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Burnette trial day 6: Undercover FBI agent testimony continues, juror dismissed for sleeping

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 2:16 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Day six of the JT Burnette corruption trial began with the dismissal of another juror, bringing the number down to 12.

She has been sleeping through large portions of the trial.

It comes after another juror was dismissed yesterday after being exposed to COVID.

“We’re walking a tightrope without a net,” Judge Robert Hinkle said of the number of people left of the jury; just 12 jurors means no alternates.

Testimony continued Wednesday morning with FBI Agent “Mike Miller,” testifying under his undercover name.

The first recording played by the prosecution was from a brunch on the patio of the Edison with Scott Maddox, set up by Adam Corey.

“JT and I are buddies, he’s a good guy,” Maddox said on tape.

During a recording from a phone call between Miller and Burnett in late Oct. 2016, Miller tries to get confirmation on where and how to send Maddox money.

“He told me it was going to Governance, is that right?” Miller asked on tape.

“I think that’s a good plan to start, I think you got a little runway,” Burnette replied.

Burnette tells Miller the money is definitely for Maddox: “There’s nobody else in Governance than him and Paige,” he said. “It’s money well spent if you’re gonna do a deal here.”

Burnette says he does not want to be the middleman on the money.

“I just want to have a discussion with him [Maddox] about how he wants to receive these funds, call it ‘into Governance,’” he said on the tape.

In a Nov. 2016 conversation with Burnette, Miller asks him who he needs to send a check to.

“We’re going to talk about it with Scott, but it’s Governance,” Burnette replies, adding that they’ll discuss it in Las Vegas.

Undercover agents Miller and Sweets flew on a private plane with Maddox and Burnette in early Dec. 2016.

Miller testified that the private plane was part of the agents’ strategy to show wealth, as well as limit “exposure” for Maddox, who had voiced concerns.

He said the trip went well until the last dinner, when Maddox became standoffish.

Checks from Southern Pines Development, the FBI’s front company, were sent to Governance by Miller on the following dates: Nov. 16, 2016, Dec. 18, 2016, Jan. 23, 2017 and Feb. 22, 2017.

“My understanding was we were sending money through Governance to Scott Maddox,” Miller testified.

Miller said in a late December meeting, Burnette told him and undercover agent Sweets “if we’ve already started paying, to not stop paying” Governance.

In a March 2017 meeting, Miller testified that Burnette changed his mind on how he wanted to partner with the developers.

He said Burnette pitched himself as an equity partner, saying “I don’t want to deploy my political capital if it’s not needed. If you can buy the solution cheaper, you’re not going to hurt my feelings.”

Miller chalked up the change in Burnette’s attitude to Maddox’s hesitancy during the Las Vegas trip.

In the recording, Burnette tells Miller what he’s buying from Maddox is the “no vote,” as in, he wouldn’t vote against a project.

“The problem is if you started something, if you stop it, it’s going to kill you,” Burnette said. “Once that girl’s pregnant... you got a baby, you know what I mean.”

Miller asks who to contact if he has a question for Maddox.

“Call Paige or call me. Call me,” Burnette replies. “My experience is that you’re just better to deal with things transactionally anyway, right?”

Burnette calls Maddox “revengeful” during the conversation.

He compares the situation to feeding a dog for a year.

“You stop feeding that dog, he gets hungry, he might bite your (expletive) hand,” Burnette says. “If you wean the dog off, the dog won’t bite you.”

He also compares the situation to “slowly bring[ing] the frog to a boil.”

Miller testified that at a March 23rd meeting with undercover agents, Burnette, Maddox, and Carter-Smith, Maddox and Carter-Smith were confrontational. He said Maddox tried to change his relationship to Governance, and they couldn’t come to an agreement about how to move forward.

Miller testified that a text message from the end of March 2017 showed that the agents’ relationship with Burnette had changed completely.

Burnette sent them a Tallahassee Reports story about a successful deal he did, saying he got a 5-0 vote without paying any money.

“Tallahassee is just about doing the right thing,” Burnette wrote.

Cross Examination of FBI Agent ‘Mike Miller’

Once Miller’s testimony wrapped up just before 11 a.m., Burnette’s defense attorney, Tim Jansen, began cross-examining him.

They spoke about Miller’s role as an agent; Miller disagreed that he was acting.

“You’re playing a role,” he said. He confirmed in response to a question from Jansen that part of the job is to be deceptive.

Jansen asked Miller questions about FBI policies and procedures surrounding the consumption of alcohol.

Miller confirmed that he did consume alcohol during the covert operation. He also confirmed on certain occasions, undercover agent Mike Sweets was very intoxicated.

He denied that it was the goal of the FBI to get Burnette drunk.

Miller spoke about Burnette, saying over 20 months he learned Burnette was ‘into details.”

In his first meeting with Burnette, Miller brought up the City and County Commissions, and zoning issues. Burnette suggests he speak with real estate developer Will Butler, not Scott Maddox or Paige Carter Smith.

Burnette told Miller he’s willing to help him.

“I’d love to see any bit of new development in this community,” Burnette said on tape.

The defense covered the timeline of August through November 2015.

“Is it fair to say each communication was initiated by you?” Jansen asked.

“Yes,” Miller replied.

In a follow-up email to their first meeting, Miller told Burnette he would need to amend the comprehensive plan for his proposed project, and he asked who he needs to involve in zoning. He also said the CRA boundaries need to be moved.

“Who can make that happen?” Miller asked.

“Will Butler is your guy, he is copied on this email,” Burnette responded.

During cross examination, the defense emphasized Burnette was constantly pitching other deals to the agents, including the FallsChase development and a possible hotel in Jacksonville. Tim Jansen pointed out that Burnette is constantly focused on the “economics,” rather than the politics of a deal.

The defense also played a recording from Tuesday’s testimony, in which Burnette and agents are in Nashville, and Burnette talks about “killing” a rival hotel deal.

Jansen points out that Burnette never said who the conflicted vote was, not mentioning Scott Maddox to the agents.

During the conversation, Undercover Agent Mike Sweets says Burnette has a “stacked deck.”

Jansen points out that the term was used by Sweets, not Burnette.

The defense introduced a new recording of a meeting between Miller and Burnette before the hotel room meeting in Nashville.

In it, Miller tells Burnette his investors will “want to talk about access,” “getting **** done, like that’s always our big piece.”

Jansen posited that Miller was encouraging Burnette to show off his access to investors and his ability to get things done.

“You needed to convince him he’s gotta go sell access to those two investors,” Jansen says. “You push him to say he can bribe somebody, don’t you?”

Jansen also points out that “access and bribes are two different things,” a sentiment with which Miller agrees.

“Did he tell you to pay Scott Maddox in that meeting?” Jansen asked.

“No,” Miller replied.

In November of 2016, Burnette and Miller attended a concert together. Miller initiated a conversation about sending a check.

“We’re going to talk about it with Scott, but it’s Governance,” Burnette says.

When Miller asks if he needs to send the check before the group goes to Las Vegas, Burnette replies “no, no, no.”

However, the date on the first check shows that six days later, Miller sent a $10,000 check to Governance.

Jansen pressed Miller on whether he remembered if he told the undercover agents or the case agent that Burnette said not to send the check; Miller testified that he did not remember.

Jansen argues Burnette did not know about the first check.

The defense also played a recording of a conversation between UC Brian Butler, UC Miller, Burnette, and Maddox on the flight to Vegas.

Miller testified that there were no conversations about bribes or payments on the plane.

Cross examination took all afternoon; Miller will return to the stand Thursday morning.

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