REPUBLICAN PARTY OF FLORIDA

Former state GOP chairman Jim Greer pleads guilty to theft, money laundering

 

Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty Monday morning to four charges of grand theft, avoiding trial in a case that could have potentially embarrassed former Gov. Charlie Crist and much of the state’s Republican elite.

RISE AND FALL OF RPOF CHAIRMAN JIM GREER

2006

During campaign: Oviedo City Council member and businessman Jim Greer works on Charlie Crist’s successful gubernatorial campaign.

November: Crist endorses Greer as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

2007

Jan. 27: In a 102-89 vote by state committee members, Greer is elected chairman over Carole Jean Jordan.

2008

June: As chairman, Greer gets around the state in his own airplane, but racks up more than $85,000 in unpaid airplane bills.

August: Greer irks some by taking sides in Republican primary battles.

Election: Greer comes under fire for his spending decisions during the presidential campaign, including charging personal expenses to the party. Also, it’s reported the party did not exhaust its campaign cash in the final weeks, despite saying it had.

2009

Jan. 11: Greer is re-elected chairman 169-52. Greer names Delmar Johnson as the party’s executive director.

August: After thousands of dollars in questionable spending is found on party American Express cards, Greer cuts up his Amex card and announces that only the party’s chief financial officer will have a card. Questions are fueled by former state House Speaker Ray Sansom’s lavish spending.

November: A series of negative headlines turns Greer into a lightning rod. GOP leaders demand a “special emergency closed meeting’’ of the party’s executive board.

Nov. 19: No action is taken at closed-door meeting.

December: Rumor mill churns that Greer will step down. Party spokeswoman Katie Betta says that’s nonsense.

Dec. 10: Al Hoffman, former finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, asks Greer to resign. Greer gets a 25-2 vote of confidence from the GOP’s executive board.

Dec. 17: At least 50 party officials sign a letter calling for a secret ballot vote on rescinding Greer’s chairmanship.

Dec. 18: Crist stands by Greer, “I think he’s doing a good job. He works like crazy.”

2010

Jan. 5: Greer resigns. “I cannot be a participant in the shredding and tearing in the fabric of the Republican Party,” Greer says, accusing critics of spreading false accusations about his leadership and financial management.

Jan. 11: GOP lawmakers confront Greer over a secret contract between Greer and Johnson, the party’s executive director. The two-page contract gave Johnson’s company, Victory Strategies, 10 percent of the money he raised from major donors.

Feb. 20: State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is elected the next state party chairman. Leaders call for an exhaustive audit of party records.

February-March: Top GOP lawmakers and party officials negotiate with Greer over a severance package, according to his attorney and documents.

March 15: Internal audit finds Greer was majority owner of Victory Strategies. It is reported to law enforcement.

April 1: Greer sues party, seeking financial damages for breach of contract over severance.

April 2: Crist asks federal authorities to investigate.

April 21: American Express billing statements show $7 million charged on party Amex cards between late 2006 and 2009. Greer charged nearly $500,000 for spa treatments, flowers, flights, hotels and pricey restaurants.

May 18: Johnson signs immunity agreement to reveal evidence against Greer.

May 25: Johnson calls Greer and in a nearly hour-long conversation that investigators secretly record, the two vent about all they’d done for the GOP and the party leaders turning on them. “You never have to worry about me,’’ Johnson says.

June 2: Greer is arrested at his Oviedo home just after he cut himself shaving. He is charged on six felony counts of theft, money laundering and orchestrating a scheme to defraud.

June 3: Crist denies knowing about a secret contract at the center of the indictment.

2013

Feb. 11: After multiple delays, a trial is scheduled to begin, but is cut off when Greer pleads guilty to grand theft and money laundering charges.

Source: Tampa BayTimes


James Austin Greer

Born: June 8, 1962, in Arlington, Va.

Political: Former member of the Palm Bay and Oviedo city councils. Worked on Charlie Crist’s campaign for governor in 2006. Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (2007-10).

Professional: Previously operated Florida Beverage Law Consultants, which trained restaurant and bar workers to comply with the state’s alcohol laws, and Party Guide, a Palm Bay-area nightlife magazine.

Education: GED; took classes at took classes at Brevard Community College.

Personal: Five children from two marriages, including a four-month-old daughter named Hope. Married his current wife, Lisa, in 2004.

Source: Tampa Bay Times


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Tampa Bay Times

After two weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, former GOP party chairman Jim Greer walked into court Monday morning and pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges that could put him behind bars for 3 and 1/2 years.

Greer responded “guilty your honor’’ to charges he stole and laundered GOP campaign contributions through a company he created, Victory Strategies. He declined to talk with a crowd of reporters as he left the courtroom.

The plea, which came moments before jury selection was set to begin, ends the prospects of a two-week trial that promised testimony from former Gov. Charlie Crist and a who’s who of Republican politicians.

Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox said Greer’s plea was not the result of a deal. Cox will recommend that Greer serve the full 3 and 1/2 years at his March 27 sentencing.

Attempts to reach agreement on a plea languished for months until Jacksonville defense attorney Hank Coxe stepped into the case and pushed for a settlement. Prosecutors said they do not know who hired Coxe, who was present in the courtroom but did not speak. Contacted later, Coxe said Greer hired him. Greer has frequently said the prolonged criminal case has left him broke and unable to find a job.

For some witnesses the plea brings relief. No one will have to answer questions about a now famous trip to the Bahamas that involved — according to at least one witness — the presence of a number of prostitutes.

The plea also brings an end to a civil suit Greer filed against the party. Steve Dobson, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents the Republican Party of Florida, said that the party is satisfied with the fact that Greer has acknowledged guilt, accepted responsibility for his actions and will pay restitution. An amount has yet to be determined.

Dobson said officials who currently run the party were not concerned about testifying in the criminal case and looked forward to “clearing up allegations” Greer has made over the past three years. In interviews and pretrial testimony, Greer accused the party of engaging in the suppression of black voters and seeking retribution against him because he supported Crist in his primary fight against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Damon Chase, a Lake Mary lawyer who represented Greer, said “sometimes clearing your name is not as important as taking care of your family,’’ as he walked with Greer and his wife Lisa out of the courtroom. Chase noted that Greer, who is 50, has a new baby born about four months ago, two other young children and a teenager.

Greer was charged with secretly creating Victory Strategies, a company that contracted with the state GOP to raise funds, and funneling more than $200,000 in party funds to the company.

Cox, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor named to head the statewide prosecutor’s office by Attorney General Pam Bondi, said he did not discuss negotiations that led to the plea with Bondi or anyone outside of his office.

“It was my call, in the end. I hope she is happy with me,’’ Cox added.

Circuit Judge Marc Lubet agreed there was a factual basis for the plea, noting that he has read all of the files and spent three years sitting through numerous hearings.

The plea brings an end to an acrimonious chapter in Republican politics. For three years Greer and his lawyer have threatened to expose wrongdoing at the party and personally embarrass Crist.

The trial was to have included testimony from former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who initiated the investigation that led to the charges, former House Speaker Dean Cannon, former Senate President Mike Haridopolos and dozens of other party officials. Just being hauled into court and questioned would have been something of a spectacle for a party that has dominated the state’s political scene since the mid-1990’s.

Crist said Monday he would have been happy to testify if the trial proceeded, “to go over there and tell the truth.”

“When people lie and steal, there is a price to pay,” Crist said of Greer.

Republicans blame Crist, now a Democrat who is looking at a possible run for governor, for selecting Greer in the first place. And they were quick to pounce when word of the guilty plea spread Monday.

“For the past three years, Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from the (state party) and our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes,’’ said Republican Party of Florida executive director Mike Grissom. “Everything Jim Greer has said and done over these past few years should be considered in that light.’’

The biggest winners aside from statewide prosecutors, who emerge from the fight with pleas to five felonies, are likely those who made the now notorious trip to the Bahamas. Delmar Johnson, former executive director of the party was prepared to testify about prostitutes he saw at the 2008 gathering that included Crist, lobbyist Brian Ballard, former party finance chairman Harry Sargeant III and dozens of other big GOP donors.

Johnson, who helped create Victory Strategies with Greer, was granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for testifying against his former boss.

“It’s Finally Over!” Johnson posted in a statement on Twitter. “I’m looking forward to finally having the opportunity to fully tell my side of the story and move on with my life!”

Greer’s plea, however, may not end the state Republican Party’s brush with the criminal justice system. Federal prosecutors are pursuing an apparently unrelated investigation that touches GOP campaign contributions in North Florida.

Panhandle developer Jay Odom is scheduled to appear in federal court in Pensacola Tuesday (today) and plead guilty to campaign finance violations in an investigation being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section. The presence of the Washington, D.C.-based prosecutors generally signals a much broader investigation of public corruption.

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