Crist Asks Feds to Investigate Greer
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist asked federal officials Monday to investigate Jim Greer, his former hand-picked Florida Republican Party chairman, accused of skimming-off contributor cash from the party through a company he controlled.
Crist asked U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin to examine Greer’s involvement in Victory Strategies, which he created with former Florida GOP executive director Delmar Johnson. Under a contract approved by Greer as chairman, the company was to receive 10 percent of major donations to the party over the past year.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been investigating alleged criminal conduct involving Greer since a party internal audit released last week disclosed the ousted chairman’s majority ownership of Victory Strategies. Party leaders said they had been unaware of the relationship.
Johnson drew more than $400,000 from the party in his dual role as executive director and top fund-raiser, helped by his 40 percent stake in Victory Strategies. Greer’s annual salary as chairman was $130,000, but the Florida Republican Party paid more than $200,000 to Victory Strategies for fund-raising and consulting work.
Greer has fought the accusations of wrongdoing, filing a lawsuit last week against the party in his home Seminole County. Along with being aware of his fund-raising deal, Greer said party leaders had agreed to pay him a year’s salary if he agreed in January to step down as party chairman.
Greer said the party reneged on that deal and later offered him $200,000 in “hush money,” which party attorney Jason Gonzalez and other leaders deny.
The call for federal involvement in the matter came from Florida Democrats, with Crist responding to a letter from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink last week that FDLE could be hamstrung in the investigation because its budget is controlled by Republican lawmakers who have played a pivotal role in ousting Greer as party chairman.
Crist agreed with Sink, the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, and acknowledged that federal tax violations may come into play in the Greer probe. It remains unclear what state law may have been violated with the chairman entering the party into a contract with a company he co-owned.
“The alleged conduct appears to raise a number of federal law issues, including but not limited to potential credit card abuses and financial irregularities that may have IRS implications,” Crist said in his Monday letter to Kirwin.
Sink said Monday she was pleased the governor had heeded her advice about Greer, who he had advanced as Florida Republican Party chairman within weeks of his 2006 election. Crist publicly stuck by Greer throughout mounting criticism of his free-spending style as chairman, continuing to endorse him even on the January morning on which news of his resignation broke.
Crist and party leaders, though, have since worked aggressively to distance themselves from Greer.
“It is my hope that the people of Florida will finally receive the independent investigation into this matter that is needed, and that this action will avoid any conflict of interest,” Sink said.
Kelli Dougherty, a spokeswoman for Kirwin’s office, said she could not confirm the status of Crist’s request. Damon Chase, Greer’s attorney, who has denied any wrongdoing by his client, did not immediately return a phone call from the News Service of Florida following Crist’s letter.
Chase also said party leaders approved of Greer’s ownership of Victory Strategies
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who succeeded Greer as party chairman, also told the News Service, “it is what it is,” following Crist’s request.
But in a written statement, he expanded, saying: “It is extremely unfortunate that the Republican Party of Florida may have been the victim of illegal criminal activity by the previous administration….There is nothing more important than restoring the integrity of our party, the faith of our membership and the public’s trust.”