After living under a cloud of suspicion for three years, a prominent metro Atlanta political consultant has been awarded $11.3 million in a lawsuit that argued he was falsely accused of corruption.
Kevin Ross sued two businessmen after a special grand jury recommended that prosecutors investigate allegations of bid-rigging against him, based on evidence given by the two men. The investigation resulted in no charges against Ross, but eventually led to the conviction of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
But the verdict in Ross’ lawsuit was only a partial victory.
It’s unclear how much money Ross will be able to collect. One of the defendants, Dion Allen, apparently wasn’t properly notified of the suit. It turns out, a different man with the same name says he was served notice of the lawsuit.
Neither Allen nor co-defendant Jeffrey Walker showed up for last week’s trial, and the jury delivered its verdict Oct. 11 after hearing a one-sided case.
Initially, Ross — who has worked on the campaigns of Ellis, former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and U.S. Rep. John Lewis — filed suit against 25 people who he believes sullied his name. The defendants were DeKalb District Attorney Robert James, investigator Clay Nix, contractor Paul Champion, Walker, Allen and 20 unnamed co-conspirators.
Ross’ legal team ended up pursuing the lawsuit only against the defendants who didn’t fight back and dropping the case against those who lawyered up. He said he plans to refile the lawsuit against those who are contesting his allegations.
Last week, the jury delivered its verdict after hearing from just one witness: Ross.
“It goes a long way toward vindication. I do think I have some additional distance to go,” Ross told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News. “When someone decides to try to ruin your life and your reputation that way, they really should be held to account for it.”
Ross said the jury recognized that he lost millions of dollars in consulting business after a special grand jury’s 2013 report listed Ross among a dozen people recommended for further investigation. Only Ellis faced criminal charges.
Walker and Allen couldn’t be reached for comment. A man named Dion Allen who lives at a Lithonia address where the lawsuit was served told Channel 2 “they got the wrong Dion Allen,” and the case has nothing to do with him.
Ross said it was Walker who initially accused him of manipulating county contracting to generate government business for several companies that he worked for.
The lawsuit said Walker wrote the allegations in a document he called “Things to Know” and gave it to Champion, whose landscaping company employed him as a consultant. In an effort to distract investigators from accusations that he had overcharged and defrauded the county, the lawsuit said, Champion then delivered the document to James. Allen, who worked for a different DeKalb contractor, allegedly corroborated the document during sworn testimony to the special grand jury.
Champion denies conspiring with Walker and Allen to give prosecutors a misleading document, said his attorney, Bob Wilson.
“For Paul Champion’s name to be pulled into this is nothing but sour grapes by Kevin Ross,” Wilson said. “(The document) was passed along to the district attorney without any edification as to its veracity. … There can never be anything wrong with passing something along to law enforcement.”
Champion was also among those singled out by the special grand jury for further investigation.
In court filings, Champion said he has never discussed Ross with Walker or Allen. Ross says he’s never met Champion, Walker or Allen.
Ross’ lawsuit further accuses prosecutors of smearing his reputation, saying James pursued Ross and Ellis to advance his political career.
James, who is being represented by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, said in court filings that he investigated allegations involving Ross and others in good faith.
“The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office did nothing illegal or unethical, nor did the DA direct anyone to do anything or illegal,” said his spokesman, Marcus Garner. “A special purpose grand jury identified Mr. Ross as someone who should be investigated further, and that information is public record.”
Prosecutors investigated Champion, Walker, Allen and others identified by the special purpose grand jury but didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges.
“From the perspective of the grand jury, it just looked really bad,” said Cynthia Hill, a senior assistant district attorney, during an April interview. “You’ve got a scenario where you question whether this is appropriate, does this look right, and that’s certainly what the grand jury did. They were very upset by this.”
The Story So Far
Earlier: A DeKalb County special purpose grand jury recommended criminal investigations of 12 people.
The latest: One of the dozen, political consultant Kevin Ross, won an $11.3 million verdict because his reputation was harmed by what he says are false allegations of wrongdoing.
What’s next: Ross plans to sue DeKalb’s district attorney and a contractor who deny wrongdoing.