Its shaping up to be the Sunshine States next political trial of the century: the states case, beginning Feb. 11, against former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer for alleged fraud, money laundering, and grand theft.
Its not the only legal action facing the disgraced politico, and readers can be forgiven for losing track of what exactlys been going on. And so, for your convenience, here's a short pretrial catechism of Greer's legal troubles, who the major players are, and what we might expect to hear from witnesses and investigators over the next two weeks.
Who is Jim Greer?
Jim Greer is the former deputy mayor of Oviedo and restaurant industry lobbyist who was plucked from political obscurity by former Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in 2006 to chair the Republican Party of Florida. Greer, whether personally or through his family and businesses, had donated some $8,000 to Crists campaign, but was reported to have fundraised much more.
Greer ran the RPOF until his resignation in February 2010.
What prompted Greers resignation from the RPOF?
There were always a number of GOP insiders who do not take kindly to Greer, accusing him of being a pompous upstart. As Crist, in his words and policies, drifted closer and closer to the political left-of-center, conservative stalwarts associated Greer with that turn and resented where they thought he might be taking the RPOF. Enmity with the tea party was solidified when Greer endorsed longtime buddy Crist in the 2010 Republican Senate primary, over conservative favorite Marco Rubio.
In addition, Greers financial policies as RPOF head were coming under increasing scrutiny.
Why is Greer undergoing a criminal trial?
Just four months after his resignation went into effect, Greer was indicted by a grand jury on six counts: fraud, money laundering, and four counts of grand theft.
According to prosecutors, Greer siphoned over $300,000 in RPOF donations to his own fundraising company, Victory Strategies LLC, and he personally pocketed over $125,000 of it.
Greer insists that all of his actions were legal, that he was authorized to do them through appropriate contracts, and that the 125-grand he pocketed (in addition to his $130,000 salary) was agreed-upon compensation for his extra fundraising effort.
As his attorney, Damon Chase, told the Orlando Sentinel after Greers arrest: "It's making sausage. People just don't like the way sausage is made. It doesn't mean you're a criminal because you make sausage."
Prosecutors also allege that Greer charged the Party and pocketed $30,000 for a poll that was never commissioned.
Is this the only legal dispute Greer is involved in?
It isnt. Greer has filed his own civil action, suing former Senate president Mike Haridopolos, Sen. John Thrasher (who immediately succeeded Greer as RPOF chairman), and the RPOF. Greer says Haridopolos and Thrasher signed a contract, on behalf of the RPOF, promising him severance pay of $124,000 in exchange for his February 2010 resignation. Greer is asking for both the severance and for $5 million in punitive damages.
This action is still ongoing. See previous SSN coverage: Judge Denies RPOF Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit by Disgraced Former Chairman Jim Greer
Who will Greer be calling to testify at his criminal trial?
Greer is calling at least 44 witnesses, and eight of them are a veritable whos-who of political celebrity:
Charlie Crist Greer hopes to prove that the former governor knew and approved Greers taking a cut from every dollar raised by Victory Strategies for the RPOF. Crist has insisted, in sworn depositions, that he did not know of the arrangements, but that assertion is contradicted by the sworn depositions of Tallahassee lobbyist and Crist confidante-cum-fundraiser Brian Ballard. Crist is also reportedly being called as a witness by the state.
George LeMieux Former U.S. senator, a Crist-appointee who previously served as his chief of staff. LeMieux is often credited with having spearheaded Crists 2006 gubernatorial victory, and the former governor has said he appointed Greer to RPOF head on LeMieuxs strong recommendation. Greer alleges that the former senator, with Crist, knew and approved his fundraising arrangement.
Bill McCollum Floridas attorney general from 2007 to 2011, it was McCollum who launched the investigation that led to Greers indictment. Also being called as a witness by the state.
Dean Cannon Speaker of the House from 2010 through
2012. Cannon was one of the signatories to the 2010 severance agreement, and has gone on the record agreeing that Greer should have been paid the $124,000 hes asking for.Also being called as a witness by the state.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine As already mentioned, Greers immediate successor as RPOF head (serving in that capacity for less than a year) and signatory to his severance agreement. Heres an interesting twist: one of the drafts, though not the final signed copy, of that agreement expressly mentioned Victory Strategies and said all of Greers transactions were proper and agreed upon by party leadership.Also being called as a witness by the state.
Mike Haridopolos President of the Florida Senate from 2010 through 2012. As already mentioned, a signatory to Greers severance agreement, a draft of which expressly mentions and legitimizes Greers financial activities.Also being called as a witness by the state.
Tom Feeney Speaker of the House from 2000 through 2002 and U.S. congressman 2003-2009.Also being called as a witness by the state.
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel Current speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Its not clear what Feeney or Weatherford have to do with Greers trial. Feeney was a U.S. congressman during Greers chairmanship, but was not serving in any leadership role in the RPOF or (of course) the state Legislature, and Weatherford was only a state representative during that period.
However, Weatherford was connected to House leadership from the start of his 2006 electoral service: his father-in-law is former House Speaker Allan Bense, who left office (after being term-limited) the very year his son-in-law came in. Weatherford was soon anointed future House speaker by legislative leadership.
Will Greer allege that Weatherford and Feeney had insider knowledge of the legitimacy of Greers financial transactions? Or is Greer calling them as witnesses simply to flex political muscle and discredit the Republican Party hes come to despise?
Well find out in the weeks to come.
How long will the trial last?
Greer's lawyers tell Sunshine State News that jury selection begins Monday, they expect opening statements to be delivered on Tuesday, and for the trial to wrap up in about two weeks.
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (054) 235-9116.