Originally created 05/25/05

Jurors hear two sides of Walker



Both sides agreed Tuesday that state Sen. Charles Walker is a wealthy man who didn't need to steal anything from anyone.

But where prosecutors saw evidence that he used theft and deceit to get money, defense attorneys saw only the prosecutors' distortion and twisting of the truth.

Each side laid out in opening arguments Tuesday how it believes the evidence will unfold in U.S. District Court in Augusta, where Mr. Walker is standing trial on more than 100 charges of conspiracy, fraud and filing false tax returns. Most of the charges involve mail fraud.

Mr. Walker has pleaded not guilty to all charges. On Tuesday, defense attorneys Edward Garland and Donald Samuel, Atlanta law partners, said the next time they speak to the jury they will ask for acquittal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Goolsby told the jury that witnesses and Mr. Walker's own political and business records will prove he used and abused public office for personal gain. Mr. Goolsby outlined the five alleged schemes the government contends Mr. Walker used to raise money to pay off more than $530,000 in gambling debts.

"Mr. Walker preferred to use other people's money ... to pay for his casino gambling debts," Mr. Goolsby said.

Mr. Garland countered, saying the prosecutors' theory is preposterous. At the time Mr. Walker was supposedly committing these misdeeds, he had more than $2.87 million in easily accessible assets, the attorney said.

"He didn't need to steal. He didn't have a motive to do that," Mr. Garland said.

Mr. Walker has spent more than 20 years in public office - once holding the most powerful seat in the state Senate; he is a sharecropper's son who became a successful businessman; and he helped create a charitable community event that brings people together and provides the means for disadvantaged children to succeed, Mr. Garland said.

But investigators targeted and picked over every aspect of his political career and businesses with a fixed idea of what they would find, Mr. Garland said. For example, out of 13,000 entries in Mr. Walker's campaign finance reports, they found seven errors that they claim are crimes, he said.

Mr. Goolsby told the jurors they would hear how Mr. Walker used campaign contributions to pay himself $38,000 to be a consultant. He sent money to two nephews in prison and provided airfare for a friend's girlfriend so she could meet them at casinos, Mr. Goolsby said.

Mr. Walker inflated the Augusta Focus' circulation by 1,000 percent in order to overcharge advertisers who didn't know millions of their fliers ended up in the trash instead of between the pages of the weekly newspaper, Mr. Goolsby said.

The defense countered that Mr. Walker's newspaper cited readership figures to advertisers, not just the number of papers sold.

Mr. Goolsby told the jury that witnesses will explain how Mr. Walker held up the passage of a bill critical to hospitals while he pressured executives at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta to hire his temporary workers agency.

One defense attorney expressed confusion at this. The bill Mr. Walker is accused of delaying passed the Senate in less than an hour, Mr. Samuel said. He won the bid at Grady because, "big shock," he had the lowest bid, Mr. Samuel said.

The opposing attorneys also saw Mr. Walker's dealings with the Medical College of Georgia Hospital differently. But the biggest potential battle of witnesses and evidence in the case might involve the CSRA Classic allegations.

Mr. Goolsby told the jury that Mr. Walker used the charity football event to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into his own pockets.

It was billed as an event to raise money to provide college scholarships for underprivileged children. Only 25 to 30 scholarships worth $500 were given, Mr. Goolsby said.

"If Mr. Walker hadn't been stealing so much, they could have given a lot more to kids," he said.

Wrong, the defense countered. Mr. Walker created the event in 1993 and poured money into it year after year before it broke even, Mr. Garland said.

Staff Writer Sylvia Cooper contributed to this report.

At a glance

- Testimony began Tuesday in state Sen. Charles Walker's federal trial. Prosecutors began their case with the allegations of fraud through Mr. Walker's Augusta Focus newspaper.

- Because the jury is sequestered for the duration of the trial, U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. allowed the members to set the daily starting time. It is 8:30 a.m.

- The 16-member jury, which includes four alternates, is composed of 13 whites and 3 blacks. Half are men.