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CRESTVIEW, FL-W.D. Childers, one of North Florida’s largest private property owners and once considered one of the state’s most powerful politicians, has been sentenced to 3.5 years in a state prison after a six-person jury convicted him of bribery and corruption charges involving two land deals totaling $6.2 million in 2001.

Childers’ lawyers are appealing the conviction and the sentence to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, FL. State Circuit Judge Jere Tolton, who imposed the sentence, denied Childers’ request for bail. The judge could have given Childers a maximum 10-year term. Childers is already in Escambia County jail, serving a two-month sentence for violating the state’s open-meeting law.

The year-old case has generated headlines for months. Childers has been known as a political firecracker since 1970, Panhandle area brokers and civic leaders tell GlobeSt.com. But his interest in public real estate deals didn’t surface until 2001 when state prosecutors allege he bribed fellow Escambia County commissioner Willie Junior with a total $90,000 to vote favorably on the two land deals the county was doing with Pensacola, FL developer Joe Elliott.

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 $1.87 per sf; 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.

The state couldn’t prove Childers made any money on the deals but showed the jury Elliott earned a $562,000 commission on the soccer deal and $172,000 on the auto dealership property.

If Childers’ appeal is denied, he will be on 18 months probation after he finishes his 3.5-year prison term.

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