Former GOP Chair Jim Greer opens up for the first time to 10 News Investigators

9:29 AM, Sep 1, 2011   |    comments
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He is accused of lavish spending, forming a secret corporation and funneling Republican Party money to his own account. All of this led to the arrest of former Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer, who is now awaiting trial.

Greer has maintained silence about his arrest last year until now. He is talking for the first time to the 10 News Investigators.

"If they could have put Charlie Crist in prison they would have done that," Greer says.

One of Greer's attorneys, Damon Chase, says the entire episode is going to play out like a Shakespearean tragedy where everybody dies.

Another Greer lawyer, Cheney Mason says, "The case itself and the motive behind it is political corruption."

These people are talking about a series of events that involves or touches Senator Marco Rubio, former Governor Charlie Crist, former Senator George LeMieux, former Attorney General Bill McCollum, President of the Florida Senate Mike Haridoplos, Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, and State Senator John Thrasher, who at one time was the head of the Republic Party of Florida (RPOF).

Holding back tears Greer told us, "They just destroyed my life for no reason."

According to Greer, when it came to the leadership and the conservative wing of the party, "They never supported the governor and looked to turn on the governor." Greer adds, "And I was, as many said, the last man standing between the governor and the rest of the party."

The erosion of the Governor's popularity  was great news for the right wing of the party, because it wanted Marco Rubio to be the Senate candidate. But with Greer as chairman, the money would flow to the Governor.

Greer acknowledges that is true, saying, "There is no doubt people would tell me frequently I needed to go out in a body bag, because I was the last person between the party infrastructure attacking the governor, because as chairman I had to sign off on everything the party did."

As Rubio was picking up steam and support from those in control of the party, Greer says he got a visit from Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Speaker of the Florida House, Dean Cannon.

"They told me the Governor had lost their support and the support of the party and I was his handpicked chairman, so I needed to leave."

Clearly Crist wasn't happy about the thought of Greer leaving as Chairman, because he said it was a battle the conservatives wanted to wage for years and it would give them more leverage.

But Greer says he realized he had to resign or he would be voted out when the party was having a January 2010 meeting.  Over the Governor's objections, he agreed to go.

Greer says his decision to resign came into focus when he was told by the leaders of the party who would do and say anything to get him out. Greer says, "I remember my comment was something about the truth and their response was, 'The truth be damned.'"

He adds,"They were very clear with me if I didn't resign, my life would be a living hell."

But as Greer was getting ready to resign, the state Republican Party was under fire for the amount of money it was spending and putting on credit cards. Greer went to attorney Damon Chase to ensure that the money he spent as chairman would not be used against him after he resigned.

Chase says it would be easy to defend Greer's actions by saying, "If you spend $5,000 on a skybox to wine and dine a potential contributor, it sounds like a lot of money. It sounds like it is extravagant. But two days later when the contributor gives you $25,000, that's a good return, that's a good investment."

Chase also says "Greer was spending a lot of money, but he was bringing a lot of money in."

But Greer wasn't the only one racking up big charges on the Republican Party credit card.  From Speaker Dean Cannon buying suits and having $2,000 steak dinners, to Marco Rubio charging more than $4,000 for flooring at his home, money was being spent at such a breakneck pace that Democrats spoofed Rubio in a mock American Express ad saying, "Marco Rubio can afford a lot of things, but what he can't there's always the Republican Party credit card."

It was the way the party operated and Greer says representatives from the Senate and House came to him shortly after being elected party leader and explained how the fundraising and credit cards were used by the party.

According to Greer, "They wanted to make clear that I understand a term I never heard before, 'That we eat what we kill, chairman.'" Greer says he had to have it explained to him and was told, "If we raise a million dollars  for Senate and House campaigns and we want to have baseball games, limousines and five star hotels, don't you or anyone else ever tell us we can't."

Now as Greer was being pressured to resigned, not only was he concerned about the party coming after him for the money spent, the party was concerned as well.

There was good reason to worry. As they explained on MSNBC's Morning Joe, "Federal Investigators have launched several probes into the spending and funding of the Republican Party Florida."

Greer says the party leaders were convinced he would blow their whistle on their spending.

Joe Scarborough agreed, saying on MSNBC, "I'll tell you what he's got, all the records, all the e-mails. He's got everything."

Greer says he said to the leaders of the party, "If we want to go burn the house down and destroy the party, we can do that because I'm not leaving without something.

Clearly Greer knew where all the "bodies were buried" and the party was aware of that. He says, "They were as concerned as I was, because they were afraid I was going to sue them for forcing me out of the chairmanship."

So they came up with a deal to protect Greer, but when word leaked out, the leaders denied it existed and decided it had to be destroyed.

We'll tell you how that played out in our next story with Jim Greer Thursday night on 10 News at 11.

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