LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Thousands of pages of documents were released to the public Tuesday night after a request from News 13 and others for access to evidence in the Lynn Haven corruption case.
The documents include interviews with witnesses and suspects in the case, text messages, and investigative reports from the FBI and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
Much of the information was already public thanks to a two-year struggle by federal prosecutors to take Lynn Haven’s former mayor, Margo Anderson, and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction to trial on conspiracy and bribery charges. Finch is also accused of lying to the FBI.
Both Finch and Anderson have said they are not guilty.
Former City Manager Mike White, Former City Attorney Adam Albritton, former Leisure Services Director David Horton, and two men who owned businesses that contracted with the city have already pleaded guilty in the case. Former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes pleaded guilty on a separate charge but is a witness in the case.
The document release comes just weeks before the trial is set to begin. News 13 has reviewed the documents and will be releasing them on our website over the next several days as they are reviewed by staff. All of the documents are currently available to the public via the federal court’s PACER system.
Several accusations against Finch and Anderson have previously been made in public by federal prosecutors. They include Finch allegedly bribed Anderson with an RV and expensive vacations, that Finch allegedly bribed Barnes with about $45,000 in payments, and that Finch lied to the FBI about the RV.
Dozens of other charges against Finch and Anderson were dropped by prosecutors as the case wore on.
However, the trove of documents includes some new accusations. In one instance Mike White states that Anderson had six generators and 20 box fans at her home and another witness said that the generators arrived first at City Hall before they were taken to the Anderson home. White admitted that he took one of the generators to one of the homes he owned.
Anderson was also accused of misusing other items and allegedly taking cash from the city. One witness recounts that the city paid $5,000 in cash for a golf cart that was supposed to be used by event employees. However, after the purchase, it was used exclusively by Anderson.
Another witness recounts that Anderson handed out $100 bills to people helping unload food and supplies from a semi-truck after the hurricane. When asked if the money was from her personal account or city funds Anderson declined to answer, the witness states.
Another witness telling investigators that a $20,000 withdrawal was made from the city bank account.
“She said she knew Michael White and at least one commissioner got $500.00, and they paid that money back,” the report states. “She said the mayor got, “several thousand,” and that money was not paid back, and was written off as being given to citizens.”
After Hurricane Michael traffic in Bay County was often at a standstill but according to an employee Anderson got to and from a hair appointment on Panama City Beach with the help of the Lynn Haven Police Department.
However, one document supports Anderson’s defense that she paid for debris removal at her property and adjoining property owned by family members. It’s a $1,300 receipt for debris removal from a South Carolina hauling company. Anderson has also maintained that even if city workers helped with the clean up that they only did work on a city-owned easement.
A witness also takes issue with the location of city built splash pad. The splash pad was built across the street from property Finch owned. The project was supposed to cost $200,000 but the city ultimately spent $1 million on it. Meanwhile, Finch was building a subdivision on his nearby property.
White told investigators that a deal for Finch to get all the construction contracts for the half-cent sales tax was negotiated between Finch and Anderson.
“White only recalls one time that Finch attended a meeting at the City of Lynn Haven regarding city business,” the report states. “The rest of the time, meetings were held in Finch’s office at Phoenix Construction.”
White also accused Judy Tinder, the now former commissioner and current mayoral candidate of breaking Florida law.
“White does not like city councilwoman Judy Tinder. According to White, Tinder pays herself under the table from her business, so she does not affect her social security benefits,” the report states. “Lee Anderson (Margo Anderson’s husband) told White that Tinder comes to their house all the time and talks city business with Margo Anderson. This is a violation of Florida’s Sunshine law.”
Tinder is again a subject of interest during an FBI interview with then City Attorney Adam Albritton. Albritton told the FBI that Finch and Anderson attempted to get Finch the contract for a rebuild of City Hall without going through a bid process.
Albritton cautioned Anderson that firing the current architects on the project and hiring Finch would look bad, especially in light of the ongoing investigation into corruption in the city. But Anderson was unmoved.
“Albritton could see that Commissioner Judy Tinder was helping Anderson and Finch. Tinder would show up to meetings with documents and pictures of Finch’s plans,” the report states. “The documents and pictures had Finch’s writing on them. It was clear to Albritton that Anderson and Tinder were working to direct the project to Finch.”
White’s problems with Tinder spilled over into text messages with Lynn Haven Police Chief Ricky Ramie. In messages dated from 2018 the two discussed Tinder and her partner. Ramie texted a vulgar insult during the exchange.
News 13 first reported on the messages in December. At that time Tinder called for an emergency meeting and said she wanted the chief to be fired.
In another text message White uses a racist slur. Ramie does not respond. Two other messages are memes that attorneys for Finch and Anderson identified as racist. One of them is about a fart, the other involves a sex device.
A trial in the case is scheduled for the end of this month.