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Ga. Indicts State Sen. Abernathy

October 20, 1998

ATLANTA (AP) _ A grand jury on Tuesday indicted state Sen. Ralph David Abernathy III on charges that he stole $13,247.54 from Georgia taxpayers by billing the state for false expenses.

The indictment charges Abernathy, a Democrat, with 35 counts, including theft, forgery, falsifying documents, violating his oath of office and attempting to pay off a witness. He faces up to 15 years in prison for each charge.

The criminal charges are the latest in a recent series of bad breaks for the 39-year-old Abernathy, whose late father became head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in 1968.

After serving four years in the House and six in the Senate, Abernathy was barred from seeking re-election this year when the check he wrote to pay his qualifying fee bounced.

In December, he was fined $500 for trying to smuggle a small amount of marijuana, tucked inside his underwear, through the Atlanta airport.

Abernathy and his lawyer did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment on the theft charges. He was not arrested.

But one of his colleagues in the Legislature, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, said the indictment is politically motivated. Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who announced the charges, is up for election in a hotly contested race.

``This is a political season and Ralph has become fair game for a lot of political reasons,″ said Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat.

Baker, also a Democrat, denied that politics played a role in indicting Abernathy.

``This office does not bend to the political winds of this state,″ he said.

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