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Corruption in City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 3

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The first witness on the stand on the second day of JT Burnette's trial for extortion, racketeering and fraud: Gary Yordon, a former politician who served as county commission chair while Maddox was mayor.

Yordon spent 12 years on the Leon County Commission before leaving in 1998 and Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith recruited him to represent clients for Governance in 2006. He was one of the consultants on the McKibbon Hotel Group (MHG) case.

After he left office and prior to joining Governance, Yordon started a sole proprietorship, Zachary Group, Inc.

He said Maddox was in charge of everything at Governance. He was the owner, and Carter-Smith was the manager, but titles didn't matter and Yordon never had a direct, formal position or title.

"Governance seemed a family atmosphere, and that was good for me at the time," Yordon said.

In 2012, Maddox was elected as a City Commissioner and sold Governance to Carter-Smith.

During this time, Yordon says Governance bookkeepers had access to Zachary Group's books and Carter-Smith suggested using Zachary Group as a "fake name" for Governance clients if there was ever an issue with Maddox's role in the Commission.

2006 to 2009, McKibbon wanted to put an office space at the corner of Tennessee and Monroe, but then the recession happened. In 2013, MHG returned to Governance saying a hotel seemed like a better idea. So the ball started rolling at the City Commission.

MHG churned through the commission meetings until Erwin Jackson, a local landlord known for calling Scott Maddox and other public officials out stepped up. Jackson spoke at a few of the meetings, bringing up the Governance connection.

Yordon said at this point MHG was moved to Zachary Group so Jackson wouldn't notice under Carter-Smith's direction.

Jackson repeatedly called out Maddox and Carter-Smith for their relationship with MHG and for using the Zachary Group.

"Erwin isn't always factual," said Yordon, referring to footage of a Commission meeting. "But what you just saw is why the consideration happened in the first place."

Litigation began to stop the option agreement in September 2013, filed by JT Burnette. After a quasi-judicial hearing, all progress and conversations about MHG stopped.

Yordon said he recommended Nancy Linnan, a land-use attorney to MHG. Linnan and Burnette were both leading fundraisers for Andrew Gillum.

Commissioners couldn't meet with any of the parties unless those meetings were public and advised Maddox to recuse himself for ethical reasons, saying "our good name is besmirched."

At the end of September 2013, Erwin Jackson emailed Linnan, exposing Maddox's relationship with MHG.

"This is nuts, but a problem nonetheless," said Wes Townsen, the vice president of MHG.

The Tallahassee City Attorney told Maddox he would be happy to represent him since Maddox didn't own Governance and there only appeared to be a conflict.

During cross-examination, the defense attorney said every Governance decision went through Maddox.

"What happened at Governance was the way Scott Maddox wanted it to happen."

Maddox didn't vote on anything related to the McKibbon project and Townsen was always afraid of Yordon joining meetings and votes and blamed Yordon for Maddox abstaining from voting.

MHG wanted to file an additional UPUD plus funds from CRA to move from office space to hotel plans. Maddox made the decision for McKibbon to pay Zachary Group and have Zachary Group wire the money to Governance.

"I don't know what Wes Townsen may or may not have known sitting here today," Yordon said.



Corruption at city hall, it's the scandal the FBI released in February 5 of 2018.

That's when Scott Maddox, who was serving as a Tallahassee City Commissioner and Paige Carter-Smith, who was serving as the Downtown Improvement Authority Director, was named in search warrant affidavits.

Those documents say through a consulting company named Governance, they were paid to vote in favor of various groups lobbying to move into Tallahassee.

Maddox called the claims untrue a week later.

In December of that year, federal prosecutors found enough to charge him with 44 counts including bribery, extortion, bank fraud, and racketeering.

Just one day later, Former Governor Rick Scott suspended Maddox. Carter Smith stepped down from her role as well.

Not done with the players at hand, prosecutors indicted Tallahassee businessman J.T. Burnette on May 9, 2019.

In August of that year, Maddox and Carter Smith entered guilty pleas. The plea agreement only dealt with three charges: two for extortion and one for tax fraud. Thirty-nine of the charges were dropped because of that plea deal.

That same day, the US Attorney's Office launched a new statewide division made up of the US Attorney's Office, FBI agents, the IRS, and the Department of Justice to crack down on any form of corruption in government.

After three delays, JT Burnette is now on trial.