Former Ga. candidate for governor indicted

Michael Williams, GOP candidate for governor, and his "deportation bus." AJC file

Michael Williams, GOP candidate for governor, and his "deportation bus." AJC file

State Sen. Michael Williams, who waged a controversial campaign for governor this year, was charged this week with making a false report that computer servers were stolen from his campaign office shortly before his last-place finish in the May primary.

The indictment, obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, accuses the Forysth County Republican of insurance fraud, making a false statement and false report of a crime.

Williams, a Forsyth County Republican who remains in office until January, declined to comment. His former campaign manager, Seth Weathers, said it was a “political witch hunt” and is without merit.

“I guess it’s the price you pay for being a fearless conservative,” said Weathers, invoking a campaign slogan. “Like they say, a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich.”

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said Williams is making arrangements to turn himself in. He declined further comment.

The charges issued Tuesday by Hall County authorities relate to a May incident where Williams reported that his Gainesville office was burglarized. At the time, Weathers said $300,000 worth of computers servers were taken from the building.

Williams is accused of lying to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent when he said he was at home in Forsyth County, not in the Gainesville area at the time of the purported burglary. The indictment, which doesn’t say what allegedly actually happened to the servers, accuses him of making a false insurance claim related to the servers.

In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story published a day after the alleged theft, Weathers said the servers were being used to mine cryptocurrency.

Weathers said then that Williams owns a cryptocurrency business and that the building he leases for the servers is also used to house his campaign office. He said then that the servers were not campaign property.

Asked at the time by CBS 46 if the alleged theft was politically motivated, Weathers mused: “With all the crazy shenanigans that go on in politics, who knows?”

Williams came in fifth place out of five candidates in the May Republican primary for governor. He based his campaign on loyalty to Donald Trump and a series of ill-fated publicity stunts, including a “deportation bus.”

First elected to the state Senate in 2014, Williams struggled to gain clout in a chamber that emphasizes longevity and loyalty. Many saw him as a sideshow who made promises he couldn’t follow through on.

But Trump’s ascendance helped him gain currency among a new wave of voters. He trekked to Utah days before the 2016 vote to help rally fellow Mormons to Trump’s side, and he stumped across Georgia to back the New York businessman.

When Trump won an upset victory over Hillary Clinton, Williams soon decided to run for governor by trying to position himself as his biggest champion - and planning one attention-grabbing stunt after another.

He raffled off a deadly device after it was used in a mass shooting. He enlisted a TV reality star, "Dog" the Bounty Hunter, to promote his call for increased police pay. And he led a protest against a teacher who told a student to leave her classroom because he was wearing a T-shirt supporting Trump.

He capped it with a "deportation bus tour" in the final week before the May vote that drew crowds of protesters - and jeers when it broke down between stops in north Georgia.

The stunts helped Williams attract heaps of national attention and scorn from many conservatives. He was universally ignored by his GOP rivals. At some debates, his rivals wouldn't even respond to Williams' taunts.

He remains a sitting member of the state Senate, though he will be succeeded on Jan. 14 by Republican Greg Dolezal. He’s not likely to be expelled: That would require a two-thirds vote from the state Senate, which won’t reconvene until mid-January.