PALM BAY, Fla. – Palm Bay developer Brian West was arrested Friday morning on felony charges of bribery, over an alleged scheme to buy votes on the Palm Bay City Council to rezone land for a project, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
West, 72, was charged with one second-degree felony charge of bribery, one third-degree felony charge of conspiracy to commit bribery and six third-degree felony charges of unlawful use of a communications device. His bond was set at $180,000.
The alleged bribery appears to have been directed at City Councilman Brian Anderson, and references are made to attempts to bribe Councilman Kenny Johnson and Councilman Jeff Bailey, according to the arrest affidavit.
Anderson also appears to have acted as the confidential informant with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Everything is incorrect, except that I was arrested,” West told FLORIDA TODAY on Friday, after he posted bond. “This is some sort of smear campaign, in my opinion.”
“I repeatedly refused to meet Mr. Anderson,” he said, before referring further comments to his attorney, Jim Kontos.
The circumstances that led to West’s arrest on Friday revolved around allegations of an attempted deal that would be brokered by local hotelier Puneet “PK” Kapur to buy votes to approve the rezoning of the “Plantation Circle” subdivision to commercial use. That is land that West’s company, Westco, was trying to develop.
According to the affidavit, “the rezoning of the property would increase the property’s value by an estimated $1,000,000.”
The deal was first pitched in 2017 to a Palm Bay councilman who was acting as a confidential informant, and was believed to be Anderson, according to the affidavit. The issue arose again in recent months, as a vote neared on the City Council.
According to the affidavit, Anderson was to be offered “up to $5,000 for his vote” in an August meeting that was canceled by West because he was “concerned that Councilman Anderson was assisting law enforcement.”
Anderson said he had “no comment at this time.”
West is “a 72-year-old man with no criminal record,” his lawyer Jim Kontos said Friday. “He’s been a developer in Florida and throughout the Southeast since 1977. He’s got an unblemished reputation, and he hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“Allegations are easy to bring, but, luckily, the state has to prove those allegations that the police have brought in a courtroom,” Kontos said. “And, if the state decides to proceed in this case, it’s going to be clear that Mr. West is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Kontos declined to comment further.
Other names show up in the affidavit, including former Councilman Tres Holton, who is implicated for being hired as a consultant for West while sitting on the council. Others include Mayor William Capote and political consultant Robert Burns.
No one else was charged.
Johnson did not immediately return requests for comment.
Capote said he has met with West in the past about the rezoning issue related to the land in question, and does support the action because the land is near other commercial corridors. According to Capote, residents of the area are not opposed.
Capote said he was not involved in anything improper by voting in support of the project, and did not receive any financial gains for his support, nor was he offered any.
If anyone makes such an allegation, Capote said, “it’s an allegation that has no valid points. I can’t help what people say.”
Capote said he will “let time take its course” in sorting out the issue and his own actions.
“I’ll live with the allegations,” Capote said. “Time will vindicate me.”
Burns, who was Johnson’s campaign manager when Johnson was elected in 2018, said that Johnson was opposed to the project, due to concerns from residents.
Burns said he did previously consult for West on a campaign in Martin County. But Burns disputed that West provided him with a $10,000 contribution to his PAC, saying the figure was closer to $6,000. Burns said that, because he “refused” to use the money the way West wanted, West reversed the credit charge.
The affidavit alleges that West was trying to meet with Palm Bay mayoral candidate Rob Medina to personally give him an election contribution. Medina said he met briefly with West “several Sundays ago,” after a church event, but declined to accept money from him.
“I never accepted any finances from Mr. West,” Medina said. “The residents reached out to me, and made me aware of some issues with Plantation Circle.”
“I cannot be bought. I will not be bought. My integrity means the world to me,” Medina said. “This Marine will not be bought.”
“This is absolutely horrifying,” Medina said, referring to the allegations contained in West’s affidavit for arrest warrant. “This is why I am running, to end this corruption in Palm Bay. The corruption in the city must stop. Restoration is coming to Palm Bay.”
The arrest warrant affidavit shows that information leading to West’s arrest was provided by FDLE Special Agent Bradley Lewis, who was one of several agents involved in the joint FBI corruption probe into the city of Palm Bay which led to the arrests of businessman Jose Aguiar and then-Deputy City Manager Dave Isnardi.
West’s name is mentioned nearly 80 times in the earlier FDLE/FBI investigative report.
Kapur’s name enters the arrest affidavit as the person who allegedly tried to broker the bribe. Kapur is general manager of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Palm Bay. He is a member of the advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council, and chairs the TDC’s Marketing Committee.
Anderson also is a member of the nine-member Tourist Development Council, holding the slot reserved for a representative of Brevard’s most populous city, and chairs the TDC’s Sports Committee.
This is the latest scandal to rock the highest levels of government in Brevard’s largest municipality.
Capote is running for the County Commission District 5 seat against incumbent Commissioner Kristine Isnardi. Anderson is not running for reelection. Bailey and Johnson are not up for election.