A Miami-Dade County employee who helped manage the scandal-plagued fuel depot at Miami International Airport admitted Wednesday that she illegally accepted a gift -- a big-screen TV -- from the private contractors she was supposed to be supervising.
Patricia Nichols pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful compensation and has agreed to cooperate with Miami-Dade prosecutors, who have charged 18 others with taking part in several schemes to steal jet fuel and bilk the county with bogus work invoices -- invoices approved by Nichols.
Prosecutors agreed to drop two other unlawful compensation charges against Nichols, who originally was accused of accepting a second television and a digital camera from contractors who wanted to ''keep her happy,'' court records show.
''Obviously, we consider her an important witness,'' said assistant state attorney Richard Scruggs.
As part of the plea deal, Nichols, 50, agreed to identify for investigators ``all persons known to her who are in any way involved in criminal activity at or around the Miami International Airport.''
After she cooperates -- which could include her testimony against the other defendants -- Nichols will be sentenced to three years' probation under the agreement.
She also agreed to resign as a project manager for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department and give up her law license.
''Right now, she just wants to get on with her life,'' said Nichols' lawyer, Don Cohn.
At the airport, Nichols was in charge of overseeing a county management contract with ASIG Fueling Miami Inc., which ran the fuel farm operations.
Nichols also approved county payments for repair work, construction and cleanup services at the fuel depot.
ASIG's point man at the fuel farm, Richard Caride -- a disgraced ex-cop who once served prison time for murder -- also was involved in stealing jet fuel.
He also has admitted to receiving kickbacks from contractors accused of submitting inflated bills to the county.
Caride told prosecutors he helped deliver a large-screen television to Nichols' South Miami home in December 2002 -- a TV paid for by the co-owners of a fuel company.
He also encouraged another contractor, Jacques Evens Thermilus, to give Nichols another TV.
The co-owners of the fuel company, Nelson Quintero and William Paul, have pleaded guilty, as have Caride and Thermilus.
Caride also told investigators that Nichols began complaining about her job and demanded a meeting with County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler to lobby for a promotion, records show.
Caride said the lunch meeting was set up by Antonio Junior, a Carey-Shuler associate who has been charged in the MIA scandal.
''I like this whole thing with politics,'' Nichols said after the lunch, according to Caride.
Cohn said Nichols never demanded a promotion from the commissioner, though Nichols and Carey-Shuler were introduced.
Nichols ''adamantly denies what [Caride] says about that,'' Cohn said.
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