Former Florida GOP Party Chairman Jim Greer pleads guilty in theft trial

In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009, photo, Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer talks with reporters after receiving a vote of confidence from the executive committee of the Florida Republican Party in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell, file)

In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009, photo, Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer talks with reporters after receiving a vote of confidence from the executive committee of the Florida Republican Party in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell, file)

ORLANDO —Former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges Monday just before jury selection in his criminal trial was to begin.

Greer pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and a single count of money laundering for funneling money from the Republican Party of Florida to a company he set up with his right-hand man. He could be sentenced to a minimum of 3 ½ years and a maximum of 35 years in prison at his March 27 sentencing.

The plea deal avoids would could have been an embarrassing trial for the state GOP. Some of Florida's most powerful politicians were scheduled as witnesses, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and several state House and state Senate leaders.

"There were a number of people who did not want this trial to go forward and the trial isn't going forward," said Damon Chase, Greer's attorney. "Once again, Jim Greer is falling on his sword for a lot of other folks."

Topics that were covered in pretrial depositions included allegations of prostitutes at a state GOP fundraiser in the Bahamas, lavish spending on fancy restaurants and luxury hotels by state GOP leaders, the drinking habits of Crist and party leaders stabbing each other in the back.

"He has acknowledged he is guilty. That is what the party has wanted since the case started," said Stephen Dobson, an attorney for the Republican Party of Florida.

The plea deal was reached at the last minute. Jury selection was set to begin early Monday, but neither Greer nor prosecutors had appeared in the courtroom an hour after the trial was supposed to start.

Greer had earlier pleaded not guilty to allegations that he funneled almost $200,000 of party money into a company he had formed with his right-hand man.

Greer had said party leaders were aware of the company and that his prosecution was political payback.

EARLIER:

Trial for former Fla. GOP chairman starts slowly

ORLANDO — The trial of former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer has gotten off to a slow start.

Jury selection was supposed to begin Monday. But an hour after the scheduled start, neither Greer nor prosecutors had appeared in the courtroom in Orlando.

The only sign of Greer's presence in the Orange County Courthouse were his wife and infant daughter.

Greer is facing theft, fraud and money laundering charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say Greer funneled almost $200,000 of party money into a company he had formed with his right-hand man.

Greer says party leaders were aware of the company and that his prosecution is political payback.

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