Mendelsohn Pleads Guilty, Says He Paid Dawson

By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida
By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 7, 2010 --

A big time political donor facing a possible prison sentence alleged Thursday that he was a participant in a wide-spread culture of corruption and claimed he funneled more than $80,000 to former Sen. Mandy Dawson to curry favor for legislation he was pushing.

Alan Mendelsohn, a Broward County ophthalmologist, who became a major political contributor and a well-known power broker and lobbyist in Tallahassee – serving on Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2006 gubernatorial transition team – pleaded guilty to one federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion in a plea deal. He had faced 37 federal charges after a federal public corruption investigation.

Mendelsohn, 52, who could face five years in prison when sentenced early next year, though, said in court on Thursday that he was part of a system that encouraged corruption. He said he hired a close friend of Dawson, at the senator’s bidding. Dawson, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, served in the House from 1992 to 1998 and was in the Senate from 1998 to 2008 before leaving because of term limits.

Dawson, even though she was a Democrat, was chairwoman of the Senate Health Policy Committee in 2007 and 2008 and would have had some influence over whether health care legislation made it through the Senate, though it wasn’t the only health care panel in the Senate at the time.

Several members of the Senate said last year that they’d been interviewed about Dawson in connection with the Mendelsohn investigation.

Mendelsohn, one of the biggest political donors in the state until his indictment, told U.S. District Judge William Zloch Thursday in open court that he hired Dawson’s friend at the senator’s insistence and then passed money to Dawson through the employee, several media outlets reported. He also alleged that other legislators ask lobbyists to hire family or friends, and that lobbyists who don’t go along with such requests are “toast” and that he believed doing so would allow his legislation to “sail through,” the process.

Dawson hasn’t been charged. It’s not clear whether she has a lawyer, and Senate Democratic officials said Thursday they don’t know where Dawson lives now or how to reach her.

Allegations of corruption have swirled around Florida state government and politics for the last couple years, though few formal cases have gone forward. Former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has been charged with misspending party money and is awaiting trial. Former House Speaker Ray Sansom was forced out of office and charged with steering money in the state budget to a friend and contributor, though Sansom is fighting the charges.

Several members of the Legislature declined to comment on Mendelsohn’s allegations that legislators expect those trying to get legislation passed to hire certain people or even pay what amounts to a bribe, though there have been no bribery charges filed in this case or any other in recent years.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who wasn’t president at the time during which Mendelsohn says he paid Dawson, declined through a spokesman to comment on the case or Mendelsohn’s allegations.
Mendelsohn is scheduled for sentencing by U.S. District Judge William Zloch on Feb. 17. Zloch said in court Thursday that Mendelsohn’s description portrayed a “pretty sorry state of affairs with regards to what goes on in the statehouse."


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