Former Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson appeared in court Wednesday for the first time on 11 public corruption charges that were filed in January.
Hutchinson, 53, stood mute on the charges, a tactic that preserves certain legal rights that she could lose if she entered a plea. Among the rights that she kept by politely refusing to answer to the charges in court is the ability to dispute any possible defects in the charging document prosecutors filed against her.
Broward Circuit Judge John Luzzo, who was barely audible on the bench, said he would enter a plea of "not guilty" on her behalf and that he would ask for another judge to handle the case because he has known Hutchinson for years.
Hutchinson is accused of trading her City Commission votes for $14,000 worth of home improvements and services, including the installation of a new toilet at her home. Prosecutors said the gifts were from a developer who received city zoning changes for a project while she was an elected official.
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She also received a surround-sound system and special lights for her pool, pavers, fences and air-conditioning repairs, according to court records. The services were provided by subcontractors who worked on the La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments in Fort Lauderdale, which were built by Glenn Wright and Stephen Goldstrom.
Hutchinson and her attorney, Bruce Udolf, declined to comment after the brief court hearing. Udolf has said the services were personal favors provided to Hutchinson by friends and had nothing to do with her role as an elected official.
Goldstrom, 54, of Fort Lauderdale, was charged with one count of perjury after investigators said he lied during the Hutchinson investigation.
Wright, 57, also of Fort Lauderdale, denied he knew anything about the work done for Hutchinson and pleaded no contest this month to a charge that he stole $20,000 from the La Preserve homeowners association. Wright was sentenced to three years of probation and 75 hours of community service, and must pay about $4,000 for the investigation into his activities.
Hutchinson was forced off the commission by term limits in March 2009. She has been unemployed since she was terminated from her job as president and CEO of the Riverwalk Trust in Fort Lauderdale after the charges were filed. She had served three terms on the City Commission, starting in 2000.
The criminal case against her will be assigned to Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson, court records show.