Testimony on Rubio and American Express Misuse

Two years ago, questions began surfacing over whether or not U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio misused an American Express that was given to him by the state. These questions were raised when Rubio was discovered to have used his Amex to buy groceries, make repairs to his personal vehicle and to buy booze – and all of these charges occurred during his rein as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

While it was a big brouhaha in early 2010, many had forgotten that there had been no resolution – until now. And it’s coming back in a major way.

Past Meets Present

As another political scandal hits the courtroom, the Rubio mischarging was brought up again. Former Governor Charlie Crist found himself on the witness stand this week, he was asked whether he ordered a fellow politician, Jim Greer, who’s facing prison time, to leak the charges on Marco Rubio’s American Express to the St. Petersburg Times. Damon Chase was the Florida attorney asking the tough questions. Crist, in a vague manner in which he’s adopted during the investigation, answered simply,

It’s possible.

He was then asked if he refused to interview a candidate to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Mel Martinez, and then changed his mind and gave him the job only after Martinez agreed to not seek re-election. Crist admitted to that refusal to interview. Greer, who is being charged criminally for fraud, money laundering and four counts of theft. Prosecutors on the case say that in 2009, Greer set up a company, Victory Strategies LLC, and then promptly hid his part of the ownership, which was sixty percent.

Rubio, in the meantime, has long since copped to the credit card charges. In fact, when the questions were asked, he promptly provided proof that he paid for all personal expenses billed to the American Express card given to him by the Republican party to use from 2005 to 2008, when he left public office. The rest of the charges, he said then, were legitimate party expenses.

Breaking it Down

At that time, the expenses were detailed and included a $1,000 charge at a car dealership in Miami for repairs to the family car in January 2008. He explained that the family minivan had been damaged by parking attendants at a political function and that the Republican party agreed to cover half of his insurance deductible. There was also an expense of $2,976, paid by the party, for him to rent a car in Miami for five weeks while the vehicle was being repaired. He insisted then that he was acting within the law for those charges and that he was even given permission to put personal expenses on the card. He said his monthly bill was reviewed each month.

He said during those weeks following the accusations,

I was as diligent as possible to ensure the party did not pay for items that were unrelated to party business,

Rubio said in a written statement.

There was no formal process provided by the party regarding personal charges.

Turns out, though, the Republican party disputed his claims. A spokesperson for the party said that the card was not supposed to be used for personal expenses.

The RPOF American Express card is a corporate card and is meant to be used for business expenses only.

Not only that, but IRS rules for political parties, which are tax-exempt, require that their donations go exclusively toward influencing elections.

Still, Rubio presented his proof that he repaid close to $14,000 to American Express for all of his personal charges during his time as House speaker. That said, the payments weren’t made monthly and for six months, he made no effort at all to repay those personal expenses.

In 2008 alone, the GOP paid $1.8 million in American Express charges, state records show. More than $100,000 was spent on Rubio’s card from November 2006 to November 2008.

Not All Issued Amex

It should be noted that not all lawmakers in Florida were given credit cards. Then, revelations that former chairman Jim Greer and executive director Delmar Johnson charged chartered planes and costly meals to their respective cards sparked public outcry. Before long, Rubio sent a letter to State Senator John Thrasher, who’d said he would order an audit to ensure no further illegal activity had taken place. The letter included accusations that Thrasher (who was his rival in a recent political race) along with Charlie Crist, had purposely leaked the credit card documents.

That brings to the court drama this week. Jim Greer is being accused of funneling $125,000 in party money into personal bank accounts. Greer insists he’s done nothing wrong and that the funds were “legitimately earned fund-raising commissions”.

Crist had already been deposed and he was said to have been both forgetful and cautious. He is said to have testified he had no idea of what Greer was doing, including keeping cash donations. Chase then cited two statements made by witnesses who testified that they were both parties to conversations between Crist and Greer about a role in the fundraising efforts. Crist said he didn’t believe the testimony from the two men,

It did not happen.

As this latest scandal plays out, there are still those who say they never got the answers they were looking for from Rubio. There were several charges that were covered by the political party, but that some say are too suspicious, including charges to liquor stores and electronics stores. Worse, Rubio couldn’t provide adequate explanations and actually threw his staff members under the train.

Rubio, at that time, said he tried to pay all his personal expenses, but it was discovered some were paid by the party anyway. He also booked plane tickets for is wife using the American Express. No one knows for sure who actually used those tickets – especially considering on some of those trips, she wasn’t with him.

My wife was the first lady of the Florida House of Representatives, and it is absolutely appropriate for her to accompany me to official events and party functions,

Rubio said.

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