Attorney: Jack Latvala was blindsided by bribery allegation - Florida Politics

Attorney: Jack Latvala was blindsided by bribery allegation

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

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The Tallahassee attorney for embattled state Sen. Jack Latvala said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors.

Latvala had “on multiple occasions” offered to vote for bills a certain female lobbyist was trying to get passed if she would have sex with him, according to an investigative report released Tuesday. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.”

The new charge, part of a probe into sexual harassment claims against the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, caught many in The Process off guard — including most of Latvala’s most fervent supporters.

After interviewing dozens of witnesses for more than a month, retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson found it likely that Latvala had “inappropriate physical contact” with top Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers, pushing forward an investigation that could lead to the powerful senator’s expulsion.

Allegations of “quid pro quo conduct (physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for support of legislative initiatives) made by a witness other than the complainant (referring to Perrin Rogers) …, appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption,” he added.

Swanson recommended: “These allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, told the News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam that Latvala was never given an opportunity to respond to what amounted to a bribery allegation. It wasn’t included in the original complaint the special master looked into, he said.

“Sen. Latvala never had notice of the allegations outside the complaint, and if we had, we could have rebutted them and provided context to the allegations referenced in Judge Swanson’s report. That’s a gross violation of due process and fundamental fairness,” Andrews told Kam.

When contacted by Florida Politics, Andrews referred back to the NSF interview.

Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that as of Wednesday morning the agency had “not received a referral from the Senate. It could come to us but not necessarily.”

A request for comment also is pending with Tallahassee State Attorney Jack Campbell.

His predecessor, Willie Meggs, once investigated the practice of lawmakers taking trips with and gifts from lobbyists, which resulted in the Legislature enacting what’s now known as the “gift ban.”

Meggs, who retired earlier this year, also prosecuted former House Speaker Ray Sansom on charges he schemed to get a $6 million appropriation into the 2007 state budget to build an airplane hangar for a major Republican donor. Meggs dropped the case mid-trial in 2011 when the judge rejected a key prosecution witness.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post from Miami. 

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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