The woman accusing Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll of inappropriate behavior has turned down a plea deal on charges of illegally distributing a recording, and Channel 4 has learned the prosecutor is considering bringing new charges.
Carletha Cole is the former employee the lieutenant governor's office charged with distributing an illegal recording.
The one-minute, 20-second recording is at the heart of a controversial criminal case rocking the state capitol. The quality is poor, but in it you can hear John Konkus, Carroll's chief of staff, talking with Cole, who Carroll fired in September.
The recording of a conversation about a rift between Carroll's office and Gov. Rick Scott was given to a journalist after Cole was fired. After its release, Cole was charged with distributing the illegal recording. She wasn't charged with making it.
Cole claims Konkus made the recording, saying he carried around a smart-pen that would turn into a microphone and secretly tape anyone within an earshot.
According to a motion filed by Cole’s attorney, the governor's Office instructed staff to "covertly record communications within the Lieutenant Governor’s Office."
"The circumstantial evidence, as it is right now, would suggest that Konkus made this recording," said Cole's attorney, Steve Webster. "We know that he had the smart pen. He boasted about the smart pen that could digitally record."
The difficulty in bringing charges for the recoding is that no one can pinpoint exactly when and where it was captured. If the state can get that information, Cole could be facing another felony.
"I predicted this to several reporters, 'once we point out the fatal flaws, mark my words,' and I put this in writing, the State Attorney's Office will amend the charges and add the recording charge, even though there is no new evidence in the case," Webster said.
Cole was offered several plea deals, including diversion, which means if she took the deal and didn't committee a crime for 180 days, all would be forgiven. Now she could be facing up to 10 years in prison.
Sources close to the governor's office say Cole didn’t take the plea deal because her goal is to embarrass Carroll, not just beat the charges. Webster says that's nonsense. He says his client's reputation is on the line, and that's why she's willing to risk prison to fight the case.
"My client is innocent and she refused to take any step that can be construed as her acknowledgement of any guilt or responsibility for violating the law. This is a grandmother, an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) minister," Webster said.
The state attorney refused to grant an interview on the case, saying he's considering asking the judge for a gag order and doesn't want to seem hypocritical in his request by talking to reporters.
Webster plans to ask the U.S. District Attorney to investigate the fire in his client’s trashcan. FDLE investigated and ruled the fire was an accident, but Webster says it proves his client was targeted and harassed. The state fire marshal denied his request for an investigation Monday.
A source close to the governor’s office say Cole turned down the diversion deal, to keep the case going and embarrass Carroll. Her attorney says she turned it down because she’s innocent and won’t admit to doing something she didn’t do.
Cole’s next move is expected Wednesday, when Webster plans to ask the U.S. District Attorney to investigate a fire set in Cole's office in the state capitol. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the fire and ruled it an accident. A request for the state fire marshal to investigate was denied on Monday.