Grand jury indicts Harris Commissioner Charles Wyatt on corruption charges

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 12, 2014 

A grand jury has indicted Harris County Commissioner Charles Wyatt for multiple offenses involving bribery and violating his oath of office, authorities announced today.

“The allegations involved payments made to and demanded by Commissioner Wyatt in exchange for his vote and influence on contracts approved by the county commission,” reported the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the probe.

A vendor made the allegations to other commissioners, who consulted county attorney John Taylor and advised Chief Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Judge Gil McBride, who requested an investigation in November 2013.

The grand jury issued the indictments Monday, according to the GBI. Wyatt in a phone message said he is innocent, and has hired Columbus attorney Tim Flournoy for his defense.

The indictments list these bribery allegations:

• Between Nov. 20, 2009, and June 18, 2012, Wyatt through David Beall got $22,414 in cash from Wendell Strickland with the understanding Wyatt would vote in favor of Strickland’s proposal to provide county workers’ health insurance.

• Between Oct. 1, 2011, and Oct. 31, 2011, Wyatt solicited $500 a month from Strickland with the understanding Wyatt in return would support Strickland’s future proposals to provide county employees’ health insurance.

• Sometime around Nov. 26, 2012, Wyatt telephoned Strickland and claimed Strickland owed Wyatt’s wife $7,000, and threatened to favor giving the county employees’ health insurance contract to Strickland’s competitor Hutchinson Traylor.

For each bribery indictment, Wyatt was indicted on a corresponding charge of violating his oath of office, as he swore to well and truly discharge his duties in the best interests of Harris County residents.

According to the indictment, the allegations came to light on Nov. 9, 2013.

The GBI said the indictments resulted from sworn testimony from GBI Special Agent in Charge Wayne Smith, who formerly headed the bureau's Columbus office. Most of the investigation was done by mid-January, but authorities had to decide who would prosecute Wyatt.

Harris County is in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, where Julia Slater is the district attorney, but the Harris commission provides some partial funding for Slater's office, presenting a possible conflict of interest. She requested a special prosecutor from the Georgia Department of Law, which requested Coweta Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis take the case. Skandalakis assigned it to Assistant District Attorney Robert Peterkin.

The GBI said Wyatt surrendered at the Harris County Jail after warrants were issued for his arrest.

Wyatt has been on the commission since January 2003, representing District 1. He is running unopposed for re-election this year.

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