Federal authorities on Wednesday charged developer Mark Gary of giving a $30,000 bribe to influence then-Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter’s vote in 2009 in favor of a solid waste transfer station.
Gary, who is cooperating with authorities, is soon expected to plead guilty to a federal bribery charge, his lawyer, Paul Kish, said. Gary made a brief court appearance Wednesday before a U.S. magistrate to be formally notified of the charge against him.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Gary in a criminal information, instead of going before a grand jury and obtaining an indictment against him. This is typically done when defendants are cooperating with authorities in ongoing investigations.
According to the criminal information, Gary paid $30,000 worth of chips from an out-of-state gambling casino to influence Lasseter’s vote. Lasseter voted in favor of the transfer station on April 28, 2009. That following June, Gary gave the chips to her son, John Fanning, the court document says.
Fanning, who was a member of Gwinnett’s Zoning Board of Appeals, gave some of the money to Lasseter and used the rest for his and Lasseter’s personal benefit, including the purchase of a vehicle, the criminal information said.
Lasseter, Fanning and Hall County businessman Carl “Skip” Cain are to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon. All three have been cooperating with federal prosecutors and the charges against Gary likely stemmed from the information one or more of the defendants provided to federal authorities.
In May, Lasseter pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Fanning and Cain also pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme and to federal drug charges.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a story scrutinizing Gwinnett commissioners’ votes for waste transfer stations, reported in 2009 that the politically connected Gary pushed for the transfer station project southwest of Dacula.
Gary’s Lawrenceville-based development firm Gary Holding Group specializes in housing developments for senior citizens.
Gary has described Lasseter as a family friend and noted his wife grew up across the street from her. He worked on her 2008 election, campaigning door to door and holding a fund-raiser for her at his home. He donated $2,000 to Lasseter’s campaign in 2007. Lasseter appointed Gary to the planning commission five days after she took office.
Gary submitted his request to build the $4 million transfer station in October 2008. The land, located off Winder Highway, was already zoned for heavy industrial use and required only a special-use permit.
The planning staff gave the project its blessing, but the planning commission could not vote to recommend it because three members, including Gary, abstained.
On April 28, 2009, Lasseter joined two fellow Gwinnett commissioners in the 3-1 to approve the project.
When asked by the AJC in 2009 about her connections with Gary, Lasseter said she did not stand to benefit from the project and never considered abstaining. She said she handled it the same way as she does all decisions.
“I don’t look at personalities. I look at projects, ” she told the AJC for a story published May 24, 2009. “I don’t look at it as Mark Gary’s. I look at it as the project that is up in that area, and I weigh it on its merits.”
A month later, according to the criminal information made public Wednesday, Gary handed over the $30,000 in casino chips to Lasseter’s son in exchange for Lasster’s vote in favor of the transfer station.
Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, recently likened people with pre-existing medical conditions to wrecked cars and appeared to suggest that the sick are at fault for their illnesses just as drivers are at fault for their accidents.