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Former judge again accused of scheming

He was acquitted in a bribery case in 1995, but disbarred. He calls this fraud charge a misunderstanding.

Associated Press
Published October 6, 2005


MIAMI - A former judge once swept up in a federal bribery scandal was arrested Wednesday in an alleged scheme to use a charity that assists troubled youths to embezzle thousands of dollars in government grants.

Former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Phillip S. Davis, 51, and Joan Marie Headley, 50, were charged with defrauding the county of more than $63,700 and the state of over $19,000, according to Miami-Dade County Inspector General Christopher Mazzella.

Davis, who was disbarred after the federal bribery investigation, is director of an organization called Miami-Dade Resident College and Headley is its administrative assistant. The organization in 2002 received more than $391,000 in state and county grants to provide social services to disadvantaged young people and youths involved in criminal pretrial diversion programs, including vocational training and counseling.

At a bail hearing Wednesday, Davis insisted the charges are a "misunderstanding" and that he would never commit a crime after undergoing the ordeal and consequences of his federal trial, which ended in his acquittal a decade ago.

"None of this is true," said Davis, who earlier in the day surrendered along with Headley to authorities. "I plan on going to trial and taking this case to the fullest."

Prosecutors sought the highest possible bail for both Davis and Headley - $2.5-million each for charges that carry a potential life sentence - but Circuit Judge Thomas K. Peterson reduced the amount to $100,000 for Davis and $5,000 for Headley after concluding they are unlikely to flee.

Attorney Don S. Cohn, representing both Davis and Headley, said both would plead innocent.

Investigators say Davis and Headley created a shell corporation to provide phony invoices for employees, enabling them to obtain thousands of dollars in grant money and then pay employees far less in salary. The false invoices also allegedly overstated the work done by employees.

The scam also enabled Davis to pay himself $24,000 more in salary than was permitted under the grants, with Headley getting more than $43,400 in excess salary, Mazzella said.

Davis and Headley are charged with fraud, grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime.

Additional arrests are possible, Mazzella said.

Davis was one of five judges or former judges and six lawyers charged in the 1990s as part of an undercover FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement bribery investigation named "Operation Court Broom." Davis was acquitted but was disbarred in 1995.

Using a cooperative local lawyer, the FBI videotaped instances in which Miami judges accepted cash for bail reductions, the return of seized property, to appoint certain lawyers as public defenders and to suppress evidence. One judge even sold the name of a confidential drug informer.