Georgia News Roundup
May 22, 2013 03:55 PM | 620 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Georgia Rep. Brooks pleads not guilty to fraud charges

By Kate Brumback, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia state Rep. Tyrone Brooks on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.

Brooks entered the plea on his 30-count indictment before federal Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman.

Baverman set a $25,000 unsecured bond for Brooks and ordered him to surrender his passport and to limit his travel to the state of Georgia unless he receives prior permission from the court.

The indictment alleges Brooks solicited more than $1 million in contributions from the mid-1990s to 2012 to fight illiteracy in underserved communities and other causes. Prosecutors say Brooks, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1981, used the money for personal and family expenses, ranging from home repairs to credit card bills.

Brooks' lawyer, former Gov. Roy Barnes, told reporters before the hearing that they would have no comment on the case until a news conference at Barnes' office Thursday.

Barnes told the judge that he is representing Brooks pro bono but said he may request help from a public defender if necessary because the case will require a considerable amount of work and because he has a busy trial schedule. Baverman said he wasn't sure the law permits someone to have a lawyer appointed if one has been retained, even on a pro bono basis, and asked Barnes to submit a written motion on the matter.

Barnes also took issue with a condition of Brooks' release that prohibits him from speaking to potential witnesses about the case. Some potential witnesses have volunteered to come to the Thursday news conference and others are people Brooks will inevitably run across, and they may try to speak to him about the case without him initiating that conversation, Barnes said. Baverman said that requirement is a fairly standard condition of release.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Georgia State Rep. Simone Bell to be honored by White House

ATLANTA (AP) — The White House is set to honor an openly gay Georgia state lawmaker as one of 10 Harvey Milk Champions of Change.

White House officials say Democratic State Rep. Simone Bell is being recognized along with nine others Wednesday for their commitment to equality and public service.

The event falls on the birthday of Harvey Milk, who became one of the first openly gay people to serve in elected office when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

Bell represents Georgia House District 58, which covers part of Atlanta and serves on the intergovernmental coordination, juvenile justice and human rights and aging committees.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Job fair for military spouses planned at Fort Benning

FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will be hosting a job fair at Fort Benning for spouses of active duty, National Guard, the Reserves and veterans.

The "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Benning Conference Center.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop's office says the event is part of the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Program and several employers are expected to participate.

The companies include large and small employers looking for candidates with various experience levels.

Other sponsors include the U. S. Labor Department's Veterans' Employment & Training Service and The American Legion.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Georgia studying Medicaid expansion options

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has said the state can't afford to expand its already-strained Medicaid program to include 650,000 more residents, but his administration is studying ways other states are expanding their programs in case an alternative emerges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that advocates of the expansion hope the review is a sign that Deal may be rethinking his opposition.

Deal's aides said budget analysts are just doing due diligence to ensure their decision makes financial sense.

In an interview on Tuesday with the Atlanta newspaper, the governor didn't rule out ever reconsidering Medicaid expansion, but he said the door remains shut "for now."

The issue arose earlier Tuesday when Deal's health policy adviser, Katie Rogers, spoke at a Children's Advocacy Network event.

Asked about the Medicaid expansion, she said analysts run the numbers on a range of expansion models, including a novel approach embraced by Arkansas that has piqued the curiosity of conservative leaders. That plan would pay for new Medicaid enrollees to buy coverage from private insurers through a government-run marketplace expected to open in January.

Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Gainesville explores options for convention center

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — The Gainesville City Council is moving ahead with a study to determine the feasibility of a new convention center and hotel in the northeast Georgia city.

The Times of Gainesville reports that the council on Tuesday approved a bid for consulting firms to work on the study.

The study is designed to address market demand, economic impact, construction costs and facility operation. It is aimed at finding out what options Gainesville has in developing a venue successful in attracting large meetings, conferences and entertainment.

City council members have said the Georgia Mountains Center was too small to attract big-name talent and was losing money in its former role as a convention center. That facility is being remodeled by Brenau University to create classroom space and labs.

Information from: The Times, http://www.gainesvilletimes.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Bus, train collide near Atlanta; no one hurt

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Authorities say a train and a public bus collided in an Atlanta suburb, causing traffic tie-ups at the start of the morning rush hour.

Police in Decatur tell WSB-TV that no passengers were on the bus at the time, and no injuries were reported.

The crash happened around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday near North McDonough Street and West Howard Avenue in Decatur, just east of Atlanta.

Witnesses tell WXIA-TV that the bus got stuck on the train tracks near Decatur High School before it was hit.

Video from the Atlanta stations show the bus alongside the train a few feet from the intersection, which was closed to traffic as authorities investigate what caused the accident.

The bus is part of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Baby in car stolen from daycare is found safe

FOREST PARK, Ga. (AP) — A 1-year-old girl who was in the back seat of a car when it was stolen outside a daycare center near Atlanta was found safe Wednesday morning, authorities said.

Police got a call from a resident who had spotted the car parked in a neighborhood, Forest Park police Lt. Jason Armstrong said.

Police then found the missing car and the girl, asleep inside the vehicle, near Scott Drive and Holly Circle in Clayton County shortly before 7 a.m.

Authorities had issued a child abduction alert early Wednesday morning after the 1994 green Honda Accord was stolen outside the 24-hour Playskool daycare facility in Forest Park, just south of Atlanta.

The child's mother, Victoria Buchannon, was picking her up from the 24-hour daycare facility shortly after midnight, police said. Buchannon then went back into the daycare to get an older sibling, and the suspect jumped into the car and drove off, authorities said.

"I just want my baby back. Whoever got her, please return her. That's all I ask. You can have the car," Buchannon said in an interview with WSB-TV before the child was found.

The child was reunited with her mother shortly after police found the car, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The suspect was described as a black male wearing blue jean pants, a red jacket and a black stocking cap on his head. Authorities were searching for him Wednesday morning.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Atlanta building blaze sends smoke over downtown

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta firefighters were battling a large fire at an auto repair shop that sent plumes of black smoke pouring over much of the downtown area.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the blaze began shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday at United Transmissions in the 300 block of Marietta Street, on the west edge of downtown.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

Marietta Street was blocked west of CNN Center around 8 a.m.

Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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2 children bitten by fox at Newton County elementary school

COVINGTON, Ga. (AP) — Animal control officials in north Georgia say two elementary school students have been bitten by a fox.

Newton County Animal Control Director Teri Key-Hoosen says the fox came onto the playground at Rocky Plains Elementary School in Covington and bit two 6-year-old boys Wednesday morning.

The children were taken to the Newton County Medical Center and the extent of their injuries was not immediately clear. Key-Hoosen says the fox retreated to a wooded area and a trap has been set.

Covington is about 35 miles east of downtown Atlanta.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Ex-Georgia tax preparer guilty in tax fraud scheme

ATLANTA (AP) — The owner of a tax preparation business has pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to claim millions in fraudulent tax refunds.

U.S. Attorney's spokesman Bob Page says 44-year-old Kevin Sonnier, of Ellenwood, worked with others to convince thousands of victims they could apply for stimulus payments from the federal government by giving him their names and social security numbers. Authorities say Sonnier also recruited runners who promoted the scheme by word of mouth and collected personal information for Sonnier to use.

Page says Sonnier operated a tax business from July 2010 to January 2013 and fraudulently claimed about $15 million in refunds.

Sonnier pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. His sentencing is scheduled for September 26.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Groups pledge $10.5M to Atlanta freeway project

ATLANTA (AP) — A group of metro Atlanta business community leaders are pledging $10.5 million to improve one of the state's busiest and most congested freeway interchanges.

Gov. Nathan Deal joined members of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts for Wednesday's announcement at the Capitol. Deal says the state doesn't have all the money it would like to fund transportation efforts, but called the I-285/GA-400 project a "top priority in the state."

The Perimeter interchange hugs the northern part of Fulton and DeKalb counties and is a major artery not only for commuters but also trucks hauling goods.

The money will come from taxes already being collected from commercial properties within the improvement districts. State transportation officials are currently studying how much money will be needed for the project.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Southern Co. CEO defends Mississippi power project

By Ray Henry, Associated Press

PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (AP) — The head of Southern Co. says no one is happy with cost overruns at a Mississippi power plant, but he defends the project as a long-term investment.

Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning on Wednesday called the decision to absorb $540 million in costs "a bitter pill for us to swallow."

Still, Fanning told an annual meeting of shareholders that the coal-burning plant in Mississippi's Kemper County makes business sense. It's designed to produce electricity while capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

Fanning says Mississippi would be too dependent on natural gas plants if the new coal plant was not built.

The president of Southern Co. subsidiary Mississippi Power, Ed Day, abruptly retired this week. Company officials say the departure was probably motivated by project pressures.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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