Friday, March 25, 2005

Cementing Connections

Following a blizzard of evidence showing he had "serious financial problems in recent years," Pensacola auto salesman Mike Murphy was convicted by a jury Thursday of several counts of grand theft. Murphy is often described in local news reports as "a long time friend to many local politicians, judges and law enforcement officers."

On the surface, the accusations against him look run-of-the-mine. As PNJ reporter Brett Norman described earlier in the week, along with bad check charges "he was accused of borrowing $30,000 from Coastal Wholesale Cars Inc. and its general manager, Ernest Rentz, while working there between April 2001 and September 2002 and repaying only $5,000... and stealing profits from the sale of two Coastal Wholesale vehicles."

Outside the hearing of the jury, however, Murphy's defense attorney gave voice to a more interesting subtext. Norman reports that the lawyer "accused the State Attorney's Office of prosecuting Murphy to strong-arm him into providing information for a[n]... investigation into Escambia County government."
"The investigation, launched in 2002, resulted in four Escambia County commissioners [including the late Willie Junior] being removed from office after allegations of corruption and private meetings on public business.

The probe later was expanded to look into possible ties among the road-paving company Anderson Columbia Inc., commissioners and other local politicians.

Anderson Columbia, based in Lake City, paid Murphy more than $171,500 for consulting services from 1999 to 2002, including $60,000 in loans, with no provision for repayment.

* * *
Pinkerton suggested the State Attorney's Office is convinced that Murphy has information to provide the investigation and is punishing him for not doing so."
Norman also reported on the opening day of trial that Murphy also "did favors for at least two commissioners, including paying them money."

Both Murphy and Anderson Columbia have denied publicly that they did anything illegal. At trial, Anderson Columbia comptroller Brian Schreiber "testified that... Murphy owes Anderson Columbia $60,000 from the two promissory notes that have not been repaid."

While he awaits sentencing, one is tempted to wonder if Murphy at long last is considering some sort of 'pay back' for Anderson Columbia.

No comments: