Florida’s Lt. Governor resigns as “callous, despicable” gambling scam is probed

It has not been a terribly good year thus far for Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.  His sudden reversal on ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion – which he came into office opposing, but now supports – was just rejected by the state Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dealing what Reuters describes as “a potential death blow” to the governor’s Medicaid plans.  Many of those who voted for Scott, and conservatives nationwide, were stunned and bitterly disappointed by his change of heart on ObamaCare, and now it looks like it might not bring him anything but grief.

Another fresh load of grief was delivered to Tallahassee when Scott’s Lieutenant Governor, Jennifer Carroll, resigned on Wednesday.  Just a day earlier, she was questioned by investigators probing “a scandal involving a purported veterans charity that authorities said Wednesday was a front for a $300 million gambling operation,” according to the Associated Press:

The organization, Allied Veterans of the World, runs nearly 50 Internet parlors with computerized slot machine-style games, which are normally legal in Florida if most of the proceeds go to charity.

But investigators said the organization’s executives gave precious little to veterans and lavished millions on themselves, spending it on boats, beachfront condos and Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called the alleged scam “callous” and “despicable” and said it “insults every American who ever wore a military uniform.”

A UPI report clarifies that “authorities say the group donated just 2 percent of its $290 million in proceeds to charities.”  The Florida Times-Union published extensive, blood-boiling details of their activities, noting that just four executives made off with more than $90 million, while forging “suspicious real estate partnerships” and protecting themselves with both political contributions and payments to law enforcement foundations.

Carroll has not yet been charged with any wrongdoing, but she is co-owner of a public-relations firm that did work for Allied Veterans, and she appeared in one of their television advertisements.  Carroll herself is a Navy vet with Gulf War service in her twenty-year record, and was the first African-American elected to statewide office in Florida.

57 arrest warrants have been issued so far in the gambling scam investigation; to put it mildly, even if Carroll was completely unaware of Allied Veterans’ nefarious activities, her involvement does not look good.  Complete unawareness of such large-scale illegal activities is not appealing to voters.

Things have been moving fast and quietly since the Allied story broke.  Carroll’s resignation letter was only two sentences long, and did not explain why she was resigning – she merely said, “It has been an honor to have served the State of Florida in this capacity.”  She has not been responding to interview requests from the media.

Governor Scott and his team have been almost as terse, with the Governor telling reporters, “It’s very disappointing to have to bring this news to you.”  He did not discuss the Allied Veterans investigation, but said his lieutenant governor resigned “in an effort to keep her former affiliation with the company from distracting from our efforts to help make sure we do right for Florida families.”

The Governor thanked the “tireless” Carroll for “the efforts she made on behalf of the state of Florida.”  He also directed policial funds from Allied and related groups to be immediately donated to charity, declaring “I have zero tolerance for this kind of criminal activity, period.”  He has said he has no plans to name another Lieutenant Governor until after the current legislative session ends in May, leaving Attorney General Pam Bondi as next in line for the governorship in the event of an emergency.

The Miami Herald says that while Scott and Carroll were once close partners, they had grown chilly and distant.  “Lately, Carroll and Scott rarely spoke face to face, and they did not even speak when she quit Tuesday afternoon,” the Herald relates.  Scott only mentioned her in passing during his State of the State address last week.  There was much speculation that he would replace her as his running mate when he runs for re-election in 2014.

Their partnership grew “awkward” in the face of various uncomfortable incidents listed by the Bradenton Herald:

Carroll’s time as lieutenant governor has not been without controversy.

Former travel aide Carletha Cole said she was fired in 2011 after complaining about Carroll in the media. Cole, who was later charged with sharing an illegal recording, said she once walked in on Carroll and a female staffer engaged in what appeared to be a sex act. The governor’s office has described Cole’s allegations as “outrageous.”

Carroll’s travel as lieutenant governor also has been an issue. Scott’s office placed Carroll on a $10,000-a-month fixed travel budget after her travel costs ballooned to nearly $300,000 in 2011. Scott pays for his own travel.

This mixes with a strong of resignations from state agencies, shaky approval ratings, and three different chiefs of staff over the last 18 months, to paint a troubled portrait of the current administration.  Governor Scott can only hope that Carroll is not linked any more closely to the Allied Veterans disaster.