Feds collect records on DeKalb zoning board chairman

Published April 28, 2015

Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena to DeKalb County seeking records on Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Darryl Jennings Sr. and a pool hall at the center of a bribery scandal.

Jennings has not been charged with a crime, but two other people have pleaded guilty to their involvement in a vote-buying scheme on the zoning board, the latest instance of corruption in a county plagued in recent years by such allegations. Former board member Jerry Clark admitted receiving $3,500 after voting to approve a permit for Lulu’s Billiards, and club owner Ismail Sirdah confessed to paying the bribe.

The subpoena, obtained by Channel 2 Action News, requires DeKalb County to collect compensation records, requests for payments, electronic fund transfers, communications, employment files and other documents connected to Jennings. The subpoena also seeks all county records associated with Lulu’s Billiards.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday on whether it is investigating Jennings.

Calls to Jennings weren’t answered.

Just last month, former Commissioner Elaine Boyer was sentenced to serve 14 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to defrauding taxpayers of more than $100,000, and suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis faces a June 1 retrial on charges that he extorted campaign contributions from county contractors.

Most recently, reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found that a contractor wrote a $4,000 check to Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May after the county paid the company to do $6,500 in home repair work for him. May has said he didn’t know about the check or receive the money, and the endorsement on the check isn’t his signature.

“We will be working diligently to fulfill the requests made in the subpoena,” said DeKalb spokesman Burke Brennan. “We fully cooperate with and support all current investigations going on in DeKalb County.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson, who appointed Jennings to the zoning board, said he wants to gather more information before deciding whether to remove him.

“I’m very concerned,” Johnson said. “I have to look at all of the options because you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

Clark, Jennings and two other members of the Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-2 in November 2012 to overturn a decision by the DeKalb Planning Department that Lulu’s Billiards couldn’t continue operating as a nightclub with a dance floor. A special land-use permit was required for a dance floor, and Lulu’s was only approved as a late-night business.

Sirdah paid Clark $2,000 and donated $1,500 to a charity Clark was involved in, according to prosecutors.

They pleaded guilty under agreements that require cooperation with prosecutors as they continue investigating. Sirdah and Clark are scheduled for sentencing in June.

Commissioner Nancy Jester said in an interview that Jennings should be taken off the zoning board after being named in the subpoena.

“Clearly, we have broken government in DeKalb,” Jester said. “We can’t just keep depending on reform by scandal and reform by indictment. ... It calls into question any and everything the zoning board has done.”

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