ORLANDO — The state senator who succeeded Jim Greer as head of the Republican Party of Florida signed a severance agreement that promised the disgraced party chairman tens of thousands of dollars. But state Sen. John Thrasher now says he never understood that the contract with Greer was executed.
Depositions filed last week at the Orange County Courthouse show how top GOP officials such as Thrasher have distanced themselves from the severance agreement they signed in January 2010, promising Greer more than $11,000 a month for almost a year after he stepped down as party chair.
Greer is charged with steering nearly $200,000 of party money toward a fundraising firm, Victory Strategies, he had formed with a top aide while keeping his interest in the company a secret. He has pleaded not guilty and says he is the victim of party conservatives who turned against then-Gov. Charlie Crist, Greer's political benefactor.
Thrasher repeatedly said he didn't recall details of how Greer's severance contract was developed during an August deposition taken in Tallahassee by Greer's attorneys, Cheney Mason, who was one of Casey Anthony' defense attorneys, and Don Lykkebak, who represented former astronaut Lisa Nowak in her criminal case. The other depositions filed in court last week included two other party leaders who signed the severance agreement — Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon and Jason Gonzalez, the party's former general counsel.
Thrasher, a lawyer from Jacksonville, said he didn't understand he was signing a final deal. He also said he didn't recall making public statements to reporters in the weeks leading up to Greer's departure that no such agreement existed.
"You don't recall telling them there was no such thing?" Lykkebak said in transcripts of the deposition, referring to Thrasher's statements to reporters.
"I may have said there was no effectuated agreement, yes sir. Because in …"
Lykkebak interrupted, "Well, that was a little reckless on your part seeing how you signed one, wouldn't you say?"
The severance contract likely will be a crucial piece of evidence during Greer's trial next year since he contends party leaders were aware of his role in Victory Strategies, which Greer claims saved the party money compared to the previous contract with another fundraising firm.
A draft of Greer's severance agreement included in Gonzalez's deposition even mentions Victory Strategies by name in a clause stating that all of Greer's expenditures were proper. The specific reference to Victory Strategies was removed from the version signed by party leaders because the clause covered all fundraising contracts, Gonzalez said in his deposition. Also eliminated from the signed version was a clause promising Greer $1 million in damages "to compensate Greer for injury to his reputation" if the party breached any terms of the agreement.
Greer's popularity within the party was waning quickly at the end of 2009 when discussions were under way about his departure and how a severance deal should be arranged. He was viewed as being too close to Crist, who was facing a Tea Party rebellion within the party, and others were questioning party spending. Crist would eventually lose the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race to Marco Rubio and run as an independent.
When asked if then-Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum ever threatened to indict Greer if he didn't step down as chairman, Cannon answered "no." Unlike Thrasher, Cannon said he believed an agreement had been reached with Greer, regardless of whether it was properly executed, but he said he didn't know of Greer's financial interest in Victory Strategies at the time he signed the contract.
Gonzalez said in the deposition he became aware of Victory Strategies weeks before the severance agreement was signed when a member of the party's board called him with questions about the Victory Strategies contract. Gonzalez said he went to Greer's office, where a political consultant and Crist's campaign manager were meeting with Greer, and asked if the party chairman had benefited from Victory Strategies. Greer said no and threatened to sue for defamation anybody who said he had benefited, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he later had another conversation about Victory Strategies with Greer. When asked repeatedly by Greer's attorney if Greer told him he had an interest in Victory Strategies, Gonzalez said, "I don't recall" and "No, not that I recall."