Parents, church and judge told future GOP candidate for governor: ‘Leave the girl alone’

Ray McBerry (center) with four other GOP candidates for governor at a 2009 forum. Elissa Eubanks/eeubanks@ajc.com

Ray McBerry (center) with four other GOP candidates for governor at a 2009 forum. Elissa Eubanks/eeubanks@ajc.com

Rachel Gandee was a band nerd in high school.

She didn’t drink. She didn’t smoke. Her grades were solid. The 16-year-old had just finished 10th grade and was, by her mother’s judgment, a good girl.

Then she fell in with Ray McBerry, a married history teacher and member of her small storefront church in McDonough. When their relationship began, McBerry was still four years away from his first Republican run for governor in 2006. He’s trying again this year.

Last month, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission released a summary of its investigation into McBerry, who resigned his position at Patrick Henry High School in Stockbridge in January 2003, shortly after Rachel’s mother filed a complaint.

Eventually, in 2004, the GPSC would suspend his teaching certificate for five days for abuse of a student, lying to administrators and violation of the commission’s standard of conduct for teachers.

The only person identified in that state report was McBerry. The identities of Rachel Gandee — her married name — and her parents were protected.

But at some point, anonymity becomes a form of paralysis. The facts belong to those willing to discuss them in the open.

Over the past few weeks, Rachel Gandee has eased herself onto the public stage, starting with a detailed account of her relationship with McBerry on SWGAPolitics.com, a southwest Georgia political blog run by Jeff Sexton. “The truth getting told,” she wrote, “might help me get over all this.”

McBerry calls himself the only states’ rights candidate in the 2010 race for governor. He has little chance of winning, but drew nearly 12 percent of the vote in the ’06 primary.

In a phone interview shortly after he qualified for the governor’s race on Wednesday, McBerry maintained that his relationship with the high school student was professional and proper.

But last week, the four adults who sat around a kitchen table in McDonough described a romance that was both obsessive and harmful.

Rachel Gandee, now 24, is a medical assistant. Ronnie Pittman, her 47-year-old stepfather and the man who raised her, is a plumber by trade. Her mother, Linda Pittman, 54, wore an off-white turban that hid the effects of chemotherapy. Rachel Gandee works for her mother’s surgeon.

Chris Gandee, 23, an emergency medical technician, sat next to his new bride, who fidgeted and sometimes trembled — but never cried — as the story worked its way out:

In 2002, the family attended the same small church as McBerry and his wife, who acted as youth ministers. The members of Faith Independent Baptist Church took their religion seriously. Women and girls wore dresses, or at minimum, culottes. Disputes were settled biblically.

Rachel and the high school teacher, then 34, shared an interest in history — the Civil War in particular. That summer, she went to him for advice about a boyfriend. “I could have gone to his wife. But I went to him because we were close. And I had that childish crush on him,” Rachel Gandee said.

McBerry urged her to cut ties with her high school sweetheart. And McBerry then began the process of replacing him, Rachel Gandee said. He gave her a cellphone that allowed the two to talk without parental tracking. The loan of the phone is beyond dispute – McBerry admits to it.

Once school started, she spent the hours between the afternoon bell and evening band practices with McBerry. She said the future candidate for governor would leave his job at Patrick Henry High and drive 10 miles to pick her up at Henry County High School, where she was now a junior.

McBerry and his wife separated, then divorced.

“At first, when he was still married, we went to the graveyard and we would just talk,” Rachel Gandee remembered. “Once his wife left, we’d go back to his house.”

On Wednesday, McBerry repeated what he told investigators in 2003: He acted only as the young girl’s counselor, and that the relationship never went beyond platonic hugs.

“There was no inappropriate contact with her, period, whatsoever,” McBerry said. “I was not alone with her, period, whatsoever, in my home, at all, for any reason.”

Rachel Gandee remembers it differently. “It got physical. It wasn’t at first. But yeah, it did get physical,” she said. In later interviews, although she initially denied that the relationship went that far, Rachel Gandee said she and McBerry had sex that fall, at his house.

Her parents — and their church — quickly became involved. That September, McBerry was summoned to a meeting with the pastor, a deacon and Ronnie Pittman.

“We told him to leave her alone. She was a child. Leave her alone. And those meetings went on an hour, or maybe an hour and a half. Each one,” the stepfather said. “After the first one, he didn’t get it, so we called him in again.”

“And then I caught him at a football game here in town,” Ronnie Pittman said. His stepdaughter, of course, was in the band. “I got on him pretty hard up there, ’cause it was just me and him.”

Linda Pittman came across two compact disks loaded with spyware that, her daughter later said, came from McBerry. Rachel used the programs to hide the messages she sent to the teacher on the family computer.

Finally, in December 2002, a couple from church caught the pair together on a dirt road — McBerry and Rachel had arrived at the rendezvous in separate cars. Linda Pittman went to the Henry County school board. McBerry abandoned his teaching job.

On Jan. 17, 2003, the mother brought McBerry before Henry County Magistrate Wesley J. Shannon, on charges of interference with custody, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

McBerry had an attorney. The Pittmans didn’t. Examining his files this week, Shannon said the parents didn’t present enough evidence for an arrest warrant. But they raised enough suspicions, the judge said, that he signed an order requiring McBerry to stay away from their daughter for six months.

“If I was to take an educated guess as to what I was doing at the time,” the judge said, “I was putting the ball in his court — saying, ‘Do you want to go to jail? Leave the girl alone.’ ”

No one showed up at a July 17, 2003, follow-up hearing. Without the Pittmans to press any accusations, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the charges. The couple now say they regret not following up with the court action — because McBerry remained a shadow in their lives.

Rachel Gandee said her feelings for McBerry changed the day they were caught on that dirt road. Confronted, the high school teacher began pounding his car in a rage, she said. After the incident, her stepfather persuaded her that she was not safe.

At one point, McBerry returned to the church — from which he’d already been ousted — and was asked to leave, Ronnie Pittman said. His stepdaughter hid inside. On weekdays, at the wheel of her car, Rachel Gandee remembers seeing McBerry along her route to school. She began taking the bus.

Even as an adult, she still is reluctant to go into town alone, out of fear that she might see him. “I don’t want to break down in the middle of the Wal-Mart by myself,” Rachel Gandee said.

Of the Pittmans and their daughter, McBerry said their story has changed several times. He declined to cite specifics, but said he was contemplating court action.

Georgia has sent mixed messages when it comes to sexual ties between teachers and students. HB 571, a bill approved by the General Assembly on Tuesday, forbids relationships between students and teachers in the same schools.

But not, as Rachel Gandee says happened with McBerry, teachers and students from different schools. The measure also creates an exception for teachers and students who marry.

Yet consider this: On Monday, the Georgia Republican Party turned away Ray Boyd, a real estate executive with $2 million, as a candidate for governor because he refused to sign a loyalty oath of sorts.

But GOP officials say state law prevents the party of family values from blocking the candidacy of a former teacher accused of preying upon a young girl. Republicans will cash McBerry’s $4,180.18 qualifying check.

Other GOP candidates must be thrilled.

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111 comments Add your comment

[...] if the material that originated on this site wasn’t bad enough for McBerry, see this article from Jim Galloway – a professional journalist, and one of the best (if not THE best) [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Political Insider, Jim Galloway, has a must read piece regarding gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry (R). Specifically, the article focuses on the back [...]

Bob

April 30th, 2010
8:18 am

What a dirtbag. At least the perverts will have a representative to vote for.

Aquagirl

April 30th, 2010
8:18 am

Wow, good info, Jim. What a creepy guy.

wayne ziemer

April 30th, 2010
8:18 am

He is a strange man. One he did was inappropriate, but his other stands are not very good. Maybe they should come out. Trying to distrub the economy, change the american language to’southern’, revere the old south as proper way, eliminate education for most, etc, He is a man hope most Georgian’s do n ot exspond too. It is a amazing he was a teacher in public school.

oldtimer

April 30th, 2010
8:30 am

What a creep!

SBinF

April 30th, 2010
8:31 am

I’m very tickled by all this. Ray McBerry was my 7th grade history teacher back in the mid-nineties. His Bible-thumping ways precipitated my exit from a Southern Baptist Christian school in favor of public schooling. They taught that dancing was wrong, and that women should not serve in ministry. Oddly, relationships with young students are perfectly ok according to the Bible. Unfortunately, this revalation isn’t very ironic. So often it’s the loudest preachers whose private lives leave much to be desired. Good luck on your campaign your hypocrite-zealot!

Devildog

April 30th, 2010
8:39 am

I’ve voted for a lot of governors and learned afterwards they were sleazebags. I’m sure not going to vote for a candidate when I know in advance he’s a sleazebag.
As Lazarus Long says, “When in doubt, vote no.”

melvinowens

April 30th, 2010
8:39 am

another republican hwo touts “family values”, is exposed for the hypocrite that he is.

States Rights

April 30th, 2010
8:39 am

Ray told his followers even before the first Galloway article that he would be attacked due to his stand on taxes and States Rights. We were even told by other sources that Oxendine had hired some outside people to make sure that he got elected. This article seems to be the same old thing as before and I have to wonder if Galloway is doing this because of the money being thrown around? It use to be in this country you were innocent until proven guilty, it seems that the parents keep saying that they should have done this and should have done that. I wonder how much truth is in this article. Is this just a young girl that was infatuated with an older man or is there any truth to this? She said herself that she has already changed her story about having sex. Galloway has blocked me before from saying what I have to say so let’s see if he does it again. Now again I have to ask, Is this because of the money being thrown around and are we innocent until proven guilty?

Bill from Athens

April 30th, 2010
8:45 am

Just another attack on a good conservative by the liberal AJC. Move along…nothing to see here. ;-)

Good work Jim!

oldfart

April 30th, 2010
8:46 am

Stick a fork in him, he’s done.

bulldog

April 30th, 2010
8:49 am

Ray McBerry was a nutcase even before this news broke. He has nothing to offer Georgia but his huge ego.

me

April 30th, 2010
8:52 am

There are always two sides to every story and I think if this really had happened the girls parents would have done a whole lot more! I think this is just another attack on someone with Christian values. Even if this did happen we all make mistakes and if you are looking for a perfect candidate you will never find it. Those without sin let them cast the first stone!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Patrick Henry Pride

April 30th, 2010
8:53 am

I saw the bit about him having taught at Patrick Henry High. This is a great school with awesome teachers! I know its a fact that he worked there, but I’m ashamed that he was connected with such a great facility.

George Bush

April 30th, 2010
8:55 am

DAM he is worse than me !!!

W

Mugwump

April 30th, 2010
8:56 am

His qualification fee should be refunded.

Len Griffin

April 30th, 2010
9:03 am

What’s more important for someone running for office, loyality to the people or loyality to the party? I vote for the person…not who the party tells me to

Allen

April 30th, 2010
9:04 am

Got to love this guy. Does GOP really stand for Goofy Old Pedophiles? Now I remember why I quit going to Republican meeting and donating time/money after 12 years of supporting the party. Sounds like their definition of political party might be much different than my own.

Prof

April 30th, 2010
9:04 am

Great journalism – tell one biased side of the story.

No need for looking at both sides, after all, this is the AJC.

Aquagirl

April 30th, 2010
9:05 am

Kudos also to Rachel Gandee and her family for stepping forward to tell the story. The child-molester apologists will give them grief. Yuck.

Michael

April 30th, 2010
9:12 am

He’s got a lunatic look on his face in that picture above. And from reading some of these posts I fear a few of the people writing here probably have the same look.

Of course it can get worse. Should that freak Oxendine get elected, the state of Georgia is done for.

Tim, Louisville, KY

April 30th, 2010
9:12 am

It’s conscionable that a man like this can even be considered a candidate for any public office. If these are the types of people that are running our country, it’s no wonder God isn’t allowed to be acknowledged in government offices. I can only imagine what it would be like to have an adult man of this guy’s age, to not only be interested but pursuing my teenage daughter. This stepfather showed remarkable restraint in confronting this guy, one-on-one, alone. I don’t know that I could have restrained myself in that situation and not have had a go at him.

Koodoo’s to the writer, great job writing this story!!

GoOx

April 30th, 2010
9:13 am

Getting easier for My Man Ox everyday.

Sunny Daze

April 30th, 2010
9:14 am

To insinuate that Gallaway is being bribbed or writing this article because he attacks christian rights is nuts. These are likely some of the more bizarre posts I’ve seen lately.

JRS

April 30th, 2010
9:16 am

Typical GA drama. I’m not sure that the Republican and Christian references are anything more than a weak attempt at linking a political party and religious convicton to unethical behavior. What’s the point of the article? Seems a bit Jerry Springer to me. The guy is a dink and a criminal but what? There are no unethical, criminal, leftist, atheist Ephebophiles out there? Come on Jim. You are probably sitting next to one in the office right now. You can do better dude.

Richard Breath

April 30th, 2010
9:21 am

Preying on 16 year old band nerds, this guy has some real game!!!

Greg

April 30th, 2010
9:21 am

The question as to whether Ray McBerry had an inappropriate relationship with a minor is moot due to the way liberals are handled who are guilty of similar actions. It seems that if you have a conservative bent, the media will go after you with a ruthlessness. On the other hand, very little will be said about liberals and leftists who abuse children and conduct themselves shamefully in public.
That said, I will state publicly here and now that I will NOT vote for Ray McBerry. I won’t vote for him because he is a modern day secessionist and a member of the “League of The South:, a pro southern secession group led by Dr. Michael Hill from Alabama. They apparently want to resecede from the US and start up the war again. McBerry is the Georgia state chairman for the LoS. You may google them on the web and find all you want to know about that organization.

DCPII

April 30th, 2010
9:29 am

first to “ALLEN” lets talk paedophiles…Clinton, Lewinsky, Lying, Impeachment, Dress, Stains… etc.So you can think the GOP but first thing I remember is Bill “DEMOCRAT” Clinton and his back room “cigar” So dont cast stones! Second, regardless of political affiliation a pervert is a pervert and a tenth grade student is in my opinion OFF LIMITS! He should have been more mature and counseled the girl in church with others or referred her to a more “appropriate” resource, instead he used her crush against her. Finally, the AJC is slanted towards Liberal stories.. show me a newspaper in the US or WORLD that doesnt have a political bend. If you cant recognize that then perhaps you shouldnt read the news..or rely on one source only. Mike Luckovich is a liberal cartoonist…award winning at that… doesnt mean he isnt a talented artist…so recognize journalism for what it is…one person telling a story from THEIR point of view and then move on…take from it what you will. Jim, good story.. and eventhough I dont support McBerry at all in any way… I would encourage you to exercise good journalism and give him time to air his side of the issue.

Tom Knighton

April 30th, 2010
9:35 am

As co-owner of SWGAPolitics.com, I want to make a couple of things perfectly clear.

First, McBerry told people he would be attacked because of his positions. Not entirely true. Some of his positions I actually like. The problem was his involvement with a 16 year old girl and the actions after that relationship was exposed.

Second, we broke the story, not Mr. Galloway. Both Jeff and myself are card carrying Libertarians, as is one other of our writers. We also have Republicans who write for us as well. We are not liberals. McBerry is, in my opinion, a creep who doesn’t deserved to be within a hair’s breath of the Governor’s Mansion.

Third, there are mentions of supposed bribes by Oxendine. Take a look on our site. Remember that we broke the story, as Mr. Galloway mentioned in his article. Look around and you will find little in support of Oxendine on our blog. It just ain’t happening.

To the McBerry apologists, whatever. Your candidate wasn’t going to even come close to winning, but those odds got worse with this. Everyone I know of who has spoken to those around McBerry at the time seem to say the same thing: these allegations are 100% true.

As for McBerry’s side of the story, I can’t speak for the AJC, but when we asked for his comments, we heard nothing back. How can we tell his side when he won’t tell US his side? All he’s sent out was a letter that every party mentioned seems to deny as being factual. I seriously doubt this is some conspiracy by a frontrunner for nomination against a guy who will be doing good to get 10% in the primary.

Aquagirl

April 30th, 2010
9:36 am

Jim, did you contact McBerry for this story? Is he being stifled or denied the chance to tell his side?

Kar

April 30th, 2010
9:37 am

He’s supposed to be the adult here. As a teacher, he’s supposed to have enough sense not to cross that line or let a crush become something else.

No excuses for his behavior.

Whacks Eloquent

April 30th, 2010
9:44 am

After this, I checked out Ray Boyd’s website. You know what, I think I have found my candidate! I have been unimpressed by the candidates up to this point – Ox, Deal, Barnes…I will happily throw my support behind Boyd! Who needs parties? IMO they are responsible for so much of what is wrong in politics anyway. (Hey Dems, you can vote for Boyd too, and not even have to worry about the bad taste from picking a guy with an “R” next to his name!)

Cecil Phudpucker

April 30th, 2010
9:45 am

There is nothing unnatural about being attracted to a 16-year-old girl. Of course you must be willing to accept the punitive stances that the law and bible-thumping hypocrites attach to such behavior.

Captain Midnight

April 30th, 2010
9:46 am

If Karen Handel were hot and she’d done a 16 year old dude, this would be a non issue.

Cowardly Ox

April 30th, 2010
9:47 am

With Austin Scott out of the race, there really isn’t a GOP candidate smart enough, experienced enough or ethical enough for the job.

WTF??

April 30th, 2010
9:50 am

McBerry would have been an also-ran at best anyway. Any adult , especially a teacher, who has a relationship with a 16-year-old CHILD ought to have his testicle made into castanets. That sucking sound you just heard was McBerry’s political ambitions going down the drain.

dumba$$

April 30th, 2010
9:50 am

If McBerry were truly an honorable person, he would vacate the premises, as should John Oxendine.

DannyX

April 30th, 2010
9:51 am

Family values!!!

Its been quite a year for Republican “family values.”

Glenn Richardson- Had an affair with a lobbyist.
Gov candidate McBerry- Divorces wife to pursue underage teen.
Gov of So Carolina- Flies to Argentina to visit girlfriend
Sen Ensign- Had an affair while defending family values
Sen Vitter- Loved hookers and diapers, running for re-election

There comes a point where this behavior becomes epidemic. Its become part of the Republican culture. How do you protect the children? What do you say to your child when they ask about Vitter’s diaper? Or Larry Craig’s wide stance?

OMG! Lets not get started on Republican faith leaders, like Rev Haggard. Or Bakker. Or Swaggert. Or……

Aquagirl

April 30th, 2010
9:53 am

Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Knighton. The original post on SWGAPolitics is even more “wow.”

John K

April 30th, 2010
9:57 am

All he has to do is utter the magic word, “Jesus” and Georgia voters will give him a pass.

Mike Smith

April 30th, 2010
9:59 am

Ray talks about “Jesus” all the time, but hasn’t seemed to get that much traction.

MiltonMan

April 30th, 2010
10:02 am

Good to see all the ignorant DemoRats turning this into a GOP/conservative bashing event.

How soon we forget about the great DemoRats like John Edwards, AG Spitzer, Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Vernon Jones, etc., etc., etc…..

Kay

April 30th, 2010
10:03 am

oldfart

April 30th, 2010
10:09 am

Actually folks, Mr. Galloway did publish a response from McBerry when these allegations came up last month.

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2010/03/18/responses-from-ray-mcberry-and-carl-camon/

Marcos

April 30th, 2010
10:14 am

Yes MiltonMan and you will also notice that those Democrats did not have sex with a high school GIRL and then run for Governor while lying about it.

CLTC

April 30th, 2010
10:17 am

I was a former student of McBerry and also attended church with him during the 90’s. None of these allegation suprise me at all. It should be noted that his ex-wife was a former student of his whom he began “dating” while she was still a student. I can’t believe that this hasn’t been brought up in light of these allegations to establish that McBerry has a pattern of preying on young females. As a republican and a Christian, he is a disgrace to both.

Say whaaaa?!

April 30th, 2010
10:21 am

Cecil Phudpucker:

“There is nothing unnatural about being attracted to a 16-year-old girl. Of course you must be willing to accept the punitive stances that the law and bible-thumping hypocrites attach to such behavior.”

Uh…yeah. You do realize that Berry is a Bible thumper… right?

Point of Order Please

April 30th, 2010
10:22 am

Do not forget that it was his “Response” to these allegations that first alerted media to their existence. Before his March 12 campaign email, NO ONE had officially mentioned these allegations on ANY blog or report.

RAY MCBERRY brought these allegations out, in a letter known to be rife with lies – FROM him, not about him.

carolyn

April 30th, 2010
10:24 am

Been reading the comments on Ray McBerry. A sexual predator is a predator whether they’re Democrat or Republican. Party has nothing to do with being a sleazebag!