SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - When you cast your vote inviting a person to represent your interests, the standards of conduct for that elected official are instantly raised.
What they do, who they associate with are now a direct reflection of their ability to lead.
For District 6 Alderman, Tony Thomas, the accusations of misconduct have dogged him though most of his tenure on City Council.
Now, just two months into his 4th term, those accusations and the accusers are surfacing once again in greater numbers than ever before. If there was ever a time for the alderman to step forward and address these allegations, it's now.
By most standards, 6th District Alderman Tony Thomas has been a very good representative to the voters who have kept him in office since 1999.
He can claim some credit for the completion of the Coffee Bluff Marina, a full service skate park in his Southside district and a number of other smaller projects constituents urged the alderman to support.
But he must also take ownership of hundreds of photographs and videos, many that he has posted to his own Facebook page over the years, perpetuating the image of a politician known for bar hopping, heavy drinking and the companionship of dozens of teen boys. Many not old enough to drive.
For more than a decade and a half, he has shown up at local bars and restaurants surrounded by these young men. Again posting the pictures to prove it.
Thomas has documented for the world to see more than a dozen out-of-town trips, many on official city business, with some of these teens. Tax payer financed conferences where other alderman tell us he shared hotel rooms with these boys and young men.
"Everyone was looking around saying, what's he bringing this kid with him for," remembers former city Alderman, Ellis Cook. "At the end of the conference the majority of the people on council went to then city manager, Michael Brown, and said look, tell him he can't bring young boys to these functions with him anymore."
Cook is recalling a League of Cities meeting Thomas attended in December of 2003. While every other Alderman flew to Nashville, Thomas drove his own vehicle accompanied by this man, Josh Flowers, just 18 at the time. Flowers says the Alderman hired him to help with his first campaign for re-election. During that Nashville trip and any other time the two were together, Flowers says he never had to ask for a refill when it came to alcohol.
"There was a lot of drugs involved too, as far as Tony goes," says Flowers. "There was a lot of cocaine."
And he says Thomas was providing that cocaine.
Flowers says despite Thomas' advances during that conference, nothing sexual happened. But on two separate occasions, back in Savannah, each after a night of heavy drinking and cocaine use, Flowers says Thomas didn't ask.
"I woke up to him performing oral sex on me. The first time I thought I made it very clear that I'm not homosexual, this is not my cup of tea, so to speak. But, the second time it became very clear that he was shooting for something more-so."
Flowers says he thought his relationship with Thomas was as simple as employee-employer. But the pay checks he was getting for the first few months, were replaced with something he wanted more.
"Eventually it ended up going from being paid in cash working for him, to being paid in drugs and alcohol, which was my vice at the time," Flowers says. "Hindsight being what it is, I realize that was his way of getting hold of me."
In the meantime, Thomas continued to represent the city at events and conferences throughout the country, often with a young man or two at his side.
There are photos from a League of Cities trip to Washington D.C. in March of 2007. The young man in those also accompanied Thomas to San Antonio, Texas for another League of Cities trip in November of 2009. And again to the Florida Keys in 2010.
Through Georgia Public information requests, I received copies of most of Alderman Thomas' travel receipts. We found no evidence the Alderman was charging the city for his companion's expenses. However, the city does not divide up an employee's travel expenses to account for each individual on the bill.
After hearing the allegations against Tony Thomas, not only from Josh Flowers but from no fewer than three other alleged victims, we wanted to give the alderman the opportunity to respond. And we caught up with him at the last Savannah City Council meeting.
"They're accusing you of child sexual assault. They're accusing you of providing alcohol to a minor. They're accusing you of providing cocaine during party situations. Give me your response because this is pretty serious stuff," I said to the alderman
"Well, you got to have evidence. In today's world, you've got to have evidence. I would suggest that they go and get that evidence," Thomas responded.
And when asked about the specific allegations, he denied them all.
One organization that isn't buying that denial is also one that supported the alderman's political career for years. Georgia Equality is the state's largest gay rights organization. Kevin Clark is its former senior board member. For the reputation of Georgia Equality, he says, they not only pulled that support this last election, they want justice for Savannah.
"The truth has a way of always, ultimately winning. Sometimes it takes many years, sometimes decades. But the truth finds a way to bubble up," says Clark. "And I will do whatever I need to do to make that Tony Thomas is arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail."
And Clark says he wants that for people like Chris Haupt.
Haupt says he met Tony Thomas when he was just 14 years old, an 8th grader at Savannah County Day School. Haupt says he too needed a summer job when Thomas struck up a conversation with him at a local movie theater.
"Took me to the mall and bought me a pair of shoes," remembers Haupt. "We were in traffic and he just said 'Um, why don't you, you need to give your daddy some sugar.' And I was like, 'I'm sorry.'"
Haupt says he could have never imagined a simply peck on the cheek then would lead to what happened a few weeks later when he says the alderman invited him to clean-up at his house after a day of filthy yard work.
"Took my shower, I'm drying off, went in to get my clothes and put my clothes back on," he says. "And then I was forced to the bed and he forced himself on me and started performing oral sex on me."
He says months and months of sexual payback followed. Haupt never knew when, where or how Thomas would demand that so-called "sugar" from a then 15 and 16 year old. Moving on from that experience has not been easy.
"It's ruined every relationship I've ever had," Haupt says, struggling to hold back tears. "It's… it drives you nuts. At that time you don't know how to handle it. Every day, you're ashamed. Alright. You don't want to tell anybody. If you do tell somebody they'll probably kill him."
Once again, for years you could find dozens of pictures of Haupt and other teens splattered across the alderman's Facebook page. Haupt is the one behind the camera on one video of what he says was an inebriated alderman, once again, surrounded by several young men.
Behind the scenes, his alleged victims, targets of pleasure, will tell you they were suffering then, and still suffer to this day.
"It'll mess you up. It'll mess you up man."
Every victim, every former city official and employee, every source we spoke to for this investigation said the same thing when I asked if they feared retaliation from Alderman Thomas for speaking out.
Their response: "Bring it on".
Through multiple sources close to the Chatham County District Attorney's office, we have also discovered that investigators are gathering piles of documents, interviews and alleged victim contacts for a possible criminal case against the alderman.
And, a local Savannah attorney is also gathering information and interviewing as many alleged victims as are willing to come forward for a possible civil law suit against Tony Thomas.