LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — The former mayor of Lynn Haven is seeking to have the corruption charges against her dropped and says in court filings that she was the whistleblower that brought the situation to light.
Margo Anderson and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, have now both filed motions that seek to throw out the bribery and fraud case against them.
Six other people, including former City Manager Mike White and former City Attorney Adam Albritton, have pleaded guilty in the case. A seventh person, former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes, pleaded guilty on a related charge but now agrees with prosecutors that Finch bribed him.
In the latest filing, Anderson’s attorneys argue that prosecutors have acted outside the law and that because of their actions the case should be dismissed completely.
Anderson’s attorneys, Anthony Bajoczky, Jr. and W. Robert Vezina III, say prosecutors misrepresented evidence to the Grand Jury. At one point, prosecutors allegedly took a text message out of context. At another juncture, prosecutors blamed Anderson for changes to a Phoenix project that were approved by the entire city commission – a fact, they claim, was not presented to the Grand Jury.
They also take issue with the amount of time the Grand Jury deliberated on the indictment, stating that the Grand Jury returned an indictment within 4 hours, including 2 plus hours of testimony and “this would have left little time for the grand jury to read the Indictment, consider other evidence, and be instructed on the law.”
Both Finch and Anderson are arguing that prosecutors tried to keep important evidence from the defendants in order to hamper their ability to defend themselves at trial. They previously argued this point in court, and won, with Judge Mark Walker ordering the release of all material to the defense. The information that was released is a large part of the basis for the filings in both the Finch and Anderson motions.
The motion also lays out some of Anderson’s arguments in her defense.
It states that after Hurricane Michael the company working on behalf of the city cleaned a city-owned easement near her property and not her property itself. Anderson has long said she didn’t have the city clean her property, and her attorneys said they have photographs that will prove this point, showing Anderson’s property being cleaned before the date of the city clean-up on the adjacent easement.
And that while Anderson was offered free services from another company doing business with the City, she declined those services until agreeing to a five-percent fee. Prosecutors allege that the standard fee is 10% and that the reduced rate of 5% was a kickback.
The motion states that “every contract change order/addendum/task order executed by Anderson in favor of Phoenix Construction, every municipal bond executed by Anderson to finance a Phoenix Construction project, and every promissory note executed by Anderson in favor of James Finch were presented to the City Commission, recommended by City staff, and received unanimous approval by the City Commission.”
The motion adds that “Anderson was the whistleblower that brought the suspicious ECS payments to law enforcement.”
While portions of the motion are redacted as they rely on confidential information, a footnote on page 13 sheds light on at least some of the defense. The note, which provides supplemental information on redacted information, references GAC and Derwin White. It points to ECS owner Micky White being the nephew of Derwin White. Derwin White died on July 31, 2021, from COVID-19. A search warrant was executed at GAC 5 days later.
And the cost to Anderson has been high, her lawyers wrote.
“In a practical sense, Anderson was indicted based on an inaccurate, deceptive, and misleading narrative,” they wrote. “She lost her job, had to relocate to a new community, and endured stress-related health conditions. Her name and reputation are ruined.
“And then she has had to fight the Government for almost a year to get information proving her innocence that should have been promptly provided by the Government without request as a matter of constitutional right.”
Prosecutors are expected to respond early next week. Judge Mark Walker could issue a ruling on these issues sometime in January.