EXCLUSIVE: Feds subpoena more records linked to ex-DeKalb commissioner

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher got hold of a new grand jury subpoena that reveals several contractors and one ex-politician are the subjects of federal interest.

DeKalb County’s government received a sweeping subpoena from federal authorities on Monday that appears to be related to an ongoing investigation of former Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.

The records requested by a federal grand jury include any budget amendments or requests in 2016 that affect District 4, Sutton’s old seat. That was her final year in office as she lost her re-election bid in November of that year.

The grand jury also asked the county to supply documentation for payments and correspondence with Bell & Washington law firm. Sutton was once represented by Quinton Washington, a partner at the firm.

The subpoena marks the latest turn in an ongoing ethics saga that has dogged DeKalb government officials for years as they’ve struggled to move the county beyond scandal.

DeKalb received a March 13 deadline to meet the six-prong request from the U.S. Department of Justice that also includes documents related to three county vendors and all DeKalb commission meeting notes and agendas from 2014.

Jeff Rader, the commission’s presiding officer, said the county will cooperate fully.

“We want to be of every help that we can to the federal authorities,” he said.

Sutton, who was first elected in November 2008 and served for eight years, was under a cloud of controversy in her final years in office.

She was accused of using county resources for personal expenses and later sued the county’s Ethics Board while she was under investigation. A spokesman for the FBI’s Atlanta office said he was not able to comment on the subpoena or any pending investigation.

It is unclear exactly what federal authorities are investigating, but several of the documents requested are linked to county contracts in purchasing or county spending in Sutton’s former district.

A woman who answered Sutton’s cell phone on Monday night said she was not available for comment. Her attorney also did not return a call seeking comment.

Then-DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton walks toward the County Courthouse for a hearing on her challenge of the makeup of the Dekalb Board of Ethics in 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Earlier this month, Channel 2 Action News reported that Sutton had received subpoenas related to campaign and banking records. In 2017, DeKalb County received subpoenas related to two companies that Sutton had authorized payments to the year before, CAL Enterprises LLC and For Winners Only Inc.

This week’s subpoenas name three other vendors, although it appears that these companies landed contracts through the county’s purchasing office and not with Sutton directly. All of these companies either are doing work on projects with the county’s Department of Watershed Management or have in the past.

Tetra Tech currently has a $17.5 million contract for construction management services on the expansion of the Snapfinger Wastewater Treatment Facility. Separately, it is authorized for another $3 million for performing other construction management duties on Watershed Management projects.

A second company, Environmental Consortium, is led by president Reginald Veasley. On its website, the company states it had $15 million worth of projects in DeKalb from 1995 through 2012.

The third company, Metals and Materials Engineers, has been doing business with DeKalb for at least 10 years. Currently, it has a contract worth $6.7 million for sewer assessments and another worth $3.4 million for manhole maintenance. It’s president, Barry Bennett, is also named in the subpoena.

A woman who answered the phone at Metals and Materials hung up on an AJC reporter when contacted Tuesday afternoon. Veasley did not return calls, text messages and an email seeking comment. Neither did a spokeswoman for Tetra Tech.

The subpoena on Monday requests all records related to Veasley and Bennett’s companies or any other entities controlled by the men from 2008 to present. The county was asked to turn over all documentation from 2014 regarding Tetra Tech.

The request for records related to the Bell and Washington law firm does not have any time constraints. Sutton's ex-boyfriend, Warren Mosby, told CrossRoadsNews in 2014 that a second partner at the firm, Ashley Bell, was representing him after the couple was involved in a domestic dispute.

Bell told the AJC on Tuesday that he never represented Mosby, although he refused to answer follow up questions about why Mosby would have publicly named him as his attorney. Bell and Washington also declined to discuss their firm’s relationship with Sutton or DeKalb County.

Bell has worked in a series of federal government roles since the election of President Donald Trump and appears to be on hiatus from the law firm, according to the firm's website.

When Sutton accused Mosby, who also served as her campaign manager, of domestic assault, the incident confirmed rumors that they had a personal relationship. After she was elected in 2008, Barnes paid Mosby $34,000 in taxpayer dollars for consulting services she said consisted of advice on how to run her office.

Sutton and a former aide also failed to document more than half of the $75,000 in purchases charged to a county credit card, a 2014 AJC and Channel 2 Action News investigation discovered.

Sutton also faced a slew of ethics complaints at a time when DeKalb officials were increasingly in the spotlight because of accusations of bribery, fraud and mismanagement. A federal investigation of DeKalb commissioners' discretionary spending resulted in former Commissioner Elaine Boyer pleading guilty to fraud charges and serving prison time in 2014.

The next year, then CEO Burrell Ellis was convicted in state court of attempted extortion and perjury and served time in prison. His conviction was later overturned because the Georgia Supreme Court said he did not receive a fair trial.

A special DeKalb grand jury in 2013 said that there was a culture of corruption in county government that led to bid-rigging, cronyism and inflated payments. That investigation initially focused on spending under the county's $1.4 billion plan in 2010 to upgrade its aging water and sewer systems, projects mostly contained within the Department of Watershed Management.

The grand jury ultimately recommended criminal investigations of several current and former DeKalb employees and vendors, citing a range of issues.