Covington mayoral candidate Bobby Sigman was arrested at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday for paying people to steal the campaign signs of his opponent Ronnie Johnston.
The Covington Police Department received a complaint from a citizen Wednesday that a man was stealing Johnston's mayoral candidate signs from around Covington. Johnston said signs have been removed from yards during the past two weeks.
One of the men removing the signs told police that Sigman was paying him $1 to $2 to remove Johnston's signs.
Covington police then conducted an undercover operation that resulted in the arrest of Sigman. Sigman purchased more than 50 stolen Johnston yard signs from an individual acting in an undercover capacity, according to detectives.
After Sigman purchased the signs, officers conducted a traffic stop of Sigman and escorted him to the department's Criminal Investigations Unit where, after being read Miranda warning, Sigman made false statements about his involvement in this incident.
Sigman was charged with three misdemeanors: making false statements within a political subdivision, theft by taking and criminal trespass. He was booked into jail and bonded out at 10:21 p.m.
Anybody who may have had a Johnston mayoral candidate yard sign removed from his or her property is asked to contact the police department's Criminal Investigations Division at (770) 786-7605. Each removal of a sign is a separate count of theft by taking, Capt. Ken Malcom said. The case is still under investigation.
Johnston thanked his supporter for taking the initiative to follow the man stealing his signs.
"I'm sad for him (Sigman) and sad for his family," Johnston said Thursday. "I'm sad for the whole city; I'll be glad when we're moving on."
Sigman denied the charges Thursday and said he was innocent.
"This is a ridiculous charge; I have done nothing wrong," Sigman said. "The powers that be in Covington would do anything to keep me from winning this office of mayor. I would never have thought it would go to this extreme. I have hired a lawyer and it is his hands and I will be proven innocent."
Sigman said he was knocking on doors when he came to a house that had a Johnston sign in the yard. He said he joked to the man that he should remove the sign, and the man responded that he had been paid $5 to have the sign in his yard. Sigman said he made an "off-the-cuff" joke that he would pay the man a $1 for all of Johnston's signs.
Johnston said his campaign signs have all been placed in yards and businesses voluntarily by his supporters.
"Thankfully we've had a huge groundswell of support in Covington by citizens ready for positive leadership, and it was certainly not necessary, nor have we ever had to pay anyone to place one of our signs on their property," Johnston said.
Sigman said he was surprised when the man called him Wednesday evening and told him he had a bunch of signs. Sigman went to meet the man at the BP gas station and put the signs in his trunk and headed home, saying he planned to call Johnston as soon as he got home.
He said the police department set up a sting operation and noted the man was "wired up to the gills." Police then pulled over Sigman with the stolen signs in his car.
"You know, I can't understand if the CPD has no more else to do than set up a sting operation on a dog-gone couple of pulled political signs. It's ridiculous," Sigman said.
Sigman said he could tell by looking at the signs that they were new and had not ever been placed in the ground. He said the police got signs from Johnston as part of the sting operation. Johnston denied that he had any part in the operation.
Police Chief Stacey Cotton also denied Sigman's statement and said some of the signs had dirt on them, clearly showing they had been pulled out of the ground.
"Obviously, Mr. Sigman is going to deny his arrest was based on any kind of fact. That's the only thing he can say," Cotton said. "In this instance, the gentleman was caught in the act of taking the signs. He decided he wanted to cooperate with the Covington Police Department and told us he was picking up the signs for Mr. Sigman who was paying him to do so...We also have the evidence of Mr. Sigman paying the man for his services."
Because the man taking the signs fully cooperated with police he was not charged with any crime.
Cotton said calls are still coming in to police department about missing signs, which could add to the number of counts of theft against Sigman.
"Mr. Sigman doesn't see this as a big deal, but if he was the victim of this same type of incident, he would expect nothing but the most due diligence from the Covington Police Department. And we would give that to him as we would any other person," Cotton said.
Sigman said he will not pull out of the race.
"My next step is to continue my campaign to be elected mayor of Covington. The lawyer will take care of these charges, ridiculous charges," said Sigman. "I would be stupid to do something like this; I'm smarter than that."
Sigman has hired Conyers legal firm Chapman and Associates to defend him. He said it made no sense for him to take down Johnston's signs because he was leading the race - up by 8 points - according to his own internal poll.