When then-gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott selected Jennifer Carroll as his running-mate in 2010, it seemed like a stroke of genius. Carroll, 53, ticked a number of boxes that were missing for Scott, and for the Republican Party.
As a woman, an African-American, and an immigrant (she was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad), Carroll allowed Scott to tout the diversity of his potential administration. Her immigrant status also provided Scott cover, as he both supported Arizona’s controversial law allowing law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of people questioned for other potential offenses, such as traffic stops, and for his and the tea party’s push for a similar law in the Sunshine State.
Further, Carroll, who was a member of the 2012 class of theGrio’s 100, was a 20-year Navy veteran (she enlisted in 1979, according to her official bio), which presented a positive image for Scott, whose former company, Columbia/HCA hospital chain, had settled a record Medicare fraud claim with the federal government during the 1990s. Carroll was a family-values candidate, a rare black “Reagan conservative,” with a son who was a star football player at the University of Miami. She was classic story of an immigrant who made good — the former owner of a Green Cove Springs hair salon, then called Great Clips, who rose first to the state house, and then to the second highest office in Florida.
Now, with Scott facing re-election amid record low approval ratings, Carroll is proving to be more of a liability than an asset. She resigned Wednesday, two days after being questioned by Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials as part of an expansive federal probe into Allied Veterans of the World — an ostensibly charitable organization based in Jacksonville, which authorities allege defrauded veterans to enrich a small group of people involved in the alleged scheme. Allied Veterans operated a string of “internet cafes” — facilities where patrons can play “sweepstakes”-style games using online terminals also capable of accessing the Internet.
The gaming centers, several of which were raided and shut down by law enforcement officers this week, fall under a murky area of Florida law, and the city of Jacksonville, along with some members of the state House, have sought to ban them outright. When she was a member of the House, Carroll sent a bill to the floor that would have legalized the operations, but the legislation was withdrawn after Carroll admitted to an apparent conflict of interest — her consulting firm, 3M-JC, had Allied Veterans as a client. Federal authorities, including the IRS and the Secret Service, have been probing the group across 6 states including Florida, and have so far issued 57 arrest warrants in the case.
In 2010, Carroll recorded a TV PSA for Allied Veterans of the World, which took in some $290 million over five years from the Internet gaming cafe operations, while donating just 2 percent of the proceeds to charity. On Wednesday, five people connected with the organization, including Nelson Cuba, the head of the Jacksonville Police Benevolent Association, his first vice president, Jerry Bass, the commander Allied Veterans, and Kelly Mathis, an attorney who represented the organization and the alleged mastermind, were indicted on federal racketeering charges and accused of excessively profiting from the business, including money that went to the principals, and the purchase of real estate and other amenities. It is not clear how much money the organization paid Carroll’s firm, and authorities have not stated what her alleged involvement in the investigation might be.
A source close to Carroll’s family tells theGrio the family fears she will be indicted too, however, and they are consulting with attorneys and bracing for the worst.
It’s a jarring end to what had already been an increasingly rocky tenure for Carroll.
Almost from the start, members of her inner circle complained that Scott’s office was freezing her out, under-utilizing Carroll, and even taping conversations between the two offices using a “magic pen” that doubled as a recording device. Last year, a dispute over Carroll’s attempt to set up her own website, separate from the governor’s, spilled into the press, as a member of Carroll’s staff emailed one of the audiotaped conversations to the Florida Times-Union newspaper. That staffer, Carletha Cole, was charged with a crime for leaking the tapes, after which she leveled scandalous charges of her own: that Carroll had engaged in a sexual affair with a female staffer, including an encounter in the office, which Cole claims she walked in on.
Carroll vigorously denied the allegations, and in the process, angered LGBT advocates in the state by declaring that black women who “look like” her don’t engage in lesbian relationships. Carroll ultimately apologized for the comments, after first standing by her statements.
Last July, Carroll’s brother-in-law, Edward Beckles, was indicted as part of a federal takedown of a place-based “pill mill” operation. Beckles was accused of providing Oxycodone pills to two drug rings operating between Florida and Kentucky, and was even accused of trading pills for sexual favors. Carroll denied any knowledge of her brother-in-law’s business practices.
Last spring, Gov. Scott named Carroll, a lifetime NRA member, to lead a task force charged with reviewing Florida’s gun laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, and subsequent controversy over the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Gun control activists were disappointed by the task force, which disbanded last month, making no recommendations for changes to the law.