Florida law enforcement authorities said Friday that they have begun a criminal investigation of a state senator who abruptly resigned after an investigation found credible evidence of sexual misconduct.
Jessica Cary, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said the agency is now "conducting an active investigation" of Jack Latvala, but did not provide any details.
Latvala was a powerful Republican who rose to a top leadership post as the Senate budget chairman. He announced his resignation last month after former Judge Ronald Swanson, who had been hired by the Senate to investigate him, issued a report that said he likely inappropriately touched a top Senate aide and may have broken the law by offering a witness in the case his support for legislation in exchange for sex acts.
Latvala has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and said "contrary to Senate rules" that he was never given a chance to respond to the allegations contained in Swanson's report.
"Now it's up to trained law enforcement personnel to actually look and see if they can find any evidence," Latvala said in a text message. "They will give the opportunity to be heard and get the facts. I welcome that opportunity. Then a prosecutor will take the facts and make the decision if it warrants prosecution. That's the process. I support the process."
Swanson investigated a formal complaint by Rachel Perrin Rogers, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of inappropriate touching in a Capitol elevator, at a private club and on other occasions. She said on many occasions, Latvala would comment on her appearance by saying she looked "hot" and would stare at her chest as she tried to talk about legislative issues with him.
A former lobbyist whose name was redacted in the released copy of Swanson's report said Latvala would touch her inappropriately, including touching the outside of her bra and panties, every time they were alone in his office. She said he "intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support legislative items for which she was lobbying," Swanson wrote. That included explicit text messages sent to the woman.
Swanson's report was forwarded to state investigators.
The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau earlier this month identified the former lobbyist as Laura McLeod. McLeod provided text messages she exchanged with Latvala to the news organization including one where he wrote "You looked good in committee. I woke up wanting you" and another one where he said "No panties Friday."
McLeod told the newspaper she considered herself "a flawed messenger" because, 20 years ago, she and Latvala had a consensual, sexual affair, when he was in his first eight-year tenure in the Senate. The affair ended after about three years, and they remained friends. But she said that when he returned to the Senate and chaired Senate committees he pursued her for sex.
She said she felt trapped but agreed to have sex with him two times in 2015 and once in 2016, and said he groped her dozens of times more. Latvala told the newspaper in a statement that he has apologized to his wife and family for his "poor judgment." But he denied violating state corruption laws.
Florida's Capitol has been thrown into turmoil over the past few months due to ongoing sexual-misconduct scandals.
Last year, Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned after Politico Florida reported that he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. And former state Rep. Rich Workman resigned a position with the commission that oversees the state's utilities after state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said he inappropriately touched her and made vulgar comments at a Republican fundraiser.