Witness: DeKalb CEO Ellis targeted companies that wouldn’t contribute

3:54 p.m. — Judge Courtney Johnson sent jurors home early Wednesday in the trial of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Testimony from a key witness, DeKalb Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, is scheduled to resume Thursday at 9 a.m.

3:22 p.m. — Attorneys for DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis might not have their shot at questioning a key witness in his trial until Thursday.

DeKalb County Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton was testifying for a second day Wednesday against Ellis, who is fighting corruption charges.

In a recording played for the jury, Ellis told Walton to place a note in the file of a contractor, Power and Energy Services, so the company wouldn’t receive future work after it refused to give Ellis a campaign contribution.

Walton said he ignored Ellis because the power generator company had met the terms of its contract with the county.

But Walton also testified that he followed through on Ellis’ wishes to stop giving Power and Energy Services work under its contract with the county worth up to $250,000.

Ellis is accused of working against companies that wouldn’t contribute to his 2012 re-election campaign.

2:06 p.m. — DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis said in a covertly recording phone conversation played in court Wednesday that county contractors needed to return his campaign calls.

“I had called them because I was doing campaign fundraising, but they don’t know why I was calling them,” Ellis said on a September 2012 recording made by DeKalb Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton. “What if it was an emergency?”

Ellis said he didn’t want companies to think he was “personally angry” with them for not donating.

“If they can’t be responsive when we’re calling them … I have a real problem with whether this is a company we ought to be using.”

12:24 p.m. — The government employee who wore a wire for prosecutors, DeKalb County Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, said CEO Burrell Ellis asked him to call a contractor after it refused to contribute to his 2012 re-election campaign.

“It was like I was strong-arming them, basically,” Walton testified. “He told me to make sure I let them know who I was and that I was calling on his behalf. … I was his yes man.”

11:42 a.m. — The trial of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis came to an abrupt halt when the prosecution’s key witness compared his behavior to a “murderer.”

Lawyers for Ellis then asked for a mistrial.

Judge Courtney Johnson denied the request, saying the witness, DeKalb Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, was talking about Ellis’ behavior rather than about Ellis himself.

Walton had said that Ellis’ practice of drying up business from companies that wouldn’t give campaign contributions was “just like a murderer.”

He didn’t finish his statement when the trial was temporarily stopped.

When jurors returned to the courtroom to hear more testimony, Johnson told them to disregard Walton’s comment, and she struck it from the record.

11:30 a.m. — DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis asked for lists of county contractors he could hit up for political donations, and he wanted to be sure those lists included phone numbers for top executives of those companies.

In a cover recording created by DeKalb Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, Ellis said he wanted the numbers of “the real people I need to deal with” when he requested campaign funds.

Those people were company presidents and vice presidents who would be best positioned to give him contributions up to the $2,500 maximum allowed under state law.

Ellis is fighting charges that he shook down contractors by threatening to pull their business with the county unless they gave to his campaign.

11:06 a.m. — Jurors heard the words of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis as he spoke on a secret recording about county contractors and campaign contributions.

Here’s a part of the transcript, recorded by DeKalb Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton during a meeting at Cafe Lily in Decatur:

Ellis: Lichty Commercial Construction, I don’t understand why they won’t give. … They have a policy. They get a lot of our business.

Walton: They do. I think they’re the low bid on something else that we just opened the other day.

Ellis: Well, they have to understand that you don’t give something to get something, but they have this policy that they don’t feel comfortable giving to political campaigns. I just don’t — I have a real problem with them getting the level of business they get. Nobody’s asking them to do anything in exchange, but they’re one of the biggest beneficiaries of our work …

Walton: Mm-hmm.

Ellis: … On these invitation to bid, and they won’t give to a political campaign.

Walton: They sure are.

Ellis: They just won’t give. And that’s going to be part of the conversation. I mean people who don’t, who won’t support good government, and are a beneficiary of this good government.

Walton: That’s right.

Ellis: I mean … I never can promise people that they can get work.

Walton: Right.

Ellis: That’s illegal.

Walton: Right.

Ellis: But because we have a fair procurement process and we don’t play those games … they are benefiting that.

Walton: That’s right.

Ellis: And they have a policy. Kelvin, we’ve got to come up with a better way … maybe we shouldn’t be doing invitations to be on some of this stuff.

10:45 a.m. — Jurors in the trial of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis prepared to hear more secret recordings after they waited outside of court for more than an hour while lawyers haggled.

The lawyers were asking a judge which portions of the recordings would be allowed to be played for the jury.

The recordings were created by DeKalb’s purchasing director, Kelvin Walton, who wore a wire for prosecutors to collect evidence against Ellis.

9:50 a.m. — Right from the start of his testimony against DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, county Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton admitted lying to a special grand jury but said he didn’t seek a bribe from a landscaper.

Walton’s statements are expected to come under heated questioning Wednesday from Ellis’ defense attorneys, who will cast doubt on his credibility and motives.

Walton testified that he lied under oath when he initially told a special grand jury he didn’t solicit work from a landscaper, Paul Champion, to cut down trees for Walton while Champion had a tree removal contract with the county. Walton said he didn’t pay Champion for the personal landscaping jobs.

Walton also accused Champion of seeking to bribe him in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Walton said Champion wanted his help getting paid by the county for a disputed tree-clearing job.

“He stated, ‘Walton, I need your help, they will not pay my invoices,’” Walton testified. “If I wanted a bribe from Mr. Champion, I would have taken that in my home or my friend’s home.”

But Champion has alleged that Walton was the one seeking a bribe in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Champion has a lawsuit pending against DeKalb County that claims he wasn’t paid more than $880,000 for clearing county land.

Walton was still being questioned by prosecutors Wednesday morning, but he’ll soon face a tough inquiry on cross-examination from Ellis’ lawyers.

After he was confronted about his lies, Walton agreed to wear a wire for prosecutors building their case against Ellis.

9:29 a.m. — A key witness for the prosecution of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is back on the witness stand Wednesday, telling a jury about secretly recording conversations in which Ellis discussed county contractors and political contributions.

Kelvin Walton, the county’s suspended purchasing director, wore a wire for prosecutors so he could gather dirt on Ellis and avoid criminal charges himself.

Walton began the day by resuming his testimony about an hourlong conversation with Ellis about whether vendors receiving high-value county contracts had contributed to Ellis’ 2012 re-election campaign.

After prosecutors finish their questioning of Walton, defense attorneys for Ellis will have their turn.

Walton has admitted lying to a special grand jury about receiving free services from a tree-cutting company that had a contract with the county at the time.

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