Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson after felony charges were filed against her this week.
FBI agents arrested Anderson Wednesday after a federal grand jury indicted her and City Attorney Joseph Albritton on corruption and fraud charges. DeSantis suspended Anderson Thursday evening.
The 64 federal indictments presented Tuesday are the latest allegations of misuse of public office to roil the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
Anderson faces fraud, embezzlement and false statement charges. As Governor, DeSantis has the authority to suspend municipal elected officials if charged with a crime.
The City Council has approved Mayor Pro Tem Dan Russell to sign off on city business.
The council, currently scheduled to meet Tuesday, has 10 days from Anderson’s suspension to vote on a new Mayor. After that, DeSantis would appoint someone.
The case is the follow-up to arrests in November involving five individuals, including Lynn Haven officials. The five pleaded guilty on charges related to $5 million in fraudulent invoices for hurricane recovery.
After Hurricane Michael’s landfall as a Category 5 storm in October 2018, Lynn Haven issued a state of emergency and allowed Anderson to bypass standard procedures to engage in contracts on behalf of the city for a timely response. After the emergency order lapsed two weeks later, the city entered an emergency agreement for hurricane cleanup services.
Panama City-based Erosion Control Specialists performed $48,000 in unauthorized services at Anderson’s, her mother’s, and a neighbor’s private residences, according to the indictment. They performed another $25,000 in unauthorized services at the homes of Albritton and his girlfriend.
David White, Erosion Control Specialists’ owner, was indicted in the November case.
The indictments also accuse Anderson and Albritton of receiving kickbacks or bribes for projects they approved.
After the city’s emergency declaration expired, instead of using the city’s waste trucks, Albritton and the then-City Manager, who was also indicted in the November case, hired Erosion Control Specialists for trash pickup. That purportedly cost the city an additional $1.8 million.
And instead of using a planned disposal site, Anderson had the City Manager sign for an unnamed private company, costing the city millions of dollars more.
Anderson had helped that company win multimillion-dollar contracts with the city as far back as 2015, the indictment claims.
“This indictment serves as a powerful message to all public officials and any other citizens who serve in a position of trust,” said Larry Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said Wednesday.
The Northern District of Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Public Trust Unit launched a year ago, worked the case alongside the FBI and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
“Our Public Trust unit, working alongside our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, are committed to the investigation and prosecuting anyone who illegally abuses a position of trust for personal gain,” Keefe said. “The integrity of those who run our government is essential to our democracy.”
Both officials face up to 20 years in prison for fraud and 10 years for theft of federal funds if convicted. Anderson could also face five years for making false statements to federal agents. And Albritton could face an additional 20 years for making the false invoice.
Both made their first court appearances Wednesday in Tallahassee.
“This case is an example of what happens when public servants become complicit in corrupt behavior rather than standing up to it,” said Rachel Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “Anyone who puts personal greed above their responsibility to protect the public should be held accountable, and that is why rooting out corrupt public officials remains the FBI’s number one criminal investigative priority.”