Wife, girlfriend headline trial

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- Sitting at the defendant's table Thursday, former Albany Downtown Manager Don Buie listened and took notes as the two female figures central to the scandal that has plagued him for more than six months each testified that he knowingly misspent taxpayer money.

First up Thursday was the woman whose affidavit launched the investigation that would ultimately bring an indictment down on Buie -- his former girlfriend Nicole Brown.

Wednesday, Brown told jurors that Buie paid her as a contracted helper; a person whom he would send out to businesses and events in an effort to promote downtown. In exchange, she would receive checks, sometimes for things she hadn't done like renting equipment.

Thursday, defense attorney Johnnie Graham targeted Brown's credibility in front of the jury by grilling her on three different sworn statements, each containing inconsistencies, and, according to Graham, all out lies.

Graham started with the affidavit that Brown first swore at ADICA board member and local attorney Phil Cannon's law office. She then moved to an affidavit handwritten two days later recanting the first affidavit as being coerced by Cannon. Graham ended up on a statement given to GBI Special Agent Fred Wimberly, where she pointed to differing amounts of money allegedly taken by Buie and checks for months Brown said she never worked.

Brown said she tried to get Cannon to correct some of the inaccuracies on the original affidavit, but he refused.

Cannon, who testified later in the day, said that he felt morally obligated to preserve the integrity of the original document despite Brown's request, saying that there was never an attorney-client relationship between him and Brown.

"Nicole Brown was torn between her loyalty to Don and her fear of having committed a crime," Cannon said. "I told her, Nicole, I have done what my ethics and morals have allowed me to do."

Buie's estranged wife Shanon, was the last to testify Thursday. Shanon Buie said that she did do some work for her husband both while in Albany and once she moved to North Carolina, but said that her attempts to discover where the money she was being paid with was coming from were often rebuffed.

She said that in early February, Don Buie was stressing over several thousand dollars worth of car payments he had fallen behind on. Shanon Buie said that repossession agents had discretely come to the Government Center to set up arrangements to either take the car or receive immediate payment. The next day, she said, Don Buie said it had been taken care of, with little explanation as to how.

Prosecutors have said that Feb. 5, Buie asked Brown to cash a $2,200 check and give him back all but $400, which they believe he used to help make his payment on his Volkswagen Jetta.

Shanon Buie, like Brown, was cut a plea deal by prosecutors who agreed to dramatically reduce her chances of prison time if she agreed to testify against Don Buie.

Like Cannon, ADICA Board Member James Griffin, testified that the board had no knowledge of Buie's dealings either with his wife, girlfriend or former Dollar Square owner Tim Washington. Griffin declared that if they had, they never would've supported his actions.

On the topic of the alleged deal that Buie cut with Washington for rent of just $1 per month for his downtown retail space, Graham questioned Cannon and Griffin about a similar deal cut for rent on the Albany RiverSkate Park on the east side of the river for only $1 per year.

Both men said essentially the same thing, that the skate park deal was different because it was operated by a religious family who pitched the operation as one that would give teenagers an alternative to crime by providing them with a place to skate and hang out.

Don Buie's assistant, Monique Broughton, was also questioned about her observations while working in her position.

Broughton told jurors that she took over bookkeeping duties from former Albany Tomorrow Inc., accountant Shonnie King in March and had noticed that some of the check stubs had only copies of the e-mails from Don Buie requesting they be cut, rather than the typical invoices.

Some of those invoice-less stubs -- which were kept in Broughton's desk drawer in a file -- suddenly had invoices after the investigation began into the downtown manager's office, she said.

Jurors also heard from two men associated with the Georgia Municipal Association's Georgia Cities Foundation, which helps train public officials associated with downtown development authorities on, among other things, ethics and conflicts of interest.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. today at the Dougherty County Courthouse.