UPDATE 4:40 p.m: This story was updated with a statement from Margo Anderson’s attorney.
LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Judge Mark Walker ruled Tuesday that most of the counts against the former mayor of Lynn Haven and a local business leader will stand and the corruption case will go to trial.
Although it has been postponed multiple times in the past, the trial for Margo Anderson, the former mayor, and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, is currently set for June 27.
Six others including former City Manager Mike White and former City Attorney Adam Albritton have already pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing. A seventh defendant, former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes, pleaded guilty in a separate case but is now prepared to testify that Finch bribed him.
Finch and Anderson’s attorneys sought to have the entire case thrown out with prejudice.
In an April 27 motion, Anderson and Finch accused prosecutors, witnesses, and investigators of violating the law and the judge’s orders during the investigation and the run-up to the trial. Prosecutors responded on May 17 in a 216-page document that is still sealed from the public.
Regardless, Walker does not mention the various accusations against law enforcement, prosecutors or other individuals in the case.
Walker threw out Count 1, a conspiracy charge that tied Finch and Anderson to five conspiracies involving city work before and after Hurricane Michael.
Walker labeled those conspiracies as
- 17th Street: Finch allegedly bribed Anderson and City Commissioner Antonious Barnes to support his projects with the City of Lynn Haven. In addition, Finch obtained one of those projects, the 17th street project, through a bid-rigging agreement with other companies.
- ECS: Erosion Control Specialists (ECS) allegedly bribed City Manager Michael White, Anderson, and City Attorney Adam Albritton and received hurricane cleanup and trash pickup contracts in return. ECS also submitted false invoices and, when those invoices were paid, allegedly paid kickbacks to Albritton.
- Debris Disposal: Unbeknownst to the City, a company that employed Albritton directed city contractors to use that company’s property to dispose of debris. After a meeting with Anderson, Finch, White, and the owner of the other company, Anderson directed two other companies to dispose of debris at one of Finch’s properties. Anderson also allegedly vetoed White’s plan to designate city-owned property as a disposal site and secured state government support for a plan to use Finch’s site. At the same time, Anderson allegedly accepted things of value from Finch.
- WorldClaim: WorldClaim, a public adjusting firm, approached a contract engineer with the city for help in getting a city contract for hurricane claims. Worldclaim offered the engineer a percentage of whatever they recovered. The engineer, in turn, approached Anderson and White, offering free services from WorldClaim. Anderson and White signed an agreement with WorldClaim using Anderson’s post-hurricane emergency powers. WorldClaim, in turn, allegedly provided them free or reduced services.
- Rebuild: After Hurricane Michael, the City had to rebuild many of its facilities. Finch allegedly bribed Anderson for inside information and to exert pressure on city officials to aid Finch in obtaining the rebuild project at a significantly higher cost than the City would pay through its already-planned rebuild project.
Collectively, 25 counts against Finch and Anderson involving bribery and fraud remain. Walker did not dismiss Count 1 with prejudice which means prosecutors could, once again, get an indictment on this charge.
“An indictment’s primary purpose is to “inform the defendant of the nature of the accusation against him.” Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 767 (1962),” Walker wrote. “While the vast majority of counts fulfill that purpose, Count 1 again fails to do so. And so this Court must again dismiss it.”
A statement was posted by Anderson on News 13’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. The statement, which is from her attorney, W. Robert Vezina, III, says Anderson is ready to defend herself.
On Monday, the court granted the motions of Margo Anderson and James Finch to dismiss the conspiracy count of the second superseding indictment. That count charged both Anderson and Finch with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
This is the second time the Court has dismissed the conspiracy count as being infirm. In September of last year, the conspiracy count in the first superseding indictment was dismissed. In Monday’s order the Court said that ‘Count 1 falls short because it leaves the charged conspiracy’s scope ambiguous, combining an open-ended list of matters within the conspiracy with dozens of paragraphs of allegations unrelated to the matters specifically enumerated on the list. Thus, Count 1 does not fairly inform Defendants of the charges against which they must defend.’
As was the case in 2021, the dismissal is without prejudice so the government could decide to seek a third superseding indictment from a grand jury. The court has granted (at least in part) four motions to dismiss in this case. If the government decides to move forward with a revamped indictment against Ms. Anderson that is cognizable, Ms. Anderson is prepared to defend herself in every regard at trial.