Next step for DeKalb as CEO faces indictment

by: WSBTV.com web staff Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News is talking to DeKalb leaders about what's next for the county as its CEO faces a 15-count felony indictment alleging that he threatened to withhold county business from companies that didn't contribute to his campaign.

DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced a grand jury indicted him on charges of theft, extortion, false statements and writings, conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision and coercion of another employee to give anything of value for political purposes.

Since the announcement Tuesday afternoon, Ellis has reported to jail and posted bond. A Channel 2 Action News crew saw Ellis getting into a vehicle with a briefcase Wednesday morning. The CEO surrendered to authorities almost immediately after James announced that an arrest warrant was issued for him and he had up to 48 hours to turn himself in.

According to the indictment, Ellis asked the county's director of purchasing and contracting to create a list of vendors with county contracts so Ellis could solicit campaign contributions from them. It said Ellis threatened to cut business ties with vendors and report at least one employee for poor customer service after there was no response to his solicitations.

Channel 2 Action News had the only crew there when Ellis walked out of the DeKalb County Jail at about 8 p.m. Tuesday after posting a $25,000 bond. Channel 2's Amy Napier Viteri tried to ask Ellis questions, but he would not stop to answer any.

Channel 2's Ashley Swann was at Ellis' home when he arrived there from the jail, where he gave a brief statement.

"I do want to make one statement emphatically to the good people of DeKalb County, that I've done nothing wrong, as I've said from the very beginning. (I've) done nothing wrong and I would never, ever, ever do anything to violate the public trust," Ellis said, talking to reporters in the driveway of his Stone Mountain home.

Earlier this year, agents took computers and other evidence from his home and county office. The district attorney's office was also looking into campaign financial records.

At the time, Ellis denied any wrongdoing.

Channel 2's Tony Thomas discussed the case with former District Attorney Jeff Brickman.

"I think any time you take on the CEO, that you're expecting a big battle ahead of you," Brickman said.

Ellis could be potentially removed from office as a result of the indictment. Gov. Nathan Deal's office told Channel 2's Erica Byfield the governor will receive the indictment and assemble a three-person panel to review the case. Based on the panel's recommendation, the governor may remove Ellis. In that case, the County Commission's presiding officer, Lee May, would become the interim CEO.

"This is a sad day for DeKalb County. While every person is clearly innocent until proven guilty, this ongoing saga has been a distraction and continues to bring unwelcome negative publicity to our county and government," May said.

Ellis' indictment comes just months after Gov. Nathan Deal removed five DeKalb school board members for mismanagement.

"Businesses shy away from a county that's in disrepair when they have that many problems, and they smell bad with all these problems," he said. "Why go and put your headquarters in a county which resonates with bad press? It breaks your heart."

But those close to Ellis still say Tuesday's indictment doesn't square with the man they know, who was elected to DeKalb's top job promising reform.

"I don't know of any forced campaign contribution that Ellis ever attempted, and I worked in all his campaigns," said Oliver Brown, a DeKalb political operative. "I'd be shocked (if this is true)."

Should Ellis get suspended, he'll be the seventh elected official in DeKalb to meet that fate since March. That's when a federal judge allowed Deal to suspend two-thirds of the county school board over an accreditation agency's allegations about nepotism, financial mismanagement and other concerns.

Stay with Channel 2 Action News and WSBTV.com for developments on this story.


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