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Corruption in City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 7

Posted at 11:36 AM, Jul 22, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Day seven of JT Burnette's corruption trial began with undercover agent Mike Miller back on the stand.

In a recorded conversation between Miller, Sweets and Burnette, the three are heard discussing cutting $2,500 and Burnette is heard giving advice on how to negotiate a deal.

Miller said Burnette told a story about a man who wanted $7 million for a courtyard and Burnette offered him $3.5 million. The man said no, but returned three months later and accepted Burnette's offer.

Miller told the defense at that point in time he hadn't told Burnette he was sending checks to Governance.

"So, if we're at that number, I'm willing, I'll put up a million bucks if you guys put up $2-3 million, right," Burnette is heard saying.

"He wanted to use his political capital for gain," Miller said.

The defense asked if Burnette "did his homework" on the Chase Falls project, to which Miller responded, "He knew his numbers."

"If you pay Scott Maddox, Scott ain't going to vote," Burnette says in the recorded conversation.

Jansen asked Miller if he thought it was obvious Burnette didn't know Mille was sending checks to Maddox through Governance.

Miller said it was unclear, but Sweets had asked Miller about the checks in front of Burnette. Miller responded to Sweets, "What you told me to send."

Sweets is heard asking Miller, "What - are you sending him $10,000?"

"Scott is not going to vote," Burnette is heard saying.

"Why are you sending him 10 grand," Sweets says. "F that."

Miller testified it was true Burnette later called Maddox the mafia. Burnette told Sweets and Miller they "messed up" sending Maddox the money to begin with.

"Your agent [Sweets] is saying it was his bad and he shouldn't have [sent money to Maddox]," Jansen asked Miller.

Miller responded he sent the checks at Sweet's direction.

The defense asked if the checks were sent through Southern Pines or the FBI; Miller said "yes."

"JT is saying they messed up by sending the checks and now they can't stop because it'll make him mad," Jansen said.

"He said, 'if you're going to make Scott mad, then I'm going to get out,'" said Miller.

Miller testified this was the first conversation he had with Burnette directly mentioning he was sending checks.

Jansen asked if Burnette was mad.

"He was red in the face," Miller said.

Later in the recording, Miller is heard saying he's upset the Cascades Park/Myer project got zero votes from the city council.

Burnette said he wanted to be an equity partner, like everyone else. He wanted to be an investor on the project and use the political capital he already has if needed.

He told Miller the city wanted the property tax from Chase Falls over the Myer project. Burnette said Miller could gain credibility with the city by "doing the right thing."

Miller testified he never felt he had the relationship with Burnette that Sweets did.

"He always said he wasn't a real estate developer, but he always had some new real estate project going on, "Miller said.

Miller said he worried that he and Sweets would not be able to keep up with Burnette on the knowledge he had of real estate and development.

Burnette did not feel comfortable with Miller and Sweets drinking during their meetings and often did not himself drink, Miller said.

The undercover agent said sometimes drinking is part of "playing the undercover character." Drinking was a part of their characters as businessmen.

"We saw that the subject did drink," Miller said, adding he and Sweets wanted to come off as socializers who liked to drink.

Miller told the court he and Sweets didn't record every single conversation during the investigation, saying that was due to situations which would be difficult to bring in equipment or if they just needed to be present as their characters.

In another audio recording, Burnette is heard saying he doesn't get into situations in which he doesn't know his advantage.

The recording shows they proceeded to discuss killing the Hamptons project, which Burnette said he could accomplish because "politically, he had it."

"Personal relationship," Sweets is heard asking.

"I had two votes," Burnette said. "I knew one guy would not vote and a tie loses."

"You had a stacked deck," said Sweets.

"Right, " said Burnette.

In a transcript submitted as evidence, Sweets says in his experience with human nature, 80 to 20 percent of the time, when politicians want something they're actually wondering where is their piece of the pie.

"Let me tell you this, Scott Maddox is that guy," Burnette says.

Next in the transcript, Miller asks Burnette where he should send a check and Burnette tells him Governance.

"Who do I need to send it to," Miller asked.

"We're going to talk it over with Maddox, but it's Governance, "Burnette answered.

Miller testified that Burnette told him their house would burn down if they made Maddox mad.

It was Miller's understanding that Paige Carter-Smith was the registered lobbyist for Governance, but Maddox was in control of the business.

Miller said although Burnette knew he and Sweets were paying Maddox, he wanted in on the deal.

MIKE SWEETS TESTIMONY

Sweets said he has been an undercover agent with the FBI for 20 years and Miller asked him to join the investigation. In 2012-13, Sweets developed a persona that was involved in medical marijuana and Miller thought that would be beneficial with Burnette.

Miller was the lead agent on the case. Sweets became the lead undercover for Burnette and Maddox.

Southern Pines was Miller's fake company.

Sweets was also brought in to develop a friendship with Burnette. He met Burnette in January 2016.

"Our job is to prove whether someone is or isn't committing a crime," Sweets testified.

Burnette previously testified that Maddox was the most powerful person on the CRA commission.

Sweets said Burnette didn't like the development Southern Pines was involved with., He didn't think it was valuable.

In a July 1, 2016 conversation between Sweets and Burnette, Burnette describes a waterfront property as a different location that would be more profitable, referring to five acres by the Edison.

"Mike, let me tell you the best thing to do is we work together to build a parcel on Cascades Park," Burnette said.

Sweets said Burnette wanted to get involved with the development.

Sweets testified during a meeting held in a Nashville hotel room, recorded by the undercover agents, Burnette said that in order to perform client actions in Tallahassee one must pay Maddox through Governance. It was also said that Burnette and Maddox were close.

"I set that deal up, the whole deal from the start, I set up for JT," Maddox said during a conversation at Madison, according to Sweet.

Sweet said they were discussing the project at Cascades Park.

"I knew that we were basically going to be paying somebody for his services," Sweets testified.

In the audio recording, Maddox tells Sweets to pay Governance for his services.

"You want to hire Governance, Inc.," Maddox says.

"JT will tell me that, right," Sweets asked.

"JT will tell you exactly that," Maddox answered.

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

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY SIX

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.