LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — An upcoming corruption trial about the city of Lynn Haven will likely come down to whether jurors believe the city’s former city manager or the city’s former mayor and a local contractor.
Some of the confessions and allegations from former Lynn Haven City Manager Mike White were previously made public but the full extent is just now coming to light after Federal Judge Mark Walker ordered the release of a massive amount of evidence in the case.
Margo Anderson, the town’s former mayor, and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction are accused of conspiracy and bribery. Anderson and Finch maintain that they are innocent. A trial for the pair is scheduled for the end of February.
Finch has said he was innocent from the beginning, according to a report from his interview with an FBI agent.
“Finch advised that he has never made any payoffs to any politicians, inspectors, or government employees in the past,” the report states.
Federal prosecutors disagree, accusing Finch of bribing former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes and Anderson. Finch allegedly gave Barnes about $45,000 for a business loan. And at one point Finch allegedly bragged that Barnes would “dance” if he told him to. But, when confronted with that statement Finch told the FBI he had never said such a thing.
“Finch responded that he was smarter than to say something like that,” the report states.
During the federal investigation into corruption following Hurricane Michael both White and former City Attorney Adam Albritton admitted they had taken thousands from Mickey White, the owner of Erosion Control Specialists, and illegally funneled work and city payments his way. Mickey White has also pleaded guilty in the case.
Attorneys for Anderson and Finch have argued that they were whistleblowers in the case and that they were set up by a rival contractor. Anderson took information about ECS to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office as the investigation got underway. And Finch told the FBI that he discovered that something was wrong when he spotted ECS doing work on a Lynn Haven project.
After learning that ECS had been paid $5 million by the city Finch then urged Anderson to go to law enforcement.
However, White said Anderson continually pressured city officials to award contracts to Phoenix. That pressure began even before White was officially hired.
White said that he was required to be vetted by Finch, Anderson, and Derwin White, the co-owner of GAC, and others before they could get hired at Lynn Haven. Mike White said Derwin White and Finch would then tell the commissioners which candidate to hire.
Finch disputed this when he spoke with the FBI. He said he never vetted White and was never keen on the commission’s decision to hire him.
Mike White said that shortly after he was hired Anderson let him know of several employees she wanted fired. The list included a woman who had “talked back” to Anderson, Police Chief Matt Reimer, and then city attorney Rob Jackson.
“The mayor did not like these employees because they were making too much money, dead weight and/or set in the old way of doing things,” the report states. “The mayor wanted Ricky Ramie to be Lynn Haven’s Police Chief.”
White said that he felt he must do what he was told by Finch and Anderson because the mayor constantly threatened to have him fired.
In Lynn Haven, the city manager is in charge of the city and he can be hired and fired by the city commission. Anderson’s attorneys have argued that she can not be held responsible in some aspects of the case because she was not in charge. But, Mike White said Anderson never let him forget that she was really running things.
“If White didn’t do what she wanted, Margo would call and text White threatening to fire him by “getting the votes from the City Council,” the report states.
White added that Anderson only needed one more vote on the five-member commission to have him fired because then commissioner Judy Tinder would always vote with Anderson.
“Tinder was always at the Anderson’s house and would do whatever Margo wanted,” White said. He added that Margo told him after she got him fired she would go to Facebook and “blast him.”
White also told investigators that the Half Cent Sales Tax money was illegally funneled to Finch.
“White stated that the Half Cent Sales Tax contract was just a way to give Finch all of Lynn Haven’s work. When it came to bidding projects, other contractors knew not to mess with Finch and Lynn Haven,” the report states. “White explained one bidder would come close to Finch’s bid and a second bid would be higher. After Finch was awarded the project, Finch would then give one or both of the other bidders some of the work on the project.”
Finch and his defense team have repeatedly said that he did work in Lynn Haven because he grew up there and loved the city. They point out that he made much more money on bigger contracts outside of the city and that paid for Lynn Haven’s Independence Day fireworks for 40 years. They also say that Finch’s deal, which allowed him to go to work quickly and then have the city pay him back for the work with a small interest payment, was a good deal for the city.
However, according to White the deal was done by Anderson and Finch in private.
This was an ongoing issue, White said. Finch would do the work, finance the project, and the city would make payments to Finch. White said anytime he raised concerns about the projects Anderson attacked.
White added that Finch often worked on projects before the engineering work was completed.
“When Finch moved too quickly, the City would have to go back behind Finch and tear up some of the asphalt that Finch paved,” White said.
“Margo would tell White ‘I want things done’ and was constantly ‘bearing down’ on White to allow Finch to work,” the report states. White added that he believed Finch and Anderson wanted to spend all of the City’s money.
“If two dollars came in, they wanted to spend it.”