ORLANDO, Fla. – Former Orange County commissioner Mildred Fernandez is heading to prison for nearly two years.
Fernandez was sentenced to 22.43 months in prison and four years of probation by Judge C. Jeffery Arnold for campaign finance violations that cost Fernandez her political post and her standing as a community leader.
"I'm as disappointed being here as you are," Arnold said.
Her role in an undercover sting operation, where she was videotaped accepting an envelope filled with five thousand dollars in cash. Fernandez, speaking in Spanish, was also recorded telling the officer "you're buying access."
Fernandez must also pay $14,000 in fines
Before the judge announced his decision, Fernandez addressed the court.
"I lost my job. I lost all my retirement savings. And most important, I lost my place in the community," Fernandez said. "And for that, I am very very sad," she said.
During testimony Thursday afternoon, supporters of Fernandez argued that she was a pillar in the Hispanic community, and her efforts to help her constituents outweighed a mistake in judgment.
"Commissioner Fernandez was the first Puerto Rican born official on the Orange County commission," said Angel de la Portilla, a political consultant who worked with Fernandez in the past.
"She was the most prominent Hispanic in Central Florida," de la Portilla said.
But prosecutors were adamant that by pleading no contest to the charges, the judge was bound to sentence the 66-year old by the guidelines outlined by lawmakers.
"The legislature has said that the intent is to punish. That's the primary purpose," said Greg Tynan, lead prosecutor on the case. "It's not to rehabilitate. It's not to have sympathy for somebody. It's not to have empathy for anybody. It's to punish," Tynan said.
Judge Arnold agreed that Fernandez committed a major violation of public trust, as was evidenced in the undercover recordings and videotape.
During the hearing, Fernandez' defense attorney, Anthony Suarez, argued that his client should not serve prison time at all. He pleaded for probation instead, and said his client was a victim of entrapment by undercover officers.
"That was their intent when they went into that office," Suarez said during emotional arguments.
Fernandez addressed the judge in a dramatic, slowly enunciated speech.
"I have been choked almost to death," she said. "I have been suffocated almost to death. This has been an almost fatal circus of unprecedented proportions."
After the ruling, Fernandez was handcuffed, fingerprinted, and taken away by sheriff's deputies.