ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Charlie Crist lashed out at Florida Republican party leaders Saturday over “a sham” internal audit that suggested party donors may have funded personal vacations and expenses for him and his family.
But his hastily called news conference and its abrupt end, raised as many questions than it answered.
“The Republican party bosses have attacked my family and my family’s integrity but also perpetrated a fraud on the people of Florida with this report,” Crist said. In support of his assertion, he released a bill showing that First Lady Carole Crist paid for more than $4,700 on a June 2009 Disney vacation singled out in the report.
That internal investigation by the Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird noted that former state Republican Chairman Jim Greer charged to the party more than $13,400 for a four-day “personal trip” to Disney with his family and the Crist family. They stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
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Crist released a Disney bill showing Carole Crist paid $4,712.82 in Disney charges, including more than $2,900 for four nights at the Contemporary Resort, dining expenses, and arcade and gift shop charges.
He fielded just two questions for about a minute outside his U.S. campaign office in St. Petersburg. He said he did not know his friend Greer was charging anything to the party on that Disney trip, and he did not know how the Greers managed to spend so much money over those four days.
Then he headed to a waiting car and drove away.
Crist, who has become anathema to the GOP after quitting the party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, named Greer as his personal choice to head the state Republican Party in 2007.
Greer was ousted as party chairman in January amid controversy over lavish spending and alleged management of party finances. After revelations that he had created a secret company being paid by the party for fundraising work, Greer was indicted on grand theft, fraud and money laundering charges.
“The Republican party bosses owe my family and I an apology for this, but much more importantly an apology to the people of Florida,” Crist said of the report that cost the state party at least $150,000. “This campaign has 45 days left to go. I’m not going to continue to discuss their sham report, this cockamamie thing that’s pretty ridiculous.”
Crist went to Disney with his wife and her two daughters, and their bill indicates they spent roughly $645 a night on their Disney rooms.
The Greers, who live in Oviedo — about 45 minutes from Disney World — appear to have spent about $2,000 per night on their rooms. Under current pricing, that would correspond to a two-bedroom presidential suite at the Contemporary hotel.
Left unanswered is whether Greer covered any expenses such as meals and entertainment for the Crists during those four days. For instance, the Disney bill Crist released shows less than $200 for three dining charges in four days, and mentioned no park tickets.
The GOP audit report, though, notes that Disney donated park tickets valued at more than $1,000, which is common practice.
“We’re not going to start nickel and diming this sham of a report,” Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said when asked about expenses that appear to be missing from Carole Crist’s Disney bill. “These records clearly show the Governor and First Lady covered their personal expenses, as they always do. That’s more than can be said for Marco Rubio.”
Rubio used to have a party credit card that he often used for personal expenses. After the Times/Herald revealed some of his credit card statements, he wound up reimbursing the party about $2,400 for plane tickets that had been improperly double-billed. He has declined to release earlier credit card statements from the period when he was travelling as leader of the GOP state House campaigns operation.
“If they wanted to do something productive, they should release all of speaker-designate Rubio’s records. That would be helpful to the people of Florida before this election,” Crist said.
GOP chairman John Thrasher had this to say Friday about Crist and Greer’s expenses:
“Let me remind everybody, whether he paid for it or not, the point of this whole audit was to show the excesses and the absolute lack of responsibility that Jim Greer showed, and Charlie Crist was right by his side for three years. He had to have known it as going on. If he didn’t, he’s incompetent.”