Grand Jury finds no evidence of crime in Preston buyout

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By Stan Welch – Following more than two years of investigation, the state grand jury stunned many people and gratified others when it suddenly announced last week that it had found no evidence of criminal activity in the buyout of former county administrator Joey Preston’s contract, and was dropping the investigation.

In 2008, following comments by incoming members of the County Council that Preston and his finance director Gina Humphries, would be placed on paid leave while an audit was conducted, Preston claimed his contract, which was due to expire at the end of the year, had been “anticipatorily breached”.

Subsequently, the personnel committee met with a special labor lawyer they retained to address Preston’s claims. Despite his advice to Council to ignore Preston and let his contract expire, Wilson, according to his own claims, ordered the attorney to reach an agreement with Preston. That agreement paid Preston $1.2 million to buy out the last six weeks of his contract.

The circumstances and events surrounding the November 28, 2008 meeting where the buyout was approved spurred an eventual state grand jury investigation. According to the statement released by the grand jury on June 12, nothing that occurred at that meeting reached the level of criminal activity.

The report was issued less than two months after several Supreme Court Justices, while hearing an appeal related to a lawsuit brought by local citizen Rick Freemantle against the council members who provided the severance package, made several remarks that clearly showed their opinions of the evidence to be different than the grand jury’s.

Chief Justice Jean Toal called the events of the meeting “appalling” and an effort by the Council “to give your buddy a golden parachute.” On the recording of the hearings, at least two other justices can be heard making similar statements.

Despite the grand jury dismissal, Preston remains involved to some extent in the federal inquiry into the Atlantic Bullion and Coin/Ron Wilson Ponzi scheme that allegedly bilked more than 900 investors out of 90 million dollars.

According to sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, investigators are trying to confirm or deny whether Preston served as an agent for the sale of the silver securities. Wilson, while on the County Council, produced the severance package at the November 18 meeting.