The sigh audible across most of the lower-48 is animated by relief on the part of Florida Republicans that former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) chairman Jim Greer has pled guilty to four counts of grand theft and one count of money laundering.
Greer pled Monday morning, just before jury selection in his trial was to have begun, a trial Florida Republicans feared would have been a circus at their expense. Florida’s “trial of the century,” at which countless high Florida Republican officials could have been called to testify, turned out to be just the news of Monday morning. And, considering events out of the Vatican, not even the lead story.
Not only had Greer insisted since he was charged that he was innocent and would fight the charges against him, but he promised he would implicate every Florida Republican above the rank of major in misfeasance, malfeasance, thievery, moral turpitude, public hibotchery, and illegally taking the labels off of mattresses. Greer got a bit carried away last week in talking with the Miami New Times when he said the trial was “going to be a Shakespearean play where everyone dies in the end.” (Greer may have thought himself Hamlet-like. But he looks and, save for his plentiful lack of wit, behaves more like Falstaff.)
Monday morning Greer had his hyperbole under control. In a fine impersonation of the late Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella, Greer said “never mind,” and pleaded guilty.
Since Greer was charged in 2010 with six counts of fraud and money laundering, journalists have flocked to him like ants to a picnic. The attraction, for a guy not considered very newsworthy until he was indicted, was that he could always be counted on to accuse prominent Republicans of being heartless and larcenous low-lifes, up to their necks in high crimes and misdemeanors.
You can see the appeal. This accounts for the fact that, after the plea, relief among Florida Republicans is only equaled by disappointment among journalists, eager to flog Republicans over the two weeks Greer’s trial was expected to take. My sources report there was open sobbing Monday in newsrooms across the peninsula.
A little background: Jim Greer, now 50, was plucked out of the relative obscurity of the Oviedo City Council (a suburb of Orlando -- population 33K and change) to help in Charlie Crist’s 2006 run for governor. Crist, who was then a Republican but has since done a hitch as an independent before becoming a Democrat, won that race and insisted that his friend Jim be appointed chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. The party’s board went along with the gag.
Greer, an unassuming man with much to be unassuming about, did little for the party while he was chairman beyond, prosecutors allege and Greer now confirms with his plea, setting up a creative way to siphon off $200K in donations to the RPOF into a fundraising company controlled by Greer. Of this amount, $125K wound up in Greer’s personal account, prosecutors say. Thus the indictments.
Greer and his attorneys have insisted that everything Greer did was legal and was done with the knowledge and approval of RPOF officials and Republican office holders, including Crist. Crist denies this, saying he was shocked, shocked that Greer was taking his cut from what Florida Republicans were donating to help elect Florida Republicans.
By the way, Crist swore to this last under oath. A later deposition by a lobbyist and major Republican fund-raiser contradicts Crist’s sworn statement. So our Charlie, who, remarkably, wants to run for governor again in 2014, may have some ’splainin’ to do. This may not be insurmountable for Crist, who in his one term of governor did no more for the state than Greer did for the party as chairman. Explaining away the improbable, which he’s often at the center of, seems to be Crist’s only talent.
Greer did not get a deal in return for his pleas. Sentencing guidelines for what Greer pled to call for from three and a half to 35 years in prison. But under Florida law, the judge is not obliged to follow the guidelines. After the plea, prosecutors said they have not decided what sentence they will ask for. Sentencing is set for March 27.
The high crimes Greer was prepared to accuse his accusers of range from the old and discredited -- including alleged misuse of an RPOF credit card by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a charge a forensic audit has cleared Rubio of -- to more fanciful stuff. A colorful and highly speculative story making media rounds over the past week or so concerned a trip party officials and high-rollers took to the Bahamas where, in addition to luxurious accommodations and dining, there was supposedly a walk-on by some Bahamian ladies of negotiable virtue.
There were other accusations from Greer, but you get the tone. Republican officials say these stories are the product of an accused man’s survival imagination. They probably are. Greer has been saying he would expose a “culture of corruption” in the Florida Republican Party. So far the only corruption that has been made official is his.