Suspended Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Charles Maddox pleaded guilty Tuesday as part of a 4-year-old FBI investigation into public corruption in the capital city.
The 51-year-old Maddox, who was the city’s first directly-elected “leadership” mayor in the late 1990s, pleaded guilty to three substantive ‘theft of honest services’ charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax fraud.
Also pleading guilty to the same counts was Maddox’s longtime friend, former aide and business partner Janice Paige Carter-Smith. Most recently, she also had been the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority‘s executive director, a position from which she stepped down.
Maddox’s guilty pleas likely put an end, at least for now, of a decades-long political career that included a troubled chairmanship of the Florida Democratic Party and a failed bid for state Agriculture Commissioner against Republican Adam Putnam in 2010.
The investigation also became a significant part of the 2018 gubernatorial election, where then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Governor, faced numerous questions about his interactions with undercover FBI agents. Gillum, who has not been charged, ultimately lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by less than 33,000 votes.
The gist of the allegations was that Carter-Smith helped Maddox in an ongoing scheme to solicit bribes from companies seeking to do business in or with the city of Tallahassee.
It was disclosed during the change-of-plea hearing that part of the case in fact involved Maddox reportedly selling his vote for an unnamed “rideshare company” and another company.
Tuesday’s plea hearing, however, almost ground to a halt. Maddox balked under questioning by Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, saying he didn’t “believe that what’s in the statement of facts constitutes a crime.” And Carter-Smith said of one incident that Maddox would have voted for the company in question anyway.
Hinkle asked Maddox whether he met with representatives of the ride-sharing company and referred them to Carter-Smith, telling them she could procure a positive outcome from the city commissioner on the company’s issue.
Maddox said he offered an amendment that was favorable to the company and joined in the commission’s unanimous vote in support of the ordinance.
The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported in 2017 that ride-sharing company Uber had hired Carter-Smith during intense lobbying about a local ordinance that pitted the app-based industry against taxi companies.
When asked Tuesday morning by Hinkle if she and Maddox had agreed to “solicit payment” from the unidentified ride-sharing company, Carter-Smith told the judge that “the client assumed by hiring me that they would have his support.”
Hinkle eventually told both defendants they “both kind of danced around it,”adding that “when a defendant says ‘I didn’t do it,’ I don’t take the plea.”
After some back and forth, Hinkle later asked both Maddox and Carter-Smith, “Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?” They each said, “Yes, sir.” (The statement of facts in the case is at the bottom of this post.)
Sentencing was set for Nov. 19, when the pair faces as much as 45 years in prison. Their actual sentencing guidelines had not been computed as of Tuesday.
Also unknown was whether Maddox or Carter-Smith have agreed to help the federal government in pursuing other targets in the investigation. Asked later at a press conference, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe – the top federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Florida – declined to say whether they will.
A third co-defendant, local entrepreneur J.T. Burnette, was indicted this May on federal charges, including fraud and racketeering. Later Tuesday, Hinkle denied his attorney’s request for more time to prepare for trial, leaving trial set for Nov. 4.
Both Maddox and Carter-Smith were indicted in December 2018, the first to come out of an investigation into alleged crime and corruption in the Tallahassee.
Charges included “conspiring to operate a racketeering enterprise that engaged in acts of bank fraud, extortion, honest services fraud, and bribery.”
The indictment focused on Governance Services, LLC, and Governance, Inc., companies that Maddox and Carter-Smith “allegedly conspired to operate.”
Maddox voted on and influenced others to vote on actions that “benefitted the businesses that paid” Governance, according to that indictment.
The indictment also alleges that Maddox and Carter-Smith lied to the FBI and the Florida Commission on Ethics during the course of the investigation.
It further claims the two hid from the City Attorney and City Commission “the fact Maddox was being paid by companies doing business with the city.”
As well, the indictment says the pair defrauded a bank of more than $250,000 through two short sales of property, and that they violated federal tax laws.
Maddox, a former Tallahassee mayor and later commissioner, was suspended by then-Gov. Rick Scott and has been at least temporarily replaced by Elaine Bryant as Seat 1 Commissioner.
A Periscope video of Keefe’s press conference, in which he also announces the creation of a “Public Trust Unit” in his office, is below. The unit is aimed at “identifying, investigating, disrupting and prosecuting government corruption and on securing elections.”
Background provided by Florida Politics staff and files.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.
US Att’y Larry Keefe addresses media after Scott Maddox guilty plea https://t.co/kSk14e3E9x
— Jim Rosica (@JimRosicaFL) August 6, 2019