Attorney Argues Lane "Used" Construction Company Head
As written in the Savannah (GA) Morning News
STATESBORO - Two officers of a construction company charged with theft by deception of building funds intended for the Statesboro Regional Library were "shepherded" and "used" by Rep. Jones Lane, whose construction company later took over the project, an attorney for the two said Monday.
In opening remarks before an eight-woman, four-man jury, Atlanta lawyer Edwin Marger said that after Lane took over the library project he was paid $34,000 in "retainage" money to be used to pay creditors on the project. But, added Marger, Lane "did not use the money for that purpose."
Marger's clients, Stephen Hancock, 33, and Alan Robbins, 32, are charged with theft by deception of $54,932.81 from the library project, which they had contracted in December 1978 to build.
District Attorney J. Lane Johnston, in his opening remarks to the jury, charged the two officers in the Fulton County construction firm with "a scheme to file fraudulent, false statements."
Based on these certificates that a certain amount of work on the library had been completed and that all creditors to date had been paid, the county paid Hancock and Robbins for the work and for the expenses, Johnston said.
But, between Feb. 23 and Aug. 2, 1979, Hancock and Robbins failed to pay their creditors some $54,000, Johnston said.
"The money has gone to build the library and yet nobody has been paid. These people have just got the money," the district attorney said.
The builders only stopped filing the certificates "when at last the suppliers began contacting the county and the library board members themselves," Johnston said.
At this point, the county began withholding the payments from the builders who then "picked up and went on back to Atlanta," Johnston said.
Saying he would "prove beyond any reasonable doubt a milking of the contract," Johnston said the two "abandoned the contract when things got too hot."
Marger, however, maintained that there had been no theft because "the county has not lost one penny - not one single penny has been lost on this case."
Marger told the jury that 10 percent of the almost $1 million library contract let to Hancock and Robbins had been set aside as retainage to assure payment for work and expenses on the job.
Marger said library board members and possibly then County Commission Chairman Emit Deal knew that the builders had run into financial problems as early as March 1979.
In a meeting with Lane, who had put up the performance bond on the project; project architect Edwin Akins of Statesboro; and County Attorney William J. Neville, Hancock and Robbins asked that they be allowed to make payments to their creditors out of the retainage money, but were denied, Marger said.
When Lane took over the project, he was given the money to pay the creditors, but it was not used for this purpose, Marger said.
Marger said his case would show "two young men used for the purpose of an individual and this county lost absolutely nothing."
During cross-examination of Deal, Marger asked what had happened to the $34,000 paid to Lane. According to Marger, the only money outstanding at that time was $3,500 for labor.
When Johnston objected to the question, Marger argued that "this has been a scheme in fact from the day Jones Lane came into the transaction. Jones Lane put two men in a position they couldn't get of and has misused the funds given him for the purpose of this library."
Johnston said there were some 20 or 30 state's witnesses to be called, including some out-of-town building supply company representatives who claim they haven't been paid in connection with the library.
At the onset of the trial, a defense motion for dismissal of the case involving disallowance of a question put to prospective jurors was denied by Superior Court Judge W. Colbert Hawkins.
The November 1979 term of the Bulloch County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging one count of theft by deception against the corporation Hancock and Robbins Inc., Hancock its president, and Robbins, its secretary.