Former U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe re-emerges as Florida's new 'public safety czar'

Keefe will focus on illegal immigration

Jeff Burlew
Northwest Florida Daily News

Former north Florida U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe, a Donald Trump nominee who was shown the door after Joe Biden's White House win, has re-emerged as the state's new "public safety czar" to help Gov. Ron DeSantis' crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

DeSantis announced Keefe's appointment during a news conference Tuesday in Fort Myers, where he also announced a new lawsuit challenging the Biden administration's immigration policies and an executive order banning state agencies from "facilitating illegal immigration into Florida."

Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe speaks Tuesday at a press conference about border security at the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Fort Myers.

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Joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and Keefe, DeSantis said the former top federal prosecutor would ensure actions in the executive order are carried out.

"I am proud to appoint Larry Keefe, the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, to serve as public safety czar as we take key steps to protect Florida taxpayers from bearing the burden of reckless immigration policies," the governor said. "We will continue to hold the federal government accountable for refusing to enforce the immigration laws of this country."

A resident of Shalimar, Keefe has deep ties to Okaloosa County. He attended elementary and middle schools in the county and was a star quarterback at Choctawhatchee High School in the late 1970s.

He attended the University of Florida on a football scholarship and obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1983 and a law degree in 1986.

Keefe was a founding partner in January 2009 of Keefe, Anchors & Gordon, a law firm based in Fort Walton Beach. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who worked for the firm before being elected to Congress, called Keefe his "mentor in the practice of law."

He served as U.S. attorney from 2019 until late February, when he resigned as part of the customary post-election turnover of top federal prosecutors after a new party takes over in Washington, D.C.

"As a former U.S. attorney, I saw illegal aliens that would get deported and come back, and then get deported and come back in an endless cycle," Keefe said. "The states, including Florida, bear the brunt of this cycle."

Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe speaks Tuesday at a press conference about border security at the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Fort Myers.

He said that over the coming weeks and months, "our state agencies will be addressing the impacts illegal immigration has had on our state. I want to thank Gov. DeSantis for appointing me to lead these efforts."

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A DeSantis spokesperson said Keefe will work closely with the governor and his senior staff, state agency heads, lawmakers, constituent groups, federal agencies and residents to develop policies and oversee their implementation.

His salary was not immediately available. Other senior policy advisers in the governor’s office earn $170,000 a year.

Keefe, who maintained high visibility during his time in office, occasionally suiting up with law enforcement as they went after suspects, had hoped to stay on as U.S. attorney even after Biden's win.

Over the years, Keefe donated to both Republican and Democratic candidates, from Gaetz, who spent a decade at Keefe's former law firm, to Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Florida Lawrence Keefe speaks during a meeting of area law enforcement agencies and the Tallahassee Democrat in 2019.

He had the backing of a number of prominent Democrats, including Congressman Al Lawson, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey. But lobbying efforts on his behalf ultimately went nowhere.

Northwest Florida Daily News reporter Tom McLaughlin contributed to this story.

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.