Swift reaction rippled through Tallahassee late Thursday afternoon after Scott Maddox was sentenced to five years in federal prison for his part in a brazen bribery scheme that left his political career in ruins.
Paige Carter-Smith, his longtime confidante, girlfriend and business partner who steered money to the former city commissioner’s consulting firm, also was sentenced to two years for her role.
Maddox and Carter-Smith were indicted on 44 counts but pleaded guilty to just three: wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
A third defendant, hotel developer and businessman John “J.T.” Burnette, will learn his fate next month following his conviction on four counts.
Day of reckoning:
The federal probe, trial and sentencing rocked the capital city and those who held Maddox and Carter-Smith in high regard.
It also prompted discussion about efforts in City Hall, some proposed and some already codified, to restore public trust in government and bolster ethics policies.
Mayor John Dailey pointed to sweeping ethics reform, passed in 2019, which implemented gift bans, financial disclosures, whistleblower protections and established the Inspector General’s Office.
Friday, City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow announced a six-point ethics reform plan to close lobbying loopholes, end no-bid contracts, and conduct audits of contracts and hires connected to Maddox. At Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners signaled they may be open to strengthening some policies.
“Ethics reform isn’t a one time and done tactic,” Matlow said Friday. “It isn’t, ‘we passed the most extreme ethical reform the city has ever seen and now we’re done.’ Every year, every time we see something we can make better, I think we should address it at that time.”
Immediately after the sentencing, some prominent leaders and power brokers declined to comment. Others opened up to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Many were candid about their disappointment for all involved and Tallahassee’s need to move forward from this dark chapter that’s marred public trust in government.
Former Tallahassee city commissioner who served with Maddox
“I’m glad that the process is over, that the trial is done. I’m glad we can finally move on from this. I’m looking forward to the community, hopefully, doing exactly that. It’s been a difficult process to watch … We can move on.”
Founder and CEO of Sachs Media Group who joined other business leaders in 2016 in urging Scott Maddox to stay on the City Commission rather than run for superintendent
“Our system of democracy relies on that highest level of trust. So, justice has been done here.”
“By and large, the vast majority of public officials, elected and appointed, city government, county government, school system, the legislature, I think are in there for absolutely the right reason – to serve the public. It is these cases where a bad actor betrays the trust, perhaps is in power too long, and steps over a line by a long shot that seems to taint the skies over everybody and everything.”
“Scott is responsible for his behavior. But people who supported him in the past and contributed to his campaigns or urged him to run for this and not that, they didn’t know he was possibly doing corrupt things at the time …”
“The last chapter in his public service is going to be this one. If there is any epilogue, it’s going to take a long time to build back any trust at all. He had a terrific career and he was his own worst enemy, ultimately, by what he did and how he did it.”
President of the Board of Directors for the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates and owner of Bevis Funeral Home
“(It’s) sadness. Sadness for all of us. For Scott, who’s a good friend of mine. For Paige, who is a good friend of mine, who grew up across the street from my wife’s family. We helped her within the last couple of years when her mother and then her father passed away. Sadness for Tallahassee. It’s a chapter we all need to close and get behind us.
“The business community did not let this happen. City Hall let this happen. A very small percentage of us may have been involved in some of this, but the business community as a whole was just as surprised as you were, as surprised as anyone was.”
“I saw Scott and Paige at a funeral a couple of weeks ago … I went over and talked to them and wished them luck. They’ve got a whole new chapter in their life ahead of them.”
Tallahassee City Manager. In 2015, Maddox made the motion to hire Goad, who was serving as interim. He was selected on a 4-1 vote.
“As public servants, we must work every day to earn the trust of those we serve. The admitted actions of Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith undermine the public’s confidence in its government and are inexcusable and can never happen. Their actions hurt the city we all love and serve. Overall, today is a sad day.”
“The public trust was violated for personal gain and our entire community has suffered. The self-servings acts of a few have clouded our city for too long. Since I was elected, we have passed the most comprehensive and strongest ethics reform package in our city’s history. We’ve banned all gifts from lobbyists & vendors, required full financial disclosures, established an Inspector General’s office, & implemented whistleblower protections. We are committed to the hard work of healing our community and rebuilding the public trust as we move forward.” (Twitter statement)
“In this case, justice under the law was served. I’m glad to see this chapter of the public corruption scandal that has rocked our community come to an end. But to me, what was revealed was a broken system of unregistered lobbying and hand picked staff that assisted Maddox in defrauding the public. Serious crimes were committed against the people of Tallahassee, and the people will have justice. We won’t be defined by those who abuse the public trust, but we will continue to root out wrongdoing and propose stricter rules and penalties on those who think local government is for their personal gain.” (texted statement)
City Commissioner who served with Maddox
“I would say that justice has been served and now the city of Tallahassee moves forward. We’ve got lots of issues as a city that we are dealing with and so that’s where our attention needs to be focused.”
City Commissioner who was elected after beating the candidate appointed to replace Maddox, who was ousted by the governor. Porter also was a regular spectator at the trial of J.T. Burnette and met with Maddox in a “private” meeting before her election. She has declined to answer questions about it but said it was part of “duediligence.”
“I think it is a sad day for Tallahassee. It’s a really dark part of our history and one we have to reckon with. I hope we use this as a moment where we think very strategically about the kind of city we want to be and how we’re going to move forward to make sure nothing like this every happens again. I don’t think a prison sentence is going to undo the damage or solve the underlying problem where corruption existed in City Hall.”
Former executive director for the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency who was ousted amid criticism of the CRA.
“I will only say that it was a surprising sentence. That’s it. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Director of the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority
“It’s a step in their part of this process. And now, as a community, we have this settled and we can move forward.”
“It’s important to note (Carter-Smith) was not implicated in her role with the Downtown Improvement Authority. It’s been tough for downtown to be associated with something that the organization didn’t have a role in. The important thing for me is to acknowledge the good work that we are doing downtown, and the incredible business owners and events and the work that the board has put into creating substantive change and good work going on downtown.”
Former DOMI Station executive director and candidate for executive director of the Downtown Improvement Authority, who was passed over when Carter-Smith got the job. He sent the Democrat this statement.
“This is a sobering reminder for everyone associated with the Maddox machine that actions have consequences. But it’s also an opportunity for the Tallahassee of today to leave behind the power brokers of the past and build something better for tomorrow. Where will Tallahassee be in five years time? After today’s news, I believe it’ll be brighter, driven by new optimism, new leadership, and a better future for all.”
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Local entrepreneur, Gaines Street and Railroad Square developer and businessman who is a friend of Maddox’s but never in business with him
“I’m sad to see this happen. I was able to see Scott through the years and it doesn’t come as an enormous surprise. But, I’m sad to see it.”
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Local lobbyist and government consultant, friend of Maddox and political supporter
“I was shocked by the leniency shown by Judge Hinkle because, in following the trial through the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, it didn’t appear to me that Scott Maddox was that helpful in convicting J.T. Burnette. He equivocated, he made excuses, he failed to remember and he contradicted Paige Carter-Smith. But the judge was there every day and I wasn’t so I will defer to him. I’m not sure five years in a federal prison, that is much of an impediment for elected officials to keep them from doing the same thing.”
Local businessman and longtime City Hall critic who spoke out against Maddox’s misdeeds for years
“I spent 10 years of my life trying to see that Scott and a few other politicians are going to prison and I would think that Scott should at least get the same number of years I’ve spent on this. Ten years would have been appropriate. The fact you can go out and bribe people, extort money, lie to the FBI, file false income tax returns with the IRS and wind up with a fine of $175,000 and five years in prison and he’ll be out in four, that seems pretty light.”
“It sends a message to a number of people in this community that white collar crime does pay. I think that we’ve sent a message to other politicians that they’ll be more careful. Was it worth my time? Absolutely. I wanted to prove a point.”
President and CEO of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in a statement
“On multiple occasions, we have condemned public corruption and we do so again today as sentences are handed down to a former commissioner and his colleague. In addition to violating the public trust, corruption provides fodder for those who want to taint an entire community — who care more about tearing down than building up.”
“Our community must not allow the actions of a few to diminish the amazing work of the government officials, business owners and workers who follow the law and want to see Tallahassee prosper.”
President of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce
“This is just a wake-up call that offers multiple opportunities for lessons. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with them personally. They were in position before I got in position here at the chamber so I think it just opened up eyes on multiple levels, where we can reflect and reevaluate friendships and business interactions. I believe most people across our community are honest, work hard and observe fair practices.”
Contact TaMaryn Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter or Reporter Karl Etters at email@example.com.
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