Originally created 11/06/02

Extortion case draws attention to mayor



In a town that touts its Southern charm, tree-lined streets and more than 100 Colonial, antebellum and Victorian homes, a scandal has unfolded that has the mayor of Washington, Ga., sitting in a shaky seat.

Mayor Frank Thomas said he will not resign after disclosure that he has been the victim in an alleged extortion scheme.

"I think it's very clear what my intentions are. It has nothing to do with my ability to govern; it's all a private thing," said Mr. Thomas, who has been mayor for six years.

A Martinez couple was arrested Oct. 24 after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry.

Cassandra Willis, 30, and John Pappillion, 34, of the 4000 block of Avery Avenue, are being held in the Wilkes County jail, charged with theft by extortion, a felony. Bond was set at $50,000 each, and a preliminary hearing date has not been set.

"The mayor came forward and talked to the chief of police (Washington Police Chief Mike Davis), and he requested our assistance in the case," said GBI Special Agent Mike Seigler. "At the time they were arrested, we executed a search warrant and seized quite a bit of documentary evidence."

In the Wilkes County newspaper, The News-Reporter, Mr. Thomas acknowledged "bad judgment and misconduct" that had made him the subject of the alleged extortion scheme for "the last few years." When contacted by phone Tuesday, he referred to the article and said he would not elaborate.

"I sincerely regret my actions and have asked God and my family for forgiveness," Mr. Thomas was quoted as saying. "I intend to conduct the city's business with all the vigor and commitment that I have shown in the past."

Special Agent Seigler said he did not know how long the extortion had been going on or how much money was involved.

"That's one thing we're looking at now," he said.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or melhall@augustachronicle.com.