Former Top Aid Facing Felony Charges

(AP) — A former top aide to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is facing felony charges that she illegally taped a conversation in Carroll’s office.

State records show that 48-year-old Carletha Cole was arrested by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and charged last week with a third-degree felony. If convicted she could face up to five years in prison.

Cole declined to discuss the investigation Monday with The Associated Press. She did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday, nor was she present at her home in Tallahassee. She was arrested on Oct. 20 and was released on a $1,000 bond.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation last month after receiving a complaint that an audio recording had been made in Carroll’s office. The agency reported its findings to State Attorney Willie Meggs.

It is against Florida law to record someone without consent. But there have been legal questions about recordings made in public buildings.

The Florida Times-Union obtained a copy of the conversation between John Konkus, Carroll’s chief of staff, and Cole, a senior program analyst who also acted as a spokeswoman for Carroll.

The Times-Union placed the recording on its website. Konkus can be heard saying that Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff is afraid of Carroll. Konkus also complained that Scott “is not leading.” Konkus worked for U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, before joining the Scott administration in May.

Cole herself was fired in September after publicly speaking out about infighting in Carroll’s office.

A sworn statement by an FDLE agent says that investigators looked into Cole’s emails and cellphone records and discovered that she had sent the recording to a reporter with the Times-Union. The reporter then contacted Brian Burgess, the main spokesman for Scott and emailed him a copy of the recording.

Konkus, who said the recording was made without his permission, told investigators it was made sometime between June and August 2011. He said he was working with Cole on Carroll’s website.

Cole’s job application shows that she ran her own marketing firm prior to going to work for Carroll. She also said she worked in real estate and in the banking industry.

In 2005, a Miami Herald columnist was fired for failing to get permission to record telephone conversations he had with a former city commissioner under investigation for federal corruption.

Last December prosecutors in Marion County decided against pursuing charges in a case involving a mother who put a digital recorder in the backpack of her 7-year-old child. The tape revealed that a teacher and a teacher’s aide had mocked the autistic first-grader who does not speak.

The Ocala Star Banner reported at the time that school district attorneys concluded that the taping was legal because it occurred in a public building where there was no expectation of privacy. Local prosecutors declined to pursue charges but called the law a “gray area.”