February 7, 2013

Lawyer suggests Charlie Crist’s memory foggy because of too much wine

Former Gov. Charlie Crist said he had never heard of Victory Strategies and didn’t know that Jim Greer had collected money over and above his $130,000-a-year salary until a criminal investigation began in 2010.

Perhaps it was the wine that made some Republicans forget details of events involving former party chairman Jim Greer. Or maybe it was Greer who drank the wine and was mis-remembering.

Those suggestions were tossed around among lawyers as they put former Gov. Charlie Crist under oath last year to ask him about a series of conversations he had with Greer and others as Greer took over party fundraising in 2009.

Crist, a lawyer, former legislator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor, said it was his first time to be questioned under oath in a deposition, a remarkable thing for a man who has spent most of his adult life in politics.

Many of the other witnesses that have been questioned under oath also suffered from a failure to recall details of Greer’s fundraising activity.

The issue is a critical one as Greer faces trial in Orlando on Monday for secretly creating Victory Strategies, a company that collected about $200,000 from the GOP in 2009. He is accused of multiple counts of theft and fraud and faces a maximum of 75 years in prison if convicted.

The questions to Crist on June 26, 2012, were posed by Greer’s lawyer, Damon Chase. Greer and Chase insist Crist and others knew Greer had created Victory Strategies. A transcript of the deposition was made public this week after it was placed in Greer’s court file.

Crist said he had never heard of Victory Strategies until he read it in a newspaper. And he didn’t know that Greer had collected money over and above his $130,000 a year salary until a criminal investigation began in 2010.

One by one, Chase confronted Crist with statements he says were made by Greer and others who say the governor knew about the additional payments to Greer and approved of them.

Asked if lobbyist Brian Ballard was telling the truth when he said that Crist knew about the extra compensation for Greer and Delmar Johnson, the party’s executive director: “I don’t believe that is truthful,’’ Crist responded.

Asked about similar claims made by GOP finance chair Harry Sargeant III and party consultant Jay Burmer, Crist again disagreed: “It did not happen.”

Over and over, when asked about individual conversations with Greer, Crist said he could not recall the discussion Chase was suggesting. Crist didn’t recall asking Greer to make Jason Gonzalez the party’s general counsel, he did not recall suggesting that former fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke be kept off planes he was on, or any one of a number of other things Chase suggested Crist should know.

At one point, Chase suggested that Crist couldn’t recall conversations he had with Greer several years ago “because he was drinking too much wine’’ at events where Greer was charging the food and drink to the party.

Chase wanted to know how much wine the former governor consumes on any given evening.

“Well it sounds like if your client (Greer) was buying all the wine, he was drunk and doesn’t remember what happened,” suggested Crist’s attorney, John Morgan. Morgan is the founder of Morgan & Morgan, the firm where Crist now works.

In the end the lawyers agreed to leave the wine drinking issue for a later discussion so a judge could decide whether Crist needs to itemize his wine drinking habits.

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