Haridopolos’ early exit raises Greer cloudby John Kennedy | July 18th, 2011
Sen. Mike Haridopolos’ abrupt departure from the Republican field prompted Florida Democrats to question whether it could be linked to his association with former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, who faces six felony counts of grand theft, money laundering and attempted fraud involving a consulting company he formed in 2009 that drew $200,000 from the party.
Greer is suing the party to recover about $124,000 in severance, which party leaders say was never approved. Haridopolos’ signature is on the severance, but the Senate president has denied approving a pay-out to the former party chief.
Tim Baker, a Haridopolos spokesman, denied any connection to the candidate’s folding his campaign, with $2.4 million in his war chest — and the Greer case.
But Haridopolos is expected to give a deposition in late August to Cheney Mason, one of Greer’s lawyers, who recently completed a lead role as defense attorney for Casey Anthony.
Damon Chase, a Lake Mary attorney also representing Greer, said Monday, “I think the timing is significant. He knows his deposition is coming up and it’s going to be a videotaped deposition that the press will have as soon as it’s finished. He knows it’s going to leave Florida voters thinking, ‘is this the kind of liar we want representing us in the Senate?”
Also expected to be called for a deposition is Pat Bainter, the Gainesville campaign consultant and longtime Haridopolos adviser who abruptly left the campaign last week.
Chase said that Bainter approached Republican Party officials in 2010 with a potential severance deal for Greer – an offer the former chairman’s defense team said was dropped when party leaders chose to scapegoat him for widespread spending abuses and pursued criminal charges.
Bainter has not returned phone calls to comment on his departure from the campaign.
But the Greer case may have amounted to another cloud on the Senate race horizon for the legislative leader. Party activists, though, didn’t waste time trying to nudge others into the race.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, had taken himself out of the race, and issued a statement Monday saying that it was not a day to speculate about running. But former state House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, said he was receiving phone calls Monday about joining the Republican field.
Bense, who ran the Florida Republican Party’s fund-raising operation last year, rebuffed former Gov. Jeb Bush’s push that he challenge Nelson in 2006, when former U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris became the eventual nominee, defeated by the Democrat.
“I’m very unhappy with what’s happening in Washington right now,” Bense said Monday. “In 1998, I got mad and wound up running for the Legislature. I’m not sure I’m that mad yet. But I’ve gotten a few phone calls, and I’m thinking.”