Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shirley Franklin responds to CL post about her daughter

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 9:59 PM

Mayor Shirley Franklin responded late Tuesday night with the following comment to Mara Shalhoup’s Fresh Loaf post on the sentencing hearing for Franklin’s daughter, Kai Franklin Graham:

“Check the facts. She plead[ed] guilty to structuring which is clearly defined in the federal code. Her plea had absolutely nothing to do with any other criminal act. ANY OTHER representation by you or anyone else is FALSE. I’ve come to expect unfair, illogical and inaccurate reporting from CL. Mara, [former CL Senior Editor John Sugg] and CL have slandered me and my daughter in headlines and articles and misrepresented the facts for years to sell papers. It’s call[ed] tabloid and yellow journalism.”

Shalhoup also received a statement from Kai Franklin Graham on Tuesday night:

"On Monday, March 17, 2008 in federal court I was sentenced for structuring $14,000 in mortgage payments. Any other representation by anyone about me in this case is false and contrary to the truth.

“As proud as I am of my mother, Shirley Franklin, I believe the intense media attention has been directed to her and not me. The reporting, coverage and headlines have been sensationalized and inaccurate every step of the way in this case. The media coverage of my sentencing yesterday is no exception.

“As I stated in court, I am ready to move on with my life. By God’s grace I will be able to do so.”

We’re, of course, concerned that the mayor has accused us of "slandering" her and her daughter. The facts we reported are the same facts Mayor Franklin points to in her comment: Kai Franklin Graham pleaded guilty to making “structured financial payments” to avoid federal detection.

But to argue, as the mayor does, that her daughter’s “plea had absolutely nothing to do with any other criminal act” ignores the context of the plea. According to prosecutors, at least some of that money came from the cocaine smuggling operation run by Franklin Graham’s then-husband, Tremayne Graham. The mayor’s daughter converted that money into postal money orders in a way to avoid detection by federal officials, and she was in contact with her husband after he had jumped bail and was a fugitive, according to court documents.

Tremayne Graham has since been captured and sentenced to life in prison. He and Kai are now divorced. As part of her plea agreement, Franklin Graham agreed to cooperate with investigators involved in an ongoing probe of criminal activities associated with her ex-husband's case.

I e-mailed the mayor and asked her to provide specific examples of when our coverage was inaccurate or unfair. She gave her permission to print her e-mailed response:

Scott,

Don't waste my time. As senior editor that's your job — to check the facts, to monitor for slander and to mange your coverage to the fairness standard. I'll leave it to u to do your job.

Start with this - U have used my name, photo and references in a string of articles about criminal cases I've never been involved in and the court hearings, trials, facts as gathered and presented by the US Attorney and the government bear this out in their Press Release in December 2007. So if you didn't know before you've known since 12/07.

Before that you had no evidence or facts to tie me to this string of cases. The US Attorney didn't do me a favor by excluding me. They had no basis to include me and you, Mara and John have known that from your sources for years. Yet you have used my name, photograph and position and some would say high profile to sell your papers. Week after week and month after month u have chosen to describe rumors and fiction as fact. bsp; You've refered to Kai's plea using scandalous words not based on court documents. Yet your reporter has an inside source and could easily determine the facts or was sitting in the courtroom for the hearing. Since she's writing a book about the subject she must know the difference between one federal code section and another.

You've chosen to quote Moore without checking the facts, witness list or allegations. Most recently mixing his 2007 statements in a March 2008 article as if they applied.

The list goes on. Since you, John and Mara have chosen to take this scandalous approach to a string of cases that never included me, to defaming my daughter, I will object publicly whenever I choose. That is the value of free speech in America. It applies to u, to me and everyone else.

S Franklin

It is true that we've used the mayor's photo to accompany stories about Tremayne and Kai. And we've identified them as her ex-son-in-law and daughter, respectively, in headlines. But so have the New York Times and other publications. That, after all, is a part of what makes this story newsworthy: A criminal drug trafficker has affected the family of a mayor of a major city. Even the U.S. attorney's December 2007 press release that announced the plea agreement with Kai Franklin Graham is headlined "Daughter of Atlanta Mayor Pleads Guilty In S.C."

We have never implied that the mayor is in any way involved in her ex-son-in-law's criminal enterprise, and if someone drew that implication from our reporting that would be entirely unfair.

In fact, when one witness testified that Tremayne had bragged that his mother-in-law had pulled strings to get him out of jail on bail, we published a story that quoted the U.S. attorney saying there was no evidence that Franklin had done anything to influence his case.

We did publish a quote from Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore that said investigators think the mayor's daughter could have "critical information" about a double homicide that allegedly involved Tremayne Graham. Moore made the remark in open court in April 2007. At her plea hearing in December, Moore said Franklin Graham would be questioned as part of the ongoing investigation in Tremayne Graham's criminal activities. Contrary to the mayor's note, we've received no information to indicate that Moore's position has changed. In fact, it was a condition of her plea agreement that she cooperate with federal investigators.

Franklin Graham was also on the original witness list for the trial of Ernest Watkins — one of her ex-husband's drug associates — which ended when Watkins entered a guilty plea after two days of testimony. Prosecutors confirmed to CL that Franklin Graham had remained a potential witness in that case.

In double-checking our facts, Shalhoup did discover one error in her post on Franklin Graham's plea. It said Franklin Graham deposited the $14,000 in cash she received from her then-husband in smaller installments in an attempt to evade federal reporting requirements. Actually, Franklin Graham didn't deposit the cash; instead, she bought 10 postal money orders in increments less than $2,000 (any amount over $2,000 must be reported to the feds). She then used the money orders to pay her mortgage. That error has been corrected, but it doesn't fundamentally alter the facts of the case.

CL respects the mayor’s point of view and we realize that any such ordeal would be painful for any family. But we stand by the story and believe our approach to it has been fair and responsible.

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