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Former mayor Campbell indicted -- Feds allege bribery, fraud at City Hall


Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/30/04

The long-awaited federal indictment of former Mayor Bill Campbell paints a portrait of a City Hall awash in corruption, bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and illegal campaign contributions.

With Campbell and his three defense attorneys unexpectedly present, federal authorities on Monday outlined the seven-count, 48-page indictment against the Democrat who ran the South's largest city during the 1996 Summer Olympics and was once a rising national political star.

But in his final years of office, Campbell, now 51, saw his political career tarnished by criminal convictions of former aides and city contractors.

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging Campbell with racketeering, including taking more than $160,000 in payoffs and $137,000 in illegal campaign contributions. The payoffs included a trip to Paris and a free air-conditioning system for his home in Inman Park, according to the indictment, which was returned by a 23-member federal grand jury nearly two weeks ago.

"We are here today because of a pervasive pattern of government corruption which victimized the citizens of the city of Atlanta and deprived them of the honest services of their public officials," said Gregory Jones, special agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI office.

Campbell vehemently denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned hours after prosecutors announced the indictment at U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

"The only thing correct in this indictment is the spelling of my name," Campbell said. "Everything else is false. It's false from beginning to end. I categorically deny each and every allegation."

The nearly five-year investigation of corruption at Atlanta City Hall has resulted in 10 criminal convictions, including the top two officials under Campbell. Most allegations in the indictment released Monday had previously surfaced in news reports during the last several years.

Reaction to the indictment, which was handed down Aug. 18 but sealed because Campbell's mother was terminally ill, ranged from shock to indifference.

At Tony's Barbershop on Forsyth Street on Monday afternoon, barber Thomas Sadwar, 34, said he wasn't surprised.

"It's not news to me," he said. "They all take care of their own over there [at City Hall]. Whoever is in office, they take care of their own, and to hell with everybody else."

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who succeeded Campbell, said she was "shocked and dismayed" by the allegations.

Surprise appearance

Moments before federal authorities announced the charges, Campbell strode into the large conference room at the courthouse and sat behind the TV cameras with members of his legal team. He watched acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates give prepared remarks in which she accused him of being a corrupt politician.

Within moments after Yates had left the room, Campbell stood before a bank of cameras and microphones and blasted the federal investigation, calling it a "five-year inquisition."

Campbell expressed confidence he will be vindicated and said he was proud of his service as mayor.

"It is one inaccuracy, one lie, on top of another," he said. "There's not a single shred of truth to it."

Federal authorities portray a very different picture of what went on during Campbell's two administrations, alleging 11 specific acts of racketeering, taking bribes and tax fraud.

From 1996 until January 2002, Campbell conducted the city's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activities, Yates said.

In the spring of 1999, the city was seeking computer contractors for Y2K work. A computer subcontractor, friend and golfing partner of Campbell's asked about providing Y2K computer services for the city, according to the indictment.

Campbell replied, according to the indictment, "What's in it for me?"

To which the computer subcontractor allegedly replied, "Whatever it takes."

Following that conversation, the subcontractor delivered three cash payments of $25,000, $20,000 and $10,000 to Campbell, the indictment says. The payments were made on behalf of a computer contractor who later received a $1 million no-bid contract, the government says.

When the subcontractor delivered the first $25,000 payment Campbell said, "No one else can know about this," according to the indictment.

Payments alleged

The indictment doesn't name the contractor or subcontractor, but lawyers and others close to the investigation identified the contractor as Samuel Barber and the subcontractor as Dan DeBardelaben.

The indictment states that both initially denied making the payments. In March 2003, Barber pleaded guilty to making false statements to a grand jury and acknowledged making the payments to Campbell. DeBardelaben continued to deny making the payments, and as recently as this January talked to Campbell about the federal investigation, the indictment says.

During one conversation, according to the indictment, Campbell offered to help with DeBardelaben's legal expenses. In January 2004, Campbell arranged for a friend to pay $10,000 for DeBardelaben's legal fees, the indictment says. Two months later, on March 25, DeBardelaben was called before the federal grand jury and admitted he delivered the cash to Campbell, prosecutors said.

The government also released transcripts Monday of an October 2001 closed court proceeding in which Atlanta strip club owner Michael Childs admitted making payments to the mayor. In the transcripts, Yates recounted the case against Childs.

Childs pleaded guilty to arson involving a competitor's club, and to making more than $50,000 in illegal payments to Campbell during 1997 and 1998, Yates said. The prosecutor said Childs sought Campbell's help with a liquor license application.

The middleman for the payoffs was Dewey Clark, a one-time special assistant in the mayor's office who lived in Campbell's basement for more than six years, Yates said.

Childs, 47, was sentenced to three years in prison and is scheduled to be released later this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The government's evidence in the Childs case showed the nightclub operator first went to Clark in 1997 to ask about a liquor license for a strip bar called Club Strawberries. Clark suggested Childs attend a fund-raising event for Campbell's re-election campaign at Sylvia's restaurant, across the street from City Hall, according to Yates. At the fund-raiser, Yates said, Campbell pulled Childs aside into a back room. Campbell offered help with the liquor license in exchange for help with his campaign, the prosecutor said.

On several occasions during 1997 and 1998, Childs gave Clark cash usually several thousand dollars at a time to deliver to Campbell, Yates said. Clark delivered the money to Campbell at a private restroom in the mayor's office in City Hall and at Clark's apartment in Campbell's basement, according to the prosecutor.

Under political pressure, Campbell overruled a city board and denied Childs' liquor license application, Yates said. Childs informed the city law department of Campbell's demands for a payoff, the indictment said, but it isn't clear whether the agency took any action.

Unnamed consultant

In the summer of 1996, with the Olympics approaching, a consultant, who is not named in the Campbell indictment, arranged for a construction contractor to fund a $9,581 installation of two air conditioners in Campbell's home and pay Campbell $10,000, the government alleges.

The payments were concealed through a series of convoluted financial transactions and phony invoices, prosecutors said.

The indictment doesn't name the consultant, but it precisely matches the activities of Fred Prewitt and construction contractor Bill Harbert Construction Co. of Birmingham.

In 2001, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Prewitt arranged for the air-conditioning work at Campbell's home, and that the invoice for the work was prepared by a secretary for Bill Harbert Construction. At the time, Harbert was working on a $36 million renovation at Hemphill Water Treatment Plant and Prewitt was a subcontractor.

Campbell took tens of thousands of dollars in additional payments funneled through the consultant apparently Prewitt from 1996 through 2000, according to the indictment.

In February and March 1997, the consultant arranged for Campbell to receive $25,000 in cash from a water filter company executive that was seeking a city contract, the indictment said. Campbell and the consultant used the money for a gambling trip to Memphis, a frequent destination of the mayor's for gambling in nearby Tunica, Miss., according to the indictment. The water filter company executive gave the consultant an additional $8,500 in March 1997, the indictment states.

Throughout 1998, the water filter company executive made $5,000 payments to the consultant to facilitate business with the city, prosecutors said.

The indictment charges that in February 1998 the city awarded the water filter company a no-bid contract that was inflated by $400,000. The water filter company then made $400,000 in payments to the consultant, the indictment said. The company later gave the consultant $5,000 in cash for a gambling trip with Campbell, the government charges. The indictment alleges that on at least eight other occasions the consultant and Campbell traveled on gambling trips to Tennessee and that the consultant paid for Campbell's airfare at least six times.

Earlier court documents released by prosecutors identified Prewitt as the person who traveled with Campbell on the gambling trips and paid for his airfare.

The indictment released Monday also details illegal campaign contributions arranged by city vendor Samuel "Rickey" Rowe, who is deceased, and Clayton County developer Ronnie Thornton.

Thornton was seeking a deal to provide dirt to the city for a new runway at Hartsfield International Airport. In 1997, Campbell was running for re-election and was desperately seeking campaign contributions, the indictment says.

In June 1997, the government charges, Rowe told Thornton he would need to raise campaign funds to get the runway contract.

Thornton made more than $126,000 in illegal contributions to the mayor's campaign, the indictment says. In December 1999, Thornton's company was awarded a $2 million no-bid contract.

According to the indictment, on another occasion an Arlington, Va., management company pursuing city business was unable to get a meeting with Campbell. A city contractor and friend of Campbell's was introduced to a representative of the company as someone who could gain him access to the mayor, the indictment states. Although the indictment does not identify the contractor, other information makes it clear Rowe was the contractor.

After the meeting, the contractor allegedly directed the management company representative outside and told him, "I'm not saying the mayor said this, but $100,000 by the end of the month to the mayor's campaign and the contract is yours whether he wins the election or not," according to the indictment. The company didn't pursue the contract.

The indictment also details a 1999 trip to Paris by Campbell and the city's chief operating officer, Larry Wallace, paid for by United Water, which had a 20-year contract to operate Atlanta's water system. The trip cost more than $12,900, according to the indictment.

Campbell later signed documents giving United Water an $80 million increase in the contract, according to the indictment. Campbell has denied "knowingly" signing the documents, and the increase subsequently wasn't allowed.

Franklin, who succeeded Campbell as mayor, canceled United Water's contract.

 

 Staff writers Alan Judd, Beth Warren, Jeffrey Scott, Stacy Shelton and Ty Tagami contributed to this article.