MIAMI (AP) _ Former Florida state Sen. Mandy Dawson was sentenced Friday to six months in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax charges arising from a corruption investigation in which she accepted thousands of dollars in payments designed to influence her legislative actions.
U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola said he agreed with prosecutors that Dawson's crime, which involved nearly $30,000 in tax loss, deserved prison time instead of the home confinement requested by the defense because of her physical ailments and struggles with drugs and alcohol.
“We believe the public needs to know there's equal judgment, equal justice,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton. “The government does not believe home confinement is a deterrent.''
Dawson, 56, was the first black woman elected to the state Legislature from Broward County and served in Tallahassee for 16 years in both the House and Senate until term limits forced her out in 2008. She was given until Oct. 5 to begin serving her sentence and expressed remorse about the tax case at Friday's hearing.
“I just want to say that I'm very sorry for what I've done,'' Dawson said.
Dawson pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of tax evasion and failure to file tax returns. She admitted receiving tens of thousands of dollars over a five-year period from lobbyists and others, including Fort Lauderdale ophthalmologist Alan Mendelsohn and Tallahassee lobbyist Steve Hull, according to court documents.
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.
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. Hull was never charged.
Dawson's attorney, Paul Korchin, said she suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis, major depression and longstanding abuse problems with alcohol, cocaine and painkillers. Dawson admitted in court documents that she used cocaine on one occasion while out on bail in the tax case.
Korchin said he sought home confinement so Dawson could continue treatment with doctors in the Daytona Beach area where she now lives.
“That will provide both punishment but also a continuity of treatment,'' Korchin said.
But Scola did not agree. Dawson will serve two years' probation after her release from prison and also must pay $29,272 in restitution to the U.S. government.