The Republican Party of Florida: what the office manager saw

Jim Greer (left) and his former BFF and fundraising partner Delmar Johnson (right) ran the party "like the Gestapo," their former office manager says.

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you know that the one person you don’t want to cross is the office manager. She knows everything … the Republican Party of Florida must rue the day it fired Susan Wright (or in their case, the day they hired her. Wright is now a key witness in the case against former RPOF chairman, and apparent megalomaniac, Jim Greer. The St. Pete Times details what she saw …From this weekend’s big story:

Long before criminal investigations shook the Republican Party of Florida, office manager Susan Wright noticed a problem: Higher-ups were spending party money to help themselves instead of the GOP.

Thousands of dollars were dropped at Las Vegas restaurants, a casino resort and a Wayne Newton concert. She saw thousands more in questionable expenses for trips and swank accommodations in Boston, Beverly Hills and Miami.

And she was among the first Republican staffers to voice concerns about a $200,000 party contract with a shell company called Victory Strategies, now at the center of fraud and theft charges against former chairman Jim Greer, who has pleaded not guilty.

Wright, 57, didn’t know all the details, but fretted to her supervisors and co-workers that the party was running out of money and couldn’t afford it all.

“I was told to keep my mouth shut,” she said.

So what was going on at the Florida GOP?

Wright had access to expense reports, contracts, pay information and vacation time for nearly every party worker. She saw firsthand internal party documents detailing the big charges, from $1,290 at the Palazzo Las Vegas Resort Hotel Casino to the nearly $5,000 that Greer and his wife, Lisa, spent for a getaway in exclusive Fisher Island, home of Gov. Charlie Crist’s wife.

“Five-thousand friggin’ dollars?” she exclaimed when she asked about the purpose of the expense.

She said she never got an answer, only demands and insinuations that she be silent.

The big party spending came to light this spring when the Times/Herald and other media obtained records of Republican leaders’ party-issued American Express cards. But Wright says Greer and Johnson also frequently used their personal credit cards for expenses, such as the $243 in Wayne Newton “Before I Go” performance tickets, that were reimbursed by the party.

Investigative documents and some top Republicans confirm Wright was among the first insiders to raise red flags about the spending.

Weeks after she was fired in January, Wright was flown to West Palm Beach by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to tell her story to a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent and an Internal Revenue Service official. Wright was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in March.

“If you were in the club, you got your meals picked up, trips and cigars,” she said. “They loved to spend money on expensive cigars. … They ate good all the time: $95 lobsters, $100 steak dinners.”

But there were also $20 to $30 almost-daily meals. “If we had stock in Po’ Boys and the Black Bean, we’d be rich,” she said of two Tallahassee haunts.

It seemed like whatever they saw, they had to buy — albeit with other people’s money — to supplement a high-roller lifestyle that never neglected the little things.

“They couldn’t go to a gas station without buying bottled water and snacks,” she said. “Delmar loved souvenirs. He couldn’t go to an airport without buying them — snow globes, whatever. … The chairman would buy three to four magazines, newspapers, any reading material for every trip.”

Wright said Johnson had the party pay for a transcription service that typed out his voice mail messages and e-mailed them to his party-paid BlackBerry.

Johnson, 31, also hired about six fraternity brothers at $10 an hour, she said.

Greer, 48, surrounded himself with a party-funded entourage. She said he commanded that certain party employees staff personal events, such as his son’s first birthday party in Cocoa Beach, where Republican insiders were encouraged to wear Winnie-the-Pooh birthday caps.

Johnson and other staffers used a mix of personal and party cards to pick up expenses for the birthday celebration, Wright said. When she questioned a staffer who expensed his mileage and meals as “voter outreach,” he told Johnson, who hauled Wright into his office.

“Whether it’s a party or not, whenever you do events with the chairman, it’s work,” she said Johnson told her, miffed that she wondered about his expenses as well. “It’s nobody’s business what I’m expensing.”

Wright, who dealt more frequently with Johnson, said Greer had a similar attitude. But so did members of their “club.”

“I’m tired of people saying we don’t have the money. We have plenty of money,” she said one staffer told her.

Wright said spending went “through the roof” in early 2009, when executive director Jim Rimes left and was replaced by Johnson. Rimes helped mind expenses and in 2008 snuffed a plan of Johnson’s to spend about $12,000 on a replica of the White House desk known as the Resolute.

Later, as executive director, Johnson tried to get the party to pay for oil portraits of himself, Greer and Crist.

… Less than a month after Greer promoted Johnson, investigators say, they created Victory Strategies, with Greer holding a secret 60 percent share of the company and Johnson 40 percent. The company, ostensibly a fundraising organization, then entered into a little-known agreement with the party to receive a portion of its donations. In all, investigators say, Victory Strategies took $200,000 from the party. In addition, Greer rang up $478,000 in American Express charges and Johnson charged $1.4 million.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, the Florida GOP is lucky in the sense that a majority of its base doesn’t seem to care about this stuff. They are much more fixated on Barack Obama’s alleged member of Karl Marx’s ghostly coven. As long as the Republican base remains fixated on Glenn Beckian conspiracy theories, Republicans can theoretically spend whatever they want of Republican donors’ money with impunity. Just ask Marco Rubbio.

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