Long before she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jack Latvala, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers asked to meet privately with the powerful senator to discuss legislation, invited him to her office suite for chocolate cake and barbecue, donated to his campaign, and even asked him to use his political clout for a personal favor.
“I need some help for my stepdad,” Rogers wrote in a June 19, 2017, text message.
Her stepfather, a neurosurgeon, had tried to get excused from serving on jury duty in Pinellas County to care for a patient, she said in a text message to Latvala’s cellphone. After the request was rejected, she asked the senator from Clearwater to intercede — by contacting Pinellas Clerk of the Courts Ken Burke.
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Latvala promptly replied: “If I don’t get thru to him just tell him not to show up. We will deal w it on back end.” A day later, Rogers wrote: “Thanks again for your help yesterday.”
Five months later, Rogers would accuse Latvala of sexually harassing her over a four-year period, groping her in a Senate elevator and rubbing her leg in a bar at the private Governor’s Club.
Rogers, who works as the chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, filed a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, days after bringing her allegations to Politico, which reported them anonymously.
Senate President Joe Negron has launched two Senate investigations by two separate legal teams, including a former circuit court judge who is serving as a special master for the investigation. A report may come as soon as next week.
Latvala, who was interviewed by the special master on Wednesday, has denied the claims, accused Rogers of having political motives, and vowed to clear his name. His attorney, Steve Andrews, provided the Herald/Times with copies of 208 text messages between Rogers and Latvala between Feb. 12, 2014, and June 22, 2017.
The text messages were accompanied by an affidavit from an IT expert, John Sawicki, who verified that they came from two cellphones that Latvala used. He verified that the messages came from Latvala’s phone number, from someone with Rogers’ phone number, and stated that the text messages were authentic. Latvala signed another document saying he had not deleted or altered any of the messages from Rogers. The Herald/Times could not independently verify the text messages.
In an interview Wednesday, Latvala said, “Women should not be sexually harassed in the workplace. But guys in important positions also shouldn’t be sitting ducks for anonymous accusations or people coming forward with an ax to grind.”
Rogers publicly came forward Wednesday, saying that it was necessary to respond to “lies” she claimed Latvala and his attorneys were spreading about her and her husband, Brian Hughes, a Republican political consultant.
The text messages show a cordial and friendly relationship between the two and provide no clues of discord or distrust and include nothing of a sexually suggestive nature by Latvala.
“If I’d been at the Capitol I would have given you a big hug/bought you a drink after all of that yesterday,” Rogers texted Latvala on Nov. 6, 2015, shortly after Rogers returned to the Senate following a leave of absence of several months.
“You are a flawed person,” she continued, “but I have always felt like I shared the same flaws and that is part of why, no matter what else happened, I admire and respect you and very much want you to succeed. The other part of my admiration and respect is based on what you’ve done for people. I know you will continue to do great things for Florida.”
Latvala answered: “Thanks ... i guess :)”
Rogers would not respond to requests for comment, but her attorney, Tiffany Cruz, called them an attempt by Latvala “to spread misinformation.”
“I didn’t see any text messages that say you have permission to grab my body,” she said. “These messages show she was doing her job — which was to garner support for her boss, Sen. Simpson.”
Andrews would not discuss whether he had submitted the text messages to the special master as part of their evidence. Cruz said she saw the messages for the first time Wednesday when a reporter sent them to her and said that Rogers will discuss the text messages with the special master in an interview on Friday.
“I suspect she did not give these text messages to her lawyer or provide them to the Senate,” Andrews said. “Although the complaint is confidential, these seem to impeach and thoroughly contradict her sworn statements in the complaint.”
Cruz explained that the message in which she offered to give Latvala a hug when Rogers returned from her leave of absence occurred after Latvala “had done something very helpful to Wilton Simpson that day, which is what she was thanking him for.”
Cruz added that the reason Rogers took a leave of absence from the Senate in March 2015 was because of one of the harassment incidents with Latvala. She returned, Cruz said, “because she was asked to come back.”
Rogers remained in touch with Latvala, Cruz said, because “she had to make the relationship workable so she could effectively do her job.”
Latvala, however, said Rogers told several Senate employees that she left because she was “involved in a custody battle.”
“I didn’t know she had left,” he said.
The text messages show they exchanged at least eight text messages during Rogers’ leave of absence, including an April 1 text in which she made a gif for Latvala that included a picture of him sneering. It read: “A day dedicated to fools? I see fools every day. I’m sick of it.”
In some of the messages Rogers sought Latvala’s assistance to get amendments added to bills, or to inform him what the menu was for lunch in the Senate Republican office.
“Today is 4 Rivers,” Rogers messaged Latvala on April 25, 2017, in the hectic eighth week of the regular session, referring to a popular Tallahassee barbecue restaurant.
“Save me some barbecue. Pls!” Latvala answered.
Rogers replied with a picture of a paper plate with “The Honorable Jack Latvala” and a smiley face on it.
As recently as June, Rogers was planning to attend a Latvala fundraising event at his summer home in Maine, and on two occasions, Rogers ended a message to Latvala with a bright red heart emojis. The text messages occurred during and after office hours and involved both Senate business and political events.
“I need to see you alone for two minutes. Tell me when and where,” Rogers texted Latvala on Feb. 8, 2016.
“Come up now,” Latvala replied.
Some of the text messages offer a window into the comfortable relationship between legislators and lobbyists and the easy access some lobbyists have to corporate jets.
In December 2015, Rogers sent Latvala a message saying Simpson was looking for air travel to a fundraiser at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach and wanted to know if he wanted to travel with Simpson.
“Have you tried Coker,” Latvala asked, a reference to U.S. Sugar lobbyist Robert Coker. “He said he’s not going,” Rogers replied. “Wilton was going to call him to follow up.”
On April 1, 2016, Rogers wrote: “That was the nicest fund-raising event I’ve ever been to. I went on your website and donated.” Florida Division of Elections records show she contributed $100 to his re-election campaign.
As staff director of the Senate majority office, it’s Rogers’ job to promote collegiality among the two dozen Republicans in the Senate. But it has been a particularly raucous year and some of Rogers’ text messages show that tensions have been frayed.
On Feb. 7, 2017, Rogers was unhappy with Republican Sens. Anitere Flores of Miami and Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, who were in a political dispute with her boss, so she requested Latvala’s intervention.
“These assholes have ambushed him in his own office,” Rogers told Latvala on Feb. 7, 2017.
On April 18, the day a group of Senate Democrats filed a complaint against Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami Republican who resigned in disgrace after racist and sexist remarks, Rogers sent a copy of a tweet from Miami Herald political reporter Patricia Mazzei in which Artiles was quoted as calling Negron “a pussy.”
“That ought to piss Joe off,” Latvala replied.
Rogers was not happy with the way Senate leadership was handling the situation. She referred to Negron as a “douche bag,” using the letters DB, and referred to Flores as “Flwhores.”
“Well maybe DB should not have rolled his eyes at me, and then walked out with LB [Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto] and Flwhores when I suggested AN ACTUAL PR PLAN.”
Latvala asked what DB meant. “Douchebag,” Rogers responded.
Cruz said “it is offensive” to conclude that any of the text messages gave Latvala “permission to do what he has done.”
“Those texts are pretty reflective of someone who has been subject to the kind of behavior that Jack Latvala subjected her to,” Cruz said. “It’s classic victim behavior. No one else knew about those situations at the time, and she had to maintain composure and continue the relationship.”