By Aaron Deslatte, Amy Pavuk and Rene Stutzman
After a tumultuous two years, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has resigned in the wake of a federal probe into a company she represented with ties to Internet cafes.
"Effective immediately, I hereby resign the Office of Lieutenant Governor of the State of Florida. It has been an honor to have served the State of Florida in this capacity," her two-sentence letter dated Tuesday states.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers interviewed Carroll two days ago about her ties to Allied Veterans of the World, company that runs Internet cafes. On Tuesday, federal law enforcement arrested officials from the company along with a Jacksonville, Fla., police union chief on racketeering charges.
The non-profit held itself out to be a charity for veterans that was associated with the Veterans Administration and oversaw dozens of store-front "electronic sweepstakes" centers that it called "fund-raising centers," according to a federal search warrant affidavit, prepared by an Internal Revenue agent.
"In fact, the 'fundraising centers' were nothing more than internet casinos that operated slot machines in violation of Florida's gambling laws," the affidavit said.
That amounted to "a conspiracy and scheme to defraud the public and governmental agencies," the affidavit said.
The company grossed $290 million between 2007 and 2012, the affidavit said, but only donated $6 million to charity.
Gov. Rick Scott's office is not expected to name a replacement for Carroll until after the 60-day legislative session ends in May. One candidate on Scott's short list in 2010, state Sen. Anitere Flores of Maimi, declined to comment on her interest. "Rather not right now. Jennifer is a good friend," she said after a Capitol committee hearing.
An email from Florida Chamber of Commerce political director Marian Johnson to other lobbyists noted the "widespread speculation on who the new LT. Governor might be."
"For some time, Miami Senator Anitere Flores has been discussed as a future statewide candidate," she wrote. "Is this the time that Senator Flores will rise to the top of the list?"
Other Republicans said the opening was a good chance for Scott to shore up support by tapping a Hispanic replacement. Scott "has a chance to pick, frankly, someone who he thinks can help with the campaign," said state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
Carroll, a former Jacksonville state legislator, was Florida's first African-American lieutenant governor. Her Jacksonville public relations firm, 3N and JC, did work for Allied in 2009 and 2010.
In Tallahassee, Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, issued this statement Wednesday morning:
"Individuals were arrested (Tuesday) for racketeering and money laundering charges in connection with Allied Veterans of the World's illegal gambling companies.
"Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll consulted for Allied Veterans while serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010. She was interviewed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers (Tuesday) regarding her work with the company. Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned in an effort to keep her former affiliation with the company from distracting from the administration's important work on behalf of Florida families. She made the right decision for the state and her family."
Carroll, 53, is a former Navy officer elected to her Jacksonville-area Florida House seat in 2003, where she stayed until Scott tapped her as his running mate in 2010. As part of the job, she chaired Space Florida, the economic-development agency that promotes space.
But she has been a cause for controversy before during Scott's term.
In 2011, the Florida Times-Union reported she had used false documents to qualify for a Jacksonville minority-owned grant program for her firm. Last year, her aide, Carletha Cole, was charged with giving a Times-Union reporter a recording of her conversation with her chief-of-staff. In court filings, Cole accused Carroll of having an inappropriate relationship with another female employee, prompting Carroll to make a controversial remark to a TV reporter that "black women that look like me" aren't lesbians.
Authorities were tight-tipped about a news conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and the investigation. Those who are slated to attend the briefing include Attorney General Pam Bondi, FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, U.S. Attorney Bobby O'Neill, and representatives from the U.S. Secret Service, the IRS, and multiple local law-enforcement agencies.
Allied Veterans of the World sued Seminole County over its ban on the so-called Internet cafes, which offer cash and prizes through computerized games that simulate devices found in casinos like slot machines.
Last year, a federal appeals court ruled Seminole County could continue its ban, and Allied Veterans has since dropped its opposition.
The group said it sold one of its strip-mall casinos in the Apopka, Fla., area on State Road 436, but the federal affadavit said it continued to send money to Allied Veterans.
No one answered the phone this morning at that location.
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