About 15 years ago, Tim Shelnut was flying high.
Once a high school dropout, he became known as one of the richest men in the Augusta area.
Shelnut often boasted that he had been involved in the “financial-services industry” for more than 30 years.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, he spent 14 years as president and owner of Washington Annuity Sales, building the firm into one of the country’s fastest-growing major providers of 403(b) annuities, with assets totaling $6 billion.
He sold the company to the Northern Life Insurance Company of Seattle in 1996.
Shelnut then became the chairman and owner of Four Seasons Securities of Augusta, a national marketing firm specializing in retirement planning and tax-sheltered annuities.
In addition, he was president and CEO of Shelnut Properties, Ltd., a private real estate firm based in Augusta.
Shelnut had everyone in town talking.
He was the recipient of the 1998 National Philanthropist of the Year Award after becoming the first donor to contribute $1 million to University Hospital in support of its juvenile-diabetes program.
But he also dabbled a lot in Georgia politics.
Stories about his lavish political parties at his home and his personal helicopter were legendary.
In fact, his extravagant shindigs almost got a few politicians in some serious hot water over the years.
Back in 1994, when John Oxendine ran against then-Insurance Commissioner Tim Ryles, he attacked Ryles on his ethical conduct in office, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Oxendine accused Ryles of violating ethics laws on three occasions by accepting “prohibited campaign contributions totaling $2,500” in 1993 from businesses regulated by his office, the newspaper reported.
But by November 1997, one of Shelnut’s parties caused Oxendine some major heartburn of his own.
“Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine saved himself and University Hospital chieftain Don Bray a lot of embarrassment — and perhaps an ethics suit — by doing a fast turnaround last week,” The Augusta Chronicle reported in 1997. “Printed invitations were sent from a ‘host committee’ (including Bray) asking for $100 for an audience with Oxendine at a lavish Nov. 6 party in the home of businessman Tim Shelnut.
“What the other hosts didn’t know is that, on Oxendine’s desk, is a bid from University to purchase a health maintenance organization the state insurance agency has been supervising.”
Despite a few missteps over the years, Shelnut still could do no wrong in Georgia because, after all, money talks.
In 2000, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes appointed him to the Board of Regents, an 18-member governing body for the University System of Georgia.
The board basically manages the state’s university system, which is comprised of 34 public colleges and universities, more than 250,000 students and approximately 36,000 faculty and staff.
Upon his appointment to the Board of Regents in 2000, Shelnut resigned as a member of the Georgia Lottery Corporation’s board of directors, where he supposedly “worked on issues involving public education financing.”
A short five years later, Shelnut was elected chair of the Board of Regents.
Things were going great for Shelnut until about 2008, when the State Ethics Commission issued a $40,000 fine against him because he violated state ethics laws.
It was the largest civil penalty the State Ethics Commission has ever assessed an individual, The Augusta Chronicle reported.
The penalty was a result of Shelnut acknowledging that he made “campaign donations in excess of state limits and giving $24,000 to others to make donations in his name from the mid-1990s to 2004,” the newspaper reported.
Shelnut’s world began to crack.
That same year, he filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, listing $9.18 million in assets and $6.49 million in liabilities, the Chronicle reported in 2008.
Apparently it was an extremely complicated bankruptcy that initially began in June 2008, but continued for more than five years until it was finally settled in 2013.
But just last week, Shelnut hit an all-time low when he was arrested on charges of contempt of court because he failed to pay almost $200,000 in alimony.
He apparently must make the payments before he can be released from jail.
The Charles B. Webster Detention Center is a far cry from his once lavish, multi-million dollar home.
Before coming to Augusta, Shelnut’s Washington company had assets totaling $6 billion.
Last week, he sat in jail owing $200,000, which was once chump change for Shelnut.
My how Augusta changes folks.