Testimony by defense witnesses is expected to continue today in the trial of a former Junction City mayor who is charged with taking bribes from a Lawrence developer.
The U.S. District Court case centers on allegations that former Mayor Michael “Mick” Wunder took money to influence a Junction City housing project.
The Junction City Daily Union newspaper reported that David Freeman, a partner in Big D Development of Lawrence, testified this week that he paid Wunder $19,000 during 2006 and 2007. Freeman also said he paid Wunder for “the purpose of influencing him” in landing development deals worth $12 million.
Freeman has pleaded guilty to giving Wunder money in hopes of winning the right to develop new Junction City subdivisions, which were sought as the community braced for an influx of soldiers and families from nearby Fort Riley.
Freeman testified that memos listed on two $5,000 checks — one saying “medical bills” and the other “loan repayments” — were lies.
“We had no loan from Mick Wunder,” Freeman said. The other check was made out to Wunder’s wife, Barb.
Freeman also said Tuesday that he and Wunder helped another Lawrence company — Doug Compton’s First Management — land the C.L. Hoover Opera House project. According to Freeman, Wunder wanted $15,000 of what Freeman described as an already-arranged $60,000 “finder’s fee” from First Management. Freeman said a $15,000 check from First Management was made out to Big D, $9,000 of which was converted into cash and delivered to Wunder at a rest area on Interstate 70 near Paxico. Freeman said in court Tuesday that he kept the other $6,000.
Angela Peach, a First Management assistant who tracked company expenditures, testified Tuesday that a $15,000 check was written by First Management during that time. However, she said the payment was made to Big D for concrete work the company had done, and didn’t have anything to do with the opera house. She said she wasn’t aware of a $60,000 finder’s fee agreement between First Management and Big D.
Wunder’s attorney, former Geary County Attorney Michael Francis, said Freeman was trying to win over Wunder with generosity, and that Wunder never asked for money. In a recorded conversation played Monday in court, Wunder told Lawrence attorney and developer Brennan Fagan that he took payments from Freeman not as a bribe, but to help cover his wife’s mounting medical bills.
Wunder claims he gave Freeman sports memorabilia in return for the money. But Freeman said in court Tuesday that he and Wunder simply traded a basketball signed by former Kansas State University basketball coach Bob Huggins for a baseball signed by pitching legend Sandy Koufax.
On Wednesday, City Manager Rod Barnes testified that bids for the opera house project were in sealed envelopes until they all were opened during a city staff meeting. Because the envelopes had not been opened prior to the staff meeting, no one would have known the envelopes’ contents.