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Probe looking into parole connections

From the very beginning, the attorney general's investigation into Board of Pardons and Parole Chairman Walter Ray and member Bobby Whitworth has looked into the dealings of eight other individuals, according to documents obtained by Creative Loafing.

Five of those involved in the investigation have been mixed up in contracting scandals dating back to 1996.

On Aug. 30, 2001, Deputy Attorney General Michael Hobbs sent a letter to the parole board's legal department requesting invoices and expenses for former Department of Corrections Commissioner Wayne Garner; former state Rep. Carlton Colwell, who also lobbies for the parole board; the former head of the Department of Corrections legal affairs office, Christopher Hamilton; and two lobbyists, David Tidmore and Jim Hammock.

When reached by phone, Tidmore said, "I couldn't disclose anything about that."

Colwell says, "[Investigators] just want to know what I did over [at the parole board], and I was just a lobbyist tracking legislation mostly. I didn't lobby anybody about that bill (Senate Bill 474). To tell you the truth, I don't remember it. Well, I remember it but I don't remember talking to anyone on that."

Garner and Hammock didn't return several phone calls.

Garner, the former Corrections commissioner, was criticized in 1996 because he cut a $1.3 million grant that hired attorneys to provide legal services to inmates. Instead, Garner gave a $900,000 contract to two lawyers who at the time had just graduated from Emory University, one of whom had worked for the parole board.

The guys who got the contract are also buddies with Hamilton, the Department of Corrections' legal affairs director.

It's not clear exactly what Hamilton, Colwell and Garner have to do with the Ray and Whitworth investigation, except that questionable contracts going to old friends seems to be a recurring theme.

Such is the case with Hammock, who's also named in the attorney general's investigation.

Hammock is a former Public Service commissioner and a registered lobbyist for 19 different companies, agencies and organizations, including the Corrections Corporation of America.

In 1997, four companies were competing for a contract eventually worth $655 million to build and run private prisons in Georgia. One of those companies was the Corrections Corporation of America.

While the prison contract was up for bid, Garner, who ran the Department of Corrections, spoke with Hammock 48 times, a direct violation of state contract bidding procedure.

At the time Garner said he and Hammock didn't discuss the bidding process or Corrections Corporation of America, Hammock's client.

That July, Corrections Corporation of America won the contract by bidding the next to lowest price for constructing prison buildings that could house 401 to 500 inmates. Later, lobbyists for the Department of Corrections convinced the General Assembly to fund the construction of prisons that house 1,000 inmates, a project for which Corrections Corporation of America bid the highest.

In other words, Corrections Corporation of America won for its low bid, but ended up with a contract with the highest price tag, costing the state $43 million more than if the bid had gone to the next bidder.

So what does all this have to do with the current investigation into Ray and Whitworth?

The attorney general's office isn't saying, but the investigation is looking at records and invoices having to do with Hammock going back to Jan. 1, 1996, which includes the time that he was lobbying for Corrections Corporation of America.

There's one more part to this web of connections. Sen. Van Streat, D-Nicholls, was indicted in January for accepting campaign contributions in exchange for using his position as a member of the legislative committee that supervises state prisons to get an inmate transferred to a lower security facility. The inmate, Ronald Gaither, was serving a life sentence for murder and had escaped and been recaptured twice.

On Jan. 4, acting on a legislative committee's recommendation, Gov. Roy Barnes suspended Streat from his position as senator.??