Ellis fires back with his own accusations
Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
By Bill Rankin - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The bare-knuckled litigation involving the political corruption prosecution of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis has become even more heated.
In court filings this week, Ellis fought back against the district attorney who’s prosecuting him and the man who succeeded him as the county’s top official, leveling accusations of financial wrongdoing and hypocrisy.
Ellis’ legal team accused District Attorney Robert James and interim CEO Lee May of essentially committing the same crime Ellis is being prosecuted for: theft of county property. James and May used county employees to raise money at a gala that was nothing more than a political event used to promote their own agendas, a strongly worded court motion alleges.
DeKalb prosecutors and Ellis’ lawyers have been exchanging barbs since before Ellis was indicted in June on charges of extortion, conspiracy, theft and coercion. Ellis’ court filings this week should only exacerbate the acrimony on both sides.
Craig Gillen, Ellis’ lead defense attorney, declined to comment. A spokesman for the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office said James had no comment. May, through a county spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Ellis is asking Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson to dismiss the indictment or to disqualify the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office from trying his case.
One motion, which accuses the District Attorney’s Office of selective prosecution, notes that Ellis is indicted for theft of county property by getting employees, during normal working hours, to help him raise campaign cash.
Ellis used Kelvin Walton, the county’s head of purchasing and contracting, to create lists of vendors who had been awarded contracts so Ellis could use that information to solicit campaign contributions, the indictment alleges. The lists were created by three county employees.
James and May used eight county employees to raise money and coordinate the 2013 Senior Ball, a county function that was held June 8 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Ellis’ motion says. At that time, May served as a county commissioner representing District 5.
James and May tapped a political fundraiser, Candace Franklin, to solicit money for the Senior Ball from vendors and companies who do business with the county. The court motion attached numerous email exchanges between county employees and Franklin in the weeks leading up to the event.
The Senior Ball was a black-tie affair for about 1,000 county residents ages 60 and older. Its brochure said organizers wanted to educate seniors about the precautions they can take to minimize theft, abuse and exploitation.
But Ellis’ motion calls the gala "a thinly veiled formal political affair.”
The ball was funded with $25,500 in contributions from vendors and companies that do business with DeKalb.. Companies that gave $10,000 got two seats at James and May’s table, according to one fundraising brochure. The event also received $21,356 from the District Attorney’s Office’s forfeiture funds account, Ellis’ court motion says.
"It is abundantly clear that DA James entered into a conspiracy with Commissioner May to commit theft of property in DeKalb County,” the motion says. "In essence, DA James and Commissioner May used DeKalb County’s personnel and money for self-promotion.”
Yet James and May have not been investigated or charged with this crime, while Ellis has been indicted for similar conduct, the motion says. "The state’s choice to proceed against defendant Ellis while declining to charge others who appear equally culpable is hypocritical and unjust,” it states.
The motion also alleges that the state has chosen to "single out” Ellis and prosecute him because of his "conflicting political views” and the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office’s personal animosity toward the suspended CEO.
The court motions disclose that, beginning in August 2012, investigators began using informants to secretly record meetings and telephone communications involving Ellis and others. In all, the motions say, investigators intercepted more than 1,400 of Ellis’ phone communications. The lawyers also say they have reviewed more than 1,600 recordings of the suspended CEO’s conversations.
The motions are requesting that these communications be suppressed for a number of reasons. On some occasions, for example, investigators captured privileged conversations between Ellis and his lawyer at the time, Decatur attorney Keith Adams, the motions say.
Prosecutors also made misrepresentations when asking a judge last year to intercept Ellis’ phone conversations and text messages and when obtaining warrants to search Ellis’ Stone Mountain home and his county office, the motions say.
The "vast majority” of the allegations used to obtain the warrants come from Walton, the county’s head of purchasing and contracts, the motions say. But the state failed to inform the court of Walton’s "total lack of truthfulness and veracity as evidenced by the state’s own criminal investigation,” the motions say.
Instead, Ellis’ lawyers said, the secret recordings "clearly show that CEO Ellis deferred to his staff the task of selecting members for selection committees for county work. He wanted to know what the rules were and wanted them applied consistently.”
If Ellis is to be criticized, the motions say, "it would be for deferring too much to … Walton regarding the purchasing and procurement selection process.”
Ellis team casts doubts on witness over lie-detector tests
Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
By Bill Rankin - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
One of the expected star witnesses in the state’s case against Burrell Ellis was given three polygraph examinations last year to determine whether he solicited bribes from DeKalb County vendors.
Kelvin Walton, who heads the county’s Purchasing and Contracting Department, did not pass a single test, court motions filed this week say. During the conclusion of the final test, the polygraph examiner ridiculed Walton, who continued to deny wrongdoing, according to the motions filed by Ellis’ legal team.
"You set the history of lying,” the examiner, who was not identified in the motions, told Walton. "Why should anyone believe you?”
Walton’s lawyer, Art Leach, said Friday that he would not comment on Ellis’ court motions. "Mr. Walton will do all of his talking in the courtroom in this case when called upon during the trial,” Leach said.
The motions allege that Walton failed to tell the truth, and that is what led the high-ranking county employee to become a confidential informant for the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors used Walton to secretly record meetings and phone conversations he had with Ellis and others, the motions say.
Walton, who remains on the job, has been identified in court records as an "unindicted co-conspirator” in the case against Ellis. Last year, after DeKalb authorities launched their political corruption investigation, they began asking Walton whether he was a corrupt county employee.
During a May 17, 2012, polygraph examination, he was asked whether he solicited money from a DeKalb vendor, only identified in the court motion as "Mr. X.” Walton also was asked whether he received cash from this person at a Walmart. The examiner determined that Walton did not pass the test because the results were inconsistent, the motions said.
On July 11, 2012, Walton sat for another polygraph and was asked whether he solicited cash from Mr. X, whether he ever solicited money from a DeKalb vendor and whether he ever received anything of value to award a contract to a vendor. This time, the motions said, Walton was given a caveat: "other than what you have told (law enforcement) about?”
At the end of this test, the examiner told Walton: "You failed the (expletive) out of this test,” the motions say. "You failed all of (the answers).”
When Walton said, "I have not asked no vendors for bribes,” the examiner said he could not believe him, the motions say.
Five days later, Walton was given yet another polygraph and was asked about an individual only identified as "Mr. Z.” Walton was asked four questions, including whether he had ever accepted a bribe from this person and whether the individual had ever done anything to influence Walton concerning a DeKalb contract.
At the end of this test, the examiner told Walton he had badly failed three of the four questions, the motions say. "Where does it stop, Kelvin?” the examiner asked.