Ch. 2 Investigation reveals possible kickback to DeKalb officials

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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DeKalb County's Interim CEO Lee May is calling for an investigation into a $4,000 check with his name on it, saying he didn't endorse it, or receive the money from it when it was cashed.

A Chanel 2 Action News - Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation uncovered the check while looking into work done at May's home which was paid for by DeKalb taxpayers. The vendor who did the work went on to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in DeKalb contracts.

"Absolutely, I plan on having a conversation to figure out what the hell was done, excuse my French," May told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.

The money trail surrounding the $4,000 check appears to end with one of three men: interim CEO Lee May, the commissioners' former chief of staff Morris Williams or businessman Doug Cotter.

"Morris [Williams] contacted me and said, 'Doug, Lee's having some financial trouble, is there any way you can help him out?'" Cotter recounted.

May was a DeKalb commissioner at the time, and had just filed bankruptcy.

Cotter got the check from a water removal and restoration company that had just completed work at May's home in January.

"It could have been a reimbursement check. Yes, but it wasn't my signature on it and I'm not sure how the check got out there," said John Meyer, who used to own that company, Water Removal Services.

Cotter says it couldn't be a reimbursement, because the county directly paid for the work at May's house, roughly $6,500. But the $4,000 check was made out to Lee May, personally, six days later.

Cotter says he delivered it to Morris Williams because he was close friends with him and saw him more often than he saw May, since Williams was the commissioners' chief of staff he worked at the Decatur office full time.

Within a few days, Cotter says he heard from Morris Williams again.

"Morris asked me, 'Doug, is there any way you can cash this for Lee?' said Cotter, "I said sure, I know both of them."

Cotter's family owns a liquor store with a check cashing business inside, and he admits he's the one who turned that check into $4,000 cash.

"I handed that money to Morris Williams and that was the last time I saw it," said Cotter, "I was hoping it was going to the intended use , to help Lee [May] and his family."

"I'm answering this very clearly," said May, "That is not a check that was cut to me. I've never received $1 let alone $4000."

The contract connection

Records show two weeks after that check cleared, bidding opened on a new county contract for water removal. Cotter submitted a bid for the same company that had done the work at May's home, Water Removal Services, and won the contract. 

"I never wanted to participate down there to begin with, that's why we never took that contract," said Meyer, the company's former owner, "We just kind of backed out."

But Meyer says Cotter still wanted the contract badly.

In fact, three days before Cotter placed the Water Removal Services bid, he reserved the name for his own new company. Haw Creek Restoration went on to make more than $300,000 in DeKalb work.

"If it's a situation where a brand new company is getting work and they didn't compete after it, absolutely not, that should not occur," said May.

But it did occur. May has asked DeKalb County's new purchasing director to investigate why it was allowed.

Fleischer asked Cotter if the $4,000 had anything to do with his bid to win that contract.

"No!" Cotter replied, "No. Lee had nothing to do with the bidding process."

Lee May says he also had nothing to do with that check.

"It is absolutely not my signature," said May, adding that he didn't even know the check existed.              

Fleischer pulled samples of Lee May's signature from official county records, as well as samples of Morris Williams' handwriting, since Cotter says when he got the check back from Williams it was already endorsed with May's name on the back.

The “M” in May appears to resemble the “M” in Morris Williams' regular signature.

After 17 years with the county, Williams abruptly retired last month, just as the FBI began investigating all of this. Williams had since been promoted to the position of deputy chief operating officer.

Morris Williams declined our request for an on-camera interview. By phone, he would only say Cotter's version of events "did not happen that way." Williams said he did not receive "that amount of money" from Cotter, but he refused to comment when Fleischer asked whether he ever gave May any money.

May has been particularly vocal in his efforts to root out DeKalb corruption since he's taken over as interim CEO. He forwarded all of the records Channel 2 requested and a copy of the $4,000 check to the GBI, FBI, the district attorney and local law enforcement to prove he's serious about getting to the bottom of it.

"For someone to benefit off my name, that's inappropriate, that's illegal and they need to be dealt with," said May.