We’ve heard the rumors and stories about Gwinnett County politics for years.
Apparently, so had the FBI.
Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, 64 and a veteran of county politics, resigned her office and pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that she took $36,500 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer.
A second former commissioner, Kevin Kenerly, is already facing trial on separate bribery charges. The former commission chair, Charles Bannister, had earlier resigned rather than face indictment on perjury charges related to a special grand-jury investigation.
And as the AJC reported yesterday:
“If the pleas were not enough to shake up the county government, federal prosecutors disclosed that more prosecutions involving land deals could be forthcoming. At Thursday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Gilfillan said all three defendants are now talking to authorities and could receive reduced sentences based on the value of their cooperation in other investigations.”
If you want a real taste of how distorted Gwinnett County leadership has become — an incestuous, feuding mix of judges, politicians, consultants, lawyers, developers, law enforcement — go read this. It’s the text of a civil suit filed in federal court by Bannister against Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway charging false arrest, false imprisonment and retaliatory prosecution.
Here’s the short version:
In 2010, when Bannister was still serving as commission chair, Conway’s deputies arrested Bannister and charged him with drunken driving. What makes it all interesting is that:
A.) Bannister and Conway had been feuding politically;
B.) Typically, Conway’s department does not make DUI arrests;
C.) Although Conway’s deputies claimed that Bannister had failed a roadside sobriety test, once taken into custody the then-chairman blew a 0.00 on the breath test. Twice.
D.) Despite the 0.00 breath test, Conway’s deputies dragged a handcuffed and humiliated Bannister to the local hospital, where the blood test also reported a 0.00 blood alcohol level.
In the suit, Bannister alleges that Conway and his deputies “perpetrated the illegal arrest and detention of Bannister … in retaliation for Bannister’s persistent opposition to Conway’s political objectives.”
Bannister also claims in the suit that upon taking office in 2004, he was approached by Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason, long influential in county politics. Mason allegedly “made it clear, explicitly, that if Bannister would use his position as commission chairman to Mason’s advantage, Bannister would be made wealthy. Bannister declined the overture.”
Bannister’s suit cites no evidence to support that particular claim. Overall, however, it paints a pretty sordid picture of what Gwinnett politics looks like to those on the inside. As Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said yesterday, “We have to be rid of this culture of corruption that exists in Gwinnett County.”
– Jay Bookman