David Fry expected to gain about $13,000 a year from a proposal to two Augusta Commission members on a downtown parking deck that eventually earned him criminal charges in 2009.
The handwritten proposal, titled “Terms to Vote Yes on T Center,” is included in the evidence the district attorney’s office would have used to prosecute two felony charges of bribery against Fry. The document became public record and was reviewed by The Augusta Chronicle after Fry accepted a plea bargain last week that resulted in five years’ probation.
An investigation shows that Fry presented Commissioners Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason with the proposal Aug. 21, 2009, during a meeting at Fry’s home on Indian Cove Road. The document lists avenues of income beyond parking fees, including a car wash, gift shop and valet parking.
In that meeting with commissioners – and in follow-up phone calls secretly recorded by a Richmond County sheriff’s investigator – Fry told Johnson and Mason that he could help them gain the contract for the parking deck in exchange for giving him 3 percent of gross income. He also wanted to be their counsel for “slip and falls” and other legal issues. In his conversations, Fry detailed ways to avoid getting the commissioners directly involved so as not to open a “big can of worms” and suggested they incorporate in South Carolina to avoid attracting the attention of “snoopy reporters.”
If they went forward with the plan, Fry’s proposal expected the parking deck to draw $444,000 in gross income a year, leaving him with $13,000 a year for 15 years. Fry listed expenses of labor and costs of goods at roughly $200,000 a year.
The commissioners did not immediately contact law enforcement but were uneasy about the proposal. In later interviews with then-sheriff’s Sgt. Blaise Dresser, now a lieutenant, the commissioners explained that they discussed it with other commissioners to get their opinion. In his interview with Dresser, Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he saw the document during a meeting with Johnson and Mason at Longhorn Steakhouse.
Brigham said he considered the proposal illegal, “but at the same time thought it was so wild it would never happen.” Commissioner Joe Bowles made a similar statement to investigators, saying he “knew the proposal to be illegal but thought it was too outrageous to be true.”
Sheriff Ronnie Strength was contacted and given the proposal Aug. 26, 2009. Dresser started the investigation that same day.
In his own interview with investigators, Fry denied that he outright offered the contract in exchange for votes. His intention was to get the parking deck contract for himself and “later allow Mason and Johnson to sublet the operations if they so wish,” according to Dresser’s report.
“Fry stated that he never attempted to bribe either Mason or Johnson,” the report says.