LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — A local business owner says federal prosecutors have violated his rights and acted in bad faith as they prosecute him for bribery and fraud.
James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, are the final two defendants in a corruption case connected to city projects that happened both before and after Hurricane Michael.
Prosecutors have already convinced six other defendants, including former City Manager Mike White and former City Attorney Adam Albritton to plead guilty in the case. Antonious Barnes, a former city commissioner, pleaded guilty in a different case but has now formally agreed with prosecutors that Finch bribed him.
Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, argues that prosecutors violated Finch’s fifth and sixth amendment rights during their investigation and multiple trips to the grand jury for indictments. The Fifth Amendment states that defendants can’t be tried multiple times for the same crime and protects them from self-incrimination. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a speedy and public trial in front of an impartial jury.
In his motion, Lewis states that prosecutors withheld important evidence from the defense, solicited false testimony from the FBI, and provided false and incomplete tape recording of Lynn Haven Commission meetings. The meetings provided by prosecutors “exclude critical exculpatory portions,” Lewis added.
The FBI also told Finch he was a cooperating witness and then solicited and received a large number of documents from him about the case. They then indicted him.
Lewis also takes issue with the information that was provided to the grand jury. Those issues include asking the grand jury to return two indictments that included a conspiracy that the evidence shows Finch was not a part of. Lewis has previously and successfully argued that prosecutors may have a criminal case against Finch in some parts of the case but there are at least two (of five) schemes in which he could not have participated. The previous indictment was thrown out thanks to the success of this argument.
Lewis added that the grand juries were presented with false and inaccurate information and that they were not given all the exculpatory information. Lewis has also repeatedly noted that the prosecutors have accused Finch of crimes during a time frame when Finch was in a coma and unable to commit those crimes.
“The Grand Juries have been presented with false testimony and three charging documents making it appear that Finch is involved in multiple conspiracies that he had absolutely nothing to do with,” Lewis wrote.
Lewis also took aim at one of the federal prosecutors on the case, Stephen Kunz. Lewis points out that Kunz was disciplined after prosecuting a case in the Middle District of Florida in 1997. Prosecutors indicted the parents of Sabrina Aisenberg for making false statements based on tape recordings. But the judge in the case later ruled that the tapes did not say what Kunz claimed. He was roundly criticized and left the Middle District of Florida and took a job as a prosecutor in North Florida. In 2005, he was admonished for his actions by the Florida Bar.
In this case, Lewis accused Kunz of several things including:
- Hosting conspicuous news conferences to announce the indictments
- Incitement evoking community outrage
- Presentation of false allegations and improper legal instructions to the Grand Juries
- Proceeding to Indictment without meaningful oversight
- Returning lengthy Indictments full of matters unnecessary to the essential elements of a crime
- Targeting discretionary or democratic decisions
- Baseless allegation of conflict and disqualification
- A Court finding of serious government misconduct
In conclusion, Lewis quotes Berger v. United States, “While a prosecutor ‘may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.'”
The case is set for a hearing on Tuesday, December 6.