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Bojo: This one's personal
• Attorney Brian Bojo says his role in the Floyd County Schools RICO case stands out not only in its scope but in how it hits home.

Brian Bojo

Sure, attorney Brian Bojo has handled RICO cases before as a court-appointed receiver — seven to be exact.

In 2013, he was the receiver for a case — filed under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — involving the seizure of gambling machines from local convenience stores. He did the same in 2015 for another gambling machine case. But in that same year another case came up, the largest he has personally dealt with to date.

It's the case involving an alleged de cade-long scheme carried out by Derry Richardson, the former maintenance director for Floyd County Schools, and at least 12 others that led to $6.3 million in losses for the school system.

"It's been the biggest on a number of fronts: The biggest in terms of community impact, the biggest in terms of, certainly, assets that are involved," Bojo said. "I think the most important is to the health of the community."

EDITOR'S NOTE

This is the first report in a two-part series on Rome attorney Brian Bojo's role as the court-appointed receiver in the RICO case involving alleged decadelong thefts from Floyd County Schools. Part Two will run in Monday's Rome News-Tribune and will focus on Bojo's setup of a court-appointed auction of seized and forfeited items in the case.

This case is personal for the Coosa High graduate, particularly due to his experience of growing up with a teacher for a mom.

"You get a real sense of what kind of sacrifice teachers make and the work they put in and the hours that don't end when the school bell rings," he said. "I mean they bring papers home to grade and they have lesson plans to prepare, and they're on the phone with parents late into the evening.

"It doesn't stop. They're woefully underpaid and overworked," he said. "The teachers in Floyd County are so committed to their jobs — teaching, coaching, mentoring — and to have this happen was just a body blow," he said.

His past provided context to what this case meant for his community. Bojo recalled the reduction in force some school system employees were dealt in 2013, while the thefts were reportedly occurring, and stories emerged of families being put into financial difficulties.

"With all the uncertainty that was in the air at that time, for so many teachers, coaches, administration members, staff members of the school system to know that this was done to such an extent breaks your heart to think about those families," he said.

"I have a real sense of what that's like having grown up in that type of home," he said. "And being married to a teacher now, my wife taught while I was in law school and we lived on a teacher's salary during that time.

This backdrop to his responsibility in this case meant coming to work "with a little bit of a fire in the belly." It meant working "to account for every penny, find every asset, follow every lead.

"You have a little bit of a sense of a mission that you can see tangibly what you hope these things accomplish," he added.

And now, with Floyd County Schools reaching a settlement with Johnson Controls Inc., which will pay out $2.3 million and provide additional services, Bojo is hoping to be part of the healing process for the system to put the past behind and move forward. Part of this process is a court-ordered auction of the seized and forfeited items from defendants in the case — it will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.

"The theory behind RICO is you've got harm against the community, that these assets are going to be used to attempt to heal the community," said Bojo. "Unfortunately, money is the only remedy the law can give. That's part of the design."

RICO cases have components both criminal and civil, Bojo said. He only deals with the civil element.

Chris Jackson, an attorney at McRae, Smith, Peek, Harman & Monroe LLP with Bojo, described a receiver as a "Switzerland-type of an individual.

"Instead of the judge having to go and follow down a lead on a bank account or deal with an auction, she appoints Brian to make sure that the assets are properly managed," said Jackson, who is representing Bojo through their firm. "And, sometimes, that involves making tough decisions."

Ultimately, it's about being a good steward of the money taken in and preserving the condition of property as to return as much money as possible back to the school system upon being sold, Jackson said.

Bojo is currently finishing up his LLM — Master of Laws — degree at one of the top tax programs in the country at New York University, where he travels to on occasion for classes. This coupled with his already-held tax knowledge has had an immense impact on his current case, and carries over in his role with the firm, Jackson said.

"There are tax consequences for all of these transactions," he added.

When accounts are liquidated it helps to have someone like Bojo exhibiting his knowledge to meet that final goal of providing the utmost restitution, Jackson continued.

Bojo shrugged off the juggling of responsibilities as simply "the job of a lawyer in Rome," but he did convey his receiver role in the RICO case has absorbed much time and effort. Working on other things is just part of the job, "like a physician, you have other patients and you want to take care of everybody."

RN-T.com

Read this story online to see a gallery of photos showing the piles of items slated to be auctioned.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Take real action to honor vets
DA says more than 7,000 veterans live in Floyd County

Romans paused at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, gathered as they have for decades to pay tribute to veterans at the Tomb of the Known Soldier, Charles Graves, in Myrtle Hill Cemetery. District Attorney Leigh Patterson suggested that the best way Rome and Floyd County residents can honor veterans is to really take some sort of tangible action to honor them.

Patterson said that more than 7,200 veterans currently live in Floyd County, most of them now veterans of the Vietnam War.

Patterson explained some of the activities that local veterans' organizations do to serve the community, and then offered a series of six thoughts about how Romans can serve the veterans in our area.

At the top of the list, Patterson told the crowd they should buy some barbecue and Brunswick stew when the organiza organizations hold fundraisers. She encouraged the community to buy raffle tickets and play Bingo occasionally.

"This is not hard, people," Patterson said.

Her third suggestion was to pick up some groceries when you go to the grocery store, put them in a box and then take it to one the groups for distribution to the needy across the county.

Patterson's fourth idea was to ask local church leaders to make sure to recognize our veterans during services on Sunday.

Patterson struck a more somber tone with her fifth recommendation. "If you know a vet who is struggling with PTSD, let them know you care," Patterson said. "Offer to do a chore, rake their leaves."

She explained that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

She said vets account for close to 11 percent of the homeless population across the nation. "PTSD, mental illness, substance abuse, lack of family and social support and the inability to find a good job, are the main reasons," Patterson said.

Her final suggestion was to give a veteran a job.

"You won't be sorry if you hire a vet," Patterson said. The D.A. said two members of her staff are veterans and she's holding a job for a third who will be home in February.

Following the service, the Shanklin-Attaway American Legion Post Five hosted a barbecue luncheon for the community at their facility on Shorter Avenue.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Rome Middle student Madeline Trammell.


Rome leaders target gambling
• City officials are calling on lawmakers to address illegal cash payouts from lottery gaming machines.

Bill Collins

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Jamie Doss

Joe Smith

Rep. Katie Dempsey

You can guess there's illegal gambling going on, City Commissioner Bill Collins said, when there's a parking lot full of cars but no visible customers in the convenience store.

"They know to go to the back room for the machines," Collins said. "It's odd that the state is not paying more attention."

City commissioners are pressing for more control over video gaming machines, which are licensed by the Georgia Lottery Corp. They asked local lawmakers for help during a meeting last week ahead of the 2018 General Assembly session slated to start in January.

The Legislature considered banning the machines in 2013, but ultimately decided on stricter regulation that includes a direct connection to the state lottery's centralized accounting system. The information also can be cross-checked with reports to the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R- Rome, said complaints from municipalities are escalating, but he hasn't yet seen much legislative support for a change.

"I don't think the system works, but I lost on that vote in the Senate," Hufstetler said. "They knew there's a lot of illegal activity, but the argument was the DOR would control it. It wasn't a workable solution, and we've seen this around the state."

The law limits prizes to store merchandise, fuel or lottery tickets — but there's no dispute that cash is paid out in some places. The illegal payouts draw more players, which makes the legal machines more profitable for both the merchant and the state.

Mayor Jamie Doss noted an increase in crime around stores that keep large sums of money to pay winners under the table. And local governments own neither the power to license the machines nor a share of the revenue.

"Convenience stores pop up all over, and it seems like their primary purpose is putting these machines in," Commissioner Craig McDaniel said. "We're hearing some of them get $20,000 to $30,000 a month from the Lottery. The cities aren't getting any of that."

The Lottery Corp., established to help fund HOPE Scholarships and pre-K education, keeps a share of the monthly proceeds from each machine and distributes the balance to the licensees. It also gets annually a $5,000 base license fee from the owner of each business with video gaming machines, plus $125 a machine, along with $125 per machine from the holder of the location license.

As it stands, however, there are no local reporting duties. City Manager Sammy Rich said allowing cities to require permits would help track the activity and enable them to address complaints from residents.

"We feel like we need to have some role in the regulation of our town," City Clerk Joe Smith added.

But Hufstetler said that argument may be a hard sell, since the state already knows where the gaming machines are.

"It's not that it's an illegal machine. It's being used illegally," he said.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R- Rome, said that, for now, the best suggestion to "clean up Rome" is to ask for a state investigation at the stores where cash payoffs are suspected.

"Illegal machines are absolutely the enemy of the DOR. They want to know," Dempsey said. "The DOR would be glad to swoop in. You have an ally there."

She and Hufstetler said they favor banning the machines but complaints to state lawmakers haven't been loud enough to outweigh calls to keep them, as revenue-generators for businesses and schools.

City commissioners said they would continue trying to rally support through the Georgia Municipal Association, whose members are seeing the fallout in their communities as well.

"The families who can least afford to be impacted are the ones who are most affected," McDaniel said.