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More charges in hurricane debris removal scheme

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — A developer and a former city commissioner of a Florida Panhandle city are the latest to be charged in the theft of millions of dollars in funds for Hurricane Michael debris removal, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Developer James Finch, 70, and former Lynn Haven commissioner Antonius Barnes, 55, were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Panama City on charges of wire fraud and honest services fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud. Finch is also charged with making false statements to the FBI. Lynn Haven is just north of Panama City.

Hurricane Michael Hit the Florida Panhandle in October 2018. According to the indictment, Finch and Barnes conspired with then-Mayor Margo Anderson and then-City Attorney Joseph Albritton to ensure that contracts for numerous multimillion-dollar infrastructure and construction projects and post-Hurricane Michael debris clean-up activities were awarded to Finch.

In return, Finch provided money and gifts to Anderson and Barnes, and Albritton received money from a company doing debris clean-up, prosecutors said. Anderson and Albritton were previously charged last August.

Finch is the owner of Phoenix Construction, which specializes in airport construction. He previously owned the NASCAR team Phoenix Racing until he sold it in 2013.

Rob Vezina, an attorney for Anderson, said in an email that he expects the former mayor to be acquitted once she has the opportunity to testify on her own behalf.

Online court records didn't list attorneys for Finch and Barnes. Attorneys for Albritton didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the charges.

Five others who previously pleaded guilty in the case are former City Manager Michael White, former Community Services Director David Horton, Erosion Control Specialist owner David White, ECS bookkeeper Shannon Rodriguez and Greenleaf Lawn Care of Bay County owner Joshua Anderson. They await sentencing.

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