Evidence shows wiretaps in DeKalb corruption investigation

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:


DECATUR, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has obtained evidence of three new search warrants issued in connection with a grand jury investigation into public corruption.

The records filed in DeKalb County Superior Court shed new light on potential evidence in the case, including four discs containing recorded cellphone conversations, texts and location information.

A special grand jury has been looking into allegations of bribery and bid rigging in DeKalb County's Watershed Department and other county contract irregularities. There has also been a recent focus on the County CEO, Burrell Ellis.

"I want to say emphatically that I have done nothing wrong," Ellis told reporters on January 17 after announcing he hired an experienced legal team. District Attorneys' investigators executed search warrants earlier this month and carried out boxes of evidence from Ellis' home and office.

The orders sealing three new warrants do not include names or a case number.

One of the warrants authorized investigators to get lists of phone numbers for incoming and outgoing calls at a Decatur architecture firm, R.L. Brown and Associates.

Ellis has acknowledged using a phone near the lobby of that office to make his campaign calls. State law prohibits him from making those calls from his county office.

Robert Brown confirmed that phone number is connected to a trunk line, used by so many employees and others that call data would not be able to be traced to an individual. Investigators noted they did not end up executing that warrant.

"I think what's essential here is, never have I been in any or done anything that would give anybody a promise in return for a campaign contribution. We're always clear about that," Ellis said Jan. 7, after investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer asked about campaign donations from vendors who hold or bid on county contracts.

Since that encounter, Fleischer and a team of investigative reporters have tracked down at least 10 witnesses who have testified before the special grand jury. One witness told Fleischer prosecutors asked him to record any future conversations with Ellis.

Ellis' defense attorneys did not want to comment on the new warrants, but were working to confirm whether either of the other two link back to Ellis.

Those indicate the interception of phone calls and text messages from two different cellphones, identified only by serial numbers, not phone numbers.

Records show prosecutors sealed four evidence discs containing audio and digital recordings and location information.

"They should almost always belong to targets of the investigation. You can't listen into everybody, you're supposed to listen in to the target," said Manny Arora, who spent seven years as a prosecutor, and now 13 years as a defense attorney.

He said for a judge to sign wiretap warrants, prosecutors have to show probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed, and that they've tried other means to get the evidence. He said recorded conversations can be extremely damaging in a case.

"It's an incredible worry. If the motion to suppress doesn't succeed, you're going to be taking a plea because there's really nothing left to try. It's sort of like saying they caught you with the money in your briefcase, or the drugs in your car," said Arora.

Ellis previously stated he did not believe he was a target of the investigation and that the grand jury only questioned him about the county's contract and procurement process.

Records show investigators have also requested Ellis' campaign finance records, county vendor lists, and travel expenses.


Channel 2 Action News

Delivered To Your Inbox