- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

OCALA, Fla. | Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is under criminal investigation after an audit found he awarded himself and his executive director a fundraising contract that paid them about $200,000, the party revealed Wednesday.

Mr. Greer owned a 60 percent share of a corporation set up to raise money for the party. Executive director Delmar Johnson owned the other 40 percent of the corporation, which received a 10 percent commission on money raised for the party, the audit found.

Florida GOP Chairman John Thrasher released a statement saying he was told March 15 that the party may have been the victim of illegal activity after the audit discovered Mr. Greer and Mr. Johnson’s role in the corporation. Mr. Thrasher reported the findings to the attorney general’s office, which referred the case to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Potential illegal activity on the part of this vendor and the former RPOF official involved is now the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Due to the nature of the criminal investigation, the Republican Party of Florida will not be able to comment further,” Mr. Thrasher said.

Florida GOP Vice Chair Deborah Cox-Roush said of the investigation, “It is absolutely the right thing to do. This party has turned a page and we need to let the appropriate authorities handle it.”

Mr. Greer wouldn’t immediately comment on the investigation.

Mr. Greer was Gov. Charlie Crist’s hand-picked chairman. Mr. Greer resigned under pressure in February after reports of lavish spending on private jets, decadent meals and entertainment. For months, party activists and major donors called for his resignation, but Mr. Crist defended him through the day he resigned.

“I find it terribly disturbing to hear, but I know the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation, as is only appropriate,” Mr. Crist said.

Former state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who is a member of Marion County’s Republican Executive Committee, said Mr. Crist should share some blame for Mr. Greer and Mr. Johnson’s actions.

“What’s disturbing to me is that Gov. Crist gets away with disassociating himself when they’re clearly his compatriots. He’s the one that ramroded them into place,” Mr. Baxley said. “He has to take accountability for their actions. They’re his agents.”

The revelation of the investigation comes days after campaign finance reports showed Mr. Crist’s struggling U.S. Senate campaign had enjoyed some questionable expenses on the Florida Republican Party’s American Express account.

The disclosures released last Thursdaycame at a time when Mr. Crist has been hammering rival Marco Rubio for inappropriate expenses on his state party credit card when he was state House speaker.

And the records bolster the complaint by many party activists that for months the state Republican Party served as an offshoot of the Crist campaign.

Mr. Rubio currently leads Mr. Crist by 11 points in the Republican primary for the U.S. senate race, according to a new poll.

The poll, released this week by Washington, D.C.-based Mason Dixon Polling & Research, asked 625 registered voters who they were likely to vote for if the primary was held today. Forty-eight percent responded that they would vote for Mr. Rubio; 37 percent favored Mr. Crist; and another 15 percent were undecided.

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