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Corruption in City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 6

Posted at 11:21 AM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 12:46:13-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Another Juror Dismissed
Before jumping into Day 6 of the JT Burnette trial, US District Judge Robert Hinkle had to dismiss yet another juror.

According to the judge, the juror was dismissed for sleeping through large amounts of testimony. This means the panel is down to 12 jurors.

“This juror has missed more of this trial than any juror in my 25 years presiding over jury trials," said Hinkle. "I don’t mean to be critical of her but she is in no position to be a conscientious juror in this case.”

Reportedly the sleeping juror did not have a medical reason, she said she was just tired.

“If I excuse the juror, we have 12 and we’re walking a tightrope without a net,” Hinkle said before rendering his decision. “And that’s what we have to do.”

Just one day prior, Judge Hinkle dismissed another juror after a COVID scare.

Undercover FBI Agent "Mike Miller" resumes testimony
Undercover agent "Mike Miller" spent six and a half hours under direct examination.

Wednesday's direct zero'd in on Miller's interactions with former city commissioner Scott Maddox.

Miller says he met Maddox at a Florida State football game in 2016. The next day, he, Maddox, and lobbyist Adam Corey had brunch at Corey's restaurant, The Edison.

"JT's a good guy," Maddox told Miller. "He and I are buddies."

Miller said Maddox and Corey briefly discussed a project at Cascades Park.

"This is the one Mr. Burnette explains to us that he's the chosen one to build this property," Miller said.

In previous recordings, Burnette is heard saying he chosen to develop the city-owned land facing the front entrance to the Edison, near the Cascades Park Amphitheater.

At the brunch, Maddox reportedly said he would go in with Burnette on property and would have an "edge."

Later that day, Miller says he met with Burnette to see the FallsChase property, walking around for approximately an hour.

Miller said undercover agent "Mike Sweets" had developed a more personal relationship with the group, so his role switched to being the face of the fake development, while Sweets focused more on getting close to Burnette and company.

In October 2016, Miller and Sweets began planning a trip to Las Vegas with Maddox and Burnette. Sweets began talking about how money would be transferred to Maddox.

"Based on my conversations with Sweets, he was working that out with Burnette versus Maddox at that time," Miller said, insinuating that Sweets wasn't sure who he would be sending the Governance checks to.

During a phone call discussing Governance, Burnette tells Miller, "There's nobody else in Governance other than Paige and she's Maddox, indirectly."

Miller said Burnette told him to be sure he knows what he wants before working with Governance.

"Maddox wants to keep his conversations narrowed to one person," Miller says Burnette told him.

According to Miller, Burnette said Maddox wanted to work with someone he knows and promised Miller he would talk to Maddox about the deal.

Miller returned to Tallahassee in November 2016 and asked Burnette who he needed to send a check to. Burnette allegedly told Miller to send a check to Governance and that he would talk to Maddox about it.

The first check to Governance, $10,000 from Southern Pines Development, arrived Nov. 16, 2016, sent using certified mail.

The group's trip to Las Vegas in December 2016 was to build a relationship between Maddox and the agents. They were told it was Millers' birthday as well as an investor's meeting.

Miller said he, Brian Butler, Maddox and Burnette flew on a private jet because it's what Maddox wanted. Miller said making a show of wealth was very effective in getting close to Burnette.

"It went well for 3/4's of it," Miller said. "Mr. Maddox, at the end of dinner, made some comments and had some concerns about who we were. He didn't want to open up."

Miller said they didn't want Burnette to continue to be the go-between, but the conversation with Maddox in Nashville was clearly a turning point.

"We felt like we got closer to [Maddox] the first night, then the second night it regressed," said Miller.

On Dec. 20, 2016, Carter-Smith sent Miller a text asking for his email address to send him a Governance agreement. The email stated she received the initial retainer of $10,000. Four days later she sent a follow-up text.

"My understanding is we were sending the money through Governance to Scott Maddox," Miller said.

The email Miller received from Carter-Smith was absent of negotiations or indications of work Southern Pines would receive.

Miller said he never signed a contract but sent a second check on Dec. 18, 2016, from a UPS store.

Miller, Sweets and Burnette took a trip to Dallas, TX in Jan. 2017.

"It did not go well as far as progress in our case," Miller said. "We could tell something had changed since our Vegas trip."

Miller says Burnette told them that since they had already started paying them, they could not stop paying them.

A third $10,000 check was mailed to Governance in Jan. 2017.

In Feb. 2017, Carter-Smith texted Miller asking for an agreement for the Jan./Feb. check, although it had already been cashed.

A fourth check was mailed on Feb. 22, 2017, for $10,000.

In early March, Miller said a group text was sent setting up a meeting with Burnette, who said he was cashing in on political capital.

"He's changed his position on how he wants to partner with us on the development project, "Miller said.

At this point, Burnette had moved to wanting to be a cash partner.

"We believed it was related to Mr. Maddox's hesitancy in Vegas," said Miller.

In a recording, Burnette told the undercover agents to continue sending checks to Carter-Smith.

"He's telling us that we should not stop paying Governance," Miller said. "That $10,000 would be cheaper than his political capital."

In a recording, Burnette is heard telling the agents that Maddox is the only one with the ability to lead the commission and tells them to protect themselves.

"You can feed a dog for a year," Burnette is heard saying. "If you stop feeding the dog it's going to bite your hand off. If you ween the dog off, it won't bite you. If you cut the dog off completely it'll bite you."

Miller said he didn't feel that he a relationship with Maddox at this time.

"We knew something had changed," Miller said. "We did not know what that was."

The undercover agent said he and Sweets tried to understand what had changed and where they were headed.

"The meeting got very confrontational with Page, SC, MS and myself," said Miller.

He said Maddox had become standoff-ish and changed how he sold Governance. Burnette left the meeting to avoid confrontation.

Miller also said that Burnette sent him a link to a Tallahassee Reports about getting a project approved that he didn't pay for.

Mike Miller Cross-examination

Defense Attorney Tim Jansen began cross-examination asking Miller about the training he received for undercover operations.

"We don't consider it acting," Miller said. "That's how you get in trouble. We take on a role."

"What do these policies say about alcohol," Jansen asked.

Miller said individual case agents handle things like alcohol use and that there is no policy or procedure on giving a subject alcohol.

This investigation included getting drunk at times, Miller said, but that they tried to avoid it.

At the FSU football game on Oct. 29, they were drunk and walked in circles with Sweets stumbling.

"Alcohol has an influence on the investigation and the subject," Jansen said.

Moving over to the roles each agent played in the operation, Jansen inquired about how those men were well-versed in areas to sell their stories.

"I knew Mike Sweets had the background and ability to speak on marijuana," said Miller.

Miller said Sweets' role turned into a guy with cash who wanted to pay someone.

In attempt to case a dark shadow over the method agents used during their undercover operation, Jansen brought up elements not mentioned during direct examination, such as taking Burnette to a strip club.

The biggest defense argument made in court today was on the method used to get more information from Burnette. Jansen pointed to the way questions were asked, saying the agents pushed until Burnette gave them something incriminating.

The defense argued that for most of the 20 month investigation, Burnette pushed the undercover agents towards other lobbyists and developers, inspiring them to work with people in a legal way.

"If you're an out-of-town developer you want Will on your team, " Burnette is heard saying during the second face-o-face meeting with Miller.

Miller brought up using the CRA funds to sell his fake plans to develop land, half in a CRA zone and half out of the zone. Burnette directed him to talk to Mike Butler again, but didn't say anything about Maddox's role on CRA. In the 47 minute meeting, Maddox, Carter-Smith and Governance were not addressed.

Initially, all meetings and communication were initiated by Miller, asking for advice about who he should reach out to regarding zoning.

"You're not courting, you're full into the investigation," Jansen said. "You're trying to get him to say something sinister."

The defense said Burnette and Miller had multiple lengthy business talks in which Burnette was helpful to Miller. Meanwhile Miller continued to pry about local government and who's who in Tallahassee.

Zeroing in on the Nashville visit between JT Burnette and all three undercover agents, Jansen replayed audio recordings of Burnette talking about how he took down MHG to make sure the hotel wouldn't rival his business. Defense attorneys argued that while discussing that, Burnette never mentioned Maddox, except to say he didn't vote due to a conflict of interest. They pointed out he then quickly pivoted to talking about the FallsChase property he wanted the undercovers to look into developing.

Jansen argued that even in Nashville, his client advised the undercover agents to get in touch with other powerful lobbyists.

"My client says don't buy access you don't need. My client says Drew Jones, Sean Pittman. They can't vote," Jansen says.

The defense says all the while, those agents continued to push Burnette towards bribing them.

"I'll kind of hit you in the mouth with this question. I mean, you and Scott Maddox go way back. I think you probably picked up on the way that I've done business. So how do we make it happen?" Sweets is heard asking Burnette.

"In the end of the day, I will make that happen with Scott." Burnette responds.

Cross-examination continues Thursday morning.

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY ONE

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY TWO

JT BURNETT TRIAL: DAY THREE

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY FOUR

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY FIVE

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.