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Williams answers questions about ethics probe, taxes
Al Williams Mag
Rep. Al Williams - photo by Courier file photo
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said he plans to come to an agreement with the State Ethics Commission by the end of the month, but contends he still has not received a full explanation of the charges being levied against him by the watchdog agency.
The ethics panel announced during a May 22 hearing that an investigation into Williams' campaign finances found he used campaign funds for personal use, failed to disclose $5,650 in campaign contributions and neglected to tell the state about real estate and fiduciary positions he held in 2004 and 2006.
One charge accuses Williams of spending $4,200 worth of campaign contributions on mileage to fulfill the duties of his office, while at the same time accepting $1,164 in mileage reimbursements from the Georgia General Assembly.
Commission workers also allege the lawmaker underreported one campaign contribution by $250, did not provide required information in campaign contribution reports and owes $425 in late filing fees to the Secretary of State and Liberty County.
Ethics officials have produced documentation showing they have been contacting Williams about these allegations since April, but the lawmaker claims the only notice he received from the commission is a letter containing no details about the charges sent five days after the May hearing.
"(The press) has really told me more about the allegations than (the commission). There is no mention in the letter of the actual allegations," Williams said, breaking weeks of silence regarding the situation. "They've given (the press) the laundry list and haven't put it in my letter to tell me what the board's decided."
The Midway resident said, based on what he has read in newspapers and a re-evaluation of his own records, he thinks at least one of the charges is null and void.
"The $425 (late filing fees) I know for sure is not so," Williams said, adding the actual fee was lowered to $350 after staffers found one of the reports. "And I have the receipt right here from the ethics commission showing I paid the $350 on March 6."
Regarding his personal finance statements, the legislator said he has filed his most recent statement and will "go back and see what happened during the period in question."
As for his use of $4,200 in campaign funds to cover his mileage expenses, Williams said it was a move he had to make because "after five years of only getting reimbursed for travel from home to Atlanta," he had to offset some of his gas costs.
Williams said as a representative and chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, he travels extensively not just in his district, but also throughout the state to perform job-related duties. Williams said he used the money to cover about 10,000 miles, taking into account "miles driven from the end of the session until the end of December," but the actual mileage, he said, is "much higher."
"The mileage I filed is related to my office, but not during a legislative session and not when I went up on authorized committee assignment or official meetings of the state. Never," Williams said. "But it does involve the many miles I drive in the discharge of my office and I still contend that 10,000 miles is not a lot of miles in seven or eight months."
Williams was given 30 days to bring his arguments and supporting evidence to the ethics board, at which time State Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Rick Thompson said both sides will work out a settlement over the allegations.
Williams said he already has begun reaching out to ethics officials to discuss the matter and is hopeful the issue will be resolved by the end of June.
Williams said he is also close to closing the door on another issue that has dogged him for nearly two years: his taxes.
The Georgia Department of Revenue has been garnishing his legislative paycheck since October 2006 to collect on more than $180,000 in back taxes the department says Williams owes from as far back as 2003.
The lawmaker said he re-checked his tax records for the past seven years and his calculations tell a completely different story.
"I've gone back seven years and I'm still waiting to hear from the revenue department, but I can assure you unequivocally that (my taxes) were nowhere near $180,000 ... I've always thought that was outrageous and nowhere near where it was," Williams said without going into detail about how he came up with his figures. "And at this point, until I'm told differently by the state, I believe the state owes me money."
Williams did not say when he expected to reach a final agreement with the Georgia Department of Revenue.
Despite the number of controversies surrounding Williams, the legislator said none of his personal battles will slow him from continuing to fight for and serve his constituents.
"I will comply in whatever way I need to," Williams said, regarding both the ethics investigation and the tax case. "In the meantime, I'll continue to do whatever I can to represent the citizens of Georgia."
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