MIAMI (AP) _ Former state legislator Mandy Dawson pleaded guilty Monday to federal tax charges that arose out of a high-profile corruption case in which a politically prominent eye doctor admitted making thousands of dollars in secret payments to Dawson.
Dawson, 55, could get up to six years in prison and be ordered to pay a maximum of $275,000 in fines when she is sentenced in July by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. Dawson pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, a felony, and one misdemeanor count of failing to file an income tax return.
The Democrat represented parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties for six years in the House and 10 in the Senate before term limits forced her into retirement in 2008. She was the first black woman elected to the state Legislature from Broward County.
“Four years later, I thought I'd simply be playing with my grandchildren,'' Dawson said outside the courtroom. “We will move forward. It's a process.''
Dawson was indicted in 2011, after Dr. Alan Mendelsohn pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and admitted funneling some $82,000 from political action committees to Dawson through one of her legislative aides.
Mendelsohn, who is serving a four-year prison sentence, told prosecutors the money was to ensure Dawson would not oppose various health-related initiatives he was pushing in the state Senate. Dawson, however, was in the minority as a Democrat and not in position to exert major influence on the legislation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Carlton said Dawson failed to file income tax returns for several years, including those in which she received the money from Mendelsohn as well as income from several other sources. In 2004, for example, she didn't file a return despite making more than $92,000; in 2005, the total was more than $102,800.
The Mendelsohn case started out as a sweeping probe of high-ranking political figures in Tallahassee, with FBI agents interviewing legislators in their offices and speculation that many people might be charged. In the end, though, it was only Dawson and Mendelsohn who were indicted.
At his 2010 plea hearing, Mendelsohn said the payments were simply the way business was done in Tallahassee, but Dawson said that isn't true.
“It's not a common occurrence in Tallahassee,'' she said. “I can't speak for Dr. Mendelsohn.''
Mendelsohn, 53, also admitted filing false tax returns for a number of years, in part by diverting more than $700,000 in contributions to PACs he controlled for personal expenses such as luxury cars, private school tuition for his children, credit card bills and support for a mistress. Mendelsohn also admitted lying to FBI agents.
Mendelsohn also said at his plea hearing that he had lied to one of his key contributors _ Fort Lauderdale insurance executive Joel Steinger _ about how he could use his influence among top state officials to head off a federal investigation into Steinger's business, Mutual Benefits Corp. Mendelsohn said he misled Steinger to keep money he had promised flowing into a key political campaign.
Steinger and others are awaiting trial on fraud charges in a separate investigation into Mutual Benefits Corp.