JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The former state attorney for Florida’s Middle District, who’s been indicted on 12 federal charges, appeared in court Thursday for a scheduled plea hearing.
Jeff Siegmeister is accused of soliciting and accepting bribes in return for lenient treatment and stealing nearly $1 million from an elderly man, all while he was the top prosecutor for seven counties. He faces decades in prison, if convicted.
The judge on Thursday decided to reschedule the hearing for next week to give prosecutors time to correct errors in a court filing, saying he was surprised to see that in a case such as this.
Siegmeister was elected as state attorney for the third circuit in 2013, which covers the central part of North Florida, including Columbia County.
Federal prosecutors say Siegmeister conspired with attorneys to get bribes — in one case dropping a defendant’s DUI charges in exchange for a $20,000 discount on a tractor.
In another, prosecutors say, Siegmeister pressured a defense attorney to buy a bull from his herd in exchange for a favor for his client.
“It’s a pretty shameful situation where a prosecutor, who’s designed by law to enforce the law, is violating the law and doing it in a very subversive way,” said Curtis Fallgatter, a former federal prosecutor.
Fallgatter says the reason the judge delayed the plea hearing Thursday is a technicality, but an important one. He says the judge has to make sure the facts of a plea agreement have been verified and that the elements of the crime have been identified.
“It appears, based on what the government filed, that there was some confusion about the second count the Hobbs Act, which is extortion through interstate commerce,” Fallgatter said.
Siegmeister is also accused of stealing $985,000.
The indictment says before Siegmeister became state attorney, the court appointed him as the legal guardian of an elderly Columbia County man with mental deficiencies, who also owned nearly $1 million in Coca-Cola stock.
Then, prosecutors say, he diverted that man’s assets to himself and his family member.
A plea agreement has not been filed publicly, so we can’t see for which of the 12 charges against Seigmeister he was planning to change his plea to guilty.
The next hearing is set for Monday.