Former Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez sentenced to prison

ORLANDO, Fla.,None — Following a long afternoon in court, a judge sentenced former Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez on Thursday to more than 22 months in prison, to be followed by four years of probation for accepting illegal campaign contributions. She must also pay a $7,000 fine.

Fernandez pleaded no contest last year to public corruption charges that usually carry a minimum of 22 months in prison, with a maximum sentence of 26 years.

She was booked into the Osceola County Jail late Thursday night, just hours after she was sentenced to prison.

Fernandez is being held there because of her former title in Orange County.

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The idea is that there Fernandez will not get any special treatment. But soon she will be transferred to a prison where she will stay for nearly two years. She could serve her 22-month sentence in one of four state prisons for women.

"If I could take all of this away I would," said Fernandez.

She asked Circuit Judge Jeffery Arnold for mercy, but Fernandez never apologized for her public corruption crimes.

Tony Suarez, Fernandez's defense attorney, said that is because she still does not believe she did anything wrong.

"This has been, as she stated in her statement, mentally destructive to her. I think actually she'll sleep better now that it's past," Suarez said.

Fernandez maintained her innocence, even while taking a plea in the case, saying she did it for her family.

Prosecutors wanted Fernandez to serve at least 22 months in jail for political corruption charges after she avoided a trial by pleading guilty at the last moment as a jury was about to hear her case.

Her attorneys hoped the judge would deviate from sentencing guidelines and only give her probation.

She was running for Orange County mayor when she was caught on camera taking a bribe from a man posing as a developer, willing to trade a campaign contribution for political favors.

Some of the most serious charges against her were dropped in exchange for the plea deal.

Arnold said that if she did not plead guilty,  an undercover video investigators recorded of Fernandez accepting illegal cash campaign contributions could have done her in.

"I think you would've had trouble with a jury," said Arnold.

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer does not think Fernandez will appeal because there was not much of an argument for mitigation of sentence.

Since the arrest of Fernandez, controversy has swirled around the seat she once held.

Fernandez was first elected in 2004 and was arrested in April 2010. That August, then-Governor Charlie Crist appointed Lui Damiani to the seat.

Last December, Gov. Rick Scott replaced Damiani with 30-year-old John Martinez.

Some questioned that appointment, and said he was chosen because he's the son of former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez.

Martinez will stay in the seat until the November election. He has already said he won't run for the office.