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A Federal Investigation Focuses On Potential Bribery At City Hall

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City of Pensacola
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Interim Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Dick Barker is one of five Pensacola city officials scheduled to appear Wednesday before a federal grand jury in Tallahassee as part of a bribery investigation.

The documents requested for the grand jury's review relate largely to city contracts involving road work. The investigators have zeroed in on at least one personal associate and friend of Hayward's, professional golfer Jerry Pate, who owns a Pensacola landscape design business that has done work for the city.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward pledges full cooperation, but says the federal inquiry into possible bribery involving city officials is a distraction that "saddens" him, but he asserted no such wrongdoing has occurred within his administration.

“Mr. Pate worked on the Maritime Park and maybe the design of Main Street,” said Hayward.

The Mayor was asked if the project was placed out for bids.

“I believe it was,” he said. “There are certain things that were put out for bid and certain things that weren’t. I don’t know exactly which ones were or were not.”

Hayward wasn’t subpoenaed, and he told the Pensacola News Journal that he has not been interviewed by federal agents. City records are among the documents subpoenaed by the grand jury, on certain financial records of the Mayor’s expenses.

Former City Councilwoman Maren DeWeese questioned Jerry Pate paying for a trip to Miami in 2011 for Mayor Hayward and his wife An. After City Attorney Jim Messer produced a copy of the cancelled check from the Haywards’ personal checking account reimbursing Pate, the State Attorney’s Office dropped its investigation of contracts with Jerry Pate Design.

Grand juries were first recognized in the Magna Carta -- the English legal charter -- in 1215.  The concept was also established in the Fifth Amendment in the U-S Constitution. Matthew Kaiser with the Washington-based Kaiser Law firm says a grand jury proceeding is not like a normal court trial. For one thing, there’s no judge.

“The people who will be in the room will be you, if you’re a witness in a grand jury proceeding,” Kaiser said. “There will be the prosecutor, who will be asking you questions. There will be a court reporter there and there will be a number of grand jurors, including a foreperson.”

Federal grand juries are composed of 16-23 individuals, selected at random from a cross-section of the local population. Twelve of the minimum 16 members required to be present must vote in favor of an indictment before it can be returned as a “true bill.”

Many people who are compelled by subpoena to appear before a grand jury secure legal counsel before their appearance. Kaiser says there are three ways in which an attorney can help out. First, they can talk to their client about their testimony, documents, and privilege issues.

Second, counsel can help their client figure out their role in the investigation and third, they can help with the logistics of appearing before a grand jury.

Witnesses are entitled to receive immunity in exchange for their testimony. The grant of immunity impairs the witness's right to invoke Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as a legal basis for refusing to testify.

And when the proceeding is over, attorney Matt Kaiser says everyone in the grand jury room is sworn to secrecy – with one exception.

“The only person who has the ability to share what happened in the grand jury is the witness,” said Kaiser. “The grand jurors can’t tell anybody what happened; the court reporter can’t let the transcript go out willy-nilly and the prosecutor can’t tell anybody what somebody said in the grand jury.”

CORRECTION: A report on WEAR-TV quoted sources as saying Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer was among the five officials subpoenaed by the grand jury. That portion of their report turned out to be false. Spencer was not subpoenaed