OCALA – An abortion doctor pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of conspiracy, the last count remaining from a 2001 conviction for extorting Marion County that an appeals court later threw out.
Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV, who operates the Ocala Women’s Center and four other clinics statewide that provide abortion services, is scheduled to go to trial July 19.
The new indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury in March but kept sealed until last week, charges that Pendergraft and a former business associate conspired to make false statements in affidavits and in testimony.
Pendergraft and his attorneys would not comment after the arraignment, but comments made during the hearing indicated a plea agreement is possible.
Pendergraft and Michael Spielvogel were convicted in February 2001 based on a federal lawsuit they filed against Marion County, claiming the clinic was not given adequate protection against anti-abortion protesters.
County officials, concerned about the potential for violence even before it opened, construed the lawsuit to be part of an extortion plot in which they were expected to pay Pendergraft and Spielvogel to close the clinic.