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Greer is the First Bust from Crist Grand Jury

Jim Greer’s former high-rolling lifestyle as chairman of the Florida Republican Party earned a troubled postscript Wednesday when he was charged with six felony counts of grand theft, money laundering and attempted fraud.

Greer, 47, was arrested without incident at his Oviedo home at 9:15 a.m. and booked at Seminole County Jail, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Greer’s indictment was the first made by a statewide grand jury impaneled last year by the Florida Supreme Court -- a move sought by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Greer is charged with misappropriating more than $100,000 of Republican Party money and faces charges which include two first-degree felonies that could carry as much as 30 years each in state prison. Crist earlier also asked federal prosecutors to investigate Greer.

Crist, who had hand-picked Greer to lead the state GOP following his election in 2006, said the statewide grand jury was needed to fight public corruption in Florida, but clearly did not foresee his former Central Florida fund-raiser becoming the first figure ensnared by it.

“I do not feel complicit,” Crist said when asked if his push for Greer effectively connected him to the wrongdoing. “It is obviously disappointing and surprising. I have faith in our judicial system and I know they will handle it appropriately.”

Crist spoke following a briefing at the state’s Emergency Operations Center. But the governor cancelled a pair of public appearances Wednesday in Pensacola where he had planned to view oil-spill preparations.

Greer’s arrest was announced at a joint news conference in Orlando by FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey and Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd.

Florida Republican Chairman John Thrasher, who succeeded Greer, has put much of the blame for his predecessor on the governor, whose relationship with the party has soured since he left the GOP in April to run for U.S. Senate as an independent.

“He is the guy who put Greer in this position, he helped him get elected to a second term, he traveled with him extensively….whether he knew about Victory Strategies, he says he didn’t, and I take him at his word for that,” said Thrasher.

“But I don’t think you can walk away from the fact that this guy at one time was once your best buddy in politics, that you relied on day-in-day-out, and now say that because he’s been indicted, that I never had anything to do with him, I don’t think you can do that,” he added.

Thrasher said he was not interviewed by prosecutors. But he said that several members of the state GOP’s executive committee were questioned about their knowledge of Greer’s majority ownership of Victory Strategies, the company he organized with former party executive director Delmar Johnson to draw 10 percent of major contributions made by party donors.

Damon Chase, Greer’s attorney, did not immediately return calls from the News Service of Florida.

Johnson, Greer’s former business partner and political colleague, is cooperating in the investigation, Shepherd said Wednesday. The prosecutor said Johnson had reached a “deferred prosecution agreement,” suggesting that his legal involvement may be eased by the level of aid he gives prosecutors pursuing charges against Greer.

As a possible motivation for Greer’s actions, bank records seized by prosecutors show he “appeared to be suffering financial problems in 2009,” they said. Between January and October, at least one of his bank accounts was overdrawn ranging between $3,794 and $25,392. One Florida Republican contributor also told prosecutors that when Greer pleaded for financial help, he sent him $10,000 monthly for more than 18 months, according to an affidavit for a search warrant of Greer’s home and accounts, released Wednesday by prosecutors.

But Victory Strategies was the fulcrum of the alleged fraud.

Greer held 60 percent of Victory Strategies and Johnson 40 percent. Party leaders have said they were unaware of the business relationship between the pair and the company’s role. Prosecutors said that between February and October 2009, the Florida GOP paid Victory Strategies $199,254, with Greer receiving $125,161, while keeping his ownership hidden.

Included in the payments to Victory Strategies were about $60,000 in party consulting fees, including payments for work not performed. Some $40,000 in leftover cash from a political committee formed to re-elect Greer as chairman in January 2008 was diverted to Victory Strategies. Johnson told prosecutors he then wrote a $39,000 check from the company account to Greer.

Similarly, Johnson told prosecutors that Greer ordered party officials to pay $30,000 to Victory Strategies for polling on the Crist for Senate campaign. A day after the payment was made, a $25,000 check was issued to Greer’s personal checking account. Johnson said Victory Strategies never conducted the poll.

When party officials sought reimbursement for the poll from the Crist campaign, they were turned back “because they did not know anything about a poll done,” according to documents.

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, which he apparently almost doubled through his share of fund-raising and purported party consulting.

Greer has fought the accusations of wrongdoing, filing a lawsuit in March in his home Seminole County, claiming that party leaders were aware of his fund-raising deal and had agreed to pay him a year’s salary when he agreed in January to step down as party leaders.

Greer has said that the party reneged on the deal and later offered him $200,000 in “hush money.” Party leaders deny Greer’s counter-charges, although severance documents have surfaced bearing the signatures of Thrasher, Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

GOP leaders say the Greer package was never fully endorsed by all involved.

“It has become increasingly clear that Jim Greer abused his power as chairman,” Cannon said. “I commend Chairman Thrasher for taking decisive action, handing these issues over to the appropriate authorities, and beginning to restore the trust of grassroots supporters and donors.”

Bailey, of FDLE, also indicated that investigators were not considering as potentially criminal the role other party leaders may have played in the Greer case.

The investigation also did not cast any further shadows over the party’s free-spending and credit-card use during Greer’s three years as chairman. Records released last month show the state GOP rang up $7 million in credit-card charges on lavish expenses from limousines and chartered aircraft to beachfront resorts and trips to England and other overseas destinations.

The only significant reference to credit-card spending in the 25-page affidavit released by prosecutors shows that Greer’s flamboyant cutting-up of his American Express credit card at a June 2009 party board meeting also proved deceptive.

According to Johnson’s testimony to prosecutors, party officials were told to retrieve the cut card immediately so reporters attempting to take photos would not learn that the card he destroyed was not his – but rather a party staffer’s.

“Credit cards are more of a cultural excessiveness, than an illegal activity,” Thrasher said Wednesday. “People were staying in $500 a night hotel rooms, rather than $150 a night hotel rooms. People were traveling on jets instead of traveling on Southwest….they’re not illegal, but they certainly violate the spirit that someone is donating money to the party and the party ought to be frugal.”

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