Once a month for seven years, Dean Alford made the trip to downtown Atlanta to join 18 men and women picked by the governor to oversee operations at Georgia’s largest public universities.
His seat on the Georgia Board of Regents was a plum assignment in a four-decade-long public career that began with a 10-year stint in the state Legislature and continued with service on several influential state boards. Alford was a business owner whose energy company, run with his brother, worked with local governments developing new technologies. He was also founder of a charitable organization in his hometown of Conyers to support special needs children that has been duplicated in communities nationwide.
Alford’s career took a disturbing turn in October when state prosecutors filed criminal charges against him, accusing Alford of forging invoices in a moneymaking scheme for his business.
Alford’s troubles have since mounted. There are two federal civil lawsuits filed against him, his wife — the former head of the Georgia Lottery — filed for divorce, his company’s assets were frozen, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked for company records and his brother has said in court papers Alford borrowed money for their company without his knowledge.
The accusations have surprised many longtime friends, associates and political observers. It also threatens the prospects of an environmental project by Alford’s company, Allied Energy Services, approved by Augusta leaders less than two years ago to turn waste from the city dump into diesel fuel. At the time, Alford claimed it was unprecedented nationally.
“It sounds almost too good to be true: An Atlanta-area company plans to buy Augusta’s garbage,” began a June 2018 Augusta Chronicle article about the project.
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Alford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s confident the project will be done and dismissed his brother’s claims.
“Mr. Alford steadfastly denies the false allegations against him,” he said in a statement emailed by his civil attorney, James Eidson. “The Augusta Waste-to-Energy Project is real, viable, and will be a tremendous benefit to the Augusta community. Mr. Alford is very disappointed by the actions of his brother and strongly disagrees with the documents he has filed; however, he declines to debate the details of family business in the media.”
The statement did not address the criminal charges against him, and Alford declined further comment. Former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson, who initially served as Alford’s lawyer in the criminal case, said via email recently he’s no longer representing Alford and did not specify the reason.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office said last week the investigation is ongoing and did not comment further.
This week, Alford is scheduled to respond to allegations in one of the civil lawsuits, according to Brant A. Jackson, an attorney representing Allied.
“We’ll see what he says,” Jackson said. “It is a mystery.”
A reputation unravels
Prosecutors say Alford wrote fake invoices starting in late September for projects at the University of Georgia, one of the schools under the Regents’ purview. The scheme, prosecutors said, was discovered about a week after they said Alford tried to recoup money for work that wasn’t requested or done.
Many current and former state officials who worked with Alford declined to be interviewed, but some said they were confounded that Alford is accused of something that could be easily discovered by authorities.
Other friends and associates were careful with their comments, saying they didn’t know all the details.
“I was at a loss,” Richard Tucker, a former Regents member who served with Alford, said when he read about the charges.
Tucker described Alford, 66, as a solid contributor to the board.
“I know Dean and hate seeing something serious happen to anybody I’ve served with,” Tucker said.
Alford earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1976 and started his career as an engineering consultant a year later. In 1982, Alford was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, serving parts of DeKalb and Rockdale counties. He served five terms, leaving in 1992.
Alford served on various public and private boards from the mid-1990s through the 2000s, including the state Board of Education and the Technical College System of Georgia.
Then-Gov. Nathan Deal named Alford to the Regents in 2012. Gov. Brian Kemp reappointed Alford in July, but replaced two other longtime members.
The Georgia Board of Regents oversees operations at the University System of Georgia’s 26 institutions and chooses presidents to lead the schools. The Regents have been described by some as another branch of government because of their importance and the large budget they oversee.
In Georgia, the governor picks the Regents. Most states allow governors to pick board members, but they must be approved by a branch of their state legislature or they are chosen by the governor and others.
Georgia’s 19 Regents members are typically people with strong business ties, have close relationships with the governor or helped get the governor elected. Alford, like many Regents, continued his business dealings. Some of his projects, though, faced public criticism, like a proposed coal plant voted down in 2012 by the the Cobb EMC board. That plant, proposed for Washington County, still hasn’t been built.
What’s next for Augusta project?
The legal troubles for Alford began around midday on Oct. 3. Kemp issued a press release that Alford, at the governor’s request, had resigned. Attorney General Chris Carr that day announced two criminal charges against Alford, racketeering and criminal attempt to commit theft by taking. He was released on $25,000 bond for each charge.
Alford had allegedly been submitting unpaid bills to a collection agency to recoup money owed to his company, Allied Energy Services LLC, for work he claimed he’d done for Georgia colleges and other companies but had not been paid for. The collection company, Versant Funding, a Florida-based business, is a financial services sector company that specializes in “factoring,” a financial transaction in which a business may sell its unpaid invoices to a third party at a discount and pay a fee when the money is collected.
Officials said the invoices were for work Alford claimed his company did for the University of Georgia. The arrest report says there were also three invoices for Georgia Military College, two for Synovus and one for Inman Solar Inc., based in Atlanta. The invoices were sent between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1, the arrest report says.
Don Waters, who served last year as the Regents chairman, described the charges as “shocking and deeply unsettling” in a statement the day they were announced.
Documents requested by the AJC about Alford, including whether the University System had any contracts with his company Allied, were withheld as part of the criminal investigation, University System officials said.
About two weeks later, nearly 40 investors sued Alford in federal court in Middle Georgia, saying he took $6 million from them in a Ponzi scam.
Allied Energy Services, by some accounts, had annual revenues of about $60 million. Court documents, though, suggest Alford had trouble raising money for the Augusta project.
Allied’s plan would convert up to 175,000 tons of trash a year into pinkie-sized pellets that can be burned as biomass fuel. The investors said Alford was unable to get funding from corporate partners and venture capitalists for the Augusta project and asked for help. Most investors, many from the Columbus area, said they contributed between $25,000 and $100,000. One Tennessee-based company said it invested $1.4 million.
The energy industry is one of the most profitable sectors of the economy as governments offer incentives to produce cheaper, more environmentally friendly products. But it is also risky. Many companies can’t pay for the technology.
The lawsuit says the defendants — Dean, his brother Dan and Allied, the company they ran together — “furthered their fraud by concocting a Solar Energy project to gain additional investors” in an effort to pay back the people who put money in the landfill project. The initial investors said Alford either told them “the check is in the mail” or didn’t reply. The plaintiffs want their money back, including interest.
Alford’s brother, Dan, who said he now runs Allied, said in court papers Dean took advantage of him, too.
Dan Alford said Dean opened three new financial accounts at Bank of America without his knowledge. Dan also said in court records he was unaware that several investors “loaned money to Allied at Defendant Dean Alford’s fraudulent solicitations.” Dan also said his brother sold more securities and promissory notes without his brother’s knowledge. Dean borrowed at least $10 million, said Jackson.
“(Dan) wasn’t involved and did not know what was going on during this time period,” Jackson said in a telephone interview. “(Dean) won’t tell us what he did with the money. (Dean) used our name to give his fraudulent sales pitch credibility.”
Jackson, who is trying to get Allied and Dan Alford removed from the lawsuit, said Dean Alford is no longer involved in the company. Dan has given a deposition to the SEC and is cooperating with its inquiry, Jackson said. The charges and line of plaintiffs who said they were ripped off by Dean Alford are making it difficult for his brother to get funding for the Augusta project, Jackson said.
Jackson said the project, which is currently halted, “does have a lot of potential if it can find appropriate funding and structure.” Augusta environmental officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Earlier this month, three Virginia residents sued Allied and Alford in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia, accusing Alford of failing to repay a total of $160,000. The plaintiffs want their money back, plus interest and legal fees.
State leaders and the Regents have quickly turned the page. Kemp, a Republican, replaced Alford in late November with Rachel Little, a Gwinnett County resident with strong ties to the GOP who has served on two state boards.
The Board of Regents held its first meeting of the year a couple of weeks ago. The board heard a staff presentation on annual ethics training for several officials, including the Board of Regents.
University System administrators thanked five Regents members whose terms ended on Jan. 1. They did not mention Alford.
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