BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The ongoing corruption case in Lynn Haven ensnared several new players Thursday after the defense suggested there were corrupt local and federal investigators and local prosecutors.
Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction are accused of bribery and fraud over several projects in Lynn Haven.
However, during a day-long hearing in federal court in Tallahassee, their attorneys pointed to witness statements that accused Derwin White, the former co-owner of the GAC construction company, of being the “Godfather” of Bay County.
The statements said that White bribed local investigators and prosecutors. White died unexpectedly last year. Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, also accused federal prosecutors of using an informant to gather information from suspects after the suspect had obtained a lawyer.
He argued this would be a serious violation of attorney, client privilege.
“Somebody had their nose under the tent is what you suspected,” Judge Mark Walker added.
Prosecutors denied this claim, saying Derwin White attempted to tamper with witnesses. White’s nephew Mickey White testified that his uncle bragged about bribing people.
“He did a lot of that,” White said. “He bought a lot of people a lot of stuff.”
Mickey White, owned a separate construction company, ECS, and has already pleaded guilty in the corruption case.
Mickey White testified that he believed his uncle, Derwin White, was getting information about the case from a local investigator.
That information included verbatim questions and answers that Mickey White had provided. He also testified that Derwin White told him to create invoices for work done at Margo Anderson’s home.
Derwin White instructed Mickey White to bring him those invoices that night and to have a copy of the invoices in his office.
Derwin White allegedly told Mickey White that an FBI raid was coming.
Mickey White said the FBI showed up the very next day. The defense attorneys suggested that these invoices were fraudulent but White testified they were based on other reports about work done at Anderson’s house.
There is reportedly another set of invoices involving Anderson that were found in a trash can at the ECS offices. The defense argued that Derwin White was connected to his alleged criminal activity with Chris Forehand.
Forehand is an engineer for the city of Lynn Haven and is expected to testify against Anderson and Finch.
Prosecutors have reportedly offered him immunity for his testimony.
They also argued that Anderson was the whistleblower in the case and that the city followed the law until Mike White, the former city manager took over.
White has pleaded guilty in the case.
According to Anderson’s attorney, Robert Vezina, the city was run correctly before White was hired but while Anderson was still mayor.
“What changed is that Michael White is a criminal,” he said.
Despite all of this explosive testimony, this part of the case will be decided on several issues of law.
Lewis and Vezina are hoping Walker will throw out the case either because prosecutors returned another indictment that fails to pass legal muster, or because they failed to produce legally required documents to the defense in a timely manner, or because they violated the law during the grand jury process.
Grand Jury proceedings are usually secret and sealed but Lewis convinced Walker to unseal them so he could make his arguments.
Walker acknowledged that this was highly unusual but said he wanted to deal with all of the issues so that another court would have everything on the record during a possible appeal process.
Walker added that it was as if the attorney said, “Judge I found a dog’s tooth in my chili. I’m probably going to let them look in the kitchen.” Lewis said he believed prosecutors were reckless if not malicious when they got the latest of three grand jury indictments in the case. “I’m saying that they got it 100 percent wrong on these two and they are completely innocent,” Lewis said as he draped his arms on Finch and Anderson’s shoulders.
However, Walker and the prosecutors pushed back and noted that the bar for such an argument is very high.
Prosecutors would have to have knowingly misinterpreted the facts in order for a judge to throw out the indictment.
The misconduct by prosecutors included a litany of leading questions, mistakes over the evidence and a rushed process, defense attorneys argued. It was rushed to the point that the jurors could not possibly make an informed decision about the complicated legal matters before them, they added.
“You know how long the grand jury was out?” Lewis asked. “A whole two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds.”
Lewis also railed against prosecutors for introducing a letter to the grand jury that Finch wrote to News 13 about the case.
In the letter, Finch invited the public to kiss his (expletive). “He wrote a note to the press because they were killing him writing stuff about him every day,” Lewis said.
But Prosecutor Andrew Grogan suggested that Lewis was being disingenuous about the situation. It was Lewis, he said, who demanded that Finch’s letter be read to the grand jury.
The prosecution and defense were given the next several weeks to make their final arguments in court.
Walker is expected to rule on the issues sometime after May 9.