement said:

“I am very disappointed to hear one of our top Florida government leaders come forward with such a statement that is so damaging to the reputation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” said Billie, who also criticized news agencies for publishing Bondi’s statement, “without checking its accuracy or even contacting us for our comments.”

Bondi's original remarks came at a news conference organized by No Casinos, a group opposed to the destination resort bill being pushed by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale and state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami. Law enforcement officers and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also attended.

Earlier this week, the Seminoles emphasized that not only are there no pending money laundering cases linked to their casinos, but that the tribe follows federal anti-money laundering rules by reporting all suspicious incidents to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which alerts appropriate law enforcement agencies. The tribe also operates six other casinos in Florida, including three in Broward County.

And the tribe wasn’t the only gambling entity upset with Bondi’s statements. Las Vegas Sands officials, who hope to operate a casino in Florida, on Monday encouraged Bondi to look at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network web site, which includes records of enforcement actions against casinos and financial institutions.

“We think you will find that there may have been more enforcement actions against banks and other financial institutions than casinos,” wrote Sands’ Andrew F. Abboud.

As attorney general, Bondi’s main job is to uphold Florida’s laws and the constitution. The state legislature could vote next year on the destination casino bill, which Gov. Rick Scott could either sign into law or veto.

Here's the video from Bondi's press conference.

Categories: Legislative news (11)

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Maybe you've made the right play, maybe you haven't. Your heart speeds up, your stomach rumbles.

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NICK SORTAL began playing 3-card "gut" and "Indian poker" on high school band trips, moved on to "night baseball" and "pass the trash" during a Dr. Pepper-infused midnight game in the 1980s at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and now play in a regular neighborhood Hold 'Em game in Plantation. I have been given the assignment of writing about the gambling life in South Florida casinos for the Sun-Sentinel...which means sitting around watching poker on TV now counts as research.
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