TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released by the state GOP Friday shows.
The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party's American Express credit card, according to the audit. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.
Crist's wife, Carole, owns a home on the island. Crist, who bolted the GOP in April to seek a U.S. Senate seat as an independent, denied not paying his own way at any time.
“I went to Disney World with my wife and our two stepdaughters, and we paid for it ourselves,'' the governor said Friday. “What else can I tell you?'' Crist told reporters in Miami that allegations in the report indicate Republicans are frustrated.
“The notion that the partisan Republicans would attack the independent candidate shouldn't surprise any of us,'' he said, laughing at the questions about the audit.
In another instance, the men's wives arrived in New York City two days before a party fundraiser in September 2009 and charged nearly $1,600 to the party credit card on hotel and related expenses.
“Wherever I go, I pay for it personally with my wife,'' Crist said. However, none of the spending appeared to directly link Crist to anything illegal, and the auditors noted the possibility that Greer fell out of favor with party regulars because of his close relationship to the governor. Greer is facing state felony theft charges as a result of his spending while party chairman.
Crist's campaign chairman, Danny Kanner, called the findings nothing more than “smear tactics'' to cover-up the wrongdoing of GOP Senate nominee Marco Rubio.
“Now that the bosses have ended their partisan charade, they must immediately release all of Marco Rubio's credit card records dating back to when he was speaker-designate to determine the extent to which he charged the party for personal expenses like family reunions and real estate payments,'' Kanner said.
Rubio was among GOP leaders caught up earlier this year in the party's American Express card controversy. As incoming Florida House speaker, during a time not included in the audit, Rubio used the card for thousands of dollars of personal expenses. Both Rubio and GOP officials say he later repaid the party for inadvertent personal expenses he's charged them.
Rubio has been nagged previously with financial issues, including a home he co-owned in Tallahassee that went into pre-foreclosure proceedings earlier this year. Crist left GOP just as he was battling Rubio for the GOP nomination in the Senate contest.
The investigation unit of Atlanta-based law firm Austin & Bird LLP, which also was involved in auditing the failed energy company Enron Corp., was hired by the Florida Republican Party to investigate party finances. Their findings also noted that Greer and his one-time free-spending travel aide, Delmar Johnson, appeared to frequently pay for their meals, snacks and gas with company credit cards.
“For the first time we have a specific dollar amount tied to certain items and events and can gain a broader understanding of the mismanagement that occurred,'' said state Sen. John Thrasher, who replaced Greer as the party chairman earlier this year.
Thrasher has threatened legal action to recoup money spent illegally under Greer's reign at the party. Thrasher, however, had long been reluctant to release any detailed report of the GOP's spending.
The review seemed to also clear Senate President Jeff Atwater and state Rep. Dean Cannon of any wrongdoing. Auditors said they were satisfied with explanations given them by the men on their party credit card expenditures, but said they did not closely review aggregate amounts totaling less than $50,000. Atwater is running for the state's chief financial officer, while Cannon is scheduled to become House speaker if he wins re-election in November.
The audit did, however, point out that another disgraced Florida politician, former House Speaker Ray Sansom, spent several thousand dollars for flowers to adorn the desks of lawmakers in that chamber, although the total did not approach the $50,000 threshold.
Sansom, who resigned from the Legislature in February 2009, faces corruption charges for funneling money to a project that allegedly would have benefited a wealthy Panhandle political supporter. Greer's former aide, Johnson, turned state's evidence in the criminal case against his former boss and has avoided prosecution by his cooperation with authorities.
Greer, a small town vice-mayor, was Crist's pick to chair the state party after his efforts in central Florida helped Crist get elected in 2006. He also charged $5,616.79 to the party for his son's baptism in May 2009, the report showed.
Pictured: Charlie Crist, above, and Jim Greer, below.