Burnette’s attorney, Tim Jansen, spoke from outside the federal courthouse. Tallahassee Democrat
John “J.T.” Burnette bragged to undercover FBI agents that then-Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox was his “buddy” who “always worked deals” with him because Maddox could get fellow commissioners to go along with whatever he wanted.
His comments came during a conversation secretly recorded Sept. 21, 2016, between himself, three undercover agents and an unidentified male. It was included in court documents filed Monday by federal prosecutors seeking to block a request by Burnette’s lawyers to drop charges against the local businessman.
In the conversation, Burnette painted a picture of the capital city as a place where money greases the wheels of local government. One of the undercover agents, who posed as an out-of-town businessman, lamented that it would be difficult for “an outsider” to get much accomplished. Burnette agreed, saying, “Yeah, that’s tough.”
“Tallahassee is an interesting place,” the agent said. “It’s clearly ‘good ole boy’ network,’ but it’s not like a ‘good ole boy’ network like I’ve seen in other places.”
“You know what you’ve got to pay,” Burnette said. “You know who you’ve got to pay and how you’re going to pay it.”
The J.T. Burnette tapes:
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- A $110,000 bribe, an empty chair and a hotel denied: Inside the J.T. Burnette allegations
- Someone stopped Adam Corey on a Miami highway to hand him a subpoena for J.T. Burnette trial
Burnette is set to go on trial in January on federal extortion and bribery charges as part of the same public corruption probe that already brought down his two co-defendants, Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith. The two pleaded guilty in August to federal charges that they took bribes from city vendors through their Governance lobbying firms in exchange for official action. The feds have said they will testify against Burnette.
The conversation appeared to be from an early meeting between the undercover agents and Burnette, a prominent developer who moved in political circles. The agents began arriving in Tallahassee in the summer of 2015, posing as developers and medical marijuana entrepreneurs from out of state looking to do business with the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency.
In the conversation, portions of which were redacted by the government, Burnette called Maddox “probably the most sophisticated politician” among all the city and county players. He acknowledged that “Scott’s lobbying firm works for us” and that he “absolutely” cut Maddox in on his business deals.
“So Scott and I have always worked deals together because at the end of the day, Scott can always wrangle the commission kind of in his direction,” Burnette said.
Burnette points to unnamed official
In one particularly tantalizing exchange, Burnette appeared to suggest that the FBI already had one Tallahassee official in its pocket but wouldn’t be able to secure another two with cash. It’s unclear whom he referenced because the names are redacted.
“So you have (redacted), right?” Burnette asked the agent. “You’re not going to buy (redacted). You’re really not going to be able to buy (redacted) either. You’re only going to convince them on the merits of what you’re doing.”
Burnette noted that the agents would need the support of only three of five city commissioners to win approval for projects. At the time of the conversation, the commission consisted of Maddox, Mayor Andrew Gillum and Commissioners Nancy Miller, Curtis Richardson and Gil Ziffer.
“You only need three,” Burnette said.
“And (redacted) could deliver (redacted), if necessary,” the agent said.
“But you don’t need it,” Burnette said. “You got three. You’ve got Scott, (redacted) and …”
“So are we wasting our time with (redacted)?” the agent asked.
The conversation happened about a month after a couple of the same undercover agents joined Gillum for outings in New York City, including a performance of “Hamilton” and a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty. Also on the trip was Gillum’s brother, Marcus Gillum, and lobbyist Adam Corey, then a close friend of both of the Gillums.
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The trip and another to Costa Rica prompted an ethics complaint and an investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics, which fined Gillum $5,000 earlier this year for accepting a banned gift over $100 from a lobbyist or vendor. Gillum has long maintained that the FBI told him in 2017 he was not a focus of its investigation. However, the bureau has never confirmed that.
‘Dirty politics of getting things done’
Burnette’s lawyers, Tim Jansen and Greg Kehoe, asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle last month to drop all charges against Burnette because a former FBI agent made false statements about alleged bribes the businessman made to Maddox.
The defense lawyers accused former FBI agent Josh Doyle of fabricating information in a 2017 report sent to FBI headquarters that Burnette paid Maddox $15,000 a month. The attorneys said the information later ended up before the federal grand jury, tainting its proceedings.
And while federal prosecutors acknowledged the error, they said the report was never shown to the grand jury. They also said that grand jury testimony that Burnette’s lawyers claimed was false actually came from the 2016 recorded conversation.
One of the undercover FBI agents, who did much of the chatting with Burnette, was identified in court documents only as UC-4180.
That’s believed to be the same agent who posed as a long-haired businessman named Mike Sweets looking to score big in the medical pot industry. Burnette is married to Kim Rivers, the CEO of the medical marijuana company Trulieve.
At one point in the conversation, Burnette explained how he would get his cut for delivering “the politics” on a deal but nothing else. He said he didn’t want to be involved in designing or building and he would “take care” of Maddox with his proceeds.
“I mean, when it comes right down to it, that’s the dirty politics of … getting things done,” said one of the agents.
‘Yeah,” Burnette replied.
Contact Jeff Burlew at email@example.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.
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