Originally created 03/27/04

19 face charges in bust at firm



An Augusta marina manager, a former Millen city manager and a former Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home official have been indicted on racketeering charges after authorities say they took kickbacks from a Loganville, Ga., chemical company.

The three are among 19 government employees statewide named Friday in an indictment involving Stone Cold Chemical company. The company's owners already have been indicted.

The Georgia employees are among at least 2,000 government employees in 48 states who authorities say accepted kickbacks from the company.

Sgt. Jeff Johnson, of the Walton County Sheriff's Office, said there were so many people involved in Georgia that his department focused only on the worst cases.

"In order to be singled they would have to be some of the worst offenders," he said.

Those indicted by the Walton County Grand Jury include:

Marie Westall, the manager of Augusta's riverfront and riverwalk marinas; Forest Boyer, Millen's city manager until 2002; and Jeff Quinn, a former director of environmental services at Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home in Augusta.

The three are charged with one count of violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is a felony. The case is being handled in Walton County where Stone Cold Chemical is based.

Sgt. Johnson said the chemicals were sold at three to five times the retail value and the buyers were given kickbacks such as gift cards, professional sports memorabilia and tickets and even hunting equipment worth 7 percent to 15 percent of their total chemical purchases.

Sgt. Johnson said his department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Walton County district attorney's office began investigating the case in 2002.

"Their employees were trained to target government employees who had buying power but wouldn't have to go through a bidding process," Sgt. Johnson said. " ... They would try to learn from their customer. 'What did you do this weekend?' Anything these folks wanted, they got."

In the case of Ms. Westall, the indictment states she received gift certificates, a European basket, sunglasses and gift cards in excess of $1,500 and had purchased more than $21,000 in supplies from Stone Cold between July 1999 and December 2000.

Ms. Westall surrendered to authorities in Monroe on Thursday and was released on $25,000 bond.

She notified Augusta city officials of her indictment Friday. Tom Beck, the director of Augusta's Parks and Recreation Department and her supervisor, placed her on a five-day suspension.

At the end of the suspension, city officials will decide whether to continue it or fire her, Mr. Beck said.

Ms. Westall's charge prompted Augusta's city finance director, David Persaud, to consider another audit of the marinas to see whether the city has been defrauded.

Mr. Quinn, who had not reported to authorities by Friday afternoon, received $1,100 in gift certificates, gift cards and money for a future trip for $11,000 in purchases from November 2000 to September 2001, according to the indictment.

He was the director of environmental services for Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home for about four years, although officials could not provide exact dates, said Toni Baker, a spokeswoman for the Medical College of Georgia, which oversees the facility.

Mr. Quinn had been gone six months to a year before investigators contacted the facility, she said. She did not know whether he left voluntarily or was fired.

In Mr. Boyer's case, the indictment states he received more than $2,000 in gift certificates, gift cards and roses for his wife for purchases from Stone Cold in excess of $20,000 from February 2000 to May 2002. Sgt. Johnson said Mr. Boyer was booked and released earlier this week on $25,000 bond.

Millen's City Manager Al Knight said Friday his city is keeping a better watch on expenses in light of the indictment.

He said Mr. Boyer had served as city manager for more than 10 years and resigned in 2002 for an unrelated matter. Mr. Knight said he has been trying to keep the city's chemical purchases to about $5,000 a year.

During the two years that Mr. Boyer purchased chemicals from Stone Cold he spent twice that amount, according to the indictment.

"For our small town, that is too much," Mr. Knight said. " ... We wouldn't have near that in our budget now."

Staff Writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article, and Associated Press reports were used.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904

or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.