Phoenix Construction owner James Finch indicted alongside former Lynn Haven officials

News

LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) – On Thursday, Federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney General’s office filed a new 69-page indictment charging former Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Deal Anderson, former Lynn Haven Commissioner Antonius Barnes, former Lynn Haven City Attorney Adam Albritton, and Phoenix Construction owner James Finch with a variety of charges.

Anderson and Albritton were previously charged in August 2020. This new indictment replaces the original indictment.

This is the third indictment filed by federal prosecutors in relation to fraud in Lynn Haven.

The new charges indicated in this indictment are as follows:

In late October of 2018, then-Mayor Anderson convened a meeting with Phoenix Construction owner James Finch, one of the owners of Company A ( which WMBB has previously identified as Gulf Asphalt Company), former City Manager Michael White and several others at Finch’s Lynn Haven residence. At the meeting, Mayor Anderson praised Finch for his post-hurricane assistance to Lynn Haven. Finch, in turn, complained to Mayor Anderson about not receiving enough of the post Hurricane Michael business.

A few days later, on November 1st, at the direction of Mayor Anderson, City Manager Michael White issued a directive to Company C, a national debris hauling company, to utilize a site owned by Finch to dispose of all vegetative debris or chips. The company had previously been using another location and stopped all activity at that location in favor of Finch’s site. The City of Lynn Haven paid more than $1 million for the disposal of items by Company C to Finch’s site.

10 days later, on November 11, Mayor Anderson once again directed City Manager Michael White to have Company D, another national debris hauling company, to use Finch’s site. The City of Lynn Haven paid more than $1 million for the disposal of items by Company D to Finch’s site.

At the same time that Mayor Anderson was directing City Manager Michael White to use Finch’s sites for disposal of vegetative debris, City Attorney Adam Albritton was urging Company D to use a GAC site and sent an e-mail with the subject “Justification Notice” that provided his summary and analysis that GAC be used. Albritton is also the registered agent for multiple companies that have the same physical address as GAC.

City Manager Michael White was in the process of getting permits to use property already owned by Lynn Haven for the vegetative debris when Mayor Anderson instructed him to stop the permitting process. Mayor Anderson then directed Mr. White to obtain a new permit for property owned by James Finch.

The indictment alleges that in exchange for using the Finch debris sites, Mayor Anderson received multiple things of value, including “travel in a private airplane for Anderson and another person to Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Florida Keys, lodging, meals and entertainment, and lodging aboard a private yacht and meals in Key West, Florida.”

You can see exclusive News 13 video from these trips below.

The indictment did not, however, focus solely on Hurricane Michael related clean-up.

Prosecutors write that in 2015, Lynn Haven approved an agreement for Phoenix Construction, Finch’s company, to perform work in the amount of $3.72 million for the 17th Street Ditch Stormwater Project. Lynn Haven also approved financing of the project by Phoenix at an interest rate of 2.55% over 20 years. Commissioner Barnes was not present for the vote.

In February of 2017, the City Commission considered a modification to the 17th Street Project. The City Manager recommended adding $668,000 to the loan amount and increasing the term to 30 years. Both Barnes and Anderson voted in favor.

In March of 2017, Mayor Anderson signed on behalf of the city a promissory note for 30 years with a 2.55% interest rate annually. In financing the 17th Street Project with Phoenix, Lynn Haven paid $1.6 million in interest on a $3.72 million project.

In August of 2017, Mayor Anderson signed an agreement between Lynn Haven and Finch designating Phoenix to be the contractor or vendor for various project that would be conducted in Lynn Haven under a 1/2 cent Bay county sales tax that was in effect for 10 years.

The agreement made Finch’s company Phoenix the contractor for numerous multi-million dollar Lynn Haven infrastructure projects that would not require any bid procedure.

In October of 2017, the indictment says that Finch sent a letter to City Manager Michael White advising that he had completed phase one of the project earning $3.8 million authorized to date. The letter also said that Phoenix would begin work on the next phase but not invoice the city until the city had obtained a loan to pay Phoenix. The amount of the additional work was $1.8 million and was submitted in January of 2018.

Mayor Anderson then allegedly directed City Manager Michael White to allow Finch’s company to proceed with new work despite no funding being available and the City had not approved the roads that Phoenix was paving and engineering work had not been completed on many of the roads that Phoenix had finished its work on.

In December of 2017, Mayor Anderson, including Commissioner Antonius Barnes, approved a resolution approving a new $6 million bond and loan to allow the city to pay for infrastructure done by Phoenix Construction.

In June of 2018, Finch and Anderson asked Michael White to proceed with another phase of the 17th street project. White wanted to hold the project as he felt the city did not have the money to pay for the project. According to the indictment, Anderson pressured White into proceeding with the project stating that Finch would finance the additional cost.

The 17th Street Project required multiple bids as the Florida Department of Transportation was a partner with the city to provide some funding. According to the indictment, three sealed bids for the work were submitted. One was from Finch’s company, Phoenix, one from Finch’s relative, and another from Company A (GAC). The indictment alleges that these three companies had bid on contracts with public entities in the past and agreed among themselves on who would submit the lowest bid so they would win the bid. Phoenix’s bid was determined to be the lowest and was recommended to be awarded by the City Engineer.

Seven months before the 17th street project, the indictment alleges Finch had the Lynn Haven City Engineer sell his 2006 ITAS Motorhome, valued at $106,00, to Margo Anderson with the payment of any money by Anderson.

Finch allegedly wrote a personal check to the City Engineer in the amount of $75,000, which allowed the City Engineer to pay off his loan on the motorhome. The title of the vehicle was transferred to the name of Anderson’s husband after the City Engineer initially listed the purchaser as Finch.

The indictment further states that 22 months later, Anderson’s husband issued a $20,000 check to Finch. This action followed the public reporting of the Federal investigation into public officials in Lynn Haven. Then, on November 6th of 2018, the Lynn Haven Commission sent a letter to the FDOT letting them know that Phoenix would be completing the 17th Street Project.

Meanwhile, between August of 2015 and December of 2017, the indictment alleges that Commissioner Antonius Barnes moved, seconded, and voted on matters favorable to Finch’s business interests, including the 17th Street project. However, during this time, the indictment also says that Finch wrote multiple checks totaling more than $40,000 to Barnes’ company, Barnes Insurance Services Inc, with the memo line of “Loan”.

The indictment then returns to post-Hurricane Michael recovery, specifically the design and rebuild of the City of Lynn Haven. In January of 2020, the Lynn Haven City commission voted to approve City Manager Vickie Gainer to proceed with negotiations and contracts to the top three Architect \ Design teams for the city’s rebuild. These negotiations included designed for City Hall, the Police Department, Commission Chambers, and the Sports Complex.

On April 3, 2020, Finch, through JDF Properties, purchased a piece of property in Lynn Haven for $750,000. On April 15th, the indictment says that Mayor Anderson requested the City Manager and Police Chief meet with Finch at his place of business to discuss an alternative plan for the City rebuild to be done by Finch. During this meeting, Finch advised that he had purchased a property that would be good for the police and fire stations. He is also reported to have said that the architects will cost too much. Finch claimed his property was the best place in Lynn Haven and that he could do the project for $13 million. Mayor Anderson, according to the indictment, supported the plan and told the City Manager and Police Chief that he was willing to finance the facilities like he did the 17th Street Project.

On April 22, 2020, the indictment says that Mayor Anderson discussed with Police Chief the building and that Finch had become her advisor since becoming Mayor. She then told the Chief that Finch would stay out of the rebuild until the architects make their presentations and then he would come in with his project.

On April 23, 2020, Finch met with the police Chief and showed him renderings of the proposed new facility. A week later, on April 30th, it is alleged that Finch stated to the Police Chief that he wanted all the city’s insurance money and he would finance the rest. Finch allegedly had in his possession presentations from the architect firms with Anderson’s handwriting on them and that he would have at least 4 votes from the Commission to reject the plans. When the Chief tried to explain that the EOC should not be separated from the Police Department, “FINCH threatened the Police Chief that if he did not agree with FINCH’s plan, the easiest thing to do is for the Sheriff’s Office to com in and take over the Police Department.”

The indictment goes on to say that in May of 2020, Mayor Anderson asked City Manager Gainer to place Finch on the agenda for an upcoming Commission Meeting. Gainer was concerned with the request. Later that day, Finch met with Gainer and complained about the plans that had been submitted. He claimed that he could do the job cheaper and he wanted to add buildings to the project. Gainer refused Finch. Finch then allegedly asked how much money she had for the rebuild, but Gainer refused to provide him a dollar amount.

On May 26th, Finch presented his own proposal to rebuild the city. Anderson called the proposal “a wonderful idea.”

On May 28th, Finch called the city Manager multiple times complaining that the Commission had made a decision to deny his proposal. Gainer told Finch that the law required the job be bid out, a response that appeared to anger Finch.

The next day, the indictment says that Mayor Anderson spoke to City Manager Gainer, telling her that City Attorney Albritton had determined it was legal to bid out the project that Finch wanted and that it could be on the agenda. Gainer responded that “all she wanted was to make sure thing were done legally.”

On June 8th, Mayor Anderson spoke to the Police Chief and mentioned giving him a raise.

On June 9th, Mayor Anderson urged a reconsideration of the Finch plan. Finch spoke out against the other bids and said that the police Chief wanted a “Suite” for an office. The commission voted to hold a workshop on the matter. The Police Chief later met with Anderson and told her that Finch didn’t need to threaten the Police Chief with the Sheriff taking over the Police Department for not supporting their plan.

On June 23rd, Mayor Anderson again brought up Finch’s proposal and Commissioner Judy Tinder advocated for moving forward with the design-build. However, no commissioner seconded the motion. Mayor Anderson then ceded control of the meeting to the Mayor pro tempore and seconded the motion herself. The measure was defeated 3-2 by the other commissioners.

In July, the indictment says Finch met with City Manager Gainer and acted as if he had already been awarded the bid. He then accused Gainer of holding up the bid. Gainer replied, “she had been given a task by the Commission and she was following it and she was not going to break the law for anyone.”

The indictment then says that Finch said he had supported Gainer for the position, but they were now going in two different directions.

Around this same time, Mayor Anderson put an agenda item on the commission meeting agenda concerning the creation of an Assistant City Manager position. Not long thereafter, Mayor Anderson requested copies of contracts from Ms. Gainer about the cost of renting temporary buildings for Police and City hall, as well as the contracts from the architects on the rebuild projects. The indictment says Gainer suspected this information was in reality for James Finch, but she e-mailed the documents anyway.

The next day, Finch appeared 40 minutes before the beginning of the City Commission meeting and had in his possession all of the City documents Gainer had sent to Anderson. During the meeting, Finch quoted numbers from those documents. Ms. Gainer explained that the projects were FEMA projects and that the City is “only responsible for any project costs in excess of the FEMA And insurance proceeds.”

On August 12th, the indictment says that Mayor Anderson met with City Manager Gainer and stated that she was upset with a statement that Gainer had made during the workshop about saving the city money. Gainer advised Anderson that the Commission meetings were getting out of control and that people from the audience should not be allowed to attack people on the dais. Gainer then provided Anderson with two examples of Finch personally attacking her. She then asked the Mayor Anderson about the rumor that Finch was talking to employees telling them that he and Anderson had spoken and that they would create an Assistant City Manager and fire the City Manager, so that Anderson could do what she wanted.

Anderson denied this and said that Finch was “just being mean”.

On August 14th 2020, Finch withdrew his offer to build the Police Department and sell the land.

Anderson, Albritton and Barnes are also charged with failing to disclose benefits. The indictment also says that on October 1st, 2020, Finch paid $200,000 to attorney’s representing Margo Deal Anderson.

In a court filing, former Mayor Anderson has pleaded not guilty to the new indictment.

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

Latest Local News Video

Boys and Girls Clubs of Bay Co. hosts annual Christmas tree fundraiser

Downtown DeFuniak Springs holds first Mistletoe Market

Here's some events to get Bay County in the holiday spirit

Christmas came early in PCB as they kick off holiday festivities

St. Andrews holds "Small Business Saturday" to encourage young entrepreneurs

Interested in what Panama City looked like 100 years ago? Now you can find out

More Local News

Don't Miss