Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty Monday to five criminal counts in connection with his fundraising activities during his time in office, ending a two-year legal odyssey that had threatened to unearth secrets of the state GOP and former Gov. Charlie Crist.
The guilty plea set off a round of political finger-pointing in Tallahassee, with Republicans laying the blame for the debacle on Crist, a newly-minted Democrat who could challenge current GOP Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. Democrats, meanwhile, tried to tag the RPOF with Greer’s ethical baggage.
Greer pleaded guilty to four counts of grand theft and one count of money laundering; prosecutors will ask for 42 months in prison.
The case against Greer centers on allegations that he used his position as party chairman to steer business to Victory Strategies, his fundraising company. Greer said party leaders knew what he was doing, and that a secret severance agreement between himself and party leaders should have protected him from any criminal liability.
Greer sued the RPOF, former Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Sen. John Thrasher, who succeeded Greer as party chief, for the $123,000 he was offered in the severance agreement and $5 million in damages. Greer will drop that suit following the plea deal, his attorney said.
Damon Chase, who had fiercely represented Greer during the long-running and multifaceted legal battle, said in an interview Monday that he still believed Greer would have won at trial.
“The evidence was overwhelmingly in our favor, but I guess Greer got an offer that he couldn’t refuse,” Chase told the News Service.
Chase wouldn’t elaborate on any terms of Greer’s agreement to plead guilty, saying it was confidential.
“Knowing the deal he got, I don’t blame him one bit for taking it,” Chase said.
The case had promised to be a statewide legal and political spectacle, with Greer threatening to drag the RPOF’s dirty laundry into open court. Also potentially on the firing line was Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who is widely believed to be plotting a political comeback.
In fact, RPOF Executive Director Mike Grissom referred to Greer as “the man Charlie Crist personally picked to lead the Republican Party of Florida” in a statement regarding the plea deal.
“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,” Grissom said. “Everything Jim Greer has said and done over these past few years should be considered in that light.”
Democrats, meanwhile, tried to keep Republicans from ducking blame.
“Republicans in Tallahassee breathed a collective sigh of relief this morning, but they have nothing to feel good about,” said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. “The former chair of their party admitted to four counts of grand theft before a national audience.”
Greer will be sentenced next month.
Greer faced few problems when Charlie Crist’s star was on the rise after a sweeping victory in the gubernatorial elections of 2006, a year that saw historic gains by Democrats nationwide. But after Crist’s controversial embrace of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package in 2009 — a move that would begin Crist’s eventual move away from the party — Greer became more controversial among conservative critics.
Greer had maintained that it was that discontent on the right and his ties to Crist, rather than any concerns about his fundraising, that precipitated his resignation from the party in early 2010.
But for whatever reason, and with whomever to blame, Greer decided Monday not to take that battle to its last stage.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida