Records show former Gov. Charlie Crist thought Jim Greer was trying to extort him

Published May 17, 2012

The message to former Gov. Charlie Crist from good friend and confidante Jim Greer was ominous-sounding:

"Listen, I just wanted to call and tell you something as a man, not like these other people that have put knives in your back and never had the courtesy to call you directly or talk to you."

Just about a year after Greer was indicted on felony charges of organized fraud, theft and money laundering, Crist found on his cellphone the voicemail and a text message from the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

To Crist, it sounded as if Greer was attempting to extort money from him, and Crist called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to report the messages.

"Hey governor, it's Jim,'' the June 2011 voice message from Greer began. "I'm sure you know our friendship has ended, is over, and I'm just very saddened by that. But I wanted you to know personally from me that in the future there's probably going to be things coming out that are going to be very hurtful to both you and Carole (Crist's wife). But I'll be honest with you, I don't care anymore because I did everything that I could for you. I paid every bill you and Carole ever gave me. I defended every decision you ever made. I almost got in a fist fight the times when people said personal, terrible things about you."

Greer went on to tell Crist that he was about to lose his house, could no longer afford to pay for insurance for his children, including one named for Crist, and how he resented the fact that no one, including Crist, "has lifted a finger to try and help me.''

The voicemail and text message — "I gave everything for you and your political future" — are now evidence in Greer's criminal trial, scheduled to begin July 30 in Orlando. Details of the messages and an interview FDLE agents conducted with Crist afterward were disclosed recently among hundreds of pages of documents turned over to Greer's attorneys by assistant statewide prosecutor Michael Williams. Greer is accused of taking money from the GOP through a secret company used to funnel almost $200,000 to himself and a subordinate.

Crist reported the calls to FDLE a day after the messages were left. Investigators and prosecutors interviewed Crist in Tampa a month later. Crist told them he spoke with Greer from time to time but the messages "came from out of the blue."

Crist told investigators he assumed Greer had financial difficulties but was unaware of the extent of his problems and "was concerned that perhaps Greer was trying to extort money from him,'' the FDLE report noted.

He said he cut off contact with Greer after receiving the messages. Contacted Wednesday, Crist said he has not heard from Greer since he contacted FDLE and does not know what "hurtful things'' Greer was referring to when he said bad things about Crist and his wife were going to come out.

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"I just don't know what he is talking about,'' Crist said.

Greer denied any attempt to extort money from Crist.

"Absolutely not,'' Greer said. "I didn't even know Crist said that until seven or eight months later. There was nothing in that voicemail that would imply anything like that whatsoever.''

Later in an email, Greer wrote: "I was simply telling him man-to-man that our friendship was over, that I could not understand why he lied about the fundraising and the fact that I had done everything he directed me to do as Chairman of the Party, which now has cost me dearly. . . . One thing people used to tell me about Charlie that I never believed until the end is that loyalty is not a part of his makeup once he no longer has a use for you, something my family and I sure found out the hard way."

Greer is in Seminole County awaiting trial. He was able to hang onto his house with some help from the bank.

"It's been pretty tough, but my lawyers tell me some day there will be a big check coming my way,'' Greer added.

Greer's wife, Lisa, was much more outspoken. Writing on her Facebook page, she said the messages were left after Crist's "minions'' kept calling Greer and begging him to leave information about Crist out of the book he is writing.

"I once loved and trusted Charlie Crist," she wrote. "I now know he would whore himself out to anyone that will put him in power again. I am sick of the games and lies, I have a family to protect and a precious baby girl on the way, the truth must come out to clear Jim's name."

• • •

Crist met Greer when he was running for governor in 2006, and Greer asked to run his Seminole County campaign. After his election, Crist said George LeMieux, then his chief of staff, recommended Greer for the state party leadership post and he was appointed.

Crist said he was not aware Greer had become the primary fundraiser for the party but did know he had a "difficult working relationship'' with Meredith O'Rourke, the fundraiser Greer pushed aside in December 2009.

Greer is charged with creating Victory Strategies Inc. with Delmar Johnson, then the party's executive director. Greer and Johnson shared the profits until the contract was discovered and Greer was forced out as party chair in January 2010.

Johnson has been given immunity from prosecution and is testifying against Greer.

Crist told investigators he did not know Greer was collecting extra money for fundraising and did not believe Greer should have been paid extra because fundraising was already a responsibility of the party chairman. Greer says he told Crist about Victory Strategies on three occasions.

Crist also said he was unaware of attempts to bill the party $30,000 for a poll on his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. Crist said he had his own polling service and did not need the party to pay for it. Greer allegedly billed the party for the poll, which was never conducted.

Crist said he did not participate in negotiations to oust Greer but was advised of it by then House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon and then Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos. He said he learned of Victory Strategies from media reports.

Crist, Haridopolos, Cannon, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, and a number of party officials are among the prosecution witnesses expected to testify at Greer's trial.

• • •

In addition to the messages left by Greer, prosecutors also disclosed details of a 2000 business deal between Greer and state Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West. Saunders and several silent partners once owned and operated Sloppy Joe's, a restaurant in downtown Tallahassee.

Saunders hired Greer to manage the business but it ultimately failed and everyone lost money, according to David Hulsey, a Tallahassee Realtor and one of the partners interviewed by FDLE.

Another partner, Don Reinhard, a former Tallahassee investment adviser, was interviewed in federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, where he is serving time for fraud. Reinhard told agents that Greer embezzled money from the business and took cases of liquor and champagne.

Reinhard said the thefts were never reported but Greer signed an agreement to repay the money. A copy of the agreement indicates Greer agreed to pay about $50,000.

Greer denies embezzling any money from Sloppy Joe's, noting that FDLE agents tracked down a felon in federal prison to find the allegation.

"I didn't embezzle anything,'' Greer said. "It's amazing who they went to find to attack me.''

When contacted Wednesday, Saunders said he could only discuss the written agreement.

"We agreed he owed me money,'' said Saunders, minority leader of the House and a candidate for state Senate. "Later he got the job with the party. When they started trying to get rid of him, I told the Democratic Party they should leave him alone because he would bankrupt the Republicans if he stayed there.''

Saunders said he believes the trouble between Greer and the party, the criminal charges and a civil suit Greer filed against the GOP, are likely to be settled soon because "some people would just as soon see all this go away.''

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.