AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Sleuths allege DeKalb taxpayers paid drunk driver’s impound fee

DeKalb County’s interim CEO blasted the letter from his hired investigators as “salacious headline-grabbing characterizations.”

One could also say the 2 ½-page letter, hand delivered to Lee May on Aug. 5, was full of mystery.

In their opening paragraphs, former state Attorney General Mike Bowers and investigator Richard Hyde called DeKalb “rotten to the core” and “infected” by misconduct from the top down.

Then they spent the second page and a half rattling off a stream of accusations, without naming names. Some were mundane, such as someone buying elected officials “pretzels filled with peanut butter.” Others sounded like felonies, such as “a bribery scheme involving a major county department.”

May, affronted by their harsh tone, has ordered the team to wrap up its work, deliver a final report by Aug. 26, and to not talk to him anymore in the meantime.

Until then, we’re left to wonder what Bowers and Hyde were talking about in parts of that letter. They aren't speaking publicly anymore.

Some things sound like questionable spending that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have already uncovered. For example, the letter says “taxpayers have also paid for traffic fines and toll road penalties.”

Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton’s county-issued Visa card once paid a $130 speeding ticket, after she was caught by a speed camera while at a conference in Washington, D.C., in January 2013. The commissioner said that since she was in a rental car, the ticket must have been charged to her card without her knowledge.

In another paragraph, the letter describes an employee being arrested for DUI in a county vehicle, but managing to keep his job.

That sounds like the publicized case of the District Attorney’s former chief investigator, Craig Scott, who was arrested in Rockdale County late last year for driving erratically at 104 miles per hour on I-20.

But they could be referencing another DUI altogether. Or someone has their facts wrong, because details they provide in the letter diverge from the Scott case.

The letter says taxpayers paid the impound fee.

However, Rockdale County’s towing service didn’t charge anything to release the Chevrolet Impala because it was a government vehicle, according to Rockdale sheriff’s spokesman Michael Camp.

The letter says the employee resigned rather than face disciplinary action, then got his job back within days of entering a guilty plea.

Scott was suspended, demoted, docked in pay and lost his county vehicle, District Attorney Robert James said. He pleaded guilty in March and went back to work a few months later.

If Scott is who they're talking about, the paragraph could indicate Bowers has been digging into the DA's office for more than just P-card records. As the AJC reported this month, James clashed with Bowers' team when it filed an open records request for his and 12 of his current and former employees' spending records.

Scott’s name was on the list, but James said he has no reason to believe Bowers and Hyde were alluding to his investigator's drunk driving arrest.

“Craig has been with the county for almost 20 years now. He’s a very good employee, he’s a very good investigator,” James said. “He made a poor decision, and he paid for that poor decision.”

So whose case could Bowers and Hyde be describing? What county employee got a DUI, had the county pay the impound fee, resigned, faced no disciplinary action, then got rehired soon after pleading guilty?

If anyone reading this has any ideas, shoot me a message at jredwards@ajc.com.

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.