SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Former Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Willie Lovett pleaded not guilty Thursday to a seven-count federal indictment charging him with commercial gambling and extortion.
Lovett, 63, was granted a $30,000 unsecured bond.
U.S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith said the first count of commercial gambling accused Lovett of participating between Jan. 5, 2009, and May 8, 2013, while he was either a major or chief of police with the metro police department.
Three other individuals named in the indictment did not appear in court and were not identified.
The indictment also charges that between March 16, 2004, and Sept. 27, 2013, Lovett participated in a scheme to obstruct enforcement of state laws prohibiting gambling.
The remaining five charges accuse Lovett of extortion.
Lovett abruptly retired Sept. 27 after 40 years in the face of a sexual harassment complaint filed by a department officer in amove that triggered major shakeups in the department.
A subsequent investigation by Alexandria, Va.-based Manuel, Daniels, Burke International found in December that Lovett “withheld vital information from Internal Affairs ... and instructed Internal Affairs to prepare (an official document) with patently false and incorrect information.”
While no evidence of improper influence with the department’s Internal Affairs unit was found, investigators reported that handling of the internal affairs investigation “was inadequate and unprofessional” and ignored available evidence in the case of two officers under investigation in a 2010 drug trafficking scheme.
The report found that Sgt. Malik Khaalis repeatedly lied to his supervisors at the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team, had unauthorized contact with Star Cpl. Willett Williams in a probe involving Williams’ brother and drug organization, and likely warned a drug suspect that his phone was being tapped.
The conduct came in the face of Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team- federal Drug Enforcement Agency probe of alleged police corruption investigation that surfaced during a probe of an alleged drug scheme operated by Williams’ brother, James Williams, who was then a correctional officer at Coastal State Correctional Institute in Garden City, and his drug organization.
City Manager Stephanie Cutter ordered the independent probe in October focusing on alleged misconduct by department officials and officers stemming from activity that surfaced from the 2010 probe. In announcing the probe, Cutter said Lovett was “linked in some way” with the investigation.
“A small handful of individuals have eroded the public’s trust in the police department, and that trust will not be restored until we fully investigate all claims against our law enforcement personnel and take appropriate action,” Cutter said in a press statement. “I have said from the beginning that we leave no stone unturned in this process. I ask the public for their patience as we continue to follow this investigation where it leads.”
Departmental problems surfaced in September when documents disclosed that police officials were told as early as mid-2010 that Khaalis, a veteran drug agent, and Williams, a 27-year police veteran, were the subjects of a major federal/local narcotics corruption investigation and that shortly afterward federal and county prosecutors refused to use either officer as a witness.
Neither Khaalis nor Williams were disciplined and each remained on active duty until Tolbert, who replaced Lovett on Sept. 27, placed both on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 3 pending the outcome of the review.
Both Khaalis and Williams have been fired from the force. The Chatham Count grand jury has indicted Khaalis on nine counts for making false statements and violating his oath as a police officer stemming from the 2010 probe,
He remains free on a $20,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty. His next scheduled court appearance is Aug. 4 for pre-trial motions.