Posted: 6:01 p.m. Friday, April 24, 2015
Ch. 2 Investigation reveals possible kickback to DeKalb officials
By Jodie Fleischer
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — DeKalb County’s Interim CEO Lee May is calling for an investigation into a $4,000 check with his name on it, saying he didn’t endorse it, or receive the money from it when it was cashed.
A Chanel 2 Action News – Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation uncovered the check while looking into work done at May’s home which was paid for by DeKalb taxpayers. The vendor who did the work went on to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in DeKalb contracts.
“Absolutely, I plan on having a conversation to figure out what the hell was done, excuse my French,” May told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
The money trail surrounding the $4,000 check appears to end with one of three men: interim CEO Lee May, the commissioners’ former chief of staff Morris Williams or businessman Doug Cotter.
“Morris [Williams] contacted me and said, ‘Doug, Lee’s having some financial trouble, is there any way you can help him out?'” Cotter recounted.
May was a DeKalb commissioner at the time, and had just filed bankruptcy.
Cotter got the check from a water removal and restoration company that had just completed work at May’s home in January.
“It could have been a reimbursement check. Yes, but it wasn’t my signature on it and I’m not sure how the check got out there,” said John Meyer, who used to own that company, Water Removal Services.
Cotter says it couldn’t be a reimbursement, because the county directly paid for the work at May’s house, roughly $6,500. But the $4,000 check was made out to Lee May, personally, six days later.
Cotter says he delivered it to Morris Williams because he was close friends with him and saw him more often than he saw May, since Williams was the commissioners’ chief of staff he worked at the Decatur office full time.
Within a few days, Cotter says he heard from Morris Williams again.
“Morris asked me, ‘Doug, is there any way you can cash this for Lee?’ said Cotter, “I said sure, I know both of them.”
Cotter’s family owns a liquor store with a check cashing business inside, and he admits he’s the one who turned that check into $4,000 cash.
“I handed that money to Morris Williams and that was the last time I saw it,” said Cotter, “I was hoping it was going to the intended use , to help Lee [May] and his family.”
“I’m answering this very clearly,” said May, “That is not a check that was cut to me. I’ve never received $1 let alone $4000.”
The contract connection
Records show two weeks after that check cleared, bidding opened on a new county contract for water removal. Cotter submitted a bid for the same company that had done the work at May’s home, Water Removal Services, and won the contract.
“I never wanted to participate down there to begin with, that’s why we never took that contract,” said Meyer, the company’s former owner, “We just kind of backed out.”
But Meyer says Cotter still wanted the contract badly.
In fact, three days before Cotter placed the Water Removal Services bid, he reserved the name for his own new company. Haw Creek Restoration went on to make more than $300,000 in DeKalb work.
“If it’s a situation where a brand new company is getting work and they didn’t compete after it, absolutely not, that should not occur,” said May.
But it did occur. May has asked DeKalb County’s new purchasing director to investigate why it was allowed.
Fleischer asked Cotter if the $4,000 had anything to do with his bid to win that contract.
“No!” Cotter replied, “No. Lee had nothing to do with the bidding process.”
Lee May says he also had nothing to do with that check.
“It is absolutely not my signature,” said May, adding that he didn’t even know the check existed.
Fleischer pulled samples of Lee May’s signature from official county records, as well as samples of Morris Williams’ handwriting, since Cotter says when he got the check back from Williams it was already endorsed with May’s name on the back.
The “M” in May appears to resemble the “M” in Morris Williams’ regular signature.
After 17 years with the county, Williams abruptly retired last month, just as the FBI began investigating all of this. Williams had since been promoted to the position of deputy chief operating officer.
Morris Williams declined our request for an on-camera interview. By phone, he would only say Cotter’s version of events “did not happen that way.” Williams said he did not receive “that amount of money” from Cotter, but he refused to comment when Fleischer asked whether he ever gave May any money.
May has been particularly vocal in his efforts to root out DeKalb corruption since he’s taken over as interim CEO. He forwarded all of the records Channel 2 requested and a copy of the $4,000 check to the GBI, FBI, the district attorney and local law enforcement to prove he’s serious about getting to the bottom of it.
“For someone to benefit off my name, that’s inappropriate, that’s illegal and they need to be dealt with,” said May.
Updated: 8:43 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, 2015 | Posted: 6:23 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, 2015
DeKalb CEO launches investigation into own county
By Richard Belcher and Jodie Fleischer
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The man heading up DeKalb County has ordered a comprehensive review of operations in his county in search of corruption.
Interim CEO Lee May announced Wednesday that he’s launching an investigation and he wants all 6,000 employees to cooperate.
The investigation will employ two of the people who spent 10 months digging into the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde will have unfettered authority to look at whatever they want.
Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May’s announcement comes on the heels of a year-long Channel 2 Action News and Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation exposing misspending, corruption and theft within DeKalb County government.
Our reporting led the district attorney’s investigators and the FBI to file records requests to obtain many of the same records we did; it has already led to guilty pleas, ongoing criminal investigations and more than $25,000 repaid to DeKalb taxpayers.
Last April, May rewrote the county’s purchasing card policy after our investigation caught then-Commissioner Elaine Boyer spending taxpayer dollars on airline tickets, family vacations and other personal expenses. She resigned, and pleaded guilty to federal charges after we uncovered her scheme to pay a man who didn’t do any work but billed more than $80,000 and then funneled much of it back to Boyer’s personal bank account.
“To the people of DeKalb, I’m just deeply, deeply sorry,” Boyer told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Last June, we exposed Commissioner Stan Watson’s use of taxpayer money to pay for his personal cellphone, even though he also had a county-issued phone. He agreed to pay back about $5,000. Watson said at the time he believed it was permissible, but agreed to stop because Channel 2 was asking about it.
He has not repaid roughly $1,800 in taxpayer money spent to operate his campaign website, exposed after an investigation in September.
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton and her aide failed to provide receipts for more than $45,000 spent with county debit cards. Sutton said she didn’t know she was required to keep receipts. She said she didn’t know she used taxpayer dollars to pay a $130 speeding ticket she got while driving a rental car at an out-of-town conference. She also paid more than $30,000 to her boyfriend, as a consultant.
“Every dime I’ve spent has been spent for the public interest,” Barnes Sutton said.
Just last month we exposed questions about a phony ethics opinion that allowed DeKalb Development Authority Chairman Vaughn Irons to win a million-dollar contract for his personal development company, APD Solutions.
Watson voted on that contract, even though he was on Irons’ payroll at the time.
“I apologize to the citizens if I did that, I didn’t know I did that,” Watson told Fleischer.
In mid-February, former DeKalb zoning official Jerry Clark pleaded guilty to taking a bribe from a nightclub owner who wanted a special land use permit. That vote was the subject of a Channel 2 Action News investigation in 2012.
Former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is facing a 14-count indictment accusing him of shaking down vendors for campaign contributions and manipulating contracts, among other things. His first trial ended in a hung jury; the retrial is scheduled for later this year.
During the original Ellis trial, state’s witness and unindicted co-conspirator Kelvin Walton, the former DeKalb purchasing director, admitted vendors gave him cash to help a secretary out of financial trouble. That secretary also sat on numerous selection committees to award contracts.