FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE RE: GBI INVESTIGATION OF CITY OF CARROLLTON MAYOR WALT HOLLINGSWORTH
On September 19, 2017 former District Attorney Pete Skandalakis requested a preliminary investigation as to whether Mr. Hollingsworth violated any criminal statutes, particularly Official Code of Georgia (hereinafter OCGA) § 16-10-6 (Sale of Real or Personal Property to Political Subdivision by Local Officer or Employee), OCGA § 16-10-2 (Bribery), and OCGA § 36-30-6 (Voting Upon Questions by Interested Council Members). On October 2, 2017 the GBI initiated the requested preliminary investigation and on January 26, 2018 GBI Special Agent Jared Coleman turned in to the District Attorneys Office the results of the preliminary investigation.
The preliminary investigation results included records of every construction contract entered into by the City of Carrollton while Mr. Hollingsworth was mayor, the council meeting minutes during which the city council voted to approve those contracts, records relating to the purchase of concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete Products Inc. (hereinafter Hollingsworth Concrete) by the City of Carrolltons Parks & Recreation Department, and interviews with various persons.
As to potential violations of OCGA § 16-10-2 (Bribery), the evidence gathered in the preliminary investigation revealed that a competing concrete company alleged that Mr. Hollingsworth suggested to a business owner that the city construction permitting process would go smoother if the business owner bought concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete. The competing concrete company said their company had not received any contracts with the City of Carrollton since Mr. Hollingsworth became mayor and that this was suspicious. The GBI interviewed the business owner, who denied ever being approached by anyone with Hollingsworth Concrete. The business owner did however recall speaking to the competing concrete company and told them to submit a bid to his general contractor.
The general contractor also denied being approached by anyone from Hollingsworth Concrete. He explained he engaged in a bidding process through a website made for that purpose and that he would select the lowest qualified bidder. In corroboration of the business owner and his general contractor, the GBI identified the referenced website and found Hollingsworth Concrete and the competing company both listed as being able to provide Ready Mix Concrete for Carrollton, GA. While there was insufficient evidence to pursue Bribery charges for this alleged incident, the District Attorneys Office requested in a letter sent to the GBI on November 19, 2018 that the GBI further investigate whether Mr. Hollingsworth, or anyone associated with Hollingsworth Concrete, had sought to influence improperly any other contractors who hired Hollingsworth Concrete to complete work on city projects.
As to potential violations of OCGA § 36-30-6 (Voting Upon Questions by Interested Council Members), the GBI preliminary investigation revealed that as mayor, Mr. Hollingsworth voted to award construction companies contracts for city projects after the city council received multiple bids for those projects and before those construction companies sought and received bids from sub-contractors, such as concrete suppliers. OCGA § 36-30-6 prohibits a member of a city council from voting on any question in which the council member is personally interested. Given that Mr. Hollingsworth did not know which concrete company the bidding companies would hire for these projects, there is insufficient evidence to prove a violation of this statute. Consequently, the District Attorneys Office informed the GBI in the previously referenced November 19, 2018 letter that there was no reason to further investigate violations of OCGA § 36-30-6.
As to OCGA § 16-10-6 (Sale of Real or Personal Property to Political Subdivision by Local Officer or Employee), the preliminary investigation revealed a potential violation of this statute. Hollingsworth Concrete did business with the City of Carrollton in the 2nd Quarter of 2016 in the amount of $2,219 and in the 1st Quarter of 2017 in the amount of $1,357.85. OCGA § 16-10-6 prohibits city employees or elected officials from personally selling property to the city or selling property to the city on behalf of a business, but only if the sale of the property is over $800 per calendar quarter. In the November 19, 2018 letter to the GBI, the District Attorneys Office requested further investigation regarding the purchase of concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete by the City of Carrollton in the 2nd Quarter of 2016 and the 1st Quarter of 2017. The purpose of further investigation was determine if there was sufficient evidence to prove whether Hollingsworth had the requisite criminal intent to violate this statute. In the same letter, the District Attorneys Office also requested further investigation to determine whether City of Carrollton employees were improperly influenced to purchase concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete in violation of OCGA § 16-10-2 (Bribery).
To supplement the District Attorneys Office review of this matter, it issued Grand Jury subpoenas on September 6, 2018 under the authority of OCGA § 24-13-21 to the contractors who were awarded projects for the City of Carrollton by council vote during the time that Mr. Hollingsworth was mayor of Carrollton. All subpoenas required the production of any records and correspondence between the subpoenaed contractor and Hollingsworth Concrete and/or Mr. Hollingsworth regarding the city construction projects completed by the subpoenaed company. Each subpoenaed construction company either provided the subpoenaed records or informed my office that they did not hire Hollingsworth Concrete for their project and consequently had no such records to provide. This Offices review of the documents received pursuant to Grand Jury subpoena and the GBIs preliminary investigation led this Office to send the GBI the November 19, 2018 letter requesting additional investigation into this matter.
In addition to the above referenced request for further investigation made in the November 19, 2018 letter to the GBI, this Office also requested investigation into whether Mr. Hollingsworth violated OCGA § 36-91- 21(g) (Competitive Award Requirements). This statute prohibits Mr. Hollingsworth, as Mayor of the City of Carrollton, from voting on or approving any contract for a City of Carrollton construction project, which was subject to this statutes competitive bidding requirements, if Mr. Hollingsworth stood to benefit financially from these contracts. The statutory exceptions state that the law does not apply to contracts for routine repairs and maintenance and does not apply to contracts under $100,000. The District Attorneys Office asked the GBI to determine Mr. Hollingsworths financial stake in Hollingsworth Concrete so it could be determined whether he benefited financially from work done by Hollingsworth Concrete on city projects. The District Attorneys Office also asked the GBI to interview the citys engineer to determine which projects were routine repair and maintenance. The District Attorneys Office was able to determine which construction projects were valued over $100,000 and which involved new construction such that they would be subject to the requirements of OCGA § 36-91-21(g).
On February 18, 2019 GBI Special Agent Jeff Hatchett turned in to the District Attorneys Office the requested follow up investigation. The documents received via Grand Jury subpoena and the total GBI investigation revealed the following evidence:
Walt Hollingsworth was sworn-in as Mayor of the City of Carrollton on January 4, 2016. From the date of his swearing-in until the GBI initiated its preliminary investigation on October 2, 2017, Hollingsworth voted to approve eighteen construction contracts on city projects. The District Attorneys Office subpoenaed records from the general contractors who were awarded the bids to twelve of those eighteen projects because only twelve of the projects met the statutory qualifications to be governed by OCGA § 36-91-21(g) (Competitive Award Requirements). Of the twelve city construction projects that qualified to be governed by OCGA § 36-91-21(g), Hollingsworth Concrete was used to complete four of those city projects and all four projects were awarded to four different general contractors. One general contractor was awarded one city project on November 7, 2016 by unanimous vote of the city council and was awarded a second project on a different city project on July 10, 2017 by another unanimous vote. That contractor used Hollingsworth Concrete for the first project but not the second. Another general contractor was awarded four separate city projects and never used Hollingsworth Concrete. Consequently, there is insufficient evidence to show any relationship between the awarding of city construction projects to general contractors and those contractors use of Hollingsworth Concrete.
Documentation provided by Hollingsworth Concrete show that Mr. Hollingsworth is a salaried employee with Hollingsworth Concrete and he is not a shareholder in the company. In addition, the State expects that employees of Hollingsworth Concrete would testify at trial that Mr. Hollingsworth receives no bonuses or additional compensation beyond his yearly salary relating to his work for the company. This means that Mr. Hollingsworth receives no direct or indirect financial benefit when Hollingsworth Concrete receives payment for work on City of Carrollton construction projects. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Hollingsworth for violating OCGA § 36-91-21(g) (Competitive Award Requirements).
Every contractor who hired Hollingsworth Concrete to complete their projects said they hired Hollingsworth Concrete for a combination of reasons, including concrete price, concrete quality, the concrete suppliers proximity to the job site, and the concrete suppliers customer service. Most of the contractors hired Hollingsworth Concrete after receiving bids from multiple concrete suppliers, and some contractors working on city projects did not hire Hollingsworth Concrete. All the contractors and city employees interviewed stated that Mr. Hollingsworth or persons associated with Hollingsworth Concrete had never attempted to influence them improperly to purchase concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete. All interviewed who did use Hollingsworth Concrete said they were satisfied with the work done by Hollingsworth Concrete and believed they did not overpay for the concrete. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Hollingsworth for Bribery under OCGA § 16-10-2.
As previously indicated, there is sufficient evidence to suspect that Mr. Hollingsworth violated OCGA 16-10-6, because Hollingsworth Concrete did more than $800 in business with the City of Carrollton in the 2nd Quarter of 2016 and in the 1st Quarter of 2017, wherein the amounts of business were $2,219 and $1,357.85 respectively. In order to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Mr. Hollingsworth for violating this statute, the District Attorneys Office requested the GBI further investigate how these purchases came to pass and whether Mr. Hollingsworth influenced city employees to purchase concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete. Further investigation into these facts would be relevant to whether the State could prove Mr. Hollingsworth had criminal intent to violate the statute, as required by law. The GBI investigation revealed that the city employees involved in purchases of supplies, including concrete, seek out three bids from suppliers as a matter of course before making a purchase, and they typically choose the lowest bid.
City employees recalled that Hollingsworth Concrete was cheaper than the other bids and charged less for delivery. The Public Works Director, who has worked in that capacity for approximately fourteen years and approved the purchases in the 2nd Quarter of 2016, told investigators that the city historically used Hollingsworth Concrete because it was the cheapest concrete and the company could accommodate the citys work schedules. All involved city employees were satisfied with the work done by Hollingsworth Concrete and they were not aware of the $800 limit per calendar quarter established by the statute in question when they made the purchases in question. All city employees involved in selecting Hollingsworth Concrete to supply concrete since he became mayor, including during the two calendar quarters in question, stated that they had never been influenced to select Hollingsworth as the supplier.
Finally, Mr. Hollingsworths status with Hollingsworth Concrete as a salaried employee, rather than a part-owner or one whose compensation is tied to sales of concrete, calls into question whether it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hollingsworth sold the city concrete for himself . . . or in behalf of Hollingsworth Concrete, as required by OCGA § 16-10-6. The City of Carrollton employees who played a part in the purchase of concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete did not speak to Mr. Hollingsworth about the purchases and do not know if Mr. Hollingsworth was aware of the fact the city was purchasing concrete from Hollingsworth Concrete for the specific jobs during the two calendar quarters in question. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to show that Mr. Hollingsworth sold the concrete to the city himself . . . or in behalf of Hollingsworth Concrete, as the State would be required to prove according to this statute. Given the above referenced facts, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hollingsworth violated OCGA 16-10-6 in the 2nd Quarter of 2016 and the 1st Quarter of 2017.
In conclusion, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hollingsworth violated the laws of the State of Georgia regarding Hollingsworth Concretes sale of concrete to the City of Carrollton or to contractors completing construction projects for the City of Carrollton. Consequently, my office will not be presenting an indictment to a grand jury and considers this matter closed.
John H. Cranford Jr. District Attorney Coweta Judicial Circuit