Former city commissioner Scott Maddox and Downtown Improvement Authority head Paige Carter Smith pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday.
At one-time, Maddox was the youngest mayor Tallahassee had ever seen, and the first to be directly elected. Between 2003 and 2005 he chaired the state’s Democratic Party, and looked to have a promising political career. But in court Tuesday, Maddox was forced to answer to federal corruption charges. He and Paige Carter-Smith, the former head of the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority, face the same penalty. Carter-Smith was his former chief of staff.
Maddox’s lawyer, Steven Dobson, addressed reporters briefly after Tuesday’s hearing.
“The government dismissed 39 of the 42 counts Mr. Maddox was charged with. And he accepts responsibility for the things he did do wrong, but he wants to move on for his life, his family’s life, and Tallahassee. And he hopes Tallahassee heals,” Dobson said outside the federal courthouse downtown.
Two extortion charges each carry a 20-year maximum sentence, and the tax fraud charge has a 5-year maximum. That means Maddox and Carter-Smith both face a possible 45-year prison sentence, as well as $750,000 in fines. Though, federal judge Robert Hinkle could impose a lesser sentence, should Maddox and Carter-Smith cooperate in providing information.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe said he hopes the two will give more information.
“We hope that these defendants will now come forward, fully accept their responsibility, and cooperate by providing truthful information in this case, and, about any potentially criminal conduct beyond the scope of this particular case,” Keefe told media during a press conference, alongside agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
The guilty pleas mean there will be no trial for Maddox or Carter-Smith, and the two are set to be sentenced on November 19.
Their two extortion charges stem from Maddox accepting, and Carter-Smith facilitating, payments from companies that wanted Maddox’s favorable commission vote. One of those companies was Uber, which made payments totaling $30,000. Another was a phony company – an FBI front – from which Maddox agreed to take $10,000 per month for a bogus development project slated for the unincorporated area of Leon County. There were multiple additional companies that federal prosecutors say Maddox extorted “through fear of economic harm.”
The tax fraud charge relates to Maddox carrying out, and Carter-Smith again facilitating, improper short sales on homes. The two claimed the sales were made “at arm’s length,” while knowingly benefitting from tax deductions. Maddox also used the Governance credit card for personal expenses, without reporting it as income.
FBI Assistant Special Agent In Charge Sean Ryan spoke a bit about the agency’s wide-ranging probe into corruption in the Capital City.
“Rooting out this corruption is exceptionally difficult. The work is both complex and tedious,” Ryan said. “But it is among the most important work the FBI Does for the public.”
Members of the press were quick to ask whether the City of Tallahassee will get closure on the corruption investigation – but Keefe wouldn’t give any information concerning whether the probe has come to an end.
“It is simply not appropriate for me to comment on what the grand jury is looking at or not looking at, what they’re going to do, whether they are continuing or ending – that is wholly within the province of the grand jury, and I can’t comment on what they’re looking at or what they’re doing,” Keefe said. “Nor can I confirm or deny what the status of the investigations are.”
Keefe did say, though, that corruption has been a consistent problem in North Florida:
“I do believe in the state of Florida and the Northern District of Florida, for a long period of time – I think it’s generally well-known by others there have been problems with public corruption. And the ensuing lack of public trust that people have being concerned that it’s not a level playing field, that it’s a rigged system.”
Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t entirely without courtroom drama. During a tense exchange between Hinkle and Maddox, the plea agreement seemed momentarily in jeopardy. Maddox was apprehensive to say he was guilty of a crime for accepting money from Uber in exchange for a vote – remarking he voted unanimously with the commission, and would have voted that way regardless. Hinkle derided the response, saying Maddox “danced around” an answer.
In addition to the federal prison time they face Maddox and Carter-Smith must both forfeit the properties they acquired through the illegal short sales, and pay restitution to victims of the fraud schemes.