TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CW44 News At 10)–John Thomas Burnette, 44, of Tallahassee, Florida has been sentenced to 36 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and ordered to pay a $1,250,000 fine and restitution in the amount of $20,000. The sentence was announced by Jason R. Coody, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
In December 2018, a federal grand jury charged Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith in a forty-four-count indictment. In May 2019, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment adding Burnette as a defendant. Maddox and Carter-Smith subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of Honest Services Fraud by Bribery and one count of Conspiring to Interfere with the Lawful Function of the IRS. In October 2019, a grand jury returned a second superseding indictment against Burnette.
Burnette's sentence was the result of a federal jury returning a guilty verdict on August 13, 2021, at the conclusion of a fifteen-day trial. The jury found Burnette guilty on one count of Extortion Under Color of Official Right, two counts of Honest Services Fraud by Bribery, one count of Use of Interstate Commerce Facilities to Promote Bribery, and one count of Making False Statements to a Federal Officer.
At trial, the government presented evidence that Burnette engaged in a multi-year scheme with Maddox and Carter-Smith to commit extortion, fraud, and bribery. During the scheme, Burnette and Maddox extorted bribe payments from FBI undercover agents ("UCs") who were posing as real estate developers and entrepreneurs. Burnette instructed the UCs that to obtain preferential treatment, they must pay bribes to Maddox through Governance Services. Burnette, Maddox, Carter-Smith, and the UCs agreed that the UCs would pay Governance Services $10,000 per month in exchange for Maddox agreeing to perform official acts meant to benefit the UCs' sham development company.
In 2017, FBI agents approached Burnette, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked Burnette about his involvement in the bribe payments to Maddox. During the interview, Burnette repeatedly lied about his knowledge of the UCs' payments to and involvement with Maddox.
"The democratic system on which our country was founded relies on the consent and trust of the governed," stated Acting U.S. Attorney Coody. "Our citizens deserve and expect that those in public office will act in the public's interest, rather than their own and that of their confederates. With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, we will ensure that public officials who violate their oath by accepting bribes, as well as those corrupt individuals who pay them, are held accountable."
"Our citizens are entitled to decisions based on the best interests of the public, not the best interests of corrupt public officials and bribe-paying business owners seeking to line their own pocketbooks," said Rachel L. Rojas, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. "Let there be no doubt - bribes are not good business in Tallahassee, nor anywhere else. The FBI remains fully committed to ensuring that anyone who violates the public's trust is held accountable."
Scott Maddox was sentenced to 60 months imprisonment, followed by 1-year supervised release. In addition, Maddox was ordered to pay restitution to the IRS of $76,763.00, and forfeiture of $70,000 jointly and severally with codefendant(s).
Paige Carter-Smith was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment, followed by 1-year supervised release. In addition, Carter-Smith was ordered to pay restitution to the IRS of $115,619, and forfeiture of $70,000 jointly and severally with codefendant(s).
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