Lobbyist testifies in center lawsuit

Rick Camp admitted Thursday he wasn't thrilled to be back in a federal courtroom in Augusta.

"Brings back some bad memories," said the former Atlanta Braves pitcher-turned-lobbyist.

Mr. Camp was among five men convicted in the same court- room in 2005 of looting the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia of $1.2 million.

Now the center's attorneys are looking to tie former Executive Director F. Campbell Peery to the same schemes and conspiracies that defrauded the center, arguing that some began under his watch.

Their side of the case got under way Thursday in U.S. District Court, where Mr. Peery is suing the center for seizing a $165,000 insurance policy he purchased with a $224,000 settlement he got for leaving in May 2001.

The policy was purchased in the name of the center's board but was to benefit Mr. Peery's wife and daughter.

The center's attorneys argue that the settlement was meant to keep Mr. Peery quiet about the illegal schemes just getting started at the center, many involving former state Rep. Robin Williams.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Peery testified that Mr. Williams introduced him to Mr. Camp as someone who could help the center secure a needed state license, called a certificate of need, and track legislation.

Mr. Peery signed a $70,000 check and a $35,000 check to Mr. Camp to do just that but not, he said, to lobby. Mr. Camp contradicted that Thursday.

"Did you ever do anything for Community Mental Health other than lobby work," center attorney Scott W. Kelly asked him.

"No, sir," Mr. Camp said. In fact, the first time he remembers hearing the phrase "certificate of need" was in 2004 when investigators in the criminal case asked him about it, he said.

He ended up sending $55,000 of the first check to Mr. Williams and ended up splitting other checks with him.

He also ended up on the center's payroll, where former administrator Joe Vignati came across his name in 2001 and asked Mr. Peery about it.

"Mr. Peery said, "He's the bagman,' " Mr. Vignati testified. "He said, 'He's a lobbyist.' "

Mr. Peery testified earlier that once he learned Mr. Camp was on the payroll he ordered former Chief Operating Officer C. Michael Brockman to get rid of him, which Mr. Brockman pretended to do.

Mr. Camp said he did not remember meeting Mr. Peery until the 2005 trial, where Mr. Peery testified on behalf of the prosecution.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.