A day after two Forsyth City Council members were indicted by the FBI on allegations of receiving bribes, city officials were still trying to come to grips with what happened.
FBI agents indicted Councilmen Desi Surtane Hansford and James Edward Calloway on charges related to allegedly soliciting bribes in order to renew a contract the city put out for bid, officials said. The grand jury indicted both men jointly on one count of soliciting bribes, plus an additional count individually for the same crime.
Attempts to reach Hansford and Calloway for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
City officials, including Mayor John Howard II, said Wednesday they had no idea a federal investigation was being conducted until Monday evening, the day before the two council members were indicted.
I found out after the events had already taken place, Howard said. Its shocking, and it was also scary. (At that point), I didnt have any idea what was going on. Who else was going to be picked up? Would it include the mayor? What were they arrested for?
Howard said the only indication that anything might be amiss was a federal investigators request in February for copies of all the federal money the city received in 2012. The investigator didnt tell officials why he sought the documents, Howard said.
According to an affidavit, Hansford waived his constitutional rights and admitted accepting a $5,000 bribe in January. FBI agents became aware of the situation after Hansford and Calloway allegedly solicited bribes from a company seeking to renew a contract with the city.
The two councilmen sought a total of $20,000 from the company for their efforts to secure the contract for the company. Hansford and Calloway planned to split the money.
The alleged crimes took place between Dec. 27, 2012, and March 11, 2013, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorneys Office. Each man faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a period of supervised release for each count if found guilty.
The indictments dont list the name of the company, and officials wouldnt confirm which company was involved. The companys president and chief financial officer both cooperated with the FBI sting that led to Hansfords arrest.
Hansford later was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and ordered to stay within the state.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said all the counts in the indictments related to the receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization that received federal funds in excess of $5,000.
Moore said Calloway received a summons to appear in court based on his indictment. Calloway wasnt arrested like Hansford because he wasnt at the scene when the FBI made the arrest.
Local officials are still trying to figure out what happens next at City Hall. City Attorney Bobby Melton said technically, as of Wednesday, Calloway and Hansford are still City Council members. Calloway has served on the council for 20 years, and Hansford six years.
The council meets Tuesday night, and Melton said a decision likely will be made about their council seats then. The Forsyth council has six members and needs four of them for a quorum. It also takes four votes to approve any measure.
Melton said Howard can vote to break a 3-3 tie or be the fourth vote in certain, specific instances.
Were still getting the details and trying to sort it all out, said Melton, who added that the replacement of council members is spelled out in the city charter. Should both men be removed from the council, there likely would be a special election called to replace them for the remainder of their terms.
Council members Mike Dodd and Eric Wilson said they both found out about the investigation Monday.
It was a total shock to me, Dodd said. My phone has been ringing off the hook. It shocks me that a council member would even attempt something like that.
Wilson said he first heard the news when a constituent called to ask what was going on.
My first reaction was shock, he said. My second reaction was that its definitely upsetting, frustrating, disgusting. The public trust was betrayed. (The council) tries to do the right thing, but when something like this happens, it hurts the whole city, the whole council.
Howard said he is close friends with Hansford, who helped convince Howard to run for mayor. Howard said he is withholding judgment until the trial and he knows all the facts.
Howard said hes concerned that news of the indictments may reflect badly on the city as it tries to attract new jobs and businesses.
I hope theres no impact, he said. I dont want this to give an indication that this is a city you dont want to be involved in. (This incident) makes all public officials guilty by association in the eyes of the public. Were going to weather this storm and win back the public trust by getting things done.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.