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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Dawson aide: I'm 'cooperating' with feds



A former aide to Sen. Mandy Dawson is talking with authorities in the Justice Department's case against Alan Mendelsohn, a Broward fundraiser extraordinaire accused of transferring $87,000 to an unidentified former state lawmaker.

``You already know I'm cooperating. Talk to my lawyer,'' said ex-aide Venica Blakely, 36, who sources say served as the intermediary funneling the payments to the unnamed lawmaker.

Dawson could not be reached for comment.

Before clicking the link to the full story here on the day's events in the Mendelsohn case as the feds swooped on the Capitol, the following didn't make it.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, had a death in the family yesterday and couldn't meet instantly with investigators. He said he had no clue what they were after, so he read the Herald/Times stories that broke the news of the federal presence in the Senate. Crist said the investigators wanted to know if he thought "it was odd Mandy Dawson chaired a powerful committee," Health Policy.

"I laughed," Crist said. "The committee that did the heavy lifting was the other committee." 

Indeed, that other health committee was chaired by Sen. Jeff Atwater, now Senate President who was questioned by the feds as well. The president who installed Dawson, Ken Pruitt, always liked her, felt badly for her health struggles and rewarded her with a do-nothing committee chair for the fact that he could count on her to buck her fellow Democrats when Republicans needed her vote. On some days, Dawson was so incoherent that Crist ran her committee for her as she stood by.

"Everyone knew Mandy Dawson's vote could be bought," said Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican senator who sat on the committee with Dawson and is now a Public Service Commissioner. Asked to clarify, Argenziano said: "What I mean by buy is that she could be persuaded, pressured by leadership to do favors in return for help on something else. I don't know of her vote being bought in a monetary sense. But I do think there's too much special-interest money that affects the legislative process."

Remember: Dawson did get rapped by her colleagues for improperly soliciting money from lobbyists to bankroll a trip to Africa. She was also convicted in a prescription pills case.

Argenziano said she'll meet soon with investigators to say what she knows.

-- Marc Caputo

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:09pm]


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