Panama City, FL –
LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) – A Lynn Haven business owner is hopeful that a federal judge will see it his way again and issue a new criminal indictment that claims he committed fraud and bribes.
James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, are accused of multiple offenses involving several urban projects before and after Hurricane Michael.
Six other people have pleaded guilty to the case, including former city manager Mike White and former city attorney Adam Albritton. A seventh defendant, former city commissioner Antonious Barnes, has pleaded guilty in a separate case but is now ready to testify that Finch bribed him.
But a new petition filed by Finch’s attorney Guy Lewis seeks to scuttle the entire indictment. Lewis – who has won nearly every petition in the case so far – claims federal prosecutors have once again accused Finch of being part of a grand conspiracy even though he had no knowledge of or link to parts of the alleged crimes.
Lewis has repeatedly noted that three months ago Judge Mark Walker ruled that this argument was valid and dismissed much of the case. This decision essentially ended the case and led prosecutors to request a new “substitute” indictment. ‘
“Unfortunately, the replacement indictment incorporated much of the same confusing, legally flawed, and inaccurate language of the original indictment,” Lewis wrote.
These are five projects that have been part of the business from the start and whether Finch bribed Barnes and Anderson to secure favorable contracts for his business. But, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that Finch was involved in any parts of the case. This includes fraudulent billing by another company, Erosion Controlled Specialists, and that WorldClaim has offered to do free public adjustment work for Anderson and others in exchange for a municipal contract.
One of Lewis’s strongest arguments remains Finch’s health during Hurricane Michael.
“Indeed, the allegations claim that this plot was hatched on or around October 9, 2018, immediately after Hurricane Michael,” Lewis wrote. “At the time of this plan, James Finch was in a coma in hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. After suffering a debilitating stroke. Finch had no idea that a hurricane had hit Lynn Haven and the extent of the damage to the city until he was returned to his hometown on or around October 30, 2018. “
However, while prosecutors might expect the case to simply be scaled down and the charges that involve Finch to go to trial, Lewis argues that’s not possible.
If the case proceeds as it stands, the jury will be tainted against Finch by the discussion of the other plots, Lewis wrote. And, according to Lewis, the judge cannot, at this point, overrule the intention of the Grand Jury who improperly applied the law at the behest of federal prosecutors. Lewis writes that this means the case cannot proceed against Finch, even on charges that implicate him.
“In the circumstances, the dismissal of the entire indictment is the only recourse that will ensure compliance … And, while the erroneous joinder was not an insurmountable problem for the government, the indictment charge should be dismissed because the risk of prejudice at trial is too great, ”Lewis said. wrote.
A hearing in this case is scheduled for next week.
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