The Jan. 27 indictment in Gwinnett County Superior Court lays out nine bribes between November 2014 and December 2018 that total more than $228,000. Not all of the counts have dollar figures attached.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson said she didn’t yet know if the charges represent the full scheme.
“If it leads us anywhere else, we’ll follow it,” she said. “Bribery is against the law. We will pursue these cases whenever they rear their heads.”
Danny Porter, the former district attorney, said he thought the trio could have profited by more than $500,000 by pocketing money at several different points through a variety of transactions. Stacks, he said, took illegal commissions when the Downtown Development Authority sold property. Lilburn ended up paying more than it should when it bought land and collected less than it should have when it was sold, due to the commissions, he said.
The investigation started under Porter’s watch.
“It was a big deal in terms of how much money was skimmed,” he said.
Johnsa said he brought the bribery allegations to authorities in August 2019 after noticing highly irregular terms with an agreement that had gone before the Downtown Development Authority.
Johnsa’s suspicions were initially raised, he said, when it took Stacks several days to get him the agreement. When he did, the agreement had been signed by Nash, the chairman, but hadn’t gone before the board — and it included a provision that would return escrow money to Kennedy, who was acting as the broker.
On top of that, Johnsa said, the closing date on the documents was several months later than the original closing date.
Johnsa said he asked Stacks, who was being groomed to replace him as city manager, if he knew of any illegal activity that Nash had participated in. When Stacks confirmed that he did, Johnsa asked about his own involvement, the city manager said.
According to the indictment, the project that Stacks admitted to profiting off of to the tune of $10,000, Noble Village, involved a $65,000 bribe.
Johnsa also said the three created shell companies to purchase land the city was interested in, to then turn around and sell it to Lilburn at a profit. In one case, the group sold land for the city’s new police station to Lilburn for $1 million, after buying it for $815,000. In another, they boosted the price of residential properties on the city’s Main Street by about $25,000.
The scheme echoes tactics Gwinnett County developers used more than a decade ago to inflate land prices for parks the county then purchased.
“There are some parallels,” Johnsa said, noting that no elected officials were involved in the city.
Beginning in 2009, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on five land deals in which Gwinnett County paid inflated prices totaling more than $38 million to politically connected developers for parkland. The AJC would eventually identify six suspicious land deals involving the county government.
In 2014, former County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly was sentenced to 10 years probation and paid $10,000 in fines for allegedly taking $1 million in bribes. Former County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister resigned from office in 2010 to avoid a perjury charge following a grand jury inquiry.
Johnsa said he is asking for restitution for the city’s overpayments. He said he would not be surprised if other bribes are uncovered.
Matt Crosby, who represents Stacks, said his office is “thoroughly investigating the claims” and would not comment on the indictment. Nash and Kennedy could not be reached for comment.
Hugh Wilkerson, a member of the Downtown Development Authority and owner of the Antiques in Old Town store, said he had known both Stacks and Nash for a long time. He said he was disappointed to learn of the indictments.
“I had no idea,” he said. “I knew them very well, or I thought I did, anyway. It’s disappointing when people let you down.”
Wilkerson said Nash had been absent from a number of board meetings because of health problems. He officially resigned last February. Johnsa said he would have flagged any deal Nash had been involved with between August 2019 and February 2020.
Johnsa said there have already been changes at the Downtown Development Authority in response to the allegations. Now, he and the county attorney look over every deal as does an outside attorney.
Johnsa said he thinks the projects all would have happened regardless of any bribe that was paid. But he said the scheme would still be a black eye to the city of Lilburn for some people.
“That bothers me immensely,” Johnsa said. “That’s not us, that’s not the city of Lilburn, that’s not how we operate. This has been the most difficult thing in my 35 years in government.”
Nine projects were allegedly subject to bribes.
Nov. 14, 2014 — 190 Parkview Trace and Arcado Road. Norman Nash allegedly paid Doug Stacks $8,833.33
Sept. 25, 2015 — 9.7 acres 4572 Lawrenceville Hwy. This is the city’s new police station. The indictment says Stacks received $56,538.33 and Nash paid more than $40,000. City Manager Bill Johnsa said the two of them, plus David Kennedy, bought the land for $815,000 using a shell company before selling it to the city for $1 million.
April 13, 2016 — 147 and 157 Main St. Kennedy allegedly paid Stacks and Nash each $8,372.44. Johnsa said the group also bought this land through a shell company before selling it to the city.
July 8, 2016 — 4.76 acres known as the Enclave Townhomes. Nash and Kennedy allegedly paid Stacks $31,051.13
July 28, 2017 — 5.2 acres at Luxomni Point. Details of the transactions were not available.
July - December 2017 — Noble Village. Kennedy allegedly paid both Stacks and Nash more than $65,000.
June 19, 2018 — Indian Trail Distribution Center. Kennedy allegedly paid Stacks and Nash more than $5,000. Additional details were not available.
Dec. 5, 2018 — 3 acres known as The Preserve at Killian Hill. Details of the transactions were not available.
Dec. 15, 2018 — Kennedy allegedly paid Stacks and Nash $45,0000, but the details of the project were not available.