JACKSONVILLE — Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said today she had no idea law enforcement was investigating a veterans charity accused of running illegal slot machine-style casinos until two agents walked into her office last month.
She was taking photos with people in her office on March 12 when she was told the agents wanted to speak to her. When the agents walked out about 20 minutes later, Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff was waiting outside her office. He told her Scott wanted her to resign. She immediately said yes and called her husband to let him know.
“In my military time, when the commander in chief makes a demand or a request, you say ‘Aye, aye sir,’ and you march on. And that's what I did,” the retired Navy officer told The Associated Press in her first comments about the investigation. “I thought it would be better to remove myself from being a distraction.”
Carroll said the agents told her she wasn't under investigation and they asked about Allied Veterans, whose contract she severed when Scott asked her to be her running mate in 2010.
Carroll wanted to make clear she did nothing wrong. She said she was paid $6,000 a month to do public relations work for Allied Veterans and had nothing to do with the alleged gambling.
Nearly 60 people have been charged in the Allied Veterans case, accused of running a $300 million gambling ring. Investigators said Allied Veterans spent just 2 percent of its profits on veterans charities while its leaders spent millions on boats, real estate and sports cars.
Allied Veterans had about 50 so-called Internet cafes, which authorities said were actually small casinos. The stores sell customers time online at computer terminals that feature sweepstakes games that simulate slot machines.
Carroll said when she was in the Legislature, Allied Veterans never asked her to sponsor bills that would benefit the group. A bill was filed under her name that sought to regulate the storefronts Allied Veterans operated, but it was quickly pulled back.
“I did not file that bill, nor did I give permission to file that bill. My aide at the time was overzealous,” Carroll said. “Once she filed it, I shared with her that that was not my intent, that we needed to pull that bill.”
She said Scott was aware of the work when he asked her to be his running mate.
“This was part of my vetting,” she said. “Everything was on the table. My association with clients, my degrees, my time in the service, my time in the Legislature, all my bills, all my media press clips. All of that was discussed. So this wasn't anything that was new to anybody.”
She said Scott hasn't spoken to her since her resignation March 12, but she has stayed loyal and praised his work.
“You know what I'd tell him? Thanks for the opportunity for the wonderful job that he afforded me. He afforded me to make history, to show to many minorities and women that they too can reach high levels, they have to just be prepared when the door opens,” Carroll said.
She was the first woman elected to her position. While Toni Jennings also served as lieutenant governor, she was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush after Frank Brogan resigned to become president of Florida Atlantic University. Other than Supreme Court Justice Joseph Hatchett in 1976, no other African-American has been elected to a statewide position in Florida.
Carroll said she was fooled by Allied Veterans and thought they were doing legitimate work.
“I know how hard it is to serve, I know how veterans coming back how hard it is for them to get the level of support they need, and for any organization to use the name of veterans to acquire wealth and not do their intended mission and stated purpose … I take offense to that,” Carroll said.
The resignation was not the first time Carroll, who is known for speaking her mind, has followed orders. She said there were several times when she was the subject of negative news stories when the governor's office told her to keep quiet.
Carroll became embroiled in a short-lived scandal last year when a fired staffer claimed that she walked in on Carroll and a female aide in a compromising position. Carroll denied that.
“While I was in office, I was not allowed to respond to any media attacks. I couldn't give interviews, I couldn't send out a press release, I couldn't respond to it — just let it die away,” she said, adding that she felt that not responding created a perception something was wrong. “It was very frustrating, but again, I'm a team player. So therefore, if this is a directive, then I follow the directive.”
While some people have suggested she challenge Scott in a primary next year, she said that won't happen. But she might run for office again.
“I still have a lot more to offer — my skills, my knowledge, my talents, my passion particularly for helping people,” she said.