Originally created 02/02/05

Insider trading?

If Don Cheeks were charged with a crime, he'd be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

He isn't charged with any crime. So he deserves an even greater benefit of the doubt than that.

But when a former state senator's daughter and son-in-law make an absolute killing selling some swampland to the state, it certainly warrants some looking into. Thankfully, Attorney General Thurbert Baker is investigating.

They may not find anything amiss, legally. But ethics is another matter.

This smacks of possible insider trading.

The thing is, if his daughter had made a killing off stocks, allegations of insider trading could bring criminal charges. But if she and her husband had inside information about a state highway project, it's possible no law was broken.

Cheeks, a former powerful state senator who had oversight over both Appropriations and Transportation, says his daughter and son-in-law turned a $25,000 piece of land south of Augusta into $265,000 from the state of Georgia merely through smart real-estate speculation.

But a state biologist says Cheeks talked to him about the state's possibly buying the land - several days before his son-in-law bought it.

How the purchase came about is awfully fishy, too. The 98 acres of forest and swamp along McBean Creek was donated to the Hale Foundation in 2002 by businessman William Hatcher - and was purchased from the foundation that very day by Donna and Ashby Krouse, Cheeks' daughter and son-in-law.

The foundation, which ministers to alcoholic men, apparently didn't know or didn't care what it had: The property was in the process of being appraised for more than $100,000 by Richmond County - a value that Cheeks' son-in-law was already appealing before the purchase - and, as we know now, ultimately the state would decide it just had to have the land for $265,850 to environmentally mitigate the widening of US-25.

This is not the first time questions have emerged over whether Cheeks' family benefited from the state's land dealings. In 2000, the then-state senator negotiated a favorable outcome for him and his wife regarding land they owned along Wheeler Road.

Cheeks is unabashed about his family's knack for real-estate speculating. And we tip our hat to him on that account.

But we also expect that our elected leaders won't use their insider status to gain advantages over other real-estate speculators.

That may not have happened here. But if it did, it's unconscionable, unethical and should be illegal.


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