Special investigators have found that DeKalb County’s government “is rotten to the core,” with allegations of bribery, widespread abuses of taxpayer money and theft of government property, according to a letter sent by the investigators Wednesday to Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May.
“The misconduct starts at the top and has infected nearly every department we have looked at,” wrote the investigators, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde. “Expenses range from the petty to the absurd.”
The investigators wrote in their letter they won’t identify those who may be guilty of crimes or other misconduct until they publish their final report. But they said their findings are “stunning.”
Employees spent public funds on a cruise to the Bahamas, flower arrangements, a live guitar player, a Christmas tree and a dry cleaning bill for a judge’s robe, according to the investigators.
In one case, taxpayers paid the impound fee for a county-owned vehicle after an employee was arrested for DUI. The employee resigned and then was rehired after pleading guilty. The public has also paid for traffic fines and toll road penalties.
“And in just the last few days, we have found what appears to be a bribery scheme involving a major county department,” the investigators wrote.
Bowers declined to comment Wednesday.
Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, who hired the investigators, said he disagrees with their opinion that the county is rotten because he believes most government employees are honest. May said the initial 120 days allotted for the investigation has passed.
“We were aware of the underlying issues mentioned in Mr. Bowers’ letter,” May said in a statement. “The 120 days has come and gone, and it appears the only thing we have to show for it is a two-page letter full of salacious — but vague – innuendo.”
May said Bowers will provide a detailed report in three weeks with a plan to reduce the county’s risk for waste, fraud and abuse.
There has been a spate of high profile convictions of DeKalb officials recently, including last month DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted of perjury and attempted extortion; former commissioner Elaine Boyer is serving a 14-month sentence after pleading guilty last fall to taking kickbacks and abusing her county charge card; Pat Reid, the former chief operating officer for DeKalb County schools and her architect ex-husband, Tony Pope are serving sentences of 15 and 12 years respectively after 2013 convictions for manipulating construction contracts.
Bowers was hired by May in March to expose corruption and malfeasance in DeKalb government.
Bowers’ investigation was scheduled to last at least until Aug. 1, about four months from when he started working.
May suspended most charge cards used by county employees in June after Hyde reported that the cards had been used for questionable purchases such as dance lessons, computers and international plane flights.
The investigators have billed the county $455,746 for work performed in March, April and May, according to invoices obtained through a Georgia Open Records Act request.
The DeKalb Commission recently removed $500,000 from the county’s budget that May had requested to pay for the investigation. Some commissioners said the county needed to move on from years of investigations, and they questioned whether the money was well-spent.
“I’m for him coming in front of the Board of Commissioners and explaining the length of time, giving us a little bit more information,” Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson told Channel 2 on Tuesday.
Commissioners said they will consider appropriating money to the investigation in the future if Bowers’ expenses can be justified.