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Grand jury tells DA to investigate land deals

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett grand jury has instructed the district attorney to investigate the county's park land deals made in the past four years.

The instructions in presentments released Thursday, the day after the final meeting of the grand jury's six-month session, were given after a political figure delivered information about the purchase of Beaver Ruin Park last year.

The controversial land deal was part of a contentious debate between Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioner Lorraine Green, who represents the area and later battled Bannister for the GOP nomination for chairman, losing a runoff this summer.

While Bannister claimed the property was "swamp land" and "unusable," Green pursued the purchase to not only keep apartments from being built in the community but to provide parkland to an under-served area of the county.

Joe Newton, a lobbyist from Norcross who actively campaigned against Green and was the subject of a controversial background check released by Sheriff Butch Conway, turned the information over to the grand jury.

"Based upon the information provided, the Grand Jury instructs the District Attorney to conduct a thorough review of all park land acquisitions for the past four years and present his findings to the next Grand Jury for whatever action they deem appropriate," the presentments read.

District Attorney Danny Porter did not return a phone message left Thursday and an attempt to reach Newton was unsuccessful.

County Administrator Jock Connell said the county would cooperate in any investigation, although he declined to comment on the Beaver Ruin purchase.

"We bought it. It speaks for itself," he said. On the grand jury inquiry, he said, "I don't really know the type of information they are after, but we'll provide all the information we know and let them draw the conclusions."