April 2, 2010 3:40:00 PM
ABERDEEN -- Aberdeen Mayor Jim Ballard is free on $5,000 bond after being arrested Thursday on charges of felony bribery. But a lack of eyewitnesses to the alleged bribery may derail those charges.
Ballard, who has been serving as interim Aberdeen Electric Department manager since January, was accused by Monroe County bail bondsman Keith Morgan of offering Morgan $30 to keep quiet about a contested electric bill.
Morgan reported Ballard threw the money into his car as Morgan was preparing to leave the electric department, a charge Ballard denies. But no one witnessed the exchange, said Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Randle.
"(Electric department workers) really didn''t see the part about the money transaction," said Randle. "They heard the verbal confrontation between the mayor and Mr. Morgan and did say the conversation was a little heated."
When questioned by the police following his arrest, Ballard said he had no comment on the events. Without any eyewitnesses, the exchange boils down to a he said, he said.
"Being in law enforcement and seeing a lot of bribery charges, I''m not sure what will stick (in court) and what will not," said Randle, noting the police are obligated to press charges when they''re brought forth.
"I advised (Morgan) of his rights. You have the right to file charges, but you need to think about what you''re doing," said Randle.
Ballard turned himself over to the APD shortly before noon Thursday and was transported to the Monroe County Sheriff''s Office, where he was released on bond around 2 p.m. He declined discussing the case Friday morning, claiming the specifics would be heard in court. But when asked whether he threw the money at Morgan, Ballard said "no."
Ballard will be back in Municipal Court April 28, at which time a judge will decide if he will be held over for the Grand Jury, who''ll decide if the case will go to circuit court.
Warrant for the mayor''s arrest
After Morgan filed an affidavit with the Aberdeen Police Department March 12 following his encounter with Ballard, APD Assistant Chief Tommy Edwards delivered Municipal Court Judge Adrian Haynes a warrant to be signed for Ballard''s arrest on March 17 in the presence of Randle and City Attorney Robert Faulkes. However, the warrant disappeared from the court clerk''s office while the clerk was away on personal leave, .
"We thought it was just in her office. Then, when the clerk returned, the warrant wasn''t there," said Edwards.
He''s not sure how many city employees had knowledge of the warrant, but officials have expressed plans to change the locks to the court clerk''s office.
Another warrant was presented to Haynes Wednesday, which she signed, but Ballard turned himself in to police before Edwards could present him with the warrant.
Turning himself in
"I''m not sure how he found out, but he come down and said he understood we had papers on him," said Edwards. "I told him that, yes, we did and took him back to processing."
Morgan''s affidavit was filed following an argument with Ballard over his electric bill.
Morgan visited Ballard at the electric department March 12 seeking an explanation for his bill, according to the complaint. Electric charges for a small building behind his house in January were $29 for 29 days, but the following month''s bill was $69 for 39 days, he claims.
When he confronted Ballard, Morgan says the mayor became upset. Morgan then told Ballard he would pay the bill, but he would begin his own investigation into operations at the electric department.
"I said ''I''ve been a private investigator for 20 years. Up until now I''ve stayed out of this, but now I''m in it,''" said Morgan. "He jumped up and said ''Are you threatening me?'' I said ''No, sir. But you stood on my porch while you were running for mayor and said you''re an honest man.''
"I went and stuck my paper through the window, and the (cashier) said ''How much do you want to pay?'' As if I had a choice. I said ''Whatever the biggest number on the paper is.''"
After paying the bill, Morgan said he began to leave the parking lot when Ballard emerged from the building and waved him back into the lot.
"I pulled back in and asked him ''What do you want?'' He had a 20-dollar bill and a 10-dollar bill and threw it in my lap and said ''That will make up the difference,''" said Morgan. "I grabbed the money and threw it back in his face and said ''Get your dirty money out of my car.''"
After leaving the electric department, Morgan says he drove to the police department to file a complaint.
"I''m not a lawyer and I''m not a cop, but it seems like that''s not right," said Morgan of Ballard''s alleged bribe. "All he''s trying to do is pay me money so I''ll shut up and go away. Ain''t nobody going to buy my silence."
Morgan has worked with the APD in his work with All Pro Bail Bonds in the past, but says he has no agenda and hasn''t brought the APD a bond in at least two months.
Chief, mayor at odds
Ballard has publicly described his rocky relationship with Randle, stating the two are not on speaking terms outside of city meetings.
Ballard took over as electric department manager in January after former manager Adrian Garth was arrested on two counts of felony extortion. The electric department has been at the center of an investigation into utility theft since December.
Ricky Bowen, pastor of Aberdeen First Pentecostal Church, was cleared of misdemeanor charges related to the scandal March 17 under the condition that he not sue the city for false arrest. Bowen had been charged with receiving stolen property and obstruction of justice after launching a personal investigation into corruption at the electric department.
Bowen claims he was set up by Ballard, who warned him not to trust the police department with information Bowen uncovered during his investigation.
Concerned commented at 4/2/2010 5:24:00 PM:
Peggy Smith commented at 4/2/2010 8:35:00 PM:
My neice would like to get a job at the Monroe Electric Dept.Would someone please check on this.
slick commented at 4/3/2010 6:21:00 AM:
Shouda just whooped his ass like Smith did Karriem in Columbus.Maybe we could get up a tag team match,mayors vs.idiots!
BRASSMAN commented at 4/3/2010 7:45:00 AM:
i THINK THE MAYOR WAS SET UP JUST LIKE THE PASTOR WAS .
oUR PIGS ARE CLEANER THAN OUR POLITICIANS . I THINK SOME HOPEFUL OUT THERE WANTS HIS JOB. MAYBE THE VICE MAYOR FOR INSTANCE.
Remember etu brute.as the story goes about brutus stabbing his leader in the back. after all he is A Garth.
MIKE LAUDERDALE commented at 4/3/2010 10:32:00 PM:
NOTHING WILL EVER HAPPEN TO THE MAYOR.HE IS PART OF THE CITY GOVERMENT. I HAD THE AMORY POLICE DEPARTMENT HELP KIDNAP MY CHILD FROM MY HOME AT 1:00AM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND NEVER COULD GET ANYTHING DONE. CAN I PRESS CHARGES ON THE POLICE DEPT.?? PLEASE SOMEONE LET ME KNOW. THIS IS NO B.S. THEY LITERLY CAME IN MY HOUSE AND NEVER WOKE ME UP AND GOT HIM BUT NEVER WOKE ME UP AND NO HE WAS NOT UNDERAREST.
brassman commented at 4/5/2010 7:32:00 AM:
I personally wouldnt trust any one named morgan far as I could throw an elephant. remember the so called vcm suit against conoco.what a farce.
Shaggy commented at 4/5/2010 8:45:00 AM:
Aberdeen is the toilet bowl of NE MS.
DS commented at 4/5/2010 12:21:00 PM:
Why am I not surprised that NO ONE is calling for the Mayor to "re-sign immediately" as was done with Columbus Mayor Robert Smith? To say there is a double standard applied to white folks and blacks would be a gross understatement!
Denny commented at 4/5/2010 1:04:00 PM:
Hey DS, put away the race card. Nobody cares. It's 2010. Stop using that crutch.
4. Storied locked antlers find their way home COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY