Classic Campbell

A surprise visit shows defense will rely on denial

Ten of former Mayor Bill Campbell's associates have either been found guilty or pleaded guilty to charges of corruption, accepting bribes, racketeering, and a host of other things that honest people aren't supposed to do.

But Campbell had nothing to do with all that. He made that clear immediately after federal prosecutors accused him of being the ringleader of massive corruption that soured City Hall between 1996 and 2002. On Monday, Campbell vehemently denied that he took a penny in bribes. "Never" and "absolutely not" were his answers when asked, over and over again, if he took bribes, curried favors, or accepted gifts from city vendors.

He even had the chutzpah to show up, unannounced and uninvited, at the press conference announcing his indictment.

Campbell and four of his attorneys walked into a conference room on the fourth floor of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building about 10 minutes before the press conference started, turning what was already a media frenzy into a complete circus. Television cameramen and photographers scrambled to get in his face. But Campbell just said hello to some folks and sat down to quietly read the 48-page indictment accusing him of being one of the biggest crooks in City Hall history.

His presence at the conference set the stage for what's likely to be his legal team's prominent strategy: The best defense is a good offense.

And Campbell has been on the offensive for years, holding press conferences and appearing on radio shows to declare that federal investigators are conducting a "witch hunt" and "inquisition."

His attorneys are equally aggressive.

When asked by CL why they decided to crash the party, Campbell's attorney Steve Sadow snapped, "I didn't know that coming to a public news conference was crashing a party."

And when asked how they knew about the press conference, Sadow retorted, "How did you hear about it?"

Unwarranted hostility is probably a necessary trait for top-dollar defense attorneys, especially the kind skilled enough to get Campbell out of the mess he's in.

When the investigators and prosecutors took the podium to outline their charges against him, Campbell and his entourage of attorneys waltzed up to the front of the room to watch.

Sally Quillian Yates, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, was first up. With Campbell standing just 15 feet to her left, Yates accused him of accepting more than $150,000 in bribes and gifts, and more than $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions from city contractors — the recipients of million-dollar contracts with the city.

Yates was the only official to make eye contact with Campbell, which happened just after she had wrapped up all of her accusations. She glanced at Campbell when she reminded everyone that, "Like all defendants, Mayor Campbell is presumed innocent of all charges."

Campbell may be innocent, but his gang sure as heck isn't.

His chief operating officer, deputy chief operating officer, and administrative commissioner now sit in federal prison, having pleaded guilty to bribery. Four other city officials and executives who did business with the city have already done their time and have been released. They were all involved in bribery, corrupt payments and/or embezzlement, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Two more city vendors received probation, and a nightclub owner who pleaded guilty to giving corrupt payments to Campbell is in jail.

The accusations against Campbell are pretty hefty, too. According to the indictment, a city consultant used funds that he received from a contract with the city to pay Campbell $48,500 in cash. The consultant also paid for at least six trips to casinos in Mississippi.

Another company flew him to Paris, and a contractor installed almost $10,000 worth of new air conditioning and heating equipment in his Inman Park home, according to the indictment.

But Campbell calls these charges innuendo. He says he will deny any and all accusations "as long as I'm in existence," and his legal team will be conducting the "most aggressive defense this building has ever seen."

"Aggressive" being the key word.