The End of a Sad Chapter in Gwinnett County

August 5, 2014 16:50 pm

by Jon Richards · 14 comments

Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly pleaded No Contest to charges of bribery in Gwinnett Superior Court this afternoon, bringing to a close a series of scandals that forced the resignation departure of three of the county’s top elected officials, including the Commission Chairman.

The AJC’s David Wickert has the story:

Kenerly pleaded “no contest” to a bribery charge, meaning did not admit he was guilty.

Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers accepted Kenerly’s plea and sentenced him to 10 years of probation and a $10,000 fine at the request of District Attorney Danny Porter.

As part of the plea deal, Porter drop two misdemeanor charges of failure to disclose a financial interest in two properties the county rezoned.

The resignations downfall of the three commissioners–Kenerly, former Chairman Charles Bannister, and Shirley Lasseter–were related to alleged improper land deals and rezonings by the board.

In October 2010, Bannister resigned on the the day a grand jury wrapped up a long investigation into whether the county overpaid to purchase parkland.

Later that month, Kenerly was indicted on three counts of bribery after a special grand jury found he had allegedly taken $1 million from a developer in order facilitate another deal to purchase parkland. The indictment was ruled invalid, and he was charged in a second indictment in August, 2011.

In September, 2011, Commissioner Shirley Lasseter was arrested for taking a $35,000 bribe in order to approve a rezoning. She was later sentenced to a 33 month prison term.

The fallout from the investigations and arrests at one point led to only three commissioners running the county’s business – barely enough to make a quorum. The board also implemented new ethics policies intended to better show conflicts of interest before they became an issue.

Gwinnett appears to have learned its lesson under the leadership of Charlotte Nash. Lets hope it’s a lesson that stays learned.

Those seeking political excitement in the county that claims “Success Lives Here” can always look to Snellville.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

gcp August 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Very unfortunate Danny Porter was unable to fully prosecute this case. Ten years probation and $10,000 fine doesn’t seem like much compared to one million dollar bribe let alone the millions Gwinnett overpaid for the parkland. Hopefully Gwinnett has fully cleaned its house.

George Chidi August 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm

I’m reading this sentiment strongly in social media as well. The Kenerly case goes to show just how difficult these prosecutions can be … and why the public corruption issues in this state have metastasized into such a cancer.

I simply don’t think Porter would have cut a deal unless he thought the odds of a conviction were truly awful. The consequences of a straight Kenerly walk are far worse than this. No conviction means he gets to return to being a full participant in the political process. Given the relative political weakness of the party infrastructure in Gwinnett, Kenerly would have a duffer’s chance at returning to the commission in an off-year race. Now he’s barred by a felony conviction for a crime of moral turpitude.

The bigger question mark is Jenkins.

notsplost August 7, 2014 at 9:43 am

Agree 100%. With the sad state of our disengaged and apathetic citizens, I can easily see low information voters returning this guy to office.

Fortunately that is now off the table.

Jackster August 5, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Honestly, I’m just glad the bar for staying in office isn’t, “Are you or will you be indicted soon?”, so we can actually push candidates on issues, because their status quo is severely lacking.

MattMD August 5, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Cobb is the only non-clown county of the inner five is you ask me.

George Chidi August 6, 2014 at 7:47 am

The Braves thank you for your support.

Lea Thrace August 6, 2014 at 9:27 am

Hmm. Our clown cars are pretty full up here in Cobb…

notsplost August 7, 2014 at 9:44 am

I suspect you haven’t spent much time investigating Cobb County politics. We’ve got clowns-a-plenty.

Mark Rountree August 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

As a point of fact, Kevin Kenerly never resigned from the Commission. That is an error in your report, Jon, but the media has made that same error repeatedly, as well.

Kenerly fully completed his final (fourth) term. What he did voluntarily do was not vote on issues before the commission in the final weeks of his final term, but did not resign.

Kenerly fought the indictment for this many years because he believed he would be found innocent. The prosecution’s key witness entirely sided with Kenerly, in fact, saying that the prosecution was incorrect. This key witness was given immunity on the promise of full truth being told — and yet 100% sided with Kenerly.

It is a central point to Kenerly, that after four years, there was no guilty plea but instead a plea of Nolo Contendere. Kevin’s wife is battling a cancer and the couple has young children. He needed to focus full energy on his family.

He agreed to a Nolo plea because he absolutely refused to plead guilty under any circumstances whatsoever. This allows all involved, including Gwinnett County, to move forward.

Jon Richards August 7, 2014 at 7:42 am

Thanks for the correction, Mark.

Will Durant August 7, 2014 at 11:47 am

The fact that Jenkins, Kenerly’s fellow developer and gambling buddy, was able to more than double his money to the tune of $8M taxpayer dollars at a time when other Gwinnett developers were sinking belies his “innocence”. Whether bribe or consulting fees or whatever euphemism employed the fact of the matter is that Kenerly will profit by nearly $1M on the deal with probation that will fall to a non-reporting status once he pays the $10K fine. The odds that the probation lasts the full ten years are even less than those Kenerly and Jenkins faced in Las Vegas. Regardless, since this is under first offender status his record will be expunged once the probation period has ended.

Gwinnett deserved him for voting a wolf to guard the flock. They probably should start looking at the choice they have been making for years of continuously voting a wolf to guard the wolves.

Dave Bearse August 6, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Danny Porter slips a notch. I’d be OK with the deal had it been a guilty plea instead of no contest.

There was no corruption in a land deal where Gwinnett County paid $16M for land that sold for $8M as year earlier, and Kenerly pockets a $1M. Kenerly says there was no corruption, and Porter couldn’t prove otherwise.

Harry August 6, 2014 at 11:25 pm

One suspects the plea had a lot to do with the fickle nature of jury trials. The jury system doesn’t always function properly, from either sides’ perspective.

Dave Bearse August 7, 2014 at 9:05 am

It would have been tough to prove, as demonstrated by the Balfour case.

I’d consider serving ten years probation for $990,000.