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.
Prosecutors said Dawson failed to file any tax returns between 2004 and 2008, a time when she was serving in the state Senate. They argued that Dawson should serve eight months in prison.
“The defendant’s long-running pattern of appearing to be a well-meaning public servant while privately evading every citizen’s most basic obligation of filing tax returns is not simply inexcusable, it is galling,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton wrote in court papers.
Korchin argued that Dawson’s conduct was influenced by her dependency on drugs. In court papers, Korchin said Dawson became addicted to prescription painkillers following back surgeries in 2002 and 2006. Dawson also was admitted to a Delray Beach drug treatment center three times between 2003 and 2007.
“She was impaired at the time,” Korchin said Friday. “It was noticed by people there that Ms. Dawson did appear impaired while serving in the Legislature.”
Dawson also tested positive for cocaine in May while free on bond.
She must report to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Oct. 5.