TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A suspended city commissioner who once ran the Florida Democratic Party pleaded guilty to corruption charges on Tuesday, admitting he accepted money from Uber and undercover FBI agents in exchange for his influence.
Tallahassee Commissioner Scott Maddox and his longtime associate, Paige Carter-Smith, agreed to plead guilty to three charges — wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax fraud. They were originally charged with more than 40 counts each as part of an FBI investigation into corruption at City Hall.
"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 potential criminal conduct beyond the scope of this particular case," said U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe.
Keefe would not say who else could be charged in the case. A third defendant, local developer and hotel owner J.T. Burnette, is also charged.
Prosecutors said that Maddox would send clients to Carter-Smith's lobbying firm, and she would then pay Maddox for his influence on the city commission. Maddox is a former Tallahassee mayor who has been a Democratic candidate for governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. He was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party from 2002 to 2005.
During Tuesday's hearing, Maddox said told Judge Robert Hinkle that his vote on rules for Uber would have been the same regardless of the $30,000 the company paid to Carter-Smith, but he admitted that he accepted money and that he filed an amendment for the company that the commission approved.
Hinkle told him it didn't matter whether his vote was changed, but rather that Uber was paying for his influence.
The ridesharing company has denied in wrongdoing.
"We view ourselves as victims of extortion in this case, which is why we've cooperated fully with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office throughout this process," Uber spokesman Javier Correoso said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
The case became an issue in the 2018 governor's race, when eventual winner Republican Ron DeSantis accused Democratic nominee and then Tallahassee-Mayor Andrew Gillum of being a target in the investigation. Gillum lost by 32,463 votes out of more than 8.2 million cast — a margin so close it required a statewide recount. Gillum said he wasn't a target of the FBI investigation.
Maddox and Carter-Smith wouldn't comment after the hearing. They will be sentenced Nov. 19. The charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 45 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
"Mr. Maddox put an awful lot of thought into this," said he lawyer, Stephen Dobson. "He thought it was in his best interest to move forward, get this over with and get on with his life."