Published: Feb 23, 2011 12:29 AM EST
Updated: Feb 22, 2011 7:08 PM EST

"Thrilled and overjoyed."   That's how Vicki Lopez-Lukis reacted to the news that her conviction from 1997, had been vacated.    A federal court ruled that she should not have been found guilty of one count of depriving citizens of 'honest services'  while a Lee Co. commissioner in the early 1990's.

"I screamed, believe it or not, because this has been such a long journey,"  Lopez-Lukis told WINK News Senior Reporter Mike Walcher, in an exclusive TV interview.    She spoke to WINK via satellite from Tallahassee, where she is working for criminal justice reform.

"I knew all along, this was just an indictment of my personal life.     My husband and I both realized, the charges were more personal than real.   We knew we were being falsely accused," she said.

The case dates back to the early 1990's, when then commissioner Lopez  had a secret love affair with Miami lobbyist Sylvester Lukis.     They fell in love and decided to marry.    She resigned as commissioner to marry Lukis.   But federal prosecutors eventually charged the couple with bribery and fraud, as well as the charges of depriving citizens of honest services.    The government argued:    Lopez sold  her votes to satisfy clients of her lover, Lukis.    The illicit affair and later criminal charges stunned and fascinated people in quiet Fort Myers.   "Yes, it was a scandal and it was a bad soap opera, all wrapped into one," said Lopez-Lukis about that time.     A jury in 1997 found Syl Lukis not guilty of all charges;   the jury found Lopez-Lukis not guilty of bribery and fraud, but guilty of that one count of depriving 'honest services.'   

"It sank in over time and I was in a state of shock.   I know the day that I found out, I was going to prison, I was in a state of shock, I don't even remember driving home that day.   And having to grapple with the impact on my family, it was very hard.   Writing a good-bye letter to my son, felt like I was dying," Lopez-Lukis told WINK.

She served 15 months in prison.   "I threw myself into helping others there.   I realized, this must be the path that God had chosen for me.   Now I am uniquely qualified to be a very strong fighter for criminal justice reform.    This must be my life's calling," she said.

"Do I feel bitter?  No.   Sad that I had to go through this and my family did, yes.   Upset that I lost those years and got diverted from what I was doing in public life, yes.    But now I feel my name is vindicated, and my soul has always been at peace.   Oftentimes, bad things happen to good people, and we cannot control everything that happens.  But my soul has been at peace all along," Lopez-Lukis  told WINK.

As for the prosecution that occured, she says:   "I think it was politically motivated.  It was about my private life.   I think the prosecutors got the train rolling down the track, and it was going so fast,  they could not pull back."

Here is a link to the court documents in the case, provided by Lopez-Lukis: