Testimony: DeKalb official feared for his job

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Kelvin Walton testifies in Burrell Ellis trial

4:58 p.m. — The jury hearing the corruption trial for suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis was sent home for the day.

The county’s top purchasing official was told to be back at 9 a.m. Wednesday to continue testifying.

4:44 p.m. — DeKalb's chief purchasing officer said he was afraid he could lose his job if he didn't help suspended CEO Burrell Ellis raise money to pay off his 2012 re-election campaign debt.

“He started naming all my colleagues’ names who hadn’t given to the campaign,” Kelvin Walton testified after the jury heard a secretly recorded conversation he had with Ellis. “That fear, that’s why I was like going down the list to make sure he saw my folks’ names.”

Walton also testified that Ellis would ask him to make sure vendors’ invoices were paid after noting that they had given him a campaign contribution.

3:52 p.m. — Suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis went down a list of top appointed county official, noting who had contributed to his 2012 re-election campaign and who had not, according to a secretly recorded conversation with the DeKalb's purchasing director.

“They’re all six-figure people,” Ellis told Kelvin Walton, director of DeKalb’s Department of Purchasing and Contracts. “Some of these people make more money than I do.”

When Ellis asked Walton whether he had given to help retire the CEO’s campaign debt, Walton said he had given under the name of a relative. Ellis checked for the names of Walton’s sister and cousin until he found a $250 donation attached to Walton’s nephew.

3:27 p.m. — DeKalb purchasing director said he used his staff to put together special lists of vendors rather than turn to the county's IT department because he wanted to keep the project "close to the vest."

“I didn’t want the IT department asking me questions,” Kelvin Walton testified.

“So I decided to keep it in house and have my staff do it for me,” he said about the detailed vendor lists he gave suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis to use in raising campaign funds in 2012.

2:57 p.m. — DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was "very excited" when the county's purchasing director, Kelvin Walton, gathered names and phone numbers of county vendors Ellis could call for campaign contributions, Walton testified Tuesday.

“As a matter of fact, he said, ‘Kelvin, this is great, this is exactly what I need, keep those lists coming. This is going to help save my job, this is going to help save your job, so keep those vendor lists coming,’” Walton said.

2:23 p.m. — The head of DeKalb County's purchasing and contracts department said he became a "yes man" for suspended CEO Burrell Ellis so he could protect his job until he was eligible to retire.

"I knew if I wasn't on his team then you would be in a category that you weren't a team player and maybe it was time for Kelvin to leave," said Kelvin Walton, who is on paid administrative leave as director of the Department of Purchasing and Contracts.

Walton, who wore a wire for investigators, said he sometimes did things for Ellis that he knew were wrong.

“I didn’t want any problem with him,” Walton said. “I didn’t want any trouble with the county that would jeopardize my 10 years. I’d work too hard, long hours, ripping and running weekends and night. I wasn’t just going to jeopardize my career.”

1:58 p.m.Kelvin Walton, the star witness against DeKalb County's suspended CEO, offered an emotional apology to the citizens and his family for the shame he has brought.

Testifying Tuesday afternoon, Walton’s voice cracked several times as he admitted he had lied to a special purpose grand jury but he said jurors could believe him now because he had nothing else to lose.

Walton began wearing a wire for investigators in August 2012. He said Tuesday he understood he could still face prosecution.

“I’ve done a lot of things wrong and I take full responsibility for it,” said Walton, who is on paid administrative as the county’s top purchasing officer.

“My reputation has been tarnished so I have nothing to lose,” he testified. “I’ve done a lot of bad things and I’ve let a lot of people down. If you hear my testimony today, you’ll know I didn’t do this by myself.”

Who else was involved, asked assistant district attorney Lawanda Hodges.

“CEO Ellis,” Walton answered.

1:36 p.m. — The long-awaited star witness in the public corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis has begun his testimony that is expected to include several secretly recorded conversations.

Kelvin Walton was, himself, facing criminal charges when he agreed to work with prosecutors by wearing a wire in conversations with Ellis and to record conversations relating to the troubled CEO’s alleged attempts to strong-arm vendors for campaign contributions.

Walton has admitted that he lied to a special purpose grand jury that was investigating alleged corruption in the county’s Department of Watershed Management.

He said prosecutors later confronted him and gave him a choice: work with them or get indicted.

Walton also testified he worked with the DA’s office and made another appearance before the grand jury to clear things up.

“I knew I lied and I wanted to come clear,” Walton testified.

“They told me I could be a witness or I could be indicted,” Walton said of a meeting with lawyers with the District Attorney’s Office.

11:57 p.m. — Jurors heard a recording of a conversation between DeKalb County's purchasing officer and a vendor who wanted to pull out of a $5 million award because he feared suspended CEO Burrell Ellis might have tried to influence the contract in hopes of getting a campaign contribution.

Terry Merrell, co-owner of Merrell Bros. Inc. of Indiana, told Kelvin Walton he did not want any county work unless he won it fairly.

“We want people to win contracts fair and square,” Walton told Merrell, whose business had been picked to spread waste-water sludge over fields.

Merrell said: “I can’t have a contract that was influenced in any shape, way or form by anybody. I don’t even know if it’s legal, and it does seem like it should be.”

11:22 a.m. — Defense attorney Craig Gillen tried to show that a vendor was more concerned with environmental problems when he asked to withdraw from a contract than he was with a call from suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis' to ask for a campaign contribution.

Gillen’s questioning also focused on problem Merrell Bros. Inc. was having with a local small business wanting to up his costs for being a part of the contract the Indiana company was trying to get to dispose of waste-water sludge.

Terry Merrell, co-owner of the family-owned business, testified that he also asked to withdraw from the awarding of the $5 million contract when he learned the land where DeKalb County wanted the business to spread sludge already had high levels of nitrate.

“This is a big deal,” Merrell said, adding that he will not deposit sludge on any property if it would make water that flows near that land or the crops grown on it is unsafe.

Merrell also had a problem with the first local business he included in his bid to do work for the county. DeKalb County requires a local small business be part of the contract awarded to an out-of-state vendor, and receive at least 20 percent of the award. Merrell had first reached an agreement with Calvin Green of Express Employment to provide staffing for spreading waste-water sludge over fields. Merrell said he discovered — after the county had approved the Merrell Bros. partnership with Express Employment — that insurance for employees was inadequate. Green also increased his price.

“I felt like Mr. Green had been through this before and knew he had me,” Merrell testified.

“He would get 39 percent (of the contract) for doing nothing,” Merrell testified, “We were going to bring employees to him.”

And their salaries would simply pass through Express Employment, Merrell said.

10:35 a.m. — A businessman who was the preliminary winner of a $5 million county contract tried to pull out after suspended DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis asked him for $25,000 and offered to help smooth out problems with the pending deal, Terry Merrell testified Tuesday.

Merrell, co-owner of family-owned Merrell Bros. Inc. in Kokomo, Ind., testified the agreement to take waste-water and spread it over crops was problematic because the original local business he partnered with was in trouble. He was in the process of securing approval for a replacement “local small business,” which was required for the county project, when Ellis called him.

Merrell said after Ellis asked for a contribution he offered to make a call to smooth out the situation with his county contract.

“What he said next just sent shivers through my spine,” Merrell testified. “He said ‘do you want me to make a phone call’ and I said, ‘no, I don’t want you to make a phone call.’ I didn’t want any part of that.”

Merrell testified that Ellis still responded “I have a feeling that will get worked out,” referring to Merrell’s request to be allowed to change his local business affiliation.

After the phone call with the CEO, Merrell said he immediately emailed his contact in the county, asking how he could withdraw from the award process.

“I knew we couldn’t have anything to do with that,” Merrell testified. “God had blessed our company for over 30 years and continued to bless us. Not only do I have to adhere to man’s laws… I have to adhere to God’s.”

Ellis is charged with trying to strong-arm vendors to give to his 2012 re-election campaign by threatening to cost them county business if they declined.