Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced today that a Fulton County jury convicted former state Senator Ralph David Abernathy III on 18 felony counts.
According to Baker:
On October 20, 1998, a Fulton County grand jury returned an indictment charging Abernathy with 35 felony counts. The indictment charged him with 10 counts of theft by taking, 10 counts of false statement, 10 counts of violating his oath of office, four counts of forgery and one count of influencing a witness. These charges involved submitting false expense reimbursement requests to the Georgia General Assembly, forging documents to substantiate the expenses, and subsequently receiving reimbursement money from the state of Georgia. The charge of influencing a witness involved allegations that Abernathy offered to pay a former assistant $2,700 for the purpose of influencing her communications with an agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The indictment further charged that these acts were done in breach of Abernathy’s duties as a member of the Georgia Senate and violated his oath of office. The first trial on these charges ended in a mistrial on September 17, 1999 when the jury was unable to reach a verdict on any count. The re-trial began on December 13, 1999, and was prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Stacey Hydrick and Doris Williams-McNeely.
The investigation arose as a result of an Open Records Act request made by a reporter for documents related to Abernathy’s legislative expense account. In June 1998, Abernathy filed suit against the state and the Georgia Senate to block release of the documents. As a result of the document review undertaken by Baker to defend the state against Abernathy’s suit, Baker asked the GBI to investigate possible wrongdoing by Abernathy. The information developed during the investigation resulted in the indictment.
Today a Fulton County jury found Abernathy guilty of a total of 18 counts (5 counts of theft by taking, 5 counts of false statement, 5 counts of violating his oath of office, 2 counts of forgery and 1 count of influencing a witness). Three of the 35 counts (one of theft by taking, one of false statement and one of violating his oath office) were dismissed by visiting Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell at the first trial. The state chose not to prosecute four of the remaining counts at the re-trial, leaving 28 counts for the second jury to consider.
“My job is to fight crime and corruption, and I will do that whenever and wherever I find it,” Baker said. “It is always a sad day when a public official is found to have violated the people’s trust by breaking the very laws we enact and are sworn to uphold, but as Attorney General, I must, and I will, vigorously prosecute these cases,” he continued.