Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, a retired judge, issued a scalding evaluation of the sexual harassment allegations lodged against Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who strenuously denied any physical wrongdoing.
Swanson concluded there was probable cause to support nearly all of the allegations by high-ranking Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accused Latvala of groping her, ogling her and making unwelcome comments about her body.
But perhaps even more damning was testimony from a onetime lobbyist that opened the door to a criminal investigation.
Swanson said testimony and text-message exchanges between the senator and an unidentified woman who was a lobbyist appear to indicate that Latvala violated ethics rules and may have violated “laws prohibiting public corruption.”
The lobbyist testified that, between 2015 and 2017, Latvala “touched her and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office.”
She also said Latvala told her on multiple occasions that “if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying.”
The woman’s testimony is supported by “explicit text messages” sent from the senator to the lobbyist, Swanson wrote in the 35-page report. The most recent text message concerning the possible quid pro quo was sent in February 2016, according to the report. The woman testified that she left her work as a lobbyist “in large part to so (she) would never have to owe (Senator Latvala) anything.”
Swanson recommended the allegations “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”
Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, complained that Latvala never had a chance to defend himself against the allegations of bribery, which were not included in the original complaint the special master was tasked with investigating.
“Sen. Latvala never had notice of the allegations outside the complaint, and if we had, we could have rebutted them and provided context to the allegations referenced in Judge Swanson’s report. That’s a gross violation of due process and fundamental fairness,” Andrews told Truth or Dara last night.
Here’s Latvala’s full response on Facebook, posted late yesterday evening:
The timing of the special master’s report tonight has created some special problems for me. I have a medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow/Thursday after which I have committed to go to Mississippi to see my step dad and brother for the first time since my mother died this summer, then will go be with my family for Christmas.
If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months its the value of my family so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics. I will be back in Tallahassee on Dec. 26 and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future. I will not have any further comment until at least then.
I appreciate the many gestures of support tonight more than you will ever know. Thank you for your friendship.