by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Ousted DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis' told a civil grand jury in January 2013 that he did not get involved in the awarding of county contracts and that he tried not to solicit campaign contributions from vendors who had won or were bidding on contracts.
At the time, he did not know the grand jurors had already heard secret recordings which prosecutors say depicted Ellis doing just that. He also did not know he was the target of a simultaneous criminal investigation.
Channel 2 Action News has obtained a copy of the 260-page transcript, which provides a word-for-word account of Ellis' testimony before the special grand jury. It was given on the same morning investigators from the District Attorney's Office executed search warrants at Ellis' home and office, carrying out boxes of evidence for the criminal case.
In June, a criminal grand jury indicted Ellis on 15
counts, including extortion and theft, based largely on recordings of the CEO allegedly interfering in the awarding of county contracts and shaking down county vendors for campaign contributions.
We now know Ellis told the grand jury,
"When I say I'm not involved in the process, I'm not directly involved in the process... I don't recall that I've in any way adjusted the procurement rules."
Prosecutors have accused Ellis of interfering with which county employees sat on certain selection committees who evaluate the vendor bids.
"I've never directed the purchasing director who to put on a committee because I think you hire good people who are trained in a subject matter area and you want them to exercise their best professional
judgment," Ellis said. "I'm careful not to give the appearance of, you know, self-picking, you know, someone in a competitive procurement process. I want the, you know, I want it to be as objective as it can possibly be."
Prosecutors also asked Ellis about his contact with vendors who had or wanted contracts with DeKalb County.
"There's no law that prohibits someone from going active... you know, after someone who's actively going after a contract," Ellis told the grand jurors.
"I try to make it a habit not to call on somebody who I know is bidding for a contract. Occasionally, I may call someone and they indicated to me that, you know, I've got an active RFP (request for proposal)... and I tell them, OK, well you know, this is not a good time to make a contribution because I don't want people to misread that."
Last year, Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer compared the list of DeKalb County vendors and bidders with Ellis' list of campaign contributors. She found roughly half a million dollars came from vendors who had or wanted county business.
Ellis has denied any wrongdoing.
His attorneys have filed numerous motions trying to keep Ellis' words from being used against him at trial, challenging use of his grand jury testimony, and the secret recordings made by DeKalb County Contracts and Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 23