DeKalb Officials Taken Off Guard By Police Search of CEO’s Home

Jan 8, 2013

A day after authorities searched the home and office of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, county commissioners said today they were taken off guard by the news.

DeKalb commissioner Elaine Boyer said she’s reserving judgment until the process plays out.

“Of course you’re surprised and shocked and no one wants to hear or see anything about it. And I’m going to hope for the best that the CEO is not responsible for these things. No one wants to see that.”

Since early 2012, a special grand jury has been investigating possible racketeering, bribery, and bid-rigging at the county’s watershed department.

Monday, investigators seized files and computer equipment used by Ellis and several of his staff members as Ellis testified for a second time before the grand jury.

Ellis’ office declined comment today, but in an earlier press conference, he denied any involvement in pay-to-play schemes with campaign contributors.

“We have a variety of people that have contributed to our campaign. I think what’s essential here is never have I ever done anything that would give anybody a promise in return for a campaign contribution. We’re always clear about that.”

Ellis emphasized he has cooperated fully with investigators and has nothing to hide.

Police also searched the office of Kevin Ross, a former campaign manager of Ellis. 

In 2010, Ross was alleged to have used his influence with the CEO to steer county contracts to companies he was affiliated with. A judge called foul in one case and Ellis was forced to reinstate a previous contractor. During the episode, Ellis maintained his relationship with Ross did not influence his decision-making.

Ross thus far has declined comment about the search warrant.

Meanwhile, some county officials questioned the manner in which District Attorney Robert James conducted the search on Ellis’ home.

Former DeKalb DA J. Tom Morgan, no stranger to public corruption investigations, said the search was calculated and unorthodox. 

“It is highly unusual. I’m not aware of any case – and I was a prosecutor for 25 years - where you serve search warrants on an elected official as an elected official is testifying before the grand jury.”

Morgan said he could only imagine the district attorney believed evidence would be destroyed if the search warrant wasn’t executed immediately.

District Attorney James’s office declined comment for this story.

*Note of disclosure - Kevin Ross is vice chair and general counsel for AETC, the managing company for Public Broadcasting Atlanta.