LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Federal prosecutors are calling on a judge to step in after James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, paid more than $300,000 in legal fees for his alleged co-conspirator, former Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson.
News 13 first reported the situation last week during an interview with Finch.
“I loaned her some money for her lawyer bills,” he said. “Sure I loaned her some money, they charged her 64 times. She’s a retired school teacher, she has no money.”
Prosecutors have charged nine people in an ongoing corruption case involving government projects in the city. Five people have already pleaded guilty in the case while Finch, Anderson, former City Attorney Adam Albritton and former City Commissioner Antonius Barnes are awaiting trial.
Anderson is accused of accepting bribes, including a motorhome, travel on a private plane, lodging on a private yacht, meals and entertainment from Finch in order to direct multimillion dollar city projects toward his company, according to the federal indictment.
Finch paying Anderson’s legal bills could create a conflict as the case goes forward, prosecutors wrote. They added that Finch has paid approximately $344,201.91 in legal fees.
“This fee arrangement may … discourage [defendant] from considering a plea because more than likely a coconspirator has paid his legal fees and the government may choose to establish the payment to the attorney … which would result in [counsel] becoming a potential witness against his client,” prosecutors wrote.
In response, Anderson’s attorney said the arrangement doesn’t violate the law and everyone involved does not foresee a problem.
“The interests of Defendant Anderson and Defendant Finch are aligned. They share common defenses and have no inconsistent defenses,” wrote Anderson’s attorney, Anthony L. Bajoczky, Jr. “The Government’s motion cites examples of conflicts arising from plea agreements and co-defendants turned government witness. The Government may contemplate one defendant pleading guilty (or wanting to plead guilty) and testifying against the other which could create a potential conflict. But Defendant Anderson and Defendant Finch stand by their not guilty pleas and will be proceeding to trial.”
Bajoczky added that Anderson is ready for a hearing but does not want it held in open court and on the record.
“But Defendant Anderson previously cooperated to provide information to the Government and got burned. Twice,” he wrote. “Under the guise of concern for Defendant Anderson’s Constitutional rights, the Government should not be permitted to peak behind the curtain a third time to acquire information related to Defendant Anderson’s defense.”
Allowing the government, and presumably, the public access to this hearing would give prosecutors another chance to preview the Anderson and Finch defense, Bajoczky added.
“Defendant Anderson asks that neither she nor counsel be put in the untenable position of answering the who, what, when, where, and why of Defendant Finch’s payment to Defendant Anderson’s counsel in the presence of the Government,” he wrote. “It would be the functional equivalent of the Government obtaining a post-indictment interview on the merits of the case.”
A hearing on the issue is scheduled for April 6.