TALLAHASSEE — Delmar Johnson, former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, brought Easter presents for the children when he arrived at former party chairman Jim Greer's house in Oviedo on the night of March 29, 2010.
Greer's children were happy to see "Uncle Gar Gar," godfather to Aiden, Greer's toddler son.
Together the two men discussed the finances of Victory Strategies, the company Greer and Johnson created in early 2009, and a severance agreement that was supposed to pay Greer $124,000. They also spent time speculating about who might have conspired to force Greer out of his job, what party auditors would find and whether Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs was conducting a criminal investigation.
Greer seemed unaware of how much money Victory Strategies had collected from the party, at one point wondering what he had done with "all that money.''
Damon Chase, the lawyer who represents Greer says the conversation — which was secretly recorded by Johnson as part of an immunity deal with prosecutors and released this week— makes it appear that Johnson was running the company .
"It is the smoking gun that completely exonerates Greer,'' Chase said Thursday. He said additional documents from the party will also exonerate Greer.
Greer faces trial for money laundering and fraud in mid November. He is accused of secretly creating the company to get money from the party. Johnson has been given immunity from prosecution and is testifying against him.
At one point in the taped conversation, Johnson told Greer he had heard Greer was working "with the authorities.'' Greer noted he had heard the same thing about Johnson, saying his lawyer suggested Johnson had become a "stoolie'' — a word for an informant — and warned that Johnson "could have been wired.''
The two-hour conversation was often punctuated by the shouts of children bringing cupcakes to Johnson and later the squawks of a parrot and loud music at the Black Hammock Restaurant in Oviedo, where the Greers and Johnson went for wings and beer. At times the cries of children and later the parrot and music obscured their words.
Throughout the conversation Greer discussed his problems in getting the party to honor the Jan. 5, 2010, severance agreement. For months party officials had been denying the existence of the agreement. On March 31, three days after investigators taped the Greer conversation, party officials admitted the agreement existed but said Greer had committed fraud to obtain it and no payments would be made.
The agreement included a clause that exonerated Greer's spending, saying the records had been examined by party officials who found no wrongdoing. Those officials have since testified that they were given a cursory look at some records but never saw anything pertaining to Victory Strategies.
Johnson told Greer he had assured everyone at the party that Greer had not received any money from the company. Records indicate Greer received 60 percent of the $200,000 the party paid the company.
At one point the two men discussed an outstanding bill they owed to GrayRobinson, the law firm that created the Victory Strategies corporation for them. They still owed the firm $4,250.
"We've got to pay Gray Robinson because they have some fiduciary responsibility to us if we pay their bill,'' Greer insisted. "I'm concerned if we don't."
They agreed to split the tab with Greer picking up 60 percent, his share of the company's profits. Johnson agreed to bring cash the following day for his share. Johnson also promised Greer he would never tell anyone about the money Greer made from the contract.
Greer said his lawyers, including two former U.S. attorneys, had reviewed the Victory Strategies contract and believed there was no crime. But another attorney, Chase, said he had been told by several party officials that Greer was about to be arrested. Chase told Greer to have a suit ready to wear when he was arrested.
Greer said former U.S. Attorney Greg Miller of Tallahassee, one of his lawyers at the time, told him he had checked with courthouse sources in Tallahassee and there was nothing relating to Greer on a grand jury schedule. Later Miller talked to Meggs and was told he was not investigating Greer.
Greer said he expected the party to seek reimbursement for some of his credit card expenditures, maybe as much as $6,500. Some mistakes were made, Greer admitted. He said plane tickets for his children should not have been purchased on the card. Greer said he considered writing a check to the party but his lawyer advised against it.
They talked about others with credit card bills that were making headlines in the state's newspapers, noting that House Speaker Dean Cannon had huge bills for the use of an airplane that frequently included his wife and children as passengers.
Rumors were rampant in Tallahassee, where party operatives and political consultants were predicting Greer would be arrested. Then there was a story in Palm Beach County indicating a federal grand jury might be investigating Greer's use of an airplane.
In the end it was Attorney General Bill McCollum who gave the Victory Strategies information to law enforcement authorities and a Statewide Grand Jury that indicted Greer in June 2010.
The two men and Greer's wife, Lisa, speculated a bit about who might have caused all this trouble, pointing at times to Mitt Romney adviser Sally Bradshaw, who is a former chief of staff for Jeb Bush; former party fundraiser Meredith O'Rourke, who was fired by Greer; Kathleen Shanahan, another Bush chief of staff, who remains active in party affairs; McCollum, then a candidate for governor; and a number of other party officials who were mad at Greer and Gov. Charlie Crist.
Greer said some of his information came from his old friend Jim Stelling, a GOP official who said the party was finding "a ton of stuff about'' Johnson, including a suggestion that Johnson had been writing checks to himself. Greer noted that Johnson didn't have check writing authority .
Greer asked if the two had problems with any party expenses for Crist's marriage in December 2008. Johnson said all of those expenses had been handled by Crist except for flowers the party sent to his wife.
Greer said his lawyers were considering writing a "demand letter'' that would seek payment of the $124,000 severance payment. The letter would include a description of "what's coming after you'' if they refused to pay, Greer said.
Greer said Miller, the former U.S. attorney, told him Sen. John Thrasher, who succeeded Greer as party chairman, would be "the dumbest person in the world'' to go after Greer because "once that door is open, a train comes through.''
"I don't think they are ever going to pay me from the party, do you?'' Greer asked.
"I mean it looks less and less likely,'' Johnson responded.
"I wish we could go back and fix our mistakes,'' Greer said at one point. "Can you imagine we are not in power? They really screwed us up effectively.
"I mean it's stupid to do what we did, although it didn't seem like a bad idea at the beginning," Greer said.
Greer asked Johnson if he thought there would ever be a time when he would be respected and they discussed making a joint appearance at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee.
"Oh yeah, that would be 'we're back','' Johnson joked.
Greer said he was thinking about writing a book — but would have "to get down and dirty and divulge a lot of secrets.''
The conversation ended with a discussion of fundraising.
"Do you think if we had raised all the money we needed, none of this would have happened,'' Greer asked.
"None of this would have happened,'' Johnson responded.