Feds: Elected Florida prosecutor stole nearly $1 million, bribed defendants, attorneys

Andrew Pantazi
Florida Times-Union
Ex-State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister in 2015.

The federal investigation of former Lake City State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister, which began due to allegations he was bribing defendants, has turned toward new allegations that Siegmeister swindled and stole $985,000 from an elderly man.

A federal forfeiture complaint last week detailed part of the federal investigation as prosecutors attempt to take Siegmeister's home.

While the complaint didn't say what stage the bribery investigation was in, it said the FBI has investigated Siegmeister since the summer of 2018 for an alleged bribery scheme where "he solicited money or things of value from defendants and their attorneys in exchange for favorable prosecution."

While investigating the alleged bribery, FBI agents came across what they describe as a scheme to defraud an elderly man.

Federal prosecutors now say Siegmeister lied to a probate court before becoming state attorney in 2012 in order to become an 80-year-old man's guardian, and then for years to come, including while he was state attorney, Siegmeister used the man's account as a personal slush fund.

Siegmeister's attorney didn't return a request for comment.

In 2010, Leonard Whitman Thomas was 80 years old and hospitalized with an injury. The man, despite having a large Coca-Cola stock holding, was living in a Motel 6 in Lake City, and Siegmeister filed a petition to become Thomas' guardian.

A month later, Siegmeister prepared a will for Thomas, which Thomas signed, that gave everything he owned to Siegmeister's mother, Nancy Bowen.

Five years later, in 2015, Thomas died. In the nine months after his death, Siegmeister gave himself at least $235,000, according to the complaint. Prosecutors allege that Siegmeister even bought himself a home with the man's money in those months after the man's death.

When a state court asked him to document expenses, Siegmeister lied and made up fake expenses, according to the complaint. He said he spent about $143,000 to a Lake City hospital, when the actual expense was $19,136. He said he paid a physicians group some $7,000, when he actually paid $1,734.

Siegmeister then asked the court to give the rest of Thomas' possessions, including nearly $600,000 in Coca-Cola stock, to Siegmeister's mother.

Siegmeister continued to invent fake medical and funeral expenses to the court, the federal complaint said.

Bowen, Siegmeister's mother who had signed the man's will as a witness and who received the man's entire estate, told FBI agents she didn't know anything about the will.

The complaint says Siegmeister had previously been approved as a guardian for 15 other people.

Siegmeister stepped down last December, though he said it was due to a divorce and family issues.

Already, one attorney, a former criminal-defense attorney, pleaded guilty to getting Siegmeister a $20,000 discount on a tractor in exchange for Siegmeister dropping a criminal case in Madison County.

When the Times-Union first reported Siegmeister was under federal investigation, his attorney, Bobi Frank, said that “as the former State Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit, if he was under investigation for any reason, he would fully cooperate with Federal Agents and Prosecutors-he has nothing to hide.”