LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — The two defendants left in the Lynn Haven corruption case should not be allowed to sever their trials and their arguments show how close they are to being found guilty at trial prosecutors wrote Tuesday.
James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, face a 25-count indictment for fraud and bribery and are looking down the barrel of a November 28 trial. After months of motions, both defendants are currently arguing that a portion of the case that only involved Anderson should be tried separately. Prosecutors responded to that argument this week.
“Rather, their circular and conclusory arguments show that Defendants plainly fear that a properly instructed jury will convict them on factually related charges after it hears all the relevant, admissible evidence about
what they did,” prosecutors wrote. “Though the legal terms used by both Defendants in their papers are “sever” and (in later filings, no doubt) “exclude,” this is an attempt to divide and conquer to keep the jury, or rather two juries, in the dark about the whole scope of Defendants’ alleged criminal conduct.”
Prosecutors say Finch bribed Anderson and former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes in order to secure contracts for his company with the city. Anderson and Finch claim that they are old friends and that any items exchanged, including an RV and various vacations, were out of friendship or were paid for by Anderson.
But any payments made by Anderson to Finch were done after an FBI investigation into corruption in Lynn Haven began, prosecutors contend.
Both “Defendants tried (clumsily) to cover up a bribe from Defendant Finch to Defendant Anderson. They both have continued (clumsily) to try to cover up their relationship with one another,” they wrote.
Finch and Anderson have argued that they will face unfair prejudice from the jury if all of the evidence against Anderson is presented at one trial. Prosecutors said that there are both legal and common sense reasons for the defendants to be tried together.
“Joint trials have many benefits: they reduce the risk of inconsistent verdicts and the unfairness inherent in serial trials, lighten the burden on victims and witnesses, increase judicial efficiency, and conserve scarce judicial resources,” prosecutors wrote.
They added that this latest motion is part of an ongoing campaign to delay the trial for as long as possible and opposed any oral arguments on the issue. The defendants attorneys said they want 60 minutes to make those arguments in front of Judge Mark Walker.
“The government notes that defense counsel made a similar estimate for the evidentiary hearing the Court set for March 31, 2022. Defense counsel stretched an estimated two-hour hearing into three days,” prosecutors wrote.
They also detail again, the allegations against Anderson. Those allegations include that one city manager left because of her behavior and that the new city manager (Mike White who has pleaded guilty in the case) was vetted by Finch and others to ensure he would send city business their way.
“According to Michael White, Defendant Anderson believes in the concept ‘you take care of me, I take care of you,'” prosecutors wrote.
They add that Anderson participation in schemes that don’t involve Finch will help prove her criminal mindset when she accepted things of value from Finch. While prosecutors did not concede that there should be two trials they did confirm that if that happens they want to conduct Anderson’s trial first.
“If Defendant Anderson was convicted on any of Counts 17 through 25, it may be in her interest to seek a plea agreement with the government regarding the remaining charges against her,” they wrote.
Walker will make a ruling on this issue at a later date. A single trial is currently scheduled for November 28.