A lawyer for former Gov. Charlie Crist has accused former GOP Chairman Jim Greer and his lawyer of possible witness tampering.
John Morgan, the senior partner in the law firm where Crist now works, has told agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Damon Chase, the Lake Mary lawyer who represents Greer, pressured him to have Crist change his testimony or face embarrassing personal questions. Morgan said he represents Crist.
Greer is charged with fraud, money laundering and theft of almost $200,000 from the Florida Republican Party by creating Victory Strategies, a company that billed the party for consulting work. Greer faces trial July 30 in Orlando.
Documents released late Friday by Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Michael Williams include the FDLE report documenting Morgan’s call to FDLE on May 17. The call was made a few days after Morgan said he received a call from Chase suggesting that Crist could avoid giving a deposition in the criminal case if he was willing to revise an earlier affidavit that denied knowledge of the company Greer was creating.
Morgan gave prosecutors copies of emails exchanged with Chase after the call. In an email to Chase sent on May 14, the day Morgan says he received the call from Chase, Morgan told the lawyer he had shared details of the conversation with Crist.
“My personal opinion is that Jim is desperate and using you as a way to extort Charlie with embarrassing questions,’’ Morgan wrote. “You have a very good reputation in this town. As a friend I warn you to be careful in helping Jim at all costs. There are things you don’t know that will be very shocking to you. Don’t get caught up in it yourself.’’
Chase responded 26 minutes later, saying he appreciated “the friendly heads up,’’ and adding that he would extend “the same courtesy to you about Charlie.’’
“You too enjoy a good reputation which doesn’t need the tarnish of political scandal. Charlie clearly lied and now one by one his closest friends are coming out against him because what he did to Greer was just wrong. In the event Charlie remains unwilling to clarify his affidavit, I’m left with no other choice than to discredit him. I don’t find that type of practice particularly tasteful, but sometimes I suppose it’s necessary.’’
Chase also said Greer is “not the bad guy, he’s the fall guy,” and predicted he will wind up with the party writing him a check.
Chase also sent Morgan copies of a proposed new affidavit that would recant portions of a May 2010 affidavit in which Crist said he was unaware of Victory Strategies, the company Greer created, and did not authorize a contract with the party. In that affidavit, Crist said Greer did not tell him he wanted to become the party’s fundraiser and would have insisted that he inform the party’s executive board had he known about it.
The new affidavit would have retracted those statements, with Crist saying that he had since read testimony from lobbyist and fundraiser Brian Ballard and affidavits signed by Harry Sergeant, former finance chairman for the party, and Jay Burmer, a party official who was also close to Crist.
In a sworn statement last November, Ballard said Crist knew Greer wanted to get rid of fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke. Ballard said O’Rourke asked him to call Crist and see if he knew that Greer was terminating her contract with the party.
Ballard said Crist told him he was aware that Greer was reorganizing fundraising activities and were going to do it in house.
Sergeant, in an affidavit signed in April, said Greer and Crist were concerned about O’Rourke’s performance and wanted to replace her. Sergeant said Crist told him he had instructed Greer to terminate O’Rourke’s contract.
Burmer, in a similar affidavit signed last month, said Crist told him that Greer would be assuming fundraising duties.
Chase, in his email to Morgan, said Crist needs to “clarify his affidavit’’ to match the statements now being made by his friends. He included a copy of a new affidavit in which Crist would have said that he now recalls that Greer and the party’s executive director, Delmar Johnson, were going to take over fundraising duties and receive additional compensation.
The unsigned affidavit would also include a statement saying Crist knew the two party officials were going to keep the fundraising agreement confidential so O’Rourke would not interfere with it. The proposed affidavit also said there was nothing “illicit or illegitimate’’ about the agreement.
Asked about the allegations Friday, Chase called Morgan’s allegations “ridiculous,’’ adding that he exchanged “friendly emails’’ while they discussed scheduling Crist’s deposition.
“I sent him all the proof of Crist’s lies and told him I thought it would be in his best interest to start telling the truth, nothing more,’’ Chase responded in an email to a Tampa Bay Times reporter. “If advising a witness’ lawyer that his client should tell the truth is tampering then color me guilty.’’
FDLE investigators contacted Crist after receiving the report from Morgan. On May 25, Crist told investigators he thought Greer was trying to embarrass him and said he believed it was “tantamount to witness tampering.’’ Crist said he wanted it reported to authorities.
Crist again told investigators he had no knowledge that Greer was being paid extra money by the party for fundraising or consulting.
Crist did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story.