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Corruption in City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 8

Posted at 11:13 AM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 22:21:58-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The eighth trial day for JT Burnette began with the prosecution's cross-examination of FBI undercover agent Mike Sweets.

An audio recording of a Dec. 6, 2016, phone call between Sweets and Burnette was played.

"I just don't want you to think that you can write a check and get what you want, " Burnette says.

Sweets said this conversation was Burnette's way of going on record saying he and Maddox weren't involved in criminal activity since there was speculation he and Maddox thought Sweets and Miller were FBI agents.

Until this conversation, Sweets said, Burnette had continued to tell him to keep paying Maddox because Southern Pines needed [Burnette and Maddox] to get the deal done.

Burnette also told Sweets to go through with the Chase Falls project because the government didn't need to be involved.

Sweets is heard asking Burnette what the success rate would be if they did this without him.

"I could never imagine that somebody would try to do it without somebody like me," Burnette said.

Sweets testified that until the end of the investigation, Burnette never wanted to stop working with Southern Pines. According to Sweets, Burnette thought it was a legitimate development firm from which he could make money.

"I don't think, in my mind, I stood exactly where I stood before," Sweets said of his relationship with Burnette. "This call to me was out of the blue and false exculpatory."

Sweets said he believed Maddox directed Burnette to make the phone call because he feared Southern Pines associates were some sort of agents.

In a later conversation between Sweets, Miller and Burnette, Burnette assured the agents the deal would be ok.

"It's not going to go bad because the people we need to remove the roadblocks are my friends," said Burnette. "Scott Maddox isn't just a business partner, he's my friend.

Burnette told them that Maddox got Rick Fernandez his job and was indebted to him.

"Scott Maddox is God damn mafia," Burnette said. "If you think he isn't, shame on you."

Sweets testified if the fake company didn't continue paying Maddox, "he'll screw us over. He has vengeful tendencies."

"Governance is owned by Paige, not Scott," Burnette is heard saying. "But Scott is f---ing Paige."

Sweets said they met in Dallas, his relationship with Burnette was going downhill; and after a meeting with Maddox and Carter-Smith, he felt the undercover investigation was coming to a halt. He said the language they were using was a 180-degree difference from earlier.

DEFENSE CROSS-EXAMINATION OF SWEETS

Sweets testified it is part of his technique to go to parties, drink and sometimes attend strip clubs.

An audio recording of a Feb. 16, 2016, meeting between Sweets and Burnette was played. It was one of the first conversations the two had.

Jansen, the defense lawyer, said he wasn't trying to prove Burnette's innocence, rather that Sweets was trying to get Burnette to say incriminating things by partying and drinking. The defense claimed Sweets was leading conversations with Burnette.

"You're going to have to take that smart cap off and put on your dunce cap," Sweets says in the recording.

He said it was a figure of speech and he meant if they traveled to California he shouldn't appear as smart because it would make them look bad.

In a recording taken June 22, 2016, at a loud bar or club, Burnette tells Sweets he just bought property by Cascades Park. Sweets said he and Burnette were drinking alcohol during that recording.

Sweets testified he ordered a Moscow Mule that night, although he previously stated he only drank beer while undercover.

A phone call recording from June 21, 2016, reveals Sweets congratulating Burnette on opening the first medical marijuana dispensary and brought up Maddox.

The defense asked if this was the first time Maddox's name was mentioned. Sweets said he did not recall. He later added that in any of the 302 recorded conversations prior to June 21, 2016, he did not recall hearing Maddox's name.

Jansen asked Sweets if he was trying to get a meeting with Burnette and Maddox during the phone call, which Sweets said is incorrect.

"Was it part of your plan to buy a piece of property in the city to bribe city officials," Jansen asked.

"No sir," Sweets said.

Nashville Recording: Burnette is heard saying he knows he can kill a competing hotel bid because he knew he "politically had it," saying someone wouldn't vote for it.

Jansen asked Sweets if he knew at that time that Burnette was talking about Maddox; Sweets testified he did not.

Sweets said he met Maddox by chance while at a bar with Adam Corey, other targets and undercover agents. He introduced himself to Maddox.

A recording from the bar that night reveals Sweets telling Corey he wants to meet Maddox.

In one of the recordings, Sweets is heard saying he needs to pay $100,00 to a guy there, that night.

Jansen asks if Sweets meant Maddox, which Sweets says he does not remember.

In another recording, Sweets tells Burnette he wants to fill Maddox's cup and asks how they could do that. Brunette said they don't need to because the cup is already full.

Sweets testifies that on Oct. 5, 2016, he told Burnette that if there hadn't been an inside track in Tallahassee he would have taken his $40 million and left.

The undercover agent said all dealings with Maddox had to go through Burnette first.

Jansen argued nowhere in the transcript does Burnette explicitly tell Sweets to send checks to Governance. Sweets said it's not word-for-word but is implied.

Sweets said he asked Burnette, "did he not want to get paid?"

"No, no, no," Burnette answered. "Go through Governance."

On Dec. 16, 2016, a contract was made between Governance and Southern Pines. Sweets said he wasn't aware of a consulting agreement. The contract was emailed from Carter-Smith to Miller.

Sweets said their Las Vegas trip turned into an investment trip in order to get Maddox to attend. He said he told Burnette "on the fly" to pass that on to Maddox so he could attend, adding it was never an investment trip in reality.

"Listen, I'm here to promote Tallahassee," Maddox is heard saying.

To which Sweets says is exculpatory because Maddox has grown suspicious of the undercover agents at that time.

"So, [Southern Pines investors] don't give a s--t about Tallahassee," Sweets told Maddox.

"Why am I here," Maddox asked.

Sweets says that too was exculpatory because Maddox had previously accused them of being FBI agents or Hollywood actors.

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

JT BURNETTE TRIAL: DAY SEVEN

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.