From ‘Boy Mayor’ to 44 counts: The career arc of Tallahassee Commissioner Scott Maddox

Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith were indicted on a total of 44 charges. Dillon Thompson, Tallahassee Democrat

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Born into a Hialeah political family whose patriarch was a union president, it’s no wonder Scott Maddox made a career out of politics. He spent the last 28 years raising money and running for office, gaining political power working the levers of municipal government out of City Hall.

Early on, as the “Boy Mayor” of Tallahassee, Maddox showed the skills and ambition that made him a rising star and one of the most powerful elected officials in Leon County.

Now facing multiple federal charges over an alleged criminal “enterprise” that traded cash for official actions, his shining star has plummeted to earth. Maddox is locked in the fight of his life, one that could cost him his personal freedom.

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“His political reputation is gone,” said Jon Ausman, a political campaign manager for four decades and former chair of the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee who helped Maddox first get elected. “What he’s fighting for now is to stay out of the clink.”

Standing by his side in court, as she did for much of his career, will be Paige Carter-Smith, a friend since high school who was his chief of staff as mayor, his executive director at the Florida Democratic Party and a business and real estate partner.

Indictment aftermath:

They have pleaded not guilty to 44 counts in an alleged conspiracy to defraud government and bank officials and the public for their own personal gain. Charges include racketeering, bank fraud, extortion, bribery, lying to federal investigators and lying on tax returns. The penalties on those charges range from $250,000 and three years in prison to $1 million and 30 years.

They also face financial ruin from the potential cost of defending themselves against the charges, as well as paying millions of dollars in fines and potentially spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Isbell Matt Isbell (Photo: Submitted photo)

And they face forfeiture of millions of dollars in real estate holdings, antique cars, guns, bank accounts and other property and possessions if convicted.“The indictment comes at a point when he didn’t wield the same power as he once did,” said Matt Isbell, a political consultant for Democratic candidates who maps out the votes by precinct in state and local elections. “His voters were getting sick of him.”

An ambitious political rise

Right out of the gate, Maddox was ambitious. At age 22, he chose to run in 1990 against well-liked and entrenched incumbent Florida Rep. Hurley Rudd in the Democratic primary for House District 10. Maddox thought the 62-year-old Rudd was vulnerable, turning age and good old boy cronyism into campaign issues.

Challenger Scott Maddox addresses Hurley Rudd during a debate At Tiger Bay on August, 23 1990.

But Rudd, who had the backing of the state and local Democratic parties, handily defeated Maddox 66-34 percent.

Three years later, and with the endorsement of the Democratic Party, a 24-year-old Maddox would make a successful run for the Tallahassee City Commission, becoming the youngest person elected to that position.

He broke fundraising records when he first ran for City Commission in 1993, thanks largely to his father’s political connections. He got 27 percent of the vote in an eight-way primary. He faced a runoff with Craig Dennis, who was defeated 55-45 percent.

City Commissioner Scott Maddox, Feb. 25, 1993 (Photo: Democrat files)

The next year Maddox was mayor pro-tem, and in 1995, his fellow commissioners voted him in as Tallahassee’s youngest mayor.

Maddox then lobbied hard for a charter amendment to have city voters elect the mayor directly, Ausman said. “It was 100 percent Scott, 100 percent of the time.”

Isbell said he realized Maddox’s ambition and political skills when he learned about how hard Maddox pushed for the referendum.

In 1996, voters approved the amendment by 64 percent. In 1997 Maddox ran for mayor, getting only 48 percent in the primary, with Charles Billings and Anita Davis splitting the rest of the vote. The general election between Maddox and Billings was close, with Maddox winning 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent.

“The idea was that Maddox was pre-ordained to be the first elected mayor,” Isbell said.

But it was also the first time strong anti-Maddox sentiment was expressed in a local race.

Building a statewide network

As Maddox’s political career took off, his father’s faltered. Charlie Maddox was forced out of the organization he created, the Florida PBA, in 1994 and sued over an allegedly unauthorized payment made to his son’s consulting firm.

Maddox went on to be elected president of the Florida League of Cities in 1999, a position that allowed him to travel around the state and build his own political network. He also drummed up business for his newly created consulting firm, Governance Inc.

In 2000, Maddox spoke at the Democratic National Convention at the invite of Vice President and presidential nominee Al Gore, who called the mayor a “rising young star.”

In this Jan. 12, 2001 file photo, then-Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox speaks to Quincy officials in city hall during his Mayor on the Move tour.

By then it was clear that Maddox had aspirations for higher office.

Meanwhile, the city commission in 1999 moved elections from spring to fall to get in line with general elections, which pushed Maddox’s term to 2002.

He ran for Attorney General in 2002 in the democratic primary against then-State Senator Buddy Dyer, narrowly losing by three percentage points in the four-way race. Scott Bakotic, who was a paid consultant on his campaign, would remain a close friend through the years. He even loaned Governance $800,000 16 years later.

The strong statewide showing put Maddox in good standing with the party, which was struggling with Bob Poe as chairman.

In this Dec. 2, 2002 file photo, then-Mayor Scott Maddox (left) talking with County Commissioner Bob Rackleff.

While Maddox was campaigning for Attorney General, the city commission decided to hold its election in spring of 2003, meaning that Maddox served as mayor for six uninterrupted years without re-election.

“It was widely opined this was done to allow Maddox to run for Mayor again if he lost a statewide bid,” Isbell wrote in a comprehensive history about Maddox’s political career.

But instead of running for re-election, Maddox put his hat in for chairman of the state Democratic Party. The party got Poe to resign, creating an opportunity for Maddox.

But first he had to be elected chairman of the county party, which happened easily enough with the help of the party’s top leaders, even though a handful of other members opposed Maddox. After that he was handily elected state party chair, bringing along his Carter-Smith and Debbie Griffin-Bruton, who worked at the city when he was mayor.

Embroiled in crisis, Maddox was ‘still standing’

His three-year tenure as statewide chair started off well enough. He raised money and found a new home for the headquarters on South Bronough Street, after Poe had sold the Towle House on Calhoun where it had been for ages.

While Maddox was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, he paid $50,000 to Bakotic’s consulting firm, Conspectus Inc., according to a 2005 Tampa Bay Times article. Maddox also paid his own consulting firm, Governance Inc., $200,000 during that time. Maddox had said he had reimbursed himself for party expenses he had put on his own credit card.

Florida Democratic Party chairman, Scott Charles Maddox, at the R.A. Gray Building plaza during the 2004 Presidential election

Maddox was re-elected party chair in 2005 but resigned shortly thereafter to run for governor. It wasn’t long before scandal erupted about the way he had managed the party’s finances forcing him to abandon the race.

Reports came out about a $900,000 discrepancy on the balance sheet, which Maddox attributed to a coding error. The party entered 2006 flat broke, with a $200,000 tax lien from the IRS. Griffin-Bruton, the state party treasurer at the time, took the blame for failing to pay the IRS.

“If he couldn’t manage the party how does he propose to manage the state,” his predecessor as party chair, Bob Poe, said at the time. “He now has the party embroiled in a very serious and embarrassing crisis.”

Karen Thurman, who took over as party chair in May of 2006, said “the internal controls were unequivocally, absolutely the worst.”

An audit ordered by Thurman cleared Maddox and placed the blame squarely on Griffin-Bruton.

“It is clear that the problems occurred because of a poor hiring decision, a lack of internal controls and a lack of strong oversight,” Melanie Hines, the former statewide prosecutor who oversaw the weeklong audit, said in a Gainesville Sun report.

Around the same time, the Florida PBA asked the FDLE to investigation Maddox over a $10,500 late filing fee paid to county elections officials.

The Leon County Democratic Executive Committee under Maddox’s watch in 2004 was forced to pay the fee. The former treasurer, Griffin-Bruton, again took the blame for filing the report late. The fine was paid with a cashier’s check that doesn’t say who made the payment or where it came from. Maddox’s signature was on a waiver filed with the county elections office.

The PBA also accused Maddox of using the Leon DEC to funnel money to consultants to advise Maddox, Isbell said. “These accusations were never proven but had immense damage at the time,” he said.

When asked if the controversy could hurt him politically, Maddox said, “I’m still standing.”

In this Oct. 7. 2005 file photo, Scott Maddox talks with retired Sen. Bob Graham and Jim Davis, of Tampa, among others, about withdrawing his name as a candidate for the coming election and giving his support to Jim Davis. (Photo: Democrat files)

He withdrew from the race in October 2005, five months after he announced his candidacy.

“It was not a good move politically,” Ausman said, comparing the withdrawal to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The inner circle helps him bounce back politically

Maddox slid into a political black hole for several years, running his law firm and consulting service surrounded by the same group of loyalists who stuck by his side through the FBI investigation and indictments, including Carter-Smith, Bakotic and Allie Merzer Fleming.

“He keeps the same people around him. Look at the list of the people he’s in trouble with now and the people he was with then. And they do things for him when they should be telling him no,” Ausman said.

Paige Carter-Smith (Photo: Paige Carter-Smith, Paige Carter-Smith)

Maddox practiced law with Mallory Horne, who had served as both House Speaker and Senate president. A close friend of his father and frequent visitor to the Maddox household, Horne took the young Scott Maddox under his wing.

“I’d support him for anything, anybody who has that kind of industry about him,” Horne told the Tallahassee Democrat in 1993 when Maddox first ran for City Commission, recalling the car-detailing business he started as a teenager.

Former Senate President Mallory Horne, is a former Tallahassee legislator and local lawyer. Horne, who served as both House speaker and Senate president, was honored by having a room in the Senate office building named after him.

Horne was indicted in 1985 on money laundering charges for allegedly flying cocaine into Florida in his private airplane. A federal jury acquitted Horne, but his defense cost him a small fortune, his political reputation and his home.

He died at the age of 84 from lung cancer in 2009 but lived long enough to see the Florida Senate rename a room in his honor.

After laying low for four years, Maddox decided to run for statewide office yet again. In preparation for the 2010 race for agricultural commissioner, he sold Governance Inc. to Carter-Smith to avoid the appearance of a conflict. The $100,000 purchase was inked on a hand-scrawled piece of company letterhead.

Federal prosecutors would later claim Maddox never actually gave up control of the company. Carter-Smith had begun her own consulting company, Governance Services, in 2007.

Maddox and the FBI:

Maddox was unopposed in the 2010 Democratic primary but lost in the general election to Adam Putnam, 56 to 38 percent.

After losing in yet another statewide race, Maddox set his sights again on local office. He ran for city commission in 2012 against Daniel Parker, who had the backing of Democrats Bob Rackleff and Debbie Lightsey, and Steve Stewart, a Republican business owner.

Despite his dimming star, Maddox raised $100,000 in a few months from business owners and donors, way more than his opponents. Still, his name and money didn’t bring an easy victory.

Maddox got 40 percent, Stewart 33 percent and Parker 10 percent. Stewart made a number of missteps in the runoff and got trounced 62 to 38 percent.

In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, Scott Maddox shakes hands with then-LCSO Sheriff Larry Campbell before a roast celebrating Campbell’s 50 years in law enforcement.

With Maddox back at City Hall, the general feeling was he’d run again for mayor in 2014.

But Andrew Gillum, whose first bid for city commission was supported by Maddox, also was planning to run for mayor. There was talk that if re-elected, Maddox wanted to create a strong mayor system of government, which would require a new charter and voter approval.

“Maddox wanted a strong mayor. That never happened,” Isbell said.

But Gillum announced his candidacy before Marks announced he was stepping down, and Maddox went searching for other offices to go after.

In this Oct. 28, 2012 file photo, Scott Maddox (left) and then-City Commissioner Andrew Gillum pose for the cameras during early voting outside the County Courthouse. (Photo: Democrat files)

First, he created a campaign to run for schools superintendent, a partisan race where incumbent superintendent Jackie Pons was running but weakened by his own FBI investigation, which would later be dropped without charges.

“Maddox wanted real power,” Isbell said. “That’s why he wanted superintendent.”

Seeing that upending Pons could be a challenge, Maddox changed course for a re-election bid to City Commission, causing several dominoes to crash among the top candidates already in the running. Rick Minor and Gloria Pugh abandoned their campaigns.

Jackie Pons and Scott Charles Maddox

Maddox also opened an account for a State Senate race in 2020 with the money he had raised for his abandoned superintendent campaign.

“I heard from Day One that he opened the state Senate account to park money to run for mayor again,” Isbell said. “But the scandal happened and he wasn’t going to run for state Senate.”

Maddox was re-elected to the city commission but had to delay taking the oath of office until winning a lawsuit filed against him by local businessman Erwin Jackson. Jackson disputed the validity of Maddox’s residency inside the city.

Many saw Maddox’s re-election as a consolation prize to a higher office, Isbell said.

The FBI swoops in

But then the FBI hit the city and CRA with two subpoenas in June 2017 demanding hundreds of thousands of documents related to business dealings with John “J.T.” Burnette, Chad Kittrell, Kim Rivers, Frank Whitley, Melissa Oglesby and Catherine Baker, along with several inter-related companies.

The subpoena also named Carter-Smith and her company as well as the company once owned by Maddox, whose name appeared in a third subpoena issued in September 2017, along with his commission aide, Allie Merzer Fleming, and Gary Yordon.

“The rumors and legal worries clearly rattled Maddox – who never made a play for Mayor and rather worked on preserving his freedom,” Isbell said in his report.

Maddox withdrew $125,000 from his state Senate account to pay for his legal fees to Stephen Dobson, a partner at Baker Donelson. The account has less than $4,000 remaining in it.

The future for this former rising star is dim, Isbell said. Polls show his popularity was sinking before the indictments, and he sees no reason why they would go up even if Maddox is acquitted.

But Isbell notes Maddox’s political career should be the last thing on his mind.

Contact Schweers at jschweers@tallahassee.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

CORRECTION: Scott Bakotic worked on the 2002 attorney general campaign of Scott Maddox, but not as manager as previously reported. Debbie Griffin-Bruton worked at the City of Tallahassee at the same time Maddox was mayor but did not work directly for the mayor’s office.

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