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Florida Republican Party records subpoenaed in federal corruption investigation

TALLAHASSEE — Federal investigators slapped the state Republican Party with a subpoena seeking financial records as part of a wide-ranging corruption inquiry by the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney's Office, the Times/Herald has learned.

The subpoena, delivered Election Day, sought documents related to big spending by Republican honchos who were given party-paid American Express cards.

Top Republican Party of Florida officials and investigators declined to comment on the federal inquiry or the subpoena.

For more than a year, the party has reeled from scandals tied to the credit cards as well as four unrelated state criminal inquiries into its former chairman, a fundraiser, a former Florida House speaker and a Capitol insider.

Federal investigators have already interviewed consultants, donors and numerous senators. The investigations are being handled in multiple offices, from Pensacola to Miami.

The specific targets of the recent subpoena are unclear.

State party chairman John Thrasher said he wasn't sure of the details of the subpoena and couldn't comment.

"We are not going to comment on subpoenas," party spokesman Dan Conston said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Pam Marsh of Tallahassee also would not talk about the subpoenas, except to say that the office would not direct anyone to serve subpoenas on a particular day, including Election Day.

"We understand when we conduct an overt investigation we have to be sure and minimize the effect on an election," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew-Miller.

The subpoena delivered on Nov. 2 landed at the George H.W. Bush Republican Center in Tallahassee just as the party brutalized Democrats at the polls. One of the biggest wins: the defeat of Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the party in a failed U.S. Senate bid.

Many Republicans blame Crist and his appointment of Jim Greer as party chairman for the GOP's troubles. As the party struggled to raise money and pay its bills, Greer charged about $500,000 to the party for meals and trips on his American Express card. He was ousted and later criminally charged over allegedly funneling $165,000 in party and donor money to a dummy corporation he established. He has pleaded not guilty.

In September, the Republican Party released what it said was an "independent audit'' of American Express card spending that found nearly $500,000 in expenses had little or nothing to do with party business.

The audit blamed much of the spending on Greer and, to a lesser extent, Crist. But it absolved other big-spending GOP bosses of any transgressions. They include current House Speaker Dean Cannon, incoming Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, incoming U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who faces state criminal charges over his handling of the Florida budget. Sansom has pleaded not guilty.

The audit also noted that Greer profited from an arrangement he struck with the party over an airplane he owned. The Orlando Sentinel noted that Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, had a similar arrangement with the party, but auditors didn't question him about it.

Greer's lawyer, Cheney Mason, said he believes the FBI investigated his client's aircraft use, but has dropped that line of inquiry. "There's something going on at RPOF; who knows what they'll find there?" Mason said.

One thing is clear: The GOP is paying some big-time legal fees.

Since 2009, the party has paid its ethics and elections lawyer Richard E. Coates more than $433,000, 38 percent more than what he got in 2008.

Also, Deeno Kitchen, a Tallahassee lawyer representing a party consultant, has collected $18,680 from the party.

"I'm not going to talk about it," Kitchen said when asked Wednesday about the subpoena.

Similar responses came from Steve Andrews, the lawyer who represents House Speaker Dean Cannon, and Steve Dobson, lawyer for Sansom.

Ken Sukhia, a former U.S. attorney, said he is representing the party on issues relating to subpoenas or requests for party officials to testify in the federal investigation or the Greer prosecution. He would not discuss details of the subpoenas.

One federal investigation appears to be winding down: the case against Alan Mendelsohn. A Hollywood ophthalmologist, he was a fundraiser for Crist and Rubio, and a few Democrats, before being charged this year with defrauding contributors.

He is set to plead guilty Dec. 8. His lawyer, Alvin Entin, said he will give a "full confession." But it's unclear if he'll name the former lawmaker to whom he allegedly funneled $87,000.

Florida Republican Party records subpoenaed in federal corruption investigation 12/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 10:56pm]
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