When Lawrence Gaughan announced in April his latest bid for office—he ran for the 5th District congressional seat last year and this year is running for the Albemarle Board of Supervisors—he made his announcement at the Bamboo House way up U.S. 29 practically in Greene County, and noted in a press release that the restaurant previously belonged to his high school sweetheart’s family.
That did not sit well with the Porritt family, who used to own what was then the Piney River Restaurant. Sisters Nancy Porritt Johnson, who briefly was married to Gaughan, and Debra Porritt Wood are adamant that their family in no way endorses Gaughan, especially after he repeatedly called their 77-year-old mother by phone in 2012 and left 23 profanity-laden messages on her answering machine, with the term “bitch whore” being among the less offensive of his choice of words.
Johnson and Gaughan, both 48, were part of Albemarle High’s class of 1985, took a government class together, and dated once, they both say. They reconnected on Facebook in 2010 and in June 2011, Johnson flew to Los Angeles, where Gaughan lived and worked as an actor.
After about a week, they eloped, says Johnson, and they lived together for less than a month when Johnson left and returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she now lives. Both agree the marriage was a mistake, both say they filed for divorce, both blame the other’s flaws for the failure of the union, as is not uncommon in bitter divorces.
What is uncommon are the multiple phone calls Gaughan made to Johnson’s mother, Gerri Porritt, who lived in York, South Carolina, and who had met him once briefly. “Lawrence harassed our mother for weeks with phone calls at all times of the day and frequently throughout the night,” writes Wood in an e-mail. “Mom asked him to leave her alone many times, that she was just an old woman with nothing to do with the situation, and had to resort to taking her phone off the hook for much of the time.”
Wood provides a copy of a police report her mother filed September 12, 2012 in York about harassing, obscene phone calls from Gaughan, after Los Angeles police told Porritt she needed to make a complaint there. When the calls continued in October, Wood says she advised her mother to let them go to her answering machine and go into another room so she wouldn’t have to hear them.
A tech-savvy friend recorded 23 messages from the answering machine in an MP3 format, says Wood, who provided the recording to C-VILLE, and ultimately she changed her mother’s phone number to an unlisted one. Gerri Porritt died a year later in December 2013.
Johnson describes the “helpless rage” she felt at seeing how enormously upset her mother was with the continued phone calls, and she includes an e-mail she sent Gaughan’s father October 16, 2012, asking for his help in stopping the distressing calls.
Johnson, who has a doctorate in special education and who works for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, says she received harassing phone calls, as well, but she blocked them and changed her number.
She says she really hadn’t thought about that period in her life until she recently learned Gaughan was running for office—and she encountered him again at the Albemarle High 30th reunion July 17, where Gaughan called police and said Johnson’s fiancé, Steven Viebrock, was threatening him.
Gaughan confirms his 911 call from Adventure Farm Winery and he claims Viebrock “was in my face and threatened to beat me up.” Viebrock says he called Gaughan a “pussy,” but denies threatening him.
Johnson and Viebrock were detained about 30 minutes as they left the winery, and Johnson says, “We asked why he was able to file a false accusation against us when I’d tried unsuccessfully to get him to stop harassing me and my mother.” No charges were filed against Viebrock, and Gaughan obtained an emergency protective order.
“What’s her motivation to bring this to your attention?” Gaughan asks a reporter.
Actually, it was Earl Smith, who is running for supervisor in the Scottsville District and who collected signatures on a petition to remove sexual-battering former supe Chris Dumler from office, who contacted C-VILLE.
He was a friend of Johnson’s from AHS, knew of her brief marriage to Gaughan, and says he’d received a message from Gaughan on Facebook about Johnson that was “incredibly vile” several years ago, and then forgot about it.
It was just recently, he says, that he realized that candidate-for-the-Rivanna-District Gaughan was the same guy who’d been married to his friend Johnson and with whom he’d had a Facebook exchange that Smith claims got him “blocked and deleted.”
Says Smith, “It has nothing to do with politics. Once I learned who this was, I felt morally I had to say something. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” He cites his own correspondence with Gaughan and what Gaughan said to Johnson’s mother. “He goes to people’s houses and says, I’m going to represent you. It doesn’t sit well with me. I was part of his attack, and I had nothing to do with him.”
Gaughan says he doesn’t remember messaging Smith.
As for the calls to Porritt, he says, “I don’t know what to say. It was a very tragic time, very challenging for me. I felt my whole life was being undermined. It was a tremendous injustice that [Johnson] would do the things she’s done.”
But what about the repeated, offensive calls to Johnson’s mother? Gaughan says, “Well, yeah, it was a difficult time, certainly uncomfortable.” He says he hadn’t thought about them, questions the use of “something from the past to do damage to the present,” and then concedes, “I can’t say anything except it was a terrible time I went through.”
Gaughan’s father, Larry Gaughan, a divorce mediator in Reston, says his son doesn’t deny the calls, realizes they were a bad idea and has worked hard to get rid of his anger from the divorce. “He was really devastated for a few months,” he says.
Lawrence Gaughan got a master’s degree from Pepperdine University in social entrepreneurship and change, regularly attends church, and became involved in politics to become a better person and to help others, says his father.
“He’s not the same person he was,” says Gaughan Sr. “If you leave out the serious effort to remake himself and find ways to do good to society, you’re only telling one part of the story. He’s trying to redeem that the best he can.”
As for Johnson’s decision to speak out now, she says she didn’t before because she lives in Charlotte and wasn’t aware Gaughan ran for Congress last year. “My motivation results from finding out he is running and feeling he is not fit for office,” she says. “Also, the name-dropping of my family is certainly a contributing factor.”
CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE.