DeKalb DA double-bills taxpayers for expensive meal

Channel 2's Richard Belcher has been looking into questionalble charges by the DA.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned the Dekalb County District Attorney charged the county twice for an expensive meal for himself and several members of his staff.

District Attorney Robert James has already repaid the county a little more than $1,900, mostly for questionable meal expenses.

A $270 charge at The Palace Café in New Orleans caught our eye, so we started asking the DA to explain.

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At first, his office said the cost covered dinner for eight people.

On Wednesday, James' spokesman said there were only six people there and the DA can't remember the name of one of the people at the dinner.

James acknowledges his wife was in New Orleans at the time.

Through a spokesman, the DA denies that his wife dined at taxpayers' expense in New Orleans.

But Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher uncovered another problem.

DeKalb taxpayers paid for that fancy meal not once, but twice.

We used the state open records law to get reports on the travel expenses for the DA and four of his employees on the New Orleans trip.

It turns out that every one of them drew checks to cover all their meal expenses.

So why did no one catch the double-billing by the DA?

One county commissioner says no one's minding the store.

“I'm happy to see that people are paying back things that the county has paid for twice or they went over expense limits,” DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester said. “I'm happy to see that, but at the same time this goes back to the heart of the question: How did these things happen to begin with?”

Jester is especially critical of the county's finance department.

“They should be running down the halls with their hair on fire when they see some of these things come across their desk,” she said. “The fact that we see so many of these problems is indicative of a lack of controls. It's the wild west of accounting in DeKalb County and it's got to stop.”

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman told Belcher the responsibility for checking on expenses is in accounts payable and not finance.

The DA sent this statement:

“We are aware of the oversights related to various expenses and travel logs. We have actively identified areas for process improvement and better internal accountability practices in the office. As previously stated last week, District Attorney Robert James has decided to personally repay each p-card charge that may have exceeded the allocated per diem or possibly used in a disputable manner. The District Attorney’s Office now limits the use of p-cards to items directly related to the needs of the grand jury, criminal cases and office supplies. On July 12, 2015, our records were turned over to the GBI to identify any areas of misuse or abuse.”