TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for former Republican Party chairman Jim Greer say Attorney General Bill McCollum and the statewide grand jury he oversees should bow out of a criminal investigation into GOP expenditures and leave it up to federal authorities.
Greer has hired former U.S. Attorneys Greg Miller of Tallahassee and Marcos Jimenez of Miami to represent him in a criminal investigation that could spell election-year trouble for party leaders who have charged personal expenses to party credit cards.
"We think McCollum should recuse himself from this," Miller said, noting that McCollum has received GOP campaign funds and participated in the decision to seek Greer's resignation and offer him severance pay.
McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, said he has no problem with a federal investigation but believes the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is the proper agency to investigate. He said he turned the matter over to the FDLE and statewide prosecutor Bill Sheppard on March 15 when he learned that Greer had been getting money from the party over and above the salary he was receiving.
"That is the last contact I had with FDLE," McCollum said Wednesday. "I have had no reports from them and Sheppard is quasi-independent of my office. They can choose to give it to the U.S. attorney or a state attorney. … Let them both investigate."
Last week, Gov. Charlie Crist asked U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin to conduct the investigation because of the potential for federal tax problems. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink also called for a federal investigation, saying the FDLE reports to the mostly Republican governor and Cabinet.
Sink, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Wednesday that she does not believe the statewide grand jury and FDLE should be handling the investigation, and Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman said McCollum is too deeply involved in the Republican Party "mess" to have any more involvement in the criminal investigation.
The calls for a federal investigation came as Greer filed a lawsuit against the party, accusing current leaders of violating the terms of a secret severance agreement. Greer's civil attorney, Damon Chase of Lake Mary, says the state GOP is trying to smear his client in an effort to avoid paying him $124,000 plus health care benefits.
Greer also says incoming legislative leaders offered to pay him $200,000 in hush money if he would remain quiet about the severance agreement. House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon has denied the accusation.
A document obtained by the Times/Herald describing Greer's negotiations with the Republican Party concerning his severance package illustrates the close connection to McCollum.
Greer writes to GOP general counsel Jason Gonzalez that he will honor the "commitments that I have made to the House, Senate and McCollum's campaign." It's unclear what commitments Greer is referring to. In the document, Greer also takes credit for helping McCollum, "who I might add would not be without question the presumptive nominee if not for my efforts."
McCollum's campaign spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said no commitments exist and disputed Greer's role as kingmaker.
Since Greer's resignation, a steady stream of information leaked by insiders has spotlighted lavish spending by top party officials who frequently charged personal expenses to party credit cards.
Miller said he believes federal authorities will open a case because of the governor's request. Kirwin, the top federal prosecutor in Tallahassee, refused to discuss the situation.
Miller said Greer has offered to provide information to investigators, who are likely to find that some officials who have been using party credit cards have potential tax problems. Under federal tax laws, personal expenditures on a party credit card could be construed as taxable income.
"I don't see my client having any tax problems, but I can't say the same for any other people who may have been involved with the party," Miller added.
Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and John Frank contributed to this report.