Jury selection begins in Mildred Fernandez corruption trial

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None - Jury selection began Tuesday in the corruption trial of former Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez.

Fernandez is accused of taking illegal campaign contributions. A judge refused her request to throw out the charges, and sent the case to trial.

Her attorneys were hoping to show a judge that her arrest was a political hit- job.

During a preliminary hearing on Monday, her defense tried to prove the political corruption charges should be thrown out because she was singled out by political rivals like mayoral competitor Bill Segal and State Attorney Lawson Lamar.

Lamar said he was not motivated by Segal's race against Fernandez because the two were at odds.

"Mr. Segal had made a comment that my concerns and those of now Mayor Teresa Jacobs were matters for the chattering class and I took offense at that," said Lamar.

Fernandez wanted the judge to drop charges before the trial even began. But on Monday, a judge refused to throw out several charges of public corruption against her.

Fernandez, who was running for mayor of Orange County at the time of her arrest, called her arrest "politics" when she was taken into custody in April 2010. That is how she still characterizes the corruption charges against her.

She's accused of taking illegal contributions during her campaign last year, allegedly taking cash from an undercover agent pretending to pay for Fernandez's backing on a development project.

The $5,900 and 1,000 payments came in the form of an allegedly illegal campaign contribution. The cut off for cash contributions in the race is $50.

By law, no one is allowed to donate more than $50 cash to a campaign, but the undercover agent said Fernandez wanted him to make up names and addresses so the donations would appear to be legal.

He also testified that she asked for contributions in exchange for her support for what she thought was his development project.

The agent told the judge Fernandez was not concerned about how the contribution was concealed.

"Ms. Fernandez said, 'I don't care. It doesn't matter about the addresses. Could be from Tampa, could be from Miami, could be from Puerto Rico and even from China,'" said Eric Hernandez, an FDLE undercover agent.

"The defendant was promising you that she would accelerate your permitting process," asked prosecutor Greg Tynan.

"Yes, sir," said Hernandez.

Because of the publicity this case has received, attorneys are expecting jury selection to take several days.

WFTV.com will carry the Fernandez trial live on our website as soon as opening arguments begin.