DOUGHERTY SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE WILLIE LOCKETTE HAS OVERTURNED A JURY’S CONVICTION OF FORMER ALLTEL CONTRACTOR CHRISTOPER WEAVER OF ALBANY. WEAVER FACED 639 YEARS IN PRISON FOR ALLEGEDLY BILKING ALLTEL OUT OF $470,000.
By Kevin Hogencamp
What a roller-coaster ride it has been for Christopher Weaver, who was cleared Monday on all criminal charges against him after being convicted last year of bilking Alltel out of $470,000.
But is the ride just beginning? And when the circus ride finally comes to a stop, is Weaver, 38, going to be sick to his stomach or pumping his fists high in the air?
“Now it’s time for the next fight,” his attorney, Phil Cannon, said hours after Chief Dougherty Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette ruled in Weaver’s favor.
Shortly after prosecutors offered a deal that would have kept him from behind bars, Weaver was convicted in November of 40 racketeering, conspiracy and theft-by-taking crimes that could have landed him a prison sentence of up to 639 years. But after making it clear during the trial that the case was on thin ice because the evidence didn’t match the grand jury indictment, Lockette ruled after a hearing Monday that Weaver shouldn’t have been convicted.
Cannon requested during the trial that Lockette issue a directed verdict – a judge’s ruling in favor of a defendant in a jury trial. Lockette postponed his decision until Monday.
“I feel like a huge load if off my chest,” Weaver said in an interview Monday. “But it does make me wonder how many other cases in this town there are where juries don’t understand the cases that they are hearing.”
Looming, though, is the district attorney’s office active civil racketeering case against Weaver; meanwhile, court officials and Cannon weren’t sure Monday whether Lockette’s decision could be appealed by the District Attorney’s Office.
Weaver’s company, On-Site Wireless, installed cellular telephones with Alltel service into vehicles, racking up an estimated $300,000 in work annually. But over 29 months, Dougherty County prosecutors claimed, Weaver conspired with then-Alltel Vice President Jimbo Adams to steal about $470,000 from Alltel. Adams pleaded guilty to theft and testified for the prosecution, saying that he and Weaver billed Alltel for hundreds of jobs that weren’t performed. Weaver estimated that he gave Adams about $120,000 over the 29 months for steering business to his company.
During the trial, Maryann Gates – a former longtime Alltel regional manager who now works in the district attorney’s office – testified that there is no way for authorities to determine whether Weaver was reimbursed for work that was never performed. Indeed, Weaver said that much of the equipment he installed was not provided by Alltel, and Cannon attempted to support that claim with the testimony of Cellular One installers who claimed that as much of 80 percent of their business was of equipment not provided by the cellular telephone company.
Weaver initiated what ultimately became a criminal probe by telling Alltel investigators that Adams had covertly started a cell phone installation company, South Georgia Wireless, while still working for Alltel. Adams had quit giving On-Site his business and instead gave it to his own company, prosecutors said.
Then-District Attorney Ken Hodges said when Weaver and Adams were indicted in 2007 that the scheme began in 2000 and ended in 2005. Prosecutors said, though, that the crimes occurred between Aug. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2003. The statute of limitations had nearly expired when the district attorney’s office began an investigation that ultimately resulted in charges under the Georgia Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. Hodges said Adams and Weaver put their illicitly gained profits into about 20 bank accounts and real estate.
In addition to profiting from fraudulently claimed work, Adams received kickbacks from On-Site for legitimate installations, prosecutors said.
Monday’s hearing lasted about two hours. Lockette’s decision was unusual in that directed typically occur in indigent-defense cases in which the defendants have been jailed for a lengthy time based on little evidence. Weaver had been free on bond.
Weaver and Cannon said the case, which was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Deeb with some assistance with District Attorney Greg Edwards, may have been financially motivated. That’s because all of Weaver’s assets were seized and could be acquired by the government if the civil racketeering case against him is successful.
“The Police Department looked at it. Other investigators (did), too. Nobody ever did anything in my opinion (originally to bring a criminal case against Weaver) because they looked at it and couldn’t prove Chris stole anything,” Cannon said. “But then Ken Hodges heard about about it and what they thought was that Chris had stolen a little more than $1 million and bought a lot of property with it.
“They seized his bank accounts, checks, property, his business, his vehicles. They closed him down. I think Ken and them were after the money.”
But Weaver and Cannon said that because Weaver had very little equity in his property – most of it was mortgaged — Weaver has less than $100,000 in assets, which remain seized pending the results of the civil racketeering case.
Hodges, who is in private practice in Atlanta and is a candidate for attorney general, said in 2007 that the case had “just been sitting around” at the Albany Police Department before he took it over.