NEWS- Garrett's plea: Publicist guilty of reduced charge

Tommy Garrett leaves Buckingham General District Court on Friday, February 1, with his attorney, famed civil rights activist James Ghee.

After more than a year of courtroom delays, the forgery case against publicist-to-the-stars and chicken farmer Tommy Lightfoot Garrett came to an end on Friday, April 18 in Buckingham County Court with more of a whimper than a bang.   

Garrett, who had been facing 15 felony counts of forging and uttering, pled guilty to just one reduced charge– entering the property of another with the intention of damaging it, a class-one misdemeanor. He was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence, two years unsupervised probation, and was ordered to pay his victim, David Kimbell, $3,500 restitution.

The plea deal, announced in court on Friday, kept court-watchers from hearing what promised to be riveting testimony detailing the allegations behind the charges– that over the course of at least 18 months in 2004 and 2005, Garrett forged checks he'd stolen from Kimbell, whom he'd befriended several months before Kimbell's grandmother died in November 2002. 

Kimbell says both he and Garrett attended St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Buckingham County and that early in the friendship he was impressed by Garrett's Hollywood connections (among the 70 clients on Garrett's website for his publicity firm, Icon PR, are Tab Hunter, Glenn Ford, and Ruta Lee) and grateful that Garrett had offered to help him sell a screenplay he'd written.

 "I'm a trusting person," says Kimbell, explaining he had no reason to doubt Garrett's celebrity connections or his honesty. Within months he had granted Garrett "carte blanche" access to the New Canton home he shared with his dying grandmother. He had also, he later found out, given him carte blanche access to the balance transfer checks sent to him by credit card companies.

Garrett, whose website claims offices in Manhattan, Chicago, and Beverly Hills– with two more opening in D.C. and London– has long maintained his innocence of the forgery charges. His first attorney, Dana Slater, whom he later replaced with James Ghee, called the allegations "false" and "outrageous." Garrett, Slater said, was "trying to help" Kimbell, who she claimed was having trouble taking care of himself at the time.

In fact, there is some record of Garrett's concern for Kimbell. In 2005 Garrett went to the Buckingham magistrate's office to ask that Kimbell be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. Kimbell says– and shows documents to confirm– that he was quickly released after psychiatrists could find no basis for the commitment.

"He was trying to project this whole thing that I was incompetent," says Kimbell of Garrett.

Kimbell's not the only person to have a legal run-in with Garrett, who first gained media attention in 1995 thanks to a $930,000 lawsuit he filed against the owner of the Bremo Bluff funeral home. In that suit, Garrett alleged that Charles Colbert had reneged on a promissory note, had falsely accused him of stealing, and had inflicted intentional emotional distress by calling him a racial epithet and for allegedly taking indecent liberties with corpses. 

A jury didn't buy the necrophilia portion of Garrett's claim, but did award him $41,000, according to archived articles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Colbert counter-sued and settled out of court with Garrett and several media outlets for an undisclosed sum. 

Both Colbert and Kimbell say they would like to have seen the original forgery charges stick, but Kimbell says he's relieved the legal ordeal is over and that there has been a conviction– even if only for a misdemeanor. "He's a convicted criminal," says Kimbell. "He's not a felon, but he's a criminal." 

Buckingham County Commonwealth's Attorney E.M. Wright declined comment on the case or his decision to offer the deal.

Following his guilty plea, Garrett left the courthouse accompanied by Ghee, his Farmville-based  attorney. Dressed in a black suit, he remained silent as Ghee, citing the reduction of charges from 15 felonies to one misdemeanor and the removal of any mention of forgery, pronounced his client "vindicated."

David Kimbell and Charles Colbert leave Buckingham County Courthouse on Friday, April 18, following Tommy L. Garrett's guilty plea.