TALLAHASSEE- New developments tonight in the case of Carletha Cole. Cole is the former employee of Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll charged with distributing an illegal recording. We are breaking news tonight, that Cole was offered a plea deal that would have kept her out of prison and left her with a clean record. She turned it down and now as Whitney Ray tells us, the prosecutor in the case is considering bringing new charges, this time for recording the conversation in question.
A one minute and 20 second recording, captured sometime in the summer of 2011, 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, Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll’s Chief of Staff, and Carletha Cole, a Carroll employee fired in September.
The conversation is about a rift between Carroll’s office and the governor. It 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.
That’s because Cole claims Konkus made the recording. She says he carried around a smart-pen that, with a click, would turn into a microphone, and secretly tape anyone within an ear shot.
According to a motion filed by Cole’s attorney, Steve Webster, 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. We know that he had the smart-pen. He boasted about the smart-pen that could digitally record,” said Steve Webster.
The difficulty in brining charges for the recoding is that no one can pinpoint exactly when and where it was captured. Once the state has 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,” said Webster.
Plea Deal Rejected
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: no prison time, no charges on her record. Now she could be facing up to 10 years in prison and a felony record.
Sources close to the governor’s office say Cole didn’t take the plea deal because her goal isn’t to beat the charges; it’s to embarrass Carroll. 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,” said Webster.
We asked the state attorney for an on-camera interview about the possibility of new charges. He denied our request, because he’s considering asking the judge for a gag order and doesn’t want to seem hypocritical in his request, by talking to reporters.
Cole’s Next Move
Webster plans to ask the US District Attorney to investigate the fire in his client’s trashcan. The travel aide Cole accuses of carrying on an inappropriate sexual relationship with Carroll admits to accidentally starting the fire. FDLE investigated and ruled the fire was an accident. Webster says the fire was stared on purpose and says it proves his client was targeted and harassed. He asked the state fire marshal to investigate. On Monday, that request was denied. Wednesday Webster plans to ask the feds to get involved.
Response from the Governor’s Office
For two days we’ve asked the Governor’s office for comment about all the new developments. We’ve also made a public records request for all emails concerning Cole. So far no one from the governor’s communications team has responded.
Over the weekend Carroll denied the claims, telling reporters they are more than allegations, they are ‘outright lies.’