More than two years ago, partners in a coastal shopping center contacted Bibb County prosecutors and alleged that their partner, a Macon businessman, had embezzled $476,000 from their business venture.
Three indictments and two lawsuits later, William David “Billy” Ramsbottom Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of fiduciary theft Wednesday and was sentenced to 15 years on probation. In exchange for the plea, an additional 46 counts of fiduciary theft by taking and two counts of theft by taking were dismissed.
His avoiding a prison sentence was due in part to a letter written by his former partners who owned and operated the Retreat Village Shopping Center on St. Simons Island.
The letter, addressed to Chief Superior Court Judge S. Phillip Brown, requested that Ramsbottom be sentenced to probation as a “first offender” and that he not be sent to prison.
The partners wrote that their attorneys had reached an agreement with lawyers representing Ramsbottom and his mother in which Ramsbottom agreed to cooperate in ongoing efforts to recoup the partners’ financial losses.
Among the seven signatures affixed to the letter were former Atlanta Braves baseball players John Rocker and Ryan Klesko, as well as former Atlanta Falcons football player Chris Mohr. Phone calls to attorneys representing the partners were not returned Wednesday afternoon.
Two lawsuits filed in Bibb County Superior Court against Ramsbottom that concern the shopping center have been settled, but terms of the settlements have not been disclosed.
During Wednesday’s hearing, attorney Craig Gillen said Ramsbottom’s lawyers had previously reached an agreement with the Retreat Village partners’ lawyers, asking that prosecutors let Ramsbottom enter a pretrial diversion program that would have disposed of the criminal charges without a conviction.
After the hearing, District Attorney Greg Winters said prosecutors considered pretrial diversion an inappropriate resolution to the case.
He said Ramsbottom’s lawyers also had asked that the case be dismissed.
Asked if the Ramsbottom family’s wealth played any part in Ramsbottom’s not drawing prison time, he said pretrial diversion or dismissing the case “would have been easy results.”
“We believe he committed this act and that he needed to take responsibility for it,” Winters said.
Ramsbottom’s case was handled like other cases in his office, Winters said.
“Obviously, we take into consideration a victim’s request,” he said.
Had it not been for the letter, he said, prosecutors would not have agreed for Ramsbottom to be sentenced to probation.
Standing before the judge Wednesday, Ramsbottom faced forward as prosecutor Myra Tisdale recounted how he acted as managing partner and diverted rent payments from businesses at the shopping center to his bank accounts instead of making deposits for the partnership.
He admitted that the prosecutor’s statements were accurate.
Gillen said there are no “outstanding financial obligations between Ramsbottom and his former partners. ... All that has been taken care of.”
No family members or supporters attended the hearing.
Court records showed that Ramsbottom spent some of the money to write checks to Stratford Academy for $10,878, to Idle Hour Country Club for $11,544 and to the University of Georgia Athletic Association for $28,950.
Winters requested that the judge sentence Ramsbottom to probation, with terms and conditions to be determined by the judge.
The maximum penalty for the charge is 15 years in prison.
“Terms and conditions” can include stays in a detention center of up to 720 days, Winters said after the hearing.
“We left it to the court’s discretion,” he said.
Brown required Ramsbottom to continue his ongoing mental health treatment, and he must pay $5,180 in restitution in connection with a separate theft case within 30 days of being refunded his $50,000 cash bond.
“It’s as much for your benefit as everybody else’s,” Brown said of the mental health treatment.
He also agreed to sentence Ramsbottom as a first offender, meaning that he won’t have a felony conviction on his criminal record if he successfully completes probation. But if he violates his probation, he could be sent to prison.
Brown said he will retain jurisdiction of Ramsbottom’s case so he has the power to modify the sentence later.
Before being sentenced, Ramsbottom apologized for his actions.
“I’m terribly remorseful,” Ramsbottom said. “I’m sorry for any damage I’ve done.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.