Trouble for Republican Party in Florida

TALLAHASSEE (CN) – Things are getting complicated for the Republican Party in Florida, where a former state party chairman faces six felony counts, including money laundering. Now a former office manager claims the state Republican Party fired her for reporting that that its executive director used party money to pay for his rent, his car and car insurance, and to support the Senate campaign of Charlie Crist, before he lost the party primary.

     Susan Wright claims that state party CFO Richard Swarttz told her, “I told you that if you did not learn to shut your mouth you were going to end up getting fired.”
     Wright sued the Republican Party of Florida for whistleblower retaliation in Leon County Court. She did not sue any party officers, though she did describe them and their alleged acts by name in the 6-page complaint.
     Wright claims that the state party’s Executive Director Delmar Johnson and its state Chairman Jim Greer used the party’s American Express cards for “non-approved” purchases.
     She says she reported the “financial improprieties” to party CFO Swarttz.
     “The Republican Party was also paying for Johnson’s rent, personal vehicle and car insurance,” her complaint states. “The Republican Party also began to use party money to support the senatorial campaign of Charlie Crist. The Republican Party was not supposed to financially support a candidate until after the candidate won the primary. Plaintiff realized that what the Republican Party was doing was illegal. Plaintiff reported these illegal uses of Republican Party resources to her supervisor Swarttz.”
     Gov. Crist, once viewed as a potential Republican presidential candidate, lost favor with party conservatives, then lost the Republican primary to Marco Rubio, a darling of the Tea Party. Right-wing Republicans were furious when Crist supported President Obama’s $787 million stimulus program.
     Crist continues to seek election to the Senate, running as an independent. Some Republicans fear that with Crist and Rubio splitting party votes in the November election, it might hand the Senate seat – which should be a Republican lock – to Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.
     On Tuesday, interim U.S. Sen. George LeMieux – whom Crist appointed to that office – demanded that Crist return the money he got from Republican donors for his Senate campaign.
     Crist appointed LeMieux to the U.S. Senate after Sen. Mel Martinez resigned last year to become a lobbyist. LeMieux managed Crist’s successful run for governor, but broke with him when Crist announced his run for Senate as an independent.
     Greer, 48, was arrested in June and charged with six felonies, including fraud and money laundering. He is accused of funneling at least $125,000 party donations to a consulting firm he owned, according to reports at the time from the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald.
     Crist’s independent campaign said Tuesday that Crist will return the $9,600 donated by Greer and his wife, who each contributed the maximum legal amount – $4,800 – to Crist in May 2009.
     Greer asked for the money back 2 weeks ago, to help pay for his legal defense.
     “‘As you know circumstances have caused me to need money to defend myself and take care of my family,’ Greer wrote in an Aug. 5 letter,” the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday. “‘I know sending the money back is hard, but with what has happened it may be politically beneficial for you to do.'”
Crist previously had refused donors’ demands that he refund their donations; one of them sued in him Federal Court, demanding his money back.
     Wright, in her Aug. 12 complaint, claims she was fired after Johnson held a meeting to address “rumors ‘out there’ about things that could have only come from the accounting department.”
     She says she was fired on Jan. 4, and that Swarttz told her, “I told you that if you did not learn to shut your mouth you were going to end up getting fired. If you had not kept complaining you would still have a job.”
     Wright wants her job back, costs, and damages for whistleblower retaliation. She is represented by Richard Johnson of Tallahassee.

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