Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Crist's travel on lobbyist's plane raises governor's race intrigue

TALLAHASSEE — Is someone stalking Charlie Crist?

The former governor last month hopped on a private plane owned by Tallahassee lobbyist Dave Ramba, who runs an air charter service. Crist was invited to fly on the plane chartered by Fowler White, a Tallahassee law firm.

Nobody but Crist and the law firm even knew about the flight.

Ramba said he was surprised when he was later asked by a client who came to his office demanding to know, "Why are you flying Crist around?"

Ramba then checked the flight calendar and realized the plane had been, in fact, leased by the Tallahassee law firm of Fowler White. But he didn't know who was on the flight. "Somebody had to have been tracking Charlie for it to have come back to me," Ramba said.

Ramba wouldn't disclose who asked him about the flight but believes "somebody saw (Crist) get on the flight and took down the tail number" to track it to Ramba's air charter service.

The law firm says it chartered the plane to take Linda Shelley, a Democrat and former chief of staff to former Gov. Lawton Chiles, to Fort Lauderdale from Tallahassee. She was there for law firm business and then attended an environmental forum at St. Thomas University School of Law. Crist was at the same forum along with former Govs. Bob Graham and Buddy MacKay.

Shelley, who was traveling back to Tallahassee, asked Crist if he needed a ride back to his home in St. Petersburg. Crist accepted.

"It was fairly last minute," Shelley recalled. "He said he had never been in a plane that small. He called it a mosquito."

John M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a Republican lawyer in Fowler White's Tallahassee office and a Scott supporter, said that with Crist rumored to be a potential candidate for governor again, this time as a Democrat, it would not be unusual for potential opponents to be tracking him.

"I would be more surprised if the governor's campaign team isn't keeping track of Bill Nelson and Charlie Crist," he said.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said she "had no idea" whether anyone associated with the governor was involved and referred questions to the Republican Party of Florida. Calls to party officials were not immediately returned.

Crist says he has heard of tracking candidates "but tracking a noncandidate is taking it to a new level."

He said he remains surprised that the Republican Party of Florida ran ads against him last fall. "Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by anything,'' he said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected]

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