Former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Jim Greers guilty plea Monday morning raises as many questions as it answers. For starters, why is he back-tracking on his many protestations of innocence?
According to his legal team, he isnt.
Greers name would have been cleared, his attorney, Damon Chase, told Sunshine State News in a statement. The facts were on our side and the truth would have come out in the trial.
In exchange for pleading guilty to four counts of grand theft and one count of money laundering, Greers first-degree fraud charge was dropped, and the laundering charge was amended from a first-degree felony to a third-degree felony. Even so, he still faces up to 35 years in prison at his March 27 sentencing hearing.
Meanwhile, Republican Party leaders -- particularly those close to Greer while he was at the head of the party -- have expressed feelings of vindication. Former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, for example:Our position has been, from the very beginning, that Jim Greer was not entitled to any severance so long as he committed a crime, and today hes admitted his guilt to theft, Haridopolos told the News in an interview soon after Greers plea.
I do feel this validates our position, he said.
Prosecutors had accused Greer of siphoning over $300,000 in RPOF donations to his own fundraising company, Victory Strategies LLC, and of personally pocketing over $125,000 of it. Greer has insisted 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 extra fundraising.
Chase, as Greer's attorney, 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 alleged that Greer charged the Party and pocketed $30,000 for a poll that was never commissioned.
Sometimes, clearing your name is not as important as taking care of your family, Chase wrote in his Tuesday statement. As husband to Lisa and father to five children, including his four-month-old daughter, Hope, Jim chose to make a short-term sacrifice in the long-term best interest of his family. When we arrived in court this morning, we were confident and looked forward to destroying the states case. Not a single one of our assertions have been rebutted by the prosecution and they have never proven us wrong.
Sunshine State News asked Chase what implications his clients plea had for the lawsuit Greer had filed against the RPOF, Haridopolos, and Sen. John Thrasher (who immediately succeeded Greer as RPOF chairman). Greer had alleged 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.
Were dismissing it as part of the deal, was all Chase would tell the News.
Chase said in his statement that Greer decided to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house, and that [t]here is a lot the good folks at RPOF could learn about loyalty from Mr. Greer.
Naturally, the Florida GOP begged to differ.
"Today, Jim Greer, the man Charlie Crist personally picked to lead the Republican Party of Florida, admitted his guilt to five felony charges, said RPOF executive director Mike Grissom in a statement. For the past three years, Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from RPOF and our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes. Everything Jim Greer has said and done over these past few years should be considered in that light."
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.