Monday, February 11, 2013

Former state GOP chairman Jim Greer pleads guilty to theft

After two weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, former GOP party chairman Jim Greer walked into court Monday morning and pleaded guilty to grand theft and money laundering charges that could put him behind bars for 3 and 1/2 years.

Greer declined to talk with a crowd of reporters who had been awaiting a two-week trial that promised testimony from former Gov. Charlie Crist and a who?s who of Republican politicians.

Greer entered a one word ?guilty?? plea to four counts of grand theft and a single count of money laundering. There was no plea bargain, noted statewide prosecutor Nick Cox ,who admitted struggling with what should be done.

?We do see him going to jail, but don?t know how long we?ll recommend,?? said assistant statewide prosecutor Michael S. Williams, who was the lead trial prosecutor.

Attempts to reach agreement on a plea languished for months until Jacksonville defense attorney Hank Coxe stepped into the case and pushed for a settlement. Prosecutors said they do not know who hired Coxe, who was present in the courtroom but did not speak.

For some witnesses the plea brings relief. No one will have to answer questions about a now famous trip to the Bahamas that involved ? according to at least one witness ? the presence of a number of prostitutes.

The plea also brings an end to a civil suit Greer filed against the party. Steve Dobson, the Tallahassee lawyer who represents the party was also in the courtroom and said afterwards that the party is satisfied with the fact that Greer has acknowledged guilt, accepted responsibility for his actions and will be forced to pay restitution. An amount has yet to be determined.

Dobson said officials who currently run the party were not concerned about testifying and looked forward to ?clearing up allegations? Greer has made over the past three years. In interviews and pretrial testimony, Greer accused the party of engaging in the suppression of black voters and seeking retribution against him because he supported Crist in his primary fight against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Damon Chase, the Lake Mary lawyer who represented Greer, said ?sometimes clearing your name is not as important as taking care of your family,?? as he walked with Greer and his wife Lisa out of the courtroom. Chase noted that Greer, who is 50, has a new baby born about four months ago, two other young children and a teenager.

?When we arrived in court this morning, we were confident and looked forward to destroying the state?s case,? Chase said. ?Not a single one of our assertions have been rebutted by the prosecution and they have never proven us wrong. The facts were on our side and the truth would have come out in the trial. Greer?s name would have been cleared.

?He has nevertheless decided to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house,? Chase said. ?There is a lot the good folks at RPOF could learn about loyalty from Mr. Greer.?

Greer was charged with secretly creating Victory Strategies, a company that contracted with the state GOP to raise funds, and funneling more than $200,000 in party funds to the company.

Cox, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor named to head the statewide prosecutor?s office by Attorney General Pam Bondi, said he did not discuss negotiations that led to the plea with Bondi or anyone outside of his office.

?It was my call, in the end. I hope she is happy with me,?? Cox added.

Circuit Judge Marc Lubet agreed there was a factual basis for the plea, noting that he has read all of the files and spent three years sitting through numerous hearings.

The judge scheduled setencing for 1:30 p.m. on March 27.


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