DECATUR — The chief executive officer of one of Georgia’s largest counties, who is facing multiple corruption charges made public Tuesday, says that he’s done nothing wrong.
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis made a brief statement Tuesday night, hours after a 15-count indictment alleged that he threatened to withhold county business from companies that didn’t contribute to his campaign. On Tuesday night, Ellis surrendered to authorities and was released on a $25,000 bond.
“I do want to make one statement emphatically to the good people of DeKalb County that I’ve done nothing wrong as I’ve said from the very beginning,” he told reporters at his home in Stone Mountain.
“I would never, ever, ever do anything to violate the public trust,” he added.
The indictment accuses Ellis of trying to extort campaign contributions from companies and their employees. The indictment also alleges that Ellis instructed the county’s director of purchasing and contracting to prevent certain companies from getting business because they didn’t respond to his solicitations and didn’t contribute to his campaign.
Ellis’ lawyer, J. Tom Morgan, said by email Tuesday evening that he was reviewing the indictment.
The indictment is the latest in a series of challenges facing the county, which includes many of Atlanta’s eastern and northeastern suburbs.
Earlier this year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal removed six of the nine members of the DeKalb County school board following harsh criticism by the school system’s accrediting agency.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had placed the school district on probation after a six-month investigation. The accreditation agency cited long-term leadership issues including nepotism, fiscal mismanagement, inappropriate micromanagement and intimidation within the district, which is Georgia’s third-largest.
If Ellis is suspended, that would make him the seventh elected official in the county to be in that situation since March.
According to the indictment, Ellis tried in February 2012 to get a campaign contribution from a company called Ciber Inc., and an employee there. Ellis allegedly threatened the employee, saying he would contact the company’s CEO to say the county wouldn’t be giving him their business anymore because of the employee’s poor customer service, the indictment says.
A spokeswoman for Ciber said Wednesday the company is aware of the investigation and has cooperated with authorities. She declined to comment further since the case is ongoing.
In another case, the indictment alleges, Ellis threatened to withhold county business from Power and Energy Services, Inc., after two company officers didn’t respond to his campaign contribution requests and a third said the company wouldn’t give money in June 2012. Then in September, the indictment says, he instructed Kelvin Walton, the county director of purchasing and contracting, not to give the company any more work and to put a note in its file saying the firm didn’t return phone calls.
In October, Ellis told Walton to prevent the National Property Institute, LLC, from receiving work from the county because the company didn’t respond to his requests for campaign contributions and didn’t send money, the indictment says. Because the company didn’t respond, Ellis ordered a county employee to arrange for and attend a meeting with the company during her working hours, the indictment says.
Representatives Power and Energy and NPI couldn’t immediately be reached.
At some point between Nov. 1, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012, the indictment alleges, Ellis ordered Walton to use county board of commission meeting agendas and county purchasing and contract information and data to create lists of vendors that had county contracts. Three county contract assistants helped him create those lists. Walton and the three assistants did these tasks during working hours while being paid by the company, but the lists were meant to be used by Ellis to solicit campaign contributions, the indictment says.
Walton is not under indictment and he did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday evening.
Ellis faces a variety of charges, including criminal attempt to commit theft by extortion, conspiracy in restraint of free and open competition, and theft by taking, among others.
The office of county Commissioner Elaine Boyer said the commissioners were meeting individually with the county attorney for briefings on the situation and to determine what their next steps should be.
“This is a sad day for DeKalb County,” DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said in a statement on Wednesday.
“While every person is clearly innocent until proven guilty, this ongoing saga has been a distraction and continues to bring unwelcome negative publicity to our county and government,” May said.
Ellis was elected to a second term as county CEO in November. If Ellis resigns or is removed from office, the county election superintendent will have to call for a special election to replace him within 15 days, according to the county organizational act. The special election would have to be held no fewer than 29 days and no more than 45 days after the call. The presiding officer of the commission would fill in until a new CEO is elected.
If Ellis remains in office, state law requires the governor to form a three-person panel to consider whether he should be suspended once the district attorney’s office sends him a copy of the indictment.