Developer Brian West was arrested Friday for allegedly offering Palm Bay City Council members money to rezone a tract of land he wants to develop for commercial use.
West denies the allegations and was released on bond. Nonetheless, the supporting cast in his arrest affidavit includes many familiar names in Palm Bay’s political and business spheres.
Councilmember Brian Anderson is thought to be the confidential source who assisted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation and West is accused of trying to bribe councilmembers Jeff Bailey and Kenny Johnson. Hotelier Puneet “PK” Kapur is accused of helping West set up meetings to discuss vote-buying.
Also in the mix: Robert Burns.
Burns is no stranger to controversy. He recently served as campaign manager for Marcie Adkins’ House District 53 bid, and his background and actions often landed hear in the headlines — and not in a good way.
In the leadup to the Republican primary, he made anti-Semitic comments about incumbent Rep. Randy Fine, taunted Fine’s mother on Mother’s Day, and had his criminal record — including allegations of rape and child abuse — read aloud at a press conference.
Now, he’s dealing with an accusation of financial impropriety.
Burns works as Johnson’s campaign manager and according to the arrest affidavit, West was told to hire Burns as a means of getting Johnson’s vote.
The affidavit is unclear on who told West to hire Burns — Kapur claims the directive came directly from Johnson, while West said Burns was recommended by Dave Isnardi, the former Palm Bay Deputy City Manager who recently pleaded guilty to extortion for his part in the ongoing corruption scandal.
Kapur warned West that he would be “foolish” to hire Burns, and his premonition appears to have been well-founded. Throughout the document, Burns is described as a conduit West used to pay off politicians, but not a particularly good one.
West allegedly paid elected officials through various political committees run by Johnson and Burns — he told Kapur he was willing to spend as much as $20,000 to get candidates elected this cycle — however, the money sometimes didn’t make it to the candidates and officials West wanted.
According to the affidavit West gave Burns $10,000 dollars and Burns was supposed to give $1,000 each to Rob Medina, Randy Foster and Donny Felix. Burns never dropped the check to Medina and West suspected he was actually working for Kay Maragh, who was running against Medina in the Palm Bay mayoral race.
It was a problem West apparently put up with so as to not lose Johnson’s support, but he eventually did confront Burns about getting a refund.
Burns didn’t dispute that he had received money from West, telling Florida Today that he had received about $7,000 from the developer rather than the $10,000 quoted in the affidavit. However, he said West reversed the credit charge.
It is unclear whether that is true as Kapur offered a damning take on Burns’ handling of campaign finances — he told West that he wouldn’t be able to get any of the money back because Burns had been living off the contributions to his candidates’ political committees.
Kapur’s allegation plays into another lodged against Burns.
Last month, Fine accused Burns of illegally funneling campaign money into a news website he runs known as The Space Coast Rocket, which seems to specialize in crafting articles praising Burns’ clients and disparaging their political opponents.
In addition to the alleged self-dealing, the outlet’s advertising expenditures unearthed a pattern of shoddy campaign finance reporting at committees Burns manages — a committee he formed for Adkins, Friends of Florida, reported only $1,600 raised but Facebook transparency pages show it spent more than double that amount promoting Space Coast Rocket articles.