The Augusta Chronicle checked Richmond County public records of candidates in the 12 contested local races. Searches for felony criminal, civil and financial issues were conducted.
In 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 county liens were filed to collect property taxes on three properties owned by Marion Williams, a candidate for the Augusta Commission’s Super District 9 seat. Williams paid off each lien, most recently in June.
He was also sued by Bus Stop Financial in 2010 seeking to collect Chase Bank’s $1,646. The company granted summary judgment, and a lien was issued.
Williams said he eventually paid all of the bills, but he sometimes struggled to pay on time.
“People don’t understand the struggles of people and sometimes you pay slow,” he said. “I’ve never had anything repossessed; have I paid a late fee? Yes, plenty of times. Did I pay late? Yes, but I did pay.”
Robert E. and Janet W. Cheek, of Country Place Drive, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in February 2005. They listed $257,784 in debts and $378,270 in assets, mostly composed of their home and 53 acres of farmland on Deans Bridge Road. They were granted discharge in June 2009.
Cheek, who is running for the Richmond County Board of Education’s District 8 seat, said he filed bankruptcy after a business partner, who was involved in “a bad investment,” died and left him with the liabilities. Cheek declined to talk about the investment on the record, but said it was a personal business venture that he decided to get out of.
“I ended up getting stuck with everything, and that was all I could do,” Cheek said.
Georgia state tax liens that were filed against Richard Roundtree for years 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005 have been paid off; a lien by Midland Funding has also been paid off; another state tax lien for 2005 was paid off.
There also was a 2008 child support petition filed for a child born in May 2005. Roundtree settled with a payment plan.
Roundtree, the Democratic candidate for Richmond County sheriff, said the state tax liens were something he was not aware of for several years because he was still receiving income tax refunds from the state during those years.
“I didn’t know you could get a refund and still owe money, but that is how the state works,” he said, explaining that he paid off the liens when he learned he owed the tax.
Roundtree said the petition for child support was something he worked out with his son’s mother when she was going to remarry. He said it was a way of formalizing an agreement they already had.
“I didn’t owe child support. I had not missed a payment,” he said.
A lien in 2003 filed in Columbia County for Probate Court judge candidate Harry James and his wife for state income tax of $9,205 was paid in April 2008. A federal tax lien filed in Richmond County the same year was also paid off.
Richmond County filed liens for property taxes on his office on Sixth Street in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011. He paid each off eventually.
There was also a lien filed by First American Title, which was granted judgment in state court. It was also paid off.
The Georgia Department of Labor filed a small lien in 2011, which he paid off in January.
James was sued to collect a $17,920 credit card debt in 2011. He worked out a payment plan in March.
James said there was nothing to comment about or explain regarding his financial information.
Records show David Hopper, who is running for Georgia House District 125, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on May 14, 2009. He had $42,593 in debts, including a $10,000 settlement with the company that repossessed his truck, $5,265 in medical bills at Doctors Hospital and the rest in credit card bills. The bankruptcy was discharged on Sept. 28, 2009.
Hopper, now a history major at Augusta State University, attributes the bankruptcy to a serious illness for which he was hospitalized for nine days and left unable to drive the $120,000 tractor-trailer he’d recently purchased.
In August 2008, “I thought I’d try my own hand at running a business,” said Hopper, who had worked for trucking companies after graduating from Butler High School in 2002.
He leased a tractor-trailer and became his own boss, but soon Hopper said the long hours of driving caused him to ignore his health, and a minor cut turned into a serious infection that sent him to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center for two skin grafts on his right leg.
Hopper said he had hospitalization insurance, but it only reduced his medical bills by about half, to around $50,000. “Even then, of course I could not afford that,” he said.
Earnest Smith’s records show a 2004 state notice of $2,484 in unpaid income taxes and several years’ worth of penalties.
Smith, the Georgia House District 125 incumbent, attributed that to an error on the part of the U.S. Postal Service, his employer at the time. He said he cleared the entire matter up when he retired from the postal service.
Georgia Senate District 23 candidate Robert Ingham filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2004 with $28,000 in debts and only $3,345 in assets. (His largest debt listed was a student loan of $13,756; the rest was regular bills and a couple of credit cards.) He was receiving a VA pension of $646 a month and earning $400 a month working as a substitute teacher for the Richmond County Board of Education. At the time, besides a 1991 Chevy Corsica and 1986 trailer home, he had no assets aside from personal and household items.
Since his discharge from bankruptcy debts, he was able to buy his home at 4053 Burning Tree Lane in 2011.
Ingham said in 2004 his bills overwhelmed him and he was unable to pay them off, so he declared bankruptcy for everything except an educational loan that was outstanding. “I was living beyond my means at the time; that’s what it boils down to,” he said.
– Compiled by Staff Writers Sandy Hodson, Steve Crawford, Kyle Martin, Tracey McManus and Susan McCord