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Lobbyist Brian Ballard recounts call with Gov. Charlie Crist for Jim Greer criminal case

TALLAHASSEE — Lobbyist Brian Ballard has unwittingly become a pivotal figure in the state's fraud and money laundering case against former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer.

Ballard, a fundraiser and confidant to former Gov. Charlie Crist, was brought into the criminal case by Greer's lawyers to recount a telephone call he had with the governor in January 2009.

In testimony at a Nov. 17 deposition, Ballard said the governor approved of plans to bring GOP fundraising "in house'' and pay extra money to Greer and Delmar Johnson, the party's executive director.

But Ballard said he knew nothing of Victory Strategies, the private corporation Greer and Johnson established to receive a percentage of money they raised. Ballard said he first heard about the company when he read about it in newspapers.

Crist and other GOP leaders have said they were unaware of the corporation until after Greer resigned in early 2010, but Greer's attorneys insist the governor and others knew about Victory Strategies from the beginning.

The statewide grand jury charges against Greer focus on the creation of Victory Strategies and more than $100,000 funneled to the corporation from GOP coffers. Johnson also profited from the arrangement but was not charged. He has been cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify against Greer.

Greer says the criminal charges stem from animosity among party leaders who were mad at him for supporting Crist in his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate race against Marco Rubio.

Greer has filed a $5 million suit against the state party alleging leaders reneged on a severance agreement to pay him $130,000.

The case against Greer is likely to feature testimony from many of the state's GOP leaders in the midst of heated 2012 elections and fierce fighting over new congressional and legislative districts.

Under questioning from Greer's lawyers, Ballard recounted details of conversations he had with Crist and former GOP fundraiser Meredith O'Rourke. A transcript of that testimony was obtained by the St Petersburg Times on Thursday.

Ballard said he got a call from O'Rourke in January 2009 after she learned that Greer was dramatically cutting her pay to $5,000 a month.

She had previously made as much as $30,000 a month, Ballard said. O'Rourke wanted him to see if the decision had been approved by the governor or his chief of staff, George LeMieux.

"I asked if he (Crist) had approved the new arrangement with Meredith and the new arrangement with the party fundraising in general,'' Ballard said. "He said he had approved it, that it was the chairman's prerogative to restructure and reorganize fundraising, that they were going to do it in house. It would save money, and he supported what the chairman was talking about.''

The governor expected Greer and Johnson to be compensated but felt it would be cheaper than retaining O'Rourke, Ballard said.

Charges against Jim Greer

Count 1, organized fraud: Prosecutors allege Greer created Victory Strategies with former GOP executive director Delmar Johnson to fraudulently obtain money from RPOF. Greer kept his involvement in the company secret.

Count 2, third-degree theft: At Greer's direction, Johnson told GOP financial officials the chairman wanted them to pay Victory Strategies $10,000 on top of its fundraising commission. The company then cut a check to Greer for $6,000.

Count 3, third-degree theft: Johnson, at Greer's direction, told GOP finance officials to pay Victory Strategies an extra $10,000. The next day, Victory Strategies deposited $15,000 in Greer's personal bank account.

Count 4, second-degree theft: The party paid Victory Strategies $30,000 to conduct a poll for Charlie Crist's Senate campaign. The poll was never conducted, and a check for $25,000 went from the company to Greer's checking account.

Count 5, third-degree theft: Johnson billed the party "per the chairman'' for $21,250 for two months of fundraising and "consulting'' by Victory Strategies. The next day, the company paid Greer $12,250.

Count 6, money laundering: Prosecutors say Greer's company was designed solely to conceal or disguise the personal payments, and that the total involved was nearly $200,000 obtained over a year.

Lobbyist Brian Ballard recounts call with Gov. Charlie Crist for Jim Greer criminal case 12/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 9:33pm]
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