Jeff Atwater files blockbuster billion-dollar lawsuit against feds - Florida Politics

Jeff Atwater files blockbuster billion-dollar lawsuit against feds

Jeff Atwater wants the federal government to show him the money: More than $1 billion worth.

Florida’s chief financial officer now is suing the feds for that amount, saying it has refused to make good on matured U.S. savings bonds he holds as unclaimed property.

The suit was filed last week in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which adjudicates demands for payment lodged with the federal government.

The Department of Financial Services, which CFO Atwater heads, is holding thousands of “unclaimed, matured savings bonds that were originally registered to individuals with last-known addresses in the State of Florida,” the suit says. Some of the bonds date back to the 1930s.

“This issue … represents yet another way we’re working to make Florida’s unclaimed property program the most robust in the nation,” said Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr in an email Monday.

“We have a proven track record of returning record-breaking amounts of money back to Floridians, and we feel that we are best suited to help return these unclaimed savings bond funds as well,” she added.

“However, even though the state of Florida now has title to these bonds, the federal government has refused to redeem their value, preventing Florida’s phenomenally successful team from working to return the funds back into the hands of the rightful owners.”

Atwater’s complaint, filed in his official capacity as CFO, says the U.S. Treasury “has refused to fully comply with Florida’s requests, in clear violation of the governing law.” A Treasury spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2015, lawmakers passed a measure, OK’d by Gov. Rick Scott, that allows the state to take ownership of unclaimed saving bonds, though “the original bond owner may still recover the bond proceeds,” according to a bill summary.

The suit says “Treasury has made little to no effort to affirmatively notify owners when their bonds mature, even though it possesses information that would enable it to do so, nor has Treasury undertaken any true or effective effort to locate missing owners.”

That means it falls to Atwater’s department “to take steps to return the proceeds of redeemed savings bonds to the bonds’ original owners who may be found,” his suit says.

Florida’s piece is one small part of the pie: “… over $19 billion in matured, unredeemed U.S. savings bonds remain outstanding nationwide,” according to Atwater’s suit.

Atwater has been aggressive in reuniting lost or unclaimed property with its owners or their heirs.

For example, he championed a new law that requires insurance companies to track down beneficiaries of old policies. It has been featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” If the beneficiaries can’t be found, the insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
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