Dirty dealings

C.R. Ronnie Thornton's name soon might be connected with a different kind of dirt — the kind you dish out.

Thornton, a developer who in 1999 scored a $2 million deal to hold on to land that was supposed to be used to supply fill dirt for Hartsfield Airport, is expecting to plead guilty this week to charges that he evaded state law by funneling $56,000 to Mayor Bill Campbell's 1997 mayoral campaign. The legal limit for contributions is $2,000.

Thornton, 57, of McDonough, was also a partner in a consortium of developers who were looking to land a $360 million deal to supply and transport dirt for Hartsfield's fifth runway. That deal is on hold, and with Thornton agreeing to cooperate with federal authorities in its ongoing City Hall investigation, his involvement in any deal connected to the airport seems unlikely.

The contractor made the contributions "because he was made to believe that it was necessary for him to do so before a legitimate proposal that he was attempting to make to the city would be fairly considered," Richard W. Hendrix, Thornton's attorney, said in a statement. Hendrix declined to identify who led Thornton to the belief.

Thornton's decision to provide information to investigators also ratchets up the pressure on at least two other figures in the investigation: Steve Labovitz and Dorothy Rollins.

Rollins, the CEO of Spectronics Corp., is being investigated for exactly the same thing to which Thornton is pleading guilty — giving money to the Campbell campaign in the names of people who had no intention of donating money and occasionally didn't even know there was an election in Atlanta. Unlike Thornton, who used the names of a number of south Georgia residents, Rollins allegedly donated as much as $10,000 on behalf of close relatives, such as her sister.

As for Labovitz, Campbell's former campaign treasurer, he filled out the money orders donated by Thornton's faux campaign contributors, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Thornton is the only one implicated in the documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, but facts regarding who else knew about the transactions should come out in this week's court proceedings in front of U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story.??

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