TALLAHASSEE -- Former Gov. Charlie Crist calls him "a great patriot.’’
Congressional investigators call him "a war profiteer" who walked away with an extra $200 million while providing fuel to American troops in Iraq.
At Florida State University, he is something of a hero — contributing more than a million dollars to athletic programs, the business school and his old fraternity.
Who is Harry Sargeant III?
A plaque at the Pi Kappa Alpha House on campus calls him "the most powerful man no one knows.’’ The moniker comes from a 2008 Miami Herald story that noted his friendship with Crist and his wide-ranging business interests.
Sargeant, 55, is a billionaire former Marine fighter pilot, the owner of an oil and asphalt shipping company with global businesses including aviation companies and an oil refinery.
And in the tangled world of Florida politics, Sargeant is a Republican financial powerhouse.
He has long supported Crist while also helping former party chairman Jim Greer, despite the animosity between Greer and Crist since Greer was charged with stealing money from the GOP in 2010. Crist, now a Democrat considering an attempt to return to the Governor’s Mansion, says Sargeant remains a close friend.
Campaign finance records show Sargeant has donated more than $1.5 million to Florida politicians and the state Republican Party since 2000, the year Crist ran for education commissioner.
In recent years, Sargeant has made headlines over fuel he supplied to U.S. forces in Iraq. The brother-in-law of the king of Jordan sued Sargeant in Palm Beach and won a $28.8 million verdict for being cut out of a $1.4 billion defense contract that allowed Sargeant to transport fuel through Jordan. (Sargeant is appealing.) A congressional oversight committee called for an investigation of payments to Sargeant’s company, and last year auditors for the Department of Defense accused the company of overcharging the Pentagon by hundreds of millions. A federal investigation is ongoing.
Chris Kise, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents Sargeant, says the overcharging accusations came from Democrats who were angry at Sargeant’s fundraising for Republicans.
St. Petersburg developer Brent Sembler was a fraternity brother with Sargeant and Crist at FSU. They and other Pikes have bonded over golf, shooting expeditions, ski trips, Las Vegas and FSU football over the 35 years since most of them graduated. "He’s the toughest competitor I know. If there was a poster child for alpha males, it’s Harry,’’ Sembler said. "He’s a close friend and a good guy, I trust him with my life.’’
The Florida Republican Party and Crist are among those who have benefited from a close friendship with Sargeant. During campaigns Crist has frequently used Sargeant’s fleet of airplanes to criss-cross the state for events.
As governor in 2007, Crist concluded a trip to Israel with a stop in Jordan and a meeting with King Abdullah II. Sargeant was waiting on the helipad at the king’s home to make the introduction when Crist arrived.
Crist asked Sargeant to become finance chair at the state party after he was elected governor in 2006. Sargeant resigned in 2009 shortly before one of his employees was indicted for making illegal campaign contributions to Crist and U.S. Sen. John McCain. The employee, Ala’a al-Ali, was listed as sales coordinator for Sargeant Marine. He remains a fugitive from charges pending in federal court in Los Angeles.