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The politics of porn: Crist takes industry $; Scott invests in company sued for 'enabling' sex predators

Sex and porn sells, perhaps even in the final week of a close political campaign.

Gov. Rick Scott is up with a new ad that echoes a claim his campaign has been pushing for weeks: that Charlie Crist has a "war on women" because he accepted $90,000 from three different Broward companies that operate strip clubs.

Crist has refused to return the money, saying it didn't come from the strip clubs but from the management companies. The RPOF ad says it's "dirty cash." 

During the 2010 GOP primary, Scott was also forced on the defensive against sex-related allegations from then-Attorney General Bill McCollum. McCollum alleged that the social networking company Scott invested in, Que Pasa, was  in partnership with Latin Playboy and encouraged gay dating.

In a television ad, McCollum's campaign claimed: "There's nothing Republican about porn." In a mailer, McCollum alleged:  "The Two Faces of Rick Scott....What Rick Scott does and what Rick Scott says show the completely different faces of Rick Scott."  

Scott defended his investment at the time, which PolitiFact Florida determined was 13.9 percent of the company. He called it a "desparate attack by a career politician."

PolitiFact found that Que Pasa did have a partnership with Playboy in 2009 to find and identify "Cyber Chicas" for Playboy's Mexico edition. It ruled false the claim that Scott had anything to do with it.

Que Pasa has since changed its name to MeetMe and Scott and his family trusts increased their investment in the company last year. Meanwhile, the social networking site has drawn its own drumbeat of attention, from prosecutors who claim that "dozens of minors nationwide have been  victimized in sex crimes by predators who relied on MeetMe to target their underage victims."

In Massachusetts, a man was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to more than 50 charges, including rape of a child by force, after using multiple aliases to meet children on MeetMe. In Pennsylvania, a man was charged with sexually assaulting three teenagers he met on MeetMe. In Oklahoma, a 25-year-old man used MeetMe to meet and rape a 15‐year‐old girl. In Texas, a man was indicted for federal hate crimes and kidnapping after beating up a gay man he met on MeetMe.

And in San Francisco, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against MeetMe in February, alleging that the company's failure to protect the privacy of underage teen users "enables sexual predators and stalkers to target children."

“Anyone -- including sexual predators, stalkers and other criminals -- can sign up to use the MeetMe app and can input any birth date they want, and once they do, MeetMe enables them to browse through photographs, locations and other personal information of teenagers who are in close physical proximity,” the suit said.

The suit asks the court to order the company change its practices and stop endangering children.

Geoff Cook, CEO of MeetMe, would not discuss the litigation but told  the Los Angeles Times that the company reviews “hundreds of thousands of photos posted to our services every day, and we compare the information provided by our users to a sex-offender registry.”

Meanwhile, MeetMe is discussing a possible settlement with the City of San Franciso, said Erin Bernstein, deputy city attorney. 

“We’ve been in discussions with MeetMe to bring the case to a resolution to make sure our concerns are addressed,’’ she told the Herald/Times on Monday.

The bad publicity does not appear to have discouraged the governor from his investment. 

According to Securities and Exchange Commission records, Richard L. Scott Investments entered into an agreement to purchase 1 million shares of stock in MeetMe on March 5, 2013, exercising options from 2008. That gave Scott and his family control of a total of 2,496,900 shares, or about 15 percent of the outstanding shares.

UPDATE: After repeated requests over the past three weeks to obtain information about the governor's holdings in MeetMe, Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair responded today that the governor's blind trust is "no longer invested" in MeetMe.

In June, Scott reported taxable interest of $428,752 related to MeetMe on his 2013 financial disclosure form but he did not list MeetMe as an asset.

Blair said that the governor's wife, Ann Scott, and other family trust accounts also sold their shares of MeetMe but Blair has not yet produced the documents to show it.

According to the 2013 joint tax returns released by the governor and his wife two weeks ago, the couple lost $121,231 in their MeetMe investment in 2013.

So why did the governor get rid of the stock? Will he give an an explanation? The lawsuit timeline and the SEC documents are clear that the governor and his wife were major shareholders in the company when the acts by the sexual predators were occurring. Those acts prompted several prosecutions.  

What does the governor think of those prosecutions? Did he profit off a company that allowed predators to prey on teens? 

Blair notes that Charlie Crist's wife Carole, who files separately from her husband, has failed to release her tax returns as Ann Scott has. However, the Herald/Times does not have evidence that Charlie Crist is the beneficiary of any stock held by Carole Crist. By contrast, the Herald/Times has found evidence that Rick Scott is the beneficial owner of stock held by Ann Scott and other family trusts, and he may be failing to report all his investments as is required by Florida law. 

Here's the anti-Crist ad: 

 

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