Gwinnett developer Mark Gary gets bribe sentence cut for cooperation

Gwinnett County corruption:
April 2009: Developer Mark Gary’s waste transfer station is approved by Gwinnett commissioners.
May 2009: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gwinnett commissioners rejected plans for waste transfer stations that were recommended by staff, and instead approved proposals by politically connected developers — one of which was Gary.
June 2009: Gary pays Commissioner Shirley Lassiter’s son, John Fanning, $30,000 in casino chips.
August-September 2009: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on five land deals in which Gwinnett County paid inflated prices totaling more than $38 million to politically connected developers for park land. The AJC would eventually identify six suspicious land deals involving the county government.

September 2009: Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter requests a special grand jury to investigate the park land purchases, based on the AJC reports.

October 2009: Senior Judge James “Jim” Oxendine is relieved of his duties after Superior Court judges learn from the newspaper that he negotiated a $1.16 million land deal between the county and a developer, which was in conflict with a rule that prohibits senior judges from practicing law on the side.

October 2010: Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charles Bannister resigns from office to avoid a perjury indictment from the special grand jury. Commissioner Kevin Kenerly is indicted on a bribery charge for allegedly accepting $1 million to secure commission approval of a land purchase for the benefit of developer David Jenkins. Kenerly denies the charge.

November 2010: Kenerly suspends himself from the commission for the rest of his term, which expired Jan. 1, 2011.

May 2012: Lasseter resigns and pleads guilty to taking a $36,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for her support of a proposed development in her district on Boggs Road. Lasseter’s son, and Fanning, a member of Gwinnett’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and Hall County businessman Carl “Skip” Cain also plead guilty to the bribery scheme and to federal drug charges.

September 2012: Lasseter is sentenced to 33 months in prison.

October 2012: Gary pleads guilty to bribery for giving Lasseter and her son $30,000 in casino chips in exchange for her 2009 vote for a solid waste transfer station.

December 2012: A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge denies Kenerly’s request to have the charges against him dismissed.

August 2013: Gary is sentenced to two years in federal prison, prosecutors indicate at least one new indictment might result from his cooperation with the federal corruption probe.

In-depth coverage

A 2009 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed mismanagment 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.

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.”

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