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I-Team: Many question whether Attorney General Pam Bondi prosecutes enough Human Trafficking cases

Posted at 7:02 PM, Nov 04, 2016

Tampa has one of the worst problems in the country when it comes to human trafficking.

After making it a campaign promise and spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars, there are questions about whether Attorney General Pam Bondi is doing enough.                              

"It's not about the messenger. It's not about getting your picture on a billboard. It's not about getting your picture in the paper. It's about letting people know that when they wanna have sex with a child, that's somebody's child." says Pasco County Judge Lynn Tepper.

When it comes to human trafficking, Honorable Judge Lynn Tepper is frustrated at the results Attorney General Pam Bondi is actually getting, versus the image she's creating.

Reporter: "Do you feel the Attorney General's office is doing enough?"
Judge Tepper:  "Not enough."

She's not the only one, Kathy Arnold is a human trafficking survivor and advocate. Her own parents pimped her out from the time she was just 5 years old through the time she turned 18.

 "I'm frustrated. I'm very frustrated."

Reporter: "Do you think the attorney general's office is prosecuting enough cases?"
Arnold: "No I don't. Not from what she says."

Florida ranks third in the country for the most human trafficking complaints to the national hotline.

It's an issue that was part of Bondi's 2014 re-election campaign. As she said in her campaign ads,  "...and I'll fight to get human trafficking monsters behind bars."

Bondi has spent nearly half a million dollars ($461,244)  on radio ads, billboards, and traveling around the state chairing the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Advocates tell the I-Team they're frustrated that her statewide council doesn't consist of one survivor of human trafficking.

A concern Kathy Arnold tried expressing to Bondi.  "Yes repeatedly yes I have." she says.

We looked at every human trafficking case Bondi's team has prosecuted since she first took office in 2010. Bondi's state wide prosecutors have closed 6 cases involving 12 defendants. Only 5 defendants were actually charged with human trafficking, the others were charged with racketeering but Bondi's team still counts them as human trafficking cases.

"I don't understand how there couldn't possibly be hundreds of prosecutions a year on a statewide basis." says Judge Tepper. 

And when it comes to sentencing, 10 of the 12 defendants got 5 years or less.

As for pending cases, Bondi's team has charged 67 defendants. But only about half of them are actually charged under the human trafficking statute.

"I'm shocked I'm aghast.  I had no idea that so little was being done." Judge Tepper adds.     

With almost 6 years in office, Bondi has only charged one Hillsborough county man, and that was just a few months ago.

Judge Tepper continues to say, "That's astounding to me. I cant imagine (sigh) It's astounding.  Again I know survivors a number of survivors they all were trafficked in the Tampa Bay area. 

We tried to sit down with Bondi and discuss her numbers. Her office ignored repeated requests for an interview, so we caught up with her at a public event. 

Reporter: "What would you say if I told you I talked to several survivors, advocates, even a judge in the county you're standing in today and they say your numbers aren't satisfactory and they need to be more?"
AG Bondi:  "Well they need to talk to the state attorney, they need to talk to the us attorney, and my office we all have the same jurisdiction regarding human trafficking cases."
Reporter: "But you're in charge of your office so what about your office?"
AG Bondi: "Right well we prosecute, the us attorney and the state attorney, nick cox my statewide prosecutor, we are doing everything we can to combat human trafficking." 

Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox tells us, a human trafficking case has to be occurring in at least 2 counties in order for them to prosecute it.

Cox points out that in 2012, Bondi helped change a state law which strengthens penalties on human trafficking and allows her office to prosecute more cases. He argues they really couldn't begin prosecuting human trafficking cases until late 2012.   

Reporter to Bondi: "To the people watching who may look at those numbers and say that's not enough, what would you like to say to them?"
AG Bondi: "I agree it's not enough.  As long as human traffickers are out there, we're not doing enough."

"Frankly it's not about whether the attorney general says she cares. It's not about whether the attorney general says these are bad people, we don't tolerate this. Show me! Show me how you don't tolerate it." Judge Tepper replies. 

"I would like to say listen, listen to the survivors, listen to the advocates, listen to the ones who have been out there on the ground." says Kathy Arnold.

Statewide prosecutors say they never reject a human trafficking case.

The I-Team spoke to several other survivors and advocates who all say they're frustrated with Bondi's numbers, but didn't want to go on camera because they receive or hope to receive state funding.