One anonymous letter leads authorities to Greer
Republican Party chairman Jim Greer’s precipitous decline started in earnest at the kitchen table of a 76-year-old retiree in Fort Myers, Fla., shortly after Christmas. Gary A. Lee was going through his mail around lunch time in late December 2009, when he came across a white business envelope addressed to him as a member of the state Republican Party’s audit committee. There was no return address.
What Lee found in that envelope led to the 47-year-old Greer’s arrest yesterday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on charges of organized fraud, money laundering and grand theft, and has forced party officials to scramble to find out who knew what when. Political futures may rest on the answers.
Gov. Charlie Crist supported Greer as party chairman and repeatedly refused to discipline Greer for profligate spending, according to party officials, before Crist left the party to run for U.S. Senate as an independent. His Republican opponent Marco Rubio spent nearly $14,000 in personal expenses on the party’s credit card when he was house speaker.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill McCollum’s opponents in the Florida governor’s race are claiming he also was too cozy with Greer (even though McCollum is credited with alerting authorities to Greer’s alleged crimes) or that he has a conflict in the case (the statewide prosecutor’s office handling the case is part of the attorney general’s office).
The anonymous letter Lee received last December contained a two-page contract between the Republican Party of Florida, represented by Greer, and a fundraising entity called Victory Strategies, represented by Delmar Johnson, who Greer had earlier selected as the party’s executive director. The contract was titled “A fund-raising services agreement” for the period between Feb. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010. It specified, above all, secrecy. Lee read a portion of the document during an interview with The Florida Independent: “All financial information or discussions related to these topics shall not be disclosed to any person, including major donors” and Republican party officials, “without express approval of the chairman or executive director of the Republican Party of Florida.” Victory Strategies would take 10 percent of all the money it raised.
“I looked at this and said, ‘Gee what is this all about?’” Lee recalls. “After reading it, and I read it carefully, I thought to myself, ‘This is a pretty serious document.’” Looking for advice, he called a retired FBI agent friend, who said to take it to law enforcement. “So that’s what I did,” Lee says. In fact, Lee, the chair of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee and a former U.S. Congressman from New York, called Attorney General Bill McCollum and said he had something to show him.
They met at the state Republican Party’s quarterly meeting, held Jan. 9, 2010 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando. The meeting was significant for another reason: Greer, who had come under intense criticism for lavish spending on the party’s expense account, would be making his first public appearance since his resignation four days earlier.
“We adjourned from the ballroom and went to a smaller conference room on the second floor,” Lee says about his meeting with McCollum. “He looked at it and said something to the effect of, ‘Wow.’ And he took that to [State Sen. Mike] Haridopolis, and that document evidently blew up any negotiations about potential severance payments to Greer.”
The contract was suspicious enough that McCollum asked the party’s new chairman, Sen. John Thrasher, to conduct a forensic audit. That audit, conducted in the following weeks, revealed that 60 percent of Victory Strategies was actually controlled by Greer. That’s when McCollum forwarded the information to the FDLE. Twelve weeks later, agents arrested Greer while he was shaving at his home in Oviedo. Johnson is cooperating with police. Authorities now claim that Victory Strategies billed for services it did not provide, like polling. Of $199,254 paid to Victory Strategies in 2009, Greer took $125,161 and Johnson took $65,093. (You can read in full or download the arrest affidavit below.)
“The irony of this is that two years ago I was chairman of Republican Party of Florida Audit Committee,” Lee says. While serving on the committee, he requested a meeting with Gov. Crist during a party function. Lee says he asked the governor to authorize a forensic audit of the party’s books to put to rest rumors surrounding Greer’s spending habits. “And he said to me ‘Well, I want you to have faith and trust in the chairman,’” Lee recalls. “And I said, ‘Governor, I was taught not only do you trust, but you verify.’ Imagine, if he had done that we could have avoided all these problems.”
That wasn’t the last time party officials asked Crist to do something about Greer. In August 2009 McCollum met with the governor and specifically requested that he ask Greer to resign, according McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. “Gov. Crist resisted these efforts,” she says.
“We know that right up until the closing hour that Mr. Greer resigned, Charlie Crist was urging Mr. Greer to remain,” says Lee, who was talking to people involved in the negotiations.
Crist told reporters at a press conference the arrest surprised him, but he does “not feel complicit.”
Now, Lee says, it’s crucial that Crist come clean about Greer. “What did he know? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?” he asks.
Read or download the Greer arrest affidavit:
[Pic via webbond.seminolesheriff.org]