Former DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge that he pocketed $3,000 meant for government trips to Savannah and Chicago.
Watson, who repaid the money before he was charged with a crime, was sentenced to 12 months on probation and 150 hours of community service for misdemeanor theft by conversion.
Watson, 63, withdrew advance checks in January and February of 2016 for government conferences that were scheduled to take place in April. But then he resigned from office in March 2016, before the trips took place, to run for DeKalb tax commissioner.
Even though Watson reimbursed the money, DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston said he needed to be held responsible. County policy requires that unused travel funds must be repaid immediately, but he didn’t finish paying back the government until nearly a year after the trips.
“We will not stand for corruption within our county government,” Boston said in a prepared statement. “Elected officials should be held to a higher standard of responsibility and accountability to the citizens whom they are elected to serve.”
There was no plea deal, but Watson asked DeKalb Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to reduce the charge against him to a misdemeanor, which she agreed to do after listening to testimony about Watson’s character and public service. Prosecutors had sought five years’ probation.
Watson’s attorney, Robert James, said he owned up to the charge.
“Mr. Watson always understood there had to be some accountability and some punishment,” said James, the county’s former district attorney. “He wanted to make this right, and that’s what he’s done today.”
During Watson’s probation, he’s barred from doing business with DeKalb County.
County records show Watson reimbursed the county $3,586 for his planned costs to attend the National Organization of Black County Officials economic development conference in Chicago and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia annual conference in Savannah. The advances were for conference registration, airfare, lodging and meals.
After Watson left office, he never went on the trips. He began reimbursing the money last November and paid it in full by March.
Watson, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and chairman of DeKalb’s delegation, was elected to the DeKalb Commission in 2010. After stepping down last year, he finished in third place in the race for county tax commissioner.
Watson also faced non-criminal complaints while he was in office.
The DeKalb Board of Ethics reprimanded him in August 2015 for awarding $1.5 million in contracts to his employer. In addition, he lost a $150,500 lawsuit in April 2015 involving a barroom argument in which he falsely accused two women of stealing his wallet.