DeKalb cutting ties with company founded by admitted federal fraudster

DeKalb CEO says big changes coming to southern part of county thanks to sewer upgrade project

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DeKalb CEO says big changes coming to southern part of county thanks to sewer upgrade project

Move comes after the AJC reported on Chandra Norton’s charges

DeKalb officials are moving to cancel the remainder of a multimillion-dollar county sewer contract with a company whose founder has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

A resolution to formally terminate the contract was introduced Tuesday, a few weeks after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the county was still doing business with CamKen Consulting — almost two years after founder Chandra Norton was accused of bilking the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for nearly $8 million.

CamKen has appeared on several DeKalb County contracts since 2015. The new resolution would cancel the remainder of a $2.8-million contract that tasks the company with assessing manholes and small-diameter sewer pipes throughout the county.

The county is under a new federal consent decree to fix its long-standing sewer issues, and has committed to spending more than $2 billion to address its aging water and wastewater infrastructure.

ExplorePREVIOUS COVERAGE: DeKalb keeps contracting with company founded by woman guilty of fraud

The CamKen contract, first approved in 2019, is currently slated to run through the end of the year.

DeKalb COO Zach Williams sent a letter to CamKen notifying the company of its intent to terminate the contract on June 24. The letter, obtained by The AJC through an Open Records Act request, provided no specific rationale for the county’s action.

It did, however, reveal that the county had ordered CamKen to stop any work associated with its government contract on May 25 — one day after The AJC sent its initial inquiries regarding CamKen and Norton to county officials.

The cancellation item was added to the county Board of Commissioners’ consent agenda for next week. It will likely be voted on with little discussion.

“I have no issue with it going directly to consent,” said Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, chair of the board’s infrastructure committee. “I do believe that is the proper thing to do.”

A criminal information handed down in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta in August 2020 charged Norton with a single count of federal wire fraud conspiracy. She’s accused of conspiring with an unnamed “Individual 1″ to file nearly a dozen fraudulent applications for PPP loans, an initiative aimed at helping small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Norton and the unidentified co-conspirator are accused of applying for funds using at least five different corporate entities, including CamKen Consulting, and pocketing the $7.8 million that was ultimately received. Norton allegedly purchased a $172,000 Range Rover and wired an undisclosed amount to “an investment brokerage account she controlled.”

The county has previously said it had been aware of the criminal case against Norton since March 2021, justifying its continued business with her company by saying she’d dispensed of any ownership interests. Documents obtained by The AJC showed Norton merely transferred her stock in CamKen Consulting to her husband.

In addition to the contract that may be terminated soon, DeKalb documents still list CamKen as part of a “joint venture” on another, much larger sewer contract. A change order for that contract is currently being considered by the county commission.

But representatives from The Renee Group, the other company listed on the contract, have provided the AJC with documentation showing CamKen was bought out of the joint venture shortly after it was approved in 2017.

The county said it wasn’t notified of that change until this May.

Norton, meanwhile, pleaded guilty in November 2020 but her sentencing has been delayed multiple times because she’s “continuing to assist the government in the investigation and prosecution of others.”

She was most recently slated to be sentenced later this month. Last week, Judge Steven D. Grimberg rescheduled the hearing for Nov. 10.


OUR REPORTING

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously obtained and reviewed dozens of court documents, business records and county contracts in order to paint a better picture of the federal case against Chandra Norton, her relationship with CamKen Consulting, and her role in important DeKalb County infrastructure projects. After that reporting, the county ordered CamKen to stop its county work and, ultimately, moved to end its relationship with the company.