• DeKalb CEO launches investigation into own county

    By: Richard Belcher and Jodie Fleischer

    Updated:

    DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - The man heading up DeKalb County has ordered a comprehensive review of operations in his county in search of corruption. 

    Interim CEO Lee May announced Wednesday that he's launching an investigation and he wants all 6,000 employees to cooperate. 

    The investigation will employ two of the people who spent 10 months digging into the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde will have unfettered authority to look at whatever they want. 

    Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May's announcement comes on the heels of a year-long Channel 2 Action News and Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation exposing misspending, corruption and theft within DeKalb County government.

    Our reporting led the district attorney's investigators and the FBI to file records requests to obtain many of the same records we did; it has already led to guilty pleas, ongoing criminal investigations and more than $25,000 repaid to DeKalb taxpayers.

    Last April, May rewrote the county's purchasing card policy after our investigation caught then-Commissioner Elaine Boyer spending taxpayer dollars on airline tickets, family vacations and other personal expenses. She resigned, and pleaded guilty to federal charges after we uncovered her scheme to pay a man who didn't do any work but billed more than $80,000 and then funneled much of it back to Boyer's personal bank account.

    "To the people of DeKalb, I'm just deeply, deeply sorry," Boyer told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.

    Last June, we exposed Commissioner Stan Watson's use of taxpayer money to pay for his personal cellphone, even though he also had a county-issued phone. He agreed to pay back about $5,000. Watson said at the time he believed it was permissible, but agreed to stop because Channel 2 was asking about it.

    He has not repaid roughly $1,800 in taxpayer money spent to operate his campaign website, exposed after an investigation in September.  

    Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton and her aide failed to provide receipts for more than $45,000 spent with county debit cards. Sutton said she didn't know she was required to keep receipts. She said she didn't know she used taxpayer dollars to pay a $130 speeding ticket she got while driving a rental car at an out-of-town conference. She also paid more than $30,000 to her boyfriend, as a consultant.

    "Every dime I've spent has been spent for the public interest," Barnes Sutton said.

    Just last month we exposed questions about a phony ethics opinion that allowed DeKalb Development Authority Chairman Vaughn Irons to win a million-dollar contract for his personal development company, APD Solutions.

    Watson voted on that contract, even though he was on Irons' payroll at the time.

    "I apologize to the citizens if I did that, I didn't know I did that," Watson told Fleischer.

    In mid-February, former DeKalb zoning official Jerry Clark pleaded guilty to taking a bribe from a nightclub owner who wanted a special land use permit. That vote was the subject of a Channel 2 Action News investigation in 2012.

    Former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is facing a 14-count indictment accusing him of shaking down vendors for campaign contributions and manipulating contracts, among other things. His first trial ended in a hung jury; the retrial is scheduled for later this year.

    During the original Ellis trial, state's witness and unindicted co-conspirator Kelvin Walton, the former DeKalb purchasing director, admitted vendors gave him cash to help a secretary out of financial trouble. That secretary also sat on numerous selection committees to award contracts.   

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