A summertime flurry of activity by federal authorities investigating former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell indicates they are nearing a decision on whether to prosecute him, attorneys and others close to the federal probe say.
Federal investigators have talked to witnesses and lawyers representing witnesses who have cooperated in the investigation and asked questions that are fact-checking in nature, the lawyers said.
One witness, for example, was asked whether certain documents were mailed or hand-delivered. The use of the mail service is a necessary element for a mail fraud charge.
On Wednesday, Campbell's attorneys denied the former mayor was guilty of any wrongdoing.
"Former Mayor Bill Campbell wants the community to know that he continues to maintain his innocence, just as he has over the last five years," said Campbell's lawyers, Michele Roberts of Washington and Steve Sadow of Atlanta. "Former Mayor Campbell steadfastly and adamantly denies having violated any criminal laws or having participated in any criminal conduct."
A federal grand jury this summer investigated a city contract to allow a private company to operate Atlanta's water system.
One former city official, testifying under a grant of immunity, said grand jurors asked him specific questions about the 20-year, $21.4 million a year contract with United Water to operate the city's water system.
Documents show United Water was awarded an additional $80 million, but the award was not authorized by the Atlanta City Council. The documents, which turned up after Campbell left office, apparently bore his signature. Even so, Campbell said he did not "knowingly" sign the papers.
Campbell has said that he lacked authority to authorize such a payment without council approval. In an October 2002 statement, Campbell said he not only never authorized the payments, he never saw the documents and wouldn't have signed them if he had.
Last year, the city severed its operating agreement with United Water.
Campbell, who now practices law in Florida, did not return phone calls from reporters Wednesday.
Over the past five years, grand juries investigating alleged corruption at City Hall have interviewed dozens of witnesses, including several city officials and contractors. Among those re-interviewed this summer by the FBI were George Greene, a former city contractor who pleaded guilty to bribery and has been cooperating with investigators for a long time, said a lawyer familiar with the investigation.
More than three years ago, federal authorities began investigating a $5,000 payment Campbell said he received for a 1996 luncheon speech to employees of Greene's company, Sable Communications. At the time, Sable was bidding for a citywide telecommunications contract.
Buddy Parker, Greene's attorney, said Wednesday that the information his client has provided federal authorities has not changed.
"George Greene's evidence has been known by the government for years," Parker said. "He has been consistent in his position. If there is something new about this, it can't be based on George Greene."
Campbell served two terms as mayor from 1994 to 2002. He moved to Stuart, Fla., to work in a law firm, headed by noted plaintiff's attorney Willie Gary, shortly after his second term ended.
When told of the recent flurry of activity and the types of questions being asked witnesses, former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan said it appears as if federal prosecutors are in the final stages of preparing their case.
"Those are exactly the type of questions prosecutors would ask when they're putting the final touches on an indictment," said Morgan, now a private attorney not involved in the City Hall investigations. "Those are not the questions you're asking if you're closing out the file and putting it in archives."
Federal prosecutor Sally Quillian Yates, who has headed the City Hall corruption probe since its inception, in July became acting U.S. attorney in Atlanta. Yates succeeded Bill Duffey, who was appointed by President Bush to the federal bench.
Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment Wednesday.
The federal investigation has probed virtually every aspect of Campbell's personal and professional life.
FBI and IRS agents have traveled the country, tracing Campbell's visits to such places as New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis and Las Vegas. They've looked into his gambling habits, his speaking fees and his relationships with contractors, friends and political supporters.
Along the way, federal agents have successfully prosecuted 10 people with business contracts or connections to City Hall. They include Campbell's top two administrators, Chief Operating Officer Larry Wallace and Deputy Chief Operating Officer Joseph Reid. Both men pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.
But Campbell remained a target, alternately pledging his cooperation and then criticizing investigators.
In a 2000 news conference, Campbell accused investigators of leaking information to the news media and of asking "racially provocative and politically motivated questions."
"It is hopelessly out of control with real abuses of the criminal justice system," he said of the federal investigation.
In a radio interview a few days later, Campbell again injected race into his complaints about the investigation: "I don't know that African-Americans have ever had any confidence in the FBI." He noted that the FBI also investigated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"I'm the mayor," Campbell said. "I'm not afraid of them, and I'm standing up to them."