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Prosecution cross examines JT Burnette in day 13 of corruption trial

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 11:35 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2021 at 4:52 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Day 13 of the JT Burnette trial began with cross-examination.

The prosecution delved into Burnette’s sale of Hotel Duval and his purchase of the DoubleTree.

Peter Nothstein, the prosecutor cross-examining Burnette, pointed out that there was never any suggestion of a non-compete in any of the Hotel Duval documents. Burnette testified that he always thought it would get added at the last second, but never did.

He testified that he did not know exactly when he learned McKibbon was looking to build a Hampton Inn. On August 6, 2013, Burnette’s business partner Chad Kittrell reached out to Charles Simon about purchasing the DoubleTree, with the subject line “Hampton Inn.”

Burnette said between August 6, 2013, through August 20, 2013, he was assessing the leverage he could have to kill the Hampton Inn project by tying it up in lawsuits, or support it to help the Gateway building with parking.

The prosecution pointed to multiple calls between Burnette and Scott Maddox around that time.

In Feb. 2014, Burnette was still negotiating the purchase of the DoubleTree. On Feb. 11, 2014, he sent a notice of termination but continued to negotiate throughout the day.

That day, he and Maddox had a 16-minute phone call. Burnette testified that Paige Carter-Smith was also on the line.

Burnette testified that Maddox called him and said Carter-Smith had something she wanted to ask; she then asked if he wanted representation on McKibbon, one day before the City Commission would be voting on an extension.

Burnette said internally he thought she wanted to be paid between $5,000 to $10,000 not to lobby.

“No freaking problem,” he said he thought.

He said he believed it was a defensive lobbying play, and he knew Maddox had already recused himself on the issue.

Then, Carter-Smith asked him for $100,000. He said her voice was cracking and she sounded “scared to death.”

Burnette testified his heart was racing because he was “in a situation.”

“Paige was broke,” he said. “I was worried if I didn’t do it, there’d be consequences.”

“You were afraid Maddox would retaliate against your future deals?” The prosecution asked.

“With Maddox, you’d never know, but you’d feel it,” Burnette replied. “I thought what he was doing was legal because he had recused himself.”

He described the situation as strong-arming, not extortion.

He testified that Maddox did not directly threaten him on the call.

Burnette says he told Carter-Smith he would extend Governance’s contract with KaiserKane for the $100,000 instead. He says she then gave him an update on where the GSA situation stood, and all three discussed Imagine Tallahassee.

The call itself came one month after Burnette had negotiated the original 90-day, $10,000 contract between Governance and KaiserKane.

Another month later, on March 10th, Carter-Smith e-mailed her contact at GSA, Reggie Cardozo, with KaiserKane’s statement of qualifications. On April 10th, Carter-Smith e-mailed Cardozo again asking for a meeting for KaiserKane’s Trey Gardner.

The prosecution pointed out that while Burnette negotiated back and forth on Governance’s initial $10,000 90 day contract with KaiserKane, his contact with Carter-Smith on what he calls the extension did not extend past the phone call. Burnette says his takeaway from the call was that the extension was for one year; the prosecutor pointed out there was no updated contract sent via e-mail, fax, or text.

The prosecution also pointed out that in their testimony, Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith did not say anything about the February 11th phone call.

“You found facts you can hang your story on, didn’t you?” asked Nothstein.

“Absolutely not,” Burnette replied.

The prosecution pointed to phone calls between Burnette and Maddox; “You called Scott Maddox to check up on him and ensure he wouldn’t support McKibbon,” Nothstein said.

“You have a creative imagination,” Burnette replied.

“You knew no matter how much Scott Maddox walked off the dais, he could still come back and vote,” said Nothstein.

“That is ludicrous,” Burnette said. “That is crazy.”

Nothstein pointed out that the former City Attorney publicly stated at a September 25, 2013 City Commission meeting that Maddox did not have a legal conflict, but it would be his choice to not vote.

The prosecution then turned to the August 2012 campaign finance meeting, during which Burnette said Maddox asked him to loan Carter-Smith money.

“You found a calendar entry and hung your story on that date to make it more believable,” Nothstein said.

Nothstein pointed out that Carter-Smith was not representing McKibbon at the time in 2013; Burnette replied he did not think there was any difference between Carter-Smith and Gary Yordon, who he knew to be representing McKibbon.

The prosecution brought up the “couch meeting” in Nashville on October 21, 2016, during which Burnette said, “Scott’s lobbying firm works for us... He definitely gets paid through the lobbying firm.”

Burnette testified that he was not referring to Governance.

Carter-Smith sent the $100,000 invoice to KaiserKane on February 26, 2014. At that time, Burnette testified that he was out of contract on the DoubleTree, but was still trying to negotiate. The next day, Maddox filed his recusal form.

The prosecution pointed out that Burnette still had not told KaiserKane’s Melissa Oglesby or Trey Gardner about the $100,000 extension of the lobbying contract as of March 12th.

On March 31st, Burnette and Oglesby had a 42 minute phone call. Burnette testified that was where he told her he had extended the contract. The prosecution argued Oglesby said on the stand she did not remember Burnette ever telling her that.

In an August 27, 2014 e-mail about the KaiserKane “unwind,” Oglesby wrote to accountant Melissa Whittaker that the $110,000 paid to Governance should come out of Burnette’s share. She wrote that the $10,000 was for the initial lobbying contract, while the $100,000 was “something to do with the DoubleTree for JT.”

Burnette said the $100,000 was actually for the new contract.

During cross examination, the prosecution discussed the multitude of loans going from KaiserKane to Burnette and Frank Whitley.

Burnette testified that they were family loans, but an e-mail from Whittaker said the loans were running together.

“We’re getting raped!” Oglesby replied to her accountant.

During direct testimony on Monday, Burnette testified that when Sweet brought up bribery, he tried to turn the conversation away.

“You didn’t call police. You didn’t call FDLE,” the prosecutor said.

“I didn’t think he could actually bribe anyone,” Burnette answered.

Testimony then turned to the Nashville 2016 meeting.

The prosecution played the entire tape of Burnette’s conversation with Mike Miller, before the colloquially named “couch meeting” with the entire group.

Burnette testified that he believed Miller wanted him to imply he had an inside track.

“They [Mike Sweet and Brian Butler] were both pretty sketchy, but I thought Miller knew how it really worked,” Burnette said.

In the recording, Miller mentions the “inside track.” The two then talk about the Fregly properties, Drew Jones, the way certain commissioners vote, Adam Corey, the Cascades Development, and FallsChase.

Burnette said he had heard Sweet say for months that he wanted to pay someone. He said he went ahead with the meeting because he “felt bad” about what he had done to Miller, referring to his conversation with Sweet when he said he didn’t like the Fregly property.

During the couch meeting, Sweet asked Burnette how he fits in.

“Scott Maddox and I have a very deep relationship,” he replied.

Burnette explained how city staff and sunshine laws work, highlighting the power of city and county managers. He also said Maddox had gotten Anita Favors and Rick Fernandez their jobs, saying it gave him power over the City.

“Scott and I have always worked deals together because at the end of the day, Scott can wrangle the Commission in his direction.”

The prosecution pointed out that Burnette told the undercover agents that certain people and groups were not for sale.

When Mike Sweet said his experience showed all politicians wanted something, Burnette replied “Scott Maddox is that guy. He wants his piece of the pie.”

He used the analogy of filling up a cup, saying after political capital, the rest of the cup was filled with “dollar signs.”

“I believed that’s what Mr. Sweet needed to believe,” Burnette said.

Burnette testified that after the Nashville meeting, he wanted to run interference between Southern Pines Development and Maddox. His phone records show he called Maddox the day he was in Nashville.

The prosecution brought up a recording with Burnette and the undercover agents in which Burnette says, “Governance is the answer,” adding that he needs to have a conversation with Maddox about “how he wants to receive those funds, call it ‘into Governance.’”

Burnette said on the stand he had said that to appease Mike Sweet.

He also discussed the December phone call with Mike Sweet, days after he returned from Las Vegas. He testified on direct examination that he wanted to “clear things up” and ensure Sweet knew he couldn’t actually bribe anyone.

“I thought the way I did it, that came across,” he said during cross examination.

In January of 2017 in Dallas, Burnette told the undercover agents not to stop paying Paige Carter-Smith. He testified during cross examination that he was concerned Maddox would hurt their deals if they stopped.

“I’m like scared for my own life,” he said.

The prosecution questioned how Maddox could hurt Burnette if the FallsChase project was in the County.

“That’s the thing; you don’t know,” said Burnette, referring to the FBO story when Maddox promised Steve Leone he’d kill his next ten projects.

He also discussed the 2017 Chamber Conference, where he says Maddox was very drunk and he had been trying to stay away from him. He testified that the two did eventually go outside and talk.

The prosecutor asked whether Burnette had offered to pay Maddox’s legal fees; Burnette said no, but said he promised to pay for any professionals Maddox might need.

“I didn’t end up paying anything,” he said.

Court let out a bit late Tuesday afternoon after redirect by the defense; the defense then rested its case.

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