ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None - Former Orange County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Mildred Fernandez spoke with WFTV on Wednesday.
Fernandez, who will soon be sentenced in a corruption case, sat down for an exclusive interview with WFTV reporter Nancy Alvarez to talk about her transformation from elected official to defendant and to possibly a prison inmate.
"I was going to be the first Puerto Rican representing Orange County as a whole," Fernandez said.
Two days before she could be sent to prison, Fernandez talked to Alvarez about what could have been her future, and it brought her to tears.
"I feel very sad for my community that I wanted to represent," she said.
Fernandez was running for Orange County mayor when she was arrested on corruption charges two years ago.
"I always remember sitting in the jail cell not understanding what was going on. I was searching in my mind, 'What did I do wrong?'" Fernandez said.
According to prosecutors, it was a long list, including campaign law violations, racketeering and bribery, along with the release of a video showing Fernandez accepting money from an undercover agent who was posing as a developer.
Fernandez's attorney, Tony Suarez, said there was nothing criminal about the exchange.
"She's taking a campaign donation. The campaign donation was offered voluntarily. It was given because she agreed to help this guy develop something in the community. Every politician wants that," said Suarez.
Suarez was ready to argue that point and more before a jury, but then a plea deal that will spare Fernandez a long prison sentence, was on the table and accepted. But Fernandez insisted the deal was not an admission of guilt.
"A lot of things can happen in a campaign that don't make you corrupt. Maybe there were laws in terms of ethics or reports that weren't signed. That doesn't make you corrupt," said Fernandez.
Fernandez still defends her actions.
"Were you corrupt? Are you guilty of the things they say you are guilty of?" asked Alvarez.
"No, no and that's what makes me sad," said Fernandez.
Fernandez said she was ready to prove her innocence in court and prove she was set up by political rivals who wanted her out of the race for Orange County mayor.
But Fernandez said at the very last minute, pleas from her five children changed the course of her case.
"This is a decision of life. And it's their mother and they know their mother. They know how their mother has raised them. We don't steal," Fernandez said.
Fernandez and Suarez said in the face of a long prison sentence, a legal battle wasn't worth the risk.
"Do you think about prison? Do you think about how you'll have to spend the next two years?" asked Alvarez.
"No, I'm just looking as I go. One day at a time," Fernandez said.
Fernandez's sentencing is scheduled for Friday.