Former Aide to Fla. Lt. Gov. Wants Arson Probe
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A former aide who has raised a series of misconduct allegations against Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll now wants the state fire marshal's office or federal authorities to investigate a trash can blaze in her office last year.
A lawyer for Carletha Cole on Monday released a copy of a letter seeking an investigation of what they say was an act of arson although another state agency decided it was an accident.
Carroll, meanwhile, continued to deny Cole's allegations, including a claim that she saw the lieutenant governor in a "compromising position" with another aide, Beatriz Ramos, in Carroll's Capitol office.
In an interview with 10 News in the Tampa Bay area, Carroll says that black women who look like her "don't engage in relationships like that."
Cole, who was arrested last October on charges of illegally taping a conversation with the Republican lieutenant governor's chief of staff, contends Ramos set her trash can on fire after they had an argument.
The letter alleges a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator destroyed the evidence - an extinguished cigar and used match - upon concluding the fire was an accident before he interviewed any witnesses, which FDLE denies.
Cole's lawyer, Steven Andrews, also cites a letter allegedly signed by Carroll that recommends FDLE investigator John Hamilton for a job with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages a day after he closed the investigation. The blaze was quickly put out by another staffer.
Cole, who was fired from her job as a senior program analyst last September about a month before she was arrested, also contends Ramos, a special assistant to the lieutenant governor, was living at Carroll's home. Cole claims that at one point she was ordered to find adjoining hotel rooms for Carroll and Ramos when they traveled.
The allegations came in court papers Cole's lawyers filed in response to attempts by prosecutors to seal evidence in the taping case.
Carroll, a former Navy officer and a married mother of three, last week told The Associated Press the allegations are "totally false and absurd" and an effort by Cole to get her criminal charges dropped.
"Unfortunately, as an elected official character deformation that is totally fabricated can occur like this and there is not much I can do," Carroll responded to a couple who sent her an email expressing their support.
Alexis Lambert, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who oversees the fire marshal's office, said the letter dated Saturday was being reviewed.
Gov. Rick Scott's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger denied Hamilton destroyed the evidence before speaking with Ramos, who said she accidentally set the trash can on fire. Ramos told him someone had given her the cigar at a St. Patrick's Day party near the Capitol on March 17, 2011, and that she took a couple puffs and wrapped it in a paper towel. She said she later put in Cole's trash can.
"With the responsible party stepping forward and absent any other evidence or suspicious circumstances we found her statement to be credible and determined this to be an accident," Plessinger said. "However, if there is a witness with additional information, we encourage them to come forward."
Andrews wrote that if the fire marshal's office does not indicate it will investigate by the close of business Tuesday, he would take the case to the U.S. attorney's office.
The letter also asks that Carroll and Ramos be requested to voluntarily take polygraph examinations administered by the FBI. It also suggests that Scott instruct state employees not to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and that he promise no retaliation be taken for speaking freely to investigators.
Another request is that Hamilton be asked whether he had advised his supervisor that he obtained the letter of recommendation from Carroll after closing the case.
Cole is accused of giving the recording to a reporter for the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville. It is a crime in Florida to record a conversation without the knowledge of those being recorded although there's a legal question about recordings made in public buildings. The maximum penalty is five years in prison.
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