Burrell Ellis guilty of attempted theft by extortion in retrial

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was found guilty Wednesday of four counts of perjury and one count of attempted theft by extortion.

Ellis was acquitted of five other counts on charges that included bribery

Ellis was being re-tried on corruption charges after a previous trial ended in a mistrial after more than a week of jury deliberations.

The attempted theft by extortion charge refers to Ellis trying to force a company called Power & Energy Services to donate to his political campaign.

The company's owner Brandon Cummings said he felt "threatened, intimidated (and) I guess scared" by a 2012 phone conversation he had with Ellis. Cummings testified that Ellis pressured him to donate $2,500 to his political campaign.

"He said he just cut my contract, that we didn't do anything wrong," Cummings said while testifying during the trial.

When Cummings refused to donate to the Ellis campaign, his company lost a $250,000 contract.

Prosecutors played a recording of that conversation for jurors to hear. 

Ellis is facing 15 years in jail at his upcoming sentencing hearing.

Channel 2's Erica Byfield was in the courtroom Wednesday and said Ellis didn't flinch when the jury foreman read the verdict.

For more than two years Ellis claimed he was innocent. A jury of his peers disagreed.

Judge Courtney Johnson sent him straight to jail.

"It's a stunning verdict but the jury has spoken," said defense attorney Jackie Patterson, who was not tied to the trial.

Patterson told Byfield that he thinks Johnson won't hold back when she sentences Ellis.

"She was one of the harshest sentencers in DeKalb County," Patterson said.

Patterson said Wednesday's conviction is a huge blow to Ellis the politician and Ellis the attorney.

"It just means as a public official and even as a lawyer you cannot be untruthful in a courtroom preceding," Patterson said.  
Patterson believes the jury make up this time around made a huge difference.

Gov. Nathan Deal's office confirmed later in the day that DeKalb County will no longer pay Ellis.

The State Bar of Georgia will begin to investigate possible disciplinary action against Ellis. Disciplinary action could include Ellis' disbarment.

The conviction of Ellis violates the state bar's rules for professional conduct.

Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May released the following statement:

"I encourage everyone to join me in keeping the Ellis family in our thoughts and prayers.  I wish them strength in the days and months ahead.

"Mr. Ellis remains under suspension during any appeal until the final disposition of his case or the expiration of his term of office, whichever comes first.  While the suspension is in effect, I remain as Interim chief executive officer.  As interim CEO, I will continue to stay focused on moving the county forward."

Breakdown of Charges

Not guilty-  Count 1 - Attempted Theft by Extortion

Not guilty - Count 2 - Attempted Theft by Extortion

Counts 1 & 2 relate to a company called CIBER – Joanne Wise said Ellis aggressively asked for campaign contributions, threatened to end her company’s business with the county, and threatened to tell her boss she was the reason.

Not guilty - Count 3 - Attempted Theft by Extortion

Guilty - Count 4 - Attempted Theft by Extortion

Counts 3 & 4 relate to a company called Power & Energy Services – Brandon Cummings said Ellis aggressively asked for campaign contributions, threatened to end his company’s business with the county, and called him non-responsive for not returning Ellis’ calls (which were campaign calls)

Not guilty - Count 5 - Theft by Extortion

Relates to a company called NPI – Greg and Trina Shealey actually gave a campaign contribution to Ellis after he aggressively asked for one, and threatened to end their county business

Not guilty -Count 6 - Bribery

Relates to an Indiana company called Merrell Brothers which had just won a multi-million dollar contract and Terry Merrell says Ellis called and asked for $25,000 in campaign contributions, Ellis offered to help ease some issues he was having with the contract. Merrell did not pay the money and called the county to report Ellis’ call and ended up cancelling his own contract because he felt uncomfortable.

Guilty - Count 7 - Perjury

Under oath during special grand jury for watershed, Ellis said he never ordered work not to be given to a vendor who didn’t return calls.

He did so with Power and Energy Services, by directing Kelvin Walton (who secretly recorded Ellis)

Guilty - Count 8 – Perjury

Under oath during special grand jury for watershed, Ellis said he never ordered that a vendor not receive work under a split award contract

Also relates to Power and Energy Services

Guilty - Count 9 – Perjury

Under oath during special grand jury for watershed, Ellis said the following:

“I don’t get involved in who gets work and who doesn’t get work.”

“I don’t make the call to not give people work.”


  • Stay with WSBTV.com and watch Channel 2 Action News starting at 4 for live reports on the verdicts and the trial.