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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Are the feds closing in on Mandy Dawson?

12

March

As part of its investigation into former Sen. Mandy Dawson, an FBI agent this week collected the Fort Lauderdale Democrats' oaths of office signed in 2002 and 2004.

The investigation stems from the criminal fraud investigation into convicted GOP fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn, a Hollywood ophthalmologist who testified in federal court Dec. 9 that he funneled $82,000 to the senator through one of her aides.

On Wednesday, Miami FBI agent Keith Yarka requested the oaths of office Dawson made during the period of time that Mendelsohn alleged he paid her off. In the oath, a senator promises to uphold the state and federal constitutions and to "well and faithfully perform the duties of State Senator."

The oath can be used in a criminal case for a simple reason: It's court proof that Dawson was a state senator and therefore deprived citizens of honest services if she took or solicited a bribe, said Marcos Jimenez, South Florida's former U.S. Attorney.

"Generally when you get that request from the FBI it's not a good sign," Jimenez said. "The FBI is trying to prove you're a public official and they could be gathering evidence to see whether or not you abused your position as a public servant."

 

The FBI will neither confirm nor deny active investigations. Dawson couldn't be reached. Last year, she screamed at a Miami Herald reporter who tracked her down at her parents' Daytona Beach home. Before that, she had told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she took no bribe money.

A conviction would cap a sad career for Dawson in the Legislature.

In 2005, she was reprimanded by the full Senate for asking lobbyists to help cover the $2,500 expense for travelling to South Africa. Her letter, on official Senate stationery, asked lobbyists to disguise their contributions by sending the money to the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

In 2002, Dawson was charged for altering a pain-killer prescription. In 2000, she was chastised by the Senate president at the time for excessive absences, which Dawson blamed on a new fitness program.

In her final years in office, Dawson was handed a plum assignment in 2007 by then-Senate President Ken Pruitt: chair of the Health Policy Committee, which handled bills dear to Mendelsohn, a major fundraiser involved in health legislation.

Mendelsohn, charged for fraud in ripping off donors to his political committees, pleaded guilty and testified that Dawson insisted he hire her aide, Venica Blakely, for political work.

``She made this request repeatedly,'' said Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn surprised the judge with his portrayal of a pay-to-play world of greedy lawmakers and lobbyists who take care of each other for financial and political gain. He said it's common practice for legislators to ask special interests to hire friends or family. Failure to take up a lawmakers' cause produced a predictable effect.


 "You're toast," he said.

 

[Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 8:25am]

    

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