ATLANTA — A Georgia state lawmaker accused of inaccurately claiming mileage and expenses told jurors he didn’t intentionally try to get extra money from the state.
A jury was deliberating Wednesday evening in the trial of Sen. Don Balfour. The Snellville Republican was indicted in September on felony charges of making a false certificate, theft by taking and a count of false statement and writing. He is accused of illegally claiming legislative expense and mileage pay and double-billing the state and his private employer for some expenses.
After about three days, which included testimony from former governors and other legislators, Balfour was the defense’s final witness. He told jurors he was very busy as chairman of the Senate Rules committee and as an executive of Atlanta-based Waffle House, and that the inaccurate filings were unintentional.
“Juggling a thousand things at once is what I had to do,” he said. “And when you juggle things, sometimes balls fall down.”
Balfour has been under legal scrutiny for payments he received for his work in the General Assembly. His lawyers have said Balfour is being unfairly targeted for inadvertent mistakes.
Balfour previously agreed to pay a $5,000 fine levied by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days when he was elsewhere. Lawmakers can only claim that pay if they are conducting official business inside Georgia. They can collect expenses while traveling outside the state if they are part of an approved delegation.
Gov. Nathan Deal last month signed an order suspending Balfour. The Senate Republican leadership reacted swiftly, removing him from his committee leadership positions and suspending him from the Senate Republican Caucus.
Balfour told jurors the state overestimated how much he owed, and said there were 115 days when he was doing state work and didn’t claim a legislative per diem. That adds up to more than $23,000 he could have claimed, he said.
“I should’ve gotten paid per diems for those days but for the fact that I didn’t turn them in,” he said. “It wasn’t important. I wasn’t there for the money.”