UPDATED: Latvala accuser seeks armed security in Capitol

Rachel Perrin Rogers, the high-ranking Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her and making lewd comments about her physical appearance, has asked for security guards when she returns to the Capitol tomorrow.

Perrin Rogers, the chief district legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, came forward last week and identified herself as the woman who accused Latvala of sexual harassment on several occasions over the past few years.

Perrin Rogers’s lawyers, Tiffany Cruz, sent a letter to Negron on Thursday blaming Latvala and his supporters of forcing Rogers to go public, and accusing the Clearwater Republican and his paid minions of “engaging in serious acts of retaliation” against Rogers, “both directly and indirectly through attempts to harm her spouse’s employment.”

Perrin Rogers is married to Brian Hughes, a GOP consultant and former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott whose clients include attorney general candidate Frank White and Baxter Troutman, who’s running to succeed Adam Putnam as ag commish.

Tiffany Cruz, Perrin Rogers’s lawyer, said she wants a Capitol Police or Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer to be assigned to the Senate staffer as she enters and exits the building and while she’s in her office because she doesn’t feel safe.

(We originally wrote that the request for security came after a whistleblower complaint was filed Friday, which is true.

But Cruz said late Sunday evening she was unaware that the complaint had been filed, until reading about it in this post.)

The complaint, filed with the secretary of the Senate Friday, accuses Perrin Rogers of “displaying a pattern of harmful and retaliatory behavior” toward Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority staffer who’s backed Latvala in the increasingly toxic sexual harassment investigation.

“Ms. Perrin Rogers is requesting that someone from Capitol Police or FDLE be provided to her this week while she will be working in the building. She would like someone to be with her when she comes in the building from the garage and when she leaves as well as to remain in her office area whenever she is there,” Cruz wrote to Office of Legislative Affairs General Counsel Allison Deison in an email sent Saturday morning.

Perrin Rogers “does not feel safe with Lily Tysinger in the building and having access to her and her office in light of Ms. Tysinger’s past and present conduct,” Cruz wrote. “If this is not an option, please advise so we can independently retain a law enforcement officer to be present.”

Several hours later, Deison replied that her request had been received.

Tysinger filed a whistleblower complaint Friday accusing Perrin Rogers of numerous workplace violations, including “engaging in a pattern of conduct” designed to “intimidate me due to my status as a witness” in the Senate investigation into Latvala’s alleged sexual misconduct.

Again, Cruz said late Sunday she was unaware of the complaint, which came a day after Cruz asked Negron to intervene on Perrin Rogers’s behalf because of intimidation.

“While the Senator has the right to deny the allegations, he does not have the right to spread false and defamatory information about the complainant to the public in an effort to discredit her claims,” Cruz wrote. “I expect that as his employer, you will ensure that this retaliatory conduct is not tolerated.”

Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend. Cruz said Saturday she had not yet heard back from the president or his aides.

When asked whether Negron had approved the security guard, Betta said she could not comment.

But, in a text late Sunday evening, Cruz said the request had been denied.

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, denied that the senator’s team had done anything to intimidate the senate aide or her spouse.

“Absurd,” he said in a text message.

Cruz also asked for — and was granted — extra staff to essentially provide a buffer for Perrin Rogers, whose office is located near Simpson’s inside the Senate Majority Office.

“Since next week is a committee week and my client will be back in the Capitol working, she said it would be helpful if the Majority Office could have a receptionist and/or administrative assistant sitting out front. This would prevent people from coming in to her office without permission,” Cruz wrote in an email to Deison Wednesday.

“The Senate will make sure that there is an assistant in the front of the Senate Majority Office next week,” Deison wrote back Friday morning.

Bondi’s “heart breaks” for Latvala accuser

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement of strong support Friday for the woman who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of “unwanted physical touching/grabbing/groping” on six occasions over four years.

Latvala’s alleged sexual harassment is the subject of two separate investigations currently underway. Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top Senate staffer, came forward this week and identified herself as the woman who filed complaints with the Senate Rules Committee and Senate President Joe Negron’s office.

Without naming Rogers, Bondi said she was “astonished to learn that one of the victims of the recent allegations in Tallahassee is a woman who I’ve known and respected for years.”

“My heart breaks for her. We must respect the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved,” Bondi went on.

Latvala has vigorously denied the allegations, relying on more than 200 text message exchanges between the senator and Rogers that portray, at least on the surface, a cordial if not friendly relationship.

Bondi’s statement isn’t the first time she’s weighed in on the allegations against Latvala.

Last month, she called on the unnamed women in the POLITCO Florida report, which first revealed the sexual harassment accusations against the Clearwater Republican, to identify themselves.

“As a career prosecutor, I would say that you have to come forward. Someone has the right to face their accuser. It can’t be done under the condition of anonymity. So, you have to come forward. As a woman, I’d say please come forward,” she told reporters on Nov. 7.

On Friday, Bondi said she reached out to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto to hold a spot for “legislation that could provide protections to victims of sexual harassment claims.”

“I encourage any woman who has been sexually harassed to come forward and allow their voice to be heard,” Bondi said in the statement.

“I look forward to working with the legislature this session to formulate laws that protect all women working in state government. It has been remarkable what women can do when we all stand together. FLORIDA MUST BE A LEADER IN THIS MOVEMENT,” she concluded.

 

 

Senate aide received nearly 38 percent pay hike in one-year period

Rachel Perrin Rogers, the Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her on multiple occasions, received an 11.5 percent pay hike days before she filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Clearwater Republican.

The Nov. 1 pay hike brought the annual salary of Rogers, who serves as the district chief legislative assistant to House Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, to $70,908, according to Senate personnel records.

Rogers, 35, has accused Latvala of “unwanted physical touching/grabbing/groping” on at least six occasions over the past four years.

Latvala has repeatedly denied engaging in any unwanted physical contact with her or other unnamed accusers.

Rogers is a well-connected aide whose husband, Brian Hughes, is a GOP political consultant. Latvala has accused the pair of being part of a political conspiracy intended to force him out of the governor’s race and the Senate.

Rogers this week publicly acknowledged that she had filed complaints against Latvala, the same day he and his lawyer, Steve Andrews, released more than 200 text message exchanges between the Senate aide and the senator showing what appeared, at least on the surface, to be a chummy relationship.

Rogers told POLITICO Florida, which broke the news about the allegations against Latvala, that she left the Senate in 2015 because of an interaction with the senator at a private club near the Capitol.

She returned to the Senate as an aide to Simpson, R-Trilby, in December 2015 at a salary of $51,456. A year later, she received just over a $10,000 pay hike, according to Senate records. This October, she — like all legislative staff — received a $1,000 pay increase, in addition to the $8,156 increase in November.

Tiffany Cruz, Rogers’ lawyer, said she believed the pay increase was approved on Oct. 27, and directed questions about the reason for the raise to the Senate.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron, said the recent raise was requested by Simpson, and was authorized on Oct. 25.

 

Latvala lashes out at Scott

Gov. Rick Scott stopped short of calling for the resignation of Sen. Jack Latvala yesterday, but made his harshest comments yet about the Clearwater Republican under investigation after being accused of sexually harassing a top Senate aide and others.

Scott yesterday branded Latvala, who has steadfastly denied that he groped anyone, a “distraction” in the Senate, and reiterated previous remarks calling for Latvala to step down if the allegations are true.

Latvala and his lawyer remained mum all day, until 7:39 p.m., when Latvala dropped this bomb on Twitter:

 

JackLatvala's avatar

@FLGovScott I’m sure HCA stockholders thought your efforts to defend yourself in theft of billions from taxpayers was a distraction but you had a right to defend yourself! I have that same right!

 Latvala was referring to Scott’s repeated use of the Fifth Amendment — which he used 75 times — during a deposition in 2000. Later that year, Columbia/HCA, the hospital company which Scott founded, agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government. Scott had stepped down from the company three years earlier.

Monica Russo mulling “every potential path” to become Florida Democratic Party boss

Monica Russo, the head of the SEIU in Florida, isn’t backing down from her bid to take over as chief of the Florida Democratic Party, even though the party’s infrastructure seems stacked against her.

Russo isn’t a chair of a county DEC, and she isn’t a state committeewoman, the two things that would make a potential candidate eligible for the post, according to FDP general counsel Mark Herron.

But Russo is questioning whether the rules about the selection of a chair apply to the current situation, effectively a “special election” to replace former chairman Stephen Bittel, who abruptly quit the post last month after being accused by female aides and consultants of creating a hostile work environment. Party leaders will vote on his successor at a meeting in Orlando on Dec. 9.

Alma Gonzalez, Terrie Rizzo and Stacey Patel are also vying for the post.

Russo, and many other Democratic activists, say the rules should allow any Democrat to run for the party’s top post.

Here’s the full statement from Russo, issued late last evening:

As Democrats, we have an obligation to continue to be the party for openness and inclusion. Any loyal Democrat who has been in the trenches working as part of the Democratic coalition should have the opportunity to be considered for the role of state party Chair.

“The restrictive interpretation of the current rules caused 3 of 5 candidates to move or maneuver to be eligible in the last race, including a former Democratic Senator who for years had been a champion in Tallahassee. Their work as part of the Democratic coalition was not made because of where they lived, but rather their dedication to our movement.

“This interpretation of the rules is archaic. The by-laws are not meant to keep out the very people who have worked side by side, inside and outside the party.

“As I’ve learned, the restrictive eligibility requirements for Chair are specific to electing a chair at the reorganization meeting that happens once every four years, when the seat is up for election. This upcoming meeting of the state executive committee is not a reorganization meeting and as such a number of legal minds have opined that those requirements don’t apply to filling vacancies — suggesting that the eligibility is already opened. I am asking for clarity on this point and will be asking the Florida Democratic Party to offer an opinion.

“I’ve also received a number of calls from people all over the state -smaller and larger counties alike- who have suggested ways to help me become eligible under the most restrictive interpretation. While I do not desire to move and am not inclined to do so, I am considering every potential path to eligibility.”

UPDATED: Bob “Good Sport” Buckhorn pays off mayoral debt

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn paid off his bet with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in a very public display of humiliation, after the University of Central Florida bested the University of South Florida in a thrilling 49-42 gridiron victory last week.

Buckhorn wrapped himself in a UCF flag before it was hoisted  above Tampa’s Old City Hall Thursday morning. And he fulfilled his “War on I-4” challenge with a case of locally brewed Cigar City beer and a box of Arturo Fuente cigars.

“Mayor Buckhorn is a great sport! And he looks good in black and gold!” Dyer tweeted.

If USF had won, Dyer would have had to hoist the Bull’s flag over Orlando’s City Hall and gifted Buckhorn with beer from Orlando Brewing along with a “cornhole” board from Victory Tailgate.

Not to be outdone, UCF had a little fun with the Buckhorn’s dirge-like video by doing a remix that, shall we say, put a decidedly upbeat spin on Tampa’s loss.

 

By Jim Turner and Dara Kam.

AG Sessions rolls out plan to “turn the tide” on opioid crisis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is launching three initiatives designed to “turn the tide” on the opioid crisis gripping Florida and the nation.

Sessions is steering $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies “to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets,” according to a press release issued by the DOJ today. The release did not include details about the grants.

Sessions also announced “a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.” The field division, will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Sessions is also ordering all of the country’s U.S. Attorney offices to designate an “opioid coordinator” to “serve as a kind of quarterback” regarding anti-opioid efforts locally..

Here’s the full text of Sessions’ announcement:

Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to especially thank DEA Administrator Patterson for being here and for his leadership on this issue. DEA plays a vital role in our efforts here as you all know.

Today, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Based on preliminary data, at least 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That would be the highest drug overdose death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.  For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

This crisis is driven primarily by opioids – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Fortunately, President Trump understands this and has a passion for this issue.  He has taken the rare step of declaring a public health emergency, and requested more than $1 billion in anti-opioid efforts in the President’s FY 2018 budget.

And I want to thank Kellyanne Conway for being here today. The President has made this a top priority for his administration—including every senior official and cabinet member—as her presence here today can attest.

The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, the President sent me an executive order to go after transnational criminal organizations—including the cartels who exploit the vulnerable and profit off of addiction.

I am convinced that our law enforcement efforts save lives—because they prevent new addictions from starting.  By enforcing our laws, we help keep illegal drugs out of our country, reduce their availability, drive up their price, and reduce their purity.

The Department of Justice has taken a number of steps this year to make these efforts more effective.

In this year’s two drug take-back days, we took more than 900 tons of unused prescription drugs off of our streets—before they could fall into the wrong hands.

In July, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  The Department coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest and charge more than more than 120 defendants for opioid-related crimes.

In August I announced a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will help us find the tell-tale signs of opioid-related health care fraud.

I have also assigned experienced prosecutors in 12 opioid “hot-spots” across America to focus solely on prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  Armed with better data, these prosecutors have already begun to issue indictments.

Additionally, the Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for separate schemes to distribute massive quantities of fentanyl—the number one killer drug in America. The truth is clear. Most fentanyl enters the United States from China. I have raised it with a recent Chinese delegation, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has raised it, and President Trump was emphatic on the subject during his recent trip to China. We need more support.

Earlier this month, the DEA announced its intent to issue emergency restrictions on all forms of fentanyl—which will make it harder for criminals to circumvent our laws.

As deadly as fentanyl is, you can go online and order it through the mail.  That’s why in July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history.  This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old in Utah.

These steps are important, and I believe that they have saved lives already.  But still, we need to do more.  And we will.

Today I am announcing three new initiatives to turn the tide.

First, the Department will continue to back the blue.  I am announcing more than $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies across America to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets.

Second, I am announcing a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.

The current Louisville district office will now be the 22nd DEA Field Division, with about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers.  This field division will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas covered by this new division face similar drug threats, enabling this division to better focus on those threats.

They will be led by Special Agent in Charge Christopher Evans, who has served DEA for more than 25 years.

Third and finally, I am ordering all of our U.S. Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator to serve as a kind of quarterback of our anti-opioid efforts in their community.

They will convene a task force of state, federal, and local law enforcement and help determine which cases to take federal.  And they will help customize and evaluate the effectiveness of every U.S. Attorney’s Office’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, a strategy based on local conditions on the ground.

I believe that these changes will make law enforcement more effective—and make the American people safer.

But our work is not finished.  We will not slow down for one day or even for one instant.  With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, enforcing our drug laws is more important than ever.

We will not cede one city, one neighborhood, or one street corner to gangs, violence, or drugs.

We need to use every lawful tool we have—and we will.  This Department will continue to take whatever steps we deem appropriate and effective toward our goal of turning the tide.

I know that this crisis is daunting- the death rates are stunning- and it can be discouraging.  But we will turn the tide. When the men and women of law enforcement work effectively in a focused way, we can stop the growth of destructive addiction, keep the American people safe, and save lives.  Thank you. Now I’ll turn it over to Rob to discuss DEA recent efforts in more detail.