State Sen. Don Balfour indicted on 18 counts

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ATLANTA —

A grand jury indicted state Sen. Don Balfour on 18 counts following an investigation that showed he allegedly filed false expense reports and double-billed the state and his employer.

The indictment includes 16 counts of making a false certificate, one count of theft by taking and one count of false statement and writings.

The GBI investigated the Snellville Republican last year over questionable mileage and per diem claims.

Prosecutors said Balfour filed thousands of dollars in false expense reports with the state over several years by claiming mileage reimbursements and daily pay when he was actually out-of-state. Balfour, a Waffle House executive, is also accused of billing the state and his employer for the same expenses.

"I think for the folks here at the Capitol it lets them know that you've got to follow the rules," said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia.

"I think it's good news for the public, and it's good news for Sen. Balfour,” Perry added. “Finally there will be an independent or a court proceeding which will either clear his name or punish him for a crime he could have committed."

The Senate ethics committee fined Balfour $5,000 in 2012 after a complaint accused him of taking money from taxpayers for mileage and per diem payments when he was out-of-state.

Lawmakers can only legally accept pay for work done while in Georgia.

Balfour was not at his office on Friday, nor was he at his home in Snellville when a Channel 2 Action News crew knocked on his door.

 His lawyer, Pat McDonough, told Channel 2 by phone, “Our preliminary investigation revealed that the senator may have inadvertently made mistakes on his expense account reports, but he certainly did not intentionally misappropriate any state funds."

"I inadvertently made some mistakes. I've corrected those mistakes," Balfour told Channel 2's Lori Geary a year ago.

Gov. Nathan Deal has 14 days from the time his office gets the indictment to appoint a three-person panel, which gets another 14 days to recommend whether Balfour should be suspended while the case is in court.

"They're looking to see if the charges in the indictment directly relate to the duties of the office and if it hurts the ability to carry out those duties," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson explained.

If the governor does suspend Balfour, his seat remains open until the case is resolved or his term expires in December 2014. There is no special election.

McDonough said he's coordinating Balfour’s surrender with the Georgia Attorney General's Office.