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Over the next month, a DeKalb, Ga. Superior Court jury impaneled to hear a racketeering suit against Safeco Insurance Co. should get an intimate look at the surety industry. And, judging by last week’s opening statements, it isn’t likely to be a pretty sight. A Douglasville, Ga. accountant whose three surety consulting businesses fizzled as rumors swirled in the surety industry that he had cheated his partners and customers, blames his downfall on Seattle-based Safeco. He is demanding $10 million in general damages and unspecified punitive damages. Safeco, on the other hand, claims the accountant’s dishonesty did him in and that he owes the insurer for numerous instances of overbilling. Wayne M. Camp, a certified public accountant, alleges Safeco ruined his businesses by spreading false accusations about him to the industry, the public and the Douglasville police. Safeco did so, Camp’s lawyer H. Lamar Mixson said in his opening remarks, to divert authorities from its own internal corruption, corruption which had “permeated the entire surety department.” ACCUSATIONS A ‘SMOKE SCREEN’ But Safeco claims those allegations are a diversion. Camp’s “blaming and name-calling is a smokescreen,” defense lawyer Daniel McGinnis told the jury, to take the focus off how he and his companies “got caught cheating on their partners and customers.” In the course of the trial, jurors will learn how sureties provide performance and payment bonds on construction projects and how accounting and construction consultants step in when contractors default. But they’ll also hear sordid allegations: bribes, cash-filled Federal Express envelopes, doctored time sheets, and furtive, late-night photocopying of documents. TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE CLAIMED The litigation began in 1996 when Camp, his partners Ron L. Cox and Dana Camp Pilgrim (Camp’s daughter), and his three companies — Camp & Associates, an accounting firm; International Surety Consultants Inc., a construction consulting firm; and Surety Construction Co., a construction company — sued Safeco, alleging tortuous interference with business relations and violations of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Safeco is represented Rogers & Hardin of counsel McGinnis, partner Phillip S. McKinney and associate Lisa Y. Smith. By the time trial began last week before DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence F. Seeliger, the three companies were the only remaining plaintiffs. Camp, Cox and Pilgrim dismissed their individual claims recently to simplify the case, Mixson told the jury. Mixson, a principal with Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, predicted that jurors would hear “the story of how Safeco Insurance Company put three companies out of business and over 60 people out of work.” Safeco threw the family businesses “to the wolves,” Mixson said, by spreading false accusations of how Camp operated his business. Safeco deliberately steered Douglasville police toward Camp to keep them from looking into Safeco’s own affairs, Mixson said. Specifically, the company worried about evidence surfacing about a bribery scheme dating back to the 1980s that involved numerous Safeco surety claims representatives, as well as a Florida surety consultant, Charles Ackerman and his company, Ackerman Construction Consultants Inc., Mixson said. Safeco was a major customer of Ackerman. “Safeco was permeated with corruption, both serious and petty, and Ackerman was in the middle of it,” Mixson told the jury. BRIBERY SCHEME ALLEGED Mixson, trying the case with partner Jill A. Pryor, promised to present evidence showing that Ackerman, who died in 1994, was paying bribes to Safeco claims representatives and officers. Ackerman did so, Mixson said, by sending Federal Express envelopes stuffed with cash to Safeco employees’ homes. One former Safeco claims representative has admitted getting cash and gifts from Ackerman, Mixson said, and another, during a deposition, refused to answer questions about such bribes on grounds he might incriminate himself. Safeco has since fired both. Cox was formerly the president of Ackerman Construction but left in 1993 when he discovered Ackerman was altering time records in order to over bill customers, Mixson said. Cox then became Camp’s partner, bringing the Safeco business with him. Safeco, Mixson said, became Camp’s second-largest customer. Cox warned Wayne Jensen, who was Safeco’s vice president in charge of the surety department, that Ackerman inflated his time bills, Mixson told the jury, but Jensen wasn’t interested. That was probably because Jensen himself had received six Federal Express packages from Ackerman, Mixson told jurors. Safeco decided to protect its employees and do nothing about the Ackerman bribery scheme, Mixson said. But a falling out between Camp and two of his former partners posed a threat in Safeco’s mind that the Ackerman scheme would come to light, Mixson told the jury. That threat became very real when one of those ex-partners, Jack Nicholson, went to Douglasville police and accused Camp and two Safeco employees of stealing construction equipment and taking bribes. After Douglasville police called Safeco in Seattle May 18, 1995, the insurer assigned Greg Sears, head of Safeco’s audit division, to investigate. Sears’ investigation led to the firing of one Safeco claims representative, Mixson said, and the results “should have appalled Safeco.” But instead of cleaning house in the surety department, Mixson said Sears only gave police half the story, leaving out any information that might lead police to Safeco employees and the wide-ranging bribery scheme involving Safeco and Ackerman. In early 1996, Safeco supplied police with an inch-thick stack of documents relating to Camp’s businesses, including time sheets used in billing sureties, referred to in the DeKalb trial as the “fraud package.” Safeco claimed the documents proved Camp had engaged in illegal conduct, Mixson said. But, he added, waving the documents at the jury, the jury would see no evidence of fraud in the package. The package, he said, amounted to “false accusations for crimes they didn’t commit.” The Douglasville police, Mixson told the jury, found no evidence of crimes. No criminal charges were ever brought against Camp or any of his employees. DEFENSE: WHO BUILT TIME BOMB? Defense lawyer McGinnis, however, said Douglasville authorities, particularly prosecutors, were interested in pursuing the matter, but never did, in part because of jurisdictional problems. The financial dealings crossed “too many state lines. In short, he told the jury, the plaintiffs “got away with it.” In an opening laden with metaphors, McGinnis said Camp was responsible for his own predicament and Mixson’s theory about Safeco targeting Camp to cover up bigger corruption was ludicrous. Safeco management was never told about the alleged Ackerman corruption until the day the insurer was sued, he insisted. And the company wasn’t even involved in investigating Camp until long after Camp’s reputation was in tatters in the surety industry. Camp and his associates, McGinnis told the jury, kept the Ackerman allegations a secret from Safeco until Camp lost the company’s business. When Camp finally raised the Ackerman allegations in the suit, he was “trying to intimidate Safeco into giving the business back. He was trying to cash in on Ackerman’s dirt.” “They sunk their own ship,” McGinnis said of the plaintiffs. “They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. The chickens came home to roost. Were they hurt by wild rumors or hurt by the truth?” He called the suit a “classic proximate cause case.” Jurors, he added, must determine “who built the time bomb that exploded in Douglasville” — Safeco or Camp himself. Safeco eventually pulled all its business from Camp because it could no longer trust him, the defense lawyer said. Then, Camp and his companies sued the insurer. “Four years later,” McGinnis told the jury, “we’re still trying to fire them.”

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