Jeff Greene

Jeff Greene, a Florida-based businessman campaigning for the Democratic nomination for Senate, is in hot water for taking his megayacht to Cuba and telling conflicting stories about the visit.

During a televised debate held Monday evening, Greene was asked if he took his yacht, the 145-foot Summerwind, to Cuba in 2007. Greene replied that the yacht had gone there, but he wasn’t onboard. When an opponent challenged his statement, stating that eyewitnesses say he was indeed aboard, Greene then admitted he had traveled to Cuba aboard Summerwind, but to visit a Jewish mission.

The next day, Greene gave an interview to Miami-based WPLG television, in which he seemed to try to explain the religious angle. “As it turns out, there was a Jewish mission that I knew about going on,” and he took the opportunity to visit “synagogues and the community in Cuba.” In the same interview, though, he stated that Summerwind stopped in Cuba due to mechanical problems, while heading to the Bahamas from Honduras. While at Hemingway Marina in Havana, Greene told the reporter, he learned about the Jewish mission and decided to pay a visit.

Those statements could see Greene facing prosecution, as U.S. citizens who fail to comply with the travel embargoes regarding Cuba can face civil penalties and criminal trial. For much of the past 40 years, the United States has had restrictions on travel to Cuba in an effort to isolate Fidel Castro’s government. Tourism travel is not permitted, for example, and specific licenses are required for journalists, citizens making family visits, academic coursework travel, religious visits, and amateur and semi-professional international sports competitions. Those licenses are issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury. Some categories of travelers may visit Cuba under a general license, meaning they’re not required to obtain special permission from OFAC. While Greene did say during the debate that he had the requisite license, the changing story casts serious doubt.

The doubt deepens if the stories that two previous crewmembers tell are true. Billy Blackwell, who worked as a mate aboard Summerwind, told WPLG that the yacht departed from Key West and went directly to Cuba, with Greene and his girlfriend spending three to four days touring and shopping. Harlan Hoffman, a former deckhand, was quoted by the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, the day before the debate: “Mr. Greene’s yacht is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on.”

Greene’s representatives say the claims are false. They also say Greene misspoke in the debate and that he was setting the record straight by explaining there was a mechanical problem that led the yacht to stop in Cuba.