Ex-Dixie officials sentenced to 3 years

John Lee Driggers and Alton Land also were fined $10K and will serve probation after their time in prison.

Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.

Former Dixie County commissioners John Lee "Big John" Driggers and Alton Land were each sentenced Wednesday to three years and one month in federal prison for their bribery convictions.

The two men were also fined $10,000 apiece and ordered to serve three years' probation following their prison terms.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Stephan P. Mickle allowed Land and Driggers to return to their homes following the sentencing but told them they must report for their prison terms by noon on Feb. 11.

Before the sentences were handed down, both former commissioners had family members, pastors and close friends speak on their behalf before the two men spoke to the judge directly.

"I am ashamed of the crime I have done here," Driggers said. "I have served the last year in great remorse for it."

Land asked the judge to consider an alternative sentence because he is caring for an ailing wife who had been hospitalized three times in the last year.

"If you can, have mercy on my wife, and after she passes you can give me life," Land said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McMahon told Mickle that those who spoke on behalf of Driggers and Land apparently had only been exposed to one side of the former commissioners' personalities.

"Your character isn't what you do in front of people," McMahon said, "It's what you do behind closed doors."

Land, Driggers and Billy Keen Jr., Dixie County's former building and zoning inspector, were convicted in August of conspiracy, soliciting bribes and lying to federal agents about the money they accepted in exchange for promising favorable decisions by the Dixie County Commission on specific development issues.

Keen was previously sentenced to 6 1/2 years in federal prison and three years' probation.

Driggers and Land were the first elected officials sentenced in a wide-ranging, undercover, federal corruption investigation.

In all, six former Dixie and Levy County officials have been convicted in connection with the same undercover case.

An FBI agent from New Jersey posed as a representative of a development company willing to pay bribes to ensure that the fictitious firm's plans did not encounter any stumbling blocks in the coastal counties.

McMahon told Mickle on Wednesday that the case began in 2004 when former Dixie County Sheriff Larry Edmonds and his wife, Pam, complained to federal officials about vote-buying in the rural county.

Keen, who was convicted of vote-buying nearly 20 years ago, reportedly agreed to work with federal officials undercover, but then began stepping outside the agreement and skimmed some money off the top that he was supposed to pass off to the commissioners.

The investigation eventually grew to include Levy County commissioners Sammy Yearty and Tony Parker, who were convicted on similar charges and are scheduled to be sentenced in April.

Others convicted in the case include former Cross City police chief and suspended town council member Marcellus Dawson and the city's public works superintendent, Johnny Miller Greene.

They were found guilty during a jury trial earlier this month and are scheduled to be sentenced in May.

Most of those swept up in the case told their supporters or had their attorneys argue that they had been entrapped.

Driggers continued that argument at sentencing.

"If this crime had not been created by the FBI, I would not be up here today," Driggers said. The undercover agency "handed [money] to me and I took it. I don't know why."

Throughout the trial and during the sentencing, witnesses and McMahon noted several times that others were approached during the undercover operation but declined to accept any money.

As an example Wednesday, McMahon recounted testimony from the trial about Land's effort to draw in Commissioner James Valentine.

McMahon said Land took the undercover agent to meet Valentine, who refused to take any money, declaring it wrong.

When Land and the agent left Valentine's home, the agent reportedly expressed concern that Valentine would go to the police about the proffered bribe.

Land's response, according to McMahon, was that it would be Valentine's word against the word of Land and the agent.

Contact Karen Voyles at 359-5656 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

SENTENCING: Defendants have claimed entrapment

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