TALLAHASSEE -- For three years, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer denied doing anything wrong and promised a trial that would embarrass a lot of people. So why did he plead guilty to five felonies Monday facing the certainty of spending years in prison?
And who paid Hank Coxe, a widely respected criminal defense attorney from Jacksonville who parachuted in at the last minute and quietly negotiated the plea that brought the long-running soap opera to a close. Coxe was in the courtroom when Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges but did not speak and did not formally file a notice of appearance with the court.
For more than two years, Damon Chase, the Lake Mary civil attorney who represented Greer, hurled insults at party officials insisting the investigation was an attempt to destroy Greer. Chase even predicted that everyone would die in the end like a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, Chase stood silently beside Greer as he answered, “Guilty, your honor’’ five times.
Chase said Greer “decided to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house.’’
Coxe stepped in a few weeks ago and reviewed the evidence, talking to prosecutors and Republican Party representatives as he pushed for a plea bargain.
“Hank Coxe was critical to getting the deal done. He is a very experienced criminal defense lawyer and he concluded it would be in Greer’s best interest,’’ said Steve Dobson, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented the party in a civil suit Greer filed in an attempt to collect $130,000 the party promised him in severance pay.
Prosecutors were reluctant to enter into a plea bargain, so defense attorneys took the suggestion of a plea to Orlando Circuit Judge Marc Lubet in chambers and essentially reached agreement. Later everyone reconvened in court and Greer, 50, admitted he was guilty, agreeing to make restitution to the party and go to jail for up to 36 months. He remains free until sentencing March 27.
The case against Greer was substantial. Witnesses, including employees at the GrayRobinson law firm and the party would have testified that Greer secretly formed Victory Strategies, a company that contracted with the party to handle fundraising. He made Delmar Johnson, former executive director of the party, manager of the company and billed the party more than $200,000. Proceeds were divided between them.
One payment to Victory Strategies was for a $30,000 poll that was never conducted. Bank records, emails and other financial records from the party made it clear Greer received money. Johnson and numerous witnesses said Greer hid his interest in the company and denied any association with it when suspicions arose late in 2009.
Coxe reviewed those records and advised Greer he would face even more time in jail if he was convicted at trial.
But where did the money come from to hire Coxe? He will only say that Greer hired him. He would not disclose his fee or say how he was paid.
In November, Greer’s wife Lisa told Facebook friends that she had been reduced to washing dirty dishes in the bathtub because they can’t afford to repair the dishwasher or fix a leaky sink.
“To all of you who want to destroy Jim, is it worth it to you to hurt my children and I?’’ Mrs. Greer asked.
It was quite a come down for a party official who was widely known for his free-spending ways. Other party officials criticized him for a lavish lifestyle that included stays at expensive hotels, private airplanes, limousines and a demand that his planes and accommodations be stocked with peanut M&M’s, Diet Coke and Maker’s Mark bourbon.