Politics
6:41 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Carroll Resignation Stirs Questions About Internet Cafes and Gov.'s 2014 Reelection

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Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll has resigned amidst a criminal investigation involving her consulting firm. As the Florida Times-Union first reported, Carroll’s firm did work for internet café operator Allied Veterans of the World. Its owners were recently arrested on racketeering charges.

Carroll submitted a brief resignation letter Tuesday morning, saying simply, "it has been an honor to have served the state of Florida in this capacity".

Carroll's Controversies Overshadow History Making Election

When Governor Rick Scott first ran for office, he had Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll by his side. She’s the first African American woman to be elected to the office, and even before that, she was the first Republican African American woman elected to the Florida Legislature.

“When Rick Scott chose Jennifer Carroll, he chose her in large part because he felt that she would be a help to the ticket, and not hurt the ticket," said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political scientist.

"She would bring some diversity, she’s a woman, a black woman, and she was somebody that was in the establishment of Republicans because she had served in the Legislature. So, a number of factors, she was somebody that was a good fit for the ticket.”

But Jewett says Carroll broke an important rule.

"The first rule for a Lieutenant Governor is sort of like a doctor, do no harm. In this case, you're not supposed to harm the ticket with the selection."

“The first rule for a Lieutenant Governor is sort of like a doctor, do no harm. In this case, you’re not supposed to harm the ticket with the selection.”

About a year after her run for office, scandal after scandal started to surround Carroll’s office. It began with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigating whether a former staffer of Carroll’s, Carletha Cole, recorded a conversation in the office between herself and Carroll’s Chief of Staff John Konkus and gave the recording to a reporter.

Later, the state brought charges against Cole, which landed her in court. Then Cole made several allegations about the Lieutenant Governor, including a comment that grew into a much larger controversy—that Carroll and her travel aide had been caught in a “sexually compromising position.”

“The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out, it’s not just one person that you’re attacking. It’s an entire family. My husband doesn’t want to hear that. He knows the type of woman I am, and my kids know the type of woman I am. For 29 years, I’m the one that’s been married for 29 years. The accuser is the one that’s single for a long time. Usually, black women who look like me don’t engage in relationships like that," Carroll said to WTSP.

Those remarks were met with outrage by the gay and lesbian community, which she later apologized for. Still, her comments even had some asking the Governor in early August of last year whether he would still keep Carroll as his running mate. At the time, Scott’s response was, “She’s done a great job. Why wouldn’t I?”

But, now that Carroll is linked to an internet café company that could be a front for gambling, Scott changed his tune Wednesday, a day after he received Carroll’s resignation letter.

“Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll consulted for this company in 2009 and 2010 when she was serving in the Florida House of Representatives. FDLE interviewed Lt. Gov. Carroll yesterday related to her work for the company. Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned in an effort to keep her former affiliation with the company from distracting from our efforts to help make sure we do the right thing for Florida families. And, she made the right decision for the state and for her family," he said to reporters gathered at the Capitol.

It’s also not the first time Carroll’s name has come up amid a federal probe. Early last year, there were allegations made that Carroll bribed a Florida Republican Congressional candidate to drop out of a race.

Carroll's Resignation Leads To Speculation Over Governor's Political Future

Lawmakers are reacting to Carroll's resignation, the investigation, and what it all means for the future of Florida politics and the internet cafe industry. State House Minority Leader Perry Thurston says he got the news right before he walked into a committee meeting.

“[I'm] sad she had to resign in this fashion, but I think she did what was best for her and her family and I wish her and her family the best.”

Thurston said having Carroll on the executive ticket reflected Florida’s diversity and he’d like to see her successor do the same. There’s already speculation on who may take Carroll’s place. Some have suggested Republican Senator Anitere Flores of Miami, but Governor Rick Scott says he won’t name a new Lieutenant Governor until the end of the legislative session. Meanwhile others say Carroll’s resignation doesn’t bode well for Scott’s re-election campaign:

“It’s not helpful when your No.2 in command that was selected by you has problems that cause resignations," said University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus. She says Carroll did the right thing given the situation and that  Carroll's situation is part of a national trend of business leaders who struggle once being elected to public office:

“They are responsible for everything that happens in their business if they are the head of it. And Jennifer Carroll...reflects that kind of pattern we’re seeing around the country of business people who seek office, suddenly realize that everything that happened in their business will be tagged on them if they hold a leadership post.”

The investigation into Allied Veterans of the World and it's fallout has lawmakers reconsidering a ban on internet cafes.  Republican Senator John Thrasher says the time has come to shut those businesses down. A bill banning the businesses cleared the House last year but died in the Senate. But state Representative Janet Adkins says she hopes that will change now:

“I will continue in that effort to eliminate these internet gaming facilities in Florida," she told Jacksonville's WJCT.

Muti-State Probe of Internet Gambling Operator Yields Arrests

At a press conference to announce the charges in Orlando Wednesday Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi described the scheme as  “despicable.”
 
The three-year operation included local, state and federal law enforcement, and targeted internet cafes run by the Allied Veterans of the World at counties across Florida – including Seminole County where the investigation began.
 
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the charity was actually a sophisticated, multi state gambling, racketeering and money laundering scheme.
 
“Using the word charity to cover a scheme is not only wrong but it’s callous and despicable. Claiming to be an organization designed to help veterans in order to run an illegal scheme insults every veteran who ever wore a military uniform.”
 
Investigators say less than two-percent of the $300 million in revenues generated by the scheme was given to charity. The alleged conspirators face charges including racketeering, gambling, slot machines and money laundering.

Lieutenant Governor Carroll’s consulting firm once did public relations for Allied Veterans. During her time in the Florida House of Representatives between 2009 and 2010 she filed a bill that would have benefitted the operator. Scott says he’ll name a replacement after the legislative session.
 

Carroll Speaks Out

Fmr. Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll has released a statement:

My decision yesterday to resign as Lieutenant Governor represents my unwavering commitment to the great state of Florida. I simply refuse to allow the allegations facing a former client of my public relations firm to undermine the important work of the Governor and his administration. It was a difficult decision,
but one that I know is right for Florida, my family and me.

As has been widely reported in the press, prior to my election as Lt. Governor, a company I co-owned, 3 N.&J.C. Corporation, provided consulting services for Allied Veterans of the World, Inc. Having learned that Allied Veterans is now the subject of an investigation by federal and state agencies, I have and will continue to fully cooperate with any investigation. Although I do not believe I or my company are targets of the investigation, I could not allow my company's former affiliation with Allied Veterans to distract from the administration's important work for the families of Florida.

Through my years of public service, I have always tried to work for the betterment of my state and my nation. The jobs I was able to bring to Florida in the space, aerospace and the military support industries provided job opportunities for many displaced workers. I am particularly proud of our successful efforts over the last two years to bring aircraft manufacturing for the Light Air Support program to Jacksonville.

During my tenure as Executive Director of Florida Department of Veteran Affairs {FDVA), I advocated to get the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities streamlined so all service veterans could be rated equally and lobbied the VA to modernize their claims processing and to provide a seamless transition of medical records for military members exiting the active duty forces.

As a veteran myself and former head of the FDVA, I have dedicated myself to making life better for our veterans. Having started my career in public office helping fellow veterans, I am committed to leaving public office with the same intent. I hope all Floridians will help me in this endeavor to take care of our
nations' finest.

Serving my fellow Floridians has been both an honor and a privilege. Although I have made a decision to leave public office, I will not withdraw from public life. I look forward to continuing to make Florida a better place for all, especially our men and women in uniform.

Jacksonville Public Radio WJCT's Kevin Meerschaert contributed to this report.

You can watch Governor Rick Scott's press conference here.

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