Reggie Fullwood ends campaign after guilty plea

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood resigns from office, withdraws in District 13 race

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - State Rep. Reggie Fullwood will be resigning from office and will withdraw from the race for Duval County's House District 13, his attorney announced a day after the three-term lawmaker pleaded guilty to wire-fraud and tax charges.

"I have officially filed a letter with the FL Sec. of State @KenDetzner and am no longer a candidate for FL House District 13," Fullwood tweeted late Friday afternoon.

Fullwood's name had been removed early Friday evening from a list of candidates on the state Division of Elections website.

His resignation is effective immediately, although Fullwood's term is due to expire in a little more than 30 days. His attorney also said that the paperwork will be filed Friday to withdraw his candidacy. 

Fullwood's surprise guilty plea Thursday to two federal charges just over a month before he was set to vie for re-election forces Democratic Party officials to find a replacement by 5 p.m. Oct. 7 in a general election run against a strong Republican opponent in the race. 

VIEW: Fullwood's attorney's post-plea statement | Candidate resignation letter | Notice of Vacancy

Fullwood's plea deal came less than a month after he narrowly beat back a challenge from Tracie Davis, who lost to Fullwood by less than 3 percentage points in a six-way Democratic primary.

Under Florida law, the county's Democratic Party Executive Committee will elect a replacement candidate for the November vote, although it's too late to remove Fullwood's name from the general election ballots, some of which have already gone in the mail.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said all general election ballots have been printed and that some have been returned. There is some recent precedent of elections offices using stickers to replace the names of vacated nominees on ballots, but that will not be the case in the District 13 race.

"His name is going to be on the ballot Election Day and early voting," Hogan said. "There will be a notice on the booth that will tell and instruct the voter (that a) vote for Reggie Fullwood will be a ballot cast for whomever the Democratic Party presents as their nominee."

That process of picking a replacement candidate is just getting started and will likely take at least a week.

"I can say with  certainty that we will be united on whatever that name will be, so we can move forward and be in a winning place in November," state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said Friday. 

Fullwood, 41, was first elected to the House in 2010 and was re-elected without opposition in 2012. He served as Democratic deputy whip from 2012 to 2014.

His time in the House was interrupted in 2014 when his seat became vacant after paperwork errors prevented him from qualifying for the ballot. Fullwood returned to the House in February 2015 after winning a special election.

Davis did not return a News4Jax call from comment, but Griffin issued a statement saying he was shocked to learn that Fullwood pleaded guilty and wouldn't be in the race.

"He's been a good state representative, in my opinion," Griffin said. "I wanted to win this race, and I still want to win this race, but didn't really want to win it this way."

Jacksonville pastor and non-profit CEO Mark Griffin will appear on the ballot as the Republican nominee, after defeating three primary opponents last month.

State Republican officials said they will contest the seat. But the district is heavily Democratic and likely would be taken back by Democrats in 2018 should a Republican win in November.

President Barack Obama won 67 percent of the vote in the district in 2008 and 2012.

"Our job is to win elections. Rest assured we are watching that seat," Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said Friday.

3-term lawmaker faces up to 20 years in federal prison

Fullwood's attorney, Robert Willis, said the lawmaker pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of failure to file an income tax return. The other 12 counts of the indictment, which was unsealed in April, will be dismissed as part of an agreement with prosecutors. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 9.

The maximum sentence for each count of wire fraud is 20 years, with one year the maximum term for the tax return charge. Prosecutors will likely recommend a sentence toward the lower end of the guidelines in return for Fullwood pleading guilty. The lawmaker will also forfeit more than $60,000 as part of the agreement, Willis said.

DOCUMENT: Reggie Fullwood plea agreement

Fullwood's trial was set to begin Oct. 11.

According to the indictment, from at least September 2010 to about December 2011, Fullwood electronically transferred money from the Reggie Fullwood Campaign bank account to an account of a Fullwood-owned entity called Rhino Harbor LLC. Prosecutors said he used the money for personal use at grocery, jewelry and liquor stores.

The indictment alleged that to conceal the embezzlement of campaign funds, Fullwood submitted fraudulent campaign expenditure reports to the state.

Florida law requires state candidates' campaign accounts to be separate from personal accounts. The campaign money also may not be used to defray normal living expenses, other than for transportation, meals and lodging that is campaign-related.

Fullwood is the second Jacksonville Democrat to be indicted on federal charges this year. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is still fighting fraud and tax charges connected to her use of funds collected by a questionable Virginia charity. The congresswoman lost her Democratic primary bid for a 13th term to former Tallahassee state Sen. Al Lawson.

"We have some problems with these individual candidates who are dealing with those in court right now," said James Poindexter, of the Duval County Democratic Party. "They're dealing with those in a way that is best for them and their families. Our job is to continue to push good candidates through the election system and get them into office."

News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

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