NEWS- Publicist charged: 15 forgery counts continued

Tommy Garrett is the kind of person who's as comfortable raising chickens on a Buckingham County farm as hobnobbing with Hollywood star Ed Begley Jr. This much is clear from a recent section-front story in the Daily Progress. Omitted from the story, however, is the fact that Garrett is the man who once accused a Fluvanna County funeral home director of fondling corpses and that Garrett was due in court the day after the glowing article to face 15 felony counts of forgery.

The website for Garrett Associates and Icons Public Relations boasts 70 distinguished clients, including Tab Hunter, Glenn Ford, and Ruta Lee. And thanks to HGTV, which airs Begley's new reality television show, Living with Ed, hundreds of thousands of television viewers have now seen Garrett with their own eyes.

When he's not busy voicing the number one-rated radio show in Australia, Garrett has written a book about Joan Fontaine. And for about a year or so, he hosted Somewhere in Time, a documentary that aired on the Charlottesville CBS station.

This is a man who has sent out press releases about his appearance on the cover of a mysterious Senior Magazine as well as announcing that he was attending the funerals of both Aaron Spelling and Patsy Ramsey.

But there was no press release for his scheduled court appearance. According to documents in Buckingham General District Court, the forging and uttering charges cover incidents that happened April 22 and September 16, 2004, and August 30, 2005.

"It's absolutely outrageous these false accusations have been filed," says Garrett's attorney, Dana Slater. "This case never should have gotten out of the magistrate's office."

To the man bringing the charges, however, it's none too soon.

"Tommy stole money from me by intercepting balance transfer checks, the checks sent through the mail with credit card statements," says New Canton resident David Kimbell. "He forged my name. Obviously, this was done without my knowledge or permission. He did not have power of attorney or any legal instrument to justify what he did."

Slater says there's a perfectly good explanation.

"There was a time with Mr. Kimbell when people in the community were concerned about his ability to take care of himself and his aging grandmother," says Slater. "Mr. Garrett helped him."

  Garrett and Kimbell have been in court before. Kimbell was charged with assault and battery and acquitted June 2.

The forgery charges against Garrett have been continued, and a special prosecutor will be assigned, Slater says.

And so continues the story of the man who first gained media attention in 1995 with a lawsuit against a funeral home owner. Garrett was suing Bremo Bluff funeral director Charles Colbert for $930,000 in back pay, for reneging on a promissory note, and for inflicting intentional emotional distress by calling him a racial epithet and for allegedly taking indecent liberties with corpses.

By the time the case went to trial the following year, budding publicist Garrett had switched lawyers and brought a publicist to court to gather material to market his story for a television movie.

Garrett was also suing for defamation, since Colbert accused him of theft. The jury disagreed about the necrophilia but agreed that Colbert defamed Garrett and awarded him back pay and punitive damages, a total of $41,000, according to archived stories by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"You don't go around accusing people of stealing money unless you can prove it," Garrett's then-lawyer Richard Ryder told the jury.

"We submit it's just as horrible to accuse someone, to destroy their life, to destroy them financially, emotionally," said Colbert's lawyer, Richard Milnor. "It's just as evil."

Colbert concedes that he probably did call Garrett "boy"– "not because he was black, but because he was about 30 years younger than me."

As for the fondling allegations? "What kind of mind comes up with that accusation?" asks Colbert today.  "If you want to destroy a funeral home, all you have to do is make an accusation that the funeral home director is a pervert." 

Colbert says that he in turn sued Garrett and some television stations and newspapers, but that the settlement is sealed, and he can't say what it was. "I wish I could," he says. "I wish the world could know."

 The funeral home director is not surprised that Garrett is facing forgery charges. "He'd take checks from me and write them to himself, even the last day he was there," Colbert says.

The two faced off in a subsequent court case in which the publicist accused Colbert of running him off the road in 1999. That case was dismissed. 

After the Hook spoke with Garrett and his lawyer– who advised Garrett not to comment– this reporter received an anonymous voice message from a woman claiming to be 85 years old and making allegations about the mental health of Garrett's accuser in the current forgery case. The caller lambasted those who wanted to "ruin that poor little colored boy."

"Everyone is afraid of Tommy Garrett because of his penchant for suing, his lawyer, and his ability to get publicity," says Colbert. "A lot of people he represents are old or dead, and no one can dispute him."

Retired Bremo Bluff postal worker Margie Reardon remembers a run-in with Garrett. "He tried to go through the postal service to accuse me of things that weren't so, to try to get me to lose my job," she says. "I really don't know what's wrong with Tommy Garrett. In other words, I think he's a troublemaker."

But Garrett does have fans. For instance, TV Guide suggests that he should become a regular on the HGTV show, and Mrs. Ed Begley Jr.– Rachelle Carson– calls Garrett a "kindred spirit."

The recent Progress article by David Maurer asserts that Garrett has six agents, and Garrett's website mentions offices in Manhattan, Chicago, and Beverly Hills, with branches soon to open in London and Washington, DC. But it still lists a Buckingham phone number– and a Beverly Hills voice mail number.

"If he has three offices, why are the photos [of his clients, pictured in the Progress] displayed on his bed?" asks Colbert. 

Publicist Tommy Garrett's picture in the Daily Progress includes a photo of Russell Crowe, who is not a client.