TALLAHASSEE — The bitter feud between Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and a disgruntled aide escalated Monday as the aide's attorney called for a state arson investigation into a trash can fire in Carroll's office and the state attorney said he may expand the charges against the aide, Carletha Cole.
Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs, who charged Cole last October with giving an illegally taped conversation to a newspaper reporter, told the Times/Herald that he is considering additional charges against her for illegally recording the conversation she had with Carroll's chief of staff, John Konkus.
In the recording, Konkus is heard blaming internal office problems on Gov. Rick Scott's former Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara and accusing the governor of "not leading." Cole has declined comment. Cole's attorney denies his client made the recording.
After the recording surfaced on the Florida Times-Union website last September, Cole, 51, was fired from her $42,500-a-year job as a senior program analyst for "conduct unbecoming."
Meggs said Monday he had hoped to settle the initial charges quietly, but said the tenor of the case changed last week when Cole's attorney filed documents in court alleging that Cole caught Carroll and her travel aide in a "compromising position."
"We may amend that and charge her with recording it, too,'' he said. "If you have to go to war, you go to war. I think we're at war.''
Illegally recording a conversation is a third-degree felony and it carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
In court papers, Cole said Carroll had a vendetta against Cole after she allegedly discovered Carroll and her travel aide, Beatriz Ramos, in a sexual encounter in Carroll's state capitol office. Cole said Ramos then allegedly set fire to the trash can beneath her desk.
Cole, in the same court documents, alleged that the governor's office instructed staff to "covertly record" communications with the lieutenant governor's office and the press.
Carroll, a former Navy officer and mother of three, told the Associated Press last week that the allegations are " totally false and absurd." In reference to the sex allegations, she told a reporter with 10 News in Tampa Bay over the weekend that black women who look like her "don't engage in relationships like that."
Ramos has refused comment, but told investigators that she accidentally set the trash can on fire with a cigar she had been given during a St. Patrick's Day party.
Meggs said he believes the media is being used by Cole and her attorneys in an attempt to discredit Carroll. He called Cole's allegations that there were secret recordings made in the governor's office "something that Cole has manufactured in her mind" and Meggs said he has "no indication of anybody secretly recording anybody" except the alleged recording made by Cole.
Cole's attorney, Steven R. Andrews, confirmed that until recently both sides were attempting to settle the case amicably but efforts failed.
"We did try to resolve it and, as always, Mr. Meggs acted in good faith and was very fair,'' Andrews said. "Unfortunately, some things can't be resolved. It's a war, but not with him."
Andrews on Monday released a copy of a letter he sent to the state fire marshal demanding an investigation into the trash can blaze. He accused Capitol Police of destroying evidence, suggesting that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement botched the investigation, and implying that Carroll and Ramos covered it up.
"This request is not made without substantial indication that there was an apparent interference with this investigation with regards to its thoroughness and duration,'' Andrews wrote in letters to lawyers for the state fire marshal and Gov. Rick Scott.
Julius Halas, director of the Division of State Fire Marshal responded Monday that his office would not be investigating. He noted that the incident had been investigated by FDLE and the evidence, "a small partially smoked cigar and a burned match was subsequently destroyed by the investigating officer."
Andrews, however, suggested that the evidence was destroyed prior to the completion of the investigation. His letter points to an FDLE document that shows that the evidence was obtained and destroyed on the same day. He also cites a letter allegedly signed by Carroll that recommends FDLE investigator John Hamilton for a job with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages a day after he closed the fire investigation.
FDLE on Monday denied that agents prematurely destroyed the evidence and produced a conflicting document that indicates the evidence was destroyed two days after interviewing Ramos and having concluded the fire was an accident.
"The FDLE documents don't square with their statement issued today,'' Andrews said. "We are disappointed that the Fire Marshal declined to investigate this matter. It is understandable based upon the fact that the evidence has been destroyed."
After being fired, Cole began a campaign to implicate her former boss, alleging widespread misconduct in her office.
A Twitter account under Cole's name has posted links to an online petition calling for Carroll's impeachment. It had only a handful of signatures as of last week. Last month, Cole tweeted about her petition to ABC's Nightline, CNN contributor Roland Martin and several other national media outlets.
In court documents, Cole describes herself 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 hired in Carroll's office for her expertise in the construction and design of Web pages, and claims she took the job rather than begin a seminary program at Harvard, court filings show.
Her personnel file shows that Cole also worked for JP Morgan Chase before joining Carroll's office. She also got permission from the governor's staff to continue her outside public relations work.