LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — A federal judge determined that the investigators and federal prosecutors in the Lynn Haven case did not break any laws or were ‘vindictive’ in their pursuit of a criminal case against two corruption suspects.
After two years of motions and delays the ruling likely clears the way for a trial at the end of this month.
In November, attorneys for former Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson and contractor James Finch filed a motion in federal court alleging prosecutorial misconduct and asking the Government to provide copies of seized material from GAC. Anderson and Finch face conspiracy and bribery charges in the case.
In December, Judge Mark Walker held a hearing for the defense to make its case.
The defense attorneys argued that there were several bad actors in the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, and the City of Lynn Haven. Several of them were also important witnesses for the prosecution. The defense attorneys said that an investigator was bribed by the co-owner of GAC, Derwin White, because White had a vendetta against Anderson and Finch. The defense also argued that Finch and Anderson, rather than being involved in a bribery scheme, were whistleblowers who were trying to stop corruption in Lynn Haven.
Walker wrote that these issues could be decided by a jury and that the case will not be thrown out.
“Defendants fall short of demonstrating outrageous or conscience-shocking government misconduct necessary to persuade this Court to exercise its supervisory authority to dismiss the indictment. This Court previously addressed some of the conduct that Defendants cite, like the Government’s actions before the first three grand juries and discovery shortcomings, and declined to find that it warranted dismissal of the indictment.”
He also wrote that the “claim fails because they fall short of showing actual vindictiveness or a realistic probability of vindictiveness.”
Other evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing had previously been ruled on by the Court and found to not warrant dismissal, Walker wrote. As for the new evidence presented at this hearing, such as the claim that the Government is trying to “manufacture a conflict of interest to disqualify Anderson’s counsel” the Judge writes that this argument “distorts what really happened.”
Walker wrote that it was the duty of the prosecutors and the court to ensure that Anderson received a conflict-free defense “as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.” He held a hearing on the matter and made sure that Anderson knew there was a conflict and that she was waiving the conflict. Walker wrote “this conduct fails to show actual vindictiveness by the Government. In fact, it shows the opposite…. Here, the Government acted to safeguard Anderson’s Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free representation, which is implicated by a co-defendant paying for her representation.”
Lastly, the Court ruled on the motion to compel evidence seized in the raid of GAC in 2021. The defense had argued that they were being denied access to evidence, while the Government said that they had invited defense counsel to “inspect and copy” anything they thought was relevant. Defense attorneys had asked for the Judge to order copies be made as they are not based in Panama City due to “the cost and inconvenience of traveling hundreds of miles.”
Walker rejected these arguments, reminding Defendants that “the Government is not obligated to make copies for Defendants. This is especially relevant where, like here, indigence is not an issue for either Defendant. Both Anderson and Finch have retained counsel with offices some distance away from the site of this criminal investigation—which is their right. However, Defendants cannot hire out-of-town counsel and then complain about the need for them to travel to litigate this case.”
The trial is currently scheduled to begin February 27th.