AJC: Lawsuit alleges Gwinnett Commissioner John Heard shaking down government bidder

April 17, 2013 18:24 pm

by George Chidi · 3 comments

I rode around on Segways with John Heard through some suburban subdivisions near Lawrenceville one day while he was still a state rep., for a campaign story in 2006. David Rodriguez was giving him a good run for his money, I recall. I spent a year after that story dodging a Xanga mangosteen juice dealer from some multilevel marketing company after interviewing a voter Heard had been chatting up. (New rule: fake business cards.) I remember both of them being intensely focused on managing their media image.

Well, this one will be a bit of a challenge.

The AJC is reporting that a Gwinnett County property owner is suing Heard, and alleges in the suit that Heard tried to solicit money for a favor. Here’s the key bit:

The owner of a Gwinnett County property who lost a bid to house the local office of the Division of Family and Child Services says in a lawsuit that County Commissioner John Heard demanded $240,000 a year to help Hand Properties land the lease.

Heard told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Fred Hand’s claims are a “lie,” but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI have interviewed Hand, according to documents filed with the lawsuit. Heard said neither agency has talked to him. The GBI referred questions to the federal authorities, and an FBI spokesman said the bureau could not comment.

Meanwhile, a state leasing specialist was fired after the lawsuit revealed he provided details of Hand’s bid to a competitor who temporarily won the lease. That award was revoked and the State Properties Commission has decided to start over while DFCS remains without a new home in Gwinnett.

I’m inclined to take this story with a large grain of salt: I could claim that my next door neighbor was the reincarnation of Tony Montana from Scarface, peddling ebola-laced cocaine from the back of a hearse, and the cops might still check to see if the registration on his hearse is still good, just for kicks. Still, given the recent history of corruption in Gwinnett, I wouldn’t be immediately dismissive as an FBI agent. We’ll have to see what Fred Hand has to say, and what he can prove.

The fact that a leasing specialist has been fired, though, is not a good sign: that implies enough evidence to defeat a wrongful termination lawsuit … whatever those look like in Georgia.

Heard told the AJC that he was “infuriated” when he heard the allegation. He believes that the accusation was made because he is an easy target, given the history of corruption in recent years involving Gwinnett County commissioners. “Nobody’s going to believe a county commissioner,” he said.

However, Heard did tell the AJC that he had been planning his own bid for the property once he found out about DFCS sniffing around for space in Gwinnett. Heard asked Hand to sell him the property, but Hand decided to submit his own bid instead, reports the AJC. Heard has been working multiple roles along these lines as both public official and businessman before, resigning from the tourism board last year just before winning a bid for a hotel at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth.

It’s funny. Last month at a DeKalb County Democratic Party breakfast, I was complaining about how poorly my county government manages its public messaging around corruption issues. DeKalb commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton’s answer: what corruption? She basically blamed it on media bias, telling me that we never hear about it when the county government in Gwinnett gets into trouble.

I may wave this at her, next time I see her.

George Chidi April 17, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Also, this: “But in its response to the lawsuit, the commission acknowledges that its employee, Thad Jackson, provided the bid documents to Steve Tedder of Live Oak Property Advisors, who was working for Brand Properties.”

Names to check on later.

sockpuppet April 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I have been tracking the various corruption scandals in the Republican-run suburbs, and noting that the GOPers who love to make sport of the problems in Atlanta-Fulton-DeKalb-Clayton are doing their level best to ignore them.

Still, there is a huge difference between a federal, state, county or city investigation that brings charges, indictments etc. and a civil lawsuit from someone with an axe to grind. Unless this person has hard evidence – and if he did this would be a criminal suit instead of a civil one by now – this is much ado about not a whole lot, and nothing approaching the Gwinnett County mess that cost the region any shot that it had of getting a badly needed second commercial airport.

gcp April 18, 2013 at 10:48 am

Why does a Gwinnett County Commissioner even involved himself in deals that could pose a conflict of interest? Heard’s “consulting” fee on the Satellite hotel was improper at best. Was there anything illegal about this DFACS deal? That decision will be ultimately be made by law enforcement. If Gwinnett voters thought they cleaned the county with the removal of Lasseter, Kenerly and Bannister, that looks to be premature as the questionable behavior continues.

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