ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering just before jury selection in his criminal trial got under way.
Jury selection was set to begin Monday, but neither Greer nor prosecutors appeared in the courtroom. The only sign of Greer's presence in the Orange County Courthouse were his wife and infant daughter.
Greer had earlier pleaded not guilty to allegations that he funneled almost $200,000 of party money into a company he had formed with his right-hand man.
Greer said party leaders were aware of the company and that his prosecution is political payback. Sentencing is March 27 and he faces up to 35 years in prison.
Greer didn't say anything to WFTV as he walked out of court. His attorney said it was in the best interest of his family that he accepts the plea deal.
“Once again, Mr. Greer is falling on the sword for a lot of people," said Greer’s lawyer.
The plea deal will keep high-profile politicians, including former Gov. Charlie Crist from taking the stand.
Greer said Crist knew about his private company and the money.
But an attorney for the Republican Party told Channel 9 it was happy to see Greer admit guilt and that it had had little to do with the plea deal.
Statement from RPOF Executive Director Mike Grissom:
"Today, Jim Greer, the man Charlie Crist personally picked to lead the Republican Party of Florida, admitted his guilt to five felony charges. For the past three years, Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from RPOF and our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes. Everything Jim Greer has said and done over these past few years should be considered in that light."