Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigns amid state, federal probe of non-profit veterans group

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned Tuesday after law enforcement officials questioned her about ties to a purported veterans charity organization at the center of a $300 million multi-state racketeering investigation.

Florida law enforcement officials would not say if Carroll, 53, is facing possible criminal charges in connection with the case. Gov. Rick Scott also would not comment. Scott said he would not name Carroll’s replacement until the end of the annual legislative session in May.

“She resigned, and she did the right thing for her state and for her family,” Scott said.

At issue is Carroll’s connections to Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida nonprofit that operates a chain of Internet sweepstakes cafes as a pseudo-charity. Nearly 60 people associated with the company were arrested this week on various charges, including illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering.

Carroll owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans, and as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, did work for the company. She later filmed an advertisement promoting Allied Veterans while serving as lieutenant governor.

Carroll resigned in a two-sentence letter after meeting with the governor’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, and general counsel Pete Antonacci. She did not meet with Scott.

It’s a quick and remarkable fall for someone who had been seen as important figure in the Florida Republican Party.

Born in Trinidad, Carroll, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, was the first African-American Republican woman elected to the Legislature and the first African-American woman elected lieutenant governor. She was considered a favorite to be named Charlie Crist’s lieutenant governor in 2006 before Scott selected her four years later.

She was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2012 and led a task force studying Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. She could not be reached Wednesday.

“Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned yesterday in an effort to keep her former affiliations with the company from distracting from our important work on behalf of Florida families,” Scott said. “We appreciate her willingness to step up and serve our state. She was a tireless advocate for Florida’s military and our mission to create more jobs. We are grateful for her service.”

Carroll attended Scott’s March 5 State of the State address but did not speak. Her last major public remarks came March 3, where she spoke at a dinner honoring Scott sponsored by the Florida Federation of Republican Women.

Her official calendar for Wednesday — which was released Tuesday evening — listed no public events.

The investigation into Allied Veterans started in 2009, according to law enforcement officials, who said Allied Veterans tried to scheme and defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration.

So far, nearly 60 people have been arrested in 23 Florida counties.

Carroll’s public relations firm, 3 N. and J.C. Corporation, is currently inactive, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. But the company’s primary source of income in 2009 and 2010 was Allied Veterans, financial disclosure forms show.

While serving in the state House in 2010, Carroll introduced legislation to legalize sweepstakes games such as those in cafes operated by Allied Veterans. Carroll later withdrew the proposed law, saying it was filed erroneously and that she wasn’t interested in legalizing Internet cafes, which operate in a legal gray area.

Internet sweepstakes cafes are big business in Florida. Since 2007, as many as 1,000 have popped up across the state, according to industry estimates, raking in $1 billion a year.

To play games at one of the Internet cafes, a customer gets a prepaid card and then goes to a computer to play "sweepstakes." The games, with spinning wheels similar to slot machines, have names such as "Captain Cash," ’’Lucky Shamrocks" and "Money Bunny," according to the IRS. Winners go back to a cashier with their cards and cash out. The games of chance have been the subject of much debate in Florida and some are legal as long as most of the profits are donated to charity.

Allied is a big player in Florida. In 2011, it had 40 locations statewide. Allied has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on state lobbyists.

Carroll’s time as lieutenant governor has not been without controversy.

Former travel aide Carletha Cole said she was fired in 2011 after complaining about Carroll in the media. Cole, who was later charged with sharing an illegal recording, said she once walked in on Carroll and a female staffer engaged in what appeared to be a sex act. The governor’s office has described Cole’s allegations as “outrageous.”

Carroll’s travel as lieutenant governor also has been an issue. Scott’s office placed Carroll on a $10,000-a-month fixed travel budget after her travel costs ballooned to nearly $300,000 in 2011.

With Scott’s consent, Carroll also was assigned for protection a lower-ranking and less-expensive corporal from the Florida Highway Patrol.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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