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Corruption in City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 5

Posted at 11:14 AM, Jul 20, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The bribery, extortion, bank fraud, and racketeering trial for JT Burnette resumed Tuesday after a brief pause when a juror reported she may have been exposed to the coronavirus on Friday.

The unvaccinated juror received a negative test result and it was revealed the court is aware of who is and isn't vaccinated. They are using two different jury rooms to spread out.

Despite the precautions, that juror was excused. The pool now has 13 people.

UNDERCOVER FBI AGENT "MIKE MILLER" TESTIFIES
One of the three undercover FBI Agent's involved in the investigation testified throughout the second half of court Tuesday.

Using his undercover alias, "Mike Miller" detailed the year long process to build a relationship with JT Burnette.

Miller first met Burnette in the late summer of 2015. Posing as a real estate developer, Miller attended a Camber of Commerce event focused on real estate development, knowing Burnette would be there as well.

Miller testified that they had a couple more meetings, with Miller pretending to have a portfolio for development he wanted to talk to Burnette about.

"He was nice, but also very busy. He didn't care much about what I had to offer," Miller testified.

It wasn't until Miller introduced Burnette to another undercover agent, Mike Sweets. Sweets posed as a successful medical marijuana businessman from the west coast. At the time, Burnette had just won one of 5 bids in Florida for a medical marijuana license.

Miller says Burnette started to buid a relationship with him, encouraging him to develop a mixed-use hotel in downtown Jacksonville, the former Coca-Cola factory on South Monroe Street, and the FallsChase development.

Roughly a year into Miller's operation, the agents were finally able to take Burnette on a trip outside of Tallahassee. Miller says in Tallahassee, the businessman was usually too busy for them.

"We knew anytime we were in Tallahassee, we may get a breakfast or dinner. We wanted to get him out of town to get more time with him," Miller said.

That finally happened in the fall of 2016. The undercovers met Burnette in Nashville. A trip that proved to be a turning point in the investigation. Miller says Burnette finally opened up.

The government shared two secretly recorded conversations during the trip. On the first night, Burnette opened up about stopping the MHG hotel proposal that would have rivaled his own hotel.

"The reason I bought the Double Tree is because they were going to build another hotel three blocks down the road. I killed that hotel," Burnette is heard saying in the recording. It was a foregone conclusion. Politically, I knew I had it."

He went on to describe how he sued MHG, bragging that he had 3 out of 5 commissioners on his side to not extend the contract for MHG.

The next day, the agents held a "formal meeting" with Burnette in their hotel room, under the guise that they wanted to get advice from a successful Tallahassee developer about breaking into the development scene in the city.

"You can get the county-city by the same way I just talked about that deal," Burnette said, hoping to inspire the undercovers to develop Falls Chase; even telling them how to overtake Premiere Construction, the main construction company for housing in the county.

Burnette told the developers the key to successfully developing in the city was Scott Maddox, calling him the most sophisticated politician" in the city.

Burnette said Maddox had control of the city managers, who's power he called "god-like". Explaining how Sunshine Laws prohibit commissioners from talking about policy alone, Burnette told the agents the city manager at the time, Anita Favors, would do Maddox's bidding since he gave her the job while he served as Mayor.

"Anita's loyalty was to Scott. The other four didn't mean **** to her," Burnette told the agents in the video.

From there, Burnette proposed a partnership between him and the developers, asking for 20% of profits for his role in handling political work.

"I don't want to be the developer. I want the political responsibility to deliver what needs to be delivered," he says.

PAIGE CARTER-SMITH RESUMES TESTIMONY
Paige Carter-Smith took the stand again, facing Burnette’s defense lawyers.

She was asked on cross-examination whether she lied under oath during a sworn 2014 interview with the Florida Commission on Ethics about a Scott Maddox complaint. “Yes,” she said.

Carter-Smith said there were trips to football games and Madison Social with "Sweets" and "Miller," undercover agents.

She previously entered three guilty pleas: Honest service mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the government, and honest services wire fraud. Carter-Smith said she met with government officials four times to discuss the case, each meeting lasting two to four hours.

Carter-Smith's last meeting with government officials was one week before the trial began.

The government will file a motion to reduce Carter-Smith's sentence for her cooperation. Judge Hinkle will make the final decision.

"As you sit here, they are the sole arbitrator to that motion getting filed," defense attorney Greg Kehoe said.

Carter-Smith said the first time money, or a check was received from Southern Pines it wasn't knowingly a scheme to her.

"At the beginning of this, I did not ask enough questions," she said.

She said she thought it was for Falls Chase.

The defense said Carter-Smith provided information on McKibbon and KaiserKane, charges she wasn't indicted on.

"We had general conversations all the time," Carter-Smith said about speaking with Scott Maddox, "but nothing specific on that. We already established we had an intimate relationship."

She and Maddox purchased "special phones" to communicate.

"I didn't want my personal life open to the world," said Carter-Smith.

Carter-Smith said she gave an old phone to Ric Fernandez and bought new phones for herself, Maddox and his assistant Allie Flemming so their personal conversations weren't public.

When asked why her old website showed plans for the Floridan Parcel, the formal name of the MHG project, Carter-Smith said she was proud of it.

In February 2013, Wes Townson sent an email to Rick McGraw, with CRA, asking to extend the hotel agreement. The email was then forwarded to Carter-Smith.

Three weeks later, in March 2013, McKibbon still hadn't told the City they planned a hotel, not the original office space and parking lot.

Carter-Smith said at this point she wasn't involved and Townson was having private conversations and not being honest with the City.

"I didn't want to hurt McKibbon by having Erwin Jackson shoot at me and Governance," Carter-Smith said. "It was known I wouldn't be the first chair, we wanted Gary [Yordon] to take the lead. He recused himself because he had a previous conflict of interest. Erwin Jackson just elevated the temperature in the room for everyone."

Carter-Smith said Jackson was just one piece of using Zachary Group for McKibbon. Yordon was brought in to distance Governance from McKibboon by appearances.

On June 7, 2013, a consulting agreement was made between McKibbon and Zachary Group.

After a brief break, Carter-Smith returned to the stand.

Carter-Smith said she wanted to run things by Burnette since he had the final say at Governance. She sent all documents to him first.

Kehoe asked if the changes Burnette made to the documents were to the benefit of KaiserKane, rather than Carter-Smith.

The changes Burnette made slowed down the money flow to Governance from six months to when the project was completed.

She said Maddox reviewed the consultation agreement with KaiserKane on Jan. 10, 2014, and there wasn't any mention of a $100,000 payment.

The $100,000 check arrived in late April.

"I would say that $100k is unusual upfront," Cater-Smith said.

The first email reflecting Burnette's desire to purchase the DoubleTree hotel was sent on Feb. 4, 2014.

On Feb. 6, 2014, Gardner was told the money could be available by March, and an email sent in April said KaiserKane wanted a GSA meeting.

The 90-day agreement ended on April 10, 2014, and an email was sent to schedule a meeting in late April. Carter-Smith said there were timing discussions.

On April 18, 2014, Maddox texted Yordon about the need for money, saying he borrowed $100,000 from his mom and had already spent 2/3 of it.

"Don't want to shut down, but definitely will be skipping paychecks," Maddox reportedly said.

Audio of Carter-Smith at a party with undercover agent Mike Sweets has them discussing Downtown Getdown and Sweets and Butter talked about FSU box seats.

In the audio recording, they can be heard comparing Maddox's role with Governance to Vince in Entourage.

"'I'm the f---ing talent,'" Maddox says.

Sweets brought up a trip to Las Vegas and told Maddox to download the NextJet app. He told Maddox he would send a plane for him.

"I may bring a midget so she fits in the overhead bin," Maddox is heard saying. "She's half price."

Carter-Smith put dates to travel to Las Vegas on a shared calendar and planned to speak within days.

"Now that I have this number, I know how to make things happen," Sweets said to Carter-Smith.

She said she assumed he meant scheduling.

The first SP check arrived on Nov. 16, 2014, five days after the football game they all attended. This is where the mail fraud charge originated.

When asked if she was aware of this during her plea hearing, Carter-Smith said, "Not initially, but then yes. I believed those payments were made in hopes Mr. Maddox would influence what happened."

The guilty plea for a rideshare company came from Maddo accepting money from a company through Governance. He was hired to provide strategic advice to Uber as they were trying to get permission to provide services in Tallahassee.

The Uber payment was for influence over the vote.

Carter-Smith pleaded taking money to give to Maddox in exchange for official action.

Carter-Smith said she asked Maddox about the $100,000 and why it wasn't written into the contract. Maddox encouraged her to follow up with Burnette.

She said she hadn't done $1000,000 of work for KaiserKane when she sent the invoice and Governance never did $100,000 of work for KaiserKane.

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY ONE

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY TWO

JT BURNETT TRIAL: DAY THREE

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY FOUR

BACKGROUND
Corruption at city hall, it's the scandal the FBI released on 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.