Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Witnesses in Bribery Case ID'd; A Developer and His Lawyer Are Only Informants against Manuel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Witnesses in Bribery Case ID'd; A Developer and His Lawyer Are Only Informants against Manuel

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM and DEIRDRE CONNER

Before St. Johns County Commission Chairman Tom Manuel was indicted on bribery charges, the FBI recorded 42 conversations between him and its informants -- a developer and his attorney -- a judge was told Tuesday.

Atlantic Beach developer Bruce Robbins and St. Augustine land-use attorney George McClure are the only two witnesses against Manuel, charged in October with accepting bribes of $50,000 in June and $10,000 in April, a prosecutor said.

In between, Manuel and his fellow commissioners voted unanimously to pay Robbins' real estate company $2.15 million for the work it had done on an interchange at Interstate 95 and County Road 210.

The identities of the two previously confidential government witnesses surfaced as Manuel's lawyer argued before a federal magistrate that he wanted transcripts of all 42 conversations recorded by the FBI. Attorney Bill Sheppard said he needs to understand the motives and methods of the informants to defend his client. Both are major players in the St. Johns County real estate arena.

"We were entrapped. This was a setup," Sheppard told U.S. Magistrate Howard Snyder. "Everybody has a price, including a lawyer and his client, and we have a right to know what that price was."

Robbins, a partner with The Falcone Group based in Boca Raton, didn't return calls and e-mails. A message on his cell phone said he was on vacation until January and to call back then. His number was on a list of Manuel's contacts obtained from the county under Florida's public records law.

The Falcone Group was the developer of Twin Creeks, a development of regional impact so large that it carries mandated growth-management measures, including safety improvements to the congested intersection at 210 and I-95.

But as the real estate slump hit, Twin Creeks foundered. So the county decided to complete the intersection project itself and pay the company for the work done so far -- including time-consuming studies, materials and other plans -- with a 5-0 vote of the commission on April 29. …

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