|The ghost of David Fry spotted near the new parking deck|
Well Halloween may be officially over but the ghost of David Fry is still lurking the streets of downtown Augusta. No, not down at 5th and Broad streets by the Haunted Pillar, but instead his specter has been seen haunting another cursed Augusta landmark: the new TEE Center parking deck by 9th and Reynolds streets.
It seems that the recent revelation that the city of Augusta doesn't actually own the land where the new $12 million city owned deck sits and an impending trial over the attempted bribery of two Augusta commissioners involving this same parking deck has resurrected the restless spirit of David Fry.
Some of you may remember the name "David Fry" from two years ago. In August of 2009, the TEE Center and parking deck were in limbo because the commission had split along racial lines over whether to issue more revenue bonds because it was learned that the convention center was actually going to cost nearly double than the $20 million voters had approved in a 2005 SPLOST referendum. Also, the addition of a parking deck across the street had some commissioners also crying foul, saying that the project had become too bloated and no longer resembled what voters approved and suggestions were floated to put in back on a ballot or redirect the SPLOST funds entirely. But that presented problems, because the TEE Center was inextricably tied to a $37 million redevelopment project for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. So if the TEE Center didn't get approved with the extra money needed to build it, some white commissioners were threatening to pull the plug on the $1 per night hotel/motel surcharge and pull the plug on redevelopment of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. The situation was at a stalemate, and no one seemed eager to give up ground.
Now enter David Fry. He was an Augusta attorney and former nightclub owner. In late August 2009, commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson contact Augusta law enforcement that David Fry approached them with an offer of a bribe "if" they changed their votes on the TEE Center deal. Both Mason and Johnson had been voting consistently against increased funding for the TEE Center. The story didn't hit the news until early September 2009. What was particularly interesting is what Fry was offering the commissioners. According to Mason and Johnson, Fry told them that he could land them lucrative concessions in the new parking deck that would be built along with the TEE center (This is the same parking deck involved in the current "ParkingGate" saga).
WRDW's Chris Thomas reported on the bribe in this story: WRDW coverage of TEE center bribe scandal
Chris Thomas also reports that Fry contacted commissioners Jerry Brigham and Don Grantham about a week after commissioners Mason and Johnson came forward to law enforcement about Fry's attempted bribe. Don Grantham says that he remembers being contacted by Fry on August 31st, one day before a vote on the TEE Center. Both Grantham and Brigham said they didn't report the incident because they thought the whole thing was "ridiculous." And it would have been ridiculous to try and get Grantham and Brigham to switch their votes. Grantham had been the biggest proponent of the TEE Center on the commission and Brigham had voted in support of it as well. WJBF also covered the breaking story of the bribery attempt here: Attorney arrested for trying to bribe 2 Augusta commissioners
The fact that Fry was offering concessions in the parking deck was quite interesting. What authority did he have to make such a deal? And why the parking deck? It seemed very odd because in all of the TEE Center drama that was taking place, the parking deck was not mentioned very much.
A local afternoon radio talk-show personality tried to quickly explain it all away as much ado about nothing. He said that Fry was just an overly zealous lone gunman type who was extremely enthusiastic about the TEE Center and was upset with commissioners Mason and Johnson for holding it up. According to the talk-show host, Fry was particularly livid at Mason, whom he had donated money to in his campaign against Bernard Harper. According to this same talk-show host, many wealthy West Augusta types supported Mason in his first campaign, and that Fry felt "betrayed" by Mason. Don't forget that Mason also received what he called a "threat" from a West Augusta "millionaire" over his votes on the TEE Center: details emerge on Tee Center "millionaire" threat.
The radio talk-show host explains the bribe as a way for Fry to get back at Mason and Johnson. He would offer them something he knew he could not deliver, get them to change their votes, get the TEE Center passed, and then leave them high and dry when it came time to collect on the bribe. Well that's the theory of the talk-show host: Talk Radio Host's Theory on David Fry's Big Plan.
The problem was that the bribery attempt backfired and nearly sank the TEE Center.
But let's really think about this. If David Fry knew that he was throwing out a canard for the commissioners, then why not offer something more grandiose and more sexy than a parking deck contract? I mean why not offer a lucrative concession in the TEE Center itself or in one of the hotels? Why not throw in a condo in Palm Beach, Florida and lifetime badges to The Masters? I mean if he had no ability to deliver on any of this, then why not promise the moon? Why did he choose to offer a deal in this parking deck? And why was an attorney willing to commit a felony to get the TEE Center and parking deck passed if he had absolutely no connection to it or anything to gain from it? Many people didn't buy the story that David Fry was just some lone-gunman type and questions still linger if perhaps more were involved and whether Fry was just a fixer for much bigger fish.
After Matt Aitken defeated Bill Fennoy in a run-off election for the Dist 1 commission seat, the approval of the TEE center was a forgone conclusion. His campaign had almost been entirely predicated on approving the TEE Center. So on December 7th, 2009, the commission quickly agreed to approve the TEE Center and parking deck along with the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. This also happens to be the same meeting when Fred Russell told commissioners that Augusta Riverfront LLC (or its subsidiary) had AGREED to donate the land for the parking deck.
The David Fry story disappeared about as fast as a sitcom on The CW network. The parking deck is finished and open and the TEE center is under construction. David Fry was indicted by a grand jury in June of 2010. An almost forgettable snippet of a story brought that news in the Augusta Chronicle: Chronicle: Fry indicted over bribe. And not much has been heard since then of David Fry. But now it is being reported that David Fry will now stand trial for the bribery attempt, more than a YEAR AFTER he was indicted. Apparently a plea-deal fell through at the last minute.Chronicle: Fry case to go to trial . We have to wonder if the same attorneys involved in the Fry case are also the ones involved in the chronically postponed Scott Dean child molestation trial. But with the new information swirling around ParkingGate, the timing of the trial of David Fry couldn't be any better, or worse (if you are Augusta Riverfront LLC)
So now it has become known that 933 Broad Investment Co LLC (a shell company of Augusta Riverfront LLC) has owned the land where the new parking deck sits since 2003. That means they essentially own the ground floor of the parking deck. Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the Marriott hotel and will manage the new TEE Center. They want the management contract to run the new Reynolds street parking deck for a fee of $25,000 a year and they want to lease hundreds of city owned spaces at another deck adjacent to the Marriott for $50,000, which could net Augusta Riverfront LLC 10 times what they would pay the city for the lease. But either way, since Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the land where the new deck sits, they have control over those ground floor spaces.. and the ground floor of any parking deck is the most lucrative.
All of this new information prompts more questions. Did David Fry know that Augusta Riverfront LLC would have a lock on the ground floor of the new parking deck and was that the concession he was offering in his bribe? And is there a connection between David Fry and Augusta Riverfront LLC or one of their subsidiaries such as 933 Broad Investment Co LLC? Fry so far has has not been talking. Will he be willing to take the fall in exchange for something far more lucrative than a small "slice" of the parking deck? Or will Fry start to sing like a canary in his upcoming trial? And in light of the new turn of events and information learned over the past couple of weeks perhaps the FBI should take a second look at this case to see if Fry was merely an agent for someone else who could have delivered on the parking deck management contract concession. Would it be prudent to postpone Fry's trial so that this case can be investigated further?
The Tee Center and parking deck has involved some of the most powerful players in Augusta, and the attempted bribery of two sitting commissioners of Georgia's 2nd largest city. Perhaps the upcoming bribery trial will finally put the ghost of David Fry to rest once and for all, or it might expose a whole lot more skeletons in Augusta's closet.
Share this on Facebook by clicking the icon below