The woman whose testimony helped lead to the resignation of former state Sen. Jack Latvala has come forward to publicly tell her story regarding claims of misconduct and sexual harassment against Latvala.
Speaking to the Miami Herald for a story published Tuesday morning, longtime lobbyist Laura McLeod, 59, said she did not intend to speak out initially because she saw herself as “a flawed messenger.” Twenty years ago when, when Latvala first served in the Senate, McLeod said she and Latvala had a consensual, sexual affair. They were both in marriages, although McLeod was in the middle of a bitter divorce. She said the affair lasted about three years and that when it did, she and Latvala remained friends.
Latvala, 66, returned to the Senate in 2010, but McLeod said it wasn’t until he chaired Senate committees that held power over McLeod’s clients that he pursued her for sex. She said it began in January 2015 and lasted until April of last year,
McLeod was the executive director and lobbyist for the non-profit Florida Association of DUI Programs. Latvala became chair of one of the key committees of jurisdiction for her client’s issues: the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development. She says he asked her to have “one more time for the good times.”
The Herald reported:
When the text messages from Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala would appear on lobbyist Laura McLeod’s cell phone, her heart would race, her eyes would tear up, and she’d be overcome with a familiar, nauseous feeling and the thought: “Why won’t this stop?”
“You looked good in committee. I woke up wanting you,” Latvala wrote in a text message in March 2015. “No panties Friday,” he wrote another day.
It was back in early November that Latvala first became the target of sexual harassment charges by six anonymous women who claimed that the Clearwater Republican had made lewd comments and/or touched them inappropriately.
One of those women, Rachel Perrin Rogers, filed an official complaint against Latvala with the Senate Rules Committee. She decided to go public with her story after she said Latvala and his defense team tried to intimidate her and leak her identity to reporters.
The Senate hired an independent counsel and special master to conduct two separate investigations into the charges against Latvala. Just before the holidays, the special master, retired judge Ronald Swanson, released his report concluding that there was enough evidence to suggest probable cause existed that Latvala had violated misconduct rules in the Senate by committing sexual harassment.
In a surprise finding, Swanson also determined that Latvala may have violated public corruption laws by seeking sexual favors in exchange for his support of legislation. That finding, we now know, is the result of McLeod’s testimony.
At the suggestion of Swanson, the Senate has turned information from the case over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which is conducting what it calls a “preliminary review” of the matter.
Latvala, who resigned shortly after the special master’s report was released denies the claims against him. In response to the latest claims against him, Latvala sent the following text message to the Herald regarding his relationship with McLeod:
“It did not affect my service to the people of Florida in any way and I understand that Ms. McLeod acknowledged that she never felt any pressure on legislative issues, contrary to the implications of the Special Master’s report. In spite of Senate Rule 1.43(b) he introduced this issue in his report on a different complaint without any notification to me or giving me any opportunity to defend myself. I reiterate today that I did not do what was charged in the original Rules complaint and but for this last minute additional charge I would still be fighting that issue in the Senate today.”
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