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Florida Supreme Court approves Gov. Charlie Crist's request to investigate public corruption

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court approved Gov. Charlie Crist's revised request for a statewide grand jury to investigate public corruption and recommend changes in state law Wednesday, just two days after rejecting his initial petition.

The decision follows the arrests of several public officials and major campaign contributors in South Florida.

"We must remain committed to creating an environment where any crime committed by a public official is exposed and addressed as quickly as possible," Crist said in a statement.

The panel can issue public reports and recommendations, as well as hand down indictments for crimes ranging from money laundering, official misconduct and bribery to kidnapping, carjacking and murder if they span at least two judicial circuits.

A similar effort a decade ago by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to toughen laws that would make it easier to root out public corruption was largely rejected by the Legislature. Crist has said he hopes the grand jury would revive that effort.

The high court said in a 6-1 ruling Monday that Crist failed to allege general crimes or wrongs to be investigated that cover more than a single judicial circuit as required by state law. Crist immediately filed an amended request.

In a unanimous order, the justices named Chief Circuit Judge Victor Tobin of Fort Lauderdale to preside over the grand jury that will serve for a year from the time it is impaneled. The members will be drawn from lists of prospective jurors in four South Florida circuits covering Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Lee counties.

Crist made his initial request two weeks after Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a Hollywood ophthalmologist whose many political contributions include Crist's U.S. Senate campaign, surrendered to the FBI on charges of running a fraudulent fundraising and lobbying operation.

Since then, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, another prominent political contributor, was arrested on racketeering and fraud charges alleging he operated a $1 billion investment scheme involving phony legal settlements.

After the scandal broke, the Florida Democratic Party returned $200,000 in contributions from Rothstein and his law firm. The Florida Republican Party gave back $150,000 and Crist returned $9,600 from Rothstein and his wife, Kim.

Three prominent Broward politicians were arrested in September on federal corruption charges of accepting thousands in cash from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen seeking illegal favors.

Crist has noted that he has had to remove 30 public officials during just under three years as governor.

Florida Supreme Court approves Gov. Charlie Crist's request to investigate public corruption 12/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 10:54pm]
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