GBI won’t further investigate DeKalb corruption

The GBI revealed Wednesday that it will launch no further investigations into corruption allegations raised in an explosive report on DeKalb County, saying they don’t amount to crimes.

While some of the conduct detailed in the report by special investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde might be unethical, it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal activity, or the FBI has already looked into it, according to a Jan. 11 letter from GBI Director Vernon Keenan to Gov. Nathan Deal.

Even as the state declined to take action, a former DeKalb official was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to nine months imprisonment for taking $3,500 in bribes in exchange for his vote approving a nightclub permit.

Jerry Clark, an ex-member of the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals, became the fourth prominent county official to be convicted over the last 2 1/2 years, joining suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, former Commissioner Elaine Boyer and former Superintendent Crawford Lewis.

State investigators had been examining allegations of “appalling corruption” raised by Bowers and Hyde in their Sept. 30 report of misbehavior in DeKalb, including more than $500,000 in questionable spending and accusations that Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May — who initiated the investigation — hindered the inquiry.

“It is our view the report contained no new criminal allegations that warranted further investigation by the GBI,” Keenan wrote.

Though the GBI won’t intervene, the U.S. Attorney’s Office or DeKalb District Attorney Robert James could still bring charges, though both have refused to discuss the status of ongoing investigations.

May, who has previously called the corruption report “laughable,” said the county will continue to cooperate with investigative agencies as they complete their work.

“It is encouraging that we have a sense of closure in this area,” May said in a statement Wednesday. “The vast majority of DeKalb employees are honest, hard-working and dedicated, but if there is criminal wrongdoing by any DeKalb County employee, that employee should be held accountable for his or her actions.”

Bowers and Hyde, who were hired last March to root out corruption, listed many allegations of wrongdoing in DeKalb in their 40-page report and called for May to resign.

The report said May hindered the investigation, borrowed money from a subordinate and failed to provide leadership. May rejected those assertions.

It also criticized county officials’ spending on everything from consultants and charities to boiled peanuts and cigars.

In addition, the investigators accused unidentified county employees of accepting bribes and driving drunk.

Bowers said he wasn’t surprised by Keenan’s decision not to pursue further investigations.

“While I might disagree, I respect his judgment,” Bowers said Wednesday. “That’s his call. I might have called it otherwise, but that’s his call.”

Bowers said DeKalb needs a strong prosecutor to rid the county of waste, fraud and abuse.

James, the county’s district attorney, said he too analyzed the corruption report.

“We did the same review as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and came to the same conclusion: There are no new actionable criminal allegations in the report,” James said in a statement.

Meanwhile in court Wednesday, federal prosecutors detailed how Clark, the former zoning board member, took bribes from pool hall owner Ismail Sirdah. Both Clark and Sirdah pleaded guilty last year.

Sirdah paid off Clark to obtain a favorable vote on his appeal of the county’s decision to deny a permit to operate Lulu Billiards in Tucker as a nightclub with a dance floor. The zoning board voted 4-2 in November 2012 to approve the permit.

“This is another unfortunate incident of corruption in DeKalb County,” said U.S Attorney John Horn in a statement. “The citizens of DeKalb County expect public officials to act with honestly and integrity. Public officials who may be tempted by money and graft remember: We remain committed to investigating and prosecuting acts of corruption regardless of who commits them or where they are.”

Clark, 43, apologized to DeKalb taxpayers and to the children he’s mentored over the years.

“I made a mistake, and I’m going to learn from it and come out a better person,” Clark said in an interview.

U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May, who isn’t related to Lee May, sentenced Clark to serve nine months in prison and pay a $3,500 fine. She then sentenced Sirdah to six months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. May said she was impressed by Sirdah’s family support and community service.

Sirdah, 53, told the judge he was sorry for his actions, and his attorney said he was put in a difficult situation when he was solicited for a bribe.

“I made a bad decision,” Sirdah said in court. “It’s an embarrassment to me and my family. … I really apologize.”

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