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‘I knew better, and I was wrong:’ Paige Carter-Smith sentenced to two years in prison

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 8:56 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Former City Commissioner Scott Maddox and former Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige Carter-Smith were sentenced in federal court on Thursday.

Both pleaded guilty to two counts of honest services fraud and one count of tax fraud in August of 2019.

Maddox was sentenced to five years and restitution of $76,763; you can read about his testimony and his character witnesses here.

Carter-Smith was sentenced to two years and restitution of $115,619. Both were also ordered to pay $70,000 in a forfeiture money judgment.

Her attorney Stephen Webster, her children, and Carter-Smith herself, spoke to Judge Robert Hinkle ahead of sentencing.

Webster described Carter-Smith as a friend, mother, citizen, and activist. He asked the judge for her to be entitled to a presumption of goodness, rather than a presumption of innocence.

‘”Every single aspect of her life has been analyzed,” he said.

Webster also spoke about lobbying, saying it’s “not a clear cut business.”

He said Carter-Smith began her career by working with non-profits, but learned, “You can’t help the little guy unless you help the big guy.”

Webster said Carter-Smith knew the situation involving Uber was wrong, but that she had a difficult time with the Southern Pines Development checks.

“She does not share a brain with Scott Maddox; she does not know about every drunken conversation,” said Webster.

Webster said Carter-Smith’s job as Executive Director of the Downtown Improvement Authority was the “pinnacle of her career,” and that she did not want to jeopardize it with her lobbying actions.

He said she pled to the count because she agreed she was “deliberately ignorant” of what Maddox was doing.

“She loved him, probably too much. She’s been accused of that,” Webster said.

At one point, Judge Hinkle interrupted, pointing out that Carter-Smith had pled guilty to wrongdoing.

Webster argued that Carter-Smith initially believed her work with Southern Pines, the FBI front company, would be done in Leon County, in part because of the agents’ trips to the FallsChase development with JT Burnette.

Webster spoke about personal hardships Carter-Smith has experienced over the course of the trial, losing both of her parents, and her ex-husband’s serious medical issues.

Carter-Smith’s attorney also read more than ten character witness letters to the court.

They described her as “consistently thoughtful and friendly,” having already paid a “steep price to her reputation, her career, and her mental health.”

One letter from her ex-husband’s wife, also Carter-Smith’s childhood friend, asked the judge to consider allowing Carter-Smith to remain in Tallahassee, to be an emotional support for her children through her former spouse’s illness.

Carter-Smith’s son, Carter Smith, spoke in person to the judge. He spoke about the “difficult this process has had” on the family, pointing out that the indictment was issued during his finals season, and he lost his grandfather during the next finals season.

“All that I can do is beg you to show mercy to my mother,” Smith said. “Please, please.”

Carter-Smith’s daughter also spoke to the court through tears.

“I wish I didn’t have to be here doing this,” she said, emphasizing that she is proud to be Carter-Smith’s daughter.

“Her strength and kindness inspire me; she taught me to act with grace. Her devotion to her children knows no bounds,” she said. “She’s more than the crimes she’s pled to.”

During Carter-Smith’s daughter’s testimony, Scott Maddox was visibly moved, wiping his eyes.

Carter-Smith then spoke to the judge, crying throughout her testimony.

She said she’d thought about what to say for days.

“What I’d like to say is, ‘I’m sorry,’” Carter-Smith said, “and then go sit back down. But it’s so much more than that.”

Carter-Smith said she chose politics over the ministry because she “wanted to be of service on an individual level.”

She said she left lobbying when Scott Maddox became Mayor and asked her to be his Chief of Staff.

“It was a wonderful time,” she said of the job. “I loved it so much because I was actually making a difference in people’s lives.”

Carter-Smith then spoke about her guilty plea, meetings with the government, and her testimony.

“Did I resist saying I was guilty? Yes, because I didn’t want to believe that in myself,” she said. “I knew better, and I was wrong. I allowed my heart, the bills I had to pay, and everything else blur the line.”

Carter-Smith also apologized to McKibbon, WastePro, her friends, her children. She apologized to Scott Maddox, turning to his defense table, “for not questioning you more.”

“It undermines faith in the system” Judge Hinkle lays out sentence

After Carter-Smith and Maddox’s words to the judge, the prosecution spoke.

Deputy Chief Peter Nothstein said the defendants’ criminal conduct was as important as their past good works.

“Scott Maddox’s corruption broke the foundation of our democracy,” said Nothstein. “Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith ran a pay for play scheme through Governance.”

Judge Hinkle spoke for about thirty minutes about his thoughts on the case and the sentence.

He pointed to the serious nature of the crimes and the long reaching effects.

“It undermines confidence; it undermines faith in the system,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle said the offense itself “cuts toward” a longer sentence, while the offenders “cut toward” a shorter sentence.

“Two defendants who have no criminal history, who have been involved in public service, and who have a good record,” he said. “These are people who have supported others.”

Hinkle pointed out that some statements from Maddox and Carter-Smith’s pleas did not line up with their testimony at the JT Burnette trial.

“The government’s right that the defendants have not been completely forthcoming. I don’t think they were lying,” said Hinkle. “The defendants have persuaded themselves that what they did was not as bad as it was.”

Hinkle pointed out that both Maddox and Carter-Smith have lost a lot; “they’ve fallen hard,” he said. However, he said that’s “not a factor that cuts very strongly one way or the other.”

“They have made things a little worse for all the other people who went into it [public service] for the right reasons,” Hinkle said.

He also pointed out that Maddox had provided information on the alleged McKibbon bribe that the government did not know about for the JT Burnette case.

Burnette was found guilty on five of the nine counts against him, and he will be sentenced October 28.

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