County closes drag strip tip-off case

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District Attorney Danny Craig won't be pursuing allegations that Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams tipped off his son-in-law about the would-be site of a south Augusta drag strip.

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Commissioner Marion Williams was alleged to have told son-in-law Mark Pugh (shown) about a possible drag strip site before he bought property nearby.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Commissioner Marion Williams was alleged to have told son-in-law Mark Pugh (shown) about a possible drag strip site before he bought property nearby.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation spent four months looking into Mark Pugh's purchase of property directly across from the 1,700-acre Augusta Corporate Park's entrance off Mike Padgett Highway. Through his company Covenant Distributors, Mr. Pugh entered a deal to buy the 0.48-acre parcel five weeks before the corporate park was made public as the preferred site for the Augusta Dragway.

"It appears that you proceeded to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter, and determined there has been no criminal wrongdoing," Mr. Craig wrote in a May 29 letter to the GBI, closing the case. "Accordingly, this office will take no further action."

While the GBI found no evidence of a crime, a review of the case file shows that the agency also found no explanation for the timing of Mr. Pugh's purchase or his formation of a limited liability company called Drag Snacks.

The investigation - termed a "preliminary review" by Mr. Craig - culminated with two agents interviewing Mr. Williams at the Municipal Building on April 27. The GBI wanted to talk to Mr. Pugh, but he told an agent he wouldn't answer questions without his lawyer present, then never followed up to arrange the interview.

Mr. Williams told the agents that he didn't know about his son-in-law's purchase of the land until afterward. Mr. Pugh later took him to the property to show it to him, Mr. Williams said.

A racing enthusiast since his teens, Mr. Williams told the GBI that he proposed the drag strip in 1999 and that his son-in-law attended commission meetings in which the site was discussed. He said he recalled former Chief Tax Appraiser E.W. "Sonny" Reece, pointing out the proposed location in a meeting.

But Mr. Reece, who resigned in March 2005, said when contacted by a reporter Monday that he recalled no discussion of the site during a public meeting.

The GBI did not interview the former chief appraiser. Mr. Reece said Mr. Williams did ask him about possible locations for a drag strip and that he told him about the corporate park owned by the Development Authority of Richmond County and gave Mr. Williams maps of the site.

An investigation by The Augusta Chronicle last year found that the corporate park location was made public Sept. 20, 2005, when Phil Gingerich, the track development and special projects manager for the International Hot Rod Association, made a presentation at a commission meeting.

The site was ultimately nixed when the Development Authority voted unanimously in December not to split off 250 acres from the corporate park, opting to continue efforts to land a major industrial project there.

Last year, Mr. Pugh told The Chronicle that he bought the property to either move his business there or build a gas station called Drag Snacks. He said he found out about the drag strip location from proponent Leo Charette - a businessman pitching the project to the commission - while chatting at the Carolina Dragway in Jackson.

Mr. Charette said he recalled that this conversation took place after the site became public knowledge.

Contacted Monday, Mr. Pugh disputed that, then declined to answer questions about how he learned about the dragway site. Asked why he didn't speak to the GBI, he responded, "Ask them."

"Now they can start investigating somebody else other than black politicians," he said. "I'm sure other people commit crimes, other than black politicians."

Mr. Williams said he's disappointed that the GBI waited until last to talk to him. He said the investigation was a smokescreen to stop the drag strip from being built, and he still thinks it's a viable project, probably more so than the proposed downtown baseball stadium.

He said he can understand why Mr. Pugh's land buy looked suspicious but that people shouldn't have jumped to conclusions.

"My son-in-law didn't buy five acres, six acres," Mr. Williams said. "He bought a half-acre lot which was across the street - that was for sale - from the property we were looking at.

"He didn't buy part of the property we were looking at. It wasn't side by side. It wasn't the same property."

Staff Writer Mike Wynn contributed to this story.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

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ONLY THE TRUTH
2
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ONLY THE TRUTH 06/05/07 - 03:35 am
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Where there is smoke there is

Where there is smoke there is fire!! Maybe if "black politicians" were not acting guilty they wouldn't investigate them. Remember Charles Walker and Ed McIntyre---both local black politicians both local convicted felons.

BakersfieldCityLimits
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BakersfieldCityLimits 06/05/07 - 04:32 am
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1. If the dragstrip is such a

1. If the dragstrip is such a good idea, build it with your money, Mr. WIlliams.

2. Mr. Williams, you took the coutny when you sold your church property for 5-6 times what it was worth, be glad you got away with that and get your snout out of the public trough.

Just My Opinion
5582
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Just My Opinion 06/05/07 - 04:35 am
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Sounds like Mr. Pugh fits in

Sounds like Mr. Pugh fits in real well with the Williams' family...he's a racist just like his father-in-law! I was reading this article, just on it's merits alone, and then this guy has to bring up the race issue. Don't ever, ever believe anyone who says that only white people are racists! Blacks can be just as racist as anyone...probably worse because they are even racist against their own kind. As far as the drag strip, there is a possibility that this guy Pugh heard it from other sources. But as far as Williams pointing out that Pugh didn't purchase any of the actual land that the group was looking to buy, well that's only because that would certainly bring up an investigation into obvious collusion.

kudzo-n-roses
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kudzo-n-roses 06/05/07 - 06:28 am
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yeah whatever.........pugh

yeah whatever.........pugh you can't pass the small test.

peonynut
2
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peonynut 06/05/07 - 07:00 am
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gee, what a surprise.

gee, what a surprise.

Da Voice Inside Your Head
7
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Da Voice Inside Your Head 06/05/07 - 07:16 am
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I fail to believe that anyone

I fail to believe that anyone would call that a thorough investigation. I call it a whitewash. Danny Craig has to run in Richmond County with a majority black population and is scared of BIG Mouth Marion. Racism has become the favorite cop out for Black Politicians caught with their hand in the cookie jar. A crook is a crook no matter what color his skin. holly is right, this entire eposide does not pass the smell test. It reeks!

Khaaaaaan
2
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Khaaaaaan 06/05/07 - 07:27 am
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Pugh is a crook...a convicted

Pugh is a crook...a convicted drug felon who spent time in prison. He is big buddies with Champ Walker too!

jackfruitpaper833
41
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jackfruitpaper833 06/05/07 - 07:39 am
0
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If sometimes people would

If sometimes people would believe Marion on SOME issues involving him, so if the man said he didn't do it, or having knowledge of any wrong doing on his part, then leave him/it alone. Looks like each time he's said he didn't, he's come out with a truth.

Does_it_really_matter
1
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Does_it_really_matter 06/05/07 - 07:58 am
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I have two letters for

I have two letters for this... BS

darr350
2
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darr350 06/05/07 - 08:20 am
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Poor pityful Marion, he

Poor pityful Marion, he pulled his race card again,not only is this man a racest he is also the biggest lier on earth and the city of augusta would run much smoother without him. If the shoe fits wear it. Look at the congressman from La. millions of dollors in bribery, black man, they prove that they can not be trusted.i.e. Charles Walker, Ed Mclntyre and now Marion Williams. To be totally fair there are a lot of bad white politions as well. It is a shame but it has come to the point that all politions are only out for them selves. Look back at Strom Thurmond, he bought numorous acers of land in Aiken Co. and i'll be darn the state bought his land and built I-20, right thruogh his property, whata happenstance????

imdstuf
10
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imdstuf 06/05/07 - 08:26 am
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There was no paper trail and

There was no paper trail and if you cannot get someone to talk you have no proof, but we know what he did was wrong. I hate when the race card is used to try to scare authorities off the chase.

jkt
1
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jkt 06/05/07 - 08:43 am
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at a boy GBI and Danny Craig,

at a boy GBI and Danny Craig, let 'em continue to make a fool out of this city. What next, your gonna tell us that his property for his church was mysteriously worth what the county paid?

dakccb
0
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dakccb 06/05/07 - 08:47 am
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I agree!! This reeks and is

I agree!! This reeks and is par for the course when dealing with Mr. Williams. The DA's office needs to go back and review all commission minutes since 1999. They also need to look into the bids, loans, and purchases pushed through by Mr. Williams. Did the DBE give Mr. Pugh a loan? The DBE working under Augusta Richmond County Commission makes loans available to qualifing businesses. The DBE/ Augusta Commission says that a commissioner must excuse himself/herself when voting on matters that are a conflict of interest. The stink in Augusta is not the treatment plant, it is the Augusta Commissioners and the DBE!!!!!

BUTTACHE
0
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BUTTACHE 06/05/07 - 08:48 am
0
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WHAT A CROCK! How can you

WHAT A CROCK! How can you have an investigation when Pugh would not even be interviewed???

rj1960j10
14
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rj1960j10 06/05/07 - 09:01 am
0
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I live out where they wanted

I live out where they wanted to put that thing. I cannot believe that the guy just bought property across the street. That property(if the track was built) would triple in price, why, because some food service place would want it to put up an eatery to catch the crowd. Give me a break. Bunch of crooks roaming and voting on this stuff.

getalife
4
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getalife 06/05/07 - 09:12 am
0
0
This whole thing is a joke.

This whole thing is a joke. No wonder we have so many criminals on the street with this kind of investigation by the GBI and Danny Craig. If people refuse to talk with investigators, then how can you call it complete. This is more BS involving Marion Williams and his cast of clowns.

cjamesm
0
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cjamesm 06/05/07 - 09:34 am
0
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Just another example of

Just another example of Marion Williams and his crew of idiots giving the commission and the city of Augusta a bad name.

old school graduate
0
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old school graduate 06/05/07 - 09:41 am
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Some Investigation. This

Some Investigation. This wasn't rocket science. How did Pugh get around being interviewed, yet the investigation was closed??It's BSness as usual.

Carleton Duvall
6305
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Carleton Duvall 06/05/07 - 10:12 am
0
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We all know that this

We all know that this transaction doesn't pass the smell test. With that said, without documentation, there is no way that the GBI could come up with evidence to turn over to Danny Craig, who did his job.

crystalball
1
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crystalball 06/05/07 - 10:31 am
0
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Why always the cry of racism

Why always the cry of racism in this town? We are living in 2007 and it is the person or persons! When you have a 65% of black population most elected are going to be black. It doesn't take a mathamatician to figure that out. The sad part is that the black leaders always want to cry "racist". The very thing that helps tear this town down and stops growth. Sad to see that Danny Craig is getting involved in choosing or not choosing the cases he wants to represent. This is not the first time he has chosen not to take a case because of who it is but politicians are politicians fair or not.

intheknow
16
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intheknow 06/05/07 - 10:48 am
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0
You all are some sick people.

You all are some sick people. Had the G.B.I. come back with a finding against Williams, you would be singing their praises. And this B.S. about race, who in the HELL believes that a mostly white law enforcement agency and a white D.A. in the South, are going to cover up for a Black County Commissioner. You all are the only people other than Pugh and Williams, that are bring race into this matter.

Unbelievable
84
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Unbelievable 06/05/07 - 11:49 am
0
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If Pugh didnt have anything

If Pugh didnt have anything to hide, why did he want his lawyer present? Once a crook, always a crook.

getalife
4
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getalife 06/05/07 - 11:50 am
0
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My comments were not racial.

My comments were not racial. I think that the GBI should have done a more thorough investigation. The fact that Pugh would not hold an interview with them does seem to point to the fact he wants to cover up something. If the other withnesses the GBI interviewed did not remember the events the same as Williams and Pugh, then something is wrong, either the others are wrong or Williams and Pugh are wrong. A crook is a crook regardless of race, ie. Robin Williams and Linda Schrenko!!!!

watching
0
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watching 06/05/07 - 12:40 pm
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Gosh...the mind set of some

Gosh...the mind set of some of you in good ol' Mayberry. What I gather from Mr. Pugh's comments is that others need to investigated, too...not just blacks. His statement wasn't RACIST; he was saying that by ONLY investigating blacks is RACIST. There was a recent question asked of Woody Merry of CSRA Help: why does his organization ONLY investigate blacks? And if my memory serves me correctly, this same investigation was brought about by Mr. Merry. This makes another case of WASTED tax dollars by the use county/state resources for worthless investigations. Please stop the foolishness and let's move this city forward.

RegWmsATL
0
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RegWmsATL 06/05/07 - 01:41 pm
0
0
Why is it that everytime a

Why is it that everytime a Black Politician or a member of his family does something that stinks, race has to be injected. Haven't you guys ever heard of a crystal ball? Haven't you ever heard of a speculative investment? Isn't it possible for these Black guys to buy a crystal ball from the same genie that sells them to the Woody Merry crowd? The next time the newsroom has a slow day, go down to the courthouse and check the property transactions in the areas where all of the interstate interchanges are located. I'd bet the mortgage that you'll find the names of more White politicians and their families than you do Blacks. But, I guess that asks the question: Do two wrongs make a right?

AugustaVoter
2
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AugustaVoter 06/05/07 - 03:24 pm
0
0
Two symbols of why Marion

Two symbols of why Marion "get rich quick" Williams was "let off" the hook: $$.

pressyourhair
0
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pressyourhair 06/05/07 - 04:42 pm
0
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Why do you call an

Why do you call an intelligent man with business ethics a crook. Anyone who wants to buy or sell anything researches that before entering into a contract. Duh!!!

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 06/05/07 - 05:15 pm
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What happened to the property

What happened to the property Mr Pugh bought? Does he still have it? It was a gamble. If he was able to profit from insider information then maybe there would have been a trail, but he didn't. Isn't he stuck with a piece of relatively low value property. I don't like anything about Marion Williams, but I also don't see any black/white issue here. This is strictly personal effort. I bet neither Williams nor Pugh will be crushed by this effort. The GBI wasted their time and our money on this one. Time to move on.

334 New Yorker
0
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334 New Yorker 06/05/07 - 05:19 pm
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I think it is time too bring

I think it is time too bring in the FEDERAL GOV to Investigate this

intheknow
16
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intheknow 06/05/07 - 05:36 pm
0
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To investigate what?@334 New

To investigate what?@334 New Yorker

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