DeKalb County cut big checks to an evangelist, month after month for two years, on faith that he did important work for Commissioner Elaine Boyer.
The commissioner turned in invoices saying that Rooks Boynton, the head of a nonprofit ministry, gave her policy advice and did research. No one within the county government probed any further as she tapped taxpayers for installments of $1,500 to $5,000 at a time.
What did Boynton do to earn that money, which topped $83,000?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spent months investigating. There are no reports, research materials or memos from Boynton. No county emails documenting a working relationship. No policymakers who recall working with him. The commissioner herself wouldn’t talk.
On Tuesday, Boyer finally gave an answer that rocked the Northside district she has represented for more than two decades: She admitted it was all a kickback scheme.
Boyer faced a federal magistrate and waived indictment, saying she would plead guilty to mail fraud conspiracy and wire fraud. She was fingerprinted and photographed, then released on her own recognizance to await formal arraignment later.
With what federal prosecutors called false invoices, Boyer gave checks to a man who, for part of the time, claimed residence in a three-story, beach-front home on St. Simons Island. Nearly $60,000 of the DeKalb taxpayers’ funds landed in Boyer’s personal bank account.
She pulled it off while she and her husband were having dire financial problems, having lost their Stone Mountain strip mall to foreclosure and facing loss of their home as well. Boyer spent the money on herself and her family, including purchases at hotels and high-end department stores, prosecutors charged.
“I’ve made a huge, tremendous error in judgment,” Boyer told Channel 2 Action News. “Any lies and intentional deception … I deeply regret it.”
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said she will ask a judge to sentence Boyer to serve time in prison for “using the funds of the county like her own personal piggy bank.”
The mail fraud charge involves tens of thousands of dollars in bogus checks Boyer issued to an adviser who did no work. Federal prosecutors said that from 2009 to 2011, Boyer authorized more than $78,000 – about $5,000 less than the sum the AJC found – in payments to that adviser, whom they did not name and have not charged although prosecutors say he kept about a fourth of the proceeds.
Boynton was the only adviser who received such payments from Boyer, the AJC had found in examining several years of her payment records. The newspaper was pressing Boyer to explain the payments to him before she resigned on Monday.
The wire fraud charge involves thousands of dollars in personal purchases Boyer made with her county Visa card — a scheme that the AJC exposed in March, triggering the federal investigation.
Among other things, the AJC found Boyer had tapped county funds to pay for airline tickets, a ski resort booking, rental cars and personal cell phone bills.
In recent months, the AJC has been scrutinizing checks written to suppliers, consultants and part-time office workers by DeKalb County commissioners.
Officials can deal in large sums this way, offering only sparse descriptions of services provided, with no requirement that they provide proof of work product. The newspaper pored over payments dating back to 2008 and identified several relationships between commissioners and vendors that don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Two of them involved Boyer.
In the six and a half years of spending the AJC examined, Boynton was paid more than any other vendor, save for a printer, picking up three dozen checks that totaled $83,250.
No one in the county questioned the payments once Boyer approved them. DeKalb commissioners run their offices autonomously, commanding annual budgets ranging from about $263,000 to $282,000, answering to no one but themselves.
Still, those orchestrating the scheme seemingly took steps to hide it.
Boynton’s invoices said he researched such issues as transportation, Grady hospital and MARTA’S legislative oversight committee, MARTOC. His invoice letterhead boasted “timely reports from our state’s Capitol.” When Boyer’s office entered a check request into the county’s computer system during the 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly, someone typed, “Lobbying & Legislative Analysis.”
From the start, as the AJC examined the spending, it was unclear what qualified Boynton to be a top-paid expert on matters of vital importance to DeKalb.
Boynton is a 72-year-old religious activist who ran unsuccessfully for DeKalb CEO some 30 years ago. He has never been a registered lobbyist, according to the state ethics office.
Only one record turned up of Boynton involving himself in government affairs during the time Boyer paid him: A May 2010 front-page photo from The Brunswick News, which shows Boynton at a National Day of Prayer demonstration held near the Georgia coast, 300 miles from Decatur.
Boynton stands outside Brunswick City Hall, in the front row of a crowd, in a golf shirt and sunglasses, lifting his hands in praise.
Such events have been Boynton’s forte for decades, ever since his political aspirations fizzled.
According to a 1989 profile of Boynton by the AJC, he had a born-again experience and launched a crusade to infuse Christianity into local politics. He staged prayer days in front of county courthouses. He also started a nonprofit, Rooks Boynton Ministries, which performs “ministerial services both locally and on foreign mission trips,” according to tax documents.
In the article, Boynton pointed to the spread of AIDS, legalized abortion, water pollution and the dangerous effects of pesticides as evidence the apocalypse was near. He also placed part of the blame on immigrants and “their sorcery and their pagan religions.”
The AJC tried for weeks to contact Boynton through his relatives and his nonprofit Rooks Boynton Ministries, to no avail. At one point his tax preparer told a reporter that Boynton was in Germany. Acquaintances said they would pass messages along to him, but none was returned. An email address he used in the past, which was printed on an invoice, is inoperative.
Power brokers at the state Capitol no longer see Boynton – though they would have had he been involved in the things Boyer claimed he was doing.
Lawmakers and former lobbyists for DeKalb, as well as a long list of policy experts and government liaisons who worked on transportation and Grady matters from 2009 to 2011, said they’ve never heard of Boynton and didn’t recognize his photo.
Sue Ella Deadwyler, who covers legislative affairs for her Christian conservative newsletter, recalled Boynton being involved in faith-based work at the Capitol in the days of governors Joe Frank Harris and Zell Miller. She said she hasn’t seen him for at least the past five years.
“I’m absolutely positive,” Deadwyler said. “If I had seen him, I would have been absolutely astonished.”
Boynton still lists the address of a Clarkston house he sold years ago as the location of the nonprofit he runs. But for part of the time Boyer paid him, Boynton claimed residence at the St. Simons Island home, where he registered to vote in mid-2011.
At that time, the house worth more than $1 million was owned by former state Sen. Clint Day, an old political ally of Boyer’s. She served as a manager and consultant for his unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor in the 1990s.
As the AJC asked its questions, Boyer struggled with answers. Responding to open records requests, the commissioner could not produce any memos, correspondence, emails or research materials from Boynton, nor could she provide a contract with him.
The newspaper also requested from the county’s Information Technology department any archived emails between Boynton and Boyer, or with her top staff. Only one email string turned up, and it involved making sure Boynton got paid.
In late 2010, then-Finance Director Joel Gottlieb told the commissioner’s office that his department would freeze Boynton’s payments unless he provided an identification number that matched IRS records. Boynton complied by submitting a W-9 form, the emails show.
The invoices he gave DeKalb identified his business as The Boynton Report. No such entity has been registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, according to its database, and a check of DeKalb’s business license office found nothing issued under that name.
A company called The Boynton Group, however, was registered with the state by Boyer’s husband, John, in 2005. It was dissolved in 2008, before his wife started paying Boynton.
Like his wife, John Boyer did not return calls seeking comment.
The payments to Boynton started in September 2009. They stopped in October 2011, soon after District Attorney Robert James requested a special grand jury to probe allegations of corruption within the watershed department.
After hearing that Boyer was pleading guilty, former DeKalb Board of Ethics Chairman Isaac Blythers said he was amazed that yet another politician who claimed to stand for honest government had benefited herself at taxpayers’ expense.
“She clearly knew what she was doing,” Blythers said.
“She had a great opportunity, but she squandered that because of her own greed and need,” said Michael Shaw, a Stone Mountain-area resident who previously supported Boyer.
Boynton not the only ‘consultant’
Boyer also paid $10,500 to another consultant for whom the AJC could find no reports, memos, or other work product.
During the two months after a bank took over the strip mall Boyer and her husband owned, she gave chiropractor Nazir Mousselli three checks totaling $10,500.
In a brief interview on his doorstep in Alpharetta, Mousselli said he did consulting work for the commissioner on health care costs. He would not elaborate.
Payment records say the checks were for his consultation services involving the Joint DeKalb-Fulton Healthcare Committee and “CFABND,” an acronym Mousselli couldn’t identify when questioned by the AJC.
The county’s IT department found no emails between Mousselli and Boyer or her top aides.
The Joint DeKalb-Fulton Healthcare Committee, of which Boyer was a member, held four meeting in 2009, and the AJC located meeting minutes for three of them through the Fulton and DeKalb commission clerks’ offices. None show Mousselli in attendance.
Mousselli was a tenant at the Boyers’ strip mall, saying he rented space for about $1,000 to $1,200 per month. He had practiced in a suite adjoining John Boyer’s office. John Boyer is also a chiropractor, but Mousselli said he didn’t work with him and that Boyer wasn’t practicing at the time.
Mousselli said he met Elaine Boyer through her husband, but he said his payments from her had nothing to do with his former practice in the couple’s building.
“I know what you’re getting at. It wasn’t like that,” Mousselli said, shortly before refusing to answer any more questions and asking never to be contacted again. “That was totally separate.”
Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.