News Column

Former Fla. GOP Chair to Be Sentenced Today

March 27, 2013

Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel

Today, Jim Greer, who was one of the most powerful political figures in Florida four years ago, will appear in an Orlando courtroom and learn whether he's going to prison.

He is to be sentenced for five crimes he committed against the Florida GOP while serving as its chairman.

Six weeks ago, he entered a surprise guilty plea to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering, tacitly admitting that he had stolen $125,000 in party funds in 2009.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution is expected to ask that he be sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. Defense attorney Damon Chase said this morning that he'll recommend a shorter stint behind bars but conceded that his client expects to be locked up.

Greer and his wife, Lisa, are "holding tough," Chase said late this morning.

Circuit Judge Marc Lubet will pronounce sentence during a hearing scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.

A fund-raiser on the rise

Greer, 50, was Oviedo's deputy mayor when he began his rise to power. He raised funds for gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in 2006 and worked his way into Crist's inner circle.

Crist won the election, made Greer a confidante then tapped him to lead the state party, a job he stepped into in 2007.

His lavish spending and ham-fisted management style alienated party stalwarts, and by 2009 there were real problems -- not just personality clashes.

Party fund-raising dwindled dramatically. That year it raised $1.3 million, compared to $5.9 million two years earlier and $4.7 million the year before, according to Richard Swarttz, its chief financial officer.

And in 2009 it spent $5 million, more than three times what it took in.

That same year news organizations published story after story about outlandish spending by party insiders and elected officials who had access to the party's American Express cards.

And conservatives in the party, as well as many others, balked at Greer's attempt to throw the party's resources behind Crist, who was chasing a seat in the U.S. Senate, one eventually won by Marco Rubio.

Greer resigned in early 2010 just before the thefts were discovered and was arrested June 2 of that year and hauled to the Seminole County Jail. Until his plea, he had loudly and angrily claimed he was a victim of a political hatchet job by Rubio supporters and the right wing of the state party.

His trial had promised to be a long and very public airing of party dirty laundry with a witness list that included Crist, former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon and former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

His plea ended that. During his 10-minute plea hearing, Greer said almost nothing. Chase, his attorney, later insisted that his client had decided "to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house."

Greer has struggled to pay his family's bills for months, but Chase said this morning that Greer had already paid $65,000 in restitution.

He and his stay-at-home wife have five children and live in an Oviedo mansion.

How will they pay the bills with Greer in prison?

"Lisa's going to work. ... I think that's all set up. I think they're going to be fine," he said.

It was not clear who offered her work.

Source: (c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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