Verdicts Mixed for Former Atlanta Mayor

Times Staff Writer

Former Mayor Bill Campbell cut an almost jaunty figure on Friday for a man who faces up to nine years in prison.

After a seven-year federal investigation and a two-month trial, a jury convicted Campbell of three counts of tax evasion but acquitted him of running City Hall as a corrupt enterprise.

“I have no doubt I have been vindicated,” he said outside the courtroom. “I had the awesome weight of the entire government placed on me, but the jury rejected all the substantial charges.”


In fact, the jury found that Campbell had committed one racketeering act among 11 that prosecutors alleged -- mail fraud related to use of his campaign funds. But to convict him on the greater corruption count, the jury would have had to find that he had committed at least two racketeering acts.

Campbell, 52, described his failure to declare his taxes as a regrettable oversight.

“I’m a sloppy record keeper,” he said.

Campbell, who had been under investigation since 1999, was charged with racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.

During the trial, prosecutors brought in 72 witnesses and went over Campbell’s bank records, calendars, photos and tax returns.

“If there’s any bright moment in this entire ordeal,” Campbell said, “it is that we can stand up to persecution.”

Since the beginning of the investigation, Campbell has called the federal probe racially motivated. Campbell is black.

Prosecutors dismissed Campbell’s criticism, saying the government received many credible allegations of corruption during his tenure as mayor.


“This was not a witch hunt,” said Sally Q. Yates, the lead prosecutor. “We would have been derelict in our duty if we had not tried this case.”

Campbell’s supporters -- including members of his former administration and people who had appeared in court every day for the last two months -- were jubilant after the verdict.

“God is good,” said Mildred Campbell Christmas, Campbell’s sister, as she wiped tears with a shaky hand. “We all prayed hard.”

Earlier in the day, Campbell and his attorneys had joined his family and supporters in a prayer circle outside the courtroom.

Eva Davis, a former Atlanta Housing Authority commissioner appointed by Campbell, said she was happy the jury had found him not guilty of corruption charges.

“I will continue to pray for him,” she said. “Ain’t no way in the world that man could have done that stuff.”


Gene Ferguson, who had not missed a day of the trial and wore a Campbell for Mayor campaign badge, said the verdict confirmed what many had said from the beginning.

“Bill Campbell is innocent of corruption,” he said. “His legacy remains intact.”

The trial of Atlanta’s former mayor -- a Democrat who presided over the city from 1994 to 2002, including during its Olympic heyday -- dominated the news here over the last two months.

Race was a prominent theme of the trial. During jury selection, federal judge Richard W. Story admonished prosecutors and defense attorneys for seeking to eliminate potential jurors according to their skin color. (Seven blacks and five whites were on the final jury.) On the first day of testimony, a U.S. marshal asked Campbell’s supporters to stop singing the civil rights song “We Shall Overcome” outside the courtroom.

Prosecutors portrayed Campbell as a corrupt and profligate mayor who accepted more than $250,000 in bribes and illegal campaign contributions in exchange for city contracts.

In 1999, prosecutors said, Campbell withdrew only $69 from his personal checking account -- yet in July of that year, he vacationed with his wife and children in Puerto Rico before jetting off to Miami and then Paris with two different female “personal friends.”

But only two of the prosecution’s witnesses testified that they had seen Campbell take bribes.


In closing statements, prosecutors argued that Campbell was too sophisticated to leave a paper trial and asked the jurors to see a pattern of corruption in his administration.

Campbell’s defense attorneys argued that the prosecution witnesses lied about Campbell’s involvement to save themselves, and that their words should not jeopardize Campbell’s legacy.

Campbell graduated from Vanderbilt University and Duke University law school before becoming an Atlanta city councilman and mayor.

Outside the courtroom after the verdict, the prosecutors were subdued but insisted that they were not disappointed that the jury had found Campbell guilty only on the three tax counts and not the racketeering and bribery charges.

“He’s a convicted felon,” said U.S. Atty. David E. Nahmias. “He’s going to jail.”