Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Roles Are Reversed for Parole Board Duo They're Accused of Abuse of Power

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Roles Are Reversed for Parole Board Duo They're Accused of Abuse of Power

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles has the final say on death penalty cases and decides when inmates are ready to go free. But for the past nine months, its two most prominent members have been on the flip side of the justice system, as investigators seek to determine whether the men used their positions to break the law.

The probe, by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and state attorney general's office, is studying whether board Chairman Walter Ray and member Bobby Whitworth received money in exchange for political favors.

The pair repeatedl have denied the claims, saying they expect their names to be cleared when the open-ended investigation is complete.

But that hasn't stopped election-year calls for Gov. Roy Barnes to remove Ray and Whitworth from office.

"The governor appointed those individuals and should ask for their resignation," said Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah, the Senate's Republican leader. "Regardless of whether the criminal investigation identifies criminal wrongdoing, it is certainly a conflict of ethical interest to be making money off of your responsibilities to the state taxpayers."

The governor's office responded that it would be premature to act before the investigation is complete.

Whitworth and Ray have acknowledged receiving thousands of dollars from a personal friend and former corrections administrator who runs a private probation business.

But they say the money represents fees for consulting work, not payback for supporting a 2000 bill that would benefit Lanson Newsome's Detention Management Services Inc.

"They have disclosed everything that they did -- the fees they took and what they took them for," Pardons and Paroles spokeswoman Stephanie McConnell said.

The bill allowed parole of some misdemeanor convicts to be supervised by private companies such as Newsome's.

Pardons and Paroles officials say Whitworth and Ray had supported the concepts in the bill for years because they say it freed up prison space for hardened criminals. …

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