Mayor Cleared, Attorneys Paid
Through a public request of Beggs & Lane law firm’s billings to the City of Pensacola, Inweekly learned that the three-year federal bribery investigation of Mayor Ashton Hayward has concluded and no criminal charges would be filed.
The invoices showed that while he had been notified by Beggs & Lane attorney Greg Miller in late June on the conclusion of the federal probe, the mayor made no mention of it to the Pensacola City Council or the public.
On Sept. 21, Nix Daniel, the managing partner of Beggs & Lane, wrote City Attorney Lysia Bowling to inform her of a conversation his partner, Greg Miller, had with U.S. District Attorney Christopher Canova.
“That investigation proved to be without merit,” wrote Daniel. “All of the matters which were the subject of the investigation were within the scope of Mr. Hayward’s responsibilities as mayor. There was no finding of any wrongdoing on his part.”
The Beggs & Lane’s billings for the representing the mayor totaled $43,684.23. Daniel asked that the mayor be reimbursed $13,500 for the installments he had paid from Dec. 31, 2014 to Oct. 6, 2016. He requested the city pay the balance due, $30,184.23.
On Sept. 28, Bowling sent City CFO Dick Barker a memo:
“The Florida Supreme Court and the state courts of appeal have long established a common law right of public officials to receive legal representation at public expense to defend themselves against charges arising from the performance of their official duties while serving a public purpose.”
She told Barker that the city was legally obligated to pay the fees. The Pensacola City Council and citizens were not notified that the taxpayers paid the mayor’s legal fees.
Inweekly emailed the public information officer for United States Attorney’s Office for Northern District of Florida, Amy Alexander, and asked for confirmation of Daniel’s statements.
Alexander replied, “We have no public information to provide regarding this inquiry.”
The newspaper asked Daniel for the documentation that supported his letter. He said the Sept. 21 letter was based on a conversation between Miller, a former U.S. Attorney, and current U.S. Attorney Canova.
Daniel said, “Mr. Canova advised Mr. Miller that the investigation was concluded with no finding of wrongdoing and that no criminal charges would be filed.”
On Aug. 26, 2014, Interim City Administrator Dick Barker notified the City Council that the U.S. District Attorney was investigating the city and staff members were being questioned.
Inweekly obtained the subpoena, which requested city documents be presented to a federal grand jury scheduled to convene on Sept. 3, 2014, in Tallahassee. The subpoenaed records concerned the Main Street Rehabilitation Project, the city’s investments, agreements with Jerry Pate Design, city’s insurance broker and the expenses of former Chief of Staff John Asmar and Hayward.
In a written statement issued when the subpoena surfaced publicly, Mayor Hayward said, “I am aware of the subpoenas which have been issued this week to several City employees, and I have instructed staff to immediately make available to the City Council and public any and all documents which we can legally release.”
He added, “Furthermore, I have asked employees to fully comply with this process as it moves forward, and my administration will make any new information available to the public as quickly as possible. Everything we do on behalf of citizens is rightfully open to review and scrutiny, and I look forward to a swift and satisfactory resolution to this inquiry.”
Mayor Hayward turned down three interview requests from Inweekly but did speak with News Journal reporter Rob Johnson.
He said the probe concerned possible bribery. He acknowledged that “he had awarded city contracts to a friend, Jerry Pate, without competitive bids, but he asserted that no wrongdoing has occurred as a federal bribery investigation looms.”
Inweekly requested to be allowed to review the documents gathered to comply with the federal subpoena. The city initially refused to release the information saying the Florida Attorney General had advised the records were “exempt from the disclosure requirements of Ch. 119 F.S. as long as they are part of an ‘active’ criminal investigation or intelligence gathering operation being conducted by the Grand Jury.”
Inweekly went to the State Attorney’s Office for help. Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille later called to say that the City of Pensacola would fulfill our public record requests. They were delivered to the media and published.
After that, the newspaper heard very little from the mayor about the federal grand jury.
Glimpse Behind the Scenes
Two Beggs & Lane invoices, which were obtained last week, provide the first glimpse into how the mayor dealt with the federal probe. Both invoices—Invoice 70984, dated Sept. 26, 2014, and Invoice 85188, dated Sept. 21, 2017—were made out to Ashton J. Hayward, III.
The older invoice begins with attorneys David McGee and Nix Daniel meeting with City Engineer Derek Owens on Aug. 21, 2014, and covers work done through Sept. 25, 2014. The total of $42,115.50 was discounted $6,045.50 “to reduce to City of Pensacola Rates.” This is the invoice Mayor Hayward made installments through October 2016.
The invoice shows the attorneys holding meetings and discussions with Hayward and his staff, Jerry Pate and his office staff, attorney Bob Kerrigan, Skip Hunter, who donated funds for the amphitheater at the Community Maritime Park, and Tim Baker of Data Targeting, the Gainesville, Fla.-based consulting that worked on his re-election campaign.
On Sept. 1, 2014, David Magee met with the mayor and “friend Carl Lietz” for an hour. Lietz is with the Atlanta, Ga. based firm, Kish & Lietz. According to its website, the firm “aggressively represents the accused against charges in criminal defense and federal crime defense cases.”
The Sept. 21, 2017, invoice covered from Oct. 9, 2014-June 26, 2017. McGee reviewed a notice of warrant, discussed the mayor’s Yahoo emails and took a phone call from Lietz on Oct. 23, 2014.
In January 2015, Beggs & Lane reviewed bank and insurance records of the mayor. They called the Florida Ethics Commission. From June-August 2015, they met with the mayor and had several discussions with the U.S. District Attorney’s office.
U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh resigned in September 2015, and current interim U.S. Attorney Canova took over the office.
There were no entries for 2016. On May 24, 2017, Hayward called Beggs & Lane attorney Greg Miller. The next day, Miller met with Canova. On June 23, Miller called Canova. The last entry on the invoice is a brief phone conversation with the mayor, which appears to be when he was told the case had concluded.
After Inweekly last week published the mayor was cleared and taxpayers paid his legal fees, Hayward sent a written statement to the News Journal.
“Three years ago, my administration was investigated,” he wrote. “That case has now been closed. There was no finding of wrongdoing – there was no wrongdoing. A person in public office will inevitably face accusations from time to time. It is unfortunate when this happens, and I am pleased that the matter has been resolved.”
Inweekly has requested to review the case files to understand better what the U.S. Attorney investigated. We will report on our findings.