When Gov. Rick Scott appears in Orange Park on Monday to kickoff his re-election campaign, his former sidekick from nearby Fleming Island will be somewhere waiting for an apology she expects will never come.
Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll told The Florida Times-Union on Wednesday she felt cheated by Scott and his top staff for abandoning her 13 months ago when she was abruptly asked to resign the state’s second highest office. It was her first interview with the Times-Union since she left office in March 2013.
Carroll, 54, said Scott’s chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth and Scott’s general counsel sought her resignation immediately after Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents questioned her about work her public relations firm did with Allied Veterans of the World. The visits came the same day as police arrested 57 people in a gambling ring tied to Allied and its Internet cafes.
Carroll said Hollingsworth told her that her continued work under Scott would undermine his legislative efforts, without giving her any details or due process. Carroll said recently released documents from the FDLE investigation prove she did nothing criminal and that $24,000 in income she failed to report on financial disclosure forms and her federal taxes was a bookkeeper’s oversight she fixed during the investigation.
The FDLE referred the case to the state ethics commission to review the financial disclosure form issue.
“I felt so betrayed,” Carroll said. “I felt that the loyalty that I gave I didn’t receive in return.”
Carroll, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, said she did nothing wrong but felt obliged to sign the one-sentence resignation letter to honor her chain of command.
“Who wants to work with a senior that doesn’t want you there?” she said.
The Clay County Republican believes she was set up for an unknown reason and regrets leaving the job she held since being elected with Scott in 2010. Carroll said Scott didn’t talk with her about his resignation request and hasn’t reached out to her since. She said she also hasn’t tried to contact him.
Scott did not return a message left through his press office and Hollingsworth didn’t return a call and a text from The Times-Union. Scott’s press secretary, John Tupps, said in an e-mail that Carroll’s public service — she also was elected five times to the House — was appreciated.
“Jennifer Carroll made the right decision for her family by resigning,” Tupps said in the two-sentence e-mail.
During the wide-ranging interview at the Fleming Island Golf Club clubhouse, Carroll said she was excited about her upcoming tell-all biography, to be released Aug. 27 on her birthday, and her new found appreciation for spending time with her husband and three children. She also said she’d like to run for office again, possibly elsewhere, and would be better prepared next time.
“I was a bit naive ... in how treacherous and backstabbing the political game could be,” she said. “I would now have my eyes wide open to know that the jabs may be coming from your own people.”
A good chunk of the hour, however, involved talking about the damage she believes Scott and his top staff caused to her reputation and her ongoing efforts to clear her name.
She said she felt shunned from the beginning of Scott’s first term and believes he used her to get votes from blacks and former supporters of Bill McCollum, whom Carroll backed before Scott defeated him in the 2010 Republican primary.
As for the day of her resignation, Carroll said she was surprised to see Hollingsworth and the general counsel standing outside her door as the FDLE agents walked out. She said she greeted them with no idea what would come next.
“He [Hollingsworth] goes, ‘We had this talk with the governor a couple of days ago and he’s asking for your resignation,’” she said. “I go, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ He goes, ‘It’s just going to distract the governor from his legislative session.’”
Carroll said after signing the previously prepared one-line resignation letter, Hollingsworth told her to cancel her appointments and stay in her office. She said she was told that afternoon Scott was holding a press conference about the matter the next day.
Carroll said she should have been invited to stand with Scott and allowed to bow out gracefully. She said was upset that her resignation was tied to the Allied probe and sensed a coldness because Scott sought her ouster without any concern for her $124,000 annual salary she used to support her family.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said.
She wept as she talked about the friends and family who offered her prayers. She also said she learned a lesson by being shunned by some people she thought were friends.
Since resigning, Carroll took a job as senior advisor to a business based on West Palm Beach. She said she also spends time with her family and is awaiting final edits on her untitled biography, which will run about 300 pages.
She said writing the book was therapeutic and allowed her to find peace. She said she hopes readers will appreciate her reflections on her life, including her struggles to succeed as a black and a woman, and her efforts to set the record straight over her resignation.
“Hopefully, it will be something that’s inspirational, motivational and uplifting to people to talk about some of my trials and tribulations and overcoming them,” she said.
Carroll hinted at the potential explosiveness of her biography when, with a shy smile, she declined to give her evaluation of Scott’s first-term in office.
“I’ll save that for the book,” she said.
Jim Schoettler: (904) 359-4385