Former Fort Lauderdale legislator Mandy Dawson, who became entangled in a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into "pay-to-play politics" in the state's capital, pleaded guilty Monday in Miami federal court to tax evasion and failing to file a tax return.
Dawson, who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years, faces up to six years in prison at her sentencing set for July 20.
Her plea brought to a close the Justice Department's 5-year-old investigation into influence peddling in Tallahassee, which revolved around now-imprisoned Hollywood eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn, a Republican lobbyist and fundraiser.
Still, Dawson maintained outside the courtroom afterward that she is "no different than any other person walking the streets of America" with tax problems.
In late 2010, when Mendelsohn pleaded guilty to a fraud-conspiracy charge, he said in federal court that he had funneled $82,000 to Dawson through her former legislative aide when the Democrat served as a state senator for the prior decade. As part of the plot, the aide was hired for a no-show job by one of the physician's political action committees because Dawson "made this request repeatedly," he said.
Mendelsohn, an ophthalmologist with connections to former Gov. Charlie Crist and other Republicans, asserted he made the payments to Dawson so she wouldn't oppose legislation supporting the medical profession.
Mendelsohn maintained that such tainted payoffs to legislators seeking favors were more the rule than the exception in Tallahassee.
At Mendelsohn's sentencing last year, U.S. District Judge William Zloch told the 53-year-old that his stiff sentence of four years was warranted because his pay-to-play misconduct was like a "cancer" with "tentacles" that corrupted good government in the Florida Legislature.
A Miami federal grand jury charged Dawson, who has relocated to the Daytona Beach area, with failing to pay income taxes of $11,889 on $92,324 in income for 2004 and $12,966 on $102,896 in income for 2005.
She was also charged with failing to file income tax returns for 2006, 2007 and 2008.
The deal requires her to file complete tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service for the years in question, and to pay back taxes, penalties and fines.