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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta - New York Times

Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta - New York TimesMarch 11, 2006
Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta
By BRENDA GOODMAN

ATLANTA, March 10 — After a five-year investigation that culminated in a two-month-long trial, it took the jury hearing the federal corruption case against former Mayor William C. Campbell only two days to find him not guilty of perhaps the most serious charges against him: racketeering and bribery.

But Mr. Campbell was found guilty of three counts of tax evasion, and for that he could serve up to nine years in jail and pay up to $300,000 in fines. If he had been convicted of all seven counts against him, he could have spent more than 50 years in prison.

The verdict was a bittersweet ending for both sides. Prosecutors had hoped to end their seven-year crusade against corruption in City Hall by convicting its top official. It was an investigation that ultimately convicted 10 people who were contractors and city officials, many of them close associates of Mr. Campbell.

"Obviously I have great regrets that the jury found me guilty of anything," Mr. Campbell said after the verdict. "But there's no doubt I've been vindicated with regard to any allegations of corruption."

He said sloppy recordkeeping, rather than any desire to hide ill-gotten gains, was behind underreported income on his tax returns.

Mr. Campbell was smiling as he stood beside his wife, Sharon, outside the courthouse. As he answered reporters' questions, people drove by honking and cheering.

"It was a fair trial," Mr. Campbell added. "The judge was fair."

W. Fred Orr II, one of the defense lawyers, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the trial.

"We knew there were some technical violations of the tax code," Mr. Orr said. "They're serious, but we're going to be O.K."

Sally Q. Yates, first assistant United States attorney in Atlanta and lead counsel for the prosecution, echoed Mr. Orr's sentiments.

"I'm personally somewhat disappointed," Ms. Yates said. "I think it would be a little foolish for me to stand out here and try to pretend otherwise. I'm disappointed the jury didn't feel they had enough evidence to find him guilty of the RICO count," she said, referring to the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, which provides for extended punishment for those found guilty of running criminal enterprises.

In a prepared statement, David E. Nahmias, United States attorney for the northern district of Georgia, declared victory, saying, "The jury's verdict today confirms that Mayor Bill Campbell was also a criminal."

Mr. Nahmias also said he fully expected Mr. Campbell to go to prison on the tax evasion convictions.

The 43-page indictment against Mr. Campbell detailed bribes and illegal campaign contributions in excess of $250,000. During the trial, prosecutors painted him as a high-stakes gambler who took frequent trips to places like Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., and Tunica, Miss., often in the company of his mistresses.

The expenses of these lavish vacations, the prosecutors said, were always paid with cash that Mr. Campbell got from the city contractors he used as "human A.T.M.'s." They said he raised money to retire campaign debt after he was elected to a second term, but instead of using the money to pay off his creditors, he used the account as a slush fund for his personal expenses. Prosecutors also sought to prove his extensive use of straw donors to launder illegal campaign contributions.

As federal marshals escorted members of the jury to their cars, one juror said in answer to shouted questions, "It's been a long seven weeks."

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