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Bush held off on firing Crosby

The FBI needed a month to wrap up a probe of kickbacks to the prisons chief first, the governor says.

Published July 11, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush knew a month before he fired his prison chief that federal authorities suspected James Crosby of taking kickbacks from a prison vendor.

Bush said Monday he didn't fire Crosby sooner at the FBI's request.

Crosby and his subordinate, Allen Clark, were charged last week with taking at least $135,000 in kickbacks.

Bush, speaking at length on the matter for the first time, said he takes full responsibility for Crosby's appointment. He ousted the corrections veteran Feb. 10.

"I was let down by someone I respected," said Bush, who returned Monday from a weeklong vacation in Maine.

Today in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Crosby is expected to plead guilty to one count of converting another's property to his own use. Clark entered a guilty plea on the same charge last week.

Bush, who spent much of the fall vehemently defending Crosby's leadership, said he had mistaken Crosby's low morale for a reaction to the string of bad publicity: The FBI was investigating prison employees for steroid use, embezzlement of funds and misuse of prison property. Clark, a former regional director of prisons in North Florida, also was under scrutiny.

In late October, as Hurricane Wilma bore down on southeast Florida, Bush summoned Crosby to the state Emergency Operations Center with an ultimatum: "Get going or get out of the way."

"If you've done something wrong, tell me now," Bush said he told Crosby. "If you haven't done something wrong, and you feel like you can't lead, I'll take your resignation, as well."

Bush said Crosby wanted to talk to his family and mull over his future. "He called me up the next week and said, 'I'm ready to go,' " Bush said. "He re-enlisted."

Crosby referred calls to his attorney, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Bush said he became aware of Crosby's involvement in the kickback scheme in the first week of January, after chief of staff Mark Kaplan met with state investigators working with the FBI.

"I asked for ability to ask for Crosby's resignation on the spot and was told no," Bush said. "They wanted to make sure they had the case ironclad. We were given permission to do it the night before I did it."

[Last modified July 11, 2006, 06:01:10]

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