UPDATE: Special report details years of corruption in DeKalb County

A grand jury handed down a 15-count indictment against DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis June 18.

A judge released a special grand jury report Aug. 21 that depicts widespread corruption by high-ranking county officials spanning two different administrations and multiple county departments.

After a legal battle between DeKalb District AttorneyRobert James’ office and suspended DeKalb County CEO Burell Ellis, the report has been made available to the public.

The 80-page report is the result of a yearlong investigation into allegations of corruption in the county’s watershed department, stemming back to the beginning of former CEO Vernon Jones’ administration.

The special investigative grand jury was impaneled by Judge Mark Anthony Scott in 2012 to investigate allegations of corruption, incompetence and cronyism within the county’s watershed department.

“We have seen decisions involving millions of dollars made with little or no information for the most venal reasons,” the report states. “In light of the huge amount of testimony heard and our review of voluminous documents and records, this special purpose grand jury is certain that numerous witnesses lied under oath as to matters related to procurement and contract manipulation, kickbacks and abuse.”

The special grand jury specifically accuses Ellis and Jones of lying under oath and providing “false testimony” while testifying about county projects and vendor procurement processes.

In June, Ellis was indicted on charges of extortion and is accused of strong-arming county vendors into donating to his campaign. The special grand jury report outlines those allegations in detail.

Additionally, the report accuses Ellis of canceling county contracts at the behest of his former campaign manager Kevin Ross. Ellis allegedly canceled contracts with two county vendors to allow companies Ross reportedly worked for to bid for the emergency proposals created by the cancellations.

Jones is accused of having “something to hide” in the report. Special grand jurors accuse Jones of refusing to provide meaningful testimony and refusing to answer questions related to the appointment of unqualified friends to high-ranking positions and his relationship with outside vendors, including “business developer” Jeffrey Walker, whose brother was an official in the watershed department and whose sister Joy Walker was appointed by Jones as chief judge of DeKalb County Recorder’s Court.

Included in the report are the special purpose grand jury’s recommendations to further investigate alleged criminal activity by Ellis, Jones, Ross, former public safety director William “Wiz” Miller, former chief of staff Jabari Simama and others.

Miller is accused of interfering in 2010 with an ongoing investigation into the county’s department of watershed management. According to testimony heard by the special grand jury, Miller instructed DeKalb County Police detectives to “cease the investigation without explanation. In addition, the detectives who worked on the cases were separated.”

“It was apparent that his actions were related to stopping an ongoing, active criminal investigation into the Department of Watershed Management when it became obvious that the investigation would involve current county officials,” the report states.

The investigation Miller allegedly halted was related to a 2009 investigation centered on contracts involving the Champion Tree Service, particularly allegations of overbilling by owner Paul Champion.

At the time, county officials estimated the overbilling exceeded approximately $3 million. Two county officials, Nadine Maghsoudlou and Hadi Haeri, were named in the investigation for allegedly approving fraudulent invoices.

According to the special grand jury report, “Multiple Department of Watershed Management inspectors that were tasked with oversight of Mr. Champion’s work complained to Mr. John Walker (named above) about issues with Mr. Champion’s work. Mr. Walker, however, dismissed these complaints.”

The complaints consisted of allegations of made-up or exaggerated work.

The special grand jury’s report also lists additional companies, either fictitious front companies, or companies that did little or no work that were approved for lucrative county contracts through Walker’s office, at the behest of Maghsoudlou and Haeri.

Ellis is accused of numerous instances of strong-arming vendors in the report. However, one instance was of particular interest to the special grand jury—that of the first ONE DeKalb Works sewer contract that was awarded using funds from the county’s $1.35 billion water and sewer overhaul.

According to the grand jury presentment, Ellis put the contract on hold until the principal of the company donated $2,500 (the maximum amount allowed) to his campaign. The report cites a note it received during its investigation regarding a memorandum penned by Jeffrey Walker, who worked for the company that was awarded the contract.

The memorandum is allegedly titled “Things to Know” and indicates Ellis “is involved in a scheme to withhold his signature on contracts until receiving a campaign contribution from the vendor, specifically in regards to Desmear Systems,” which is the company awarded the contract.

The two contracts Ellis is accused of canceling at the behest of Ross were the DeKalb County Recorder’s Court probation services contract with Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and the Care Ambulance Contract.

In regards to the contract with JCS, Ellis reportedly had no authority to legally cancel the contract and allegedly personally threatened the judge who refused to cancel it with termination. Ross reportedly was a consultant for a competitor of JCS.

Ross was also employed as a consultant with Rural Metro Ambulance, which was awarded an “emergency” contract in July 2010 after Ellis terminated the contract with Care Ambulance. According to the special grand jury, the fired department didn’t agree with the cancellation of the contract but Ellis did it anyway without informing its officials.

Also named in the report is former Ellis chief of staff Jabari Simama, former watershed management director Roy Barnes and several others who are accused of playing minor roles in the bid-rigging process at the heart of the investigation.

The conclusion of the report recommends that the fundamental structure of DeKalb County’s government undergo drastic restructuring, including the removal of Ellis and the elimination of the office of CEO.

The report also suggests making county commissioners full-time employees with no ties to any outside interests that could interfere with day-to-day operations of the county.

“The current system, with its overreliance on county staff and departments [that] ultimately report to an elected official, provides too many opportunities for fraudulent influences and fosters a culture that is overly politicized and in which inappropriate business relationships are created,” the report concludes.

Click here for the Special Purpose Grand Jury Final Report

Grand Jury Final Report

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3 thoughts on “UPDATE: Special report details years of corruption in DeKalb County

  • August 25, 2013 at 1:17 am
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    And where has the Atlanta Office of the FBI been ?
    And where has the US Attorney been ?
    Answer : Asleep at the wheel, without a care. This would not happen with a pro-active Atlanta Office of the FBI. Good God their office is smack dab in the middle of DeKalb County ? Do they not have a clue ? Pathetic they are !

    Reply
  • August 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm
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    If the New Police Chief, the remaining OBrien brother who is our Fire Chief and the DeKalb Fire Marshall can not inforce the laws covering the Over Crowding of bars with Numbers of Patrons then their sorry selves need to find somewhere else to work.

    We don’t need these slackers screwing up this county one more day !!! They need to do their job or get the hell out !!!

    Reply
  • August 27, 2013 at 2:08 pm
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    Why do they alwasy have to bring on Vernon Jones.. He did a great job inproving conditions south of la vista road…

    No matter how much they talk about him… He would be eleted tomorrow if he could run for CEO….

    Reply

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