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    Escambia commissioner pleads no contest

    ©Associated Press
    September 12, 2002

    PENSACOLA -- One of two suspended Escambia County commissioners who have made deals with prosecutors entered no-contest pleas Wednesday as part of an agreement that includes testifying against W.D. Childers, another suspended commissioner.

    Childers, who also is a former Florida Senate president, is the only commissioner still facing trial on felony charges that resulted from a grand jury investigation of alleged political corruption.

    Mike Bass pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of violating Florida's open-government Sunshine Law by discussing public business with other commissioners in private.

    In exchange, the state will drop more serious felony charges of bribery, money laundering and racketeering.

    Bass told Okaloosa County Judge T. Patterson Maney he was entering the pleas in his best interest although he disputed the sunshine allegations as well as the felony charges.

    "To get on with my own future and put aside some of the things that we knew all along weren't true, this is a very good agreement," Bass said after the hearing.

    Maney agreed with a request by Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore to delay sentencing until after Childers is tried in February on felony charges of bribery and money laundering.

    Childers is accused of bribing a third suspended commissioner, Willie Junior, to vote for the county's purchase of a former soccer complex for $3.9-million from Joe and Georgann Elliott. The couple also face trial on bribery-related charges.

    Junior has agreed to plead guilty to a series of charges and to testify against other defendants in exchange for a prison term of no more than 18 months. His plea date is Sept. 17.

    Bass is facing a maximum sentence of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine on each of the two sunshine counts and investigative costs of about $3,000. Elmore said he had no immediate sentencing recommendation but would make one later.

    He is seeking jail time for a fourth suspended commissioner, Terry Smith, who was convicted on two sunshine counts. Smith is set for sentencing Sept. 18.

    Childers also is awaiting sentencing for a conviction on one sunshine charge and a new trial Oct. 7 on a second count after the first jury deadlocked. Maney has set a hearing Thursday on pretrial motions, including a request to move the retrial from the 1st Judicial Circuit.

    The first jury also acquitted Childers on two sunshine counts.

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