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Banishment for Buie

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- A teary-eyed Don Buie admitted to Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall he used his position as downtown manager and executive director of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority to funnel money to his wife and former girlfriend, more than seven hours into jury deliberations Tuesday.

Buie pleaded guilty to a total of nine felony counts, including theft by taking by a government official, making false statements and concealing facts from a political subdivision. Marshall followed the prosecutor's sentence recommendation and gave Buie a sentence of 10 years, with 12 months to serve in jail and nine years on probation.

Buie will be able to include his months in jail leading up to the trial as time served.

Additionally, Buie is barred from ever working for a government entity, is obligated to pay ADICA $5,000 restitution and is banished from Dougherty County.

The deal was reached a couple of hours after the trial jury told the judge it could not reach verdicts on the charges against Buie. Marshall sent the jury back into the jury room to continue deliberations. Meanwhile, Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Cohilas appeared in court with a plea recommendation form and frantically filled out the paperwork before giving it to defense attorney Johnnie Graham, who spent more than an hour conferring with Buie and Buie's mother outside the courtroom.

Graham re-emerged briefly to speak with Cohilas, who was overheard making the negotiation time specific, telling Graham that the agreement was only good until the jury came back with a decision.

District Attorney Greg Edwards said the decision to cut a deal with Buie was made when it appeared that the jury was stuck. Rather than face a mistrial, a deal was broached.

"We felt like the jury may have been considering things outside of the evidence and decided that justice could be served through a deal," Edwards said, as Buie was being led out of the courtroom.

Graham called Buie's proceedings "a political trial" and said that she believed the negotiated deal was in the best interest of her client.

"My feelings are that this was a fitting and proper end to what turned out to be a fairly complex trial," Graham said. "(Buie) recognizes now that this was not proper; however, he battled and continues to battle the notion that he was providing money on the basis of some relationship."

Buie was in the seventh day of his trial, accused of using his office to issue checks to his estranged wife and former girlfriend and entering into a shady deal with a downtown business owner. Graham had argued that the checks issued to Nicole Brown and Shanon Lee Buie were for work done in support of Buie's vision for downtown.

The state officially closed its portion of the trial Monday. Graham called three witnesses before closing the defense portion of the case as well. Buie did not testify after prosecutors won a motion that would have allowed them to bring up his 1995 federal bank fraud conviction as a means of impeaching Buie's testimony.

The saga started in late June when Brown stated in an affidavit taken by ADICA board member Phil Cannon's law office that she had given Buie a kickback from ADICA money paid her as a contractor. She said Buie wired the money to his wife, Shanon Buie, to cover child support.

Brown recanted the charge in a second statement and allegedly filed a complaint with the State Bar of Georgia against Cannon, but the GBI launched an investigation into Buie's conduct as chief executive officer of ADICA and as the city's downtown manager. The city of Albany also launched its own internal audit into Buie's performance.

ADICA became the eye of a political firestorm, with a local taxpayer group using it as a rallying cry to unseat Albany city commissioners. That effort was unsuccessful.

The Albany City Commission, meanwhile, began working on local legislation that would allow it to make ADICA terms of service at the pleasure of commissioners, who did not have the authority to remove members of the downtown board after appointing them. ADICA's actions came under heavy local criticism, as did the actions of city officials. Downtown development that was to have been funded with a $6 million bond, one that the taxpayers association unsuccessfully attempted to scuttle in court, essentially stopped amid the controversy.

On July 29, City Manager Alfred Lott fired Buie, saying he had committed "gross negligence" in handling ADICA's financial affairs. City officials found that elementary business practices were not followed. Also among the findings were that Shanon Buie, operating under the name Shanon Lee, had been paid as an ADICA contractor.

After that came revelations of a $1-a-month ghost lease for downtown business Dollar Square, which had a listed lease of $700 per month for two Jackson Street storefronts that ADICA was renting from Dougherty County. ADICA eventually evicted store owner Tim Washington after he couldn't come to an agreement to pay back rent and establish a new lease agreement.

After the GBI completed its probe, a Dougherty County grand jury on Oct. 15 delivered a 17-count indictment naming Don Buie, Shanon Buie, Brown and Washington as defendants.

Brown and Washington reached plea deals with prosecutors that included their agreement to testify against Don Buie. Earlier this month, the grand jury added charges against Don Buie. Days before his trial was to begin, Shanon Buie reached a deal with prosecutors and agreed to testify against her estranged husband.

Prosecutors said in October they had looked into ADICA member Lajuana Woods -- who came under suspicion after it was revealed that she accepted a $50,000 facade grant from Don Buie. After Edwards said he had enough evidence to get a misfeasance indictment, she agreed to avoid prosecution by repaying the grant for her restaurant -- an agreement she had already reached with ADICA -- and resigned her seat on the board. Her term was to expire at the end of the month.

Jury selection in the Buie case began Dec. 14 and was conducted in secret after Marshall closed the courtroom to the public.