PANAMA CITY, Fla (WMBB) — Bay County Commissioner Keith Baker, former assistant state attorney Greg Wilson and two other men are facing criminal charges as part of an ongoing corruption investigation that began in Lynn Haven but has branched out to include Panama City.
After Hurricane Michael devastated Bay County, the City of Lynn Haven contracted with Erosion Control Specialists (ECS), Inc., to perform debris cleanup. The work was paid for under the emergency declaration and ultimately by FEMA funding. The work included removing tree debris, household garbage, and hurricane debris from roadways and culverts. ECS then sub-contracted the work to other businesses: Tri-State Climate Solutions LLC, Greg Wilson Law LLC, Morin and Sons LLC, and Russell Endeavors LLC., officials wrote in a news release
During the course of investigating corruption in the City of Lynn Haven, information was developed that revealed these companies failed to pay workers’ compensation, Social Security taxes, or Federal Income taxes during the time frame in question, investigators wrote in a news release.
Keith Baker, 54, of Panama City, owner of Tri-State Climate Solutions LLC, Gregory Wilson, 48, of Panama City, owner of Greg Wilson Law LLC, Dennis Morin, 56, of Fountain, owner of Morin and Sons LLC, and John David Russell, 31, of Eclectic, Alabama, owner of Russell Endeavors LLC. are being charged with Workers’ Compensation Fraud, a second-degree felony.
Morin is accused of obtaining $82,941 from the city of Lynn Haven after the storm. Wilson got $338,064 and Russell got $245,945, according to information released by the sheriff’s office.
Baker is also facing bid tampering and official misconduct charges after he allegedly rigged a bid for work with the City of Panama City when he was the city’s leisure services director.
This was revealed in a series of texts between Baker and ECS.
On March 19, 2018, Baker sent a text: “I’ve got a potential demo job for you.”
He received a response from ECS: “What do you got?”
Baker: “Building on MLK. What is a typical sf price without asbestos? Mostly block construction. 1412 MLK Blvd.”
Over the next month there were several texts between ECS and Keith Baker. Baker relied on ECS to obtain two other bids for the demo job on MLK Blvd. On April 25, 2018, Baker texted ECS.
Baker: “I’ve got to get the three quotes.”
Three hours later, Baker texts: “Need that text.”
Within minutes, ECS sends three bids, with the ECS bid the lowest: “Greenleaf 22,500 Ecs 15,000 Precision Construction 25,000.”
Baker responds: “How about $19,500 $14,750 and $18,000?”
Baker directed ECS to lower the amount of all the bids, with ECS to come in at $14,750.00.
“This was significant because a bid of this amount could be approved by Baker alone, and did not require Baker to present it before the city commission for approval,” investigators wrote in a news release. “Paperwork on the bids, reflecting the lower amounts that Baker dictated, was obtained by investigators. Investigators have further documented that the bid supposedly submitted by Precision Contractors was in fact a falsified bid and the owner of that company had no knowledge it had been submitted under his company’s name.”
Approximately seven months after this demo job was awarded to ECS, Keith Baker left his position with the City of Panama City and was almost immediately hired by ECS to do “trash pick-up” in and around the City of Lynn Haven.
Over the course of his new job, Baker was paid approximately $150,000 by ECS for about five to six weeks of work. Baker now faces charges of bid tampering and official misconduct.
“There is nothing more important than citizens having trust and confidence in their local government,” said City Manager Mark McQueen in a statement. “The City of Panama City is disappointed in the alleged conduct of Keith Baker while he was employed as the City’s Leisure Services Director. The City has fully cooperated with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement throughout this investigation and will continue to do so. City Leadership and the entire Team remain committed to serving our citizens with excellence, transparency, and audit readiness.”
Baker was employed with the City of Panama City from February 28, 2012 to November 5, 2018. He was elected to the Bay County Commission in 2018.
Shortly after a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Bay County officials announced that Keith Baker has resigned his position as a Bay County commissioner.
A resignation letter was filed on June 23 that states the following:
I, Keith Baker, do hereby resign, effective immediately, my position as District 4 Bay County Commissioner.
The resignation letter was forwarded to Gov. Ron DeSantis who has the authority to appoint another person to finish Baker’s term. Baker’s term was scheduled to end in 2022.
Bay County Commissioner Phillip “Griff” Griffitts said the commission was disappointed.
“We are disappointed to learn of the charges filed against Keith by the state, and we are certain justice will be forthcoming,” Griffitts said in a statement. “Despite this troubling situation, the Bay County Commission and its hundreds of dedicated employees will continue to work hard every day to serve the public with honor and integrity.”
Sheriff Tommy Ford said that today’s arrests are not the end of the case.
“We will not stop until we have rooted out the corruption that is in this community,” he said. “Our overall investigation is still very active and ongoing.”
State Attorney Glenn Hess added that Bay County has faced this problem for years.
“There has been an undercurrent of corruption in Bay County for a long time,” he said. “The winds of Hurricane Michael laid it out so that it could be seen.
This case began when the Sheriff’s Office and federal investigators discovered fraud at the city of Lynn Haven.
Former City Manager Mike White, 46, Erosion Control Specialist Owner David White, 39, and ECS Employee Shannon Rodriguez, 37, and Joshua Daniel Anderson, owner of GreenLeaf Lawn Care of Bay County, have all pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case after being accused of bilking millions from the city for clean up work that was never done.
David Horton, the former community services director for Lynn Haven, is still facing a federal trial in that case.
Baker, Morin, and Russell will all be prosecuted in state court by State Attorney Glenn Hess. Wilson, who once worked for Hess at the state attorney’s office, will be prosecuted in State Court by another state attorney outside of Hess’ 14th Judicial Circuit.
Wilson is on probation after being found guilty of introduction of contraband at a jail facility and misdemeanor perjury for lying to investigators in the case.