Jacksonville Rep. Reggie Fullwood indicted on federal charges
A Democratic state representative from Jacksonville has been indicted on more than a dozen federal wire fraud and tax charges and is accused of embezzling campaign funds for personal expenses, ranging from restaurants to jewelry stores.
U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III announced the charges today against Reggie Fullwood -- a three-term state representative who, this past session, was the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
Fullwood, 41, faces 10 counts of wire fraud and four counts of failure to file federal income tax returns. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud offense, and a year of imprisonment for each failure to file charge.
Fullwood turned himself into federal authorities on Friday and pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance in Florida’s Middle District of U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. It lasted 20 minutes.
He was released under a $10,000 bond that he has to pay only if he fails to appear at future hearings, court records show. He was also required to surrender his passport to his attorney.
According to the indictment, Fullwood registered a "fictitious" campaign account with the Florida Department of State for the purpose of soliciting donations prior to his first run for state House in 2010.
At least 10 times between November 2010 and December 2011, the indictment says Fullwood transferred money from that "Reggie Fullwood Campaign" account to the account of "Rhino Harbor LLC," an inactive company registered in Fullwood's name.
He "submitted false and fraudulent campaign expenditure reports to the State of Florida, which included inflated and/or non-existent campaign expenses in order to hide and conceal the fact that (he) had fraudulently and unlawfully embezzled funds," the indictment says.
State law prohibits candidates or their spouses from using campaign funds to defray personal expenses unrelated to a political campaign.
The indictment said Fullwood "did knowingly and willfully devise and participate in, and intend to devise and participate in, a scheme and artifice to defraud, and for obtaining money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises."
Fullwood is accused of using the money "to pay for personal expenses or withdraw cash at various locations, including restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, jewelry stores, florists, gas stations, ATMs for cash withdrawals and liquor stores."
If Fullwood is convicted, the federal government is also seeking a monetary judgment of $65,445 -- the equivalent of the "proceeds obtained" from the wire transfers, according to the indictment.
Fullwood is also accused of "willfully" failing to file tax returns from 2010 through 2013.
“Public officials, whether elected or appointed, hold positions of trust in the eyes of the public. That trust is broken when these officials commit crimes,” Special Agent in Charge Kim Lappin of the IRS-Tampa Field Office said in a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office. “No public official gets a free pass to ignore the tax laws.”
A trial date has been set for June 6, but that could change.
Fullwood’s attorney Robert Willis told the Times/Herald he intends to file a motion to dismiss the charges.
“We just have a disagreement with the government about the application of that law to these facts,” Willis said, in reference to the wire fraud charges.
As the criminal case plays out, Fullwood will remain in elected office.
Under Florida House rules, a member facing a felony indictment can request to be “excused” by the House speaker without pay until a case is resolved. If the case is later dismissed or the member is found not guilty, the member would be eligible for back-pay of all salary and benefits.
Fullwood had not made such a request as of Friday, and it’s unclear whether he intends to.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement to the Times/Herald: “Rep. Fullwood has been indicted but has not had his day in court yet. These are serious charges that he must answer.”
Fullwood filed for re-election in January. He, so far, has no challengers.
He's listed as his own campaign treasurer for this election cycle but hasn't reported any contributions. The state has sent him six "fail to file" letters since February for not reporting financial activity. He would be subject to severe fines "if reportable activity occurred" and he did not file disclosures, the letters warn.
The last sitting legislator to be charged with a felony was former House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin. He was indicted in April 2009 by a Leon County grand jury for official misconduct and other charges. All charges were later dropped.
Herald/Times reporters Steve Bousquet and Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report.