PANAMA CITY — Two Lynn Haven officials and the owners of two Bay County businesses have been charged with conspiring to steal more than $5 million from the city by filing invoices for Hurricane Michael debris removal and landscaping work that was never performed.
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At a Tuesday news conference held to announce that five individuals had been indicted, Lawrence Keefe, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said the investigation of Lynn Haven corruption, initiated in April by the FBI, was far from over.
"We fully expect additional indictments and arrests," he said.
The 35-count indictment made public Tuesday charges Michael White, David Horton, David White (no relation), Joshua Anderson and Shannon Rodriguez with conspiring to commit wire fraud, multiple counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
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Michael White was the city manager/city clerk of Lynn Haven between Aug. 22, 2017, and March 26, 2019. Horton, who was hired as the city’s community service director in January of 2018, was suspended Tuesday from his job, but remains employed by the city.
David White is an owner/manager of Erosion Control Specialist. Shannon Rodriguez is his sister and an ECS. Erosion Control Specialist was hired through an emergency contract to do debris removal for the city following Hurricane Michael. Court documents indicate the company was not a licensed contractor and held no state business licenses at the time the contract was secured.
Joshua Anderson is the owner of Greenleaf Lawn Care of Bay County, which contracted with the city in October of 2017 to do municipal landscaping work. He was a close business associate of David White and the indictment stated he kept his equipment at White’s business and his Greenleaf employees often reported for work at ECS.
Lynn Haven City Manager Vickie Gainer said in a news release issued Tuesday the Greenleaf contract, which runs through 2020, was under review for possible termination.
Michael White and David White are also charged with filing false claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Horton is also charged with mail fraud. It is alleged he had David White provide him a falsified invoice for $9,600 for work done at his home and turned the document over for reimbursement from the insurance company.
The indictment alleges that on Oct. 22, 2018, 12 days after Hurricane Michael, ECS signed on to do debris removal for Lynn Haven and that on Oct. 28, Michael White and David White agreed to extend the work agreement "for such time as necessary to perform the services for the project."
David White and Anderson are both accused in the indictment of submitting false and fraudulent invoices to the city that were approved by Michael White. When Horton was hired, he began approving payment of the invoices as well and also falsely "verified the attendance of ECS employees at various claimed work locations," a news release handed out at the news conference said.
Lynn Haven City Commissioner Judy Tinder, who uncovered much of what Greenleaf and ECS are accused of doing when investigating to prove the need for a forensic audit within the city, said she was somewhat shocked to see the indictment of Horton, but not to see those handed down for Michael White, David White and Anderson.
"Those things they’re accused of doing popped right off the page when we did our investigation," she said.
The indictment also states that Michael White and David White conspired to pay ECS employees for work that lay far outside the scope of the initial contract, including wrapping Christmas presents and preparing the location for a Halloween party.
The city was also paying ECS for trash collection, at $300 per hour per work crew.
Michael White and Horton were receiving gifts and benefits from ECS in return for signing off on false invoices and ignoring such things as falsified attendance sheets and work that wasn’t being done, the indictment said. White "received things of value" that included "repairs to, and debris removal from, (his) residence in Lynn Haven and his farm located outside Lynn Haven and Bay County and money for the purchase of Michael White’s farm and automobile."
Michael White’s farm is among several items seized by federal authorities at the time the indictments were handed down. The seized items also include several vehicles, including a 2019 pickup truck and a high dollar car known as a Dodge Hell Cat.
David White also paid more than $25,000 for a week long trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., that his family took with Horton, Anderson and his family, as well as Shannon Delores Rodriguez and her family, the indictment said. A Bay County commissioner also went along, the indictment said, and on Tuesday Commissioner Keith Baker owned up to making the trip.
"Erosion Control Specialist is not a past or present vendor of Bay County," Baker said. "In December of 2018, as a newly elected county commissioner, I was unaware of the requirements regarding reporting of gifts by elected officials. I did accept a trip to Tennessee and will take immediate steps to rectify my failure to report that gift with the state Ethics Commission."
Rodriguez, formerly, Shannon Harris, is the sister of David White. Her role in the scandal, the indictment said, included supervising a crew of ECS workers and preparing and maintaining time sheets that were submitted to the city for payment.
The time sheets turned in were falsified, the indictment said, and in some cases, records show, double and even triple paid ECS employees, including David White, for work done on a single day.