After Judge Concludes Doughnut-Obsessed GOP Governor Candidate Groped Aide, Tried to Trade Sex for Votes, He Resigns UPDATED

After Judge Concludes Doughnut-Obsessed GOP Governor Candidate Groped Aide, Tried to Trade Sex for Votes, He Resigns UPDATED
Update: Sen. Jack Latvala resigned Wednesday afternoon, saying in a letter, "I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate," the Tampa Bay Times reported.

It was early morning in the Florida Capitol, and Sen. Jack Latvala — among the most powerful men in the Senate — was furious. He wanted doughnuts, and there were no doughnuts to be found. He was so angry he berated a junior staffer for the Senate majority leader, who then called in Rachel Perrin Rogers, a high-ranking aide.

“I’m very sorry about the doughnut situation," she told the fuming senator. "We’ll see what we can do about that."

Latvala thanked her and then, as she walked out the door, groped her midsection.

That doughnut assault is among the many awful moments described in a damning independent report released last night by Judge Ronald Swanson, who found probable cause that Latvala had repeatedly inappropriately touched and made lewd comments to Perrin Rogers. Swanson also spoke to another woman — the seventh who has now accused Latvala of inappropriate behavior — who provided texts showing Latvala suggesting he'd trade his vote in exchange for sex with her. The judge recommended a criminal probe into the senator.

The report is almost sure to torpedo Latvala's campaign for governor and reads like a sizzling rebuke to both Latvala, who has spent the past two months calling his accusers liars and dragging Perrin Rogers' name through the mud, and his enablers in the press, most notably the Sun Sentinel editorial board.

"The evidence demonstrated a progression in conduct, over time from unwelcome comments and nonverbal behavior to unwelcome touching," Swanson writes in his 33-page report based on 19 sworn statements from staffers and lobbyists.

Latvala has angrily denied the accusations since Politico dropped a hammer on him November 3 in a report that cited six anonymous women who said the Clearwater Republican had repeatedly harassed and groped them at work. On November 29, Perrin Rogers — a 35-year-old aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson, the majority leader — came out publicly as one of the accusers after Latvala outed her to the media.

The senator's defense has been straight out of the Bad Man playbook from day one. He falsely claimed Perrin Rogers had political motivation to slime him because her husband was working for his opponents running for governor. And then he released a spate of text messages that seemed to show an amiable relationship between himself and Perrin Rogers.

His allies in the media leaped on the texts, as Latvala tried to portray himself as the victim of a political witch hunt. Even as he tempered his attacks, the gist was clear: Perrin Rogers was a liar trying to help her husband, political consultant Brian Hughes.

“Coincidentally, of all the female Senate employees, this one happens to be the wife of a political consultant working for one of the other governor’s campaigns. That’s just a big coincidence, I’m sure,” Latvala told Bay News 9.

Swanson's report utterly lays waste to that defense. Multiple witnesses corroborated the woman's stories, including an emotional night when she resigned from her Senate job after a run-in with Latvala at a Tallahassee bar.

And the new accusers' claims, backed up by text messages, add gasoline to the fire. The woman, a Senate staffer and former lobbyist, said Latvala basically groped her under her dresses every time she went to his office.

“Ms. [name withheld]... testified that Senator Latvala expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying,” Swanson writes, noting that the woman provided explicit texts to back up that claim.

Plenty of Latvala's backers have hard questions to answer this morning in light of the report, including the Sun Sentinel's Rosemary O'Hara, who penned a long column last week headlined "I Want Answers Before Calling for Sen. Jack Latvala’s Scalp."

O'Hara carefully couched her piece as a "Hey, just let the process play out" appeal, but she implicitly suggests that Perrin Rogers is lying and that her husband indeed has a political axe to grind with Latvala. She wonders if Perrin Rogers went to her boss, Senator Simpson, before calling Politico and says she's eager to read Swanson's report.

Well, the report is here. Swanson found that, in fact, Perrin Rogers did tell Simpson. And he found that the bulk of her accusations are credible enough to warrant a criminal probe into Latvala.

Calls for Latvala to resign have grown louder since last night. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, says Latvala should step down, and so does state Sen. Dana Young.

O'Hara has her answers. Will she call for Latvala's scalp now?
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink