Florida law enforcement open criminal investigation into former Sen. Latvala

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State law-enforcement officials have found probable cause to open a criminal investigation into possible wrongdoing by former Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who announced his resignation last month amid a probe into allegations of possible public corruption.

After conducting a preliminary review, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has opened an “active investigation,” department spokeswoman Jessica Cary confirmed Friday. Cary would not provide details about the investigation.

The state agency launched the review after Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, a former judge, found that Latvala, a veteran politician who served as Senate budget chairman, may have broken state laws by promising legislative favors in exchange for sex.

Latvala announced his resignation Dec. 20, less than a day after Swanson’s report was released. In addition to the quid pro quo allegations, Swanson found probable cause to support allegations that Latvala had repeatedly groped Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers and engaged in a pattern of making unwelcome remarks about women's bodies.

Perrin Rogers set off the inquiry into Latvala —- who has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing —- by filing a complaint against him with the Senate Rules Committee.

The FDLE inquiry was based on Swanson's findings related to a former lobbyist, who was unnamed in the special master’s report but has since stepped forward and identified herself as Laura McLeod. McLeod is now an aide to state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

Swanson found that McLeod’s testimony and text-message exchanges between the senator and the former lobbyist indicated that Latvala may have violated ethics rules as well as “laws prohibiting public corruption” by agreeing to support the lobbyist's legislative priorities if she would have sex with him or “allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner.”

Swanson recommended that the allegations of the quid pro quo conduct “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

The Senate referred Swanson’s report to the Tallahassee Police Department, which then passed it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Latvala has admitted he had a lengthy relationship with McLeod, including for a brief period while he was married, but has denied any quid pro quo.

In an 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 last month.

In his letter resigning from the Senate, an unyielding Latvala —- painted as a vindictive bully by witnesses —- 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,” referring to the allegations of quid pro quo.

Latvala’s lawyers could not be reached early Friday evening.