Two major DeKalb County corruption cases are in jeopardy. Part of the reason is the prosecution’s star witnesses have struggled with credibility issues.
It’s a constant dilemma for prosecutors – how much to rely on witnesses with questionable character.
DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign donations. During the trial, DeKalb's former purchasing director Kelvin Walton was the state’s star witness. Walton cooperated with prosecutors only after being caught accepting gifts from contractors and lying under oath.
It’s been an eventful week in DeKalb County. The corruption case of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis ended with a hung jury. And a much-anticipated audit showed lax oversight of commissioner spending.
Some DeKalb residents have resigned themselves to a certain level of impropriety, while others see light at the end of the tunnel.
DeKalb politics has been anything but dull - kickback schemes, federal probes, forced-out school board members, and most tragically an assassination of the county’s sheriff-elect.
So it makes sense residents would be a bit cynical.
The corruption case of suspended DeKalb County CEO ended Tuesday in a mistrial and DeKalb residents have sharply differing reactions.
Many took issue with the jury itself, which after two weeks of deliberation couldn’t agree on any of the 13 felony charges. The judge in the case repeatedly scolded the jury to get past personal issues and at one point told them to act like adults.
A DeKalb County judge Tuesday declared a mistrial in the case against suspended county CEO Burrell Ellis. Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign contributions. He maintained his innocence during the trial and took the stand to defend himself.
The all-female jury deliberated for 11 days, but couldn’t reach verdicts on any of the 13 felony charges against Ellis. DeKalb County judge Courtney Johnson had repeatedly urged the jurors to try harder to come to consensus. Those efforts ultimately failed.
Members of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics (shown here) have tabled complaints against former county staffers Kelvin Walton and Nina Hall. Walton resigned and Hall was fired after their testimony in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
The DeKalb County Commission has freed up $90,000 in funding for the county ethics board, which was reconstituted just last year to deal with mounting ethics issues.
DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May very publicly announced in June he was getting his fellow commissioners to allocate money for a Chief Integrity Officer, an investigator and an assistant, three full-time employees to help clean up the county’s ethics problems.
After three weeks of testimony, attorneys for both sides in Burrell Ellis’ corruption trial delivered their closing arguments Monday. Whether Ellis goes to prison or retains his position as DeKalb County CEO is now up to a jury.
Ellis faces charges of extortion and bribery, the latter of which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Three county contractors testified Ellis shook them down for campaign donations. Another contractor testified Ellis wanted a bribe of $25,000.
Ellis denies all wrongdoing and his lawyers claim the charges are politically-motivated.
Both sides in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis rested their case this afternoon. It came shortly after Ellis concluded his third day on the witness stand. He remained defiant, denying he shook down county vendors for campaign donations and insisting his comments on wiretaps are being taken out of context.
DeKalb District Attorney Robert James played a wiretap that includes Ellis saying he told his deputy Kelvin Walton to cut the contract of a vendor - Austell-based Power and Energy Services - that had refused to donate.
Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis and DeKalb District Attorney Robert James squared off for the first time Thursday in Ellis’ corruption trial. James grilled Ellis over allegations he shook down county vendors for campaign contributions.
Under cross-examination, Ellis denied strong-arming vendors and insisted any issues between him and vendors were over poor customer service and unreturned phone calls, not donations.
Lawyers defending suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis in his corruption trial are expected to call their first witnesses Tuesday.
So far, only witnesses supporting the prosecution’s case have taken the stand.
Among the witnesses expected to testify for Ellis are Congressman Hank Johnson and former DeKalb school board chair Eugene Walker. Ellis’ wife may also testify. Still unclear is whether Burrell Ellis, himself, will take the stand.
The defense team for suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis got its first chance Thursday to cross-examine the state’s star witness in Ellis' corruption trial. It comes after two days of testimony from DeKalb purchasing director Kelvin Walton, who for months wore a wire for prosecutors.
Ellis defense attorney Craig Gillen was quick to make sure the jury knew Walton had already lied under oath prior to Ellis’ trial.
Gillen: During the course of your session before the special purpose grand jury on May the 2nd you willfully lied several times didn’t you, sir?
The state’s star witness in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis testified for a second straight day Wednesday.
On the witness stand, DeKalb purchasing director Kelvin Walton, who for months wore a wire for prosecutors, said he and Ellis discussed shutting out county vendors who didn’t respond to Ellis’ phone calls for campaign donations.
During one exchange, Walton said Ellis told him to phone a county vendor that had been unresponsive to his calls for campaign contributions.
A key witness in the state’s corruption case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis testified Tuesday. Kelvin Walton, who was in charge of vendor contracts for the county, described Ellis as a bully who used him to help pressure county vendors for campaign contributions.
On the witness stand, an emotional Walton apologized to DeKalb residents for his actions. He said he had “nothing left to lose” and wanted “to come clean.”
The former chief of staff of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis took the witness stand Friday in Ellis’ corruption trial. Hakim Hilliard told jurors he raised ethics concerns to Ellis about canceling a vendor contract shortly after Ellis unsuccessfully attempted to solicit a campaign donation from the vendor.
Ellis is accused of shaking down vendors for campaign contributions.
Day three of testimony in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis centered on more witness testimony claiming Ellis pressured them to donate to his re-election campaign.
Ellis is accused of shaking down county vendors for campaign contributions. He has denied all wrongdoing.
DeKalb vendor Greg Shealey, a co-owner of the Lithonia-based National Property Institute, took the witness stand and said he felt forced to donate to Ellis’ re-election campaign, or else lose his contract with the county.
Lawyers in Burrell Ellis’ corruption trial delivered opening statements Tuesday in a DeKalb County court room. It comes 15 months after the suspended DeKalb CEO was indicted on felony charges of bribery, extortion, and theft.
Speaking to a jury of ten women and two men, DeKalb prosecutor Lawanda Hodges said Ellis used his position as CEO to solicit campaign contributions, retaliate against those who didn’t give, then lied about it afterward.
"Power. Punishment. Perjury. That, members of the jury, is what the evidence will show you this case is all about," said Hodges.
The DeKalb County ethics board Tuesday launched investigations into two more county commissioners over alleged misuse of county-issued credit cards. One commissioner is already under investigation.
The board voted to investigate thousands of dollars of charges by Commissioners Sharon Barnes Sutton and Commissioner Larry Johnson, as well as an aide to Barnes Sutton. Both commissioners say the purchases in question were for legitimate government business.
The DeKalb County Board of Ethics is moving forward with two separate ethics complaints against suspended county CEO Burrell Ellis. He also faces criminal corruption charges. Ellis's trial is scheduled to begin in early September.
The DeKalb Ethics Board will move forward with complaints against County Commissioner Elaine Boyer and suspended CEO Burrell Ellis.
The board approved investigation of two different complaints against Ellis. One relates to the criminal corruption case against him. The other alleges Ellis conspired with Director of Finance Joel Gottlieb and then-Director of Watershed Management Francis Kung’U to prevent accurate reading of water use at a condominium complex in Clarkston.
The agenda for Thursday night's DeKalb County Board of Ethics meeting included complaints against the county’s suspended CEO, the acting CEO and a county commissioner.
A newly-reconstituted board will address those complaints and several others. This time last year, the DeKalb’s Ethics Board could barely meet, as it had only four of seven positions filled. But now there is a full complement, chaired by attorney John Ernst.
Lawyers in the corruption case of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis wrapped up two days of contentious pretrial hearings Tuesday. Much of the debate centered on what would be allowed as evidence in the upcoming trial.
Ellis' attorneys continued to argue District Attorney Robert James is politically motivated and should be removed from the case due to prosecutorial misconduct. They also said secretly captured audio and video of Ellis should be inadmissible because it was taken without his consent.
A pretrial hearing took place Monday in the public corruption case against suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
Ellis faces 14 felony charges alleging he shook down county contractors for campaign contributions.
At the hearing, Ellis’ attorneys argued District Attorney Robert James should be disqualified from prosecuting the case due to misconduct issues. They said James is politically motivated and may be withholding secretly captured video of Ellis.