Former state Sen. Mandy Dawson must serve six months in prison for failing to file tax returns or pay taxes on money she received from a Broward County doctor as part of an influence-peddling scheme, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Prosecutors said Dawson, a Democrat who served 16 years in the Legislature representing the Fort Lauderdale area, failed to file tax returns for five years and concealed about $82,000 in secret payments she received from political committees controlled by Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a Hollywood eye doctor and lobbyist.
Dawson, 56, became ensnared in a wide-ranging corruption probe focused on Mendelsohn, a prodigious Republican fundraiser now serving a four-year prison sentence on fraud and conspiracy charges. When he pleaded guilty in 2010, Mendelsohn said he funneled checks to Dawson through a campaign aide to ensure that she would not block legislation favoring the medical profession.
Dawson, who left office in 2008 because of term limits, pleaded guilty in April to one count of tax evasion and one count of failing to file a tax return.
Dawson's lawyer, assistant federal public defender Paul Korchin, asked that Dawson be allowed to serve her sentence on house arrest. Korchin said Dawson suffers from depression and rheumatoid arthritis requiring intense medical treatment. Dawson now lives in Daytona Beach.
But while U.S. District Judge Robert Scola expressed sympathy for Dawson, he said her violation of the "public trust" demanded a prison sentence.
"The money you were receiving was for some nefarious and sinister purpose," Scola said. But the judge also recognized that Dawson "did make a substantial contribution to your community."
Before the sentencing, Dawson offered a brief, emotional apology.
"I just want to say that I am very sorry for what I have done," Dawson told the judge in a halting voice.
In addition to six months in prison, Dawson also must serve two years of probation and pay $29,272 in restitution for unpaid taxes from 2003 to 2006.