Senate Minority Leader Ander Crenshaw and former House leader Frank Messersmith on Monday became the latest to be charged in connection with free trips that many legislators accepted from lobbyists. Like the other officials, Crenshaw and Messersmith were charged with failure to report the trips on their state gift disclosure forms, a misdemeanor.
Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, was charged with failing to report a 1987 trip to Foxfire Hunting Preserve in Georgia.
Messersmith, a former top Republican leader in the House, was charged with failing to report a 1987 trip to Riverview Plantation in Georgia, and with failing to report 1988 trips to Riverview Plantation, to Corpus Christi, Texas, and to Victoria, Mexico. The Corpus Christi trip lasted six days, according to the charge filed by Tallahassee-area State Attorney Willie Meggs.
Crenshaw and Messersmith are the 18th and 19th current or former legislators to be charged. Six of the people charged have pleaded no contest and agreed to pay fines ranging from $500 to $1,250.
In a telephone interview, Crenshaw said he visited the Foxfire preserve for about 90 minutes of hunting one morning in December 1987 at the suggestion of then-Sen. Tim Deratany of Indialantic. Crenshaw said he did not realize the trip had to be reported. He said that after discussing it with prosecutors last week, he did not expect to be charged.
Crenshaw said he was embarrassed by the charge, but not angry.
"I wish I hadn't gone and I wish I'd written it down," Crenshaw said. "I certainly didn't do it intentionally."
Crenshaw said he does not remember who went along on the trip and does not know who paid for his hunting.
Messersmith already has paid for his involvement in the investigation, according to his lawyer.
Messersmith, a Lake Worth Republican, was a 10-year veteran of the House of Representatives when Gov. Bob Martinez appointed him last year to the state Public Service Commission, the five-member panel that regulates utilities. The job is considered a major political plum.
But by the time Messersmith's name came up for reappointment to the position late last year, he was one of the most frequently mentioned targets in the travel investigation. Messersmith was not reappointed to the PSC. His attorney said the reason was the investigation.
"My perception is it kept him from being reappointed to the PSC," said attorney Bill Corry.
Messersmith was traveling out of state Monday and could not be reached. Corry said Messersmith "has kept his sense of humor at all times. . . . I've seen him angry about it but not depressed," Corry said.
Corry said he is not sure whether Messersmith will contest the charge. Corry also represents Senate Appropriations Chairman Winston "Bud" Gardner, D-Titusville, who has announced that he will fight his charges.
More charges are likely in the investigation. Meggs' office has sent out more than 30 letters to legislators offering to listen to lawmakers' explanations for trips that they have been tied to.
Already, several of the highest-ranking legislators, including House Speaker T.K. Wetherell and former Senate President Bob Crawford, have been charged. Wetherell and Crawford pleaded no contest Friday.