City Commissioner Scott Maddox, associates caught up in FBI’s ‘big net’
Jeff Burlew and Jennifer Portman, Tallahassee Democrat
One of the biggest bombshells yet in the FBI’s long-running investigation into alleged public corruption in Tallahassee dropped Friday when a new subpoena of City Hall surfaced — this time naming City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his closest associates.
The subpoena, dated Sept. 6, demands “any and all communications” since 2012 to or from Maddox, his former business partner Gary Yordon and any aide to Maddox “formally or informally,” including Paige Carter-Smith, his former chief of staff and executive director of the Downtown Improvement Authority, and Allie Merzer Fleming, his current aide.
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It marked the first time an elected or former elected official’s name appeared in a subpoena issued by the federal grand jury that’s working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee. The investigation is believed to have begun around the summer of 2015 when undercover agents posing as out-of-town businessmen first showed up in town and began meeting and socializing with elected officials and business leaders.
Maddox, who was uncharacteristically reserved during Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, issued a statement Friday but declined to answer any questions.
“While I am unaware of any specifics in this inquiry, it is clear that I am included in the big net currently being cast,” he said. “As my voting record clearly shows, I have always protected the taxpayers’ money and advocated in their best interest. This community knows how responsive my office has been to their needs and that will not waver as we cooperate fully with whatever is asked of us.”
Yordon, who worked with Maddox for years at Governance, Inc., the consulting firm Maddox sold to Carter-Smith in 2010, said he was unconcerned that his name appeared in the subpoena. A former county commissioner turned media consultant and TV talk show host, Yordon said he never met with any of the undercover agents.
“I understand that this is how any investigation works,” said Yordon, who writes a humor column in the Democrat. “They’re going to run down every name, and probably many more subpoenas will come. You just have to trust in the process. I do.”
Fleming said in an email she would defer to Maddox’s statement. Carter-Smith did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Related: See the Sept. 6 federal subpoena
It’s the third grand jury subpoena on a government agency to publicly surface since June, when the FBI dropped a pair on City Hall and the city/Leon County Community Redevelopment Agency. The earlier subpoenas demanded information from the city and CRA involving their interactions with eight local business people, including Carter-Smith, and more than a dozen of their businesses, including Governance, Inc., and Governance Services, another Carter-Smith owned firm.
The new subpoena didn’t come up during this week’s City Commission meeting, even though at least two commissioners and City Attorney Lew Shelley knew about it at the time. Shelley informed at least one commissioner of the subpoena, but he did not notify them all.
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson learned about it in a phone call from the Tallahassee Democrat.
“I’m totally speechless, to be honest with you,” Richardson said. “I never would have imagined. I certainly wish them well, and they’re all people I’ve known for years. I just hope that things work out however they’re going to work out. I don’t know what to say.”
City Commissioner Nancy Miller said Shelley told her about the subpoena last week. She said that while the five commissioners all serve together, “no one is really able to police the others.” She noted that no one has been indicted, much less convicted, in the investigation.
“The rush to judgment always concerns me,” she said. “Remember it’s an investigation. They’re asking for materials they haven’t seen yet. So it’s not really my place or anyone else’s to assume any findings. Clearly, if there is any misbehavior, we want to discover that and then we want to put the safeguards in place to ensure that similar events don’t occur in the future.”
Mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s running for governor, is no longer commenting on the investigation, one of his aides said. Gillum in June acknowledged speaking with the FBI, but he said he was cooperating and told he was not a target of its investigation. The FBI, which typically doesn’t comment on its investigations, hasn’t publicly confirmed that.
However, Gillum was photographed during a trip last year to New York City with a presumed undercover FBI agent posing as a developer from Atlanta named “Mike Miller.” Gillum has said he did not know at the time that Miller may have been an undercover agent. Also photographed with Miller and Gillum was Tallahassee lobbyist Adam Corey, a close friend of the mayor and an owner of the city-backed Edison restaurant whose name also appeared in the earlier subpoenas.
City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, who learned about the latest subpoena on Friday, said it would be difficult for him to speculate on the document. But he said it clearly shows the FBI wants more information about the individuals named in it.
“Anytime subpoenas are delivered to the city of Tallahassee requesting information on people that work there or are in some way connected to the city is of great concern,” he said. “And the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better off we’ll all be.”
Maddox, an attorney and a Democrat, was elected to the City Commission in 1993 and served as the city’s first leadership mayor from 1997 until 2003. After unsuccessful bids for attorney general and agriculture commissioner and a brief run for governor, he again won election to the City Commission in 2012.
He served as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party from 2003 to 2005. Party officials blamed Maddox for leaving it with unresolved financial issues, including a $200,000 debt to the IRS. When he worked for the party, Carter-Smith served as its executive director and Fleming as its communications director.
Maddox and Carter-Smith, whose friendship dates back to their days at Leon High, also have a long history of real-estate transactions. As a result of those deals and others, Carter-Smith owns more than $4 million in property in the Adams Street corridor. John “J.T” Burnette and his Hunter and Harp firm — both named in the June subpoenas — were involved in some of the transactions.
The September subpoena lists the same 2015 case number and one of the same FBI agents as the earlier subpoenas. It asked for the records to be delivered to the grand jury at the U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee or the FBI’s office on East Jefferson Street by 9 a.m. Oct. 3.
“We’ll fully comply with the law,” City Attorney Shelley said.