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.