The secret history of a state Senate candidate turned accused criminal

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ATLANTA - A Georgia man went from state Senate candidate to suspected con man, and now he faces charges of theft and racketeering.

Channel 2’s Erica Byfield investigated Brian Roslund for months and learned why he's accused of swindling a charity, Georgia citizens and some powerful politicians.

The public face of Brian Roslund was impressive for a first-time political candidate. The self-described railroad executive and history buff had pictures snapped with former President Jimmy Carter, as well as civil rights leader John Lewis.

But the secret life of Roslund was nothing like his public resume.

"You expect someone like that to have morals, but turns out this guy is full-on con man," said Robert McKinnon of Valdosta. McKinnon's company made campaign signs for Roslund. According to state campaign records, Roslund claimed he paid McKinnon $325 for the signs.

McKinnon says Roslund still owes him. Roslund sent McKinnon two checks from two accounts. State records show both accounts turned out to be closed. Then Roslund sent a screen shot that was supposed to prove he'd paid via PayPal.

By this point, the businessman was suspicious. "I called PayPal," McKinnon said. "The lady told me it was invalid."

McKinnon’s loss is small compared to others. Georgia Bureau of Investigation records show Roslund sent a political consultant five checks totaling $8,713.91. The checks all bounced. The consultant never got a dime from Roslund.

Byfield found discrepancies on the campaign finance records, including people who Roslund claimed had donated to his campaign. Some told Channel 2 Action News they didn't know Roslund, much less donate money to him.

"If people aren't paying attention, if the media aren't paying attention, this is what happens," said Edward Queen, the director of leadership education at Emory University Center for Ethics.

"I think it's disturbing how little attention may be paid to local offices, even if it's a state office."

In Georgia, candidates can run for state Senate if they're not a felon, and meet the age and residency requirements.

The state Democratic and Republican parties don't run background checks on candidates.

If they did they might have found what Channel 2 Action News found.

Roslund was the president of the Friends of the Little White House for years.

The volunteer group helps run Roosevelt's Little White House Historic Site State Park about hour south of Atlanta.

Records show last year the group's the treasurer noticed something odd.

Roslund had written dozens of checks to cash with no explanation.

On Oct. 3, 2014, Treasurer Mike Shaddix emailed Roslund, "What is going on with the Friends' checking account? I know you are busy with your campaign, but I am concerned about the complete lack of procedures. Please tell me you have receipts for all these transactions."

Roslund never provided receipts.

A state audit found Roslund took more than $11,000 from the non-profit.

Despite the shock some have expressed after his January arrest, there were clues that Roslund was less than honest.

Byfield looked at Roslund's claim that he owned Susquehanna Valley Railroad in Pennsylvania. She learned the company does exist on papers filed with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's Office. But the address for the company turned out to be a private residence. The owner told Channel 2 Action News there's no railroad at the place and never has been.

Roslund was president of another scenic railroad in Pennsylvania for less than a year in 2004. During that time period, someone raided the accounts of The Tioga Central Railroad. A total of $72,000 was missing; Pennsylvania State Police investigated, but never arrested anyone. Roslund was fired.

Records show he was later arrested on theft charges in from an antiques sale in Pennsylvania. But the judge's office told Channel 2 Action news this month the entire case is now missing from a court database. One possible explanation is that the record was expunged.

Nonetheless, there was an outstanding warrant against him in Pennsylvania back in 2007, when he applied for a part-time maintenance job with the state of Georgia parks system. He filled out a questionnaire that asked "Are there any charges now pending against you by Federal, State, or other law enforcement authorities for any violation of any federal law, state law, county or municipal law?"

Roslund checked "no".

He went to work right away, but when his background check returned, the state of Georgia fired him.

"That's very troubling, it’s very disturbing," said state sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). McKoon beat Roslund in the state Senate race.

But during the race McKoon was concerned, especially when Roslund filed his Sept. 30, 2014 disclosure. "He has raised something like over $40,000 just kind of out of the blue and most of that money was raised, according to him, in increments of $100 or less and that's pretty unusual."

Candidates do not have to report the names of donors who give $100 or less.

Byfield asked McKoon how much he received in those small donations during that same period.

"Probably $1,000,” he said.

McKoon braced for a last-minute onslaught of direct mail or robocalls from the Roslund campaign. But, McKoon said, "We didn't see anything."

McKoon was also unaware that during the campaign, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general's office were on Roslund's trail. They issued a warrant for his arrest, but Roslund was nowhere to be found. We found pictures of Roslund in Pennsylvania on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Then, there was a sighting in the south. The GBI grabbed him at an Outback Steakhouse in Suwanee. They took him to Meriwether County, where Byfield tried to get Roslund to comment as he was walked into the jail. "What do you want to say to the people who voted for you?” Byfield asked. Roslund was silent.

Roslund has bonded out of jail, but a grand jury is expected to take up his case in the coming months.

State officials say he faces up to 30 years behind bars.