GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Attorneys for embattled Gwinnett County state Sen. Don Balfour did not deny the lawmaker made mistakes on several of his state expense reports, but they said the mistakes were not intentional.
The theft trial for Balfour began Monday morning in Fulton County Superior Court. He's accused in an 18-count indictment of filing false expense reports for travel and business reimbursements over a five-year period. Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Balfour after the indictment, and shortly afterwards, the Georgia Republican Party stripped him of his leadership positions, including as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee.
After picking a jury for most of the morning, each side got a chance for their opening remarks.
Balfour's attorney, Ken Hodges, admitted the state senator did make some mistakes on those vouchers.
"We're not contesting that he inadvertently turned in mistaken vouchers from time to time," said Hodges. "Were mistakes made? Yes, ma'am. Yes, sir. Mistakes were made, and we admit that. And every time a mistake was brought to Mr. Balfour's attention, he has paid it back. He did not intend to turn in vouchers that were incorrect."
Hodges characterized Balfour as a sloppy record-keeper, despite his background in accounting. He also blamed a grueling schedule between his full-time job with Waffle House and his political career.
"He did not show attention to detail," said Hodges. "He was a big-picture person. He was always distracted, running in 100 different directions at 100 miles an hour."
But prosecutor David McLaughlin, of the State Attorney General's Office, said the mistakes were intentional, made by someone who wanted to cheat the system out of thousands of dollars. He brought up one example he said shows how Balfour charged both his employer and the state for same hotel stay.
"He got that paid for by the state of Georgia on May 7," said McLaughlin. "And within six weeks, submitted the exact same invoice, hotel invoice, to Waffle House for reimbursement and got paid on that."
Defense attorneys announced their plan to call other state senators to testify on Balfour's behalf.