An assistant to one of the Florida Senate's Republican leaders publicly came forward Wednesday and acknowledged that she was the one who filed sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala earlier this month.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, 35, the chief legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, accused Latvala of breaking the confidentiality restrictions required by the ongoing Senate investigation and said he was lying about her and her husband, Brian Hughes, who is a political consultant.
"The confidentiality that I was promised under Florida law has been violated. I am fearful of the effect that this unethical action will have on other victims who desperately want to overcome their fear and speak out," Rogers said in a statement released by her attorney.
On Nov. 3, Senate President Joe Negron ordered an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations made by Rogers and five still-unnamed other women who accused Latvala, R-Clearwater, of groping and inappropriate touching. Negron hired a special master to pursue Rogers' formal complaint.
Hughes' company, Meteoric Media Strategies of Tallahassee, has been paid about $460,000 since 2013 for strategic work by two political committees controlled by Simpson, according to Florida Division of Elections records. He has also been paid by other senators who sit on the Senate Rules Committee that would consider the special master's report on the allegations against Latvala.
The accusers originally brought their allegations to Politico Florida. On Wednesday, Politico reported that it was Rogers who alleged that Latvala stood next to her in a crowded Senate elevator in October, during a pre-session committee week, and "reached around the far side of my body and just started grabbing. His hand went around my back and grabbed me around my lower frontal abdomen and then wandered," she said. "He touched the underside of my breast on that side."
Another time, Rogers told Politico, Latvala approached her at the bar of the private Governors Club, draped his hands and legs on her chair "and started rubbing my leg. I could not tell you what he was saying because I was sitting there crying. It's not like he came up and consoled me for crying. I started crying after he came up to me and started touching me."
In the confidential complaint filed with the Senate Rules Committee, Rogers has alleged that Latvala, "either harassed or inappropriately touched her over a four-year period working together in the Senate," Politico reported.
By coming forward, Rogers became the first legislative employee to publicly accuse a legislator of sexual misconduct.
Latvala, a candidate for governor, has called the allegations "totally fabricated" and a "witch hunt." He denied harassing women and hired his own attorney. In interviews with the Times/Herald and other news outlets, Latvala has called the allegations an attempt to undermine his candidacy for governor. He repeated his claim in an interview on Wednesday.
"There are 200 female employees in the Florida Senate, and the one that complains is married to a political consultant," he said. "That's not a coincidence. I announced for governor on Aug. 15. Why weren't these allegations made before then? This is politically motivated."
Latvala has undergone a polygraph test, and his attorney has collected the sworn statements of women who have worked with him in his office, or as lobbyists, in an attempt to serve as character witnesses.
"I will welcome a prompt and full investigation because a thorough investigation will show the truth," Latvala said. "I am comfortable with the truth."
Hughes, Rogers' husband, is a former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida. In a statement Wednesday, he denied he had any relationship with a Latvala rival.
"Any attempt by Latvala to cast this as politically motivated by me or anyone is untrue and a weak attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his unlawful and despicable behavior," Hughes said. "I have never worked against Latvala in any campaigns past or present. In fact, on a few occasions, Latvala and his political allies have solicited my professional help for campaigns. Evidence of those solicitations is being provided to the special master."
Hughes also has advised Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who Latvala asked be removed from the case because her impartiality is open to question. Negron denied the request.
Other political campaigns Hughes has worked on include those of Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, and the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee controlled by Negron.
Hughes has also worked for several Republican House members, including Paul Renner of Palm Coast, Holly Raschein of Key Largo, Tom Goodson of Merritt Island, Jason Fischer of Jacksonville, Mel Ponder of Destin, and the House Republican Campaign Committee while it was controlled by former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.
Current House Speaker Richard Corcoran is expected to seek the Republican nomination for governor and potentially rival Latvala. Hughes formerly worked for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, who is also expected to run for governor.
State campaign finance records show that Rogers contributed $100 to Latvala's 2016 re-election campaign on April 1, 2016. She said in her statement Wednesday that Latvala and his attorneys were attempting to intimidate her.
"My motivation for filing the complaint was to stop Mr. Latvala's illegal and unethical actions, against myself and against other women who work in Florida's Capitol," she said. "Latvala has lied about what he did to me and is now lying about my husband. Let's set the record straight: My husband does not control me or my career; and he has no affiliation with any gubernatorial campaign. These lies are being told in an attempt to intimidate me."
Rogers has worked for Simpson since he was elected to the Senate in 2012. She previously worked for former Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.
It is not clear whether Simpson and Benacquisto, both members of the Rules Committee which could sit in judgment of Latvala, will have to recuse themselves because Hughes has worked for them.
Negron's spokeswoman said the confidentiality provisions in the Senate rules preclude him from commenting.
"President Negron is not able to comment on matters related to the complaint," Katie Betta said.
Statement by Rachel Perrin Rogers:
"The confidentiality that I was promised under Florida law has been violated. I am fearful of the effect that this unethical action will have on other victims who desperately want to overcome their fear and speak out.
"My motivation for filing the complaint was to stop Mr. Latvala's illegal and unethical actions, against myself and against other women who work in Florida's Capitol. Latvala has lied about what he did to me, and is now lying about my husband. Let's set the record straight: my husband does not control me or my career; and he has no affiliation with any gubernatorial campaign. These lies are being told in an attempt to intimidate me.
"I take immense pride in my hard work and dedication to the Florida Senate. In my role as the Florida Senate Majority Leader's Chief Legislative Assistant, I've been given an amazing opportunity to serve the people of our state.
"My complaint is not against a gubernatorial candidate. My complaint is against a man who collects a paycheck from the citizens of the State of Florida, just as I do. But unlike him, I do not have political campaign accounts with $5 million to use to pay my attorney and to purchase articles written by for-hire media outlets. I do not have any political power or influence over Florida's $83+ billion budget. I am not a millionaire.
"These ongoing attempts to harass, retaliate against and threaten me and the other women who spoke out anonymously on this issue are despicable.
"I am fearful for my family, myself, Senator Simpson, as well as the other honorable and good members of the Legislature who do the right thing for their constituents.
"To the others who have been victimized by Latvala, or by other malevolent people in our Capitol who prey on those less powerful, I want you to know: I understand your fear. I hope that you can find a way to come forward amidst all of the threats being made."