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Attorney General Bill McCollum Press Release
Attorney General Hosts Roundtable Discussion on 2007 Accomplishments
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today hosted a roundtable discussion highlighting the accomplishments for the Attorney General’s Office over the past year. Since taking office in January, Attorney General McCollum has championed legislation that has made Florida one of the states with the strongest penalties against internet child predators, has created an Executive Group of state agency heads tasked with developing a statewide gang reduction strategy, and has developed strategies for combating cyberfraud and other threats to Florida consumers. The Attorney General spoke on several areas of policy development and discussed the Office’s priorities over the past 12 months.
“When I took office in January, I immediately began working to fulfill my campaign promises to make Florida a safer place to live, work and raise a family,” said Attorney General McCollum. “Over the past several months, we have made significant progress toward protecting our children from child predators, we have taken steps to reduce the growth of gangs in the state, and we have developed meaningful initiatives to better serve the people of Florida.”
A summarized list of highlighted accomplishments follows below. More information can be obtained from the Attorney General’s Communications Office.
- Attorney General Bill McCollum championed the CyberCrimes Against Children Act of 2007. The new law contains a first-in-the-nation provision that creates a separate penalty for internet predators who communicate with a child, or someone believed to be a child, online and then travel to meet that child to further sexually abuse him or her. Since the law took effect in October, three people have been arrested on traveling charges.
- The groundbreaking law also increases penalties for the possession or distribution of child pornography online and for offenders who misrepresent their age to seduce a child over the internet, an act known as “grooming.”
- At Attorney General McCollum’s request, lawmakers provided $4.2 million in funding to expand his Child Predator CyberCrime Unit across the state from six to 56 staff members. The first expansion happened in Jacksonville on October 4th followed by Orlando on October 8th.
- Attorney General McCollum kicked-off his statewide CyberSafety educational initiative at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year with a goal of reaching every middle and high school in Florida. To date, 16,000 students have received the cybersafety presentation and approximately 900 have disclosed victimization, both online solicitation and receipt of pornography.
- Partners in Attorney General Bill McCollum’s efforts to educate students on cybersafety include the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the Florida School Board Association, the Florida Association of School Resource Officers, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators.
- The Child Predator Cyber Crime Unit has also developed the Internet Student Advisory Council, designed to match technology-savvy teenagers with the unit’s cybercrime law enforcement team. The unit’s investigators are working closely with the students to identify new and popular internet trends, including those that could be potentially harmful to young people.
- In addition, Attorney General McCollum launched an educational effort this spring to raise awareness about internet dangers. The Attorney General’s cybersafety website, http://www.safeflorida.net/safesurf, provides valuable information to adults, teens and kids about staying safe while surfing the internet.
Combating Gang Violence
- In October Attorney General Bill McCollum announced a collaborative effort to develop a first-of-its-kind Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy. He formed an Executive Working Group of state agency heads to explore a two-pronged approach – a law enforcement effort and an educational effort focused on prevention and intervention – to address the critical issues concerning gang membership identification, gang recruitment, risk factors for youth, prevention, crime suppression and post conviction or adjudication diversion. A list of members of the Attorney General’s leadership team and additional information on the Anti-Gang Strategy is available online at http://www.safeflorida.net/safestreets.
- The next step in the formation of a statewide Anti-Gang Strategy is underway this week. The Attorney General is hosting a two-day Gang Reduction Strategy Summit in Tallahassee. Designed to obtain input from stakeholders and other interested parties across the state, the summit is the next step in developing a Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy. Participants include law enforcement officials, educators, health care providers, social agency workers, faith leaders and elected officials with the specific goal of reducing gangs.
- At the request of the Attorney General’s Statewide Prosecutor, the 18th Statewide Grand Jury was impaneled in August to investigate the increase in crimes related to gang activity. Organized by the Office of Statewide Prosecution, the Grand Jury is investigating criminal gang activity and indicting for crimes which can include drug trafficking, robbery and assault as well as violations of the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization (RICO) Act. The grand jury announced its first indictments on December 14, 2007, charging 10 South Florida gang members with criminal racketeering charges.
Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys
- The Attorney General’s Office houses the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. The Council began meeting in February with the goal of making research-based policy recommendations to improve the lives of members of Florida’s minority communities. The Council’s report is due in January and will be available on the Council’s new website at http://www.cssbmb.com.
- 2007 marks the 15th anniversary for the Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights. One specific area of concern for Attorney General McCollum is familial discrimination. The Office of Civil Rights issued a series of subpoenas in July to the Cornerstone Group and several of its apartment complexes in South Florida, seeking to determine if the company is discriminating against families with children, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. This investigation is ongoing.
- In April, Attorney General McCollum wrote a letter to Congress, expressing his strong support for federal legislation that would put in place long-overdue penalties for those who commit hate crimes.
- Also in April, the Attorney General required a Broward County condominium association in to change its rules so all its Jewish residents can hang mezuzahs on their doors. The agreement was reached after a condominium owner complained to the Attorney General that she was not being permitted to attach her mezuzah to the outside of her door, but other residents were permitted to hang other holiday decorations.
Consumer Protection Efforts
- The Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate issues related to the sale of grouper in Florida restaurants. In October, the Attorney General sent subpoenas to the nation’s largest distributor of fish and several other distributors seeking to identify the source of fish being falsely sold as grouper.
- In light of the changing mortgage markets, the Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating various aspects of mortgage fraud, particularly scams related to “rescue foreclosure” offers. The Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division has the authority to file litigation against companies or individuals violating the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act through mortgage-related scams.
- In July, the Attorney General launched a formal investigation into several entities in the prepaid calling card industry including multiple distributors and service providers. The investigation will work to identify prepaid calling card providers and examine their marketing practices which have been called into question as deceptive or deliberately fraudulent. The investigation is ongoing.
- In November, Attorney General McCollum unveiled a sophisticated team to combat internet-related fraud and simultaneously announced the first agreement reached by the newly-created CyberFraud Task Force. The CyberFraud Task Force was created to review and investigate complaints against companies or individuals found taking advantage of consumers through internet-related fraud. The task force has already reached a $1 million settlement with one internet marketing company and has sued another company, alleging it was engaging in blatantly deceptive business practices and cramming charges onto consumers’ wireless phone bills. Additional investigations are ongoing.
- In December, the Florida Board of Governors unanimously approved the Attorney General’s Code of Conduct for Student Lending at public universities. The Code is designed to protect students and their families from being inappropriately steered to certain lenders. The Code’s adoption coincides with an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into the student lending industry as a whole.
- Attorney General Bill McCollum regularly hosts Shred-A-Thons around the state to raise awareness of identity theft.
Government Accountability Project
- In March, the Attorney General’s Office launched the Government Accountability Project, in partnership with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. The objective of the Government Accountability Project is to encourage state and local governments to be proactive in providing Florida’s citizens the information and records they need to hold government accountable. As part of the project, the Attorney General’s Office has posted the agency’s contracts on the GAP website for public access.
- In September, Attorney General McCollum addressed the participants of the 2007 Florida Freedom of Information Summit, sponsored by the Brechner Center, to highlight his office’s commitment to open government.
- Citizen forums are also being planned as part of the Government Accountability Project to give Floridians a voice in the public records process and the opportunity to discuss records they have requested but may have had trouble accessing.
Medicaid Fraud Control Unit
- The Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has undergone substantial growth and development since January 2007, including a reorganization of regional responsibilities, new training initiatives and new procedures for case management. The unit has also created a new bureau tasked with investigating and litigating multi-state false claims cases involving the Florida Medicaid program.