Former Fla. GOP chief pleads guilty before trial

By MIKE SCHNEIDER | February 11, 2013 | 12:31 PM EST

FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 file photo, Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer talks with reporters after receiving a vote of confidence from the executive committee of the Florida Republican Party in Tallahassee, Fla. Greer's two-week trial starts Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 on theft, fraud and money laundering charges. Jurors will have to decide if Greer committed a crime when he channeled more than $200,000 of party money to his company, or whether the charges against Greer are revenge for the waning popularity of his political patron, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who defected from the Republican Party to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate and is now a Democrat. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell, file)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering just before jury selection in his criminal trial got under way.

Jury selection was set to begin Monday, but neither Greer nor prosecutors appeared in the courtroom. The only sign of Greer's presence in the Orange County Courthouse was his wife and infant daughter.

Greer had earlier pleaded not guilty to allegations that he funneled almost $200,000 of party money into a company he had formed with his right-hand man.

Greer says party leaders were aware of the company and that his prosecution was political payback. Sentencing is March 27 and he faces up to 35 years in prison.