As a local businessman and political influencer JT Burnette is on trial for federal extortion and racketeering, the spotlight is on the decades-long unseemly and allegedly corrupt and illegal policies in the Florida capital.
On Wednesday, the former city commissioner of Tallahassee Gary Yordon testified for more than five hours, describing his role in a scheme in which the former mayor and commissioner of Tallahassee Scott Maddox set up a back door channel to funnel money from a company looking to build a hotel in Tallahassee to a lobbying firm controlled by Maddox.
Two years ago, Maddox pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion. Once described by the former vice president Al gore as a “rising star” of the Demorat party, Maddox was an ambitious politician. He served multiple terms on city commission and as mayor, was chairman of the Florida Democratic committee, and was running for the Florida Senate when he was arrested and charged with 44 counts of corruption and fraud, as a result of ‘a thorough investigation by the FBI. He is currently awaiting his conviction.
McKibbon Hotel Group (MHG) was a client of Governance Services, a lobbying firm once openly owned by Maddox, before Maddox was elected to the City Commission in 2012. Yordon, an employee of Governance, testified how, after Maddox took his seat on the commission, he publicly sold the lobbying firm to his partner, Paige carter smith. But privately, Maddox still retained full control of the business, according to Yordon.
In 2006, before Maddox joined the Commission, MHG submitted a proposal to the City to construct a commercial office building and parking garage at the corner of Monroe and Tennessee Street. After several delays, the office market deteriorated. MHG approached the Municipal Commission to build a hotel on the site instead of an office building.
At that time, Maddox was on the municipal commission. Yordan testified that Maddox acknowledged that his involvement in governance and MHG would attract the attention of a vocal critic of Tallahassee Town Hall, Erwin jackson.
Jackson, the self-proclaimed “Tallahassee truth-teller”, has spoken out against political corruption in Tallahassee since the 1990s. He has frequently denounced conflicts of interest and filed ethics complaints against members of the municipal commission that seemed to push the boundaries of appropriate political behavior.
Maddox and Jackson had a particularly adversarial relationship during this time.
Yordon testified that, intending to create a “smaller target that Erwin Jackson could shoot at,” Maddox, Carter-Smith and Yordon decided that Yordon would register as a lobbyist under the old company’s name. de Yordon, The Zachary Group, and appears to represent MHG before the panel. In fact, Governance would continue to represent MHG.
Under a contract that Yordon testified to was made by Maddox, MHG would pay $ 25,000 up front and then a retainer of $ 3,000 per month. Yordon testified that these checks went to The Zachary Group but, through an arrangement with the bank, the money went directly to Governance.
MHG apparently felt that Maddox would vote on the hotel group’s proposal, although Yordon testified that he repeatedly told them he would not participate in the vote. Maddox’s vote was critical to the passage of the proposal, and MHG feared it would be a “DOA” without his vote, evidence admitted at trial.
Both government and defense prosecutors showed a video of Jackson speaking before the city commission, explaining, correctly, how Maddox was still in charge of governance and that Yordon was acting under Maddox’s direction, through governance and that the Zachary group was only a shell to avoid the emergence of a conflict.
Around the same time, according to Yordon, Burnette’s company filed a “quasi-judicial petition” against the MHG project, effectively stopping the project in its leaflets. Burnette had bought the neighboring DoubleTree hotel and wanted the MHG project to be shut down to eliminate the competition.
During his testimony, Yordon said the Burnette trial forced the project to halt progress.
The Federal Government maintains that Burnette bribed Maddox to kill Project MHG.
The first day of the trial Melissa Oglesby, former owner of KaiserKane, testified that his cousin and mentor, Burnette, frequently received loans through his business, sometimes for millions of dollars. Some of these loans have been repaid. Some weren’t. Oglesby said Burnette also made him pay a $ 100,000 bill from Governance for what he told him was Maddox’s help with DoubleTree.
In the first vote on MHG, Maddox walked out of the city council chambers, then withdrew from all votes on the project, drawing MHG’s anger and ending up costing the company the approval of the project. hotel, according to Yordon’s testimony and reports by Tallahassee Reports at the time.
Burnette’s attorney, in cross-examination of witnesses, attempted to portray the KaiserKane loans as standard practice for a “family business” and attempted to show that there were many other issues with the MHG project that had leads to its defeat.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. It is widely believed that Maddox and Carter-Smith will testify.