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U.S. Attorney O’Neill resigning to work with Freeh Group

The Tampa Tribune April 4, 2013

TAMPA - Robert O’Neill, one of the top federal law officials in Florida, is resigning this summer to work for a firm founded by a former FBI director.

O’Neill will become a managing director in Miami for Freeh Group International Solutions. O’Neill said he plans to spend at least part of his time in Tampa, with an office here, because he doesn’t want to leave this city.

O’Neill said the position is “a great opportunity” that he took mainly because at his age – 55 – he worried he’s not old enough to stay in his current position until retirement and not young enough to have a long legal career ahead of him.

When he leaves his job as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, his work as a lawyer will be severely curtailed by ethics restrictions relating to cases handled by his federal prosecutors’ office.

O’Neill said his decision to leave was “bittersweet, obviously” because he loves his job but is excited about the new opportunity.

O’Neill said the Freeh Group is a “global risk management firm serving in the areas of business integrity and compliance, safety and security, and investigations and due diligence.”

The firm, founded by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, prepared a report for Penn State University on the Jerry Sandusky scandal and has done work to help the board that oversees SAT exams tighten security following a cheating scandal, said James R. Bucknam, chief executive officer.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said O’Neill will be missed by the state’s law enforcement community.

She called O’Neill “a brilliant, dedicated and impactful champion of justice and warrior on behalf of victims,” adding that he “served our state with great humility and unparalleled work ethic.”

“Bobby is a rare talent who has provided many years of outstanding public service to the United States and to the state of Florida,” Freeh said in a prepared statement. “I couldn’t be happier that he decided to bring his experience and credentials to FGIS.”

O’Neill and Bucknam said they have known each other going back about 28 years, when O’Neill was a young assistant district attorney in Manhattan and Bucknam was an intern.

Bucknam said the Miami office O’Neill will head will provide a base for FGIS’ growing Latin American practice.

The firm already has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Wilmington, Del.

O’Neill, who said he now makes about $155,000 a year, said his new position will provide a significant pay increase. But he didn’t want to discuss specific numbers.

“They were very generous,” he said.

Bucknam said when the firm decided to open a Florida office, O’Neill “was the first person we thought of. He has always been a prosecutor’s prosecutor, he was an investigator’s investigator and just a really good person, extremely well liked by everybody he encountered. He has the skill sets we need in growing our business.”

The fact that O’Neill is a “terrific investigator, a people person, someone who’s extremely ethical and smart … street smart as well” and has a Florida connection “made it a very easy choice for us.”

O’Neill was appointed by President Barack Obama, confirmed by the U.S. Senate and then sworn in as 20th U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida on Oct. 5, 2010.

O’Neill supervises a staff of more than 250, including 110 prosecutors, with offices in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Ocala and Fort Myers. The district covers 35 counties.

He said the position “is extraordinarily rewarding.”

“I will continue in my present position for the next few months to ensure an orderly transition for this office and for my successor,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill thanked Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio for giving him an opportunity to oversee Florida’s middle district.

“I appreciate the confidence which they exhibited in me and I hope and trust that I, and this office, have lived up to their expectations,” O’Neill said. “I am very thankful for having been given this wonderful opportunity.”

O’Neill previously served in an interim capacity as U.S. attorney for the district from 2007-08.

He was a criminal prosecutor for most of his career, serving as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida.

O’Neill is a native of the Bronx, N.Y., and has lived in Florida for more than 20 years.