ORLANDO -- 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.