“Still crazy after all these years…” — Paul Simon
It is hard to believe that it’s been about seven years since retired Augusta attorney David Fry was charged with two counts of bribery and arrested at his west Augusta home by deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Back in 2009, Fry was accused of offering then-Augusta commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson a bribe involving the operations of the city owned parking deck that was built next to the Augusta Convention Center on Reynolds Street.
The way the story went, Mason and Johnson were offered a 3-percent cut of the profits from the operations of the parking deck if they would consider changing their vote and supporting the construction of the Augusta Convention Center.
Many folks remember that, back then, Augusta was caught in a huge political battle over the Augusta Convention Center that lasted for several years. Many people weren’t sure if the convention center was ever going to be built and some people believed that Fry was trying to move that process along.
Apparently, Fry proposed to the commissioners a partnership in a parking business that could deliver both Mason and Johnson about $200,000 per year.
Instead of taking the bribe, Mason and Johnson immediately contacted local attorney Freddie Sanders and they went straight to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
For months following Fry’s arrest, he was the talk of the town because the entire case was so bizarre.
Back then, Fry had no authority to offer a piece of the profits from the parking deck to Johnson or Mason. But some people close to Fry believed that the attorney was set up to take the fall for others in the community and, when the authorities were notified, Fry was thrown under the bus.
“All David (Fry) was doing was giving the commissioners legal advice,” one of Fry’s friends told The Insider when the scandal first broke. “David told them what was being proposed was unethical but not illegal. They threw David under the bus.”
There was also talk of a wire tap of Alvin Mason and his discussions with Fry, but the public was never allowed to hear any such recordings.
Then, there were also some questions surrounding Fry’s appointment to the city’s Public Facilities Board.
According to the board’s bylaws, the nonprofit corporation is organized to “acquire, retain and administer a fund, or funds, to be held, invested and used exclusively for the benefit of Richmond County.” The board can also “manage, operate, lease as lessor or lessee, sell or otherwise convey, land, buildings, facilities and equipment of every kind …”
Early on in the convention center debate, there was some discussion that the Public Facilities Board could be an option to fund the project. That idea was apparently scrapped, but it was a consideration.
Did that make Fry think he had the power to negotiate a bribe with commissioners?
Immediately after Fry’s arrest, Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, the private company which now operates the convention center, insisted that Fry had absolutely no involvement with Augusta Riverfront LLC.
So, the million-dollar question in this case has always been: Why did Fry risk his freedom and reputation on a bribe to the commissioners that he apparently could never deliver on?
Theories ran rampant all over Augusta.
“I think it is a lot deeper than what is on the surface,” one commissioner told the Insider when Fry was first arrested. “It doesn’t pass my smell test. There has got to be more to it. It is like someone promising me a million dollars and they know they are writing a check that I can’t cash.”
Some commissioners felt that other people were going to fingered in the bribery case.
“It all depends on what David (Fry) gives the FBI,” another commissioner said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if others are charged.”
But in the end, only Fry was left holding the bag.
By 2010, Fry was charged with two counts of bribery, but basically entered a plea of guilty without making an admission of guilt.
Sounds interesting, right? It’s called an Alford plea, which means Fry pleaded guilty but at the same time maintained his innocence.
As a result, Fry was sentenced to five years probation and completed the terms of his probation late last year, according to a recent story in The Augusta Chronicle.
So, why are people still talking about Fry and this bribery scandal?
The Georgia Supreme Court last month rejected Fry’s request to resign his membership in the Georgia Bar. Fry has been a member of the Bar since 1990, but filed a “Petition for Voluntary Resolution.”
Instead of granting his petition, the Supreme Court stated that Fry should be prepared to face possible disbarment as a result of his actions in the bribery case.
The court stated that Fry should face possible disciplinary actions by the Bar because “he has not even admitted that he violated any disciplinary rule. Instead, he appears to be requesting that his professional record be scrubbed of any indications of disciplinary problems and that he be allowed to resign with a clear disciplinary record, presumably because his criminal record is ‘clear.’”
Even though Fry entered pleas on the two bribery counts under the First Offender Act, the court stated he should not be allowed to simply walk away from his actions.
“Although his criminal record is clear at the moment, Fry’s guilty pleas to two counts of bribery, and his first offender convictions are matters of public record and could be used against him in the future if he commits additional criminal offenses, but his proposed resolution (to the court) would leave his disciplinary record completely clean,” the court wrote.
Therefore, the court stated if Fry “chose to apply for admission in other jurisdictions in future years, he would be able to truthfully report that he has no disciplinary record in Georgia.”
That is not something that the Georgia Supreme Court could live with.
“Although Fry has had to wait four years to learn whether and when the Bar intended to bring disciplinary action against him, the fact that he faced disbarment for his felony convictions should not have come as a surprise,” the court wrote.
So, the David Fry saga and bribery scandal continues in Augusta.
At least for one man.