MACON, Ga. — Editor's note: The video attached to this story says the attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment. The article reflects that the AG’s office commented after the story aired.
Friday morning, a group of religious and civic leaders called the GBI's investigation involving Macon mayoral candidate Cliffard Whitby a "political hit job."
One major focus point? The timing of the case.
Clergy and politicians argued that delay was no accident.
"This is what you call a political lynching," said Macon State Senator David Lucas. "When you don't want somebody that's talking about serving the community but you got another part of the community that has another agenda, then they come up with all kind of tricks."
Others made the same case.
"What we are experiencing is an intentional assault on the collective consciousness on our community, all in the name of politics," said Pastor Bryant Raines.
According to that March 2nd letter from the Attorney General's office requesting the investigation, the GBI was asked to investigate possible theft, forgery, and false statements involving former Macon Industrial Authority leader Cliffard Whitby and three companies allegedly "owned by Whitby's family members."
According to that letter, the allegation is that Whitby directed work to those companies and the companies didn't complete the work, but got paid anyway.
Whitby is now running for mayor of Macon-Bibb County. The election is roughly three weeks away.
This week, the GBI announced the official opening of the case but declined to name Whitby as a current focus.
"It's those three businesses that we will be focusing on at this time," said Special Agent in Charge Todd Crosby. "If the investigation leads us to other individuals that the evidence shows there are criminal charges against, we will release those names at that time."
Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis said the announcement of the case, just weeks before the election, was a deliberate effort to hurt Whitby's candidacy.
He didn't blame the GBI, though.
"I'm not here to condemn or jump on the GBI," Ellis said.
Instead, he put much of the blame on Attorney General Chris Carr.
"The GBI goes where they are directed to go," he said. "In this case, they were commanded to come here by the Attorney General, and I would like to give him marks for having the wherewithal to send them to Brunswick where they should have gone, but I condemn him for sending them here where they do not belong."
Ellis also openly wondered what, or who, triggered the AG's office's request.
"The question begs to be asked, and I think we deserve an answer," said Ellis. "Who called them? Who handed it to them?"
In a written statement, a spokeswoman for the AG's office said "those accusations are simply not true. It is our duty to the people of Georgia to enforce the laws of our state. Because the investigation is ongoing, our office cannot comment further."
Crosby said the GBI announced the case this week because they only officially opened it a week ago.
According to him, they first had to review a case file from a related FBI investigation, and COVID-19 delayed the process of getting access to the file.
Whitby was not in attendance at the event and declined to be interviewed Thursday.
However, he released a written statement that called the investigation a "politically-motivated attack" and touted his 2018 acquittal on federal bribery charges, saying he "has been fully vindicated of all federal charges."
Speakers at Friday's event underscored that point.
"This current investigation is being made into accusations that were publicized years ago and reviewed during a separate federal case investigation," said Raines. "We all know that he was exonerated in 2018 from all federal charges in that case."
However, this newly-announced investigation, according to the letter from the AG's office and the GBI, focuses not on the school system, but on companies involved with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority during Whitby's tenure as the agency's leader.
On Thursday, GBI Special Agent in Charge Todd Crosby confirmed there was an FBI investigation into that situation.
"That was an FBI investigation and I think that time frame of two to three years ago would be accurate," he said.
Crosby said, to the best of his knowledge, that case did not lead to any charges.
When asked about the case, FBI Atlanta field office spokesperson Kevin Rowson seemed to suggest it may never have been officially closed, saying only "we don't discuss active investigations and we're cooperating with the GBI."
At Friday's event, State Senator Lucas acknowledged the two investigations are separate, but, in his view, not unrelated.
"The accusations, all of them were brought up (in the course of the investigation that led to the 2018 trial), the feds didn't even see enough evidence to bring it in, so it was never tried," Lucas said.
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