John Raoux / AP
Former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, center, arrives at the Orange County Courthouse, with his wife Lisa, left, and attorney Damon Chase, right, for a sentencing hearing, Wednesday, March 27, in Orlando, Fla.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida was sentenced Wednesday to one-and-a-half years for stealing $125,000 in party funds, completing the fall of a man who once was one of the most powerful political figures in the state.
Jim Greer was sentenced in Orlando, more than a month after he pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and a single county of money laundering. The guilty pleas ended Greer's trial before it even started.
Circuit Judge Marc Lubet handed down a sentence that was less severe than the three-and-a-half years in prison requested by prosecutors. Lubet explained that he went with a more lenient sentence because Greer had agreed to pay restitution.
The trial had threatened to expose the underbelly of Florida's dominant political party and its formerly high-spending ways. 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.
Topics covered in pretrial depositions included allegations of prostitutes at a state GOP fundraiser in the Bahamas, the drinking habits of Crist and intraparty strife.
Prosecutors said Greer funneled almost $200,000 to a company he had formed with his right-hand man, Delmar Johnson. He kept $125,000 of the money funneled to Victory Strategies for himself.
Johnson had been scheduled to be prosecutors' star witness and was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.
Greer was vice mayor of the small central Florida town of Oviedo when Crist surprisingly picked him to be the state party chairman after he led local efforts to help Crist get elected governor in 2006. He previously was the president and CEO of a company that provides training to the hospitality industry on how to comply with alcohol laws.
The plea arrangement was reached at the last minute. Jury selection was set to begin early last month, but neither Greer nor prosecutors had appeared in the courtroom an hour after the trial was supposed to start.
Until he entered his guilty pleas, Greer had contended that party leaders, including Crist, knew about the financial arrangement that gave Greer's company a cut of party money in exchange for fundraising efforts. Greer had said he was targeted because of his support for Crist, who later defected from the GOP to run as an independent for U.S. Senate but lost to Rubio.
Crist denied ever knowing about the arrangement.