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George LeMieux wanted GOP boss to stay; Brian Ballard wanted him gone, source tells Sunshine News

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Gov. Charlie Crist says he wasn’t aware of Jim Greer’s financial freelancing, but he apparently received plenty of input from two of his closest political advisers about the party boss.

As reports of Greer’s wheeling and dealing with Republican Party funds and credit cards began to surface in 2008 and 2009, the governor was lobbied hard by George LeMieux and Brian Ballard, according to a source familiar with the situation.

LeMieux urged Crist to keep Greer on board; Ballard advised Crist to cut him loose, the source said.

Crist sided with LeMieux, and Greer ultimately resigned amid a rising furor over his extravagant — and potentially criminal — use of party funds.

“LeMieux has serious problems because George was (Greer’s) protector,” said the source, a South Florida political operative who spoke on condition of anonymity.

LeMieux had served as Crist’s chief of staff until January 2008, when he returned to the law firm of Gunster Yoakley. On Aug. 28, 2009, Crist appointed him to fill the Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez — a seat that Crist is now seeking as a “no party affiliation” candidate.

Ballard is a partner at the firm of Smith, Ballard & Logan, and one of Florida’s most powerful lobbyists. He was chief of staff for former Gov. Bob Martinez and was Florida co-chairman for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.

A spokeswoman for LeMieux’s office in Washington, D.C., said, “Senator LeMieux had no knowledge of any fund-raising scheme involving Victory Strategies, Jim Greer or (former party executve director) Delmar Johnson and he would have objected to the scheme had he learned of it and called for Greer’s resignation.”

Ballard did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Still, questions over what they and the governor knew and when they knew it will inevitably arise as state prosecutors press their case against Greer.

The disgraced RPOF chairman, appointed by Crist, was arrested last week and charged with six felony counts of fraud, theft and money laundering.

Crist maintains that he knew nothing about Greer’s alleged misdealings, including the chairman’s Victory Strategies scheme, which reportedly siphoned $200,000 of party donations to himself and Johnson.

At one point, the governor called Greer’s indictment “surprising.”

As investigators delved into the Greer operation, party fund-raiser Meredith O’Rourke told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Greer approached her with a plan to “make even more money.” She said she rebuffed the overture.

Greer’s attorney, Damon Chase, said last week that “everyone” knew what the chairman was doing.

Whether “everyone” included Crist remains to be seen.

“Whatever Greer knows, it will be embarrassing,” the source said.

Another source, a GOP campaign consultant speaking on background, agreed the Greer spells trouble for the governor, but discounted the notion of a LeMieux-Ballard split.

Suggesting that Ballard would not have pushed hard for Greer’s removal, the Tallahassee-based operative said, “I think that’s a bit of revisionist history.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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