Prosecutors say sealed documents help keep ongoing investigation under wraps

Local News

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to keep the public, the media, and, perhaps especially — potential suspects — in the dark about their ongoing investigation even as they seek two more convictions 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 corruption involving several city projects. Federal prosecutors say Finch bribed Anderson with trips and a $100,000 RV in exchange for votes that favored his lucrative city contracts. Finch is also accused of bribing former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes. Barnes has since pleaded guilty to a separate charge but has apparently agreed to testify against Finch and agrees with the government that Finch bribed him.

Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, filed a motion last month asking Judge Mark Walker to force prosecutors to release the full discovery in the case including statements by defendants that were heavily redacted and statements by witnesses that were supportive of Finch.

In their response, prosecutors wrote that statements made by cooperating witnesses are usually sealed and that statements related to other crimes are normally sealed as well. Prosecutors also noted that News 13 reported on new information filed in the case within two hours.

“While it is natural for a defendant to want to know what has been redacted, such redactions are common in federal discovery disclosures. This is particularly true regarding witness statements where cooperators may have knowledge about several criminal matters not directly related to the charged offenses,” prosecutors wrote. “And when there is a wide-ranging investigation, especially in a small town, discovery in a criminal case presents certain concerns.”

Prosecutors added that they believe the defense is seeking information about the criminal conduct of another person who they did not name.

“Defense counsel stated a belief that the uncharged person (who will not possibly be a witness in this case) was orchestrating a massive fraud conspiracy, and the defense believed that the redactions related to this person’s criminal conduct,” prosecutors wrote. “The government asked how, assuming that person was orchestrating a massive fraud conspiracy, the information about same tended to negate Mr. Finch’s guilt on charges that he bribed Ms. Anderson, Mr. Barnes, or lied to the FBI. Defense counsel had no answer. If the defense can articulate one for the Court in reply, the government would be grateful to learn it.”

Judge Mark Walker will rule on the issue in the near future. Prosecutors are expected to ask a grand jury to file a new superseding indictment against Finch and Anderson later this month.

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