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Grand jury hears election controversy

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's grand jury received information Wednesday about a controversial land purchase revived during the recent GOP primary for chairman.

A complaint over the Beaver Ruin Park purchase, which was approved by Lorraine Green and other commissioners to settle a lawsuit last year despite concerns from Chairman Charles Bannister that the acreage was swamp land, was lodged by Norcross man Joe Newton.

District Attorney Danny Porter said Newton's complaint, plus information provided by the county, was turned over to members of the grand jury and he "received instructions" from the body. Porter said he could not comment further on the proceeding.

The grand jury has the option to indict anyone suspected of wrongdoing, discuss or give recommendations in the form of presentments or simply decline to comment on complaints, Porter said. The current grand jury session ends in September.

Porter also said he has begun an internal investigation into a criminal history search of Newton, who campaigned against Green as an independent political action committee. The search was revealed by Sheriff Butch Conway, who held a press conference last week to defend himself involving ethics complaints as he helped with Green's campaign.

Porter said he launched the investigation before a complaint was filed Monday by George Anderson of the Ethics in Government Group. He said two law enforcement agencies searched the Georgia Crime Information Center on July 28 and 29 for Newton's history.

He declined to disclose the agencies but said he was gathering information on who asked for the search and whether or not it was legal. Law enforcement agencies can conduct searches at the request of private citizens under certain parameters, he said.

Information received from South Carolina and North Carolina may face different restrictions, Porter said, because those records are more open under the state laws.

When asked whether Conway, who released the information to the media, or Green, who gave it to Anderson, could face charges, Porter said, "it's way too early to discuss that. It's entirely possible the access to those records was done legally."

Green and Conway said they did not conduct the search themselves.