DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A federal grand jury has indicted former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton on charges of extortion and bribery.
The indictment accuses Sutton of soliciting two $500 payments to support a $10 million contract on a county sewer treatment plant.
Sutton's alleged crimes date back almost exactly five years, which raises questions about whether prosecutors moved now because the statute of limitations was nearing.
BREAKING: Federal indictment just unsealed charges former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton with extortion and bribery. She’ll be arraigned later this morning. We’ll have a live update from the Federal Courthouse at noon @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/BnYyGYhYli— Aaron Diamant (@AaronDiamantWSB) May 21, 2019
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher learned the former commissioner was greeted by FBI agents at her Stone Mountain home before dawn Tuesday.
Sutton slipped out of the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta after a brief hearing Tuesday morning, during which she pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
A federal magistrate grated prosecutors' request for a $25,000 signature bond, meaning Sutton didn't have to post anything of value to win her release.
Fmr Dekalb Co Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton arrested by FBI this morning, confirms her attorney Bret Williams who says she is innocent, “has always stood ready & willing to face any allegations against her regarding her unblemished time” as county commissioner @wsbtv— Mark Winne (@MarkWinneWSB) May 21, 2019
Her attorney, Bret Williams, said there was no need to send agents to her home with an arrest warrant.
“You quite easily could have had her surrender. So why they made a show out of it, I don't know. I guess I can ask the public and ask you: Are you entertained?” Williams said.
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As Channel 2 Action News and our investigative partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have reported, prosecutors' interest in Sutton focused on her role in pushing through a more than $10 million expansion of DeKalb’s Snapfinger sewer treatment plant.
A grand jury subpoena in April asked for a July 2013 video showing Sutton requesting county commission approval of the deal.
According to the indictment, Sutton met with a subcontractor on the project in May 2014.
Grand jury subpoenas have piling up on Sutton, 5 total, 4 since January. We’re waiting to see specific charges. Case handled by Justice Department in DC https://t.co/QoewvyjeYq— Richard Belcher (@BelcherWSB) May 21, 2019
“Barnes Sutton wrote ‘500’ on a piece of paper and provided it to Contractor A. Contractor A understood Barnes Sutton to be requesting payment of $500,” the indictment said.
The document showed Barnes Sutton and an unnamed public official were recorded discussing the payoffs, and at one point she demanded $1,000 a month.
Her lawyer downplayed the tapes Tuesday.
“The parts of the tapes they have quoted in the indictment, as anyone can imagine are, like the previews of the movie, the best pieces of the movie," Williams said.
The indictment doesn't name the person who taped his conversations with Barnes Sutton five years ago, but based on his description in the indictment, it was Morris Williams, a longtime senior county official.
Belcher was unable to reach Williams for comment Tuesday.
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