The GOP staffer, 21-year-old Jason Wetherington, told friends at separate social functions in August that he had sex with Crist, according to two credible and independent sources who heard Wetherington make the claim first-hand.
Wetherington, who recently worked as a field director for U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris and currently works for state representative Ellyn Bodganoff's reelection campaign, also named a man whom he said is Crist's long-term partner, a convicted thief named Bruce Carlton Jordan who also recently worked for Harris in her long-shot Senate bid.
Jordan made headlines recently when the Miami Herald learned that the felon was working as Harris's travel aide. The newspaper noted that Jordan, 42, was reported to be close friends with Charlie Crist, whom he convinced to attend an annual Florida Funeral Directors Association meeting in 2003.
Jordan was charged in 2003 with stealing thousands of dollars from two organizations for whom he worked, including the Tallahassee-based Florida Funeral Directors Association, where he served as executive director. He completed a 60-day jail sentence in February and will be on probation until the year 2011, according to state records.
When the Herald questioned Crist about Jordan this past August, the frontrunner in the governor's race told the newspaper that he doesn't remember the man. "I don't know who Bruce Jordan is," he said at the time. "It doesn't mean I haven't met him. I don't know who you are speaking about."
I asked Crist during a phone interview on Monday morning if he had ever had sex with Jordan.
"No," he said. "I don't recall the name."
That Crist doesn't remember Jordan seemed incredible to me. Not only did the attorney general make a special appearance at the funeral directors' conference, but former presidents of the association say Jordan was known to be pals with Crist. Attempts to reach Jordan weren't successful, but his father told me that Crist and his son are friends.
"He talks about [Crist], but I don't think he's seen Charlie in a while," said Albert Jordan, who lives in Inverness, where he and his wife raised their son.
When asked if his son and Crist had a sexual relationship, the father simply said, "Not as far as I know."
I recounted some of those facts with Crist.
"I'm not saying I haven't met him, I probably have," he said. "I just can't picture him, that's all."
I also asked him about Wetherington's claim to sources that he'd had sex with Crist. "That's ridiculous," he said. "Completely false."
Then I asked him if he'd ever in his life had sex with a man.
"Never," he said.
While there is no proof that what Wetherington has said is true, it's clear that he said it. I first learned about his claims after receiving an anonymous e-mail on October 6. The e-mail was linked to a 2003 story of mine reporting that now-disgraced congressman Mark Foley was gay.
"Why don't you do the same story for another hugely visible FL politician running for office? Call if you want a starting point."
Immediately I knew the e-mailer was referring to Crist. For years, it has been rumored that Crist, the favorite to move into the governor's mansion after the November 7 election, is gay.
I was interested in pursuing the lead mainly because I've come to believe that any closeted politician in the Republican Party which openly woos homophobes into its ranks while opposing gay rights is fair game for the media.
Crist, for his part, has been moderate on those issues and supports civil unions. "I'm a live and let live kind of guy," he told me.
But the Palm Beach Post reported on Friday that Crist can be heard in recently recorded phone calls targeting voters saying, "I support a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriages, and I oppose adoption by gay couples."
I asked him about that, and he said he's always held those positions. I asked him if he thought it was fair for reporters to ask him about his own sexuality. "Of course it's fair," he said. "It just happens to be wrong."
Many people aren't convinced that Crist is telling the truth. I am one of them, especially after reporting this column. The source behind the e-mail, who asked that I not reveal his name for fear of retribution, is a gay man, a registered Independent voter and former Republican who isn't involved in Democratic Party politics. He was motivated to tell his story, he says, by his outrage at the Foley scandal.