Florida Legislator Arrested for Tax Evasion

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Former Florida state legislator Mandy Dawson was arrested by the F.B.I. this summer for tax evasion and failure to file tax returns for allegedly underpaying the I.R.S. by $11,889 in 2004 and $12,966 in 2005. Authorities also allege Dawson failed to file income tax returns in 2006-2008. Dawson was released on a $100,000 personal surety bond and cannot travel outside of central and south Florida.

Dawson began her political career by spending six years in Florida's House of Representatives and then went on to serve another 10 years in the Senate. While serving as a legislator, Dawson gained a reputation for championing causes that helped poor people and minorities, such as increasing funding to the Florida Department of Health so it could expand AIDS, sickle cell and cancer prevention programs to help reach more minorities. Dawson left office in 2008 due to term limits and her last days in office were plagued with health issues, causing her to miss many key votes.

Few were surprised at Dawson's arrest, since the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating Dawson since 2009 in a federal public corruption probe in connection with accusations that she accepted money from Hollywood eye doctor and major political fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn, who was treasurer of the Florida Medical Association's political action committee, told authorities that he gave Dawson $82,000 in 2003 and 2005 when Dawson was serving as a state senator in an effort to prevent Dawson from voting against legislation that Mendelsohn wanted passed. Mendelsohn also said that Dawson demanded that he hire Dawson's friend Veronica Blakely and that it was through Blakely that Mendelsohn gave money to Dawson.

Dawson denied taking money from Mendelsohn. However, Dawson did receive a public reprimand from the Senate for soliciting money from lobbyists to pay for a 10-day trip to Africa. Mendelsohn's PAC was among those whom Dawson asked for money and she received $2,500 from his PAC. Mendelsohn's accusations were not mentioned in the indictment documents for Dawson's tax evasion charges, though.

Tax evasion is a crime with serious penalties. Dawson faces up to five years in prison for each tax evasion charge and one year in prison for each charge of failing to file tax returns. Additionally, courts may impose a criminal fine of up to $100,000 on those convicted of tax evasion.