Company lost DeKalb work after rebuffing CEO Ellis

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis talks to attorney Craig Gillen in the DeKalb County courtroom where jurors are deciding his fate. Ellis is fighting charges that he intimidated companies doing business with DeKalb into giving him campaign contributions. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
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Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis talks to attorney Craig Gillen in the DeKalb County courtroom where jurors are deciding his fate. Ellis is fighting charges that he intimidated companies doing business with DeKalb into giving him campaign contributions. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM


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A company that refused to donate to DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ political campaign subsequently lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of county work, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The company, Power and Energy Services, was one of four contractors that Ellis allegedly threatened over contributing to his campaign, an accusation at the core of Ellis’ ongoing corruption trial.

A DeKalb County jury completed a third day of deliberations Wednesday without reaching a verdict in the case. Ellis has denied charges that he tried to strong-arm companies into funding his 2012 re-election campaign.

In three weeks of testimony, jurors heard graphic descriptions about how Ellis badgered business owners for campaign contributions, including the owners of Power and Energy Services. But the jury didn’t hear testimony about how much actual business the company lost after it refused to contribute to Ellis.

A spokesman for District Attorney Robert James declined comment, citing a gag order in the case. James said in his closing argument on Monday that the crime Ellis allegedly committed was threatening county contractors, regardless of any action he took afterward.

Power and Energy Services was paid $42,926 under a $250,000 generator maintenance contract before it stopped getting work in November 2012, soon after a contentious phone call with Ellis about political contributions, county records show.

A competing company, Prime Power, received all further work from the county and was paid $517,633 from June 2012 to May 2014, according to payment records reviewed by the AJC under Georgia’s Open Records Act. Prime Power contributed $1,500 to Ellis.

Ellis testified last week that he didn’t cancel contracts because the companies didn’t give. Ellis said he wouldn’t tolerate vendors that failed to return his phone calls, and he said the co-owner of Power and Energy Services was “deceitful” when he wouldn’t tell Ellis his position with the company during a Sept. 27, 2012, phone call.

But Brandon Cummings, the company’s president, told jurors he felt threatened by Ellis unless he made a political contribution.

“I’ve never had a call like that before,” Cummings said. “If I give him money, all of this will go away and it will be better now, that’s what I was thinking.”

In a recorded conversation, Ellis said he was put off by a receptionist for Power and Energy Services who had told him she wasn’t interested in his “services.” She was referring to his political solicitations, but Ellis said he took it to mean the company didn’t want to do business with DeKalb anymore.

“I said, ‘If they’re not interested in our services, then we’re not interested in theirs, and just go ahead and cut the contract,’” Ellis said.

During his conversation with Cummings, Ellis told him he should have an interest in supporting good government, which is what Ellis represented. Cummings told Ellis he wasn’t making charitable contributions because he had had a tough year financially.

“I’m not asking you to make a charitable contribution. I’m asking you to make a campaign contribution,” Ellis said on the call.

Ellis had sought a $2,500 contribution from Power and Energy Services as he raised $1.5 million for his campaign.

Danice Cummings, a co-owner of Power and Energy Services, testified during the trial that it would be a conflict of interest to contribute to Ellis.

“We are a vendor, and it just does not look right for us to be contributing to a campaign,” she said. “He was soliciting a contribution from us. It had nothing to do with servicing the county generators.”

At the outset, Power and Energy Services and Prime Power had received a split contract, worth up to $250,000 for each company and lasting from April 10, 2012, to Aug. 31, 2013.

Either company could be called to handle service calls for the county, and both initially shared the workload.

That changed around the time that Ellis felt disrespected by Power and Energy Services and Cummings refused to make a political donation. From then on, all of the county’s work went to Prime Power.

Prime Power later was approved to receive up to $543,014 in county work, said DeKalb spokesman Burke Brennan, more than double what it was to have received under the initial, $250,000 split contract.

DeKalb County records also show that another company Ellis is accused of pressuring, National Property Institute, received all of its county work after contributing to his campaign.

National Property Institute gave $2,500 on Oct. 23, 2012, and then it was paid $340,735 from January 2013 to June 2014 under a county contract to rehab foreclosed homes. The contract had a maximum value of $1 million.

Jurors in Ellis trial will resume deliberations Thursday. Ellis has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, extortion, theft and perjury.