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Local politician enters not guilty plea to new charge

Posted on March 04, 2010 3:00 AM EST

An embattled local commissioner remains mired in the state criminal justice system and things seem to be getting worse. Michelle-Spence Jones appeared in circuit court facing a new charge of bribery. The defendant reported to the same courtroom where she faces another case charged with grand theft. She was taken into custody for the purpose of being booked on the new case. The judge presiding over the matter did not require her to post an additional bond to secure her release. However, she had to be taken into custody to activate her new case in the system. The politician did not address the court in the presence of her Miami criminal attorney. However, as she was being led away by corrections officers she yelled out, "God be the glory."

The newest case stems from allegations that the commissioner solicited a bribe from a local developer in the amount of $25,000.00. The developer allegedly paid that sum in order to get a favorable vote from the commission regarding a condominium and office complex development. The grand jury heard the case and indicted Spence-Jones on two counts of bribery. The grand jury heard evidence that the developer requested that the commission extend Brickell Avenue north across the Miami River in an effort to gain a prominent address for the new condo and office complex. The initial request was made to the commission on March 23, 2010, but the issue was not resolved. Prosecutors allege that Spence-Jones or her representative demanded $25,000 from the developer. The developer allegedly eventually contributed $12,500 to non-profit organization created by Spence-Jones. At the developer's request, the project's chief builder contributed another $12,500 to the organization.

The commission never voted on the name change because only the Florida Legislature had the authority to change the name of a state road. Spence-Jones is also involved in state civil court, as well as criminal state court. The civil circuit court judge is determining whether the governor of Florida acted within his rights in suspending the politician, not once, but twice. The governor initially suspended Spence-Jones, but she was re-elected to different seat. Upon her re-election, she was again suspended by the governor. This latest case comes as Miami-Dade County is attempting to clean up politics in the South Florida area. The last politician charged was a former judge accused of committing grand theft. He was found guilty and sentenced to 21 months in state prison.

Bribery and corruption cases are usually charged under Florida Statute 838.014. The charge is defined as corruptly giving or offering to give a public servant or soliciting or accepting any pecuniary or other benefit in violation of state law with the intent and purpose to influence the performance of an overt act in violation of a public duty. Bribery is second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison. Bribery is a level seven offense under the offense severity ranking chart established under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Assuming a person has no prior record, a conviction for bribery will sustain a prison sentence from 21 months to 15 years. The sentencing guidelines mandates that judges cannot deviate below the guidelines without a legal reason for departure. That being the case, Spence-Jones is facing prison time if she loses her case at trial.

Michelle Spence-Jones Pleads Not Guilty to New Bribery Charges, The Miami Herald, March 4, 2010.
Categories: Public Corruption