- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday dismissed the Georgia investigation of acting Fire Chief Ronnie Few as a "sweeping" probe, but search warrants and other documents indicate the investigation is focused on Augusta's former fire chief.
"The grand jury investigation is a sweeping kinda investigation of just about everything that moves in the city of Augusta," Mr. Williams said on WTOP radio's "Ask the Mayor" show. "There's no indication that's been presented to me that he is especially the target of an investigation."
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents raided Chief Few's former offices in Augusta last week and seized documents that filled several cargo vans. The agents also took records from two other government offices.
Augusta-Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig also released a statement saying the special grand jury gave information to the GBI that "established probable cause to believe that certain crimes had been committed by an employee, or employees, of the Richmond County Fire Department."
The search warrant issued for the raid does not mention any person by name, but specifically lists the target as "the administrative offices of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department."
The warrant orders agents to seize all records, especially for "financial transactions of any kind" and "all communications."
In addition, the warrant lists "all records in any way relating to the conduct of events known as 'Media Awards' or conventions of any type or description."
The Media Awards ceremony is an annual black-tie gala initiated by Chief Few during his three-year tenure as head of the fire department.
Chief Few came under criticism when a fire chiefs' convention he organized this spring left a hotel with an unpaid bill of about $23,000.
Further audits showed Chief Few had opened a bank account for the "Media Awards" ceremony with a government tax-ID code without proper authorization, Augusta Mayor Bob Young has told The Washington Times.
Chief Few headed the Augusta fire department until taking the top post at the District's department July 10 for an annual salary of $130,000.
Mr. Williams yesterday said the vetting process for Chief Few was "extensive" and did not indicate he was a subject of a grand jury investigation.
It included a criminal and general background check by an executive-search firm, interviews with a search committee and computer-database checks, he said.
"I think we've done due diligence here," he said. "There is a tremendous amount of vetting."
Mr. Williams explained his support of Chief Few in light of the revelations about the investigation.
"Once you've done a serious review, and on the basis of that review you get a top-quality candidate, you stand with that candidate until you're shown otherwise," the mayor replied. "And that's what I'm doing."
Wednesday's confirmation hearing took a surprising turn when three commissioners from Augusta-Richmond County said Chief Few, that city's first black fire chief, was the victim of a racist conspiracy of Southern "good ol' boys."
Mr. Williams did not address on the radio yesterday whether he agreed with their assessment of the grand jury and news coverage of Chief Few.
"We can't speak to what the motivations are of the investigation in Augusta," said Williams spokeswoman Elena Temple, deputy director of communications. "All we can say is we think we have chosen the right guy for the job here."
The mayor feels that "once the investigation is complete, the allegations against Chief Few will be unfounded," she said.
Mr. Young strongly disputed the commissioners' claim, noting the composition of the grand jury is half black and half white. "I don't understand where the racial motive comes from when half the people sitting in judgment are African-Americans," he said.
Mr. Young said the grand jury has issued a report that cleared a black commissioner of any wrongdoing in a contract that privatized the city sewer plant.
"I just don't see the evidence this is some kind of a racist plot," Mr. Young said. "I don't buy that."

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