Florida state

FL State’s Attorney sold overpriced bull in bribery plot: Feds

A Florida state attorney accused of extorting a defense attorney to continue his expensive bull-breeding hobby has pleaded guilty in federal court.

Jeffrey Siegmeister, 53, reached a plea deal on Feb. 22 in which he faced charges of bribery, extortion, wire fraud and filing false tax returns in the Central District of Florida, a the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release. Siegmeister was charged last year alongside Marion Michael O’Steen, a Dixie County defense attorney accused of helping facilitate kickbacks on behalf of his clients.

Siegmeister faces up to 20 years in prison for extortion and wire fraud, five years for bribery and extortion and three years for filing a false tax return, prosecutors said.

Public defenders representing him did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ Feb. 24 request for comment.

According to documents filed with his plea agreement, Siegmeister was elected as a state attorney for Florida’s Third Judicial Circuit in 2012 and served from 2013 until his resignation in 2019.

His North Florida district included Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor counties.

The alleged bribery scheme began in 2017, when O’Steen represented a client accused of burning down her ex-husband’s bedroom. Prosecutors said he asked Siegmeister for a lenient sentence, saying the ex-husband did not want his wife jailed.

Siegmeister responded by asking when O’Steen was going to buy one of his bulls, according to court documents.

An assistant prosecutor working under Siegmeister then offered O’Steen and his client a plea deal with a five-year prison sentence, prosecutors said. O’Steen then asked for help from Siegmeister, who in turn told his assistant prosecutor to ask for the case to continue.

Several months later, in 2018, Siegmeister and O’Steen offered a deal in which the client only served a year and a month in prison, the government said.

“About two hours after the hearing, Siegmeister texted O’Steen four photographs using his mobile phone, depicting his bulls for sale, indicating that he expected O’Steen to purchases a bull in exchange for the favorable treatment that Siegmeister had provided O’Steen’s client,” prosecutors said in court papers.

That same year, O’Steen was hired to defend three brothers accused of operating an illegal gambling business, according to court documents. Siegmeister is accused of telling O’Steen that if he wanted a favorable deal for customers, he should buy one of his bulls.

Prosecutors said O’Steen in turn told his clients they needed $60,000 to advance the charges, which he repeatedly said was “not a reward.”

“(Siegmeister) help me…if you want to get out of court and get these charges thrown out, that’s what it’s going to take. Period. For all three,” O’Steen reportedly said in a taped phone call in August 2018.

The client paid O’Steen in two installments of $30,000 between August 23, 2018 and September 4, 2018, according to court documents. Two weeks later, prosecutors say, O’Steen purchased a bull from Siegmeister’s ranch for $4,000 which he then resold for $3,500.

When federal investigators later questioned Siegmeister about the deal, he reportedly said his bull business was an “expensive hobby” and that he had never sold a bull for $4,000 before. Most of his bulls reportedly sold for around $2,500.

In addition to the bulls, prosecutors said Siegmeister also sought fundraising assistance for his re-election campaign from O’Steen. He offered another of O’Steen’s clients a pretrial intervention deal over the objections of the victim’s family in return for campaign contributions.

O’Steen’s client in that case was caught on camera beating an older man, the government says.

The corruption investigation also brought to light an alleged scheme in which Siegmeister allegedly defrauded an elderly man while he was his voluntary guardian. Prosecutors said he embezzled more than $500,000 from the man’s estate for his personal use between 2015 and 2016 and then failed to report the income on his taxes.

As part of his plea deal, Siegmeister agreed to hand over $518,803 and more than 7,300 shares of Coca-Cola that he is accused of taking from the elderly man’s estate. His sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

The case against O’Steen is ongoing, according to court documents. His next court appearance will be on May 2.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering breaking news and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.