U.S. subpoenas GOP records
The FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Internal Revenue Service are jointly investigating the Republican Party of Florida in a wide-ranging corruption probe.
Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
By MARC CAPUTO AND LUCY MORGAN
Published December 5, 2010
Federal investigators slapped the Republican Party of Florida with a subpoena seeking financial records as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe by the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney's Office, the Herald/Times has learned.
The subpoena, delivered Election Day, sought documents related to big spending by top Republican honchos who were given party-paid American Express cards.
Top RPOF officials and investigators declined to comment on the federal probe or the subpoena.
For more than a year, the party has reeled from scandals tied to the credit cards as well as four unrelated state criminal probes into its former chairman, a fundraiser, a former Florida House speaker and a Capitol insider.
Federal investigators have already interviewed consultants, donors and numerous state senators -- some in their Capitol offices. The investigations are being handled in multiple offices throughout the state, from Pensacola to Miami.
The specific targets of the recent subpoena are unclear.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher said he wasn't sure about the details of the subpoena and said he couldn't give an opinion about them.
"We are not going to comment on subpoenas,'' party spokesman Dan Conston said in a written statement.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Pam Marsh of Tallahassee also would not talk about the subpoenas except to say that the office would not direct anyone to serve subpoenas on a particular day, including Election Day.
"We understand when we conduct an overt investigation we have to be sure and minimize the effect on an election,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew-Miller.
The subpoena landed at the George H. W. Bush Republican Center in Tallahassee just as the party was brutalizing Democrats at the polls Nov. 2. One of the biggest wins for Republicans: the defeat of Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the party in a failed bid to win the U.S. Senate race. Republican Marco Rubio beat Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
Many Republicans point the finger at Crist and his appointment of Jim Greer as chairman for the party's troubles. While the party was struggling to raise money and pay its bills, Greer charged about $500,000 to the party for meals and trips on his American Express card.
Greer was ousted from his post and was later criminally charged for allegedly funneling $165,000 in party and donor money to dummy corporation he established. He has pleaded not guilty.
In September, the Republican Party released what it said was an "independent audit'' of American Express card spending that found nearly $500,000 in expenses had little or nothing to do with party business.
The audit blamed much of the spending on Greer and, to a lesser extent, Crist. But it absolved other big-spending Republican bosses. They included current House Speaker Dean Cannon, incoming Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Rubio and former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who faces state criminal charges for his handling of the Florida budget. Sansom has pleaded not guilty.
The audit also noted that Greer profited off of an arrangement he struck with the party over an airplane he owned. But the Orlando Sentinel noted that Cannon, of Winter Park, had a similar arrangement with the party, but auditors didn't question him about it.
Greer's lawyer, Cheney Mason, said he believes the FBI investigated his client's aircraft use, but investigators have apparently dropped that area of their inquiry.
"There's something going on at RPOF. Who knows what they'll find there,'' Mason said.
One thing is clear. The GOP is paying some big time legal fees.
Since 2009, the party has paid its ethics and elections lawyer Richard E. Coates more than $433,000 -- 38 percent more than he received in the 2008 election cycle.
In addition, in the past year Deeno Kitchen, a Tallahassee lawyer representing a party consultant, has collected $18,680 from the state party.
"I'm not going to talk about it,'' Kitchen said when contacted Wednesday about the subpoena.
Similar responses came from Steve Andrews, the lawyer who represents House Speaker Dean Cannon, and Steve Dobson, the lawyer for Sansom.
Ken Sukhia, a former U.S. attorney, said he is representing the party on issues relating to subpoenas or requests for party officials to testify in the federal investigation or the Greer prosecution.
Sukhia would not discuss details of the subpoenas. "That would require me to acknowledge what I don't think I feel comfortable acknowledging,'' Sukhia said. Sukhia said he has not yet collected any fees from the party.
One federal investigation appears to be winding down: the fraud case against Capitol insider Alan Mendelsohn. A Hollywood ophthalmologist, Mendelsohn was a fundraiser for Crist and Rubio -- as well as a few Democrats -- before he was charged this year for defrauding contributors.
Mendelsohn is scheduled to plead guilty Dec. 8 in the federal case against him. His lawyer, Alvin Entin, said Mendelsohn will give a "full confession.'' But it's unclear if he'll name the former lawmaker to whom he allegedly funneled $87,000.
Another Crist fundraiser, Scott Rothstein pleaded guilty in an unrelated federal Ponzi scheme case and was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison for defrauding investors out of $1.2 billion.
Rothstein parlayed some of the illicit cash into campaign contributions, which the recipients later refunded to Rothstein's victims. Though some of the money went to Democrats, the bulk of the illegal contributions were made to Republicans, such as Crist and the Republican Party of Florida.