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Judge refuses to toss out ex-lawmaker’s conviction

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A federal judge this week refused to acquit or order a new trial for former state Rep. Dwayne Taylor, who was convicted of wire-fraud charges stemming from allegations that he improperly used campaign cash.

U.S. District Judge Carlos E. Mendoza issued a five-page order Wednesday rejecting arguments by an attorney for the Daytona Beach Democrat, who was found guilty by a jury Aug. 31 on nine counts. Defense attorney A. Brian Phillips filed a lengthy motion last week asking Mendoza to issue a judgment of acquittal or to require a new trial.

But Mendoza’s order, in part, said prosecutors used ATM video recordings of Taylor moving money from a campaign bank account to a personal account. It is illegal in Florida to use campaign contributions for normal living expenses.

“In several of the recorded video transactions, defendant would withdraw cash from his campaign account using a clearly visible blue ATM card that was issued solely for official campaign use,” Mendoza wrote. “Within minutes, defendant would deposit the same or similar amount of cash, using the same ATM, into a private bank account using a clearly visible red ATM card issued to defendant for his personal bank account.”

But in the motion last week, Taylor’s attorney contended that prosecutors “offered no direct evidence as to Taylor’s state of mind with respect to the alleged offenses and certainly failed to show that Taylor had a specific intent to defraud his campaign donors.”

“The only evidence presented was that Taylor withdrew funds from his campaign account and deposited funds, not necessarily the same cash, into his personal account,” the motion filed Sept. 14 said. “There is no evidence that Taylor specifically intended to cheat or defraud the campaign donors. Even if the government alleges that there were discrepancies between Taylor’s expenses that were reported to the state of Florida and the withdrawals from Taylor’s campaign account, there was no evidence presented to refute the defendant’s good faith instruction that these discrepancies were mistakes that amounted to poor record keeping, not the intent to defraud.”

Taylor, 49, who served in the House from 2008 to 2016, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16 in federal court in Orlando, according to an online docket.

The jury verdict in Taylor’s case came about 11 months after another former House member, Jacksonville Democrat Reggie Fullwood, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the use of campaign money for personal expenses. Fullwood pleaded guilty in September 2016 to one count of wire fraud and one count of failure to file an income tax return.

In the motion last week, Taylor’s attorney also argued for a new trial because of a dispute about the dismissal of a juror who was believed to have fallen asleep during the trial. Taylor’s attorney objected to the dismissal and said in the motion that the juror was one of only two African-Americans on the panel. Taylor is African-American.

“Therefore, the defendant suffered prejudice from a juror who was the same race as the defendant not having the opportunity to deliberate,” the motion said.

But Mendoza wrote that he remains “absolutely certain” that the juror was sleeping during the trial.

“But to be clear, race played absolutely no role in the dismissal of Juror No. 6,” the judge wrote. “The court would raise the same concerns … in any circumstance where a juror was observed sleeping.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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