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CRESTVIEW, FL-W.D. Childers, a longtime North Florida property owner and at one time one of the most politically powerful legislators in Florida, faces 10 years in state prison when he comes up for sentencing in May following a bribery conviction last Wednesday.

Childers’ lawyers are appealing the six person-jury verdict to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, FL. The year-old case has generated headlines for months and stirred controversy in real estate, political and legal circles in North Florida. Childers is a lifetime Republican Party supporter and suspended chairman of the Escambia County board of commissioners.

The 69-year-old Childers testified the $90,000 in alleged bribe money he made to fellow commissioner Willie Junior in 2001 was actually several personal loans to Junior on his financially failing funeral home.

State prosecutors, however, argue the money was a direct bribe to Junior for his vote on $6.2 million in two land deals the county did with Pensacola, FL developer Joe Elliott. Elliott earned a $562,000 commission on the soccer field deal and a $172,000 commission on the auto dealership property. He has been charged with racketeering, bribery and money laundering.

Area brokers tell GlobeSt.com the prosecution could not prove that Childers received part of Elliott’s commissions.

Childers denies being associated with the county’s $3.9 million purchase of a 48-acre soccer field/stadium for $81,250 per acre, or the $2.3 million purchase of a former auto dealership property. The county had planned to use the dealership site for an office building or vehicle parking area for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department.

Junior previously pleaded no contest to 10 felony charges, including bribery, extortion and racketeering. He faced 125 years of prison time but agreed to help the prosecution for a sentence reduction. Junior was promised a maximum 18 months in prison. He also faces sentencing next month.

Besides Childers and Junior, two other suspended Escambia County commissioners were involved in the land deals, according to court documents. Mike Bass, a soft drink bottler, pleaded no contest to violating the state’s open-government Sunshine Law by discussing public business privately with other commissioners. Prosecutors dismissed a bribery charge. Terry Smith was convicted of Sunshine Law violations, fined and sentenced to community service.

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