|DeKalb CEO Ellis denies wrongdoing in Special Grand Jury probe|
|Written by Valerie J. Morgan|
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is denying any wrongdoing and promising full cooperation in the wake of authorities raiding his home and office this morning as he testified before a Special Grand Jury about the county’s watershed management department.
DeKalb District Attorney Robert James declined to comment on the raid or the investigation. Ellis said, however, that the Special Grand Jury questioned him about the county’s contracting process, primarily in the watershed management department.
“As always, we’ve been fully cooperative. I’ve directed my staff to cooperate,” Ellis said during a 12:45 p.m. press conference today. “I haven’t done anything that I’m aware of, nor has my staff done anything that’s inappropriate. I’ve wracked my brain. I can’t imagine anything in my home or my office that would raise any eyebrows…
Authorities raided Ellis’ home in Stone Mountain and his office in downtown Decatur today around 10:30 a.m., while he was testifying before a Special Grand Jury. Ellis said he has been asked “how we go about letting projects” primarily in watershed management during an ongoing investigation in which he has been called twice to testifyEllis said that he has been cooperating fully with the D.A. and that he was a “little perplexed” that the raid took place while he was testifying today.
Ellis said his 83-year-old mother, who was visiting from out of town, answered the door at his home in the Southland community. Three unmarked police cars reportedly were staked out in front of Ellis’ residence.
“They rang the doorbell and in her(his mother’s) words, ‘They were coming in’, but she let them in…,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the warrant executed was “extraordinarily broad in scope.” He said he had no idea of specifically what authorities wanted.
“I don’t know what they’re looking for. It’s my understanding that they’ll leave me a list of anything taken. I have a safe in my home and I gave them the combination to that safe so they can take anything in there that they might want,” Ellis said.
Authorities have been investigating allegations of corruption, bid rigging and kickbacks in DeKalb’s Watershed Management Department since last year. The county said Champion Tree Service overbilled the water department by $3 million with the help of a county supervisor who allegedly steered contracts to certain vendors working with one of the supervisor’s family members.
Bob Wilson, an attorney for contractor Paul Champion, said however, those claims are a cover-up for alleged financial mismanagement and a kickback scheme involving upper-level managers at the county.
DeKalb hired Champion Tree Service to cut vegetation so another contractor could map the county’s stormwater and sewer lines in preparation for a $1.35 billion overhaul of the system.
Champion filed a lawsuit last year, saying the county owed him more than $880,000 for his work. In counterclaims, the county said it stopped payment after an audit revealed multiple invoices for the same property and bills for larger areas than were designated for the work.
DeKalb fired two Watershed employees for their alleged role in approving the invoices. Nagmeh Maghsoudlou, a supervisor who oversaw the Champion contract, was one of those fired. Her brother-in-law, Hadi Haeri, worked for Champion, and also faces allegations of wrongdoing.