Originally created 12/15/01

Club owner helped in arrest



The club owner who police say paid extortion money to two Richmond County vice officers also helped the FBI arrest a Fulton County police captain in November.

Howard Thrower, who paid the Augusta officers to look the other way and allow him to continue doing business at Dolls Downtown, also made weekly cash payments to Fulton County Capt. Mark Timothy Lance in exchange for sex and protection for the Atlanta nude dance club Flashers, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

Mr. Thrower was the general manager of Flashers. He is from Atlanta but ran the Augusta nude dance club during the Masters Golf Tournament and brought in dancers for that week, said Ed Reinhold, a resident special agent of the Augusta FBI office.

Lt. Stoney Ray Turnage, 47, and Investigator Roderick Berry, 43, were arrested Thursday and charged with extortion and conspiracy. Sheriff Ronnie Strength personally took each separately to the FBI office in Augusta when they arrived for work Thursday. The sheriff said neither man suspected he was about to be arrested when asked to come with him.

They are accused of accepting $40,000 cash, Masters tickets, shirts and Cuban cigars from Mr. Thrower over the past five years in exchange for allowing the club to keep its entertainment license, according to an indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

In April 1998, Lt. Turnage forced Mr. Thrower to close Dolls Downtown temporarily because payoffs for that year had not been received on time, according to the indictment.

Law enforcement officials will not say what triggered the eight-month investigation of the Augusta officers. They also will not elaborate on why Mr. Thrower agreed to work with them and are referring to him as a victim.

The investigation is ongoing, but the FBI has no indication that anybody else in the Richmond County Sheriff's Office was involved, Mr. Reinhold said.

Sheriff Strength said Friday he was shocked when he first learned of the allegations against the officers.

"Never was there a problem with their job performance," he said.

His emotions then turned to anger, then hurt and disappointment, he said. He and Lt. Turnage were in the uniformed division together 25 years ago.

"I was hurt for the 99.9 percent of the loyal, dedicated and honest law enforcement officers that we have," he said. "I don't at all feel bad for doing what I'm sworn to do. And I will not change as long as I'm in office."

People inside the department and outside, such as City Attorney Jim Wall and veteran Sgt. Wayne Pinkston, said they were shocked and stunned by the arrests of the well-liked officers.

"I almost hit the floor," Sgt. Pinkston said.

The two officers were released on $10,000 bond each in an initial hearing and will appear at 9:30 a.m. in Augusta federal court Wednesday to hear formal charges read against them.

If convicted, Lt. Turnage and Investigator Berry face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the eight counts against them, Agent Reinhold said.

They have been suspended without pay pending a recommendation by the sheriff's internal review board, which the sheriff may either accept or reject. Officers who are disciplined by the sheriff may appeal to the appointed seven-member sheriff's merit board, whose decision the sheriff also may veto. Overriding the veto takes five votes.

Mr. Thrower did not return messages left at Flashers in Atlanta on Friday.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.