Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jennifer Carroll-- What A Mess... (And Not At Concrete Blonde)


In announcing the forthcoming release of new polling numbers from Florida, PPP tweeted early Saturday morning that "Even after this week Jennifer Carroll only has about 30% name recognition in Florida." And they weren't talking about Top Chef Jennifer Carroll. Until this week she was the state's Lieutenant Governor and if barely anyone in Florida knows who she is, I'm going to have to assume far fewer outside the state know who she is either-- or why she resigned this week. "If her name rings no bells, you're probably in the majority. It's the price one pays for being Florida's first sidekick, a job state leaders rank somewhere between test dummy and anthropologist."

Born in Trinidad, she was a state Rep from Clay County and in 2011 became the first woman and the first African-American ever elected Lt. Governor. In fact, she's the first African-American elected to any Florida statewide office since Reconstruction and before that, she was the first African-American female Republican ever elected to the Florida Legislature. After being defeated in a congressional run against Corrine Brown, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. Keep that in the back of your mind for a moment. It helps bring some light about why she's in the news again.

After Rick Scott, who had been convicted of massive Medicare fraud and who felt he needed a woman on the ticket to help soften his gangster image, won the GOP gubernatorial primary, his first two picks for a Lt Governor-- Toni Jennings (once an appointed Lt. Governor) and Susan Story-- turned him down, he turned to Carroll. Her short tenure at Lt. Governor was plagued with controversy, corruption-- and lesbian sex in the office. How could Floridians not remember who she is after that, right? And it gets even more noteworthy (not to mention that her son, Nolan Carroll is a defensive back for the Miami Dolphins. Jennifer resigned last Tuesday, March 12, a party to a federal gambling racketeering case. "[H]er tenure as lieutenant governor," wrote the NY Times, "has been marred by scandal and poor judgment, and Ms. Carroll was increasingly viewed as an embarrassment to the man who chose her for the job. Gov. Rick Scott. He remains unpopular in the state and is expected to face a tough re-election battle."
In a news release she put out late Wednesday, Ms. Carroll said she would fully cooperate with the federal and state agencies investigating the sweepstakes company, which ran a quasi-gambling operation. She said the company, Allied Veterans of the World, had been a client of the public relations firm she co-owned before her appointment. She filmed an advertisement promoting Allied Veterans as a Florida House member.

...The resignation came the same day Ms. Carroll was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Investigators questioned her about her former association with Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida nonprofit that operates dozens of Internet “sweepstakes” cafes in the state. Ms. Carroll once co-owned a public relations company that represented Allied Veterans, although her firm stopped conducting business after she became lieutenant governor.

Ms. Carroll, a former Navy lieutenant commander, has not been charged with a crime and it is unclear whether she is being investigated.

Sweepstakes cafes operate in a legal gray zone, allowing customers to buy Internet or phone cards that allow them to play games that resemble slots or video poker. They have been called “convenience casinos.”

Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general, announced Wednesday that law enforcement officials had issued nearly 60 arrest warrants for people in Florida and several other states on charges of racketeering, illegal gambling and money laundering, among others.

Operating under the guise of a charitable organization for veterans, Allied Veterans of the World leaders were running a $300-million illegal gambling scheme, Ms. Bondi said at a news conference. The company lied about how much of the proceeds from these cafes were donated to charities affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The company grossed $290 million, an affidavit said, but donated only $6 million.

...In 2010, Ms. Carroll’s association with the company briefly came under scrutiny when she introduced a bill to legalize sweepstakes games. She withdrew the bill, saying it was filed by mistake by an aide, according to the Florida Times-Union. The Legislature is considering banning the 1,000 sweepstakes cafes, which do $1 billion of business a year. They operate under a loophole in Florida gambling laws.

Last year, Ms. Carroll was forced to defend herself after a former aide said in a court filing that she had caught the lieutenant governor in a compromising position with another female aide. Ms. Carroll, who is married and has three children, inflamed the scandal by saying, “Black women who look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.” She later apologized.
The corruption level is so high inside the Florida Republican Party that many worry that the myriad scandals that defeated Congressman David Rivera will destroy the career of his closest friend, former roommate and reputed co-conspirator in years of Tallahassee criminal enterprises, Marco Rubio. Many would rather blame the stench of Florida politics in general for the scandal than Carroll herself.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's career is ruined, thanks to her ties to an unsavory gambling company whose interests she promoted while a state representative.

Sadly, such entanglements are not unusual for lawmakers, who are quick to push the agenda of moneyed interests.

Granted, most of those interests are not involved in the multi-state criminal enterprise that the Internet sweepstakes cafes company Allied Veterans of the World is accused of conducting.

Carroll resigned Wednesday as law enforcement officials executed 57 arrest warrants following an investigation that concluded the cafes were illegal gambling centers that generated more than $300 million.

Attorney General Pam Bondi called it shameful that the company that claimed to be raising funds for veterans contributed only 2 percent of its revenues to charities.

It appears more charges are to come, and investigators did not rule out the possibility elected officials could be targeted.

Perhaps this will cause some heads to turn in Tallahassee, where policy too often is based on who's giving what to whom, not on what's best for the people of Florida.

It underscores the importance of having teeth in ethics and campaign reform bills being considered this session.

But more important than tough laws are good judgment and integrity.

Carroll, it seems, was particularly reckless in her connection to Allied Veterans. Her public relations firm represented the company while she served in the Legislature, and she once offered legislation legalizing the sweepstakes, which she later said was filed by mistake.

That didn't stop Gov. Rick Scott from picking the former Navy officer as his running mate in 2010. Carroll had her share of stumbles in office, and now her selection will be seen as another embarrassment for the governor.
The other side of Floridians not knowing who Jennifer Carroll even is, is the fact that Rick Scott is doing the best he can to cover up everything about the scandal that forced her to resign, a resignation he is rumored to have demanded. The editors of one of the biggest newspapers in the area she lived and served in, the Gainesville Sun demanded some sunshine from Scott. Her resignation "was 'the right decision,' Scott said, but voters need an explanation, not platitudes."
According to an Internal Revenue Service affidavit, "In an effort to mislead the public into believing that it is not profiting from an illegal gambling enterprise, Allied Veterans and others have engaged in a conspiracy and scheme to defraud."

As reported by The Associated Press: "Investigators found evidence of over $6 million in what appear to be charitable donations by Allied Veterans. That amount, however, was only about 2 percent of the over $290 million made from gambling operations during that time period. Instead of going to veterans, the vast majority of the money went to for-profit companies and the individuals who operated Allied Veterans and its so-called ‘affiliates.'"

"Callous" and "despicable" were the words Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi used to describe the Allied Veterans scheme.

Maybe Carroll was simply gullible. That's no crime-- but Floridians have higher expectations than that for their elected officials.
What people don't want to talk about is how the GOP used her-- as an African-American and as a woman-- to cover up their racist agenda and their role in the Republican War Against Women. She was, for example, the front for the GOP coverup of the Trayvon Martin "Stand Your Ground" murder. Worse yet, people are asking why it's considered legal in Florida for legislators and government officials to make massive amounts of money from private companies they promote as part of their official duties. Yesterday Kartik Krishnaiyer pointed out that Carroll’s resignation is just the latest example of the continued culture of cronyism and corruption in this state.
Florida Republicans have created a class of entitled politicians who lack intellectual curiosity or any governing wisdom. They are not conservatives as much as they are political whores for power and certain big business. They have lived for years on easy street being opposed by an impotent Florida Democratic Party that lacked organization or the courage in its own convictions to take the fight to the Republicans. The Democrats have benefited from these same tendencies in liberal southeast Florida, where it seems half the elected Democrats on the county level have been at one time or another linked to scandal.

...Lt Gov. Carroll’s resignation is an indication that consequences are now being suffered by those in power for excessive and potentially illegal behavior. The progressive movement throughout American history has focused on issues of graft, greed, cronyism and corruption. Florida Progressives should do the same. Regardless of party, corrupt government cannot be progressive government.

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