Former Lynn Haven City Commissioner and developer charged in ongoing corruption investigation
LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Two more people are facing federal charges in connection with an ongoing investigation into public corruption by the FBI and State Attorney’s Office.
Thursday in a press conference, Acting U.S. State Attorney Jason Coody of the Northern District of Florida announced James Finch, 70, a Lynn Haven developer, and Antonius Barnes, 55, a former Lynn Haven City Commissioner, were indicted by a grand jury earlier this week on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, and substantive counts of wire fraud and honest services fraud. Finch is also charged with making false statements to the FBI.
The indictment alleges Finch and Barnes conspired with then mayor Margo Anderson and then city attorney Joseph Albritton to ensure contracts for multimillion-dollar projects and Hurricane Michael debris clean-up activities. Anderson and Albritton were arrested and charged in August in connection with the investigation.
The indictment alleges Finch would give money and gifts to Anderson and Barnes, and Albritton received money from a company doing debris clean-up.
Also named in the indictment are Anderson and Albritton. In the previous indictment from August, Anderson and Albritton were charged with devising a scheme to defraud Lynn Haven and its citizens. They are accused of soliciting and receiving bribes or kickbacks from city projects they approved.
Those allegations are connected to the new indictment.
Officials say the indictment says Albritton implemented an agreement for trash pick up with David White, the owner of Erosion Control Specialists (ECS). The indictment says Albritton demanded kickbacks from White. White pleaded guilty to attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, two counts of fraud by wire, radio, or television, and false or fraudulent claims last year.
The superseding indictment also alleges Anderson stopped plans to permit a city-owned site for disposal of vegetative debris, even though it would have saved the city millions of dollars. Instead, she is accused of using FInch’s company for vegetative debris disposal.
Anderson is also accused of helping Finch win multimillion-dollar contracts in Lynn Haven between 2015 and now. In August 2017, Anderson signed an agreement called “Half-Cent Infrastructure Surtax Design/Build Contract” with Finch’s company, Phoenix Construction Services, Inc. The agreement made Phoenix the contractor or vendor of multiple projects without having to go through the bid procedure.
During that same period of time, Finch won the contract for the 17th Street Ditch Stormwater project. Officials say Anderson signed a 30-year promissory note on behalf of Lynn Haven to Finch that eventually totaled more than $5 million, obligating the city to pay Finch the principal amount of the note along with millions of dollars in interest. Both Anderson and Barnes voted for this arrangement and are accused of received benefits from Finch as a result.
The indictment also accused Anderson of trying to change the city commission’s approved plan for rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. It says the plan the city approved would cost $19 million and FEMA and insurance would pay for most of it. Allegedly, Anderson and Finch pressured the city manager and police chief to have Finch rebuild for $15 million, but the city would have to pay most of it since FEMA would not approve the Finch design/build plan.
Finch is also accused of giving Barnes $45,000 in loans, which were never repaid. The indictment says as a commissioner, Barnes voted consistently to approve Finch and his projects before, during, and after getting money from Finch.
According to the indictment, Anderson, Albritton, and Barnes did not file the required quarterly gift reports documenting they received gifts of more than $100.
If convicted, Anderson, Albritton, Finch, and Barnes each face prison terms of up to 20 years for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, substantive wire fraud and honest services fraud, and mail fraud. Anderson and Albritton also face up to 10 years for theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. Both Anderson and Finch face an additional 5 years if convicted for making false statements to federal agents. Albritton faces a maximum of 20 years for submitting a false invoice to an insurance company
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