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Georgia Lawmaker Indicted for Aiding Prisoner Transfer

On January 8, 2002, a Fulton County, Georgia grand jury indicted state senator Van Streat on four counts of violation of oath of office and one count of making a false statement. Both charges stemmed from Streat's alleged involvement in influencing the transfer of a state prisoner from whom he indirectly received political contributions.

The indictment handed down in Atlanta details that Streat twice influenced the Department of Corrections to transfer prisoner Ronald Gaither from close security prisons to lower security institutions. These transfers took place only after Streat received $4,500 in contributions from people with ties to Gaither.

Streat was suspended from his office by Gov. Roy Barnes following the recommendation of a special Senate committee. Streat becomes only the second Georgia legislator to be removed from office since 1984, when provisions for removing a state official were added to the state's constitution.

The indictments and suspension culminated a nearly twoyear investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The investigation found that Gaither, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of murdering a man in 1983 as part of a plan to collect $60,000 in life insurance, was transferred several times, at Streat's request, and his security level was reduced even though he had twice escaped.

Gaither, after failing in several attempts to get a lawmaker to intervene in his case, then placed a want ad and paid a woman to approach Streat on his behalf. Investigators said that the woman, after making the campaign contributions, then approached the senator as a constituent and asked him to use his influence on Gaither's behalf.

The GBI and the state attorney general's office only caught wind of these activities after Gaither wrote a letter to a private investigator claiming Streat had agreed to request parole or transfer for Gaither in exchange for the contributions. Gaither later testified that he told state investigators that the letter "contained inaccurate information" and that he never had a guarantee from Streat.

Gaither further testified that the same investigators pressured him to stick by his letter, threatening his daughter and brother with criminal charges if he didn't.

Sen. Streat was also accusing prosecutor's in the case of misconduct and "trickery." In documents filed February 26, 2002 in Fulton County Superior Court, attorneys for Streat accused Deputy Attorney General Mike Gobbs of "deliberately misrepresenting" to both the senator and his lawyer that he was not a target in the investigation. Streat had agreed to be interviewed by Hobbs and a GBI agent after being told it was "for the purpose of wrapping up the investigation," said court documents.

"This misled the senator and his counsel to incorrectly conclude that he was not the subject or focus of the investigation . . . two years after he became the target," said Streat's attorney Craig Gillen. "Such trickery cannot be permitted."

As for the threats state investigators made to Gaither that his brother and daughter would be indicted if he did not give prosecutors what they wanted, Gillen wrote those threats "constitute prosecutorial misconduct and overreaching."

The grand jury investigating this case has heard testimony from several DOC officials, and is scheduled to hear from Joe Ferrero, assistant commissioner of the Georgia DOC. Ferrero took notes at an August 10, 1999 meeting between two parole board members and Sen. Streat. The notes revealed that Streat asked parole board members Walter Ray and Bobby Whitworth to have Gaither moved "if not to a county camp, then to an inside detail at Milan (low security)."

The notes' contents were first discovered by an Atlanta television station. Some, including parole board spokeswoman Kathy Browning, question the authenticity of the notes. But others, like DOC spokesman Scott Stallings, point out that Ferrero is "an attorney by trade and just by his nature he takes meticulous notes."

Although Streat has since acknowledged that he arranged prisoner transfers as favors to constituents, he denies that any political contributions influenced his actions. Streat had returned the $4,500 he received from Gaither's backers.

No trial date has been set for Streat's trial and he will remain suspended, with pay, from his senate seat pending resolution of the case. Of course, PLN will report any developments in this case.

Sources: The Associated Press ,The Macon Telegraph ,The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution

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