When Shanon questioned Don about the deposits, Don told Shanon that it was a mistake, the bank was incompetent, and he was going to call the bank president and take care of the issue.”
– Fred Wimberly, Georgia Bureau of Investigation
NEW REVELATIONS OF CITY HALL CHICANERY SURFACE FROM DON BUIE’S ESTRANGED WIFE AND TWO CITY OFFICIALS AS THE REMARKABLE TRIAL OF ALBANY’S FIRST DOWNTOWN MANAGER GETS UNDER WAY SECRETLY AND ILLEGALLY.
By Kevin Hogencamp
Before pleading guilty to her part in a scheme to illegally cash in on taxpayer funds stolen through the Albany city manager’s office, and accepting a probated one-year prison sentence, the estranged wife of former downtown manager Don Buie claimed that in some cases she wasn’t a co-conspirator at all. Rather, Shanon Buie says, Don Buie forged her name on some checks that she didn’t know had been written to her under her former name, Shanon Lee, public records show.
Shanon Buie’s allegation was among newly revealed, dramatic details in public documents reviewed this week by The Albany Journal as Buie’s fraud trial got under way – secretly and illegally. In conflict with state law, the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution, Dougherty Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall closed hearings on motions made as the trial opened Monday. Then, jury selection was sequestered – a process that is allowed to be made outside public purview, but only after a hearing on the matter is first held and a determination is made that conducting the proceedings secretly is warranted. No such hearing was held, despite the objections of news organizations.
Georgia’s Uniform Rules for the Superior Courts state: “Unless otherwise provided by rule of the Supreme Court or otherwise ordered by the assigned judge after appropriate hearing (conducted after notice to all parties and counsel of record) and findings, representatives of the print and electronic public media may be present at and unobtrusively make written notes and sketches pertaining to any judicial proceedings in the superior courts.”
Meanwhile, a 2009 Georgia Supreme Court decision states, “A criminal decision has the right o a public trial under the Sixth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. This right extends to the proceedings of jury voir dire and selection. Under Waller vs. Georgia, to exclude the public from at trial, there must be ‘an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced, the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest, the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing .and must make findings adequate to support the closure.’”
Implicated ADICA board member resigns
While prosecutors say that Buie’s public corruption was motivated by his pursuit of female companions, no evidence romantically linking Buie and co-conspirator Lajuana Woods has been revealed, according to prosecutors or public records. Woods, who twice traveled with Buie to conferences, resigned her Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority seat last week rather than face prosecution for misfeasance associated with Buie giving her $50,000 of taxpayer funds to pay off a loan for her new Radium Springs Road restaurant. The City Commission, which hires the city manager, appoints ADICA board members.
District Attorney Greg Edwards had said he intended to ask a grand jury to indict Woods, a new Michigan transplant who was appointed to the ADICA board in late 2007 after giving City Commissioner Tommie Postell a $2,500 campaign contribution. But with Woods’ resignation, Edwards said, “We got everything we wanted” because Woods has signed a promissory note to repay the $50,000 to the city. Theft charges would not be initiated because ADICA had agreed to Woods’ brisk repayment plan, which is to be completed by September 2010, Edwards said.
A criminal case will be reconsidered if Woods reneges on her payment arrangement, Edwards said.
Woods clandestinely received $50,000 from Buie under the pretense that it was a “grant” for façade improvements; however, her restaurant is outside the boundaries of the grant program, which had a grant award limit of $5,000. Woods’ pact with Buie was revealed after reporters uncovered that Buie schemed to give Dollar Square owner Tim Washington taxpayer funds and free rent, and that City Manager Alfred Lott was covering the pact up by not responding to public records requests.
Buie’s estranged wife, Shanon Buie, has accepted a one-year probated prison sentence in exchange to pleading guilty to conspiring with Buie to steal money from the city. Washington and another defendant in the case, Nicole Brown, accepted five-year probated sentences in exchange for testifying against Buie. Prosecutors say that Buie conspired with Brown, his former girlfriend, to defraud funds from the city.
On Monday, Buie – jailed without bond since his July arrest — was led into the courtroom wearing leg shackles that could be heard clanging the floor as they were dragged along the courtroom hallway floor. But security was loosened Tuesday and Buie was allowed to carry the leg shackles in his hand as he walked into the courtroom during the secret jury selection proceedings.
Buie could receive more than 100 years of prison time if convicted of all 20 counts the case. A felon with a federal bank fraud conviction, Buie was hired by Lott with the ADICA board’s ratification in November 2007. On an interim basis, Lott has replaced Buie as downtown manager with Assistant City Manager James Taylor. City Manager Lott, who supervised and worked alongside Buie on the Albany-Dougherty Government Center’s fifth floor, has not been criminally implicated by the District Attorney’s office.
Edwards said that the massive Georgia Bureau of Investigation report into the city manager’s office and ADICA business dealings under Buie will remain under seal until the criminal case is concluded. City Commissioner Bob Langstaff, meanwhile, has asked authorities to expand the criminal investigation at city hall to include pacts made by Albany Tomorrow Inc. under the direction of then-CEO Tommy Chatmon, who now manages public redevelopment in Orlando, Fla.
Opening arguments in the Buie case were scheduled to be made today.
Shanon Buie statement
Following is an abbreviated summary of Shanon Buie’s statement to Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials.
“Shortly before Shanon and Don married, Don accepted a job and moved to Albany, Ga. Shanon later moved to Albany in April 208 and Eric Buie was born in June of 2008 … Shannon was not happy living in Albany and separated from Don because of Don’s infidelity … Shanon was a stay-at-home mom when she lived in Albany, but did freelance work for Don because Don did not have a staff until December 2008. Shanon performed the work on the city’s laptop computer most of the time. Shanon’s work for Don included administrative type work. For example, Shanon helped Don with creating job descriptions and at the end of September 2008, Shanon started working on the “ilovealbanygeorgia.com” website. Shanon also worked on a t-shirt design and has done some other things.
“Agent Wimberly asked Shanon if someone other than Don could verify Shanon’s freelance work. Shanon explained that Scott (last name known (who was the Website developer for the “ilovealbanygeoriga.com” website could verify Shanon’s work on the Website. City Manager Alfred Lott did not know Shanon was doing work for Don and the city of Alban. Shanon did not fill out a job application in order to work for Don and there was not an agreement with regard to the amount of money that Shanon would get paid for doing freelance work. However, Don always paid Shanon with ADICA checks. Shanon thought that she was only paid with three ADICA checks, but after reading an article in the paper, Don later told Shanon that she had been paid with five ADICA checks. Shanon recalls cashing two of the checks at Regions Bank in Albany and one check in Raleigh, N.C., which Don had brought to her.
The reason that Shanon cashed the checks at Regions Bank was because for the longest time, Shanon thought that her bank, Security Bank & Trust, was unreliable. Because of deposit issues involving Don. There were times that Don told Shanon that Don had made a deposit into the account, but Shanon later learned that the deposit had not been credited to the account. As a result, Shanon called the bank several times and made an inquiry as to why the deposits were not there. On one occasion, a teller told Shanon that don was cashing his checks, but not making a deposit. When Shanon questioned Don about the deposits, Don told Shanon that it was a mistake, the bank was incompetent, and he was going to call the bank president and take care of the issue.
Shanon explained that she had been divorced for 10 year prior to marrying Don. Shanon Lee is Shanon’s name from her previous marriage and she continued to use it after being divorced. As a result of the 10-year time frame and because a lot of Shanon’s ID was still in her last name of Lee, Shanon guesses Don “went with the flow” and wroth he ADICA checks made payable to Shanon Lee. (It should be noted that Shanon’s checking and savings account at Security Bank & Trust is in the name of Shanon Buie.”
Griffin: Lott, not ADICA, responsible
Lott vowed in 2007 that if the City Commission allowed him to hire a downtown manager, he’d be accountable for the success or failure of the manager and downtown revitalization.
Still, Lott claims to have no responsibility for what prosecutors and a grand jury say was corruption committed by Lott’s downtown manager on his watch.
James Griffin, a longtime Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority member and vice chairman, begs to differ.
Lott – not the ADICA board — was unilaterally responsible for Don Buie’s actions and transgressions, Griffin told the GBI during its recent investigation into the downtown manager’s office.
Following is a condensed summary of the GBI’s interview of Griffin:
“Griffin has been an ADICA board member since the 1980s and did not participate or actively engage with interviewing or subsequently hiring Don Buie as the Albany downtown manager and CEO of ADICA. Griffin did not do so because he does not believe in hiring and paying a consultant firm to search for potential candidates. Griffin knows that Lott was responsible for hiring Buie, whom the ADICA board did not control, pay or micromanage.
Griffin initially received knowledge of the façade grant program when he read about it in the newspaper. ‘Lajuana Woods, as a board member, should not have accepted one penny of façade grant money.’”