Ex-DeKalb Commissioner Boyer strikes plea deal

The crime, the time

Prison sentences doled out to Georgia elected officials accused of corruption schemes:

Shirley Lasseter: Gwinnett County commissioner who in 2012 admitted taking a $36,500 bribe from an uncover FBI agent seeking her vote on a real estate development. Sentence: 33 months

Kevin Kenerly: Gwinnett County commissioner accused of accepting $1 million in bribes. Pleaded no contest in August, with a plea deal that gave him 10 years probation and a $10,000 fine. Sentence: None

Linda Schrenko: State schools superintendent who stole $600,000 in federal funds for educational services for deaf children and from governor's honors program, using the money to run for governor and for plastic surgery. She pleaded guilty in 2006 to fraud and money laundering. Sentence: 8 years

Charles Walker: A former state Senate Majority Leader from Augusta convicted in 2005 of defrauding businesses, a charity and taxpayers in part to pay off gambling debts. A jury found him guilty on 127 of 137 counts including mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. Sentence: 10 years

Robin Williams: A former state representative from Augusta convicted in 2005 of bilking more than $2 million from a mental health center. Sentence: 10 years

For years, former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer carried out schemes that bilked taxpayers out of more than $90,000. For those crimes, a federal judge told her Wednesday, she could face up to 40 years in prison.

But Boyer will likely do far less time under an agreement she struck before formally pleading guilty yesterday afternoon.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines for the crimes she committed.

What that recommendation might be remains unclear. The plea agreement has been put in writing and signed by Boyer, but not made public by Wednesday evening and prosecutors would not comment.

Before her Dec. 3 sentencing, Boyer will be evaluated on a point system that will take into account her lack of a prior criminal record, the amount of public money she swindled and her cooperation with the government, among other things.

Federal judges don’t have to abide by plea agreements, and Boyer could get no time at all, former federal prosecutor Zahra Karinshak said. That’s likely why she resigned, waived her indictment and agreed to plead guilty, she said.

“You’re the first one in the door, and you can throw yourself on the mercy of the court and say any number of things to try to get leniency,” said Karinshak, who now handles white-collar criminal defense cases for the firm Krevolin & Horst.

Boyer, who had represented north DeKalb as the commission’s only Republican, admitted engineering a two-year kickback scheme involving a phony consultant, and using a county Visa card for years as if it were her own personal debit card, paying for family airfare and a ski resort booking, among other things.

The federal charges say Boyer tapped taxpayers for more than $93,000. An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first exposed Boyer’s misuse of taxpayer funds in March, puts the figure at just over $100,000.

After Boyer officially entered a plea of guilty to mail fraud conspiracy and wire fraud, U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans asked her if she knew that what she was doing was wrong, and if she knew she was cheating DeKalb County taxpayers.

“Yes, your honor,” Boyer answered to questions in an unwavering voice, occasionally wiping her eyes under her glasses.

Wearing a striped skirt suit, she stood erect, her eyes fixed on the judge, as she ran through a litany of questions and instructions, most of them formalities. Boyer said she understood the process, that she wasn’t being promised anything beyond the plea agreement, that she was satisfied with her attorney and that she wasn’t on drugs or alcohol.

Boyer also said she understood that if the judge doesn’t accept any part of the plea agreement, she cannot withdraw her guilty plea.

After the hearing, Boyer wept openly as she embraced supporters, then exited through a side door without talking to reporters.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis said the government will also seek restitution from Boyer for about $90,000. Her attorney, Jeff Brickman, pointed out that she has already paid back the personal Visa card purchases. Both before and after the AJC began asking for Boyer’s purchase receipts, she repaid the county about $16,800.

Boyer could face other penalties.

With her guilt no longer in doubt, DeKalb County officials now are looking into whether her county pension benefits can be reduced or revoked.

Boyer resigned last week after about 22 years in office, a day before prosecutors filed charges against her.

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. But Edmund Wall, chairman of the DeKalb Employees Retirement Fund, said it isn’t clear if the law applies to the county’s employees, unless the county has incorporated that language into its own rules.

The board’s attorney is researching the issue, and the panel will discuss it in a private session on Sept. 18, Wall said.

“We’ve got to understand what the rules are, if there are any,” pension board member and former county commissioner Gale Walldorff said.

The DeKalb Board of Ethics also is deciding whether to continue investigating complaints against her.

Among those watching in the courtroom Wednesday were Tom Owens and Joe Newton, the two men who filed the complaints against both Boyer and her chief of staff after the AJC’s first article was published. They said an attorney for Boyer asked them after the hearing to drop their complaints, but they declined.

“She had carried out this scheme at least since 2009, and she said in the paper several times that she didn’t know it was wrong,” Newton said. “Now all of the sudden, she knows it’s wrong.”

Federal prosecutors so far have not brought charges against the “adviser” who they say was Boyer’s partner in the kickback scheme, submitting bills for work he didn’t do and then splitting the proceeds with her.

They have not identified the adviser, but the AJC found that from late 2009 to late 2011, Boyer paid evangelist Rooks Boynton monthly installments that totaled about $83,000, claiming he gave her advice and did research on transportation, legislative issues and Grady hospital. The newspaper found no evidence Boynton ever performed any work.

The federal charges say the purported adviser kicked about $58,000 to Boyer and kept about $20,000 for himself.

Last week U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the government has not yet decided what to do about Boyer’s partner in crime.

Boynton has not responded to messages from the AJC.