Originally created 04/28/04

Lawyer faces evasion charge



The former attorney for an Augusta mental health center targeted by state and federal investigations was indicted Tuesday on charges he lied to state officials and evaded state income tax payments.

A Richmond County grand jury indicted Paul David on one charge of false writings and one charge of tax evasion. Both are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.

District Attorney Danny Craig said the Georgia Attorney General's Office presented the case to the grand jury Tuesday and plans to return twice more seeking indictments.

Mr. David resigned last year as attorney for the Community Service Board of East Central Georgia, which oversees the regional Community Mental Health Center in Augusta. The center's former administration came under state and federal scrutiny after an employee accused former administrators of passing out lucrative contracts to companies with ties to friends.

A blistering audit by the Georgia Department of Human Resources also criticized Mr. David's arrangements with the board, which included furnishing him with an office at the center and a secretary. According to Tuesday's indictment, the center paid Mr. David $50,455 in 2001 and $59,950 in 2002.

The indictment alleges that Mr. David committed "false writings" in August 2001 regarding a $224,000 settlement package for former Executive Director Campbell Peery. In a letter to human resources officials who once oversaw the board and the center, Mr. David wrote that the money came from "interest income funding" and some county funds.

The center receives Medicaid and other state money, which cannot be used for certain purposes.

A spokesman for the Georgia Attorney General's Office said that the attorney who is working on the case and familiar with the details was unavailable. Mr. Peery did not return a phone call to his home.

Mike Brockman, who was chief operating officer at the time and later served as CEO until being dismissed last year, said no one has talked to him about the case. As for Mr. Peery's settlement, "The board was the one that handled that," Mr. Brockman said.

The center had other income, including interest from bank accounts and payments from private insurance, said former board Finance Committee Chairman Jack Cheatham.

"We had sufficient income over what the state gives us to do certain things that we can't do with state money," Dr. Cheatham said he was told by the former administration. "So I don't know that they have a case."

Mr. David also is accused of not filing state tax returns for 2000, 2001 and 2003 and of trying to evade more than $3,000 in income tax.

He is accused of attempting to conceal income by depositing some business checks into his personal accounts.

Mr. David surrendered to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday afternoon and was released on a $25,000 bond, said his defense attorney, Charles Lyons.

"We really had not had a chance to evaluate the charges," Mr. Lyons said late Tuesday afternoon. "It's going to take us a while to do that."

What he has seen leads to questions, he said.

"From reviewing that count of the indictment involving the false writing, in my opinion, it would imply some other people should be charged and they're not and that leaves a lot of questions in my mind about what's happening here.

"I believe they are trying, for whatever reason, to squeeze Mr. David," he said.

Mr. David will respond to the charges at the appropriate time in court, Mr. Lyons said.

He is expected to be scheduled for arraignment in Richmond County Superior Court next month.

Paula Frederick, deputy general counsel for the State Bar of Georgia, said Mr. David has 10 pending public disciplinary cases.

The complaints were filed by two of his former civil clients and eight criminal defendants who allege Mr. David abandoned their cases.

While the cases are pending, Mr. David remains an attorney in good standing with the bar association, Ms. Frederick said.

However, whenever an attorney is indicted on criminal charges, the bar association seeks to have his law license suspended pending the outcome of the case, she said.

None of the disciplinary cases involved the Augusta mental health center, she said.

Mr. David has practiced law since June 1993. He is a graduate of Augusta College and earned his law degree at the University of Georgia.

The indictment was welcomed by center officials who started the investigation but now are weary of it hanging over their heads.

"I think this is good news because it validates the concerns of the (center's) board and those of us that were affected by this," said Acting Executive Director Phil Horton.

Staff Writer Sylvia Cooper contributed to this report.

Reach Tom Corwin or Sandy Hodson at (706) 724-0851.