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In a complex story, Taylor and attorneys representing three bonding companies whose ability to work in Gwinnett was revoked by the sheriff are trading harsh words over the issue.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.