Oviedo, Florida --Jim Greer was once the ultimate powerbroker in Florida politics. As head of the state's Republican party under then-governor Charlie Crist, Greer called the shots. But then he was accused of stealing the party's money. Now, Greer is spending the next 15 months in state prison as part of a plea deal he worked out.
Before leaving, Greer sat down with the 10 News Investigators and said, "I plead guilty. I took responsibility."
Jim Greer has gone from kingmaker to prisoner. He was charged with taking over $125,000 from the GOP and, as part of the plea, the Republican party said it would accept restitution of $65,000 to cover the lost money.
Although Greer threatened to expose his party's dirty secrets at trial in February, Greer entered the guilty plea instead.
Greer maintains his innocence, saying then-Governor Charlie Crist was aware of the fact Greer was paying himself a commission for raising money for the party. In fact, Greer and three others close to Crist have given sworn testimony that the former governor not only knew, but directed Greer to do it. Crist maintains he did not, and had the case gone to trial the jury would have had to decide who was telling the truth.
Greer admits,"People will always say, 'If you are so innocent, why didn't you go to trial?' And I understand that."
There are some reports that Greer took a payoff to keep quiet. There's even an allegation that the Republican National Committee may have written him a check. Greer says about those reports, "I've read 'em. It's just not true."
But Greer says what is true is that friends have helped him with some attorney fees and restitution payment, but he was given no money or promised anything from anyone to plead guilty. He also says many people were worried about what he might have said had the case gone to trial.
Greer says concerning some of the biggest names in the party, "They certainly did much more than I've ever been accused of, but somehow they were able to pin it all on me."
Greer points to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. He racked up $170,000 on the GOP's dime. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon bought suits at the Men's Warehouse with his Republican party credit card. Even Senator Marco Rubio allegedly charged home repairs, work on his wife's car, and groceries to his GOP credit card.
"They were allowed to quietly write checks back to the party," Greer says. He also says a friend told him he was being used by the Florida GOP as a scapegoat.
He says his friend told him, "They have cleansed their sins with your blood, Jim, and that is certainly not anything in relationship to Jesus, but it is certainly an appropriate statement."
Greer claims he accepted the plea deal for a much more basic reason: fear. He was facing six charges. He says prosecutors told him that if he was convicted on just one, they would ask for nine years in prison.
"And when you have a 6-month-old baby girl and two boys and teenagers and a wife, you have to take that all into consideration."
While Greer's wife, Lisa, says she wanted her husband to fight for his innocence, she says the plea was the only deal that made sense for their family. "It's a very hard pill to swallow. I support him 100 percent in his decision," she says.
Politics aside, there is a personal part to this story. Greer and his wife had to explain to their children that Greer will be gone for the next year and a half. "Basically, we said some people at the Republican Party did some very bad things and daddy has to go make it right." Greer's voice cracks as he adds, "And my little boy said, 'If you make it right sooner, can you come home sooner?' and I said no."
While he has his regrets, Greer claims he would have taken the state GOP's top job again in an instant. He still remembers the day when Charlie Crist called him and asked to chair the party. He says, "So it may sound ridiculous, I probably wouldn't have hung the phone up if I had it to do over again. "But I would not have been seduced by the corruption in Tallahassee and the corrupt people in Tallahassee."
Regarding Jim Greer, Florida GOP executive director Mike Grissom issued this statement: "Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from RPOF and our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes."
Greer is planning on writing a book behind bars. The title is "Dirty Laundry."