TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Saying he has “had enough,” embattled state Sen. Jack Latvala resigned Wednesday, less than a day after a special master recommended a criminal probe into allegations that the Clearwater Republican had promised legislative favors for sex.
Latvala’s resignation came after increasing pressure — including from Gov. Rick Scott — for the veteran lawmaker to step down following the release of a report Tuesday that found probable cause to support allegations that the senator had repeatedly groped a Senate aide and engaged in a pattern of making unwelcome remarks about women’s bodies.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling a preliminary inquiry into allegations of possible public corruption, spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed Wednesday.
Throughout more than a month of investigations into Latvala’s alleged sexual harassment, and continuing on the heels of Tuesday’s damaging special master’s report, the senator steadfastly maintained his innocence.
As late as Tuesday night, Latvala posted on his Facebook page that he would return to Tallahassee after Christmas to meet with his legal team and decide his future.
But Wednesday afternoon, the 66-year-old, who made a fortune in the direct-mail business and announced in August that he would run for governor in 2018, sent a letter to Senate President Joe Negron announcing he would quit the Senate on Jan. 5, four days before the annual legislative session begins.
“I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate,” Latvala wrote.
A defiant Latvala continued to blame political foes for his downfall and assert his innocence in the resignation letter.
“Our nation has been caught up in a movement to shine a spotlight on behavior that dishonors women,” Latvala wrote, adding that he has spent his “entire career helping women advance in public service.”
But, he wrote, “my political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”
Latvala “made the right decision,” Negron said in a statement.
“At all times during this investigation, the Senate has afforded all parties the full and fair opportunity to be heard. The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind against any employee or visitor. The allegations in this complaint, and the resulting special master’s report, describe behavior that violates the public trust,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, the chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, filed a complaint against Latvala with the Rules Committee last month, accusing him of repeatedly groping her and “assaulting” her on an elevator.
The Senate hired former appellate judge Ronald Swanson to serve as special master to investigate her complaint, while a private lawyer was hired to conduct a separate probe into sexual harassment allegations against Latvala by six unidentified women, including Perrin Rogers, cited in a Politico Florida report in early November.
Latvala — a churlish and sometimes crass curmudgeon — is in his 16th year in the Senate and has been a political player for four decades. He returned to the Senate in 2010 after an earlier stint that ended because of term limits.
But his political fortunes quickly plummeted in the aftermath of the revelations. Just weeks ago, he held the powerful title of Senate appropriations chairman, a post he lost after the allegations were made public.
The scandal intensified — with lawyers on both sides hurling accusations of intimidation, Perrin Rogers hiring a security guard to protect her in the Capitol, and her attorney asking for a special prosecutor — after the Senate aide filed the complaint.
Perrin Rogers accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, Republican political consultant Brian Hughes. She stepped forward and identified herself as one of the women in the Politico story, blaming Latvala for effectively “outing” her to the media.
In a lengthy interview with The News Service of Florida on Nov. 9, Latvala insisted he never groped Perrin Rogers or any other women during his time in the Senate but admitted his remarks may have been out of line.
“Do I let my mouth overload my good sense every now and then and maybe say, `You’re looking good today? You’ve lost weight? You’re looking hot today?’ Yeah. But I haven’t touched anybody against their will,” he said. Swanson referred to the interview in the 35-page report issued Tuesday.
In his resignation letter, an unrepentant Latvala said that, as a husband, father and grandfather, he has “been steadfast in my efforts to promote” women professionally but acknowledged “perhaps I haven’t kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”
Along with finding probable cause that Latvala had sexually harassed Perrin Rogers, Swanson also focused on testimony of an unidentified woman who worked as a lobbyist. Swanson found that the testimony and text-message exchanges between the senator and the woman appear to indicate that Latvala had violated ethics rules and may have violated “laws prohibiting public corruption” because of allegations that he offered support for legislation in exchange for sexual acts.
The allegations of the quid pro quo conduct should “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation,” Swanson recommended.
The Senate referred the report to the Tallahassee Police Department, which then passed it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to Plessinger.
The investigation could eventually be referred to state and/or federal prosecutors, according to numerous sources.
In his resignation letter, Latvala insisted that he is innocent and blamed the special master for siding with his accuser. He also complained that Swanson introduced “an entirely new issue into the process that I had no ability to challenge or rebut.”
“But I have had enough. If this is the process our party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you. I, therefore, will resign my seat in the Florida Senate at midnight, January 5, 2018,” he wrote.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to take over as Senate president after next year’s elections, called Latvala’s resignation “appropriate and timely, given the seriousness of the allegations and the report that came out this week.”
Galvano said he was “hopeful that this will allow us to focus more clearly on the work of the people that the Senate must conduct.”
Latvala’s political demise is set against a national trend affecting boardrooms, statehouses and the entertainment industry, as dozens of men have stepped down from powerful positions in the wake of sexual harassment claims against them.
In a social media post, Simpson hailed “the bravery” of his aide Perrin Rogers and others as “an example to all in the process.”
“They deserve honor for their unwavering strength and courage in the face of fear and intimidation. May their actions also serve as a siren to men who seek to harass women. It must stop,” Simpson, R-Trilby, tweeted shortly after Latvala’s resignation was announced.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”