Gwinnett DA threatened commission with grand jury probe

Proposed land deal tabled after Porter sent e-mail

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter threatened a grand jury investigation against the County Commission if it had agreed to a multimillion-dollar land purchase this week.

The admonition came Monday in an e-mail to commissioners a day before they were to consider paying $5.2 million for a 16-acre tract of right of way for the McGinnis Ferry Road extension project east of Suwanee.

"Frankly, it is with a great deal of shock that I read this agenda item particularly with what I know about the ownership of the property and in this time of budgetary distress," Porter wrote commissioners. "If this item goes forward tomorrow, you can expect to be explaining this and other recent land purchases to the Grand Jury."

Part of the property, whose owner is listed as Old Peachtree Partners LLC, has been the subject of a condemnation action by the county and subsequent lawsuits.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the County Commission tabled the measure until Aug. 4 after District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter requested more time to study the issue. The vote was unanimous.

When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Porter confirmed that he was referring to a grand jury investigation into some recent land purchases by the county.

"I sent them the e-mail in response to what I saw on the agenda item," Porter said.

Porter, however, offered few details about the e-mail, citing a possible grand jury investigation. He would not say which land deals he was referring to, nor would he comment on whether he suspected any misconduct by the county commissioners.

The grand jury can initiate investigations into government dealings or Porter can request one. He would not say whether he planned to ask for one. Nor would he elaborate on his statement about what he knows about the property owner.

The registered agent for Old Peachtree Partners LLC is a real estate developer and investor named Ty Robinson.

Robinson could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

But attorney Michael Bowers, who represents Peachtree Partners in the matter, said he could not imagine what could be suspect about the deal.

The issue began two years ago when the county offered $1.1 million for 1.87 acres for road use. Old Peachtree Partners later learned the county intended to use the parcel to install a forced-main sewer. This, Bowers said, would preclude access to the adjoining land.

As part of the proposed sale, Old Peachtree Partners offered to sell the back area, about 15 acres along I-85, to the county at what it believed to be below fair market value — $325,000 per acre.

Those 15 acres, according to project documents, could be needed for ramp construction at I-85. Money for the land purchase would come from the 2005 SPLOST fund.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said he could not comment on the proposed sale because it is part of an open court case. He did say he replied to Porter's e-mail, asking for a meeting. The two met on Tuesday morning, the day of the board's meeting.

"He asked for me to meet with him that morning and I did, but I can't discuss what we talked about," Porter said.

One month ago, the County Commission approved a land purchase of 33 acres near Lawrenceville for $2 million, more than twice the value set by its own appraisal. The vote was 3-1 with Commissioner Mike Beaudreau dissenting.

Porter did say that Beaudreau sent him a one-line response to his e-mail: "Thank you sir."