New Times has learned that in early August, Burke and Gary, who by now was working for the government, flew to the Bahamas, where investigators believe they opened an offshore bank account in anticipation of the alleged payoff Burke would receive for helping with the Montenay transaction.
Burke does not deny he went to Nassau with Gary, or that an offshore bank account was opened, which in itself is not illegal. Though he would not explain why such an account was opened, he contends that the actions were orchestrated by Gary in a fashion to make it appear as though Burke was participating in a kickback scheme. "Every trip we are talking about there was a female friend involved," he explains. "Other things might have happened, and that's what I meant when I said I think this whole thing has been manipulated by Gary."
It is likely that prosecutors will portray Burke's excursions abroad as banking-related and that they coincided with his August 25 trip to San Francisco, where he would again meet with Gary and Grigsby. The purpose of the West Coast trip, Burke claims, was to observe Grigsby's staff as they conducted the Montenay bond sale, thereby gaining a better understanding of the intricacies of the bond business.
In San Francisco Burke stayed at the ritzy Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, where suite prices begin at $375 a night. Gary picked up the tab for the flight and the room, though Burke claims he intended to have the county reimburse Gary. Although prosecutors do not have recordings from Burke's meeting with Grigsby and Gary in Orlando, this time around Gary was wired. Those conversations in San Francisco will likely form the basis for the government's case against Burke and Grigsby.
After a couple of days in San Francisco, Burke returned home. But he made his second trip in less than a month to the Bahamas.
Last week Burke was questioned by the FBI and heard portions of those taped conversations from San Francisco, some of which include discussions of payments he allegedly expected to receive. Those conversations, Burke maintains, are being misconstrued by prosecutors and were unrelated to Gary and Grigsby's bond transactions; rather they involved his friendship with Gary and certain things Gary may have been able to do for Burke as a friend.
Burke's personal finances have always been murky. In addition to his $6000 county commission salary, he says he works as a "governmental consultant," lobbying in Tallahassee and Washington on behalf of "educational institutions and African-American associations." He earned approximately $60,000 during the first six months of this year, he says, adding: "This would have been my best year ever."
In the past he has survived on "loans from friends, from relatives, that were always paid back." He has also used campaign contributions to cover some of his living expenses, a practice for which he is now under investigation by the State of Florida.
As a result of news leaks regarding Manohar Surana's role in the FBI's City of Miami sting, and a report in the Miami Herald that the probe had expanded to include an unnamed county commissioner, rumors immediately began circulating that Gary and Burke must be involved, which in turn prematurely ended Gary's usefulness as an undercover informant.
Even Burke wondered if he was the unnamed commissioner under scrutiny. He says he had his lawyer contact the U.S. Attorney's Office earlier this month and ask if the commissioner was under investigation. "We were given a clean bill of health," Burke says. "Obviously they were lying to us."
Hardemon says he told Burke he suspected they were being set up but that Burke refused to listen to him. He also maintains his own innocence. "I have not participated in anything," he insists. "I don't know about the conspiracy they are talking about. If there was something going on, it was a pay grade above me." (The remark about "a pay grade above me," he acknowledges, is a reference to his former boss, the commissioner.)
As a candidate for the county commission, Hardemon is trying to find some advantage in the fact that he is under criminal investigation. Hoping to tap into what he believes to be the black community's resentment toward police and the Justice Department, he has redefined himself as a victim of the white power structure akin to former federal judge Alcee Hastings, who was tossed off the bench by the United States Senate for allegedly soliciting a bribe but who went on to win election to Congress in a primarily black district.