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June 19, 2013

DeKalb CEO accused of trying to extort vendors

ATLANTA — A grand jury indictment on Tuesday accuses DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis of threatening to withhold county business from companies that didn’t contribute to his campaign.

The 15-count 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.

A phone message left at a phone number listed for Ellis was not immediately returned Tuesday evening. His lawyer, J. Tom Morgan, said by email Tuesday evening that he was reviewing the indictment.

Ellis surrendered to authorities and was out on $25,000 bond Tuesday evening.

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.

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 of the three companies named in the indictment as victims of Ellis’ alleged extortion attempts couldn’t be reached Tuesday evening.

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.

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.

 

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