Sen. Jack Latvala on sexual harassment allegations
The high-stakes drama over pending sexual harassment charges against Sen. Jack Latvala continued to escalate Monday as the Senate staffer making the allegations asked for a security guard and a special prosecutor and Latvala told reporters he wouldn’t step down as he defended against new claims that he is conducting a smear campaign.
“Why should I quit, leave town, when I didn’t do it?” a defiant Latvala told a select group of reporters in his Capitol office.
As he spoke, retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson continued his investigation into the allegations of Rachel Perrin Rogers, the chief legislative aide for Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson. Rogers filed a confidential complaint on Nov. 5, accusing Latvala of numerous instances of sexual harassment, from groping her in a crowded elevator to inappropriate touching in a bar. Rogers publicly came forward last week after accusing Latvala of breaking the Senate confidentiality agreement.
In response to her claims, the Senate hired Swanson to conduct an investigation and present a report to the Senate as early as this week.
Simpson, a Trilby egg farmer, had kept a low profile when Rogers kept her identity secret, but after Latvala produced text messages over the past two years that showed that he and Rogers had a friendly relationship, Simpson came out forcefully Monday, blasting Latvala’s tactics.
“Rachel has been a trusted and valued member of my team for more than five years,” Simpson said. “Her tireless work ethic has served the people of my district and the state of Florida well. The incidents alleged in the media are disgusting. Since mid-last week there has been a smear campaign launched against Rachel. It must end immediately.”
Latvala called the circumstances “unfortunate” but said he had no choice but to ask people to sign affidavits attesting to his character and contradicting Rogers’ claims because many of her allegations rest on her word against his.
“I’m in my 16th year here, and I’ve got to protect my own reputation,” Latvala said, adding that damage to his nascent campaign for governor “is done” but “I’m not going to admit to something I didn’t do.”
The Republican senator from Clearwater appeared confident as he detailed for reporters the defense his attorneys have presented to the special master in an effort to undercut Rogers’ credibility.
“There are six allegations on the sheet and could they find probable cause under one or more of them? Maybe,” he said. “Because it’s he-said, she-said.”
On Friday, Latvala’s attorneys attempted to raise doubts about Rogers by filing an affidavit with the special master from Lillian Tysinger, a 22-year-old aide who worked with Rogers in the Senate Majority Office. Tysinger, a Stuart native, joined the office after working on the political campaigns of Senate President Joe Negron, and his wife, Rebecca Negron’s failed campaign for Congress.
On the day Rogers made the complaint against Latvala, Negron reassigned Tysinger to the Senate president’s office and gave her an $11,000 salary reduction. Negron’s office gave no specific reason for Tysinger’s reassignment other than to say that the decision to reassign her “was an internal staffing decision unrelated to any allegation of sexual harassment.”
Latvala’s lawyer filed a whistleblower complaint with the Senate on behalf of Tysinger on Monday.
In her affidavit, Tysinger claimed that Rogers took an unusual interest in her mental health after Tysinger’s grandfather died last spring, scheduling appointments on her behalf with a grief counselor and filling a prescription for medication without her consent.
Tysinger also testified that despite that behavior she traveled with Rogers and another Senate aide to Key West in July. Latvala produced a photo from Rogers’ now-defunct Twitter feed that showed a selfie of Rogers, Tysinger, the other Senate aide and Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo.
Caputo said that the women were staying in the hotel adjacent to where he and his family were vacationing in Key West, and they invited them over to have a drink.
Rogers told the Herald/Times that the text messages produced by Tysinger were “fake” and she called Tysinger “the mentally ill employee.”
On Sunday, the News Service of Florida reported that Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, wrote a letter to the Senate requesting an armed security guard for Rogers.
Cruz said Rogers “does not feel safe with Lily Tysinger in the building and having access to her and her office in light of Ms. Tysinger’s past and present conduct.” Cruz later confirmed that request had been denied.
On Monday, Cruz asked Gov. Rick Scott to seek a special prosecutor to conduct a criminal investigation against Latvala, suggesting that Leon County state attorney Jack Campbell and his staff had numerous conflicts. The governor’s general counsel denied the request, saying the governor did not have that authority and noting that Cruz had not identified a conflict of interest.
Latvala said that he has not been asked to resign by any member of the Senate leadership, has not been approached to discuss a settlement and was confident that he would get a fair hearing from the Senate Rules Committee and the full Senate. But, he repeated, he will not step down.
“I’m going to go through this process here in this institution that I love and people are going to have to prove their case, and people are going to have to do it under oath,” he said. “I’m sorry if people think that’s unfair to the ‘victim’ [Latvala gestured quotation marks as he said the word victim] but frankly, I don’t think there is a victim in this case because the things that were described weren’t done.”
When asked if he would use some of the $5 million in his political committee to seek retribution against those behind his accusers, he didn’t answer. He blasted what he said was an “intimidation campaign” against his supporters in the House, including his son, Rep. Chris Latvala, “who have had the crap kicked out of them because they tried to defend me. It works both ways.”
“I haven’t pounded on anybody to support me on this. I’m stating my case, producing signed, notarized affidavits. We haven’t gone down the political realm,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”
Since the complaint was filed Nov. 5 and Latvala voluntarily stepped down as chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate leaders have not returned his or his lawyers’ phone calls.
“It’s like I don’t exist here anymore,” he said. “I guess they’re doing that because of the legal liability.”
Latvala and Rogers have both told the Herald/Times that whatever happens in the Senate, they expect additional legal action.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (850)222-3095 and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas
Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.