By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
June 13, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – One year ago, two federal subpoenas were issued to Tallahassee’s City Hall.
Those subpoenas became the first public documents that pointed to an ongoing FBI investigation into dealings in Tallahassee. To date, it’s still unclear who or what the specific targets are. However, two additional subpoenas have narrowed in on several people.
The two original subpoenas were dated on June 13, 2017. One was delivered to the Community Redevelopment Agency. The other, was to the City of Tallahassee.
Those named between the two include developer JT Burnette, Melissa Oglesby, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, Catherine Baker, developer and lobbyist Adam Corey, Frank Whitley, CEO of the Downtown Improvement Authority Paige Carter-Smith and Chad Kitrell. Businesses include Whitley Construction, IB Tallahassee, KaiserKane, Inc., Burnette Construction and Development, Inc., Hunter & Harp LLC, Hunter & Harp Holdings, LLC, Duval Partners, LLC, SheltonDean Holdings LLC, SheltonDean, Inc., Inkbridge LLC, Inkbridge Acquisitions LLC, Governance Inc., Governance Services LLC, Sunnyland Solar RE LLC, Cascades Holdings, LLC and the Edison Restaurant.
The subpoenas requested all communication, documents, bids, proposals, wire transfers, payments and more made between those named and the city or CRA.
At the time, then City Attorney Lew Shelley told the city commission “not to speculate.”
“Other than the request for information by subpoena, the City has no further information on this matter. City staff is fully cooperating and has begun gathering the requested records,” said Shelley.
City leaders also spoke out. Mayor Andrew Gillum has said the FBI told him he is not the focus of the investigation.
"While no one likes the City being under the FBI's scrutiny, in light of what is happening nationally, we must remember that the FBI is here to protect us and we must aid them in their work. They have my full support and cooperation as the Mayor, and the full cooperation of the City of Tallahassee,” said Gillum.
Following the request, the City of Tallahassee handed over 90,000 documents to the FBI in July. It took the city roughly 100 hours to gather the records. The city attorney’s office also decided to seek outside counsel to help navigate the investigation.
CITY SEEKS OUTSIDE COUNSEL
On July 10, the city formally contracted with Ausley McMullen law firm.
That agreement states, "The Attorney shall consult with and advise the Office of the City Attorney with respect to a federal investigation. The Attorney shall render such professional services as may be specifically requested by the City, from time to time, to the extent the same are within this Scope of Services and shall include all services reasonably required to provide informed legal advice to the City in such regard."
According to the contract, the City would pay upwards of $380 per hour of service, depending on who works on the case. The rate for law clerks and paralegals is $80 per hour, the rate for associates is $210 per hour and the rate for shareholders is $380 per hour.
To date, the City of Tallahassee has paid $14,424.75 to Ausley McMullen. That’s according to a receipts requested in a public records request. That information can also be found online in the city’s checkbook.
Over the next few months several photos surfaced of city officials with alleged undercover FBI agents. One alleged agent, referred to as Mike Miller, was seen on various trips with officials.
One, which was published by WCTV, shows Mayor Gillum with on a boat in New York City with Miller, as well as city lobbyist Adam Corey, who was named in the original two subpoenas.
Eyewitness News has reached out to the FBI to confirm that the man in the photo, Mike Miller, is an FBI agent. The agency released this statement:
“The FBI declines to confirm or deny the details of any investigation. This includes providing comment on the identity or potential employment of any specific individuals. However, out of consideration for the persons mentioned in your request, we ask that their faces and any other unique physical traits be obscured in an effort to protect their privacy and safety.”
Gillum said he was on the trip for work with his former employer, People for the American Way Foundation. He said he paid for the trip, and that it was simply an outing with “friends.” He said he met Miller through Corey and that Miller had been around town quite frequently at the time.
“When I met (Mike) I met him as a developer who was interested in doing, developing parts of South City Tallahassee. And of course, I’m 1,000 percent in favor of seeing that part of our community invested in and that part of our community developed,” said Gillum.
“I did not suspect, but I had no reason to suspect, him being an FBI agent. But, I have to tell you that wouldn’t change anything for me. He just seemed like a normal person. And I had the opportunity to I think get to know him a little bit,” he said.
In September, a third subpoenaed landed at City Hall, this time naming an elected official.
The subpoena, dated September 6th, seeks five years’ worth of communications from Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox, any of his aides, Downtown Improvement Authority CEO Paige Carter Smith and media/political consultant Gary Yordon.
Specifically, it asked for communication from Maddox as both an individual and a commissioner; any of Maddox’s aides both formal and informal and including but not limited to Allie Merzer Fleming and Paige Carter-Smith; Plus Yordon and Carter-Smith in her capacity at the CEO of the Downtown Improvement Authority.
The subpoena demanded copies of all communications from January 2012 to present, including emails, letters and memoranda.
At the time, Maddox said, “While I am unaware of any specifics in this inquiry, it is clear that I am included in the big net currently being cast. As my voting record clearly shows, I have always protected the taxpayers' money and advocated in their best interest. This community knows how responsive my office has been to their needs and that will not waver as we cooperate fully with whatever is asked of us.”
Ultimately, an additional 150,000 documents were handed over.
FEDERAL SEARCH WARRANT
Following the September subpoena, things began to quiet down.
Although, efforts were made to dismantle the CRA, no public records showed anything additional happening in the investigation.
That was, until February.
That’s when a federal search warrant was accidentally made public.
The warrant was obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat and posted online and laid out accusations of bribery and conspiracy against City Commissioner Scott Maddox.
According to the search warrant, Maddox accepted tens of thousands of dollars in payments from a company lobbying the city through his former consulting firm Governance Inc., which is run by close business associate, Paige Carter Smith.
The search warrant sought records from Maddox's Apple iCloud account.
The US Attorney’s Office, FBI and Clerk of Courts declined to comment on this specific case.
Attorneys for both Maddox and Carter-Smith have urged residents not rush to judgement, as no one has been charged nor found guilty. However, residents have called the accusations “disappointing,” “disheartening” and “frustrating.”
Many called for Maddox to resign. However, he has maintained he has no desire to do so. Calls for the firing of Carter Smith from her post at the Downtown Improvement Authority have also not been answered. Although, the DIA has had discussions on the matter, members decided without any actual charges filed no action would be taken.
Most recently, a fourth subpoena was delivered to City Hall.
Although dated May 11, it wasn’t delivered until May 31. It demanded documents dealing with the Edison, the city’s contract with the Edison, and communication between city commissioners and Adam Corey, the developer behind the Edison.
Steven Andrews, Adam Corey's attorney, said the latest subpoena seemed "odd."
He also said, "Our investigation says (Corey has) never done anything wrong. And we're disappointed because it would indicate that there would not be a quick resolution."
This is the third subpoena Corey has been named in. He was also included in the original two subpoenas which were delivered to City Hall last June.
Corey is a well-known name in Tallahassee because of his work as a lobbyist. He is also a college friend of Mayor Andrew Gillum, and has assisted Gillum with his campaigns in the past
Edison Managing Partner Mike Xifaras told Eyewitness News earlier this month that he’s not spoken to anyone with the FBI.
“I have not been contacted in regards to the FBI or ethics investigation. The Edison remains committed to serving wonderful food in Tallahassee’s premier Cascades venue to our valued customers,” he said.
“We have over 30 local investors. No one has asked me, the Edison, our accountants or agents for anything. No one has contacted us at all," said Xifaras. "My only observation is the latest request for information from the city only seems to be an update of what’s already been provided plus, the city audit which we passed."
In total, more than 10,000 documents were delivered to the FBI as part of that request.
The Edison has been a controversial project since its inception. The city commission first approved plans for the project back in 2013, which entailed renovating the old electric building at Cascades Park. Since then, the restaurant has received about $2.1 million in tax payer dollars to assist in those renovations.
More recently, the Edison has made news because of a management shakeup, a city audit and the resignation of former City Manager Rick Fernandez, who accepted a $5,000 catering discount there.
To date, the city of Tallahassee has turned over roughly 250,000 documents to the FBI. Yet, it is still unclear how long this investigation could last, or if and when indictments could happen.
Both the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office have declined to comment on the investigation.