Former Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, who resigned last month in a sexual harassment scandal, is the subject of an active investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency said Friday.
FDLE's announcement is the latest development stemming from a bombshell report by a former judge hired by the Senate to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against the veteran Tampa Bay legislator.
In his report, the ex-judge said Latvala may have violated Florida public corruption laws by trading legislative favors for sex.
FDLE, the state's premier law enforcement agency, said its case was previously in "review" status, a less serious stage that would allow department investigators to dismiss any allegations against Latvala without presenting them to prosecutors.
Gretl Plessinger, an FDLE spokeswoman, said that if the case blossomed into a full investigation, "it will likely move before a prosecutor or a state attorney."
FDLE officials met Friday with members of Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell's staff and the announcement of a formal investigation came shortly afterward.
The case is under the supervision of Scott McInerney, head of executive investigations at FDLE.
The change in case status means Latvala's fate will likely be in the hands of Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell in Tallahassee.
"I expect at some point for FDLE to bring me the results of an investigation," Campbell told the Times/Herald Friday.
Campbell said he did not know the difference between FDLE's definitions of a review and an investigation.
In a statement to the Times/Herald Friday evening, Latvala said: "Now it's up to trained law enforcement personnel to actually look and see if they can find any evidence. They will give me the opportunity to be heard and get the facts. I welcome that opportunity. Then a prosecutor will take the facts and make the decision if it warrants prosecution. That's the process, I support the process."
Latvala, 66, was one of Tampa Bay's most influential lawmakers and remains an active Republican candidate for governor.
At the peak of his power as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Latvala announced his resignation on Dec. 20 after an explosive report by former circuit judge Ronald V. Swanson, who found probable cause that Latvala committed sexual harassment on four occasions against a Senate staff member, Rachel Perrin Rogers.
But the potentially most damaging details in the report — which led to FDLE's decision to launch an investigation — involve Swanson's references to a quid pro quo that Latvala traded legislative initiatives in exchange for physical contact or sexual intimacy.
In his report, Swanson referred the case for a criminal investigation and concluded that alleged behavior by Latvala toward "a witness other than complainant, and seemingly confirmed in text messages" from Latvala "appear to violate ethics rules and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption."
"The Special Master recommends these allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation. An internal investigation pursuant to Senate Rules, referral to the Florida Commission on Ethics, and/or some other appropriate mechanism of investigation of the alleged ethics violations is also recommended," Swanson wrote in his 33-page report.
Laura McLeod, 59, a former lobbyist, said she decided to come forward after more than two decades of lobbying. She was the accuser who was unidentified in Swanson's report.
"Success and power for many women was realized while either putting up with exploitation of power or by joining in the devolving patterns," McLeod told the Times/Herald.
McLeod acknowledged that she and Latvala had a consensual sexual affair about two decades ago, when they were both married.
In his statement Friday, Latvala said Swanson "never gave me any chance to be heard on the matter."
Prosecutor Campbell said earlier this week that he would remove one of his top prosecutors from the Latvala case after the Times/Herald reported that the prosecutor's husband, a private investigator, was hired by the former senator.
Campaign finance records confirmed that Latvala spent $645 to hire private investigator Todd Chaires, who searched his car, office and Tallahassee home for electronic listening devices.
Chaires is married to Deputy Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman, one of four senior prosecutors working in Campbell's office.