HAWKINSVILLE, Ga. -- Doug Wingate, owner of Great Southern Peanut Company in Leesburg, is facing a hearing at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Hawkinsville this morning, court officials say. At issue are 11 separate peanut contracts between Wingate and area farmers.
The farmers sought a warrant against Wingate because they contend he has failed to pay the contracts, citing Georgia Code 16-9-58. Non-payment of agricultural products is a criminal offense under that statute, according to Wingate's Albany-based attorney, Earl McCall.
McCall, however, called the charges "bogus," claiming the contracts were never agreements to purchase any of the peanuts. Rather, Wingate was merely purchasing options to buy, McCall said.
"Interestingly, the contracts are three pages long," McCall said, "and Page 2 is missing. That's the important page with the language defining it as an option document. I believe that if the judge had known the contract was three pages and the middle page was missing, this thing would never have gotten this far."
According to McCall, the document copies are very faint, which may have been the reason the Magistrate Court judge missed the absence of continuity from the paragraph at the bottom of Page 1 to the top of Page 3.
"I think the headline ought to be 'Wingate strikes again,'" said David Dunaway, who owns First Street Seed Co. in Hawkinsville, a warehouse service and buying point for local peanut farmers.
Dunaway said everyone he knows who is involved with the case has a Page 2 with their contracts. That they may not be complete has always been an acceptable way of doing business, he said.
In December, Wingate faced an "abbreviated" hearing in Lee County Magistrate Court where Worth County farmer Jack Bass sought payment for his peanut contract. The hearing ended in a two-week continuation without a single witness being called. According to Lee County Commissioner Dennis Roland, who is a farmer and a friend of Bass's, the case was later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Roland, who says he is owed about $12,000 in a peanut transaction with Wingate, thinks local farmers are being taken advantage of.
"I read my contract and some people say there could be flaws in it," Roland said. "I don't know, but mostly I think Mr. Wingate just has plenty of money and he can keep this tied up in court as long as he wants."
The hearing, which is set for 10 a.m., will be heard by Robert E. Turner, chief magistrate of Houston County. Judge Carlette Gibson, magistrate of Pulaski County, was disqualified.