GAINESVILLE, GA -- Gov. Nathan Deal's office got involved in a business sale last year that was worth millions to the governor. But the governor's office says the role was minor and appropriate.
When Gov. Deal took office, he put his private business assets in a blind trust. Records show Deal's private business became the business of the governor's office when Deal made a lucrative business sale.
Until last year, Governor Deal was a co-owner of a salvage yard in his hometown of Gainesville, Ga. It was the same salvage yard that was the subject of a congressional investigation that ended when Deal resigned to run for Governor in 2010.
According to Deal's office, the sale was worth $2.9 million to the Governor in cash and in a 10- year lease of the property -- with an additional option to sell the land in a decade.
Records show that in May of 2013, the sale attracted the attention of Chris Riley, Gov. Deal's chief of staff. Riley sent two emails to the buyer and the Governor's attorney, framing the public announcement of the sale of what had been a controversial piece of property.
Bryan Long heads a liberal activist group called Better Georgia, which first uncovered the emails.
"The issue is that the governor has gone from rags to riches while in office, and his own records show that that change of fortune didn't happen independent of his administration," Riley.
In one email, Riley shapes a press release about the sale to Copart, a Texas-based company by saying he wants the press release to "remove Gainesville as much as possible and make it appear to be more metro Atlanta."
The Governor's press secretary, Brian Robinson, told us that "we were not involved in the negotiation (of the salvage yard sale). The Governor was not involved in the negotiation...The only role the staff had was how it was going to be released publicly."
Long provided paperwork that shows that Copart, the company that bought Deal's company, was audited by the state and owes the state nearly $74 million in back taxes. Deal's spokesman says the company will receive no favorable treatment from the state just because the company has made a business deal with the Governor.