Disgraced former state Sen. Jack Latvala will not be charged with a crime after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Leon County state attorney concluded there is not enough evidence to support a female lobbyist's contention that Latvala traded votes for sexual favors.
"The law and facts established were reviewed by a team of our senior prosecutors," State Attorney Jack Campbell reported in a letter Thursday to FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick. "We agree with FDLE's conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Latvala was unlawfully compensated or rewarded for his official behavior as a Florida senator. Since criminal charges are not warranted, this office will take no further action on the matter."
Latvala gave a statement to the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald: "I'm appreciative of serious law enforcement people who put political considerations aside to look at the law. They drew a conclusion based on the facts and the law, as opposed to the kangaroo court the Senate put forth."
Latvala identified the Senate's kangaroo court as Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart; Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers; and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
Negron released a statement, too -- as soon as he'd seen Campbell’s letter.
“In December, following the process specifically outlined in the Senate Rules unanimously approved by the membership, the Senate implemented Judge Swanson’s recommendation that certain testimony in his Special Master Report be referred to law enforcement for further investigation," he said. "On behalf of the Senate, I thank the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney Jack Campbell for their fair, thorough, and independent investigation.”
Latvala, 66, once one of the most powerful politicians in Tallahassee, resigned his 16th District Senate seat in December while seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. His resignation followed the release of a harrowing report from Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson which indicated he could have promised legislative votes in exchange for sex.
The report detailed text messages between Latvala and an unnamed woman, who later came forward and identified herself as Laura McLeod.
Swanson, a retired senior judge, concluded text messages seemed to indicate Latvala was willing to exchange votes for legislative priorities in exchange for allowing him to touch McLeod in a sexual manner, raising questions about possible ethics violations and public corruption while Latvala was in office.
The allegations had spread further just months before the special master’s report, after Latvala was accused by six different women in a POLITICO Florida article of making inappropriate comments and groping them.
“He reached around the far side of my body and just started grabbing,” recalled one staffer referring to an elevator encounter with Latvala. “His hand went around my back and grabbed me around my lower frontal abdomen and then wandered. He touched the underside of my breast on that side.
“I jumped and might have said something like ‘whoa,’ but before I could react any further, the elevator ride was over,” she continued.
The 2018 Legislature spent many long hours hashing over sexual harassment but failed to pass a law criminalizing it.
Though Latvala kept a low profile during the six-month FDLE investigation, he reportedly still has considerable power by virtue of the Florida Leadership Committee, the political committee he controls. It still holds $3.2 million in cash.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith