Burrell Ellis

Embattled DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is led out of the courtroom after he was sentenced to 5 years to serve 18 months in prison Wednesday July 8, 2015.

The Supreme Court of Georgia is set to hear an appeal this Monday from DeKalb County's former chief executive officer.

Lawyers for Burrell Ellis say the justices should reverse his convictions because of errors during his trial. Ellis is convicted of perjury and an attempt to commit theft by extortion for pressuring a county contractor to donate to his campaign.

The justices will hear a long list of cases over the next two weeks.

Three weeks from today, on May 24, 2016, voters across the Atlanta area will decide Democratic and Republican nominees for a wide assortment of offices – including a U.S. Senate seat, all of the U.S. House seats, posts in the state legislature and many city and county positions.

Among the most closely watched local contests will be in DeKalb County, where major issues like police-community relations, transportation and the revival of economically struggling areas have been overshadowed by the county's effort to emerge from a string of ethics scandals. 

DeKalb County ethics officer Stacey Kalberman, speaking with Denis O'Hayer in the WABE studios on April 26, 2016
Johnny Kauffman / WABE News

DeKalb County is trying to get past a string of ethics scandals in its government.

Suspended CEO Burrell Ellis has just finished a prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he is still appealing; Commissioner Elaine Boyer was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison on fraud charges; and a string of other ethics lapses resulted in a report from special investigator Mike Bowers that called DeKalb's government culture "rotten to the core."

DeKalb County is set to hold the first ethics board meeting Thursday since it hired a chief ethics officer.

Stacey Kalberman, who was hired earlier this year, said her priority will be on educating county employees and leaders on ethics issues.

“I think that if you educate people on what their responsibilities are, then there is much less of a chance that somebody will do something in violation of the code. And I think that will eventually change our image,” Kalberman said.

Interim Dekalb County CEO Lee May addresses a town hall meeting in Lithonia.
Johnny Kauffman / WABE

A Georgia lawmaker wants to restructure DeKalb County's government.

State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, said he plans to introduce legislation this week to get rid of DeKalb county’s CEO position, which is currently held by Interim CEO Lee May. The bill would propose replacing that job with an elected county commission chair and an appointed county manager.

Holcomb said it would be the first step to addressing some of the issues the county has faced in recent years.

Kent Johnson, Pool

  In front of a packed courtroom in DeKalb County Superior Court, suspended county CEO Burrell Ellis was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison on charges he tried to strong-arm county vendors for campaign money.

In sentencing Ellis, Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson said she “struggled” with crafting a sentence because the trial was “unlike any case that I have handled since I took the bench.”

Kent D. Johnson, Pool


Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in DeKalb County Superior Court, after a jury convicted Ellis on four criminal charges last week.

The jury of six men and six women unanimously found Ellis guilty of attempted extortion and three counts of perjury in his corruption retrial. He was on trial for strong-arming county vendors into donating to his 2012 re-election campaign. 

The trial was Ellis' second. The first ended in a mistrial, after the jury failed to reach a consensus on any of the charges brought against him.  

Kent D. Johnson, Pool / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated at 4:30 p.m.

After six days of deliberating, a jury on Wednesday found suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis guilty of attempted extortion and perjury on charges he tried to strong-arm county vendors for donations to his political campaign.

As the verdict was read, Ellis and his wife showed little emotion. The suspended CEO was taken immediately into custody following the verdict. Judge Courtney Johnson set his sentencing for next Wednesday.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After 11 days of testimony, attorneys gave closing statements Wednesday in the corruption retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Both sides played off three words the state used in their opening statement to describe Ellis: debt, desperation and deceit.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After four days on the witness stand, suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis ended testimony Tuesday in his corruption retrial, with his defense team resting its case a few hours later. 

During the morning's cross-examination, District Attorney Robert James picked up where he left off Monday. He tried repeatedly to use Ellis’ words against him, relying on the suspended CEO’s testimony during his first trial, as well as secret recordings of Ellis by the state via the then-head of the county purchasing and contracting department. Still, Ellis continued to defend his honesty.

Burrell Ellis testifies in his corruption retrial
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State attorneys got their chance Monday to question suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis in his corruption retrial, with prosecutors trying routinely to catch Ellis in a lie.

But the suspended CEO remained composed and confident as he justified his actions to the jury and rebuffed District Attorney Robert James’ tough, rapid questioning. Ellis maintained his honesty throughout, only going so far to say he once may have “misspoken.”

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis again took the stand Friday in county superior court to continue testimony in his corruption retrial.
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who’s accused of strong-arming county vendors for political donations, took the stand in his corruption retrial once again Friday morning to continue telling his side of the story.

Almost sentence by sentence, Ellis’s attorney walked the suspended CEO through some of the secretly recorded conversations that make up the bulk of the state’s case against him. As he did in his first trial, Ellis stressed any issue he had with vendors was about responsiveness and respect for the CEO’s office, not about campaign donations.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  Just as he did in his first corruption trial, suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis today took the stand in his retrial to refute charges he strong-armed county vendors for campaign donations.

On the stand, Ellis began painting a very different picture of his interactions with four county vendors who testified against him earlier in the trial.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the seventh day of the retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis. 

The state called a number of witnesses – from county investigators to former county employees – painting a picture of Ellis having a pattern of pressuring county vendors.

Two years ago, Ellis was indicted on corruption charges. He’s accused of shaking down vendors who worked for the county to donate to his 2012 political campaign.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Like a playground bully who says, “Bring me your lunch money, or else.”

That’s how one of the state’s witnesses described his dealings with suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis Thursday, the third day of testimony in the elected county head’s corruption retrial.

Greg Shealey and his wife, Trina Shealey, were called into a meeting with Ellis back in October 2012 about issues with their company’s responsiveness. The couple own National Property Institutes, which had a $1 million contract with DeKalb County to buy and fix foreclosed homes.

Kelvin Walton, a top witness in the state's case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, continued his testimony Wednesday in Superior Court.
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Defense attorneys for suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis got their chance to grill one of the state’s key witnesses, using their cross examination to hammer at credibility issues.

Kelvin Walton, who oversaw county service contracts under Ellis, resumed his testimony Wednesday in the retrial of the suspended CEO. Walton was allegedly Ellis’ right hand man, helping the CEO strong-arm county vendors for donations to pay back the debt he racked up during his 2012 re-election campaign.  

Kelvin Walton, director of Purchasing and Contracting for DeKalb County, identifies suspended Dekalb County CEO Burrell Ellis as he testifies in court Tuesday afternoon.
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state wasted no time in bringing its star witness to the stand in the retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Tuesday the state and Ellis’ attorneys said Kelvin Walton, the man who oversaw vendor contracts under Ellis, lied. Specifically, he lied under oath to a grand jury in 2012 about receiving gifts from contractors.

Ellis’ attorney, Craig Gillen, talked about Walton during opening statements.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lawyers in the retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis delivered opening statements Tuesday in county superior court, with the state and defense painting very different images of the county’s elected chief.  

In addressing the jury first, Assistant District Attorney Lawanda Hodges asked the six men and six women to return a guilty verdict on every felony charge the DA’s office is bringing against Ellis. She said the prosecution’s case would be framed by three main themes: “debt, desperation and deceit.”

Kent D. Johnson, Pool

A jury has been seated in the retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who’s accused of using his office to shake down county contractors for campaign donations.

Attorneys selected six men and six women to sit on the jury. Seven of them are African-American, while the remaining five are white. Four alternates were also chosen, all of whom are women.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday is expected to be the final day of jury selection in the retrial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

After a week of culling through potential jurors, attorneys have narrowed the field down from about 200 to a few dozen. They’ll likely get that number down to the 12 jurors plus alternates needed for the trial to begin.

In his second trial, Ellis faces nine felony charges over allegations he was running a pay-to-play scheme with DeKalb County contractors, asking them to submit donations to his 2012 re-election campaign in exchange for business.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jury selection began today in DeKalb County Superior Court for the retrial of suspended county CEO Burrell Ellis.

Around 40 of the 200 or so potential jurors stood for questioning by the judge, prosecution and defense attorneys. Those who’d been called were asked whether they had prior knowledge of the case or had followed any coverage of Ellis’ first trial last fall.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ second trial starts Monday in DeKalb County Superior Court.

Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for donations to his 2012 re-election campaign. In his first trial last fall, he faced 13 felony counts of extortion, bribery, perjury and using county employees for campaign work.

DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May Pressured Into Resigning Seat

May 8, 2015
Dekalb County Interim CEO Lee May and Mike Bowers at the podium
Lisa George / WABE

The tangled and bitter battle over Interim CEO Lee May’s District 5 seat on the DeKalb County Commission may be nearing an end.

May announced the resignation of his commission seat in a press conference on Friday morning, after telling WABE in March he had no plans to give up his seat.

May said he changed his mind after complaints from some of the constituents in his district about the lack of representation for such a long time.

Kelvin Walton testified for a second day today in the Burrell Ellis corruption trial in DeKalb County Superior Court (photo taken September 23, 2014).
Kent Johnson/AJC

Two major DeKalb County corruption cases are in jeopardy. Part of the reason is the prosecution’s star witnesses have struggled with credibility issues.

It’s a constant dilemma for prosecutors – how much to rely on witnesses with questionable character.

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign donations. During the trial, DeKalb's former purchasing director Kelvin Walton was the state’s star witness. Walton cooperated with prosecutors only after being caught accepting gifts from contractors and lying under oath.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Consitution

It’s been an eventful week in DeKalb County. The corruption case of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis ended with a hung jury. And a much-anticipated audit showed lax oversight of commissioner spending.

Some DeKalb residents have resigned themselves to a certain level of impropriety, while others see light at the end of the tunnel.

DeKalb politics has been anything but dull - kickback schemes, federal probes, forced-out school board members, and most tragically an assassination of the county’s sheriff-elect.  

So it makes sense residents would be a bit cynical.

Residents Offer Sharply Differing Views On Ellis Mistrial

Oct 22, 2014

The corruption case of suspended DeKalb County CEO ended Tuesday in a mistrial and DeKalb residents have sharply differing reactions.

Many took issue with the jury itself, which after two weeks of deliberation couldn’t agree on any of the 13 felony charges. The judge in the case repeatedly scolded the jury to get past personal issues and at one point told them to act like adults.

Judge Declares Mistrial in Ellis Case

Oct 21, 2014
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A DeKalb County judge Tuesday declared a mistrial in the case against suspended county CEO Burrell Ellis. Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign contributions. He maintained his innocence during the trial and took the stand to defend himself. 

The all-female jury deliberated for 11 days, but couldn’t reach verdicts on any of the 13 felony charges against Ellis. DeKalb County judge Courtney Johnson had repeatedly urged the jurors to try harder to come to consensus. Those efforts ultimately failed. 

The jury in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is wrapping up its eleventh day of deliberations. Monday, the judge gave the jury what is known as an Allen charge.

  DeKalb Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson had already instructed the jury to keep deliberating twice when they said they couldn’t reach a verdict.

DeKalb County Ethics Board members Clara DeLay, Edwinett Murphy, Susan Neugent, Robert Blackman, and John Ernst.
Lisa George/WABE News

The DeKalb County Commission has freed up $90,000 in funding for the county ethics board, which was reconstituted just last year to deal with mounting ethics issues.

DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May very publicly announced in June he was getting his fellow commissioners to allocate money for a Chief Integrity Officer, an investigator and an assistant, three full-time employees to help clean up the county’s ethics problems.

Fate Of Ellis Now In Jury's Hands

Oct 6, 2014

After three weeks of testimony, attorneys for both sides in Burrell Ellis’ corruption trial delivered their closing arguments Monday. Whether Ellis goes to prison or retains his position as DeKalb County CEO is now up to a jury.

Ellis faces charges of extortion and bribery, the latter of which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Three county contractors testified Ellis shook them down for campaign donations. Another contractor testified Ellis wanted a bribe of $25,000.

Ellis denies all wrongdoing and his lawyers claim the charges are politically-motivated.