WTOC Investigates: The Trouble with Tony - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

WTOC Investigates: The Trouble with Tony

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

There is either a massive conspiracy against 6th District Alderman Tony Thomas or this five-term alderman is just the unluckiest man in Savannah. 

Time after time after time, Thomas has been caught and called out for behavior that is at best inappropriate for an elected official, and at worst, immoral, unethical and illegal.

The backlash the alderman has taken for his intoxicated entrance into this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade does not appear to be as much about that incident, as it is about a string of mishaps, social media rants, attacks on his own constituents and his inability to accept responsibility without an added dose of finger-pointing.

Then there are those who, whether they know it or not, continue to be his enablers.

Mayor Eddie DeLoach was quick to respond on behalf of the alderman on the Monday after St. Patrick’s Day. 

“Alderman Thomas has acknowledged his error and has apologized to the public. He will be apologizing to the entire council soon,” Mayor DeLoach said.

Once again, what many believed should have been a censure or at least a formal reprimand, becomes a pass on Savannah’s alderman.

Outside of a possible misdemeanor for public drunkenness, Thomas did what thousands of others did on that day. The difference made painfully obvious when he arrived at the city council float and was denied access because the operator of the rented trailer told me he was too drunk.

The photographs that made the rounds on social media and then on every media outlet in town, could be considered an embarrassing moment for Savannah or just another day in this alderman’s world.

Savannah native and local business owner, Van-Ellison Seales, provided the “No Predator” t-shirts worn at a February council meeting last year during a silent protest. Now, he’s sticking his
neck out a bit further, using his apparel company to print up the now infamous, Forrest Gump/ Tony Thomas t-shirts that got so much attention two weeks ago.

“I think this is the icing on the cake,” said Seales. “St. Patrick’s Day just kind of brought to light what I would consider the repeated infractions. And we can no longer tolerate it.”

Seales is also being asked to work with a growing group of 6th District voters launching a recall effort.

No question, the last several years have been a challenging time for the alderman’s public image.

In 2013, a website emerged called, “Who is Tony Thomas”.  It profiled victims and stories of the alderman’s alleged immoral and illegal activities. That was followed by “The Troll Chronicles”,
a YouTube page devoted to a dissection of Thomas’ antics.

But it was the council election in 2015, that seemed to erode some of the support Thomas had during his first four terms. 

The first indication? A deal was cut to force the City Manager’s resignation behind the alderman’s back.

Thomas pre-empted the official announcement by going straight to Facebook saying Stephanie Cutter was out.

Here’s what the Alderman had to say to me when I asked him to explain that posting, “Send me a reporter and I’ll talk to them.  You were rude to me one time, so, I’m not going to talk to you.”

WTOC aired its first investigation of the alderman in February of 2016 looking to either prove or put to bed more than a decade of rumor and innuendo. 

In the end, even we were surprised at who was now willing to come forward, from former Alderman Ellis Cook.

“Tell him he can’t bring young boys to these functions anymore,” said Cook.
 
To alleged victims like Josh Flowers.

“There are two separate times where I woke up to him performing oral sex on me,” Flowers said.

And Chris Haupt.

“I was forced to the bed and he forced himself on me and started performing oral sex on me,” Haupt said.

And Joey Foley.

“Like, I literally got to Ruth’s Chris and woke up in Tony’s bed,” Foley said.

Also willing to talk was one of several women who claimed the alderman used them - in exchange for food and drinks - to help Thomas find his companions. Women also known as “swans”.

“He would buy a lot of drinks for these men and get them highly intoxicated to the point where these men wouldn’t really know what they were doing.”

While we were looking into accusations against the alderman, so too was Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap. After receiving numerous calls from alleged victims and witnesses, she turned the investigation over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Heap followed up, perhaps knowing that statute of limitations had already expired on most of the witnesses, by sending the case to a civil grand jury. Within a week, it recommended charges not be brought against the alderman. That in fact, the statute of limitations had expired on most alleged victims. However, the grand jury’s assessment of Alderman Tony Thomas was mixed. 

Four of the 18 grand jurors determined that the witnesses who testified and myself, “…were out to get Tony Thomas.”  Adding they “…hoped to clear his name.”

But 14 of the 18 had this to say about our longest tenured Alderman:

“Mr. Thomas displays a pattern of grooming young males to become sexual partners.”

They went on to say that Alderman Tony Thomas’ behavior could be, “…described as a person trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a predatory manner.”
 
Tony Thomas’ responses to the accusations have been consistent.  

“I would suggest that they go and get that evidence,” he told me last year. And denied every single accusation being leveled at him. 

“I am not guilty of any of these things. These folks that are strewing these lies across the internet, and all, are just that: liars.”

In the meantime, a pair of the alderman’s constituents filed an ethics complaint against him claiming he had launched a social media hate campaign against them. When that was dropped, they filed another going after Thomas for conducting private business in the same office as his alderman headquarters. That too went nowhere.

Then, Thomas began going after his accusers, including a private investigator, John Perry, filing a peace bond - basically a restraining order - then dropping it when Perry chose to fight.

One of Thomas’ young companions, a man named Charles DeCarlo, did the same. The judge quickly threw that one out.

Social media has not always been kind to Thomas or WTOC during these investigations. Supporters of the Alderman saying:

“…David Klugh’s obvious dislike of the alderman had closed his objectivity. You just pounce on anything you can,” it goes on. “Get over it.”

Another said, “You're Not in Kansas Anymore. You're In The Bible Belt Now! Try
to be more professional the next time.”

Yet, hundreds of comments on our coverage had a different take:

“I applaud your courage and the courage of many others involved with exposing this predator.”
 
Another saying, “How tolerant are we supposed to be???”

And finally to the alderman’s supporters:

“Y'all voted for him. He's scum. They need to do damage control for sure now.”

If there is damage control to be done, it may need to be done by Tony Thomas himself.  A lot of the social media responses to the alderman’s conduct on St. Patrick’s Day were sympathetic to what could be a real problem, calling for someone to intervene.

At the same time, several voters in Alderman Tony Thomas’ 6th District have told me they are already laying the groundwork for a recall election.

Yes, we’ve heard all this before.  We’ll let you know if this time is any different.

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