TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WMBB) — The teaching career of a former Lynn Haven commissioner was the central issue in his sentencing on a bank fraud charge Tuesday.

Former Lynn Haven Commissioner Antonius Barnes pleaded guilty to one felony count of fraud in October of 2021. Barnes admitted that he lied on a banking form. As part of the plea agreement, Barnes signed paperwork saying that while he was a commissioner he took $45,000 in bribes from James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction.

However, when he testified in March of this year at Finch’s trial, Barnes said the money was a business loan and not a bribe. The jury deadlocked on the issue and a mistrial in Finch’s bribery case was declared. A retrial in the case is now set for October.

The sentencing first focused on whether or not Barnes lied during the trial when he testified that he had not taken a bribe. If so, his sentence would be harsher because he committed either perjury or obstruction of justice.

His attorney, Gary Printy, argued that Barnes had always been consistent with the court that he had not taken a bribe from Finch and instead took the money as a business loan. Barnes also said the money did not influence his votes in favor of Finch projects.

Printy drew a fine line in the language about what Barnes was actually saying to prosecutors in the judge. In truth, he only admitted that they had the necessary evidence to convince a jury that Barnes was guilty and not that Barnes himself believed he was guilty.

“Those are two very different things,” Printy said.

However, Federal Prosecutor Andrew Grogan said he made it clear that Barnes was expected to testify against Finch and that his testimony would have to match his written plea agreement.

Judge Mark Walker said he too asked Barnes questions during his plea hearing to make sure Barnes would say the same thing at trial. Walker said his question meant that everyone understood that Barnes’ testimony at trial would be the same as his written statement.

“I’ve done hundreds of trials and I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck,” Walker said.

However, Printy argued that Walker’s question was not precise enough to now find Barnes at fault for either obstruction of justice or perjury. Walker would have essentially needed to ask Barnes what he planned to say on the stand in order to now find him at fault.

Eventually, Walker agreed.

“The only thing that is giving me pause is that this is my error, this is not the government’s error,” Walker said. “I’m concerned I was not artful in asking the question.”

With that resolved Walker said Barnes’ sentencing guidelines place him in the range of four to 10 months in prison.

Printy and Barnes then urged Walker to forgo any prison time. Barnes’ wife is on disability and he lost his assistant principal job after he was arrested. After more than a year of being unemployed, he was able to get a job as a teacher at Jinks Middle School.

If he was sent to prison there was a decent chance he would not have a job when he was released.

“If I’m not able to work my family could lose everything,” Barnes said. “I’m sorry for all I’ve done.”

However, Walker noted that Barnes had already gotten a break from the government when he was allowed to plea to a lesser charge that allowed him to keep his pension.

“I have had my punishment,” Barnes said. “I have suffered a great deal.”

Barnes added that he was asking for mercy.

“I believe in second chances,” he said. “I want to continue to do the job I was trained to do.”

Walker noted that several members of the community wrote letters in support of Barnes.

“There’s no doubt Mr. Barnes is well thought of,” Walker said. “He’s clearly a good teacher.”

However, Barnes’ decision to take money from a businessman who did massive amounts of work with the city could cause residents to lose faith in their government.

“The people of Lynn Haven deserve better,” Walker said.

Walker added that any sentence he imposed, including just probation, could mean that Barnes would be fired.

Ultimately, after hearing when Bay District teachers report back to school he sentenced Barnes to 45 days in prison beginning Monday. The sentence meant that after his summer in jail, Barnes can return to work.

He also will serve one year of probation and pay about $40,000 in restitution.

“I hope they won’t lose a good teacher simply because you are going to spend some of the summer in a detention facility,” Walker said.

Bay District officials confirmed that Barnes’ teaching contract was renewed at the end of the school year. However, in a statement to News 13, they declined to say whether or not he would keep his job.

“We hold our educators to the highest standards when it comes to ethics, and we trust the Florida Department of Education and their Professional Practices Commission to exercise their best judgment when it comes to the sanctioning, or revocation, of teaching certificates,” the statement reads. “The situation involving Mr. Barnes has been referred to the DOE and we await their guidance and final decision before moving forward.”