It’s not unusual for people facing rehab, prison or some other situation in which they’ll be on lockdown to seek a little courage before giving up their freedom.
And that’s exactly what suspended Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his longtime aide and former business partner Paige Carter-Smith did the night before they appeared in federal court this week to enter guilty pleas in a high-profile public corruption case.
In one of the charges, Maddox and Carter-Smith admitted to soliciting $30,000 in payments from a ride-sharing company in exchange for action by Maddox on the city commission. The company, identified as Uber in reporting by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, paid the money to Carter-Smith, who then funneled cash to the commissioner.
During Tuesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle asked Maddox and Carter-Smith a litany of pro forma questions.
Hinkle wanted to know whether prosecutors had made any promises or threats. The judge asked Maddox, a former chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, and Carter-Smith if they had a history of psychological problems.
And he asked the pair if they had consumed any alcohol or drugs within the past 24 hours.
“Yes, sir,” they both answered, before being asked by Hinkle to elaborate.
“Two glasses of Jack Daniel’s,” Carter-Smith, 54, told the judge.
“Woodford Reserve,” Maddox, 51, responded.
Maddox and Carter-Smith, who’ve been friends and co-workers for decades, pleaded guilty to the same three federal charges --- prosecutors dropped nearly 40 others --- and are facing maximum sentences of 45 years behind bars and $750,000 in fines.
But they seem to part ways when it comes to bellying up to the bar.
Carter-Smith favors Jack Daniel’s, the Tennessee sour mash whiskey with the iconic black label. Maddox, meanwhile, apparently has a more refined palate.
Woodford Reserve, crafted in one of Kentucky’s “oldest and smallest distilleries,” according to its website, is renowned for its prize-winning bourbon. The distillery also produces a handful of other specialty whiskeys.
The bourbon’s nose is “heavy with rich dried fruit, hints of mint and oranges covered with a dusting of cocoa” with a whiff of “faint vanilla and tobacco spice,” Woodford’s website boasts. It’s got a “silky smooth, almost creamy” finish, “with a long, warm satisfying tail.”
Unlike Carter-Smith, Maddox didn’t reveal how much he consumed the night before the hearing, in which he grudgingly admitted to wrongdoing.
Whether they imbibed at home or elsewhere, it wasn’t the pair’s last night to knock back a few.
Maddox and Carter-Smith are scheduled to be sentenced in mid-November.
And the whiskey break didn’t violate any of the conditions of their pre-trial release, which requires them to “refrain from excessive use of alcohol,” as well as controlled substances, “unless prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner.”
STAYING ON THE SIDELINES
More than 100 local officials, environmentalists, representatives of agricultural interests, transportation planners, members of business groups and educators will serve on task forces that will work on major toll-road plans approved during this year’s legislative session.
But one group was noticeably absent when the task-force rosters were rolled out this week: the Sierra Club, which was among the most vocal critics of the toll-road projects backed by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
A Sierra Club of Florida spokeswoman said it was a choice, not an oversight, that the group isn’t represented on any of the "Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance" task forces.
“SC (the Sierra Club) was invited to participate in the task forces but declined due to our opposition to MCORES (the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance),” Sierra Club spokeswoman Deborah Foote said in an email after the task force members were announced.
The Sierra Club has maintained the road projects would fragment wildlife habitat, lead to urban sprawl and waste state transportation resources.
Each planned road --- extending the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border; extending the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and adding a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County --- has its own task force of more than 40 people.
Each task force has environmental representation. Audubon Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy have people on each task force, while the Florida Wildlife Corridor has an appointee to the Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force and The Everglades Foundation is on the Southwest Central Florida Connector Task Force.
The third panel is named the Suncoast Connector Task Force.
Task force members also come from state agencies, water management districts, local governments, regional planning councils, colleges and universities and business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Trucking Association, the Florida Rural Water Association, Florida Internet & Television and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.
Meetings are set to begin Aug. 27 in Tampa, with a final report ready by Oct. 1, 2020.
Lawmakers approved spending $45 million during the current fiscal year for the road work, which isn’t expected to be completed for at least a decade. Annual funding is expected to reach about $140 million in coming years.
BIPARTISAN TURTLE WATCHING
State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, appear to have found common ground at the beach.
The lawmakers with vastly divergent views of many hot-button issues joined the University of Central Florida to co-host a turtle walk last week at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
“My kids have grown up watching sea turtles hatch along the beaches in my district,” Fine said. “This issue is important to me from an environmental lens and at a personal level, and I really enjoyed welcoming my colleagues to House District 53 to learn more about sea turtle habitats and research efforts.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Senseless violence like we saw over the weekend across the country must stop. No function of government is more important than the safety of the people we serve. The @FLSenate will work even harder to ensure that safety. Thoughts and prayers must yield action.” --- Senate President Bill Galvano (@BillGalvano).