New indictment details years of alleged Lynn Haven corruption

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LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — On Thursday prosecutors filed a new federal indictment that revealed several years’ worth of suspected crimes committed by the two individuals in the Lynn Haven corruption case. 

James Finch

The superseding indictment against James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, alleges 24 criminal counts including bribery, fraud, and honest services fraud. Much of the criminal case has already been revealed to the public in previous indictments and motions but this new indictment includes 120 points and a timeline that begins the day Anderson was sworn into office, April 28, 2015, and ends on September 4, 2020, after Anderson and her husband sold their Lynn Haven home to Finch. 

Federal prosecutors have already gotten guilty pleas out of six other individuals in the case including; former City Manager Mike White, former Leisure Service Director David Horton, and former City Attorney Adam Albritton. 

Margo Anderson

Former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes pleaded guilty in a separate matter but also agreed with prosecutors that he took thousands of dollars in bribes from Finch. Barnes and Finch described these payments as loans but prosecutors point out that the loans were never paid back. 

The indictment also notes several trips Anderson took with Finch on his private jet. 

Prosecutors had originally alleged that Anderson spent time on a yacht owned by Finch but that allegation is not in the new indictment. In a letter to News 13, Finch said investigators got their facts wrong about the situation and that his boat was for sale in another part of the state when prosecutors claimed Anderson and Finch were sailing on it. 

But there are dozens of other details that Anderson and Finch will have to contend with if the case ever makes it to a jury. 

Those include:

In March of 2016, Anderson and Barnes and other city commissioners voted to sell 287 acres of city property to Finch. Anderson later directed the City to dispose of Hurricane Michael debris on this property instead of another nearby city property.

In June of 2017, Mike White was interviewed by Finch, Anderson’s husband, and other contractors prior to a vote on whether or not he would be hired as the new city manager. “The questioning concerned, among other things, whether M. White would be a ‘friend’ to City contractors.”

In August of 2017, Anderson and the city designated Phoenix Construction as the contractor or vendor for all ½ cent projects. 

“This agreement, negotiated by Anderson and Finch, made Phoenix Construction the contractor for numerous multi-million dollar Lynn Haven infrastructure projects that would not require any further bid procedure for any of the projects that related to the agreement,” prosecutors wrote. 

In February of 2018, Finch purchased a motorhome from a city engineer for $75,000 and then gave it to Anderson and her husband, prosecutors wrote. Anderson’s husband then falsely represented that he had purchased the motorhome directly from the engineer for $35,000, they added.

It wasn’t until December of 2019, 22 months after the transfer of the motorhome Anderson’s husband issued a $20,000 check to Finch and withdrew $15,000 in cash.  Then in July of 2020 Finch “made false statements” to the FBI about the motorhome and presented them with a false bill of sale. 

In June of 2018, Anderson allegedly pressured Mike White to proceed with an additional $1 million phase of the 17th Street Stormwater project over his objections that the city couldn’t afford it and shouldn’t take on additional debt, the indictment states. 

In September of 2018, Finch, along with a representative of GAC and a representative from a third company owned by a relative of Finch engaged in bid fixing on the 17th street project. The three groups met and agreed that Finch would submit the lowest bid while the other two would come in higher. 

The indictment also includes the actions of “Individual C” who allegedly contacted Mike White and told him he was going to be sure Finch got his share of the city’s Hurricane Michael cleanup business.

In October or November of 2018, Anderson told White to withdraw a permit application involving Hurricane Michael cleanup. Anderson allegedly said, “Michael White does not run the city. I run the city.”

Once the permit was withdrawn Anderson convened a meeting with Finch, White, and others where she praised Finch and demanded that he get some of the hurricane-related contracts. When White pointed out that two other companies already had those contracts and the city would get sued Finch sought the disposal of vegetative debris. 

Lynn Haven then paid Finch $1 million for the disposal of items that had been going to another location that was now going to Finch’s location. Anderson also tried to have White and Albritton shift the city’s contract for debris pickup and hauling to Finch.  

In October 2018, Erosion Control Specialists provided hurricane debris removal, and repairs to her home, her mother’s home and the home of a neighbor. ECS then billed the city $48,000 for the work. In a new bit of information prosecutors wrote that Anderson’s husband asked the owner of ECS and said “you got us on this” and that he responded, “ya, I got you.”

On November 11, 2018, Albritton wrote a memo stating that shifting the city’s debris pickup contractors to Finch would risk a protest or a lawsuit. Finch brought Albritton to his house, berated him and said they had, “the wrong guy.”

On Nov. 27, 2018, Anderson and the City Commission approved a preliminary development order for 50 townhomes on property owned by Finch. Finch had purchased the property in November of 2017 for $300,000 prosecutors wrote. Then in the summer of 2019, he sold the property for $2.9 million.

Between Oct. 26, 2018, and Jan. 31, 2019, Anderson signed off on nearly $1.8 million on payments to ECS even though much of those payments were based on false invoices and other fraud. 

In April of 2019, after White was arrested on an unrelated matter Anderson asked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office to investigate White and his dealings with ECS. She did not disclose that “she had asked ECS to perform work at her residence.” She later claimed she made the report because she “recently realized the amount of money the City had paid ECS.”

In November of 2019, FBI agents interviewed Anderson and she “falsely claimed that she did not know anything about ECS, that she was not aware of the role of ECS in the hurricane cleanup, and she was first introduced to D. White in December 2018 or January 2019. Anderson stated that M. White handled the restoration of services and debris removal while she tended to the needs of the people.” 

Beginning on April 20, 2020, Anderson and Finch tried to pressure Lynn Haven Police Chief Rickey Ramie and current City Manager Vickie Gainer into hiring Finch to design and rebuild the new city hall, police department, chambers building, and sports complex. Finch wanted $13 million for the work. Ramie and Gainer both resisted these overtures.

When he received resistance from Ramie, Finch allegedly said that the easiest thing to do would be for the Sheriff’s Office to take over the city’s police department at half the cost of the department’s budget, prosecutors wrote.

On Sept. 11, 2020, Finch gave Anderson’s husband an $8,000 check as a loan. 

Between Oct. 1, 2020, and March 10, 2021, Finch paid $569,116 to attorneys representing Anderson. They add that Anderson and Finch filed a false quitclaim deed with the Bay County Clerk of Court stating that Anderson got $200,000 when she sold her home to Finch. 

This filing, and other documents, seem to show that prosecutors believe Anderson aggressively worked on Finch’s behalf when she was supposed to be representing the best interests of the city.

However, Anderson and Finch have maintained that they are innocent of these charges. They pointed out that they are old friends who took family trips together before Anderson was elected as mayor. Anderson frequently highlighted this connection before she voted on any item that concerned Finch.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for December. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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