Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Former aide to Lt. Gov. Carroll alleges misconduct

TALLAHASSEE — An ongoing criminal case against a former top aide to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is transforming into a swirl of allegations about improper relationships, widespread illegal taping and other incidents inside Carroll's office.

The allegations, which Carroll denies, are included in a court filing made late last week by the attorney representing Carletha Cole, who was arrested in October on charges that she gave an illegally taped conversation with another Carroll aide to a newspaper reporter.

Cole's attorney made the filing in response to prosecutors' attempts to seal some evidence in the case.

In the filing, Cole contends that she witnessed Carroll and a top aide, Beatriz Ramos, in a "compromising position" inside Carroll's office, that Carroll's chief of staff secretly recorded conversations routinely at the direction of those working for Gov. Rick Scott, and that the trash can at Cole's desk might have been deliberately set ablaze following an argument between her and Ramos.

Cole also said Ramos was living at Carroll's home and that at one point she was ordered by Ramos to find adjoining hotel rooms for Carroll and Ramos when they traveled. Cole said she was "scolded" by an agent with Carroll's security team when she placed Ramos next door to Carroll when the lieutenant governor and her husband traveled last summer to Puerto Rico.

Carroll, a former Navy officer who is also a mother of three, says the allegations are all lies.

"That's totally false and absurd," said Carroll, a former Republican legislator who was chosen by Scott as his running mate in 2010.

Carroll said the allegations are an attempt by Cole and her attorney to get the criminal charges against Cole dropped. Cole is charged with a third-degree felony and could get up to five years in prison.

"They are trying to pull at straws," Carroll said. "All this stuff you mentioned doesn't excuse what happened."

Ramos, whose title is special assistant to the lieutenant governor, did not return a phone call to her office.

Stephen Webster, the Tallahassee attorney representing Cole, stood by the allegations included in the filing: "That's the truth. It is what it is."

Webster said Cole is a grandmother and a minister who had never been in legal trouble before. He said the filing was made to show that Carroll, Ramos and Carroll's chief of staff, John Konkus, have reasons to make Cole look bad because they could be witnesses at Cole's trial.

Webster works for the law firm of Steven Andrews, who has clashed with Scott in the past. Andrews filed a lawsuit during the 2010 governor's race attempting to obtain a video deposition Scott had given in a case against a chain of health clinics he helped start.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation that resulted in Cole's arrest began last September after the agency received a complaint that a secret audio recording had been made in Carroll's office.

It is against Florida law to record someone without consent, but there have been legal questions about recordings made in public buildings.

The Florida Times-Union obtained a copy of the conversation between Konkus, Carroll's chief of staff, and Cole, a senior program analyst who also acted as a spokeswoman for Carroll.

The Times-Union placed the recording on its website. Konkus can be heard saying that the governor's then-chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, is afraid of Carroll. Konkus also complains that Scott "is not leading." Konkus worked for U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, before joining the Scott administration in May.

In her court filing, Cole says that she went to Carroll's office door, which was closed. She says she walked in and found Carroll and Ramos "in what can only be described as a compromising position." Carroll denies this ever happened.

Cole was fired about the time the investigation began after publicly speaking out about infighting in Carroll's office.

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