City seeks jail time and hefty fines for illegal bed & breakfast operator

(SAVANNAH) The City of Savannah plays hardball with a man who has defied a court order to stop operating an illegal business in a residential neighborhood, asking a judge to do more than impose tens of thousands of dollars in fines, they requested a jail term as well. Jonathan Morgan appeared in Chatham County Recorder’s Court for a special hearing. Assistant City Attorney, Lester Johnson, called witnesses and laid out the case that Morgan continued operating a Bed and Breakfast in Baldwin Park, a community zoned strictly residential.

Johnson made the case with neighbors and zoning administrators testifying to Morgan’s continued use of his property on Maupas Avenue as short-term vacation rental property, nearly a year after Chief Judge Tammy Stokes issued an order for Morgan to cease and desist. More than a dozen recommendations for penalties were laid out, including documentation to collect back taxes, a $36,000 dollar fine for defying the court order, and some time behind bars. “That this court impose a jail time of twelve months in jail.” Johnson said as he tried to convince the judge of Morgan’s contempt of her order, issued in May 2015.

Morgan’s attorney, Catherine Bulger argued against the hefty fine and incarceration of her client. “: ” We do object to the $36,000 dollar fine as excessive also to the jail time.” Bulger said. Judge Tammy Stokes did not ask Morgan about why he defied her order. the judge rejected the big fine and jail time, lowering the monetary penalty for Morgan to $3,000. That does not include any taxes owed once he has filed the proper paperwork with the city.

Morgan never denied ignoring the court order, but he did take exception to the claim he does not live in the home where the illegal business was conducted. “” If he is living there, he just moved in last night.” Johnson said to counter Morgan’s Claim. Karen White, who lives across the street from Maupas Avenue property, testified she’s been making notes of the activities at Morgan’s property and his overnight stays did no reach double-digits over the months she’s been documenting the zoning violation. “I went back and I checked my notes, um, and I show eight nights that his, one of his vehicles was there overnight.” White testified. ” Do you stay up all night and look out the window to see whether or not Mr. Morgan has come to and from the property?” Bulger asked White under cross-examination. ” No, but I usually check the street when i go to bed at ten o’clock at night and I’m usually up by six in the morning.” White responded.

Morgan tried to explain to the court why he is not at that property often. “I do travel a lot and try to live, have a fun lifestyle.” Morgan said, adding, “It’s totally my intention to reside in the property until the property is sold because i can’t have neighbors like this.” said Morgan. White says she doesn’t want an illegal business as a neighbor in the residential community she lives in.

Judge Stokes says she will issue a final cease and desist order in the case, but also scheduled a status update for June, to make sure Morgan is complying with her order, including filing all the proper tax documentation, as well as removal of short-term vacation rental ads for the property from the internet. Stokes wants to to verify that Morgan’s days of running an illegal bed and breakfast in Savannah are over. There are additional financial penalties if Morgan does not comply with this court order.

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