It was the guilty plea that almost wasn’t.
political hacks and interested citizens packed the Federal Courthouse
in Tallahassee Tuesday morning to hear former Tallahassee mayor and City
Commissioner Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith, former head of the
Downtown Improvement Authority, plead guilty to charges stemming from a
two-year FBI investigation into political corruption in Tallahassee.
After a lengthy and tense discussion, Maddox and Carter-Smith finally pleaded guilty to three of the 44 federal charges they were facing from a federal indictment. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop the other 39 charges facing the pair.
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle asked Maddox and Carter-Smith if they read the Statement of Facts (SOF) for the first charge (Count 20 in the Federal Indictment) and agreed the information was true and they were guilty of the charge.
Maddox seemed to balk.
“I don’t believe the (SOFs) constitutes a crime,” said Maddox. “Everything in the (SOFs) is true, but additional facts are not included. There are things in the (SOF) that are different from what I pleaded to.”
At that point, Judge Hinkle went through Count 21, which was mail fraud by email between Company B, believed to be the ride-share company, Uber, and Maddox and Carter-Smith
According to the indictment, in 2015, the Tallahassee City Commission considered amendments to a local ordinance that would affect Uber’s future profitability in Tallahassee. An Uber representative met with Maddox to discuss the ordinance. Maddox told the representative Carter-Smith could help Uber obtain a favorable result on the ordinance. Uber then agreed to pay Carter-Smith and her lobbying company $5,000 per month.
On March 25, 2015, during a City Commission meeting, Maddox moved to delay the vote and the Commissioners, including Maddox, voted unanimously to do so. In the months following, Maddox voted for several amendments to the ride-share ordinance and then participated in the final vote to adopt the new ordinance. Between May 7 and October 15, 2015 Uber paid Governance $30,000. Over that same period Governance paid Maddox, approximately $40,000.
Maddox told Judge Hinkle, he would not have offered the amendment without Paige Carter-Smith’s involvement, but he would have supported the unanimous City Commission vote without her involvement.
Carter-Smith told the judge she received $30,000 from the ride-share company and they did assume by hiring her they would have Maddox’s support, but “I did not tell them they were paying for a vote.”
The judge warned Maddox and Carter-Smith he would not accept their guilty pleas if he thought they did not admit their guilt. Finally, he said, “I’m asking if there was any solicited payment for votes. Both of you have danced around it. Now is the time to tell me did you take money for official action or not?”
After a brief huddle with attorney’s Maddox said, “Your honor, I agree to plead guilty.”
The judge pressed him further, “Did you take money to vote?’
Maddox responded, “Yes.”
The judge turned to Carter-Smith, “Did you?”
“Yes,” she said.
Maddox and Carter-Smith also pleaded guilty to Count 23, taking $10,000 through the U.S Mail, from a front company for the FBI.
With Count 41, they pleaded guilty to making false statements on a tax return, through an improper sale of property between Maddox and Carter-Smith in which Maddox, according to the indictment, improperly claimed losses with the IRS and for use of a credit card which Maddox did not report as income.
Maddox and Carter-Smith face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, three years of supervised release and up to $250,000 in fines and restitution for Counts 20 and 23. Count 41 carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines.
The judge mentioned a Supplemental Government Cooperation Agreement. He said it was sealed and would not be part of the public record.
He said the government can file later whether Maddox and Carter-Smith cooperated “substantially.” If so, the judge advised the pair they may receive a lighter sentence, but all 44 charges would be part of sentencing consideration.
He then asked Carter-Smith again, “How do you plead?”
She said, “Guilty.”
Maddox said, “Guilty”
And the judge said, “Because you are in fact guilty?”
Maddox said, “yes.”
Judge Hinkle then accepted their pleas. Sentencing is November 19, 2019.