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Paige Carter-Smith and undercover FBI Agent ‘Mike Miller’ testify in Burnette trial

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 1:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 1:34 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Testimony picked back up Tuesday morning in the JT Burnette trial.

The trial was paused last Friday after an unvaccinated juror was exposed to COVID-19. Judge Robert Hinkle announced Monday afternoon it would resume Tuesday morning. At the start of Tuesday’s proceedings, Judge Hinkle excused the juror. The juror’s COVID-19 test returned a negative result.

Paige Carter-Smith testified last Thursday; her cross-examination took more than two hours.

Burnette’s defense attorney, Gregory Kehoe, cross-examined Carter-Smith.

Kehoe asked Carter-Smith about her guilty plea, confirming she had pled guilty to three of the 47 counts against her.

The undercover FBI agents were posing as members of Southern Pines development in 2016. Carter-Smith testified that when she received the first $10,000 check from the company, she was “not knowingly” part of the scheme.

Kehoe also confirmed that Carter-Smith’s earliest meetings with government attorneys did not include testimony on the McKibbon project and KaiserKane.

“They asked if there was anything I knew that I thought would be relevant,” Carter-Smith said, explaining when that part of the case emerged.

Kehoe asked Carter-Smith if she had spoken with Maddox about the McKibbon project before her conversations with the prosecution.

“We have general conversations all the time,” said Carter-Smith, adding that her lawyers advised her not to talk with him about that specifically.

Kehoe pressed Carter-Smith about previous testimony, and she confirmed that she had lied under oath to the Florida Ethics Commission years ago.

He also asked why she purchased three burner cell phones.

“I didn’t want everyone in the world listening to conversations about my personal life, with my kids, my sister, my father,” she said.

Carter-Smith testified that she gave former city manager Rick Fernandez a burner phone, but that the third phone she purchased was for Allie Fleming, Scott Maddox’s aide on the city commission.

She testified that she never communicated with Burnette via the burner phone and did not purchase one for him.

Carter-Smith testified that Erwin Jackson was “raising the temperature” in city hall.

She said in May 2013 they agreed to bring Gary Yordon in to help with the McKibbon project.

“I didn’t want to hurt McKibbon by having Jackson shoot at me and Governance,” she said. “It is my recollection that he [Maddox] felt like he had a conflict anyway.”

Kehoe also asked Carter-Smith about the contract with KaiserKane, inked in January of 2014.

She confirmed, matching previous testimony from other witnesses, that JT Burnette changed some of the contract to make it more favorable to KaiserKane.

Kehoe introduced text messages from April 2014 between Maddox and Yordon, showing serious financial troubles for Governance Services, which is Carter-Smith’s consulting firm.

Maddox wrote to Yordon that he had borrowed $100,000 from his mother, and “2/3 is gone.”

“If we are shutting down I need to know that,” Yordon replied.

“Don’t want to shut down but we will definitely be skipping paychecks unless something comes in,” Maddox texted back.

A June 2014 email between Carter-Smith and Yordon also confirmed “serious cash flow problems” at Governance.

Cross-examination of Carter-Smith wrapped up around 11:20; the prosecution then took more than an hour to redirect.

During redirect, the prosecution played a recording of a conversation between Carter-Smith, Maddox, and an undercover FBI agent at a “Downtown Getdown” in 2016.

Carter-Smith testified that her main job at the time was as Executive Director of the Downtown Improvement Authority, but said she still did some work at Governance.

In the recording, which is sprinkled with profanity, Maddox tells the undercover agents to send checks to Governance, and Carter-Smith agrees.

Carter-Smith tells the agent she doesn’t have a card with her, but he gives her his number, and she calls him. He then tells Maddox that he wants to take him to Vegas.

“I’m going to send a plane for you all,” says the undercover agent, who goes by the alias “Mike Sweet.”

“I may be bringing a midget,” Maddox replies.

“Now that I have this number, now I know how to make things happen,” Sweets says moments later.

“Yes, yes that’s how it works,” Carter-Smith replies in the recording.

When the prosecution asked what she meant, she says she’s implying that “I ran Scott’s life.”

Carter-Smith testified that five days later, Governance received its first check from Southern Pines Development.

Carter-Smith testified that prior to meeting any of the undercover agents, Maddox accepted payments to Governance as work with a ride-sharing company.

“He was hired to provide strategic advice to Uber,” Carter-smith said.

Lastly, the prosecution circled back to the $100,000 payment from KaiserKane to Governance. Carter-Smith said Maddox asked her to follow up with Burnette about the invoice.

“When you sent that, had you done $100,000 of work?” the prosecution asked.

“No,” said Carter-Smith.

“Did Governance ever earn that $100,000?” the prosecutor continued.

“No,” replied Carter-Smith.

Undercover FBI Agent Mike Miller testifies

After the lunch break, FBI Agent “Mike Miller” is began testifying under his undercover name.

Miller said been at the FBI since 2009, became a certified undercoveragent in 2012, and has now been a supervisory special agent for 7 months. Miller says he’s been involved in more than 25 undercover investigations

Miller says he was contacted about the case in summer of 2015 to pose as a real estate developer. He testified that he met Burnette for the first time at the Chamber Conference that August, after Ben Pingree recommended attending the Chamebr Conference.

Miller testified that Burnette was “very nice, but very busy” and “not very interested in what I had to offer.”

When Miller introduced undercover FBI Agent Mike Sweets to Burnette in December of 2015 to talk about the cannabis industry, he says Burnette became significantly more interested.

Miller testified that they met for drinks in late January, and that they met at Madison Social in mid February. He said his communications with Burnette dropped off in July and August of 2015, as Burnette established more of a relationship with Sweets.

The prosecution asked about why Miller and the undercover agents were repeatedly trying to travel with Burnette outside of Tallahassee; Miller explained that due to Burnette’s busy schedule, they had more of an opportunity to “control his time” in other places.

In the fall of 2016, Burnette traveled to Nashville with the 3 undercover agents.

“We were hoping this trip would be where he would let us in,” Miller testified.

The jury listened to recordings and watched video from this trip.

In one of the audio-only recordings, Burnette talks about his purchase of the DoubleTree.

He says a rival hotel project would have devalued the DoubleTree by $7 million. “I knew I could kill that hotel,” Burnette says on tape.

Burnette tells the agents he went to the ex owner, who knew he’d be losing $7 million, and suggested he take a $5 million hit instead and let Burnette by it from him. When the agents asked how Burnette knew he could kill the deal, he says “it was a foregone conclusion.”

“Politically, I knew I had it,” Burnette said. “I had 2 votes, and I knew one guy would not vote, and a tie looses.” “You had a stacked deck,” one agent said. “Right,” Burnette replied.

Jurors also watched clips from a video recorded the next day, in which Burnette meets with the 3 agents in a hotel suite.

During the meeting, Burnette says he and Scott Maddox have a very “deep relationship,” and he calls Maddox “arguably one of the most sophisticated politicians of all the City & County players.”

He explains Florida’s sunshine laws to the agents, saying they give the City and County manager and administrator more power.

Burnette also says Maddox got former City Manager Anita Favors her job. He says Maddox made a motion to make Rick Fernandez “city manager in waiting,” allowing Maddox to “control the City from beyond the Commission.”

In the recording, Burnette tells the agents “I will take care of Scott.”

They also speak at length about Adam Corey; Burnette says Corey “only has the mayor,” Andrew Gillum. He says Corey is the “last 10%” of a deal.

He also instructs them, “Don’t buy access that you don’t know you need.”

When one of the undercover agents, “Brian Butler,” asks about other opportunities, Burnette says he does not believe the School Board is for sale, and he details issues with City utilities being under Fernandez’s microscope.

Burnette speaks about City Commissioners at that time, saying former City Commissioner Nancy Miller “is a moral driven person,” and “not for sale.” He also groups former City Commissioner Gil Ziffer in that category, but says both can be convinced on the merits of the arguments.

In the recording, he also speaks about his wife Kim Rivers.

Agent Miller testified that while Rivers is now Burnette’s wife, at the time she was his girlfriend.

“She is truly one of the most powerful political people out there,” Burnette says about Rivers. “People fear the wrath of Kim in Tallahassee.”

During the hotel room conversation, the agents press Burnette on a specific number of price to get a project moving.

Burnette replies that it depends on the project and the lift, also saying the agents, “There ain’t nothing happening for less than $25,000 in Tallahassee.”

He gives an example in the recording, saying if the agents theoretically get Maddox to get $3 million in funding from Blueprint, they would then pay Maddox $10,000 a month for three years for “lobbying.”

The agents, posing as developers and investigators, speak about their fictional work in other cities, and how paying politicians works in those places. At one point, one agent says every politician starts with an altruistic motivation, but eventually wants something in return.

“Scott Maddox is that guy,” Burnette replies. “He wants his piece of the pie.”

Agent Miller’s testimony will resume at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday.

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