In 1966 Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D. Ga.) wrote to the Federal Highway Administration urging the placement of an interchange at a spot recommended by the Georgia Highway Department along the planned route of Interstate 75 in Henry County.
"Henry County is my home county," Talmadge explained in his letter to Federal Highway Administrator Rex M. Whitton, " and I am well aware of the entire area and its tremendous growth potential."
What was not mentioned in Talmadge's letter was that the land surrounding hthe proposed interchange site had been bought two months earlier by a syndicate that included a longtime Talmadge business associate. Six years later, after a complex series of transactions, Talmadge joined his business friend and others in a syndicate that acquired and profiled handsomely from the interchange land.
According to a spokesman for Talmadge, the senator and his business associate, Atlanta attorney James A. Parker, deny any conflict of interest involving Talmadge's request for the interchange,Both men say Talmadge was not part of the 1.75 Land Co., which was formed and bought the land at the interchange site two months before Talmadge wrote his letter.
According to land records on file in Henry County, the 1.75 Land Co., bought several large tracts of land in June 1966 at the place where Hodson's Bridge Road crossed the route of the proposed interstate highway through the county. The area is not far from Talmadge's family estate, Lovejoy.
Parker said yesterday that Talmadge had no part in the land company. But Parker said he himself was the company's general counsel, its secretary and that he kept the company's stock records. Parker's signature appears as a witness on three deeds filed by the land company for land purchases at the Hudson's Bridge Road interchange site.
Two months later Talmadge wrote to Federal Highway Administrator Whitton noting that the Georgia state highway department had recommended an interchange at the Hudson's Bridge Road site.
"This is to advise you of my interest in the recommendation," Talmadge wrote.
The letter was somewhat unusual for the George senator. While Talmadge had a number of communications with the Federal Highway Administration about interstates being planned and built in Georgia during the mid and late 1960's almosts all the letters were simply transmittals of constituents' remarks with a form enclosure saying the letter was coming from Talmadge's office.
In his letter, Talmadge noted his personal interest in the Hudson's Bridge Road interchange. "It is the fastest growing section south of Atlanta," he wrote, " and it is my sincere hope that approval of this recommendation will be forthcoming soon."
A month later, on Sept, 15, 1966, Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Lawrence Jones notified Talmadge that the Federal Highway Administration had approved Georgia's recommendation for location of the interchange.
Other records on file with the Federal Highway Administration here show that the Georgia Highway Department later shifted its preference to another site 1 1/4 miles south of the Hudson's Bridge Road crossing. Despite objections from its own staff that only one interchange was justified for the rural area, the Federal Highway Administration, under heavy political pressure, eventually funded interchanges at both sites near the I-15 Land Co. property.
Six years later the land came into the hands of another syndicate. This one included Talmadge, Parker, Georgia state District Attorney Edward E. McGarity, McGarity's brother and three other prominent Georgians.
The Talmadge syndicate acquired in interchange land after a complex series of transactions involving a Georgia firm called the Valley Forge Corp.
Valley Forge was originally incorporated as Georgia Enterprises Corp. in 1955 with Herman E. Talmadge listed as the attorney for the incorporation on the state documents. At that time Talmadge was in private law practice between serving as Georgia governor and U.S. senato, and U.S. senator.
By 1971 - after four name changes and a merger - Georgia Enterprises had become the Valley Forge Corp. with James A. Parker as its president. In that year, according to records on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Valley Forge's parent corporation, Certain-teed Products Corp., purchased the I-75 Land Co. and resold the I-75 Land Co. to Valley Forge Corp.
On Dc. 30, 1971, according to SEC records, the Talmadge syndicate swapped 118 acres of land valued at $623,000 with Valley Forge in exchange for 8 acres at the Hudson's Bridge Road interchange site on I-75 and $229,000 in cash and notes.
The Talmadge group then hired Valley Forge to construct a motel on the 8-acre Hudson's Bridge Road site and leased the motel to Valley Forge for 25 years at a $151,040 annual rental.
The land swap left the Talmadge group in good financial positin while Valley Forge was left with land that did not prove nearly as valuable as the 8-acre interchange parcel. Parker was also involved with several other Valley Forge land deals with syndicates in which he had a financial interest. The deals caused the company to incur heavy debts and it declared bankruptcy in 1975. Parker had resigned as president of Valley Forge in 1974.
Parker's position as president of Valley Forge - which is a publicly held company - while executing land deals with syndicates in which he had an interest raised some comment in press at the time about the ethics of such deals. Outside of his name on the incorporation papers of Georgia Enterprises ther is nothing in the public record to link Talmadge to Valley Forge.
The question of whether Talmadge profited on the I-75 Land Co. deal either by conflict of interest or insider information is likely to be aired in court proceedings soon.
Earlier this year an Atlanta law firm filed suit in federal bankruptcy court in Philadelphia for $1.3 million on behalf of Talmadge's syndicate against Valley Forge and its subsidary, Matador Motor Inns.
Valley Forge officials declined to comment on the suit. But several persons proceedings said Talmadge's role in the land dealings with Valley Forge - including the I-75 Land Co. trade - is likely to be raised in depositions scheduled to be taken soon in the case.
Despite the claim for $1.3 million by th Talmadge syndicate - in which Talmadge has a one-seventh interest, according to his divorce papers - the Georgia senator did not declare the share of the money he says is owed to him by Valley Forge on his Senate financial disclosure statement. A spokesman for Talmadge said the money would be declared an asset once the bankruptcy suit is settled.