FBI Tapes at Burnette Trial Casts Some Florida Political Players in Unflattering Light

FBI Tapes at Burnette Trial Casts Some Florida Political Players in Unflattering Light

By Karen Murphy, The Capitolist.

This week’s witnesses in the federal trial of J.T. Burnette, a Tallahassee businessman standing trial for federal extortion and racketeering, described the “dirty politics of getting things done” in Tallahassee. The testimony exposed some of the true “power behind the throne” like that whielded by Burnette and his wife, Kim Rivers, CEO of the mega medical marijuana company, Trulieve, and by a former “rising star” in Florida Democratic politics, Scott Maddox.

Burnette is facing federal charges of racketeering, and extortion stemming from a multi-year FBI investigation into political corruption in Tallahassee. Government prosecutors are trying to prove Burnette arranged bribes for Maddox, through Governance Services, LLC, a lobbying firm owned by Maddox’s close friend and business partner Paige Carter-Smith.

Maddox and Carter-Smith pleaded guilty in 2019 to three out of the 44 crimes they were charged with following the FBI probe. They agreed to testify against Burnette in hopes the government would recommend a lighter sentence in their cases.

One of the three FBI undercover agents who conducted the investigation, “Mike Miller,” testified for six or so hours on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Government and then underwent a full day and a half of cross examination by the defense.

During his testimony, video and audio was shown to the court of the defendant, Burnette, attending a meeting in a Nashville, Tennessee hotel suite with undercover FBI agents. Burnette, in shorts and a baseball cap, is sitting next to Miller. Also at the meeting, but off-screen, were the two other undercover agents, “Mike Sweets” and “Brian Butler.”

At the time, Burnette believed the agents were businessmen wanting to develop real estate in Tallahassee.

According to testimony by Miller, the meeting was to learn if politicians could be bought in Tallahassee and, if so, who and how.

Burnette told the agents that City Commissioner Scott Maddox — a former Tallahassee mayor, former Florida Democrat Party CEO and former candidate for Florida senate and governor — controlled the Tallahassee City Commission.

Burnette explained, “Scott Maddox is, you know, arguably, probably the most sophisticated politician of all the city and county players period. Okay? 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 told the agents when Maddox was mayor, he hired Anita Favors as City Manager. She was beholden to him, and she would sway the commissioners to do what Maddox wanted. Burnette said Maddox did the same thing when he got Rick Fernandez hired to replace Favors in 2015. He told the agents that Maddox made a “strategic move” to get Fernandez so he would be loyal to Maddox even if he went off the commission.

Burnette said he was the biggest contributor to Maddox’s political campaigns, as he was for then-mayor and later gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and all the other city commissioners.

He said then-commissioners Nancy Miller and Gil Ziffer couldn’t be bought but they could be influenced, both by Maddox and Burnette’s then-girlfriend, now wife Kim Rivers. He described Rivers as a real political player and said she could be very “revengeful.”

He said Miller always checked her position on something coming up for a vote with Rivers first. “She (Rivers) will run someone against you. Commissioners don’t want Kim to come against them. She is the perfect weapon when she is aimed against you.”

Burnette said he gave Rivers the money she used for political contributions. He said he “buys the gun and Kim pulls the trigger.”

He said the political consultant Drew Jones of VancoreJones Communication runs the political campaigns of nearly all the commissioners and when Rivers was unhappy with someone Jones would “run someone else if Kim wants.” Burnette said that, at that time, Rivers medical marijuana company, Trulieve, paid VancoreJones $15,000 per month in a retainer fee.

Burnette told the agents Miller and Ziffer “aren’t for sale, but Scott can be bought.”

“Ain’t nothing happening for less than $25,000. You can buy anything for $100,000. You know who you have to pay. Scott is the guy. He wants his piece of the pie.”

Burnette said campaigns in Tallahassee can be bought for around $25,000 and “I have a lot of political capitol. I’m ready to be monetized.” He reiterated several times he wanted to monetize his political capitol.

During the trial, which began on July 13, government prosecutors are trying to prove Burnette helped arrange for bribes to be sent to Governance from Southern Pines Development, an FBI front, in exchange for Maddox’s help with its fictitious real estate deals. In these deals, they supposedly planned to spend $40 million or more developing projects in Tallahassee. The bribes, four $10,000 checks, were to be funneled through Governance to Maddox.

Miller showed receipts for each of the checks being mailed to Governance and said that he was told the checks were cashed by Governance.

According to Miller’s testimony, the agents asked Burnette if money to Governance went to Maddox.

He responded, “It’s definitely for Maddox. There’s nobody else in Governance other than Paige, which is Maddox effectively, indirectly. It’s money well spent if you’re gonna do a deal here.”

Defense attorney Tim Jansen, in cross examination of Miller, tried to show Burnette had been led into this discussion at the Nashville meeting out of fear that if Burnette didn’t say something about how to bribe a Tallahassee politician, the businessmen would take their potential $42 million investment elsewhere.

Miller told jurors that the agents wanted “to hear what the inside track is.”

Jansen countered, basically yelling at the witness, “Because if you don’t get the inside track, your $40 million isn’t coming to Tallahassee. That’s what you’re telling Burnette.”

Miller responded that the agents were trying to find out during the conversation who in Tallahasssee could be bribed.

“When you’re in that meeting, you’re pushing him to say he can bribe somebody?” Jansen asked Miller.

“My job is to ask questions to see if there’s something there,” Miller said, calmly.

Miller testified Sweets reported to him that Maddox and Burnette had discussed how to get payments to Maddox. Miller said the agents were trying to determine whether they should mail checks or use cash.

During a recorded phone call between Miller and Burnette, Miller mentioned the “whole deal” that Sweets worked out with Maddox and asked about getting payment to Maddox.

“The only thing I was going to ask you was … (Sweets) told me it was going to Governance, right?” Miller asked.

“Yeah,” Burnette said. “We’ll discuss that a little more when you guys get to town. I will tell you that’s a good plan to start.”

Carter-Smith and Maddox also told Miller how to send money on another audio tape played during the trial.

Carter-Smith met Sweets and Butler while with Maddox at a Florida State football game.

Referring to Maddox, she told Sweets, “He’s a rainmaker. He’s the talent.”

Maddox scoffed, “I’m the (expletive) talent.”

On the audio, Sweets asks Maddox where to send the check and Maddox responds, “To Governance.”

Carter-Smith replies, “yes.”

_ _ _

Karen Murphy is the Capital Reporter for The Capitolist. She is an award-winning journalist who covers the North Florida and South Georgia Area.

15 Responses to "FBI Tapes at Burnette Trial Casts Some Florida Political Players in Unflattering Light"

  1. For anyone who may be following the details of this trial, this may be helpful.

    I’ve been keeping a list of names being reported by the media in an attempt to track who’s who and understand the web of various connections and relationships. Just looking at the variety of government positions held by those named, along with business ownership and friendships makes one suspicious of possible nefarious activity within this select group.

    Please feel free to pass along any corrections, omissions or errors in my list along with any positive or negative comments.

    Here’s the list, so far, of definite and possible “Players” in the Tallahassee Government Corruption Trial

    Burnette, J.T. Developer and Hotelier – Husband of Kim Rivers

    Carter-Smith, Paige Owner of Governance & Former Downtown Improvement Authority Chief

    Corey, Adam Former Lobbyist & Part owner of the Edison Restaurant – Friend of Andrew Gillum

    Dailey, John Current City Mayor – Former County Commissioner – used VancoreJones for his campaign

    Desloge, Brian Former County Commissioner – used VancoreJones for his campaign
    Favors, Anita Former City Manager

    Fernandez, Rick Former City Manager

    Gillum, Andrew Former City Mayor

    Jones, Drew Partner in VancoreJones Communications

    Long, Vince Leon County Administrator & Friend of Drew Jones

    Maddox, Scott Former City Commissioner

    Oglesby, Melissa Cousin of Burnette & Owner of KaiserKane (company controlled by Burnette)

    Pittman, Sean Lawyer & Lobbyist – Friend of Andrew Gillum

    Rivers, Kim CEO of Trulieve – Wife of J.T. Burnette

    Yordon, Gary Former Employee of Governance & owner of The Zachary Group company

    Ziffer, Gil Former City Commissioner

  2. Ben Pingree is also on the board of the Tallahassee Leon Federal Credit Union where I have seen some very questionable expenditures there.

    Or is he related to the Lepn County Administrator?

    Simple questions yet “silence is golden, but our eyes still see”.

  3. I would still like to know if Ric “Burner Phone” Fernandez is related to COT Director of Place Ben Pingree (does he still live out of county?).

    “Pingree left Leon County in 2007 to become Wakulla County Administrator, where he served nearly four years. After a two-and-a-half-year stint as president and CEO for the Zoological Society of Florida in Miami, he joined the Leon County Economic Development Council in July 2013 as vice president over business retention and expansion. He took over as executive vice president in August 2014. In 2016, he was hired as the director of the joint City of Tallahassee-Leon County Department of Planning, Land Management and Community Enhancement (PLACE), which includes Blueprint 2000. He currently oversees land use and transportation planning as well as the administering of $90 million in Blueprint dollars, money set aside for economic development beginning in 2020.”

  4. My question is where are the indictments for Gary Yordon, Kim Rivers, Andrew Gillum, Adam Corey, the CRA board and commissioners city and county who voted to give CRA funds to J T Burnette?

    It takes a village of idiots and enablers to do the harm the above have done so again where are their indictments?

    Thank you to the FBI for exposing their long-running graft and crimes.

  5. OK, I have been reading the articles from TR, WTXL and WCTV and I have only one question really……… WHY is Scott Maddox getting off so lightly? Seriously, hit with 44 Count and charged with just 3 piddly Counts? WTH? Like Maddox himself said, “I’m the (expletive) talent.” Maddox, Page Carter-Smith, Burnette and Kim Rivers should be doing 15 to 20.

  6. City and County governments dominated by DemoKKKrat politicians and bureaucrats are a magnet for depravity, corruption, poverty, and crime.

    On THIS… the Science is Settled

  7. Here is another City of Tallahassee concern:


    This man has been arrested in Taylor County and Wakulla County, but Leon County does not take this person seriously. He hangs out in city parks. Leon County Parks did send him a letter to stay out of their parks, but City of Tallahassee… Nothing.

    Beware this man…he is out walking around so do not let him around your children. Once he even was able to get a job at DCF. He was out recently socializing with an employee wearing a Florida DEO shirt. Why would an employee of DEO be socializing with this person? Especially while wearing a DEO shirt? Does this agency give this man cover and protection?

  8. “Waiting for SUPERMAN, Truth Teller Dr. ERWIN Jackson’s appearance.” Gabriel, thanks, but I humbly suggest your characterization may be a little over the top! LOL. However, I have been told to be prepared to testify in JT’s trial later this coming week. I am waiting for further directions from the court!.

  9. Kim Rivers are you gonna cross Nikki Weed and the Bond Villain local “Usual Suspects” to stand up for your man?
    Are you comfortable letting him do hard time so the political web of darkness in Leon County can remain intact?
    Everyone knows what the Disney Evil Villain Malaficant would do in a situation simmilar to what we are seeing played out by the forces of darkness down at the Federal Court House.
    Will you stand for your man or be Malaficant Rivers?
    I implore you to begin walking the righteous path by arranging a private meeting with Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody. Thats the only thing you can do that will be effective to save your man this late in “The Game”.

  10. This is a scam. ALL the leftists are dirty but they pick out just 2 Maddox & Carter-Smith to make a plea deal and burn the one and only Republican Burnette. And they already have the Judge’s “promised rulling” to burn the Republican and go light on Maddox & Carter-Smith.
    You just gotta know Dr. Jackson is not getting the results he worked so long and hard for.
    All the evil Bond movie Villains are gonna walk and Burnett, who was led down the path and recorded making “business talk” statements only by the FBI gets thrown under the burning bus.
    It should be clear to anyone that is all that is going to happen here
    Is that what Dr. Jackson worked so long and hard for?
    I think not.

  11. Isn’t Kim Rivers aka the main sponsor for the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce at Amelia Island junket in two weeks? Not only should government not pay for elected officials to attend, government should ban elected officials from attending this public relations farce that Jas been going on for years. Anyone involved in this needs to be drug tested I’ve said that for years.

  12. Exposure of dirty RAT canaries on the TAKE!
    So, League of Mammies “Favors” and “Tricky Ricky” beholden to Maddox? Bought and sealed! No RESPECT for neither! They even had the gall to name a Hole in the ground after this FAVORS gal. Tricky Ricky got away with lots of Shit and all the PEOPLE of Tallahassee was duped again by these nefarious actions of City Comissioners. WILLFULLY they VOTED to keep Tricky Ricky CHOICE for City Manger- GOAD, CITY ATTORNEY JACKSON, B. PEDIGREE and other miniscule dirty rat canaries. So Miller and Ziffer wouldn’t take the Cash upfront but each got their share of pilfering tax payers monies thru nepotism. BIG PAYOUTS FOR KEEPING SILENT WHILE LYING THRU THEIR rotten souls. Again, No RESPECT for dirty RAT canaries. Whose left? Many others. This circus just started to get very interesting. Waiting for SUPERMAN, Truth Teller Dr. ERWIN Jackson appearance.
    Vote all City Commissioners hold overs OUT in 2022, 2024 respectively. Richardson, and Cox, GET RID of City Manger GOAD, dirty rat Canary! Nationwide search is inorder to replace that City Mgr RAT! CITY OF TRIFLINESS needs to get a back bone!

  13. Wow… the more this onion is peeled, the smellier it gets. A lot of (current) things are beginning to make sense now.

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