Chamber VP, former mayor arrested for DUI

Nick Masino

Nick Masino

SUWANEE -- Nick Masino, former Suwanee mayor and current vice president of economic development for the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, was arrested by Suwanee police Wednesday night on charges he was drunk, swerving and texting while driving.

A Suwanee police report indicates Masino performed poorly in a field sobriety test, refused a breathalyzer and repeatedly asked officers serving the city he's credited with helping transform to release him.

Police charged Masino, 41, with driving under the influence, failing to maintain lane and not safely operating a vehicle while using a phone.

He spent about one hour at the Gwinnett County Jail before being released on his own recognizance at 11:57 p.m., jail records show.

Masino oversees the business recruitment and retention efforts for Gwinnett County as well as the Partnership Gwinnett Strategy for the chamber. He served as the mayor of Suwanee from 2000 to 2007.

According to the police report, an off-duty Suwanee police sergeant called dispatch to report a swerving 2007 Chevy Tahoe on southbound Interstate 85. A patrol officer took the call and pulled over Masino, the driver and lone occupant, about 9:50 p.m., after he'd exited onto Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and again swerved outside his lane, the report states.

The stop occurred in a Zaxby's parking lot at Smithtown Road. The officer, Michael Chavez, wrote that he "noticed a strong odor of alcoholic beverages coming from the vehicle" and asked how much booze Masino had consumed.

"He stumbled over his words, and told me that he had one" Crown Royal and Diet Coke at a restaurant near the Mall of Georgia about 45 minutes prior, Chavez wrote in the report. "He told me that he left his lane, because he was texting while he was driving."

Outside the truck, the officer noted Masino had a "moderate odor" of alcohol, bloodshot eyes and that his eyes jerked in a sobriety test. Masino declined further evaluations, the report states.

Masino asked to speak with the sergeant on scene, and asked both officers repeatedly if he could "go home" and, once handcuffed, asked if his wife could pick him up. Based on his driving and the evaluation results, Chavez reasoned Masino was not fit to drive, the report states.

Being escorted to the police cruiser, Masino told the officer an arrest would cost him his job "and that this would be in the news tomorrow," Chavez wrote. A check of Masino's cell phone confirmed he'd been in the middle of writing a text message when stopped, the report states.

Masino refused a breathalyzer on scene. A refusal could cost any DUI suspect their driver's license, pending a license suspension hearing by the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles, said Suwanee police spokesman Capt. Clyde Byers.

The arresting officer was hired by Suwanee police in August 2009, nearly two years after Masino had left officer, Byers said.

Masino was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Messages have been left at his home and work numbers.

According to an official, Chamber President Jim Maran was not at the office Thursday morning and was unavailable for comment.

At age 29, Masino gained notoriety for his youth when he was sworn in as Suwanee's mayor in 2000. Over the course of two terms he was credited with helping transform the city, creating the successful Town Center Park, a downtown live-work-play community, and embarking on a huge greenspace initiative backed by voters in a referendum.

Known for his tireless attendance at festivals as much as his plaid shorts, Masino told the Daily Post in 2007 he was "retiring" from politics at age 37 to focus his energies on economic development in Gwinnett.

More recently, Masino returned to the headlines when Settles Bridge Farm sued him and the Gwinnett Chamber, claiming the former mayor conspired with city officials in 2008 to block the sale of Notre Dame Academy, a private Catholic school.

Settles Bridge Farm owners claim Masino sabotaged a deal that would have relocated the school to the farm's land because the surrounding community would be outraged.

Both Masino and the chamber have denied those allegations in separate responses. Masino specifically denies advising Suwanee officials to amend zoning ordinances to prevent the school's relocation.

-- Staff Writer Camie Young contributed to this report