The Florida Senate employee who sparked a Senate sexual harassment investigation against Sen. Jack Latvala called Senate President Joe Negron a “douchebag” during a text message exchange last Session with the Pinellas lawmaker.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Republican Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, was texting Latvala when news broke in April about ousted Sen. Frank Artiles referring to Negron as a “pussy.”
“Well maybe DB should not have rolled his eyes at me, and then walked out with LB and Flwhores when I suggested an actual PR plan,” Perrin Rogers wrote. (Editor’s note: LB presumably refers to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and “Flwhores” to Sen. Anitere Flores.)
When the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican asked what “DB” stood for, she said “douchebag.”
While the text messages released between Latvala and Perrin Rogers on Wednesday show a friendly relationship between the two throughout last Session — including a meme, and a text saying “Smile, somebody loves you!” followed by a heart emoji — Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said any texts she sent to Latvala were “an effort to accomplish one goal: garner his support for Senator Simpson and his agenda.”
The text messages, all of which were sent between Feb. 12, 2014, and June 22, 2017, reveal a complex, albeit comfortable relationship between Latvala and Rogers.
“If I’d been at the Capitol I would have given you a big hug/bought you a drink after all of that yesterday,” Rogers texted Latvala on Nov. 6, 2015, not soon after Rogers returned to her Senate work after a leave of absence.
“You are a flawed person,” Rogers told Latvala, a sixteen-year veteran of the Florida Legislature, “but I have always felt like I shared the same flaws and that is part of why, no matter what else happened, I admire and respect you and very much want you to succeed. The other part of my admiration and respect is based on what you’ve done for people. I know you will continue to do great things for Florida.”
Latvala’s response: “Thanks … i guess :)”
Cruz told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, in a story published after Florida Politics first revealed the existence of these messages, that “the message in which she offered to give Latvala a hug when Rogers returned from her leave of absence occurred after Latvala ‘had done something very helpful to Wilton Simpson that day, which is what she was thanking him for.’ “
Cruz also said that the reason Rogers took a leave of absence from the Senate in March 2015 was because of one of the harassment incidents with Latvala. She returned, Cruz said, “because she was asked to come back.”
Latvala and Rogers exchanged at least eight text messages during the period Rogers was on leave. One of the text messages included an April Fools Day message from Rogers to Latvala that had the words “A day dedicated to fools? I see fools every day. I’m sick of it” constructed around a picture of Latvala.
Weeks after that — after the 2017 Legislative Session had ended and after all of the inappropriate actions Rogers alleges Latvala engaged in took place — Rogers texted Latvala to ask for a personal favor for her a family member and to see if arrangements had been made for her to attend a fundraiser for Latvala held in Maine.
The text messages are part of a sworn affidavit signed by Latvala on Wednesday as he continues to mount a defense against the sexual harassment allegations he is facing. They were released on the same day Perrin Rogers decided to go public with her accusations, who told POLITICO Florida that one of the reasons for doing so was to stop Latvala, a “malevolent” politician from spreading lies about her and her husband, Brian Hughes.
When Perrin Rogers’ identity was anonymous, Latvala claimed his accuser’s husband was working for one of his political opponents in the race for governor.
Cruz added that the release of the affidavit is “another blatant attempt to spread misinformation and distract from the real issue.” She also said “Flwhores” was a typo for Flores, and not a nickname for her.
“I will say it again, at no time did my client invite or encourage Latvala to touch private parts of her body. At no time did my client ask to be subjected to verbal or physical harassment,” she said.
Cruz confirmed the authenticity of the text messages to Florida Politics.
According to the affidavit, John D. Sawicki, the president of the Forensic Data Corp. verified their authenticity. Florida Politics also called the number listed and it went directly to Perrin Rogers’ voicemail.
The 35-year-old was one of six women who told POLITICO Florida that she was sexually harassed and groped by Latvala, who has repeatedly denied the claims and continues to campaign for governor.
Five days after the news report came out, Perrin Rogers filed a sworn complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Benacquisto, a close ally of Negron who is overseeing the complaint and will eventually determine if there is probable cause with the facts presented in the case.
While it’s unclear how much power Negron has over the complaint process, he could have influence over Benacquisto based on their longtime association.
Perrin Rogers’s identity also raises a potential conflict of interest with Benacquisto, who in 2016 paid her husband more than $9,000 in media buy and consulting services.
Negron’s office and the lead investigator in the probe, Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman, declined to comment on the potential conflict of interest.
While these text messages are surfacing, the state’s executive cabinet has made a point of distancing itself from the Clearwater Republican.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was the last to disavow the ongoing investigation, telling POLITICO Friday he’s “disappointed in this entire situation.”
Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have made similar remarks distancing themselves from the suspended Senate budget chief.
Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Friday her “heart breaks” for the alleged victims.