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Ousted Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer accused of grand theft, money laundering

The booking photo for Jim Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, taken Wednesday morning by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Seminole County Sheriff’s Office

The booking photo for Jim Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, taken Wednesday morning by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Jim Greer, the big-spending former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with six felony counts in connection with a secret consulting contract he struck with the party, state police said.

Greer, 47, and former party executive director Delmar Johnson used a ''shell company'' called Victory Strategies to raise money from the party for ''personal enrichment,'' said Bill Shepherd, Florida's statewide prosecutor.

Johnson was a cooperating witness and struck a plea deal.

Greer was being held without bail, charged with money laundering, committing a scheme to defraud and four theft charges. The theft charges carry a maximum five-year prison sentence. The others call for a maximum 30 -year prison term.

Greer's arrest was the first made by a statewide grand jury examining public corruption, which was called for by Gov. Charlie Crist, who personally picked Greer to lead the Republican Party of Florida.

Greer, pressured to resign from the party in February, has been under FDLE investigation since spring after new party leaders discovered the Victory Strategies contract.

While Greer took shots from numerous rank-and-file Republicans, Crist stood firmly by him.

"Sometimes, you're disappointed by people,'' Crist said Wednesday, calling the incident "disappointing and surprising.''

Asked if he bore any blame for Greer's troubles, Crist said "I do not feel complicit.''

About 45 minutes before Greer's arrest, authorities informed Crist by telephone. Greer was picked up at his Oviedo home — and accidentally cut himself while shaving. Two banks connected to Greer, SunTrust and United Legacy Bank, were searched along with Greer's home.

Greer started to lose control of the party as Republican John McCain's presidential campaign floundered in the must-win state of Florida. As Crist's fortunes sank over the following months, so did Greer's.

Meantime, word of big-spending on party American Express cards bedeviled Republicans, leading Greer to publicly cut his AmEx card to stem the criticism. (An arrest affidavit reveals he actually cut up a staffer's card.)

Greer charged about $500,000 on his card — a fraction of what other party officials rang up.

Greer has long maintained he was innocent of all accusations and was a scapegoat for party leaders. Greer sued the party for failing to honor a $124,000 severance agreement. The secret Jan. 4 agreement was signed by party and legislative leaders and said, "All RPOF expenditures made during Chairman Greer's term as RPOF Chairman were proper, lawful, appropriate.''

In his lawsuit, Greer also accused his successor, St. Augustine Sen. John Thrasher, future Senate President Mike Haridopolos and future House Speaker Dean Cannon of using intermediaries to offer him "hush money.''

All have denied the charges.

Shepherd and FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey suggested that they weren't examining Cannon, Haridopolos or Thrasher, who previously had called Greer a ''criminal.''

"What we're focused on Victory Strategies,'' Shepherd said. "We're looking at Victory Strategies.''

Federal prosecutors are also examining party activities under the watch of Greer and Crist, who recently left the Republican Party amid a bitter U.S. Senate primary that he was expected to lose.

A major party and Crist fundraiser, Scott Rothstein, pleaded guilty to a $1 billion Ponzi scheme in which he was accused of funneling ill-gotten gains to unnamed politicians. And one-time Crist contributor and Republican fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn has been indicted in an unrelated corruption scheme.

The state probe of Greer was launched after an internal party audit unearthed evidence of the party consulting contract struck by Greer and his hand-picked former executive director, Johnson.

The party audit showed that Greer owned 60 percent of the company and Johnson owned the remaining 40 percent.

Greer authorized the contract to let Johnson take a 10 percent commission on all dollars he raised for the party coffers. It totaled $133,005 for 2009, with an additional $66,250 for other consulting services.

"This information indicates there may have been criminal activity surrounding a former senior official of the Republican Party of Florida and a company called Victory Strategies, LLC,'' Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a March 15 statement when he turned the investigation over to FDLE.

Ousted Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer accused of grand theft, money laundering 06/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 8:58pm]
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