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Is Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's former aide seeking vengeance or justice?

TALLAHASSEE — An attorney for a former aide to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll defended his client's credibility Thursday, saying the governor's office had known since November about some of the explosive allegations — including a so-called "sexual escapade" between Carroll and a female staffer in her office.

"We think she's credible and she carries herself as someone who doesn't throw these allegations around," said Steven Andrews, a Tallahassee attorney representing Carletha Cole. "Everything she's said to us has been self-corroborated by public records."

On Thursday, Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor's office, called the claims "outrageous."

Cole, 49, was arrested and charged in October with disclosing an illegally taped conversation with a Florida Times-Union newspaper reporter. The taped conversation was with Carroll's chief of staff, John Konkus, talking about inter-office drama. Cole was charged with releasing the tape, not with actually recording the conversation. If convicted of the third-degree felony, she faces up to five years in prison.

In Florida, it is illegal to record a private conversation without the consent of its participants. Cole denies making the recordings.

The criminal case turned nasty this month when Cole, in court documents, accused Carroll of engaging in sex, lies and illegal audio taping at her office in the state Capitol.

The salacious allegations set off a public relations battle, with Cole painted either as an innocent whistleblower under attack or as a disgruntled former employee with a vicious vendetta.

Bolstering Cole's credibility is a polygraph she took about her claim that she had walked in on Carroll and a female staffer engaged in what appeared to be a sex act in Carroll's office. The polygraph was administered in October, shortly after Cole's arrest, by Timothy Robinson, who retired as chief polygraph examiner from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and now works independently.

"I remember asking those questions," he told the Times/Herald on Thursday. "I found no signs of deception and found her very credible. That was my decision and I still stand by it."

Carroll, a Navy veteran who is married with three children, told the Associated Press earlier this week that the allegations were "totally false and absurd."

Cole was fired in September 2011 for complaining about the office to the Florida Times-Union, Carroll's hometown paper in Jacksonville.

At the time, she told the newspaper that Carroll's office suffered from infighting and personal attacks. Within weeks of her firing, Cole began a campaign to implicate her former boss, alleging widespread misconduct at Carroll's office.

In a barrage of press releases, emails, court documents, tweets and an online petition, Cole has made several allegations against her former boss. Her goal, she has said, is to see Carroll impeached.

The governor's office has pushed back against the accusations.

"We're not even going to dignify them with a response," said Wright. "What we're focused on is creating jobs in Florida."

The Florida Federation of Republican Women rose to the defense of Carroll Thursday, saying in a letter that she was the "victim of a vile, vicious and ludicrous attack from a disgraced former employee." In a separate letter, federation president Cindy Graves described Cole, a former federation member, as a "glory seeking woman" and "an unapologetic Obama supporter."

Among Cole's allegations:

• Carroll misused her office for a "sexual escapade" and was caught in a "compromising position" with Beatriz Ramos, her travel aide.

• Carroll used her office to suppress an FDLE investigation into an alleged arson after Ramos started a fire in an office trash can belonging to Cole. After meeting with Carroll, an investigator deemed the fire an accident. The next day, Carroll wrote a letter of recommendation praising the investigator.

• Staffers in the lieutenant governor's office regularly illegally taped conversations, and Carroll's chief of staff bragged about using a wired "smart pen" to covertly record conversations.

A Twitter account under Cole's name has posted links to an online petition calling for the impeachment of Carroll due to those and other alleged offenses. As of Thursday, it had received four signatures.

"Help me get the necessary signatures to impeach Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, Florida, for abuse of power and investigation tampering," Cole tweeted last month to ABC's Nightline, CNN contributor Roland Martin and several other national media outlets.

Court documents describe Cole as a minister with two children and four grandchildren, and no prior criminal record. The former head of a public relations firm and publisher of a women's magazine, Cole was recruited into Carroll's office for her expertise in the construction and design of Web pages and decided to take the job rather than begin a seminary program at Harvard, court filings show.

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @ToluseO.

Is Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's former aide seeking vengeance or justice? 07/12/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 13, 2012 1:06am]

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