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Georgia forestry director resigns after arrest on shoplifting charge

By Maya T. Prabhu, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga (CNT)

The director of the Georgia Forestry Commission resigned after being arrested on shoplifting charges this summer.

Chuck Williams is accused of misdemeanor shoplifting from an Ace Hardware Store in Gray in August, something he told local police he does “for the thrill.”

The Athens Banner-Herald first reported Williams’ arrest on Monday.

Williams, whose salary as commission director was $165,000, was arrested Aug. 13 and sent his resignation letter to Gov. Brian Kemp the next day. Kemp appointed Gary White as the interim director.

According to a Gray Police Department incident report, surveillance cameras caught Williams on Aug. 12 — wearing his Forestry Commission uniform — pulling a $54.99 price tag off a saw and placing it on a Silky Sugoi saw, which cost $109.99.

Williams then paid for the saw at the lower price, using his Ace rewards and credit cards, and left the store in a marked Forestry Commission car, police said. Store staff noticed the missing saw, called police and, using footage from surveillance cameras and credit card information, identified Williams.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said Williams had represented the agency at an event earlier in the day but was not on official duty while at the hardware store.

An officer returned to the store the next day, where he saw Williams speaking with a manager and arrested the commission director.

While in custody, Williams told police “he has done such things in the past and does it for the thrill,” according to the incident report. Williams was released on bond and escorted by police to his car, where he turned over the Silky Sugoi saw.

State Rep. Terry England, an Auburn Republican, said he’s been friends with Williams for nearly 40 years. He said he’s spoken with Williams in the months since his arrest and believes he will “get through this.”

“He is determined to work through this,” England said. “I will do anything I can to help him. And if there is someone that’s been harmed, the Chuck Williams I know, and all of us know, will make that right.”

Williams was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2017 to serve as Forestry Commission director. The commission last month announced that it had convened a panel to vet candidates and plans to nominate a director by the end of the year.

“Since this happened, our focus as an agency has simply remained to stay focused on our vision, which is to provide leadership, service and education in the protection and conservation of Georgia’s forestry resources,” Forestry Commission spokeswoman Wendy Burnett said.