Former Valdosta Mayor Sentenced to 3 Years Probation

By: Dontaye Carter; Gabrielle Sarann; AP Email
By: Dontaye Carter; Gabrielle Sarann; AP Email

[UPDATE] 9-7-2011 5:30 PM

It took less than 15 minutes for Judge Harry Altman to sentence John Fretti to three years probation.

Fretti looked on as Judge Altman told him he'd have to repay the city $4,194, pay a $1,000 fine and resign as mayor.

Fretti stepped down on August 30.

"It's just a sad case because he has been such a good mayor," said South Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Miller.

Miller handled the case. He investigated the claims first brought by Roy Taylor and his attorney, Jay Smith, that Fretti was being reimbursed by both the city and the state for travel expenses.

Fretti said it was all a mistake, but Miller stands by his decision to file the claims.

"I felt like based on my personal knowledge of him that when he looked at the facts and circumstances he would realize that was the right thing to do," said Miller.

"You can not be reimbursed twice for the same expense. That just seems to me common sense," said Smith.

I called Fretti numerous times to speak to him. My calls were not returned.

The next meeting at city hall will be held Thursday night.

That is when council members are expected to vote on who will serve as Valdosta's next mayor.

For now Alvin Payton is serving as interim Mayor in Valdosta.
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[UPDATE] 9-7-2011

Former Valdosta Mayor Fretti was sentenced to three years probation. He has to payback $4,194 to the city. He was ordered to resign, but has already done so.

He can't run again while he is on probation.

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[UPDATE] 8-31-2011

In a three paragraph statement on Tuesday, Valdosta Mayor John Fretti stepped down after eight years on the job.

The news came days after he pleaded guilty to charges of felony false statement.

Fretti was accused of double dipping and collecting travel reimbursements from the city and the state.

"To see the mayor plead guilty after the board of ethics committee found there was not enough evidence to go forward was a little surprising," said Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Payton.

Payton is the person who will be filling the Mayor's shoes until one is appointed by the council.

The Mayor's resignation is effective Friday.

The council will have ten days from there to decide who will serve the remainder of the term.

"We all got some past that we are not proud of. Pick up and keep going," said Valdosta Resident Grady Whitfield.

It's especially hard on the mayor and his wife and family. But It's been tough on the city as well," said City Councilman Tim Carroll.

City Council's next meeting is scheduled for next Thursday. They plan to appoint the Mayor's successor then.

A judge is scheduled to sentence Fretti on September 7th.

The crime carries a possible sentence of one to five years in prison and a one thousand dollar fine.
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UPDATE 8-30-2011
MEDIA RELEASE

With deep gratitude for the honor of eight years serving the City of Valdosta, I announce my decision to resign from my position as mayor. Earlier this afternoon, I tendered my resignation to Mayor Pro Tem, Alvin Payton who will in turn transmit to the council. My wife, daughters, and I now prepare to return to a life centered on our family, our many dear friends in this community, and our business.

Through discussions with City Attorney George Talley, and my personal attorney and friend, Carroll Sherwood, they are in full agreement that I am under no statutory obligation to resign. However, my family and I desire to move on and believe doing so serves the best interest of the city we love.

We thank our friends and supporters for their prayers, kindness, and encouragement throughout my tenure. Valdosta will face change and challenge in the coming years. Together, with support from all, Valdosta will continue to be a great community. We believe Valdosta is a vibrant community with incredible potential for growth, and look forward to being a part of its future as private citizens.

We believe in Valdosta.

Sincerely,

John J. Fretti

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[UPDATE] 8-26 1:20 PM
The Southern Judicial Court District Attorney David Miller said the Mayor Fretti plead guilty to felony false statement Friday Morning.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation presented evidence to the Lowndes County Superior Court.

Fretti entered his guilty plea under the U.S. supreme court case of North Carolina vs. Alford.

Under this plea the defendant agrees to being sentenced for the crime but does not admit guilt.

The crime of false statement carries a possible sentence of one to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Miller says Fretti agreed to pay back the city $4,194.

Fretti will be sentenced on September 7.
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District Attorney David Miller says the case was pushed back because of an issue of mutual interest with the Mayor's attorney.

Back in April, 2011 Mayor Fretti was accused of double dipping and collecting travel reimbursements from the city and the state.

Last week, a Citizens Ethics Review Board found that Fretti was innocent of the allegations.
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[UPDATE] 8-16 VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) --

A review board has cleared Valdosta Mayor John Fretti of any unethical behavior in double-filing travel expenses.

The citizens ethics review board unanimously agreed Monday night
that Fretti did not knowingly violate any city ordinances.

The case is still scheduled to go before a Lowndes County Grand
Jury on Aug. 24. Grand jurors will review the same facts and
accusations stemming from Fretti allegedly charging both the
Georgia Department of Community Affairs and City of Valdosta for
the same trips between June 3, 2009 and June 2, 2010.

Before the board reached a decision, members spent more than two
hours listening to J. Holder Smith, legal representative of Roy E.
Taylor Sr., who originally filed the ethics complaint, and Fretti,
who represented himself.

_____________________________________

[UPDATE] 7-27-2011 10:49

The members of the Board of Ethics convened Wednesday night to vote on adding another person to the board and set the hearing for August 15.

Back in April, Mayor Fretti was accused of double dipping and collecting travel reimbursements from the city and the state.

"I don't think it will be that hard because everything is laid out, what we have to do," said Ethics Committee Chairman William Hollimon. "Just make the decision whether it was a known error or whether it was a mistake on his behalf."

Hollimon says the city requires there be five members on the board.

He says that will help break a tie on the ruling if there is one.

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{UPDATE] 7-7-2011

Valdosta, GA - The Valdosta City Council votes unanimously to make changes to the city's travel policy.

Back in April,. Mayor John Fretti was accused of double dipping and collecting travel reimbursements from the city and the state. Council members say they saw loopholes and decided to make the changes to help keep everyone accountable.

Ben Norton, City Council At-Large, says, "Suggestions were itemized receipts, suggestions that we post to our city web site places that we go to."

Norton says those changes help the council be more transparent in their daily duties.

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Valdosta, Georgia - July 06, 2011 6:02 PM

Back in April, a citizen accused Mayor John Fretti of double dipping and collecting travel reimbursements from the city and the state.

Officials say they are now working to close any loopholes and make the city's policy more transparent.

"That makes us very accountable to our citizens. It is their taxpayer money, our taxpayer money," says councilman Ben Norton. "When we travel, travel is a necessity."

Council members will vote on the changes Thursday night.

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Valdosta, Georgia - June 24, 2011 6:22 PM

Lowndes County District Attorney David Miller tells us, he received the report last week.

He says he is now preparing to present those findings to a grand jury the last Wednesday in July.

Valdosta, Georgia - June 21, 2011-- Dontaye Carter

Jay Smith made his message loud and clear Tuesday night.

He's the attorney representing Roy Taylor, the resident who filed the complaint against Mayor John Fretti.

Smith enlarged a copy of the travel expense reports the mayor filed for the city of Valdosta and the Department of Community Affairs.

Smith says its clearly a violation of the code of ethics.

"I don't know anybody in the general public that can drive to Atlanta on business and be reimbursed for the same expense twice," said Smith.

But the Mayor's attorney Michael Bennett argued it was a simple mistake.

One reason why Fretti reimbursed the state.

Bennett adds Taylor's been out to get Fretti and even tried hiring a former newspaper reporter and current one to investigate the city.

"He asked me if I would be interested in doing some investigative reporting for him, specifically having to do with the corruption in city hall," said Former Valdosta Daily Times reporter Matt Flumerfelt.

But in the end council members voted unanimously in Taylor's favor.

What the ruling means is there will be a ethics board formed to further investigate this matter.

From there, an official says the board will have 60 days to determine whether or not the mayor violated the city's code of ethics.
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Valdosta, Georgia - June 20, 2011 - by Gabrielle Sarann

A citizen's complaint that Valdosta Mayor John Fretti double-charged his travel expenses will be heard by three city council members at City Hall on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The panel will decide whether there's probable cause.

In April, a complaint was filed accusing Fretti of double-charging his travel expenditures between 2009 and 2010.

The case remains an open GBI investigation.

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Valdosta, Georgia - June 18, 2011- by Gabrielle Sarann

A south Georgia mayor's attempt to postpone an ethics hearing is unsuccessful.

Valdosta Mayor John Fretti was denied an injunction Friday to re-schedule a June 21 hearing.

Fretti is accused of double-charging his travel expenses for trips made between 2009 and 2010.

The city's ethic's committee hearing will be Tuesday, June 21 at 4 p.m.

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Update 6:30 PM

An attorney for the resident accusing the Valdosta mayor of double dipping goes before the city council.

An ethics complaint has been brought in front of the city council accusing Mayor John Fretti of being reimbursed twice for business trips to Atlanta.

Thursday night, Jay Smith, the attorney representing Roy Taylor, the resident who filed the complaint, told the city during the council meeting that Fretti compensated the wrong people for the over-payments he received for his business trips.

Smith told the city it should have been reimbursed instead of the state and asked that the council members take action.

The mayor was not present at this meeting.

"There was some speculation why I wasn't at the council meeting. It was a very short meeting. In fact, there was no business to be undertaken by the council and that was a perfect opportunity to spend my birthday with my family,” says Fretti.

Smith says the council needs to do more to prevent something like this from happening again.

"He was entitled to get that reimbursement. The problem is I think it's just a matter of common sense. The problem is he submitted those exact same expenses to the city for reimbursements. I think that's the problem," says Smith.

The city says it will wait to make a decision, if any, until the investigation is completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
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Roy Taylor says he was outraged when he heard Valdosta Mayor John Fretti was being reimbursed by the City of Valdosta and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for business trips to Atlanta.

Taylor says those rumors lead him to file an open records request.

"The community needs to know this is against the law," says Taylor. "You can't double dip and get paid by two different people for the same trips as a public official."

Reports show that from February 2009 to June 2010 Fretti was compensated by both the city and state for the business trips.

Eyewitness News contacted the state who says even though he wasn't required to, Fretti did reimburse the state more than two-thousand-dollars for that time period.

The city would not comment because the matter is under investigation.

"There were some accounting errors of overpayment. As soon as I recognized that I called the DCA and said, 'hey, calculate this up.' They did. I wrote it back to them," says Mayor Fretti.

Fretti says he believes these allegations are politically driven.

Taylor says the mayor was caught red-handed.

Now it's a matter of whether the DA agrees.

The DA's office says it's unsure when the investigation will be complete.


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