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Gerald Bailey Out At FDLE Amid Controversy

Florida's Department of Law Enforcement is getting a new leader, but questions remain about why Governor Rick Scott abruptly shook up the agency.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam,  the Florida Cabinet, voted Tuesday to appoint longtime FDLE veteran Richard Swearingen to replace Gerald Bailey as Commissioner.

Sources say Bailey was forced by the Scott administration to resign in December. But the Governor had a different take.

“He resigned,” said Scott.

Bailey was appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush and had served three governors during his 27 year tenure with the state.

Under Florida law, the Governor cannot fire the FDLE chief without the Cabinet’s support. The members were just as mum as the Governor, when reporters asked if they knew why Bailey was out. Attorney General Pam Bondi was the first to face the Capitol Press Corps.

“I think the world of Commissioner Bailey,” said Bondi.

“Why is he leaving?” asked a reporter.

“I do not know,” said Bondi.

“Did you ask Governor Scott why he’s leaving?” the reporter then asked.

“I can tell you that I’ve known Commissioner Bailey for many, many years,” Bondi responded.

Scott's press office issued a statement late Tuesday that acknowledged that the Governor wanted Bailey out, but there was still no explanation. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Bailey’s resignation was triggered by what Bailey and others at FDLE considered improper interference in agency operations by Scott’s office and his re-election campaign team.

CFO Jeff Atwater chalks it up to the inevitable changes that take place in a governor’s second term.

“When you come to the end of a term, as we’re coming, I think there will be even more changes that will be taking place with agency leaders,” said Atwater. “He (Bailey) informed us he was stepping down. So if there’s something else to that story….I assume he would have added that.”

All three Cabinet members have said that they were told Bailey had voluntarily resigned and not fired. The Tampa Bay Times reported, on December 16, that Putnam “was surprised by the news.”

As for Gerald Bailey, he’s not mincing any words, calling Governor Scott’s statement a lie. Bailey told the Times/Herald,  “I did not voluntarily do anything. If he – Scott -- said that, he's being totally untruthful."