U.S. Attorney applicants for central Florida offer diversity, experience

Five lawyers have applied to be the top federal prosecutor for the region that includes Tampa Bay.
The Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse in downtown Tampa.
The Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse in downtown Tampa. [ WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 24, 2021

TAMPA — Five lawyers are vying to be the next U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, a 35-county region that includes Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa.

A federal judicial nominating conference released their applications this week ahead of formal interviews for the job. Three applicants are assistant U.S. attorneys. Two are African American. One has Indian roots. All have robust legal experience.

Two candidates — Jason Mehta and Stacie Cox Harris — have generated considerable buzz in Tampa’s legal community in the past few months. But the list also includes two Orlando-based attorneys — Roger Handberg, a high-level assistant U.S. attorney, and Alexis Carter, a defense attorney and former Army officer.

President Joseph R. Biden will choose a nominee, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Former U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez resigned in February, along with more than 50 other top federal prosecutors nationwide.

Here’s a look at the applicants.

Alexis Carter

Alexis Carter
Alexis Carter [ Alexis Carter ]

Carter, 37, is a former U.S. Army officer with experience as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney.

A graduate of Florida A&M University College of Law, he began his career in 2009 as an assistant public defender in Orlando before entering the Army. During his seven years of active-duty service, he served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. For four years, he was an Army prosecutor and special assistant U.S. attorney. He later began his own law practice, focusing on criminal defense.

He ran unsuccessfully last year for a Florida Senate seat.

Carter is perhaps most recognizable for his cameo appearance as a witness in the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman was a student in a criminal litigation course Carter taught at Seminole State College. When Zimmerman was charged with killing Trayvon Martin, Carter was called to testify about what Zimmerman knew or should have known about Florida’s stand your ground law.

Roger B. Handberg

Roger B. Handberg
Roger B. Handberg [ 30 JPEG | Handout ]

Handberg, 50, has been a federal prosecutor for 18 years, including 12 years as senior litigation counsel.

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A graduate of Harvard Law School, he has handled cases that range from public corruption, tax evasion and white-collar crime to child exploitation and civil rights. He was among the finalists to be U.S. attorney in 2009 and 2013.

Since 2018, he has led the district’s Orlando Division.

His most notable cases include the prosecution of former Backstreet Boys and NSYNC manager Lou Pearlman, who drew a 25-year prison sentence in 2008 for a $300 million fraud case.

More recently, Handberg led the prosecution of former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, a case which spawned a separate investigation involving U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Stacie B. Harris

Stacie B. Harris
Stacie B. Harris [ Florida State University Alumni ]

Harris, 41, has handled a range of cases in her 12 years as a federal prosecutor. As an assistant U.S. attorney based in Tampa since 2008, she has served as chief of the major crimes division and led the area’s Human Trafficking Task Force.

A Tallahassee native, Harris earned her bachelor’s and law degrees from Florida State University. Since 2018, she has served as an associate deputy attorney general in Washington, D.C., coordinating national efforts at preventing child exploitation and human trafficking.

In her cover letter, Harris wrote of a personal calling to help make a fairer and more equal justice system.

“As an African American prosecutor, I have personally experienced the competing interests that can arise when seeking justice while recognizing and working to improve inequities in the system,” she wrote.

Jason Mehta

Jason Mehta
Jason Mehta [ Jason Mehta ]

Mehta, 38, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and worked stints at two Washington, D.C., firms in his early career, and later worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of State. He served as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville from 2012 to 2017, handling cases that ranged from billion-dollar fraud to racketeering.

He left government service to join the firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, where his focus is in white-collar criminal defense. It is the same firm that employs former U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III, whom Mehta, in his application, called a mentor and personal friend. His list of references also includes former U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton and U.S. District Judge Bill Jung.

In his cover letter, Mehta wrote that his father immigrated to the U.S. at age 20 from India, where his family had lived in refugee camps following the partition. He also wrote of his Jewish maternal grandmother fleeing from Nazi Germany in 1942, and how his family’s experiences made him appreciate the American ideal of equality.

Matthew H. Perry

Perry, 63, has been a federal prosecutor in Tampa for 21 years. He previously spent 12 years as a federal public defender.

As a senior litigation counsel, he provides legal opinions to the U.S. attorney and provides management oversight of the office’s attorneys and staff. He has prosecuted complex cases involving overseas narcotics smuggling. He has also defended the U.S. government in high-dollar lawsuits.

Perry ran unsuccessfully for circuit judge in 2017 in Pinellas County. He holds a law degree from Stetson University College of Law.