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Former candidate Michael Williams apologizes for running for governor, tries to explain plea deal
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Former gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams leaves Hall County Jail after turning himself in Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018 on charges of insurance fraud and false report of a crime. - photo by Austin Steele

Michael Williams, the former state senator from Forsyth County whose candidacy for Georgia governor was consumed by controversy, said he should not have run for governor in an email to campaign supporters Tuesday morning.

But Williams maintained he didn’t commit insurance fraud after claiming in May 2018 that $300,000 worth of cryptocurrency servers were stolen from his campaign office in Gainesville.

Williams apologized “for any embarrassment or hurt that your support of me has caused.” Williams added: “I should not have run for governor or allowed my public persona to be so drastically changed to something it wasn’t.”

A small business owner from Forsyth County, Williams first entered politics in 2014 when he defeated longtime Republican incumbent Jack Murphy in a runoff for the District 27 seat that represents the majority of the county in the Georgia State Senate. The Republican’s early support of then presidential-candidate Donald Trump in 2015 catapulted his profile in conservative circles, and Williams seemed to borrow from Trump’s campaign style.

One of Williams’ first fundraising events featured Duane Chapman, better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter. One of Williams’ first endorsements came from Roger Stone, a longtime Republican consultant who has been indicted by Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

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State Sen. Michael Williams, R-Cumming, walks past his campaign’s “Deportation Bus” Wednesday, May 16, 2018, following his sudden departure from his campaign office on Monroe Drive. Williams and the bus left his office as protesters gathered along the road. - photo by Scott Rogers

He attended an armed anti-Sharia law rally in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, blamed Democratic policies for the rape of a Gwinnett County woman by illegal immigrants and held a press conference at the state Capitol to slam fellow candidate Casey Cagle, where Williams gave the former lieutenant governor the nickname “Campaign Casey.”

In September of 2017, Williams held a protest at a Cherokee County high school urging the school to fire a teacher who was caught on video asking students to remove pro-Trump shirts. The next month, after a mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, Williams emailed supporters and offered to give away a free bump stock, a device that essentially turns a semi-automatic weapon fully automatic that was found on several of the shooter’s guns.

On May 10, 2018, Williams’ campaign spokesman Seth Weathers claimed about $300,000 worth of cryptocurrency mining servers had been stolen from the candidates’ office in Gainesville. A few days later, Williams announced he would drive a “deportation bus” covered with anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric around the state, a stunt that was met with intense backlash.

The campaign stunts didn’t work. Williams came in last among five candidates in the May 22, 2018 gubernatorial Republican primary with less than 5% of the statewide vote.

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Former gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams leaves Hall County Jail after turning himself in Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018 on charges of insurance fraud and false report of a crime. Bond was agreed upon at $10,000. - photo by Austin Steele

Seven months later, on Dec. 18, 2018, Williams was charged with insurance fraud and false report of a crime by a Hall County grand jury for “claiming that computer servers were stolen from his place of business, when in fact they were not” when filing a claim to The Hartford, a Connecticut-based insurance company.

On May 28, 2019, Williams accepted a plea deal under the First Offender Act and was sentenced to five years of probation by a Hall County judge as well as a $5,000 fine and 120 hours of community service.

Williams hadn’t been heard from since, until Tuesday’s email. In it, Williams said he “allowed my pride, ego and bad advice to persuade me that I had a solid chance in the governor’s race.” During his campaign, Williams said, “there were numerous other red flags — going against my gut, lowering of standards and rationalizations that I ignored.”

“While supporting the issues I believed in, I allowed my campaign to do it in a way that was not representative of who I am,” Williams wrote. He added, “My campaign became solely about doing whatever needed to be done in order to create headlines to build name ID.”

Williams maintained his innocence of the insurance fraud charges and that he and his wife decided to accept the plea deal “to close the door on this chapter of our life.” The couple is expecting their sixth child, he said.

Williams said he does accept blame for “campaign strategy mistakes and not putting a timely end to my campaign.”

Story by Brian Paglia, Times regional staff

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