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Free-spending ex-Florida GOP chief Greer gets 18 months in prison

Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, left, with his attorney Damon Chase, enters a surprise guilty plea to five criminal charges last month in an Orange County courtroom.
Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, left, with his attorney Damon Chase, enters a surprise guilty plea to five criminal charges last month in an Orange County courtroom.
Published Mar. 28, 2013

ORLANDO — Jim Greer, hand shaker, party thrower, power seeker, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was sentenced on Wednesday to 18 months in state prison plus one year of probation.

Greer, 50 and a father of five, last month pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering, admitting he had created a company called Victory Strategies to siphon to himself and an associate some $200,000 of party donations.

"You're now a convicted felon, sir," Circuit Judge Marc Lubet told Greer Wednesday, adding that he had "egregiously violated a position of trust."

Prosecutors wanted a little more than 31/2 years. Greer's attorney, Damon Chase, argued against that much time, and Lubet agreed.

The judge opted for the somewhat lighter punishment, he said, partly because Greer's partner, Delmar Johnson, was charged with nothing after helping the state construct its case, and also because Greer this week paid $65,000 in restitution. Chase assured the judge his client was "contrite."

Prosecutor Michael Williams said after the hearing he wasn't disappointed with the judge's decision. "We're very happy with incarceration," he said. "I don't think anybody in Tallahassee is interested in trading places with Jim Greer."

Greer said nothing. His wife, Lisa, hurried from the courtroom without speaking.

The sentencing at the Orange County Courthouse marked at least the legal conclusion of a years-long saga that was unflattering for state Republicans, but could've been worse.

When Greer became the party head in January 2007, former Gov. Charlie Crist's personal pick, he was all but unknown — the deputy mayor of the Seminole County suburb of Oviedo.

He grew up in Merritt Island, got a GED and took some classes at a community college. He started a business training restaurant and bar workers to follow alcohol laws. He made money and wanted people to know it. He named his boats Sea King and High Roller. He was a regular at strip clubs and bars. Both his weddings were lavish.

He was active in chambers of commerce and local civic organizations and quickly worked to make friends with people he identified as politically valuable. He got elected to the city councils in Palm Bay and later Oviedo.

In Oviedo, he built a 3,700-square-foot house in a new gated subdivision on a street called Prestige Point, and his gatherings typically had some of the area's best snacks and booze. He often dressed as Elvis and belted out songs by the King.

During Crist's 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Greer helped him raise more than $400,000 in Seminole County alone, after which he was rewarded with his plum position. Greer hung pictures of himself in the hallways of the party's offices in Tallahassee. He wanted people to call him Chairman. He wanted to drink bourbon only from bottles with personalized labels. He charged to the party trips on chartered jets and nights in five-star hotels and thousand-dollar dinners.

He started Victory Strategies. It was the beginning of the end of his porcine reign as party chair. He was forced out of the position in January 2010 and arrested in June at his house on Prestige.

Up until last month, he insisted he was innocent, claiming Crist knew about Victory Strategies, which Crist denied. Greer said he was the victim of party infighting. The trial loomed. It was expected to include testimony damaging to the party as a whole, and Crist, too.

"It's going to be a Shakespearean play where everyone dies in the end," Greer told Miami New Times in January. Last month, though, just before the start of the hotly anticipated trial, Greer changed course. "Guilty, your honor," he said to the judge.

On Wednesday, he walked into the courtroom wearing a black suit, glasses and a gray goatee. He kissed his wife and whispered in her ear. He stood to listen to the judge's sentence. He gave his jacket and tie to his attorney, and deputies took his fingerprints, put him in handcuffs and led him out a side door.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.

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