Major charge set to be dismissed in Lynn Haven corruption case

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) – The defendants in the Lynn Haven corruption case appear to be on the verge of winning a major decision.

“I fully intend to dismiss Count 1 without prejudice,” Judge Mark Walker said at a hearing on Monday.

Count 1 alleges a massive conspiracy involving former mayor Margo Anderson, former city commissioner Antonious Barnes, former city attorney Adam Albritton and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction. The four people are awaiting trial while five other defendants, including former city manager Mike White, have already pleaded guilty in the case.

The other 40 or so charges in the case relate to wire fraud, honest service fraud and corruption.

However, Finch’s attorney Guy Lewis appears to have successfully argued that the logic of the federal government was wrong when it took the case to the grand jury because instead of one massive conspiracy there were seven conspiracies. distinct criminals. Only four of them involved Finch.

The decision, which is expected later this week, will leave the case in abeyance.

Prosecutors could move forward with what’s left of the case, or they could come back to the grand jury. Dual criminality is not attached to the case at this point, so federal prosecutors may keep the case, or state prosecutors may seek charges.

Walker suggested prosecutors may want to start over.

“Does the government just want to try again? And I’m not saying you all have to answer that question now… ”Walker said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew J. Grogan said his office would have to review the decision and then make a decision, although he added that it seemed likely the grand jury would be involved again.

“It is possible, if not likely, that we want to stab the allegations of conspiracy and how to charge them again in light of the court ruling,” Grogan said.

It is also unclear how the defendants will interact with prosecutors in the future.

“It might be wise to allow us to have a brief chat with the government,” Lewis said. He added that Finch wanted to bring his side of the story straight to the grand jury.

“Finch asked to testify in front of the grand jury… He agreed to submit to an FBI polygraph,” Lewis said.

In another issue, defense lawyers and prosecutors debate when a bribe may not be a bribe.

Lawyers for the accused argue that Finch’s generosity to the mayor of Lynn Haven (he allegedly had him travel in a private plane, stay on a private yacht, meals, entertainment and a 105,000 motorhome $) and City Commissioner Antonious Barnes (he allegedly gave him a $ 45,000 small business loan that Barnes never reported or paid back) does not constitute bribery.

Finch maintains that Anderson is a longtime family friend and has known Barnes for years, that any gifts or loans were made out of friendship and not because he was trying to bribe city officials.

On a large project that Lynn Haven awarded to Phoenix Construction, Barnes was not present during the initial vote. If there was a quid pro quo, “Wouldn’t Barnes be present for the initial vote?” Lewis said.

Walker concluded that this was a compelling question for the jury, but perhaps not a reason for a judge to dismiss a charge.

“Sir. Lewis has my full attention if I’m on the jury. The standard is reasonable doubt and he just planted a big seed,” Walker said.

The defense team also maintains that although Barnes and Anderson took these items from Finch and voted for him when they were supposed to serve the people of Lynn Haven, there is no record or otherwise. evidence that they agree to be bribed by Bouvreuil.

“I think back to that indictment and I think that’s where the fatality lies,” Lewis said. He added that the United States Supreme Court had unanimously sided with his argument in the past. He also noted that lawyers can take judges to dinner and contribute to their campaigns, even if they have cases in court, and not fear being accused of bribery.

However, Walker suggested that the difference between these actions and what the defendants are accused of can be significant.

“What you couldn’t do is give me, if you had a huge case pending before me in state court, you couldn’t let me use your beach house on St. Island. George for free, ”Walker said. “Isn’t it functionally different if I give you a $ 250,000 RV for $ 1,000?” “

Prosecutors added that the standard of evidence the defense maintains is necessary for the case to move forward is not actually what the law provides.

“It would be a little silly to say that I will give you a bag of money if you vote for me,” Grogan said. “The law doesn’t require that kind of stupid specificity.”

A trial in the case was slated for later this week, but instead, after Walker issues his ruling, a follow-up hearing will be held in September.

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