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The Bill Campbell Trial
The definitive primer to the drama that will unfold when the former Atlanta Mayor heads to the courtroom.

Reprinted from the Atlanta – September, 2005

It was a sweltering August afternoon as former Mayor Bill Campbell stood encircled by supporters at a news conference he’d call Macedonia Baptist Church in Southwest Atlanta.

He elicited applause and “amens” from the crowd and he quoted the Bible, a passage from Romans that he had recently read at the bedside of his dying mother: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Then the crowd (which we later learned included me that organizers had bussed in from a nearby rehab center) trailed out of the church behind him singing, “Victory is mine.”

The question a year later is whether Campbell will be singing a different tune at the close of his corruption trial, which is set to begin September 26.

In a seven-count, 48-page indictment, federal prosecutors accuse him of organizing and leading a criminal activity that abused his “position of public trust.” They have remained steadfast in their claims that Campbell accepted more than $150,000 in payments in exchange for city contracts, cash they say he used for free trips, home improvement projects and gambling sprees. Campbell is also charged with soliciting and accepting more than $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions, defrauding campaign donors and filing false tax returns.

Campbell has maintained his innocence, calling the authorities that examined every aspect of his personal and private life “forces of evil” motivated by racism. Likening the probe to an “inquisition”, he compared FBI investigators to Soviet KGB agents meddling into his personal life.

Whether the trial will support Campbell’s claims of persecution remains to be seen. What is certain is that 10 former city officials and contractors have already been convicted of corruption. Prosecutors must now prove that the two-term mayor not only knew of illegal practices taking place under his watch, but that he also took no part in, and benefited from, such dealings.

At a pretrial hearing earlier this year, Campbell, who claims not to have had any knowledge about the misdeeds of his friends and colleagues, told reporters that he looks forward to his “day of vindication.”

It will be weeks or months before the final day of the trial. All we know for sure is that it’s going to be a heck of a courtroom drama. To prepare for the upcoming scenes, we’ve compiled a preview of what’s to unfold – from the principle players to the strategies each side is expected to use.

[THE PRINCIPLE PLAYERS]

» Bill Campbell
The two-term Atlanta mayor served from 1994 to 2002, a tenure that included the Olympic Games and Atlanta’s dot-com era boob. He is credited with improving public housing and spearheading downtown revitalization. Atlanta’s third African-American mayor, Campbell is a Duke University –educated lawyer, who as a child helped to integrate the Raleigh, North Carolina, school systems. Campbell, who vehemently maintains his innocence, earned a reputation while in office of being articulate, arrogant and a steadfast supporter of affirmative action.

He now lives in Stuart, Florida (near West Palm Beach), and is employed by trial lawyer Willie Gary’s law firm.

» Richard Story
The presiding judge for the trial, Story earned a law degree from the University of Georgia in 1978. He served as chief judge on the Superior Court for the Northeast Judicial Circuit of Georgia from 1986 – 1997. He was appointed by Bill Clinton to the U.S. Districh Court and was confirmed in 1998. Story notably approved a $192.5 million agreement to settle the class-action racial discrimination lawsuit against Coca-Cola and sentenced former Fulton County Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis in a corruption trial. He is considered fair, thorough and mild-tempered in the courtroom.

» Sally Quillian Yates
The key prosecutor, Yates was acting U.S. attorney at the time of Campbell’s indictment. No stranger to high-profile cases involving public figures, she was the lead prosecutor on corruption cases involving former Dekalb County Sheriff Pat Jarvis, former Fulton County Commissioner, Michael Hightower and Fred Prewitt, former head of Atlanta’s Civil Service Board. She is known as understated and low-key, but well-prepared and tough in the courtroom. Interesting aside: She is married to local attorney Comer Yates, who reportedly asked for Campbell’s support in a 1996 congressional race. Campbell instead supported Cynthia McKinney, who won. Political analysts say Campbell’s support was a deciding factor in the outcome of that race.

» Jerry Froelich
The co-lead of Campbell’s defense team, Froelich specializes in federal criminal defense. He was a former assistant district attorney in Newark, New Jersey, and a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta. He defended former prosecutor Fred Tokars, who was convicted of having his wife, Sara, murdered and also represeneted Herbert McCall, the former commissioner of the department of administrative services, who was found guilty of obstructing the federal grand jury investigation of City Hall. He was in the national spotlight defending NFL start Ray Lewis, who was acquitted of murder in a case involving a post-Super Bowl brawl outside of an Atlanta nightclub.

 
The Charges Against Campbell
The executive summary of the 48-page indictment

[Count 1: Racketeering] The count charges Campbell with conducting the city’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity from 1996 to 2002, including payments and other benefits from contractors and consultants and committing campaign fund fraud. This portion of the indictment lays out allegations of 11 separate crimes. Prosecutors must convince jurors that Campbell committed at least two out of 11 acts to obtain a racketeering conviction. Federal investigators must also show that the acts committed are related and were continuous.

[Counts 2,3,4: Corrupt Payments] These counts charge Campbell with receiving unlawful cash payments of $25,000, $20,000 and $10,000 in 1999 in connection with a contract to make city computers Y2K compliant. Prosecutors allege that Campbell concealed payments through a series of convoluted financial transactions and phony invoices.

[Counts 5,6,7: Tax Violation] These charge Campbell with willfully filing false tax returns for tax years 1997, 1998 and 1999.


The Polygraph

Part of Campbell’s defense is that he passed a lie detector test – which he took at the advice of his attorneys. The test was administered by Kendall Shull, a seasoned polygraph expert who headed the FBI’s D.C. based polygraph unit until 2001. Campbell says he answered “no” to these four questions:
 
1. Did you ever take any official action in exchange for campaign contributions, cash, gifts, or other remunerations?
2. Did you receive anything of value in exchange for taking any official action as mayor?
3. Did you know of or did you participate in any illegal fundraising activity in connection with your mayoral races?
4. In connection with your races for mayor, were you aware of any illegal fundraising activity?

 

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