By Ken Watts, CrossRoads News: Former DeKalb zoning official pleads guilty to bribery charge

Former DeKalb zoning official pleads guilty to bribery charge
Ken Watts | 2/27/2015, 1:36 p.m.

Jeremy Clark, a former member of the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals, pleaded guilty on Feb. 19 to a …

Jeremy Clark, a former member of the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals, pleaded guilty on Feb. 19 to a federal charge of accepting a $3,500 bribe. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)

Jeremy Clark, a former member of the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals, pleaded guilty on Feb. 19 to a federal charge of accepting a $3,500 bribe in exchange for his zoning vote in favor of letting a nightclub operate later hours.

A U.S. grand jury in Atlanta indicted Clark on Feb. 10 on one count of “converting to personal use property of another,” U.S. District Court records show.

Clark, who served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for four years, entered his guilty plea at a hearing in U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May’s court in downtown Atlanta. He will be sentenced on April 30.

Clark is facing up to 20 years in prison.

His attorney, Gary Spencer, said he’s hoping for a sentence significantly less than that because of Clark’s cooperation with prosecutors.

Clark, who left the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2013, admitted meeting with the owner of a Tucker nightclub before a zoning vote in November 2012.

Federal prosecutors have not named the club owner.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis said at the hearing that the club was trying to provide late-night dancing without obtaining a special permit.

In November 2008, the Board of Commissioners passed a zoning ordinance that regulated the placement and operation of late-night establishments and nightclubs.

As a general matter, the ordinance mandated that new businesses must obtain a Special Land Use Permit if they wanted to operate either as a late-night establishment or as a nightclub.

Davis said that Clark and the club owner had an agreement that Clark “would be rewarded” if the Zoning Board of Appeals granted permission for the later hours.

The board approved the club’s request and Clark was paid $2,000 in cash and received a $1,500 donation to a charity with which he was involved.

Clark must repay the $3,500 as a federal fine, according to the terms of his plea agreement.

Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn said it took only $3,500 to subvert the purpose of the DeKalb zoning ordinance that was to regulate the operation of late-night nightclubs.

“This case demonstrates how a corrupt public official can sell out the legitimate interests of the communities and citizens he serves, solely for his own profit,” Horn said. “DeKalb County citizens deserved better.”

DeKalb interim CEO Lee May appointed Clark in 2009 while he was District 5 commissioner.

In a Feb. 13 statement, May said he was deeply disturbed and saddened about the allegations and that Clark no longer has any association whatsoever with DeKalb County.

“Situations such as this are what compelled me to give the DeKalb Board of Ethics the resources and tools to serve the residents of DeKalb County, and why I signed an executive order in June 2014 to define ethics rules for county employees,” he said.