Document hints at motive for bribe offer, lawyer says

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David W. Fry: Lawyer charged with trying to bribe two city commissioners is free on $11,400 bond.

If the motive remains a mystery in an alleged bribery attempt involving parking deck profits and the downtown trade, exhibit and event center, a handwritten document attorney David W. Fry purportedly gave two city commissioners may shed some light.

According to an attorney who read it, the author of the illicit offer wanted a cut for himself.

Mr. Fry, 57, faces two counts of bribery, accused of offering Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson a contract to operate a parking deck if they would change their votes to approve funding for the $38 million TEE center. Commissioners and city officials have said the two were offered posts in a management company, yet to be established.

Mr. Fry was arrested at his Indian Cove Road home Tuesday and is free on $11,400 bond. A message left at his residence Wednesday wasn't returned.

At a news conference Tuesday to announce the charges, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Mr. Mason and Mr. Johnson met with Mr. Fry the evening of Friday, Aug. 21, then went to see Attorney Freddie Sanders the following Monday. Mr. Sanders contacted the sheriff's office and arranged for the two to make a formal report, the sheriff said.

Mr. Sanders told The Chronicle Wednesday that Mr. Mason, whom he had represented in other matters, was trying to reach him throughout the weekend after meeting with Mr. Fry. At his office that Monday, both commissioners appeared upset, he said.

"They were just livid at how wrong this was," the attorney said.

They showed him a handwritten letter, which they said Mr. Fry gave them, that laid out the whole plan, even floating a possible name for the company and laying out percentages for Mr. Mason, Mr. Johnson and the letter writer, Mr. Sanders said. He said he couldn't recall the percentage amounts nor the proposed company name, though he said he believes it was an amalgamation of Mr. Mason's and Mr. Johnson's names.

"When I first looked at it, it was incredible," Mr. Sanders said. "In all my years, I've never seen anything like that."

Mr. Sanders said he made an appointment with the sheriff, accompanied the two commissioners when they went to the department and hasn't been involved since.

Sheriff Strength wouldn't comment on the case Wednesday. Asked about a motive, he said, "I don't know. I really don't. Maybe in the course of things, we'll find out."

The sheriff said Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing, that his office has obtained documents and recorded conversations supporting the charges, and that more arrests are possible. He said his investigators and the FBI have interviewed other commissioners and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, and he's concluded none of them were involved in the attempted bribe.

Organizations poised to benefit from the TEE center say Mr. Fry wasn't working for them.

He has no involvement in Augusta Riverfront LLC, which would operate the center if it's built on Reynolds Street, according to company President Paul Simon.

He is not involved with the Downtown Development Authority, said Executive Director Margaret Woodard. The authority might issue bonds to build the parking deck and begin redevelopment of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

Mr. Sanders said he doesn't know why Mr. Mason and Mr. Johnson would agree to meet with Mr. Fry at his home. Mr. Mason has declined to comment, and Mr. Johnson hasn't returned phone calls this week.

MR. FRY GOT involved in the TEE center earlier this summer, when Commissioner Joe Bowles asked him for a second opinion on whether collecting the $1-a-night hotel fee -- the mechanism for raising money for inner-city revitalization -- would be illegal if the facility weren't built. Mr. Bowles said Mr. Fry confirmed what City Attorney Chiquita Johnson said, that without the TEE center there can be no bed fee.

Being an attorney wasn't Mr. Fry's first career. He was 37 when he graduated from Mercer Law School in 1990, according to Chronicle archives.

Before that, he was a nightclub owner. In the late 1970s and early '80s, he owned D.W. Fry's near Wrightsboro Road and Highland Avenue, and later Marlowe's on Bertram Road.

The latter club created a controversy in 1984 when allegations arose that Mr. Fry wouldn't allow black patrons inside.

According to an account in The Chronicle , Marlowe's was billed as "Augusta's only private club," and numerous complaints from blacks prompted an investigation by the Richmond County Human Relations Commission. Two black men, Charlie Reid Jr., and his father, the late Charlie Reid Sr., filed a discrimination lawsuit.

The younger Mr. Reid told The Chronicle that he and his father tried to go to Marlowe's for lunch and were told they couldn't enter without a membership card.

After first being told no applications were available, a woman produced some from a drawer, and the younger Mr. Reid started filling it out while another woman began filling one out for his father.

Then Mr. Fry appeared, took the application away from the employee and told the two they couldn't be members, according to the newspaper account. Citing a Richmond County police report, The Chronicle reported that Mr. Fry cursed the men and pushed the elder Mr. Reid, then 62, in the back.

"They just told me, basically, they didn't cater to black people, and we could not be served there," Mr. Reid, now the owner of C.A. Reid Sr. Memorial Funeral Home, recalled Wednesday.

"Civil Rights had been in motion for quite some time," he said. "A lot of people thought that the Civil Rights issue had been resolved."

After the Human Relations Commission got involved, Mr. Fry agreed to relinquish the "private club" status and require only that patrons be 19 years old and properly dressed, The Chronicle reported.

Mr. Reid and his father filed a discrimination lawsuit, but he said it went nowhere because the defendant filed for bankruptcy.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

RESOLUTION DELAYED

A recommendation on ending the Augusta Commission's impasse on building a downtown trade, exhibit and event center won't be ready in time for the Sept. 15 meeting.

The five-member committee formed last week and charged with formulating a proposal is on hiatus while the Richmond County Sheriff's Office investigates the bribery allegations, according to Commissioner Joe Jackson, one of the committee members.

Attorney David W. Fry, 57, faces two counts of bribery and is accused of trying to persuade Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson to change their votes by offering them posts in a parking deck management company.

The other committee members are Mr. Johnson, Commissioners Joe Bowles and J.R. Hatney, and Mayor Deke Copenhaver.