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Former CSU professor pleads guilty to theft

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A former Clayton State University professor will spend the next five years in prison, after he pleaded guilty this week, to charges that he stole thousands of dollars from four of his students in 2007, the Clayton County prosecutor handling the case said on Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers said she reached a plea deal with the attorney representing Powder Springs resident, Stephen Allen Williams, on Tuesday morning.

Williams stole $16,800 from the students, the prosecutor said.

As part of the agreement, Williams pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by deception, according to Powers. She said that Williams, who is also a Cobb County-based Realtor, convinced the students to make investments in non-existent real estate, in Florida, during the 2006-2007 school year.

In addition to the charges to which he pleaded guilty, Williams had originally also been charged with four counts of theft by taking, five counts of violation of the Georgia Securities Fraud Act, and five counts of violation of the Georgia Securities Act.

Powers, and Williams' attorney, Lee Sexton, said the deal was struck just as jury selection was about to begin in the case. They said it came after Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield decided, on Monday, to allow a group of students from Georgia State University, whom Williams also allegedly took money from, to testify during the trial.

"We notified them that we were going to have some Georgia State students that he also took money from testify during the trial, and they came to us the next day to make a plea deal," Powers said.

In addition to spending five years in jail, Williams will have to spend another 10 years on parole, take theft-deterrence classes, and complete 90 hours of community service, according to Powers.

Sexton said the former professor could have spent up to 85 years in prison, if a jury had convicted him on all of the charges he was facing. Sexton said he approached Powers about striking a deal, after he and his client took a night to think over the potential ramifications of the Georgia State students testifying in front of the jury.

"I told him it's a critical issue," Sexton said. "If the jury buys that he had a pattern of this behavior, and I think it's very likely that they would have, then he could have been sent to prison for a long time."

Williams taught an investment class, as a part-time, adjunct professor, at Clayton State, from March 2005, to March 2007.

The indictment against him accused him of misleading the students, in January 2007, by giving them the impression that he had an investment in an apartment complex, that was allegedly to be built in Florida, and by issuing unregistered, non-federally-insured promissory notes to them.

"They were all promised a 25 percent return on their investments into a real estate venture, in 90 days," Clayton State Director of Public Safety Bobby Hamil told the Clayton News Daily, in a written statement, in August.

Sexton said the investment fell through after his client's father died, and then the person he was working with on the investment also died. He said Williams used some of the money he "borrowed" from the students to pay bills, such as his father's funeral.

"He made the unfortunate decision to use some of the money he borrowed to pay off some of his debts," Sexton said.

Powers said Williams did pay back the money he owed to the four Clayton State students, through the Clayton County District Attorney's Office, and each student received a check, Tuesday, in the amount invested.

The assistant district attorney added that Williams will serve out his five years of jail time in a state prison, although she could not say which facility that will be.