A 2009 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed mismanagement and corruption in Gwinnett County government. Today, we look at the sentencing of a developer who was in the the middle of the county’s pay to play scheme. His sentencing is the latest in a series of scandals in Gwinnett County government, including Lassiter’s prison sentence, former commissioner Kevin Kenerly’s indictment on bribery charges, and former commission chairman Charles Bannister resigning under threat of a perjury indictment.
Gwinnett County developer Mark Gary on Tuesday received a reduced prison sentence for bribing a county commissioner in exchange for his cooperation in the on-going federal corruption probe — help that will lead to the indictment of at least one other person, according to a federal prosecutor.
Gary, 40, was sentenced to two years in federal prison, to be followed by three years of probation, for bribing former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter for her vote in favor of his proposed $4 million garbage transfer station.
Gary, who said the culture of corruption in Gwinnett forced him to choose between paying bribes or abandoning his plans, could have been sentenced to up to 57 months under federal guidelines.
His sentencing is the latest in a series of scandals in Gwinnett County government, including Lasseter’s prison sentence, former commissioner Kevin Kenerly’s indictment on bribery charges, and former commission chairman Charles Bannister resigning under threat of a perjury indictment.
Assistant United States Attorney Doug Gilfillan told the judge that he supported a reduced sentence because of Gary’s help in the probe, which included making “multiple undercover recordings that are of substantial assistance in the government’s ongoing investigation,” according to a sentencing brief filed with the U.S. District Court for North Georgia.
“I do expect there to be at least one other individual charged as a result of Mark Gary’s cooperation,” Gilfillan told Senior Judge Charles Pannell Jr. “Mark Gary did what law enforcement wants individuals accused of wrong-doing to do — he immediately confessed his involvement and agreed to work for the government.”
Gilfillan declined Tuesday to elaborate on when the indictment might happen.
Defense attorney Paul Kish argued that Gary’s cooperation was so extensive and beneficial that he should receive a 12-month sentence: six months at a half-way house and six months under house arrest.
Kish told the judge that Gary made secret recordings of two elected officials during which potential crimes were discussed; made a similar recording of a political operative in Gwinnett County; and provided the federal government with information that helped a health care fraud investigation.
“There should be some people quite nervous right now in the community,” Kish said to the judge. After the hearing, Kish told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that both he and Gary were “extremely disappointed” in the sentence. Gary will report to prison in about eight weeks, Kish said.
Gary, who lives in Duluth, worked to have Lasseter elected to the commission in the fall of 2008. In October, he sought to develop the waste transfer station, which would have served as a place to consolidate trash from various haulers for shipment to more distant landfills.
Lasseter took office in 2009 and, just days later, appointed Gary to the county’s planning commission.
Gary’s permit application was approved in April 2009. Two months later, Gary gave Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, $30,000 in chips from an out-of-state casino. Fanning was a member of Gwinnett’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
In his statement to the judge, Gary painted himself as a victim of a corrupt system, saying his development was “stopped, delayed and stonewalled at every turn.”
“I had two choices: I could join it or leave,” Gary told the judge. “I made the wrong choice.”
Gary added that he “hopes corruption can be wiped out in Gwinnett County so there can be fair and steady growth.”
The judge said he was glad that prosecutors supported the reduced sentence, but said he didn’t think Gary was a victim of the system.
“He went over to the dark side, explained to other people how this worked and solicited bribes,” Pannell said.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who hired a public corruption investigator this year, said he thinks corruption has diminished in Gwinnett County since Gary was trying to build his dump.
“I think things are better,” Porter said. “We have public officials who are, for the most part, honest. There’s not the blatant activity that he portrays.”