A powerful Florida Senator who is also vying to be the GOP candidate for governor has been toppled over accusations of public corruption and sexual harassment.
Two investigations substantiated allegations that state Senator Jack Latvala groped women and made sexually aggressive comments toward them. There is also evidence he offered to trade sexual favors for votes, which the Special Master’s report notes could amount to public corruption, a criminal charge.
The state senate has handed over its findings and Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger says her office has the capacity to investigate the matter further.
“We do have a unit called executive investigations and in the past they have investigated government officials and politicians.”
In his resignation letter Latvala criticizes investigators for taking the word of accusers over his own and says he’s been steadfast in promoting women professionally. In a November interview with Spectrum-Bay News 9’s Political Connections show, Latvala fiercely maintained he has done nothing wrong.
“I have apologized for bringing the headlines to my family, even though I don’t think I did anything wrong. I’ve apologized if I let my mouth override my good sense with something I’ve said to people. But I’m not going to apologize for something I haven’t done. And I draw the line with touching someone-a female in their private area, without their permission. Never done it. Never will.”
Attorney Steven Andrews says Latvala chose to resign not because of guilt, but because the investigations were becoming a distraction to the legislature.
"He realized that if we continued to challenge this, it would be disruptive to the state of Florida, and would have interfered with the job the senate would do during the upcoming session," Andrews said.
Throughout the investigations Latvala had faced increasing calls to step aside. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was among the first to say Latvala should go and predicted earlier in the month that the Senator could end up being forced out:
"If he’s expelled he’ll be one of the first sitting members of the legislature expelled in who knows how long. Decades," Corcoran said during an interview with C-Span’s Washington Journal.
And Governor Rick Scott suggested previously that if allegations against the Senator were true, "he needs to resign.”
Wednesday Scott along with attorney general Palm Bondi formally called for Latvala’s resignation making him the third state senator to step down this year.
Frank Artilies of Miami left in May after making racist statements to two African American lawmakers and disparaging Senate President Joe Negron. Democrat Jeff Clemens resigned in November after Politico Florida reported he had an affair with a lobbyist, and Politico Florida was also first to report the allegations against Latvala.