TALLAHASSEE -- In a wide-ranging deposition that spanned two days in late May, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer denounced some party officials as liars and “whack-a-do, right-wing crazies’’ as he described turmoil in the months before his resignation.
Greer said some GOP leaders were meeting to discuss ways they could suppress black votes while others were constantly scheming against each other.
He blamed criminal fraud charges filed against him in 2010 on legislative leaders and other party officials who he says orchestrated an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the statewide grand jury to avoid paying him money he was due.
His statements were in response to questions from lawyers for the party, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Sen. John Thrasher. Greer has filed a civil suit against the party and the two officials in an attempt to collect $130,000 he was promised in a written agreement shortly before he resigned. The civil suit, pending in Leon County, is unlikely to be resolved until after a criminal trial scheduled for mid November.
Copies of the 630-page deposition and other documents were released by statewide prosecutors Wednesday.
Greer’s testimony offers a window into the level of animosity that exists between Greer and the party he once ran.
Greer said “the party was in turmoil” as officials wanted to get rid of him and former Gov. Charlie Crist because they disagreed with some of Crist’s decisions, including the appointment of a liberal African-American judge to the Florida Supreme Court, Crist’s endorsement of John McCain for president in 2008 and the hug Crist gave President Barack Obama in 2009. “My phone lit up with people wanting me to censure the governor,’’ Greer said. “The tea party came into existence. There was a feeling within the party that the tea party was just a bunch of whack-a-dos.”
After the party’s budget and audit committee started asking questions about House and Senate spending, including legislators who used party credit cards for personal expenses, Greer said he wanted to open the books and credit card records, but party officials and legislative leaders vetoed the idea.
Greer said he warned others at the party that the budget committee was made up of “whack-a-do, right-wing crazies’’ who were trying to take over because of continuing disagreements with Crist and legislative leaders. House and Senate leaders insisted that no one at the party could control their campaign finances. “We eat what we kill,’’ Greer said the leaders told him. “Legislative leaders were using their party credit cards like drunken sailors and they made it clear to me I was not to interfere with their spending,’’ Greer said.
Thrasher, who succeeded Greer as party chairman, called Greer’s suggestion of voter suppression and other accusations “absurd, absolutely absurd’’ and said Greer is making “baseless accusations on other people in an effort to divert attention from himself.’’
Thrasher said party officials had no choice but to get rid of Greer once they discovered he had secretly created a company that was getting money from the party.
Many of the questions posed to Greer were about his creation of Victory Strategies LLC, a company that collected almost $200,000 from the party while he was running it. The criminal charges stem from that contract.
Greer’s animosity was evident on almost every page of the deposition as he described the inner workings of a party that has controlled Florida since 1998.
On voter suppression, Greer said he had just completed a December 2009 meeting with party general counsel Jason Gonzalez, political consultant Jim Rimes and Eric Eikenberg, Crist’s chief of staff, when questions arose about fundraising.
“I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting. It had been one of those days,’’ he said.
Rimes said he recalls no discussion of suppressing votes at any meeting. Eikenberg did not return phone calls.
Greer said party officials were questioning spending on fundraising trips to New York, Yankees games, limos, expensive cigars and other items when Gonzalez asked him if he had any ownership in Victory Strategies. Greer said he initially denied owning any interest in the company but later admitted it when he and Gonzalez were alone. Gonzalez told state investigators that Greer did not own up to his involvement in the business and threatened to sue anyone who made the accusation. A number of other party officials told state investigators they were unaware of Greer’s involvement in the company. Contacted this week, Gonzalez said he could not publicly discuss the case.
Asked about his failure to tell other officials, Greer said they didn’t ask.
Asked if he told party finance chairman John Rood, a Jacksonville businessman, Greer said Rood was “basically useless as finance chairman.’’
By late December 2009, Greer found himself under pressure to resign. He said he agreed to leave for the “betterment of the party’’ and in January 2010 signed a severance agreement that was to pay him the rest of his $130,000 for the year.
Greer said he got concerned when Haridopolos and Thrasher, who had both signed the agreement, began to publicly deny knowledge of it. Haridopolos later admitted signing it, insisting he had not read it.
“Around the party most people considered President Haridopolos to be not the brightest person, but I would assume he would have read the agreement before he signed it,’’ Greer said.
Greer had good words only for House Speaker Dean Cannon, saying the Orlando Republican tried to get others to live up to the severance agreement and promised to help him find a lobbying job and clients.
After others at the party refused to honor the severance agreement, Greer said Cannon and Haridopolos contacted his friend Jim Stelling to say that political consultants Pat Bainter and Marc Reicheldfer were going to pay Greer $200,000.
Despite promises of payment and a request from Bainter for information on where to wire the money, none was ever paid, Greer said. After he left the party, Greer said he heard that Thrasher was telling people they were going to have him arrested. A short time later, Greer was indicted by a statewide grand jury on charges of money laundering and fraud.
The charges and the party’s failure to pay him have ruined his life, Greer said.
“They took everything I worked for my whole life,’’ he added. Now his family is on food stamps, some of his possessions have been repossessed and his children watched their father being arrested.
“Any good thing I did at the Republican Party has been destroyed by these people,’’ he said. “I want my life back. I want them to say they are sorry for what they did to me.’’