Indicted DeKalb CEO Takes Stand In Corruption Trial

Burrell Ellis

Burrell Ellis, suspended CEO of DeKalb County, took the stand today in his defense against charges that he traded county contracts for political donations.

He’s arguing that he didn’t “dry up” firms for choosing not to contribute to his campaign, but for lying to him … when he was calling them, looking for campaign contributions.

“Testimony turns to Ellis’ dealings with Ciber, one of the companies he’s alleged to have threatened to pull DeKalb business from if they didn’t contribute to his campaign,” the AJC reports. “Ellis said he was told Ciber wouldn’t donate until they learned whether they would receive a government contract. “Had I known they had an active (bid) out I wouldn’t have called for contribution,” he said, adding he made no threats against Ciber. “I did not threaten their ability to do business with DeKalb County.”

Yesterday, Ellis called character witnesses, including Eugene Walker, former chairman of the DeKalb County School Board. Walker testified that Ellis was “truthful.” I am curious if the prosecutors wanted to remind the jury that Nathan Deal removed Walker and five others from the school board for running the system so poorly that it’s accreditation was threatened.

He also called Judy Yates, a former county commissioner who unsuccessfully ran against Vernon Jones in 2004. She testified that Kelvin Walton — the contracting officer at the heart of the allegations — offered her a vendor list during her campaign, similar to the one she believes he provided for Ellis.

And Ellis also managed to call in a political favor (one might assume) to get Congressman Hank Johnson testifying in Ellis’ defense. “The defense wanted him to talk about his experiences raising money as a county commissioner,” 11 Alive reported. “But the judge ruled the fundraising habits of one person do not speak to the habits of another.”

Instead, Johnson testified that Ellis “is an honest individual, a man of good character.” The two served together on the commission before Johnson left to take out Cynthia McKinney.

11 Alive has a live feed going.

Let us now speculate on the implications of a defendant taking the stand in a criminal trial.

12 comments

  1. gcp says:

    When you call Eugene Walker and Hank (Guam tipper) Johnson as character witnesses…..

    Case would been more appropriate in federal court. Juries don’t like to convict politicians that they overwhelmingly elected to office. Federal jury pool would have been more diverse geographically and more likely to be impartial.

      • gcp says:

        James has a stronger case than did Porter in the Kennerly case. In Dekalb the contractors testified they were pressured to contribute to the Ellis campaign. In Kennerly’s case the guy selling the property would not admit to Porter that he “bribed” Kennerly.

        • Will Durant says:

          If he was going to get off without prison for bilking the taxpayers out of $8MM then I still would have preferred it to have been a jury making that decision.

  2. FranInAtlanta says:

    From what I’ve read, I am not convinced of guilt if he is judged as a typical Georgia politician.

  3. objective says:

    at the start of this thing, i was sure Ellis was going to lose, but now i think he has a fair chance to be acquitted. the defense has created some grey areas.
    not sure why ex-commisioner Yates can speak to her fundraising, where she albeit used vendor lists as call lists, but ex-commissioner Johnson’s fundraising is irrelevant. Judge Johnson seems to be limiting the defense rather strictly, which really just creates more opportunity for reverse on appeal.
    overall- why isn’t soliciting vendors for campaign contributions not encoded as a violation of ethics?

    • Harry says:

      This is so hypocritical. Vendors are constantly solicited at the federal and state level and are paying in the hundreds of $millions and in return receive hundreds of $billions of contracts, but at the county level asking a vendor for a contribution is a felony? Maybe they need to call Nancy Pelosi as a witness.

      • Will Durant says:

        C’mon Harry, keeping vote buying, government contracts, zoning, and the like semi-legal is one of the few areas that is fully bi-partisan. Unless they get stupid with it, trying to convict any of them under current laws is like trying to nail jello to the wall.

      • objective says:

        well, it doesn’t seem illegal in DeKalb, much less a felony. but at least some local jurisdictions have solicitation of vendors as a violation of ethics code- usually punishable by civil fines. it seems like a real conflict of interest, though, regardless.

          • objective says:

            unsure offhand exactly, but i’m figuring misuse of office/interference with procurement process. so it’s ok to ask for the donations, but not to act on contributions or refusals to donate to campaign.

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