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Lawyer suggests Charlie Crist's memory foggy because of too much wine

TALLAHASSEE — Perhaps it was the wine that made some Republicans forget details of events involving former party chairman Jim Greer. Or maybe it was Greer who drank the wine and was mis-remembering.

Those suggestions were tossed around among lawyers as they put former Gov. Charlie Crist under oath last year to ask him about a series of conversations he had with Greer and others as Greer took over party fundraising in 2009.

Crist, a lawyer, former legislator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor, said it was his first time to be questioned under oath in a deposition, a remarkable thing for a man who has spent most of his adult life in politics.

Many of the other witnesses that have been questioned under oath also suffered from a failure to recall details of Greer's fundraising activity.

The issue is a critical one as Greer faces trial in Orlando on Monday for secretly creating Victory Strategies, a company that collected about $200,000 from the GOP in 2009. He is accused of multiple counts of theft and fraud and faces a maximum of 75 years in prison if convicted.

The questions to Crist on June 26, 2012, were posed by Greer's lawyer, Damon Chase. Greer and Chase insist Crist and others knew Greer had created Victory Strategies. A transcript of the deposition was made public this week after it was placed in Greer's court file.

Crist said he had never heard of Victory Strategies until he read it in a newspaper. And he didn't know that Greer had collected money over and above his $130,000 a year salary until a criminal investigation began in 2010.

One by one, Chase confronted Crist with statements he says were made by Greer and others who say the governor knew about the additional payments to Greer and approved of them.

Asked if lobbyist Brian Ballard was telling the truth when he said that Crist knew about the extra compensation for Greer and Delmar Johnson, the party's executive director: "I don't believe that is truthful,'' Crist responded.

Asked about similar claims made by GOP finance chair Harry Sargeant III and party consultant Jay Burmer, Crist again disagreed: "It did not happen."

Over and over, when asked about individual conversations with Greer, Crist said he could not recall the discussion Chase was suggesting. Crist didn't recall asking Greer to make Jason Gonzalez the party's general counsel, he did not recall suggesting that former fundraiser Meredith O'Rourke be kept off planes he was on, or any one of a number of other things Chase suggested Crist should know.

At one point, Chase suggested that Crist couldn't recall conversations he had with Greer several years ago "because he was drinking too much wine'' at events where Greer was charging the food and drink to the party.

Chase wanted to know how much wine the former governor consumes on any given evening.

"Well it sounds like if your client (Greer) was buying all the wine, he was drunk and doesn't remember what happened," suggested Crist's attorney, John Morgan. Morgan is the founder of Morgan & Morgan, the firm where Crist now works.

Morgan also accused Chase of "character assassination by inference.''

In the end the lawyers agreed to leave the wine drinking issue for a later discussion so a judge could decide whether Crist needs to itemize his wine drinking habits.

Crist rejected suggestions that he had asked his former chief of staff to deliver copies of Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican Party credit card receipts to a Miami Herald reporter and said he couldn't recall instructing Greer to deliver them to the Tampa Bay Times and Tampa Tribune.

"Is it possible that you did?'' Chase asked.

"It's possible,'' Crist responded.

Crist also didn't recall telling Tony Carbonetti, a New York visitor to South Florida, that he would endorse Rudy Guiliani in the 2008 presidential campaign. He did recall interviewing his former chief of staff, George LeMieux before appointing him to the U.S. Senate and admitted they discussed whether LeMieux would run for a full term because Crist planned to run. Crist did run and lost to Rubio.

Morgan and assistant statewide prosecutor Michael Williams repeatedly objected to the political questions, suggesting they have nothing to do with the charges against Greer.

Another statement taken in August 2010 from Travis Lawson, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent assigned to the investigation, was released Thursday.

Lawson noted that most GOP officials and employees he interviewed in March 2010 did not know that Greer had any ownership interest in Victory Strategies. Several GOP employees had begun asking questions about the corporation in mid-2009 and Johnson and Greer denied having any interest in it, Lawson said.

In another deposition released Thursday, party CFO Richard Swarttz described Greer as "a crook,'' a "bully,'' "egotistical'' and a big spending chairman despite the fact that party finances were "poor'' in the fall of 2009 after Greer and Johnson took over fundraising.

Swarttz said party fundraising dropped from $5.9 million in 2007 and $4.7 million in 2008 when O'Rourke was the chief fundraiser to about $1.3 million in 2009.

Correction: Former Gov. Charlie Crist had never been questioned in a deposition. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.

Lawyer suggests Charlie Crist's memory foggy because of too much wine 02/07/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 6:42pm]
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