FBI launches bribery inquiry

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No charges have been filed, but news reports and rampant rumors tying retired lawyer David Fry to an FBI investigation involving bribery, city commissioners and the proposed trade, exhibit and event center led him to hire his own lawyer Friday to protect his name.

"This appears to be a campaign to ruin his reputation and character," attorney Robert Mullins said in a telephone interview. "There's probably going to be some legal action taken for what appears to be defamation."

Augusta commissioners confirmed Friday that they were interviewed by the FBI at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office as part of a corruption investigation.

Joe Jackson said it was his understanding that the case involves an Augusta lawyer accused of offering "a bribe" to Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason, two commissioners holding out on the TEE center, if they would change their vote. The intertwined issues of building the $38 million exposition center and revitalizing the blighted Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods have had the commission stalemated along racial lines all summer.

Mr. Johnson didn't return phone calls Friday. On Thursday, he told The Chronicle he was unaware of any situation involving bribe offers, but that if that's going on it needs to be dealt with.

Mr. Mason, who is out of town for the holiday weekend, said he wouldn't confirm or deny the account.

"Until the investigation is complete, I won't discuss it," he said.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he had no comment and wouldn't confirm or deny his office's involvement.

Mr. Mullins said his client, who in 2005 represented the Citizens Action Committee pushing for reform with the Augusta Commission, remains a government activist interested in how the political process works. Mr. Mullins has been involved with CSRA Help, another concerned-citizens group.

He said his client wanted to broker a deal to get the TEE center built.

"From what I understand, there was no discussion of any financial reward," Mr. Mullins said. "He believed that it certainly wasn't anything close to a bribe."

Some commissioners said they believe the investigation involves Mr. Mason and Mr. Johnson being offered roles in the management of a parking deck. Mr. Mullins said he doesn't know how Mr. Fry could be in a position to make such an offer. Paul Simon, the president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, the tentative operator of the TEE center, said Mr. Fry isn't involved with the company.

Mr. Mullins said the accusations seem like a diversion tactic.

"I think there's a lot more to this whole TEE center debacle than we all know," he said.

Mr. Jackson said no one ever approached him offering TEE center incentives, but he's supported issuing bonds to build the facility all along.

"This certainly isn't helping move the TEE center forward," he said, "but it is what it is."

Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who has been a no voter on the TEE center and a yes voter on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem projects, said he hasn't been offered anything by anyone to change his mind. He said he spoke with the FBI early Friday.

"In reality, I'm not even in a position to mention that stuff," he said. "I didn't have anything to do with it. That's all I can say."

Joe Bowles, who also was interviewed Friday morning, said he doesn't understand what an uninvolved attorney could offer sitting commissioners, seeing as how the plan for building the TEE center and a possible parking deck is still being hashed out.

"We're just shaking our heads, trying to figure it out," Mr. Bowles said.

Mr. Bowles, Mr. Hatney, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Johnson are all on a committee with Mayor Deke Copenhaver to find a compromise on the projects in time for the Sept. 15 commission meeting.

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

BACKGROUND: In 2007, the Augusta Commission voted to build the TEE center on Reynolds Street, connecting it to the existing convention center within the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites. Commissioner Don Grantham garnered a sixth vote for the plan through an agreement with Commissioner Betty Beard that would route $750,000 a year from a $1-a-night hotel fee to inner-city neighborhoods. After the cost of the TEE center swelled to $38 million, City Administrator Fred Russell proposed in early May using bonds and rerouted revenue streams to build the TEE center and a parking deck while funding the inner-city projects. Commissioners have been haggling ever since.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS: Mayor Deke Copenhaver will lead a five-person committee, which includes Commissioners Joe Bowles, Joe Jackson and Corey Johnson and J.R. Hatney, to hammer out a deal. The committee will present its agreement Sept. 15.

Comments (17) Add comment
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beachboy
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beachboy 09/05/09 - 03:21 am
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If he's an attorney, he is

If he's an attorney, he is definitely a thief, a crook, and will do anything for a dollar.

beachboy
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beachboy 09/05/09 - 03:21 am
0
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If he's an attorney, he is

If he's an attorney, he is definitely a thief, a crook, and will do anything for a dollar.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 09/05/09 - 03:54 am
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justus4
109
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justus4 09/05/09 - 07:18 am
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What branch of the FBI is
Unpublished

What branch of the FBI is involved? And this is what the comission needed: a good investigation. Now let the facts lead to others who are corrupted and expose their dealings. May be some surprises...

justus4
109
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justus4 09/05/09 - 07:19 am
0
0
What branch of the FBI is
Unpublished

What branch of the FBI is involved? And this is what the comission needed: a good investigation. Now let the facts lead to others who are corrupted and expose their dealings. May be some surprises...

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 09/05/09 - 07:28 am
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hummmmm -- now who would

hummmmm -- now who would benefit from building the TEE Center & who would benefit from killing it - the beneficiaries would be the community at large because of its contribution to economic development through tourism and a hotel developer who is ready to throw in a new $24 million hotel to be built with private funds & will compete with the Marriott - Billy Morris wouldn't like that - The combined additional sales & hotel tax plus new property taxes from the new private building would be significant -and the additional businesses opened downtown would be significant -- Now who would benefit from not building the TEE Center is more difficult to say -- it's hard to see any financial benefit in not building but there might be some political advantage in maintaining the status quo - anyone with a guanine interest in the future of our community would want it built - Hopefully, all the facts will be know prior to the next Commission meeting two weeks after the one this past Tuesday.

bettyboop
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bettyboop 09/05/09 - 08:02 am
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They going to bring in betty

They going to bring in betty beard?....Hey maybe this is why she "all of a sudden is not going for another term"....LOL

Lumbarsupport
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Lumbarsupport 09/05/09 - 08:47 am
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No Lt. Gay, no story. Move

No Lt. Gay, no story. Move along nothing to see here.

oldetownbroad
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oldetownbroad 09/05/09 - 09:05 am
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In simple terms: The

In simple terms: The agreement with Betty Beard in regards to her vote for the TEE Center WAS also a bribe and needs to be addressed as such.

Little Lamb
47856
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Little Lamb 09/05/09 - 09:15 am
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You are absolutely correct,

You are absolutely correct, Oldetown. The payoff arranged by Betty Beard and Dandy Don Grantham is a bribe pure and simple. It is reason enough to scrap the TEE center and put the $20 million already collected into infrastructure improvements. There are a lot of roads that need resurfacing, especially around railroad crossings. My wheel alignment bills are outrageous.

suspicious1
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suspicious1 09/05/09 - 10:32 am
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Is it just me, or does

Is it just me, or does FallsChurch have the hots for somebody?

disssman
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disssman 09/05/09 - 10:35 am
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Littlelamb, Betty may have

Littlelamb, Betty may have arranged the deal, but the voters of the county put their stamp of approval for her actions. That is what is wrong in our city we keep pointing fingers and don't understand the ramifications of our vote. I have been against any more stacking of projects into the 13 block downtown. When are we going to finally remember that Augusta covers a very large area and not just downtown?

namlive
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namlive 09/05/09 - 10:40 am
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Who exactly do you sue for

Who exactly do you sue for defamation of character because of an official investigation? Must be one of AR's buddies.
Thanks Baroness.

mad_max
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mad_max 09/05/09 - 11:22 am
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I dunno......a lot of rats

I dunno......a lot of rats abandoning the ship all of a sudden. Could be a reason.

Barf Obama
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Barf Obama 09/05/09 - 12:53 pm
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OK FBI Lets get that

OK FBI Lets get that investigation over so if guilty then the people need to turn the whole bunch out to pasture. These United States belong to the people.There should have never been all this Gov't hired to run our land. We are up to our eyeballs with crooked Government. Weed em out Impeach All of em. Whatever it takes just get it done.

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 09/05/09 - 05:26 pm
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defamation, not deformation.

defamation, not deformation.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 09/05/09 - 09:04 pm
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actually Dandy Don Grantham

actually Dandy Don Grantham "arranged the deal" to get Betty's vote on TEE. But you cannot call that a bribe.. unless she benefitted financially from it.. it was essentially an "earmark" to secure her vote, which unfortunately happens all the time in govt. I don't like it one bit but its perfectly legal. But I really think the FBI needs to start looking closely at Don Grantham.. he has pretty much proven that he will do almost anything to deliver this TEE center to his buddies.
www.butchforaugusta.org

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 09/05/09 - 09:43 pm
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While they're looking at

While they're looking at Grantham, they also might want to look at Julian Osbon. He's the one who came up with this cockamamie "deadline" of September 30 (formerly August 31) so he could score a land sale for a Hyatt Hotel.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 09/05/09 - 09:54 pm
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I agree LL... but you know

I agree LL... but you know they are all part of the same circuit. I think we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg

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