Originally created 05/27/05

Directors testify they didn't know of funds

State Sen. Charles Walker might have known how much money was available for the CSRA Classic, but the Classic directors through the years didn't have a clue, they testified Thursday.

And each emphatically denied ever touching the cash collected from ticket sales from the college football game, the step show or the concessions.

"No, ma'am," Ivy Elam answered when asked if she ever collected or counted the cash during the weekend events. Ms. Elam was the first coordinator for the annual charity event co-founded by Mr. Walker in 1993.

Mr. Walker is on trial in U.S. District Court, accused of conspiracy, fraud and filing false tax returns. He has pleaded not guilty to the more than 100 charges lodged in a 66-page indictment. Federal investigators contend Mr. Walker developed five schemes to illegally enrich himself. One of the allegations involves the CSRA Classic.

This week, several witnesses have testified that either Mr. Walker or his daughter Monique Walker Hill collected the cash from ticket and concession sales at the football game and step contest.

Though witnesses have estimated 10,000 or more people attended the event in 2000, the bank account revealed a profit of only $3,536, testified Patricia Strom, who has worked as a bookkeeper for Mr. Walker's businesses since 1995.

If the average ticket price was $10, that meant only 350 tickets were sold.

Penny Thomas stayed with the Classic for less than a year, she testified.

"I didn't feel comfortable there anymore. It felt like something was going on, but I couldn't put my finger on it."

Though she was in charge of the logistics of Classic events in 2002, she never knew that the Classic paid more than $5,000 for computers; that a $5,000 check was cashed for cash; that two $2,500 checks went to a college athletic director; or that a $900 check went to a Walker Group employee.

She did know about the $9,600 annual rent to the Walker Group, and the $3,950 paid to Mr. Walker's newspaper, the Augusta Focus, for advertising and game programs, Ms. Thomas testified.

She knew that the contracts with colleges required the Classic to pay for four meals for the football players.

Each of those was served at Mr. Walker's restaurant, B.L.'s, at $15.99 for each all-you-can-eat meal. Ms. Thomas testified that the Classic was also responsible for paying for the cook and servers for those meals, ice machine repairs and even the food itself.

"I knew it wasn't reasonable and I knew it wasn't right," Ms. Thomas said. But it was the tradition of the Classic, she added.

Ellis Albright was the Classic's executive director before Ms. Thomas. He was still there in 2001 when Coca-Cola made a $400,000 donation to the Classic, he testified.

He had no access to any financial information and could not write a check for any purchase, he testified.

"That's the way it was set up when I got there, and I just stayed with the status quo," he said.

Cynthia Lewis, the executive director in 2003, tried to make some changes and paid for it in grief, she testified. She recalled how she tried to save money by changing the ticket color and size. Although Mr. Walker had approved of the change twice, when he saw the new tickets "he went ballistic. He got real loud and real angry," Ms. Lewis said.

Each of the former directors testified that the reason for the Classic was to raise money for college scholarships for disadvantaged children and promote the home-grown youth development program.

In the later years, the Classic spent more money on B.L.'s meals for the players than it spent on scholarships, the directors testified.

The youth development program is a very good program, Ms. Lewis testified, but the children who took part when she was there were mostly acquaintances of the Walker family.

She tried to open it up to students from Lucy C. Laney High School and children in foster care but was discouraged, Ms. Lewis testified.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.


- Two college athletic directors testified that Mr. Walker gave them $5,000 each after their college teams played the Classic.

- Throughout the week, witnesses who worked for Mr. Walker described his management style as hands-on and detailed.

- Today, U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. is expected to announce the trial schedule for the holiday weekend.


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