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Corruption at City Hall: JT Burnette Trial Day 2

Posted at 12:58 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 18:28:38-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The first witness on the stand on the second day of JT Burnette's trial for extortion, racketeering and fraud: The owner of Kaiser Kane, Mellisa Oglesby.

Testimony includes her relationship with JT Burnette. How he connected her with Governance and used her business for quick loans during his Double Tree acquisition.

Oglesby says JT Burnette gave her a loan to get her business off the ground in the early 2000s. He wasn’t an official owner or employee but was always involved in the company and its finances. KaiserKane was a construction firm that hiring subcontractors to work on projects, mostly federal.

In Cross-Examination, the defense focused on the familial relationship as well. Burnette and Oglesby are cousins, who even briefly lived together in Monticello.

According to Oglesby, in January 2014, Burnette encouraged her to work with Governance, Scott Maddox and Paige Carter Smith’s consulting firm, to get help with a General Services Administration (GSA) Project, contracting work on federal buildings. She says he told her and her business partner to "work smarter, not harder".

A $10,000 retainer was sent over with the goal of getting that job. The contract said Governance would receive a success fee after KaiserKane was paid out for their work. But a month later another, larger invoice arrived.

That $100k invoice was a surprise to Oglesby.

She says she instructed her financial team to hold off on the payment. But Burnette said she should pay it off.

A KaiserKane accountant testified that Oglesby "wasn't happy with the answer but paid it. She said it was ridiculous."

The $100,000 was later revealed to be for Burnette's purchase of the DoubleTree Hotel.

Around this time, he had also borrowed about $4.2 million from KaiserKane.

Eventually, Oglesby says she felt the company was too much of a headache and losing money, so she shut down the business.

“I was just sick of the whole thing,” Oglesby testified.

When asked about arguing over the money with Burnette, she said, “I wasn’t going to argue with him about it. I trusted JT. He’s my cousin. He was my mentor.”

Defense Attorney Tim Jansen called GSA the “landlord for every federal building in the US.” That's the company Oglesby assumed Governance would help her get involved with.

Since GSA is federally owned, it follows the federal budget that ends in September. Oglesby testified that she inked the Governance deal in January, but GSA money doesn’t flow until closer to the end of the budget.

The defense argued Oglesby should've known more jobs would become available closer to the end of the fiscal year budget; August and September.

In Cross-Examination, Burnette's attorney asked Oglesby how much she made in 2015. Oglesby testified that she made $3 million. The defense attorney argued without Burnette, she wouldn't have been able to make that kind of money.

The defense also brought up the first Governance contract and the second. Jansen said he first contract would make KaiserKane pay before a job was completed, but Burnette negotiated a better deal that allowed them to pay afterward. Oglesby says while true, she never received a job from Governance under that agreement.

The second witness to take the stand was Melissa Whitaker. Whitaker was an accountant with Bean Team contracted to work for KaiserKane.

Whitaker says Oglesby was the only person with signature authority to sign money over.

The final witness for the day was former Bean Team owner Charles Musgrove. Musgrove testified under a proffer agreement. That means no matter what he says under oath, he can't be prosecuted for it.

Bean Team was one of the many companies Burnette advised his cousin to use. Musgrove says about 50 percent of Bean Team's work involved a JT Burnette venture.

Musgrove's testimony continues in the morning.

Tim Jansen used his opening statements, equating the undercover operation to a movie. Using those same undercover recordings to make the case that Burnette wasn't the link between those FBI agents and Maddox. He says this trial is a case of "government overreach"

Jury selection took nearly four hours. Ultimately 10 women and four men were sat.

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.