LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Federal prosecutors have once again laid out their case against a local businessman and the former mayor of Lynn Haven in new filings.
The documents were in response to a motion to dismiss by the defense and a request for more specifics from the prosecution in the Lynn Haven corruption case.
James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, are accused of conspiracy and bribery involving city business. Antonius Barnes, a former city commissioner, has pled guilty to fraud in the case and is accused of taking a bribe from Finch.
Finch and Anderson maintain that they are innocent of the charges and Barnes testified in a hearing this week that he did take more than $40,000 in a “loan” that he never paid back. However, he also said that when he asked for the money he clarified that he was asking as a friend and not as a sitting city commissioner. Barnes also testified that even though he took the money he did not, “sell” his vote.
In their motion, the defense argued that a conspiracy count against Anderson and Finch was unlawful but prosecutors maintain the charge is valid even though Anderson and Barnes were not aware of their separate activity with Finch. The attorneys in the case frequently use the analogy that a conspiracy is similar to the hub and spokes of a wheel.
“A conspiracy that allegedly included Defendant Finch as the hub and Defendant Anderson and Commissioner Barnes as spokes (as Count of the third superseding indictment does) is not duplicitous simply because one spoke does not know about the other’s involvement. This is black letter law,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant Finch is the hub. Defendant Anderson and Commissioner Barnes are spokes. And the rim is the common purpose of Defendant Finch providing benefits to these City officials with an intent to influence or reward them as it relates to his business with the City.”
Prosecutors also once again wrote about a motorhome that Finch allegedly gave Anderson as a bribe. Finch is accused of lying to the FBI about payments Anderson’s husband allegedly made to him for the motorhome and providing investigators with a false bill of sale.
Prosecutors wrote that before they formally filed charges against Anderson they communicated to her attorney that there was one way to end the prosecution on the motorhome issue.
“The single thing the government requested was evidence that Defendant Anderson or her spouse had actually paid $35,000 (or any money at all) for the Motorhome by July 6, 2018, the date indicated on the bill of sale Defendant Finch presented to the FBI,” they wrote. “After some time, counsel declined to provide anything in that regard, which of course they are not obligated to do. Since that would be critical evidence, and Defendants have produced no documents establishing such a payment (which they would have been required to produce under Rule 16(b)), the government assumes their compliance with the discovery rules and that they have none.”
However, the defense has stated that there may be no evidence of a payment simply because that payment was made in cash. Prosecutors suggest that the argument that the Anderson’s might have had $35,000 to pay Finch for the motorhome would mean that they lied during a bankruptcy proceeding and on their tax returns.
“From Defendant Finch’s motion, where he discusses ‘the inherent nature of cash transactions,’ … the government anticipates testimony that the Andersons had $35,000 in cash stuffed under the figurative mattress for a motorhome that was unintentionally omitted from their bankruptcy statement of assets and federal tax returns, which the government will be presenting in evidence,” they wrote.
Prosecutors also discounted a defense argument that they have failed to properly explain exactly how Finch lied about the motorhome.
“First, Count 5 does indeed allege that Defendant Finch falsely stated that he “sold” the Motorhome. That is because he did not sell it. He provided it as a bribe,” they wrote.
Finally, prosecutors responded to allegations made by the defense that the investigators, in this case, were corrupt agents of Derwin White, a rival construction company owner who has since died. Finch and Anderson maintain that they learned of White’s illegal activities in Lynn Haven following Hurricane Michael and that they came forward as whistleblowers. In response, White allegedly set them up with the help of an investigator with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
Prosecutors have maintained that White was also a target of the investigation. The alleged corruption of the investigator involved a birthday gift he received from White more than a decade ago.
“Considering that Defendants’ arguments for facial legal insufficiency center around the term “corruptly” in the statute, it is worth noting that Defendants’ notion of acting “corruptly” varies considerably in direct relation to their self-interest,” prosecutors wrote. “They want the Court to adopt an interpretation of the federal program bribery statute, which would permit the buying and selling of public office—by dismissing an indictment before trial—so long as neither the briber nor the bribee is fool enough to speak in concrete specifics on tape. They say the Mayor accepting a $70,000 motorhome and pressing the contractor’s business for sometimes nonsensical reasons is not sufficient to show acting “corruptly” under (the law). Yet, in their view, accepting a partial contribution to a birthday gift of a used motorcycle in 2010 unconnected with official action apparently evidences the “serious corruption” of a local law enforcement officer 12 years later.”
“If the standard they applied to that individual in their accusations of corruption applied to Defendants in this case, they would surely lose their motions to dismiss, and indeed be in an even greater pickle than the current trial they are so obviously desperate to avoid.”