Yet another former DeKalb County official has been charged with cheating taxpayers to float his own expenses.
Bob Lundsten, who was ex-DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer’s top aide before she resigned in disgrace, is accused of doing the same thing that first got his boss in trouble: Using his government-issued Visa card for personal purchases.
Lundsten now faces six counts of theft by taking and three counts of making false statements. Among other things, he is accused of lying when he scribbled “office drinks and supplies” on a $79 Kroger receipt, and “office shipping” on two UPS receipts totaling $72.
“This money was stolen,” DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said Thursday. “Someone took taxpayer dollars and spent it on something they weren’t supposed to.”
Both Boyer’s and Lundsten’s questionable spending came to light in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in early 2014. The newspaper also found that no one in the DeKalb County government was monitoring commissioners’ or their staffers’ use of purchasing cards, or P-cards.
But whereas Boyer rang up thousands of dollars in airline tickets, rental car charges and cell phone bills, most of Lundsten’s card expenses were paltry by comparison.
The District Attorney’s Office appears to have zeroed in on a handful of grocery and shipping receipts, and some of the dates listed in the indictment handed down Thursday correspond to P-card charges for as little as $24 and $13. Expense data obtained last year indicate he’s charged with misspending roughly $200 to $500.
Over the years, however, he rang up far more personal expenses, the AJC found. Since 2012, he wrote nearly $1,000 in checks to the county reimbursing charges he “erroneously” put on his county card, such as $128 in jewelry and $45 in wine accessories, according to memos that accompanied the checks.
Some of those reimbursements came only after the AJC and Channel 2 Action News questioned him about the expenses, including a $57 towing charge and $83 paid to River Street Sweets. In both cases, he said he thought those expenses had already been paid back.
The AJC’s first reports on Boyer’s P-card spending noted that she and her chief of staff had rung up $11,000 in restaurant meals in 2012 and 2013, with Big Tex, near the DeKalb government building, being Lundsten’s favorite spot. Boyer said all those meals were meetings with constituents.
“To have my integrity challenged, it was disheartening and upsetting,” Lundsten told Channel 2 in an April 2014 interview, where he said the county’s P-card policies were never fully explained to him.
On Thursday, Lundsten declined to comment when reached on his cellphone. His attorney, Jay Strongwater, said he hadn’t seen the indictment or evidence of the allegations, so he couldn’t speak to them.
James said the public is disillusioned with corruption inside the DeKalb government.
“Quite frankly, people want to see something done about it,” James said. “Without some level of accountability, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to restore the public trust and confidence … This is just a small step in that direction.”
Lundsten could face a maximum sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment for the theft charges and a maximum of 5 years incarceration for the false statements charges. He is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on May 13.
Lundsten is also the subject of a pending ethics complaint alleging that he used his county purchasing card for personal expenses, including meals and a cable TV bill.
“We need to let our justice system sort these charges out in a court of law,” said Board of Ethics Chairman John Ernst. “That being said, if Mr. Lundsten admits guilt or if a jury determines that he did these things, today’s indictment will be a big victory for cleaning up local government.”
The AJC and Channel 2 investigation triggered a federal probe that led to Boyer’s resignation and guilty plea. After she quit in August, Lundsten continued running her office, handling phone calls from residents in the North DeKalb district of more than 140,000 people.
He stayed on after Commissioner Nancy Jester was elected in December to replace Boyer.
Jester had pledged during her campaign to “clean house” of Boyer’s former staff but said she allowed him to stay on during the months it took to hire new staff.
She removed him last month after he got into a public argument during a Board of Ethics meeting with member Robert Blackman. After telling Lundsten during the meeting to “come outside” to settle their differences, Blackman resigned.
Jester said that Lundsten didn’t have access to public money after her election.
“I’m very thankful that the district attorney is prosecuting this vigorously because it’s a breach of public trust,” Jester said. “I hope we see continued cleaning house in DeKalb because I certainly don’t think this is the last shoe to drop.”
Boyer was sentenced last month to 14 months in federal prison for bilking taxpayers of more than $100,000, both by abusing her P-card and through the kickback scheme that involved an evangelist posing as a legislative consultant. She is expected to begin serving her sentence after Mother’s Day.
Her husband, John Boyer, has pleaded guilty to masterminding the scheme and is scheduled for sentencing May 6.
The evangelist hasn’t been charged.
Previous allegations of corruption
- Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis awaits a June retrial on charges that he extorted campaign contributions from county contractors.
- Former DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment last month after pleading guilty to using more than $100,000 in taxpayer money on herself through kickbacks and a county purchasing card. Her husband, John Boyer, has pleaded guilty to related charges.
- Jerry Clark, a former member of the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals, pleaded guilty in February to taking a bribe for his vote.
- Ismail Sirdah, a pool hall owner, pleaded guilty this month to bribing Clark for his vote on a nightclub permit.
- The Georgia Court of Appeals denied new trials last month for former DeKalb school employees Pat Reid and her ex-husband, Tony Pope, who were convicted last year following allegations they manipulated school construction contracts. Former Superintendent Crawford Lewis pleaded guilty under a plea agreement.
- Former DeKalb Custodial Services Manager Patrick Jackson pleaded guilty this month to charges that he steered taxpayer money to a janitorial company that was bribing him.
- Dameco Moss, a DeKalb grease inspector, pleaded guilty in May 2011 to bribery and theft for shaking down payments from restaurant owners.