Originally created 12/27/06

Perdue ethics charges linger



ATLANTA - Land deals. Tax breaks. Conflicts of interest.

The allegations were piled on Gov. Sonny Perdue during the past year's heated gubernatorial race. But will they evaporate now that campaign season is over?

Not likely.

Democrats filed several complaints against the Republican during the campaign that the state Ethics Commission is investigating.

There's been an uproar in Mr. Perdue's own Houston County over the vast residential development on the Oaky Woods wildlife management area after the state did not purchase the land, which borders Mr. Perdue's property.

And the top Republican in the state Senate has said he wants to pursue private cities legislation, which would keep Mr. Perdue's dealings in the news. The Oaky Woods development has been talked about as a possible private city. Another backer of private cities is Stan Thomas, the wealthy Newnan developer who sold Mr. Perdue land near Disney World in Florida. Mr. Thomas has pursued such projects in Florida.

Mr. Perdue has denied any wrongdoing and said the charges, lodged by Democrats, are partisan.

He has declined recent interview requests made by The Associated Press and other media. A statement issued through his office said the governor "answered all of these questions during the campaign."

"Despite the media's attempts to rehash old news, we are focusing in on the policies and issues that matter most to Georgians - jobs, education and health care," Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said.

But the Republican governor hasn't answered all the questions still swirling around his business dealings. Among them are what his involvement is with a pair of limited liability companies set up by his personal lawyer, state Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, who has not returned phone calls over the past week from AP seeking comment.

State Democrats said the problems unmasked during the campaign will continue to unfold.

At issue are a series of revelations about Mr. Perdue's land transactions that grabbed headlines and provided fodder for a barrage of attack ads from his Democratic election opponent, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

In December 2004, Mr. Perdue paid $2 million for about 20 acres of land near Disney World in Florida that he bought from Mr. Thomas, a generous contributor to the state Republican Party whom Mr. Perdue appointed to the state Board of Economic Development. Mr. Perdue purchased that property with the money he made selling inherited family land in middle Georgia's Houston County.

Mr. Perdue in April 2005 signed a sweeping tax package into law that allowed him to avoid paying $100,000 in taxes on the sale of that family land. Two portions of the new law that applied to out-of-state land buys were made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004, meaning they applied to Mr. Perdue's transaction in Florida.

Mr. Perdue said he learned that the law benefited him later, when his accountant did his taxes. The bill was sponsored by Mr. O'Neal, his lawyer.

Bill Bozarth, the head of the Georgia arm of the good government watchdog group Common Cause, said in an interview with AP that the new Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics should investigate.

"I believe that in the aftermath of the election that one thing that still begs for an explanation is exactly how the tax law was modified at the last minute," Mr. Bozarth said. "Was there an abuse of power?"

UNDER SCRUTINY


Some of the ethics issues surrounding Gov. Sonny Perdue:

FLORIDA LAND DEAL: In December 2004, Mr. Perdue bought about 20 acres in Florida near Disney World from Stanley Thomas, a wealthy Newnan, Ga., developer who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Republican Party and was appointed by Mr. Perdue to the state Board of Economic Development. Mr. Perdue made the out-of-state purchase with $2 million he earned from the sale of family land in Houston County.


$100,000 TAX BREAK: In April 2005, Mr. Perdue signed a tax bill into law that effectively saved him about $100,000 in state capital gains taxes on the sale of the family land in Houston County. Two portions of the sweeping law that relate to out-of-state land buys are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004, meaning they cover Mr. Perdue's Florida land deal. The law was sponsored by Mr. Perdue's lawyer, state Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins.


OAKY WOODS DEVELOPMENT: In 2004, timber giant Weyerhaeuser put its 20,000-acre Oaky Woods preserve in Houston County up for sale. Although state environmental officials had previously said the land was on their wish list, the state declined to bid on it. The property was sold to local developers who plan to build 35,000 homes on it. Oaky Woods borders Mr. Perdue's land, and the governor's adjacent property has more than doubled in value since Oaky Woods was sold in 2004.


LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANIES: Mr. Perdue's lawyer, Mr. O'Neal, set up two limited liability companies. One is called Maryson - an apparent merging of the first names of Sonny Perdue and his wife, Mary. Mr. Perdue says he negotiated on behalf of Maryson to buy land adjacent to Oaky Woods but that he had no financial interest in it.


- Associated Press



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