Former Gwinnett commissioner: ‘Corruption is everywhere’

Shirley Lasseter, the disgraced Gwinnett County commissioner who left federal prison this spring, said in an exclusive interview with Channel 2 Action News on Tuesday that she thinks “corruption is everywhere” — but that Gwinnett is cleaner than most.

“I just don’t see it as a culture of corruption. This is something that has gone on for years and years, unfortunately, in DeKalb, in Fulton, in Gwinnett,” she said. “I think the corruption is not that bad in Gwinnett, as you look over in the other counties, I really don’t.”

Lasseter, 67, served 33 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe for taking $36,500 from an undercover FBI agent. The agent posed as a businessman seeking her vote on a real estate project. She was sentenced in 2012.

Despite her stance that Gwinnett is less corrupt than most places, Lasseter went on to say corruption is evident in the county. A number of county workers live in mansions or expensive subdivisions, she said, and “they’re not making that here at the county.” Still, she also said corruption is more prevalent among developers, though she admitted that she has no idea how widespread corruption in the county might be.

Lasseter’s comments came after she took the witness stand in another corruption case. Former Gwinnett sheriff’s major Nick Neal is on trial for 14 charges, including identity fraud and theft by taking. The GBI discovered that Neal was a partner in a company that sold more than $11,000 worth of brake supplies to the county, Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said.

It is illegal for a county employee to sell more than $800 worth of personal property to the county in a calendar year, Porter said.“He’s starting at the low-hanging fruit,” Lasseter said of Porter. “He’s not starting where the corruption is. The corruption is everywhere.”

Lasseter cooperated with investigators in 2012. She taped telephone calls, wore a wire and allowed the FBI to use her home as a base of operations. That year, she said she didn’t think the FBI “would stop with the smallest fish in the pond,” but no other arrests have been made. Lasseter said she knows the FBI continues to work on some cases.

She said she pleaded guilty in order to minimize her time in prison. If she hadn’t, she said, she would have faced 10 years or more.

As for taking money from the undercover agent, she said after being flown to Miami and New York and being entertained on a yacht, she would have felt “guilty” if she didn’t take the bribes that were being offered.

Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, also pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme and to drug charges. He is still in prison, as is former zoning board member Carl “Skip” Cain.

Lasseter was released from prison May 4, and is living in Suwanee on probation.

Returning to normal life “has been an adjustment,” she said.

“Everything changes. My grandkids got grown on me. Facebook isn’t the same. Gmail isn’t the same,” she said. “I’m having to re-learn and do it again. But I’m getting there, and it’ll be fine.”

Lasseter said at some point, she would like to be an advocate for prison reform.

“I just think we need it in the state,” she said.

In addition to Lasseter, two other county commissioners were investigated for wrongdoing. Former Commission Chairman Charles Bannister resigned in lieu of being indicted, and former County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly pleaded no contest last August and was sentenced to 10 years on probation.