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Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor accused of extortion, is the subject of GBI investigation, multiple lawsuits by bail bonding companies

Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor is the subject of a criminal investigation by state officials and at least three lawsuits related to allegations that he did not renew contracts for some bonding companies if they did not support his election campaign last fall, officials and attorneys have told the Daily Post.

As sheriff, Taylor has the authority to decide which bail bonding companies are allowed to operate in Gwinnett County. Approved companies receive certificates of authority. No bonding company can issue bonds in a county without one of those certificates.

In a complex story, Taylor and attorneys representing three bonding companies whose ability to work in Gwinnett was revoked by the sheriff are trading harsh words over the issue. One case is pending in federal court while at least two more are pending in Gwinnett County Superior Court.

The court cases came to the attention of media outlets after the sheriff’s office issued a statement late on the night of May 13, in which Taylor accused one of those companies, Anytime Bail Bonding, of playing politics.

“I campaigned to reform the criminal justice system, including the bonding industry in Gwinnett County,” Taylor said. “As sheriff of Gwinnett County, I have the sole discretion of which bail bonding businesses can operate in Gwinnett.

“I immediately began examining the bail bonding companies and I eliminated several that did not meet my high standards for various reasons. Anytime Bail Bonding, owned by Scott Hall, did not meet my high standards so I revoked his authority to operate in Gwinnett. He sued me over my decision.”

Countering the sheriff, Hall’s attorney, Bob Cheeley said, “This sheriff kicked out Anytime Bail Bonding, that’s been operating in Gwinnett County for 26 years, has a stellar record, no infractions ever with the sheriff’s department. Butch Conway, the former sheriff, spoke very highly of Scott Hall, and his integrity.

“This sheriff had no reason, no facts whatsoever to base his opinion upon to, or decision to, terminate their bonding ability in Gwinnett.”

Looming over the court cases, however, is an investigation of Taylor by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. It was spurred by a video Hall sent to GBI Director Vic Reynolds, who is an acquaintance of the Anytime Bail Bonding owner, last September.

The video shows Taylor meeting with the office manager at Anytime Bail Bonding during the 2020 campaign season, before Taylor was elected sheriff.

“If folks don’t support me, I’m not going to let them bond here,” Taylor can be heard telling the office manager in the short video clip, which Cheeley sent to the Daily Post Friday. “I’m just not going to let them do it. That’s the reason that everybody I’ve gone to, I’m like ‘Hey, go on there. Do your research. Research me out. Research my opponent. And then make a decision on what you want to do.’”

Taylor brought the existence of the video to the media’s attention in his statement last week.

After reviewing a copy of Taylor’s press release, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles confirmed there was an open investigation into the sheriff, but she said she could not provide details about what the investigation was about. Cheeley said the Georgia Attorney General’s Office is working with the GBI on that investigation, but AG’s Office spokeswoman Katie Byrd said she could not comment on the matter.

The video plays a key role in Anytime Bail Bonding’s argument that its ability to write bonds in Gwinnett County was revoked in an act of revenge for not supporting the sheriff in the 2020 election.

“On Jan. 1, the first day the sheriff was in office, he retaliated against Scott Hall for giving the GBI that video that showed the sheriff trying to extort money from Scott Hall’s company,” Cheeley said.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Ashley Castiblanco declined to comment on the matter beyond what was in Taylor’s statement.

‘This is serious business’

The allegations have major implications, according to Mike Bowers, a former Georgia Attorney General who is working with Cheeley on Anytime Bail Bonding’s case and is also representing two other bonding companies in separate court cases pending in Gwinnett County Superior Court.

“This is serious business,” Bowers said. “One, it involves the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the biggest county in Georgia — or close to the biggest county — (and), two, it involved the livelihood of a number of people who work at Anytime Bail Bonding. That’s pretty serious.

“And, it involves, three, an ongoing criminal investigation into the sheriff’s conduct. That makes it pretty darn serious.”

Cheeley said Anytime Bail Bonding has to continue servicing the bonds it had already written in Gwinnett.

“So, they’ve got no income coming in, and all they have is liabilities,” he said.

But, a judge sided with Taylor at a hearing involving one of the other bonding companies, The Bondsman Inc., on Tuesday morning. The sheriff’s attorney, Murray Weed, argued that Taylor was within his rights to not renew The Bondsman’s certificate of authority because it was behind on meeting bonding-related financial obligations until May 5, which was after due process hearings were held and multiple notices of certificate non-renewal were sent.

“The court cannot say there was a gross misuse of discretion when the bonding company had outstanding obligations,” Senior Judge David Sweat said as he ruled in favor of Taylor.

Accusations of political games

In his statement, Taylor accused Hall of sending the video to the GBI to hurt him in the fall general election against Lou Solis, who was the chief deputy under Conway and the Republican nominee for sheriff last year.

“In September of 2020, Hall had initiated an investigation of me by sending misleading and tampered evidence to the GBI in order to support my opponent, Lou Solis, during the general election,” Taylor said. “Then, as a trial tactic, he disclosed the unfounded investigation to the judge in an attempt to influence the outcome of the civil trial between Anytime Bonding Co. and myself.

“In a previous hearing, the judge ruled in my favor in open court. The investigation is nothing more than a political stunt and trial tactic that attacks my character, my integrity, and my commitment to criminal justice and bail bond reform in Gwinnett County.”

Cheeley denied his client was trying to help Solis get elected.

“Scott Hall did not give the video to his opponent, even though the opponent asked for the video,” the attorney said. “My client did not give him the video so that’s just purely false. He asked Scott Hall for the video so he could use it against Keybo Taylor in his campaigning, and Scott Hall said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ “

A question over due process

Cheeley said he and Hall met with Taylor in February for a due process hearing to appeal Taylor’s decision to revoke Anytime Bail Bonding’s certificate.

The attorney said he tried to press Taylor to get an on-the-record answer about why Anytime Bail Bonding’s ability to work in Gwinnett was revoked. Cheeley said no reason for the decision was listed in the letter sent to the bonding company to inform Hall that his certificate of authority was revoked.

“At that meeting — I refuse to call it a hearing, it was a joke — he refused to give us any of the facts that he relied upon to base his decision to revoke the bonding certificate,” Cheeley said. “And, then when we told him the burden of proof was on him as an elected official, to justify his decision, and not us to tell him why we ought to be able to be allowed to continue to write bonds in the county ... he refused to tell us.

“In fact, this is what he said. He said, ‘This is my house and I set the rules.’ “

At an April 12 hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court, Taylor testified that he told the office manager that “supporting him” actually meant supporting programs he wanted to roll out as sheriff and not financially supporting his campaign, according to a hearing transcript provided to the Daily Post by Cheeley.

Taylor claimed that part of the conversation was omitted from the video clip sent to the GBI.

Disputes over a meeting at a steakhouse

Taylor also reportedly testified that he met with Hall at Frankie’s Steakhouse in unincorporated Duluth after the video recording. The sheriff testified that he was under the impression that Hall was going to get the GBI to quash the investigation.

“Basically, what Mr. Hall told me was, he said, he looked at me and he said, ‘We don’t have a problem here,’ “ Taylor testified. “He said that, ‘I’m the owner, you and I never had a meeting, you and I have never met, you’ve never asked me for anything, therefore, I’m not a victim and this is a non-issue.’

“He went on, and also in that conversation, he told me that he was going to contact Vic (Reynolds) and get this thing taken care of.”

However, Cheeley said Hall never had the ability to get the GBI to drop the investigation.

“Keybo Taylor wanted Scott Hall to tell the GBI to drop the investigation, which Scott refused to do,” the attorney said. “He’s not going to meddle in the affairs of the GBI. He’s going to let them do their job. If a crime was committed, then the GBI and the attorney general will decide that. Not Scott Hall and not Keybo Taylor.

“And, then when Scott Hall refused to tell the GBI to drop the investigation, Keybo Taylor decided it was time to retaliate.”

Cheeley said Taylor argued that Hall had mislead him during the meeting at Frankie’s and therefore “he did not have good moral character,” prompting Hall to lose his certificate to write bonds in Gwinnett.

‘The Court is troubled ...’At the hearing on April 12, Sweat declined a request from Anytime Bail Bonding’s attorneys to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Taylor to issue a certificate of authority to do bonding business in Gwinnett.

But, Sweat also raised concerns about the facts of the case — which he called “very troubling” — and told Taylor that he needed to “kind of re-evaluate how you run things,” according to the hearing transcript.

“The Court is troubled by the manner in which the (February) hearing was conducted,” the transcript quotes Sweat as saying during the hearing. “The notice of what Anytime had to meet at the hearing was opaque, at best, but then the remedy for that defect in notice is to have a do-over.

“But even if you had a do-over on it, the sheriff’s discretion about who he may authorize to write bonds is, again, it’s very broad, and he has the definition of good moral character, or, moral character, however it’s phrased in the statute, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of guardrails for that.”

Anytime Bail Bonding currently has a federal lawsuit pending against Taylor in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Georgia over the matter. Cheeley said he is pursuing a jury trial in the federal court, alleging Taylor’s decision violated Hall’s constitution rights by not letting him do business in Gwinnett.

Hall’s attorneys are seeking “millions and millions of dollars” in damages in that case.

Soon-to-be Greater Atlanta Christian grad has sights set on a soaring future

For Greater Atlanta Christian senior Ashley Gray, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this about her future — the sky’s the limit.

Gray, who graduates with her GAC classmates May 27, will enroll at San Diego State University in August to study aerospace engineering. She admitted it’s a bit daunting to contemplate moving across the country to go to school.

“We have at least 10 or 15 people from our graduating class going to Georgia, and it’s nice they know each other but they may not get the opportunity to branch out on their own and establish their own identity,” Gray said. “We’ve all grown up together, so everybody knows each other pretty well. But the fact that I get to go to a school where nobody knows me gives me a chance to really figure out who I am.

“I think this is definitely a very formative part of life, so it’s scary not knowing anyone, but it’s also cool to have that opportunity to establish myself.”

While there are dozens of colleges offering aerospace engineering degrees, Gray said San Diego State held a slight edge over the other schools she considered.

“When I was looking at colleges, I knew it would be a great opportunity to be able to go out of state and live somewhere different,” she said. “I really wanted the opportunity to go somewhere new and I’m also a weather-oriented person, and weather played an important role for me. It’s sunny practically every day in San Diego.

“I was also looking at campus size and I wanted to study aerospace engineering, which is a very limited major and the list of schools offering that is very short. San Diego State was one of them. So once I was able to narrow down location and major, San Diego State really started to stick out.”

Gray was drawn to aerospace engineering for the variety of occupations she can one day consider. The daughter of Lesley and Brian Gray of Norcross is a math and science enthusiast and in her short life has consumed a tremendous amount of information about life in outer space.

“I love all shows about space flight,” she said. “I was talking to my dad when I was younger and he was talking about the first moon landing and how back in the day that was fascinating to just about everybody. But now we’ve kind of progressed with technology and that might not be as interesting as it once was, but I’ve always been obsessed with it.

“I think I went through a phase where I read a bunch of books about space because I was so obsessed with the idea of the moon landing. I’ve always thought that was so cool.

Gray is already able to slightly slake her thirst for the skies by pursuing her private pilot’s license. She said her father got her connected last summer with a flight instructor he worked with at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Chamblee, and she hopes to make great progress in her aerial education this summer.

“This summer, after I get my private pilot license, hopefully I can get my VFR (visual flight rules) license so I have some weather minimums I have to reach before I can fly on my own,” Gray said. “But if I finish early in the summer, I can start working on my IFR license (instrument flight rules) so I can fly in less favorable weather using the instruments on the airplane.”

Gray would jump at the opportunity to work in the field of space travel, but said she’d be more interested in helping others get there than going herself.

“I think I would probably one of the people getting others into space,” she said. “I find space super-fascinating, but also terrifying, so while I would love to study it, I don’t think I need to go there myself.”

A student at GAC for the past seven years, Gray said that despite the prospects of living far away from family and friends and tackling a challenging major, she’s confident in what she can achieve because of her school. And she admits it’s not going to be easy leaving the nest.

“They’re very good with preparing (students) for college,” she said. “My college counselors and all my teachers have been amazing, and even with this weird, hybrid year, the school held chapels where they’ve talked about the future and what to expect and they’ve done a great job of preparing me.

“I’ll definitely miss it and that’s the one part that makes it bittersweet. But I can’t go back – I can only go forward. And I’m excited to move forward, but there will definitely be a little piece of me that’s always going to miss it.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools works with Walmart, Atlanta Gladiators to host vaccination events

Eligible Gwinnett County Public Schools students and their families will soon have the opportunity to sign up for and receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine thanks to a collaboration with Walmart, the Atlanta Gladiators and the Gladiators foundation.

GCPS officials said the school district and Walmart have finalized logistics for two vaccination events this weekend, with plans for three more in the future.

“We appreciate Walmart and the Gladiators for their partnership to vaccinate GCPS students and their families,” GCPS CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. “With recent CDC guidance changing to allow for the vaccination of anyone ages 12 years old and older, it is important to increase awareness of vaccine availability and of opportunities.

“Increasing the numbers of vaccinated students and community members is a top priority and a key to our community’s efforts to recovery and a return to normal. We are thankful for our community partners for helping to increase access.”

The first GCPS vaccination event will be held Saturday at McClure Health Science High School — located at 3921 Club Dr. in Duluth — for students and families in the Duluth, Meadowcreek and Norcross clusters.

The second vaccination event is scheduled for Sunday at Shiloh High School — located at 4210 Shiloh Rd. in Snellville — for families in the Brookwood, Parkview, Shiloh, and South Gwinnett clusters.

Information will be sent via email to families in those two clusters, including consent forms and a link to sign up for a Pfizer vaccination appointment, GCPS officials said. In addition to these two events, the district plans to host three more in the coming weeks at designated schools to serve families in the district’s other clusters.

Last week, the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) extended eligibility to receive a Pfizer COVID vaccination to include children ages 12 to 15. That means most middle and high school students are now eligible to receive this vaccination.

“We’re proud to help accelerate the availability of vaccines in our communities, and we believe we can make a real difference by partnering with local organizations and school districts like Gwinnett County Public Schools to improve access to the vaccine,” said Nirmal Patel, Walmart’s Regional Health & Wellness Director for Georgia. “Achieving widespread COVID-19 vaccination is how we will eventually end this pandemic, and we are ready to serve our communities, customers, and associates as we work towards this goal.”

The Atlanta Gladiators are a professional hockey team that calls Gwinnett County home and plays in the ECHL.

Said Gladiators President Jerry James: “We are very proud of this partnership with Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) and Walmart. This is just one way we can demonstrate our commitment to providing a safe and secure environment for our children as they return to classrooms within the district.”