by: Richard Elliot Updated:
ATLANTA - A jury found Gwinnett County
state Sen. Don Balfour innocent of charges that he intentionally filed false expense reports over a five-year period and kept the money.
The jury needed about four hours over two days to acquit the lawmaker on all of the 18 charges laid out in the felony criminal indictment.
"Today's a good day," said Balfour as he left the courthouse. "Justice was done. The jury with the wisdom of Solomon made the decision."
The State Attorney General's Office accused Balfour of intentionally filing false expense reports to get a few thousand dollars' worth of travel and business reimbursements. Prosecutors tried to show that, in some cases, Balfour double-billed the state and his full-time employer, Waffle
House, for the same trip.
Balfour admitted to submitting incorrect reports but maintained it was simply unintentional mistakes chalked up to his grueling schedule and a lack of good organizational skills.
After the verdict, Balfour wasted little time attacking political rivals in his own party
whom he felt were behind the prosecution.
"Was this politically motivated? I said on the stand, yes, it absolutely was, and it was," Balfour said.
Balfour declined to name names but demanded that the Senate Republican leadership reinstate him into the party caucus. Senate leaders stripped him of his leadership positions and removed him from the caucus after his indictment.
"How I'm going to deal with leadership? It doesn't matter," said Balfour. "I'll go and sit in my
Senate seat and do what's right for the state of Georgia and what's right for the citizenship, and that's all I'm here for. I hope the Senate leadership would reinstate me into the caucus as quickly as they took me out. They should reinstate me right now."
Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Balfour from his Senate seat after the indictment, but his office said that suspension was lifted the moment the jury found him not guilty.
attorney, Ken Hodges, a former candidate for state attorney general, called the prosecution a waste of taxpayer money.
"I think you all saw for the last three days while we were in court what a tremendous waste of taxpayer money we've gone through," said Hodges. "The taxpayers ought to be offended. I'm offended."
State Attorney General Sam Olens issued a statement defending his decision to prosecute.
"The GBI investigation revealed that Sen. Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur," Olens wrote. "If those requests had been submitted by an unelected state employee, they would have been prosecuted. A state senator should not be held to a lower standard. I do not apologize for standing for the principle that no person is above the law."
State Sen. David Shafer,
president pro temp of the state Senate, issued his own statement, saying, "I am sure the verdict is an enormous relief to Senator Balfour and his family. We have adopted procedures that will prevent misuse of legislative expense accounts going forward, including regular review of expense requests by the Senate Audit Committee."
Jury foreperson Vicki Hamilton said after the verdict that while Balfour did make mistakes, they didn't feel the mistakes were criminal. She did criticize the way the legislature did its business.
"I think there's too much sloppiness that was involved that caused a lot of this to occur in the first place," said Hamilton.