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Dad pleads guilty in car dealership case
• No sentencing date is set for Verlon Smith after he pleads guilty to over 200 charges — including theft and forgery.

A Rome man pleaded guilty to 221 charges including theft by conversion and forgery earlier this week, but the date for his sentencing has not been set yet.

According to court records:

Verlon Raymond Smith, along with his son, Brandon Keith Smith, were on the criminal trial calendar in Floyd County Superior Court for this week but Verlon Smith chose to enter a guilty plea on multiple charges without any form of plea deal.

No date has been scheduled for him to be sentenced. He was originally charged with two counts of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, but those charges were dropped with his plea.

Brandon Smith, is still facing 223 criminal charges including forgery, filing false documents, false information on application for a title, theft by conversion and violations of the RICO Act.

In May 2015, Rome, Floyd County and Georgia Department of Revenue officials executed a search warrant at CarXpress, then located at 801 Shorter Ave. Officials confiscated business documents and later in October 2015 both men were arrested and criminally charged.

Visit the Rome News-Tribune website to see previous reports related to this RICO case.

According to an indictment filed on March 29, 2019:

Between March 2013 and May 2015, both men who were employees and agents of The Smith Car Care Center and CarXpress, "forged documents and misrepresented facts regarding vehicle trades which did not occur to steal $107,012.83 in Total Ad Valorem Tax."

The indictment stated the men conspired to change bills of sale and state MV-1, or title application, forms at their used car lot. They'd produce fake forms saying that they received a trade-in vehicle, which would greatly reduce the taxes owed to the government.

"In each of these transactions, the customer would either have no vehicle to trade to CarXpress but one was surreptitiously added on the bill of sale ...," the indictment stated. They would then forge customers' names on the altered bill of sale and turn in the documents to the tag office.

"These altered documents would show a trade-in where none existed in the actual transaction or a trade-in of greater value where an actual trade in occurred," the indictment stated.

Woman's love of pets honored
• PAWS gets a grant to aid financially troubled pet owners on behalf of the late Laura Chesnut.

'A great way to remember a beautiful person'

Pet owners in the Rome area will get some assistance with their fur babies thanks to a $5,000 donation to the Floyd county Public Animal Welfare Services on Friday. Mary Ellen Pethel, a graduate of Rome High, drove to Rome from Nashville on Friday to present the check on behalf of the Laura Chesnut Community Assistance Program.

Chesnut, 42, a graduate of Rome High Class of '94, died a tragic and sudden death in May of this year.

"We're going to use it to help the underserved residents of our community. If they have an animal that needs a dog house we can use it to bring them into compliance, said Jeff Mitchell, PAWS director. "If there is a violation of the ordinance we'll be glad to help get them a dog house. We have a lot of poverty in the area and a lot of time the animals are just a financial burden."

Funds will be available to help pet owners purchase collars, leashes, food, whatever the immediate need might be as long as the recipient is a resident of Floyd County.

The program is designed to help people keep their pets and not sink into a condition where they are having to surrender their animals because they simply can't afford to take care of them anymore.

Mitchell had 280 animals at the PAWS facility on North Avenue on Friday, and explained that a lot of the dogs and cats had good homes but their owners fell on hard times. "It's not designed to be a permanent fix. We give them resources that will help them through hard times and helpfully get back on their feet," Mitchell said.

Pethel said the program was the result of the untimely death of Laura Chesnut, a classmate of hers at both Rome High School and Berry College.

"She lit up any room that she walked into," Pethel said of Chesnut. When Pethel learned of her death, she wanted to do something to further Chesnut's memory, and several friends started a Go Fund Me account and raised the $5,000 pretty quickly.

"Laura had a love for animals and particularly rescue animals, so I reached out to Jeff," Pethel said. The second project Pethel and Chesnut's friends want to do is plant a chestnut tree in her memory at the new dog park in Ridge Ferry Park. "We think a beautiful tree with a plaque in a beautiful place would be a great way to remember a beautiful person," Pethel said.

Fishing takes center stage in Cave Spring, Armuchee
• Kids are virtually guaranteed to land a nice trout or catfish.

While Trout Unlimited hosts its annual Kids Fishing Day in Cave Spring Saturday, where kids are virtually guaranteed of landing a nice trout, one of the best kept secrets as it relates to fishing in the Rome area is that the catfish are biting at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Arrowhead compound on Floyd Springs Road.

The 32nd annual Kids Fishing Day brings scores of children and their families to the pond in Rolater Park in Cave Spring. Youngsters fish in age groups all the way through 11:45 a.m.; 3-and 4-year-olds get the first shot at the trout at 9 a.m. All age groups can fish from noon until 1 p.m.

The event is as close to a guaranteed catch as a young angler might ever get.

In years gone by, TU officials have remarked that the kids might never catch a trout as big as some that will be caught in Cave Spring.

"Kids love to catch fish and there are plenty of them," said TU spokesman Paul Diprima.

When the horn sounds at 9 a.m. to start the event, the pond takes on the look of a massive spider web as lines are thrown into the water from all the way around the pond.

Children are limited to five trout from the pond but can catch up to three more from nearby Cedar Creek, which has also gotten some additional trout from the hatchery in Summerville leading up to the annual summer event.

DNR personnel have worked for several years to get the lakes back in good shape and have restocked both of the lakes with catfish, largemouth bass, hybrid bass and trout.

"Don't bring your Snoopy rod and reel because the catfish are quite big," said wildlife biologist David Gregory.

"The rules are you have to have a kid with you to fish," Gregory said. "As long as it's (no more than) two adults per one child. You can't have one token kid and 50 people come out."

Gregory said that one youngster was out there this week and the DNR staff had to help out with a 20-pound test line because he was losing everything.

Gregory said the lakes have been open seven days a week for a couple of years, but the agency didn't really seek to promote it in an effort to make sure the fish population was good and kids have an opportunity to have a positive experience. Adults are required to have a basic fishing license.

"We've got a new parking area with some split rail fence so people can park close to the ponds," Gregory said.

The Arrowhead compound is on Floyd Springs Road just north of Ga. 156.


Sophi Culmer, a fourth-grader at Alto Park Elementary

What's next for Rome City Schools' buses
• Now that the city system has received a new deadline, it's time to work on the next steps.

Lou Byars

School officials breathed a sigh of relief Monday night during a called board meeting after city school Superintendent Lou Byars announced the system had been granted an extension to use city buses to transport students until the end of 2019.

Byars held up a letter from the Georgia Department of Transportation that changed the systems original deadline of Aug. 1 to provide their own transportation for students. This extended deadline is good news for the system whose 35 brand new buses that were purchased in May will not be arriving until Nov. 1.

"The Department recognizes that complying with the implementation date will still be challenging ... Please begin educating parents and children on the new procedures as soon as possible," the letter from GDOT Transit Program Manager Leigh Ann Trainer reads.

The 35-year agreement between the city of Rome and the school system allowed the system to transport students to school using city buses instead of having to purchase their own.

When the announcement was made in February city and school officials began scrambling to come up with what to do next. The board voted early in May to purchase new school buses outright using money from their general fund which cost an estimated $3.2 million for the 35 new school buses.

Purchasing the buses was only the first step in the school system needed to do to fully break away from relying on city buses for transportation. The next steps will be for the system to hire drivers and other transportation personnel as well as find a place to put the newly purchased buses.

Byars said he has had talks with city bus drivers about the possibility of them working full or part time with RCS and said there has been some interest. The system has also posted the job listings on their website — — under the Human Resources section.

The drivers who come over from the RTD will have to be re-certified since school bus drivers have different licenses than city school drivers. This training could take up to several months. Any new hires would also need to be certified and local school systems like Floyd and Bartow County have offered to lend RCS a hand in training bus drivers before the deadline.

At the spring board retreat Byars told the board he had a real estate proposition he wanted to discuss with the board regarding school bus storage. Since the retreat, the board has also gone into closed session during two recent board meetings where they discussed real estate.

Under Georgia law, however, board members do not have to disclose what is discussed in closed session and no official announcement has been made about whether or not these discussions pertained to the school bus issue.

All of this would have had to have been completed by Aug. 1, which put pressure on the system to get everything done as quickly as possible. Byars told the board after the decision was made to purchase new buses that he was going to again request that the GDOT extend the Aug. 1 deadline, which they had refused to do in the past.

With the announcement of a new Jan. 1 deadline, the system can take more time in proceeding with adapting to handling their own transportation system. One of the first steps that is being taken is training students and getting them familiar with the new school buses which vary from the white Tripper buses that usually pick them up.

Byars said Monday night the system will be bringing the new yellow buses to elementary schools to get the younger children used to the new vehicles. This is to minimize confusion when the school buses arrive to pick up students for the first time, a concern Byars has expressed several times throughout the transportation planning process.