Two weeks ago, Sen. Jack Latvala vowed to fight charges of sexual harassment made against him by a group of women.
“Why should I quit, leave town, when I didn’t do it?” Latvala told a group of reporters.
Now, a special master appointed by the Senate has determined there’s probable cause suggesting Latvala did do it.
“Now that the special master report is complete and probable cause has been found, it is time for Senator Latvala to resign. Resigning is the best thing he can do now for his constituents, colleagues and the state,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
Retired judge Ronald V. Swanson, who conducted the investigation, determined Latvala should not only be sanctioned for making repeated inappropriate physical contact with a legislative aide, but also be investigated by law enforcement for allegedly exchanging legislative support for sexual favors, which is a violation of ethics rules and laws against public corruption.
Charges of quid pro quo — physical contact or sexual intimacy “in exchange for support of legislative initiatives” — were made by another witness other than Rachel Perrin Rogers, the legislative aide who filed a complaint against Latvala claiming he made inappropriate comments and groped her.
In his report, Swanson determined the claims of quid pro quo were “seemingly confirmed in text messages” from Latvala and “appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption.”
“The Special Master recommends these allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation,” Swanson wrote in his report. “An internal investigation pursuant to Senate Rules, referral to the Florida Commission on Ethics, and/or some other appropriate mechanism of investigation of the alleged ethics violations is also recommended.”
Latvala, who faces expulsion from the Senate, told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times he was stunned by the accusation.
“I just did not foresee this going down this way,” he said, speaking from his home in Clearwater. “None of my legal team foresaw this going down this way. I really thought we were in pretty good shape.”
He said he was incredulous at the reference to the possibility that he could face criminal prosecution for allegedly trading a sexual favor for a legislative action.
“I know who that is. She was not a Senate employee at that time but I thought was one of my best friends up there,” he said. “It’s somebody that I thought was a close friend of mine and it really takes me aback and again, I’ve got to go back and see if I can find cellphone messages of whatever to find out what she’s talking about.”
The Clearwater Republican told the Herald/Times he was not considering resigning, but expressed reservations about putting the Senate through what is sure to be a difficult process.
“I’ve got to figure out how much I’ve got to spend, and how much emotion I want to put in it, since I’m term limited, anyway,” he said. “I can fight this, and we can fight about it all session.” But, he added: “It kind of puts a damper on the whole Senate.”
The special master’s report was released to members of the Senate by President Joe Negron.
“The allegations in the complaint are of an extremely serious and sensitive nature,” Negron said in a memo.
Negron says the Rules Committee will meet to consider the matter on January 11. He says additional meetings may be scheduled, as needed.
“As a member of the Senate, you may ultimately be required to vote on matters related to the complaint, if presented to the full body,” Negron told senators. “For this reason and upon advice of counsel, all Senators should take the necessary precautions to maintain appropriate objectivity pending resolution of the complaint.”
One member of the Rules Committee says the report is “deeply disturbing and I find it very troubling,” Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, told the Times. He said Latvala should “strongly consider moving on.”
The special master’s report is one of two investigations into sexual harassment charges against Latvala that were ordered by Negron. The other investigation is being conducted by an independent outside counsel. They resulted from claims made by six anonymous women to Politico in early November. One of those women, Perrin Rogers, filed a complaint with the rules committee sparking the special master’s investigation. The outside counsel is looking into the claims of all six women.
“The independent investigation is ongoing,” said Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.
Latvala has denied ever touching anyone inappropriately, although he says he may have made lewd comments.
Perrin Rogers, a top aide in the Senate Majority Office, claims she was the subject of sexual harassment over the past four years. She says not only did Latvala make inappropriate comments to her, but she said he also groped her while in a Capitol elevator and at a Tallahassee bar.
Her attorney says they will continue to pursue all options against Latvala.
“We continue to review next steps, including civil litigation, in a courtroom, where we can present a case with the full weight of legal protections for my client,” said attorney Tiffany Cruz. “In the meantime, we ask the leadership of the Florida Senate to immediately initiate a process to expel Senator Latvala for failing to follow the law and bringing dishonor to the Legislature of this great state.”