Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ex-aide to Carroll takes plea deal

TALLAHASSEE — The tangled criminal case that included allegations of widespread illegal recording and improper relationships in the office of former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is coming to an end.

Prosecutors this week reached a deal with Carroll's former aide Carletha Cole that will result in the charges being officially dropped in 12 months if Cole stays out of legal trouble.

Cole was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a secret recording containing a conversation between Cole and Carroll's chief of staff.

Cole's attorneys asserted that their client was being set up because she witnessed unprofessional behavior by Carroll and other employees, including walking in on Carroll and a female aide in a "compromising position." Carroll denied the allegations. Cole's attorneys also contended that there was widespread recording in the office.

Cole's attorneys pushed to force Carroll to testify in the case, but the agreement reached this week means that the case will eventually be closed and no trial will be held.

Under the agreement, Cole must perform 50 hours of community service and avoid any contact with Carroll's former chief-of-staff John Konkus. Konkus, like the rest of Carroll's staff, left his job in state government after the lieutenant governor resigned earlier this year.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said the pre-trial diversion agreement was one that his office had made from the "very beginning."

"The attorney on the other side wanted to litigate," Meggs said Wednesday.

Steven Andrews, one of the attorneys representing Cole, said that his client was willing to accept the agreement but that it was Carroll who initially pushed to have Cole placed on probation in connection with the felony charges. Cole could have faced up to five years in prison if convicted.

Carroll stepped down in March after she was questioned by law-enforcement investigating a charity involved in an alleged illegal gambling operation. Carroll provided public relations work to the company when she was a state legislator. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The trial could have been potentially embarrassing for the administration of Gov. Rick Scott since several former and current employees were ordered to testify.

Konkus had given a deposition in which he acknowledged that he owned a smart pen that was capable of recording conversations. But he said he used it for personal memos or to record Carroll when she was doing a radio or television interview.

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