by: WSBTV.com web staff Updated:
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis returned to work Wednesday just hours after leaving jail.
A grand jury indicted Ellis Tuesday 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.
Channel 2 Action News was there Wednesday morning when Ellis left home, briefcase in hand, to meet with the mayors of DeKalb County.
It was a sharp contrast when from Tuesday when Ellis left jail after posing for a mug shot and posting $25,000 bond.
Former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson was very blunt when he told Channel 2's Erica Byfield he's not surprised by the indictment.
He said point-blank he knows there has been corruption brewing in DeKalb County.
"I don't know the truth behind this but I do know this, he is sitting on top of a government that has, for the better part of the last decade, has had corruption below and those things tend to spread," Wilson said.
Wilson knows Ellis very well. He also knows DeKalb County.
"I am very disappointed for the county," Wilson said.
As a former district attorney it was Wilson's job to put criminals away. He thinks the state has a strong case against Ellis, after reading the indictment.
Sources tell Byfield that Ellis was caught off guard by Tuesday's indictment. He's facing 15 counts which almost all deal with allegations he shook down business owners for cash for his campaign and promised big time county contracts in exchange.
Byfield tried to talk Ellis Wednesday after he hosted a meeting with the county's mayors in the afternoon but security would not let her go up.
County spokeswoman Jill Strickland-Luse told Byfield it was business as usual.
"How do you do it when you are under this cloud?" Byfield asked Strickland-Luse.
"He does it very well. He is a professional, he understands the issues that are before him," Strickland-Luse said.
Wilson said these allegations concern him
"Even the very suggestion that he was calling vendors to seek campaign contributions raises a lot of questions," Wilson said.
Ellis has said he's done nothing wrong all along. Wilson thinks more charges could be coming against Ellis and others.
"A lot of times when times when something like this happens, people who have reminded silent will now come forward," Wilson said.
Grand jury foreman not surprised by indictment
As soon as Channel 2 Action News learned Ellis had been indicted, we immediately reached out to the foreman of the special civil grand jury that spent months digging into suspected corruption.
"Right from the very beginning, we realized that this was serious business," jury foreman Albert Trujillo told Channel 2's Aaron Diamant.
Trujillo served as foreman of a special purpose civil grand jury that spent an entire year digging into allegations of bribery, bid-rigging and other potential contract problems at DeKalb County Watershed.
The investigation expanded to other department contracts, County CEO Burrell Ellis and possible corruption.
"When he came in to testify, we knew that this was going all the way to the top," Trujillo said.
As Ellis testified before Trujillo and that special grand jury in January, district attorney's investigators raided Ellis' home and office, hauling away boxes of documents and computers.
Diamant asked Trujillo if he thinks the indictment against Ellis goes far enough.
"That is something the district attorney has full command of and it would be abrasive and over-reaching for me to comment on whether it's right, wrong or indifferent," he said.
Trujillo did say he is still disappointed a judge has, so far, sided with Ellis and his lawyers by refusing to unseal the special grand jury's report and the recommendations inside.
"The people of DeKalb County need to be vigilant. If they just get up in the morning and go to work and brush their teeth at night, they're going to lose control," Trujillo said.
Trujillo did say Tuesday's indictment left him "grinning," and will continue his push to get the special grand jury's report released.
Case goes to the governor
Channel 2's Lori Geary spent the day finding out about who will decide whether Ellis stays in office or gets suspended.
Geary talked to Gov. Nathan Deal's office about the next steps.
Once Deal receives an official copy of the indictment, he has 14 days to pick a panel that will decide whether Ellis can carry out his duties.
Geary learned the governor may have to go outside of metro Atlanta to find panel members.
"The governor is always disappointed when we have to face these situations," said Brian Robinson, the governor's spokesman.
According to state law, Deal must move forward with a three-person panel to decide if Ellis can carry out his duties.
The panel consists of Attorney General Sam Olens and two peer officials from other counties.
"That's somewhat tricky in this case, because the CEO system in DeKalb is unique. There's really not another CEO in another county in Georgia," Robinson.
Robinson said they may look to chairmen from consolidated governments like Athens-Clarke County if the panel comes back that Ellis should be suspended.
The governor still gets the final say.
"He takes this role very seriously. It's a very solemn obligation of the office to carry out these functions," Robinson said. "It's always a sad situation not only for the official but for the counties, the constituencies that they represent. It's never the image we want to portray."