Hey, Charlie, Introduce Us to Your Nigerian Friend
Around the State
Charlie Crist's donors get stranger and stranger. The latest is Onajite Okoloko.
He makes Steve Mostyn -- the Houston trial lawyer-cum-fly-boy who donated $600,000 to support Charlie three states away -- look downright common-garden variety.
Onajite Okoloko, 48, is a Nigerian oil executive turned fertilizer manufacturer who has suddenly "emerged" as one of Charlie's biggest donors. So far this year he has enriched Charlie's campaign by $100,000 -- contributing in $25,000 increments in January, February, May and June.
Okoloko has a $5.4 million oceanfront mansion under renovation in Boca Raton. And a connection not just to Charlie Crist's shadowy Broward pals like Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, but to Charlie's frat brother from his Pi Kappa Alpha days at Florida State -- billionaire diversified energy and shipping magnate Harry Sargeant III.
He also has memories of 2008 and Charlie's very-Republican combination fundraiser and birthday bash at the Breakers in Palm Beach. He was one of Rothstein's invited guests, each of whom paid $5,200 for a candle. (Rothstein called it a birthday present for the governor.)
Okoloko's ties to another governor, James Ibori, a corrupt African politician serving 12 years in a London prison for embezzling millions of his constituents' money in Nigeria, has put his fertilizer empire under scrutiny, according to news reports.
Okoloko is not answering any of his five business numbers at the moment and the Crist campaign didn't return my phone call Thursday. What we do know about the Nigerian is, he spent seven years in the States, primarily in California working with energy companies and doing business with oil-rich Nigeria.
How deeply in trouble Okoloko is in his homeland is not fully known. British investigators say he is a 50 percent owner of Notore Chemical in Lagos. And the other owner is Ibori -- detested for his crimes against some of the poorest people in the world.
How close are Onajite Okoloko and Charlie? Why would a Nigerian standing in the shadow of the long arm of British law -- who does zero business in the state of Florida -- give $100,000 to a Florida gubernatorial campaign?
Lambiet answers that question in two words in his Gossip Extra story update: Harry Sargeant.
Why am I not surprised?
Sargeant, the archetype of a modern presidential money man, has bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks year after election year. In an interview in 2008 he told the Washington Post, "I have a lot of Arab business partners. I do a lot of business in the Middle East. I've got a lot of friends. I ask my friends to support candidates that I think are worthy of supporting. They usually come through for me."
He also told The St. Petersburg Times in 2013, “... I have Nigerian-American partners. I reached out to my friends and said, ‘Can you gather me up some checks?’”
Among those partners was Okoloko -- who contributed $155,000 to Sargeant’s candidates nationally in 2008.
Sargeant has always stepped up to the plate for his friend Charlie. Campaign finance records show he has donated more than $1.5 million to Florida politicians and the state Republican Party since 2000, the year Charlie ran for education commissioner.
And in 2006, just after Charlie was elected governor, he repaid Sargeant by making him finance chair of the state party. Sargeant resigned in 2009 shortly before one of his employees was indicted for making illegal campaign contributions to Crist and U.S. Sen. John McCain. The employee, Ala'a al-Ali, was listed as sales coordinator for Sargeant Marine.
Federal Election Commission records show Okoloko was among those McCain refunded. He received a total $3,800 back.
Word in Tallahassee is, it was Sargeant who cut a deal with former state GOP chair Jim Greer to keep him from testifying against Charlie or anybody else -- in exchange for help with Greer's family while the former chairman served his prison time. Greer has said he still considers Sargeant a friend.
Between allegations of war profiteering and the illegal contributions, Sargeant was under a fair amount of scrutiny himself and was said to be "sitting out 2014, laying low to fight another day."
But now his friend Charlie -- still his friend, even as a Democrat -- needs help again, and a lot of it. No wonder he's peeking out of the weeds, rounding up the likes of Okoloko.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.