'What's in it for me?' 

Campbell to get his answer at federal graft trial

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Typically along for the ride were "various women with whom Bill Campbell had a personal relationship," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Sally Yates explained Monday, during her opening remarks to the jury.

And if it wasn't the mayor himself with his hand out, say feds, it was a rogue's gallery of corrupt officials and Campbell's poker pals, some of whom have already completed prison sentences while awaiting Hizzoner's day in court. They include: Fred Prewitt, a Campbell confidant who admitted serving as a minority "front" for white-owned companies seeking city business; Larry Wallace, the city's chief operating officer and one of Campbell's oldest friends, who was nailed in 2002 for taking $56,000 in illegal payments from a city contractor; and Joe Reid, Wallace's second-in-command, also convicted of accepting bribes.

In their attempt to nab the former mayor, prosecutors have rolled out the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Under RICO, it's less vital to prove the specifics of each allegation against the defendant than it is to demonstrate that Campbell knew he was overseeing a culture of corruption at Atlanta City Hall.

The seven-count indictment alleges 11 separate criminal acts under the RICO heading.

"You're attempting to show a pattern of criminal conduct, which has two advantages," says Alan Cook, director of the University of Georgia's Prosecutorial Clinic. "It allows for stiffer penalties and it allows jurors to connect the dots after you've shown them the whole picture."

That's important for a case like Campbell's, in which there's no proverbial smoking gun, says Terry Lloyd, a former federal prosecutor, now a defense lawyer in Lawrenceville.

Predicts Lloyd: "You'll see prosecutors piling on as much minutia as they can to convince the jury that he just had to know about it."

There was a time, of course, when few could have imagined that Bill Campbell would end up disgraced, persecuted and routinely vilified as the worst Atlanta mayor in generations. Certainly not Clair Muller, who joined Campbell on City Council in 1990.

"It's been a fairly sharp reversal for someone who should've hung the moon," she says.

They first met when Muller was a Buckhead activist fighting the Ga. 400 construction project and Campbell was an up-and-coming councilman willing to discuss neighborhood issues.

"He was smooth, smart and articulate, and had an impeccable background -- Vanderbilt and Duke -- so he really wowed 'em on the north side," recalls Muller, who says she hosted a campaign fundraiser for Campbell in the late '80s.

Much has been made of Campbell's childhood encounters with racism and how those experiences may have shaped his outlook toward white Atlanta. As defense attorney Martin noted Monday, "You have to understand more about the life of Bill Campbell to understand this trial."

Starting at age 7 and for the next few years, he was the only black child in a previously all-white elementary school in his hometown of Raleigh, sent there by his determined father, a janitor who headed the local chapter of the NAACP.

Little else in Campbell's early life suggests racial bitterness. After earning his law degree at Duke University in 1977, he married Sharon Tapscott, a former spokesmodel for M&M's Candies, and took a job with a top Atlanta law firm. Moving into predominantly white Inman Park, the couple sent their two children to Paideia, a pricey private school in Druid Hills.

He joined City Council, rose to become Mayor Maynard Jackson's floor leader, and was best known for leading the Council fight against Presidential Parkway through his adopted neighborhood.

After working for a while as a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department, Campbell went into private practice with Steve Labovitz, a white Sandy Springs resident whom Yates described as being "like a brother" to Campbell. Later, after being elected to his first term as mayor in 1993, Campbell hired Labovitz as chief of staff.

Those who know Campbell well say his attitude toward white constituents changed during the bruising 1997 mayor's race against Marvin Arrington. He discovered that much of his north side support had eroded because of the city's inability to control the throngs of black college kids on spring break during the annual Freaknik cruise-a-thon.

"When Bill Campbell lost the white community over Freaknik, he felt betrayed and was never the same," says a local black elected official who asked not to have his name used. "After he won re-election, it was like he said, 'Fuck white people.'"

After Campbell became mayor and she was chairing the City Utilities Committee, Muller says they often butted heads over contracts that he wanted to steer toward a favored firm. She remembers once when they wound up in the same City Hall elevator. By the time the doors opened, the new mayor was screaming at her for questioning why a vital contract that had gained Council approval months earlier had not been signed.

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