LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — As the first trial in the Lynn Haven corruption case draws near the attorneys are wrangling over what issues and evidence the jury will be allowed to hear.
Phoenix Construction Owner James Finch and former Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson are accused of bribery, fraud, and lying to the FBI. In their motions the defendants’ attorneys wrote they want Judge Mark Walker to eliminate any reference to the fact that Finch is paying for Anderson’s defense; the amount paid for the defense and references to alleged crimes that Anderson is accused of committing outside of the charges she faces in the joint trial.
Walker recently ordered that Anderson would face two trials because Finch would be tarnished in the eyes of the jury if they heard about crimes she allegedly committed without his knowledge.
After Hurricane Michael Anderson allegedly had a contractor that was doing business with the city clean up her property for free. Anderson argues the property was a city-owned easement.
Anderson is also accused of accepting free public adjusting work from a different company in exchange for a lucrative contract for that work with the city. No evidence so far has shown that Finch was involved in or aware of these alleged schemes.
Prosecutors wrote that they want to introduce limited evidence about these issues at the joint trial because it will provide important context about Finch and Anderson’s case.
Meanwhile, prosecutors said they want to point out how Finch is funding Anderson’s defense. They wrote that the ongoing situation shows the pair had a “corrupt arrangement.”
They also said the pair violated court orders shortly after they were indicted when Anderson used her husband’s phone to communicate with Finch about the case.
“Additional evidence demonstrates that after the government brought the fact of Defendant Finch paying more than $400,000 for this purpose to defense counsels’ attention, Defendants had seventeen prohibited phone calls between each other over the following weekend for the purpose of concocting a suitable explanation for the payment, which Defendant Finch soon announced on TV, and caused the certification and filing of a false document …” they wrote.
But this is an unfair description of the situation according to Finch and Anderson.
“As the Andersons’ life-long friend, Finch agreed to assist Margo Anderson with the extraordinary financial burden of defending herself against a meritless federal indictment,” Guy Lewis, Finch’s attorney wrote. “Finch has loaned Lee and Margo Anderson money to defend against these scurrilous and untrue charges. Finch took the title to the Anderson’s Lynn Haven home in return. Since then, the home has been sold and a portion of that loan has been satisfied.”
He added that a friend or family member often steps in to pay for an attorney when a loved one is charged with a crime.
Prosecutors are also asking Walker to prevent the defense from attacking the grand jury process or to use the trial to accuse two others of being involved in a grand conspiracy. In previous motions and in a hearing defense attorney’s have argued that another contractor (who has since died), an engineer (who has not been charged), the former city manager (who has plead guilty) and a local investigator are involved in a criminal plot and in some way set up Anderson and Finch.
“If true, it has nothing to do with the merits of this case: whether Defendant Finch bribed Defendant Anderson and lied about it to the FBI,” prosecutors wrote. They added that while the defendants should be allowed to cross-examine the engineer, “Defendants cannot properly assert at trial that they are not guilty because he did wrong.”
“It is no defense to say that other people are corrupt,” prosecutors wrote. “It is nothing but a distraction from the issues the jury must decide.”
Walker has not yet ruled on these issues. The first trial in the case is scheduled for November 28.