DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, one of metro Atlanta’s most powerful leaders, finally told jurors and the public his side of the story Wednesday, testifying in his corruption trial that he never retaliated against county contractors who refused to give campaign contributions.
It happened in 2012. Georgia won the SEC East and played Alabama for the conference title. Georgia Tech tied Miami and North Carolina for first in the ACC Coastal but, since the Tar Heels were ineligible and the Hurricanes chose in late November to remove themselves from postseason play, the Yellow Jackets advanced to meet Florida State in the league championship game.
See Flashback Fotos on myajc.com for only 99 cents. Visit the MyAJC archives for a historic look at Atlanta from Midtown in the 70s to Auburn Avenue and even life here before traffic jams on the interstates.
The now-famous memo penned by former ethics head Holly LaBerge’s offers an idea of what Gov. Nathan Deal’s aides said to her ahead of a major hearing. But a lingering question is why Chris Riley, the governor’s chief of staff, and Ryan Teague, his executive counsel, reached out instead of a campaign attorney.
Deal told us in an interview that his staff needed to get details of an upcoming ethics hearing “so they could plan our schedule.” It was logistical, he said, and non-threatening. His office sought to reinforce that message with a more detailed timeline of what led to the contact.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the texts were sent with that trip in mind. Said Robinson:
“The texts were sent on a Tuesday and the governor was leaving on the Sunday. If we had a settlement, Holly was insisting on a personal check from Gov. Deal that he would have to write. If we were going to do that, and he was overseas, we needed to figure that out. He also would have had to sign the order. That’s why we were under a time crunch. That’s why we desperately needed the executive director to call our campaign attorneys back and work with them.”
As to why Riley, the governor’s top aide, sent the text and not a lower-level aide associated with his campaign, Robinson added this:
“This scenario is exactly why there was contact. We had to know what was coming down because we would have had a scheduling problem.”
A tipster sent us this screen grab from Dale Russell’s interview with LaBerge that indicates that the check the campaign sent to the ethics commission, for the $3,350 in technical violations, didn’t need his hand-written signature. (We’re not sure who signed the check, and the campaign didn’t immediately see, but that signature looks different than his usual John Hancock, which we’ve included below.)
Update: Deal’s flak, Brian Robinson, clarifies that the signature wasn’t specifically required for the check, but for a consent agreement on the fees. The check, he said, could come up to 30 days later. The above check, he said, is a cashier’s check from Deal’s account with his wife Sandra.
Update Two: Now we are being told by Deal’s office that the above check was torn up and never cashed.