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"Hartsfield Pay to Play Scandal: Contractor: 'It was like winning the lottery'"

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Contractor: 'It's like winning the lottery'
By Jeffry Scott
The Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution

Under cross-examination today, former contractor C.R. "Ronnie" Thornton
insisted he was telling the truth when he testified he made illegal campaign
contributions to former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.

In exchange for the contributions, Thornton said he thought he was getting a
lucrative contract to provide dirt for Hartsfield-Jackson International
Airport's fifth runway.

"It's like winning the lottery and on the way to pick up the ticket they say
Bill Campbell's got the check," Thornton told defense attorney W. Fred Orr

Thornton, testifying for the prosecution in Campbell's federal corruption
trial, said he thought the $360 million dirt contract was stolen from him by
the former mayor and Campbell's friends. After his campaign contributions,
Thornton received $2 million for dirt he provided for the runway.

Thornton - a veteran law enforcement officer and a retired police chief -
pleaded guilty in 2001 to violating federal banking laws to conceal more
than $126,000 in illegal contributions to Campbell's 1997 re-election
campaign. He served two years probation and paid a $10,000 fine.

Defense attorney Orr hammered at Thornton about statements he made to
federal prosecutors and FBI agents and how those statements differed from
what he claimed on the stand Tuesday.

"Are you good at testifying," asked Orr, referring to the many times
Thornton has been called to the stand in earlier cases.

"I used to be," said Rowe. "I have been questioned in every court and I have
never been questioned about my integrity, or whether I was telling the

Thornton also told Orr he knew his activities were possibly illegal. "I knew
that I was possibly committing a crime," Thornton said when Orr asked about
the illegal campaign contributions. "But I felt that I had no choice in
that, if I was going to receive the help of the mayor."

Thornton claimed that, while his company got part of the $360 million dirt
deal, he and his company never made any money from it because of the
interest and expenses of acquiring the land near the airport where he got
the dirt.

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