JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State Rep. Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and failing to file a tax return at a hastily-called hearing Thursday afternoon.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard asked Fullwood if he understood that in pleading guilty, he admits to the truth of the charges and waives his rights to a trial. He would lose his right to vote, own a firearm or hold public office.
Asked by the judge if it was his signature on the plea agreement, Fullwood answered, "Yes, ma'am."
Fullwood narrowly won a six-way Democratic primary last month for a fourth term representing District 13 and was scheduled to face Republican Mark Griffin in the general election. News4Jax was told that the Democratic Party will offer a replacement candidate, but it is too late for that name to appear on the ballot.
In exchange for his voluntary plea, the government agreed to drop the 12 other counts against Fullwood. He will be allowed to remain free on bond until sentencing, which scheduled for Jan. 9.
Fullwood wouldn't answer questions as he left the Federal Courthouse.
"Here's a man that served his community, but there will be a lot of equitable factors (considered in the sentencing)," said Curtis Fallgatter, a former federal prosecutor.
Fullwood was indicted in April on 14 counts, including wire fraud and tax evasion, mostly related to diverting contributions to his re-election campaign for his own personal use, including purchases of jewelry, alcohol and flowers.
Fullwood's defense had argued that while the diversion would violate state law, the diversion does not threaten the contributors’ property interest, and so they are not victims of fraud. In Florida’s election code, once funds are given to a candidate, the contributor loses any property interest and thus any control of those funds.
But Morales Howard refused to dismiss the case, saying that it was not what Fullwood did with the money, but how he obtained it that might be illegal. She said there is an argument that the money was fraudulently solicited, so the argument to dismiss the charges could not be supported.
Fullwood faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines, although the government will likely recommend a lesser sentence in light of his guilty plea. Fullwood agreed to forfeit just over $60,000 in campaign money that was diverted for personal benefit.
Fullwood's trial on the charges had been scheduled for Oct. 11 -- four weeks before he was to run for re-election.
News4Jax was told that once the Florida Secretary of State notifies the head of the state Democratic Party that Fullwood is no longer able to hold office, the party has five days to notify the Duval County Democratic Party, which would convene the party's executive committee to elect a replacement candidate.
"In terms of what was best for Rep. Fullwood and his family, we respect whatever decision he made and we're looking forward to the future of having a really terrific candidate to run for that House district," said Neil Henrichesen, chairman of the Duval County Democratic Party.