JT Burnette appeal questions credibility of star witness, arguments reveal claims of prostitution

A jury found Burnette guilty of five of the nine charges against him after a month-long trial.
A jury found Burnette guilty of five of the nine charges against him after a month-long trial.(WCTV)
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 4:09 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) - New details of a now infamous trip to Las Vegas coming to light this week as Tallahassee businessman JT Burnette’s appeal of his extortion and bribery conviction goes to court.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday and has since posted an audio recording of the hearing online.

Burnette is trying to have his 2021 conviction overturned.  He’s one of three people serving prison time for the corruption scheme. Former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and former Downtown Improvement Authority Director Paige Carter-Smith previously pleaded guilty.

Burnette’s attorney had three main arguments on appeal.  Two focus on the credibility of the Government’s star witness, undercover FBI Agent Mike Sweet. One had been sealed until Wednesday’s hearing.

“The court abused its discretion in excluding evidence that Agent Sweet paid for prostitution as part of the investigation and then lied to cover it up,” Burnette’s attorney Amy Saharia argued.

Saharia contends Sweet not only paid for a lap dance for former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox during a 2016 trip to Las Vegas , but also paid for “prostitution.”   Saharia argued the jury had a right to hear about it and the judge abused his discretion in excluding it.

“If he was so committed to getting Mr. Maddox and Mr. Burnette in the course of this investigation that he was willing to commit a crime, that certainly shows his bias to slant his testimony against Mr. Burnette on the stand, " Saharia argued. “All of that goes to explain why ... his motive ... his motive to see my client convicted.”

Connor Winn, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, argued the judge’s decision to exclude claims of prostitution was a “careful compromise.”

“It allowed Mr. Burnette to do what he sought to do ... prove that Mr. Sweet initially failed to disclose evidence to prosecutors and it limited Mr. Burnette’s use of extremely prejudicial and salacious testimony that was disputed,” Winn said.

There is no word yet on when the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals could rule on Burnette’s appeal.