After apologizing to DeKalb County taxpayers for fleecing them through fraud schemes, ex-commissioner Elaine Boyer hit them up for more money.
Boyer has applied for her county retirement payments, and DeKalb’s pension board will grant her full benefits. That means the crooked former politician, who is 58, will collect tens of thousands of dollars a year for the rest of her life. The county could even be paying her while she’s in prison.
Under Georgia law, public officials and employees convicted of crimes related to their duties should have their benefits reduced by three times the economic impact of their misdeeds, which would have Boyer giving up nearly $300,000. But DeKalb’s attorneys determined she falls in a legal loophole.
So Boyer will get about $23,000 per year, starting with a check early next month for more than $3,800 to cover October and November.
“That is absurd,” said state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, who said he’ll look at closing the loophole in next year’s legislative session. “It is entirely appropriate for Elaine Boyer’s pension to be docked as restitution to DeKalb County taxpayers … Losing the pension entirely seems like an appropriate penalty.”
She still may have to give up some portion of her pension payments. Federal prosecutors could seek to garnish them as part of a court-ordered restitution plan. Her sentencing is scheduled Dec. 3, and she faces about one to two years in prison.
Boyer’s attorney, Jeff Brickman, said if she does get prison time, restitution would likely begin afterward while she’s on supervised release. “She’s continued to accept responsibility for what she did, and is cooperating with the investigation,” he said.
Boyer applied for her pension Sept. 24, documents obtained by Channel 2 Action News show. That was about a month after she resigned and confessed to both a kickback scheme that netted more than $78,000 and abuse of her county-issued Visa card, which she used to run up more than $15,000 in personal purchases.
After the pension board got her paperwork, it asked its own legal counsel and the DeKalb County Law Department for advice. The conclusion was that state law regarding pension forfeiture did not apply to eliminate or reduce Boyer’s pension, county spokesman Burke Brennan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an email.
The law calls for forfeiture for specified state felony convictions for any employee and for federal convictions for those who joined a public retirement system after July 1, 2008. Boyer, who pleaded guilty to federal felonies, joined long before that date.
Brennan also noted that both the county and employees contribute to the pension fund.
Edmund Wall, chairman of the DeKalb Employees Retirement Fund, has not returned calls from the AJC for weeks. Another board member contacted Wednesday would not discuss the matter.
“I’m not telling you anything,” retiree representative Robert L. Roberston said, soon before hanging up on a reporter.
Attorney Allen Buckley, an expert on pension benefits, said there’s little board members can do if the law is clear cut. If they withhold payments, and Boyer successfully sues, the county could be on the hook for attorney’s fees, he said.
Taxpayers are losing big on the deal, said Viola Davis, a south DeKalb resident who leads the DeKalb Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter group. Even if Boyer pays restitution, it would likely cover only the purchasing card and kickback schemes uncovered by the FBI, not what might turn up in an exhaustive audit of the past decade of Boyer’s spending.
Also vexing, Davis said, is that taxpayers might be making pension payments to former employees implicated, but not charged, in the investigation that led to suspended CEO Burrell Ellis’ prosecution. A jury is deliberating whether he illegally strong-armed vendors into giving him campaign donations. Former purchasing chief Kelvin Walton, the star witness against Ellis and an admitted liar, is reportedly under federal investigation on allegations of receiving cash payments from a sewer contractor.
“Believe me, I’ve run into people who are just totally disgusted with the whole way this process is working out,” Davis said. “I mean, we’re going to be paying them, despite all the wrong they’ve done.”
Boyer, who was the commission’s only Republican and its longest serving member, postured herself for decades as its watchdog over public spending.
Yet for years she used her county purchasing card to pay for family airline tickets, rental cars, personal cell phone expenses and a ski resort booking, an investigation by the AJC earlier this year found.
She made the purchases while she and her husband, John Boyer, were going through dire financial problems, having lost their Stone Mountain strip mall to foreclosure and eventually losing their Smoke Rise home as well. In all, the AJC found she ran up about $16,800 in personal expenses on the card, which she and her husband have since paid back.
The FBI began investigating and discovered a kickback scheme. The AJC’s continuing investigation identified the ruse as well, with Boyer using phony invoices to funnel more than $83,000 to evangelist Rooks Boynton, who posed as her legislative affairs consultant.
He deposited close to $60,000 into the commissioner’s personal bank account and kept the rest for himself, according to court documents. Boynton has not been charged.