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    UPDATE: The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners tabled a decision on allowing “The First 48” access to its homicide detectives until its Aug. 1 meeting. ORIGINAL STORY: “The First 48” — A&E’s provocative documentary series that follows homicide detectives during the crucial period immediately following a suspicious death — wants to film in Gwinnett County. And police Chief Butch Ayers is all for it. “The benefits of allowing this series access to the department,” he wrote in a memo to other county leaders, “revolve around the following: national department exposure for recruiting new police applicants, increasing the morale and productivity of departmental personnel, and [shedding] light on the hard work that goes into every homicide investigation.” Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider Tuesday the agreement that would grant production crews increased access to follow Gwinnett detectives as they investigate cases.  The initial agreement would grant crews access for up to a year. MORE: Ex-Gwinnett teacher blames student for sexual encounters, gets 90 days in prison MORE: 2 killed in Gwinnett County crash MORE: Gwinnett firefighter’s vigil for injured daughter: ‘please wear helmets’ “The First 48” — which has previously filmed in the city of Atlanta and in DeKalb County, as well as many other cities around the country — bills itself as taking viewers “behind the scenes of real-life investigations as it follows homicide detectives in the critical first 48 hours of murder investigations, giving viewers unprecedented access to crime scenes, interrogations and forensic processing.” Individual episodes generally feature cases from multiple jurisdictions. Gwinnett County police handled a total of 29 homicide cases in 2016 and, as of Monday morning, had seen 16 so far this year.  The department is authorized to have 783 sworn officers but is currently more than 100 officers short. It has battled with attrition for several years, thanks in part to upstart city departments that are able to pay more and a purported dwindling of interest in the profession.  In recent years, the department has turned to places as far away as upstate New York to recruit new officers. It’s holding a local hiring event in August. MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories: Camp Toccoa reborn: Reviving one of Georgia’s greatest WWII legacies More funding approved for new I-85 interchange in Gwinnett Deal asked to appoint replacement for convicted Fulton councilwoman Never miss a minute of what's happening in Gwinnett politics. Subscribe to
  • Therese Gunn admitted Friday that she’d had a sexual relationship with one of her students. The 54-year-old, now-former orchestra teacher said she couldn’t believe she’d done it, and that she’d made a poor decision, and that she was sorry. She then changed course, however briefly, and blamed her victim — claiming the then-17-year-old boy had coerced her into the relationship that developed at South Gwinnett High School. “He did,” Gunn said in front of Judge Warren Davis. “He was like a used car salesman.” Davis didn’t care for that argument, nor did prosecutor Karen West. And after Gunn entered her guilty plea to a single count of sexual assault by a person with supervisory authority, the judge sentenced her to serve just 90 days in prison. The remainder of her 10-year sentence will be spent on probation. “I don’t find that you're the kind of person that needs to be warehoused for years,” Davis said. “We get those cases and we get them out of society as long as we can. You're not one of those. But you clearly betrayed the trust that you had of parents, this parent, putting this child in your care.” More on Now or never? Gwinnett begins transit study as crowded future looms More on Gwinnett PD more than 100 officers short, schedules hiring event Gunn, who worked as a teacher for 25 years and had been at South Gwinnett since 2002, was arrested in May 2016.  At the time, police said she had held a relationship with the student, whom she taught for three years, for several months. Sexual activity allegedly 'occurred at the school, at the teacher's [Loganville-area] residence and at Lenora Park.” The relationship came to light after the student's mother found his journal and reported the relationship to police.  Under Georgia law, sexual contact between anyone with supervisory or disciplinary authority — such as a law enforcement officer, teacher or psychiatrist — and a person under their care is illegal, even if it’s consensual. Gunn was the fourth Gwinnett teacher arrested on sex-related charges during the 2015-16 school year. Since then, three more Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers have arrested on similar charges, including former University of Georgia football player Mikey Henderson. Another teacher who worked at the private Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn was also arrested earlier this year. In their initial press release regarding Gunn’s case, Gwinnett County police said they had 'discovered that the teacher hosted a party at her home in Grayson.” “During the party, the teacher allowed the 17-year-old and two other female students to smoke marijuana under her direct supervision,” police wrote. “According to the detective, the teacher smoked marijuana as well.' Gunn was initially charged with multiple counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but was not indicted on those charges. The victim that Gunn admitted to having sexual encounters with briefly spoke in court Friday afternoon. He said Gunn “made [his] adolescence hell.” In other Gwinnett news:
  • This fall, the Atlanta Beltline will cut the ribbon on its westside trail, the latest stretch of greenspace and walking paths designed to connect 45 intown Atlanta neighborhoods. But nearby resident Marie Owens couldn’t tell you much about it. Owens, who moved to Sylvan Hills five years ago to take care of her elderly mother, said she’s never received a flier, email or phone call about the project. “Every once in a while, I hear something about the Beltline on the news. But otherwise I don’t know much about it,” Owens said. Among the well-heeled and millennials, the Beltline is one of the most popular infrastructure projects to come along in Atlanta in decades. City planners have declared it an unmitigated success. It was featured on the front page of The New York Times in 2016, has won numerous awards and been credited with reviving several communities along the eastside trail. But some say Atlanta Beltline Inc., the organization that oversees development of the project, has fallen short in keeping the poor- and working-class communities adjacent to the trail informed on what to expect next in the sea change taking place. City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents the southwest Atlanta area, said many residents of nearby neighborhoods weren’t prepared for what the Beltline would bring: property tax increases, real estate speculators and new neighbors who sometimes want to mold the neighborhoods in their vision. And many don’t know how to respond. Residents fear that the lack of information on what’s happening could cause some of their neighbors to be duped into selling their homes cheaply to “predatory buyers,” as some officials are calling them. Those are real estate companies that lowball homeowners, sometimes tempting with cash payments. Over the past 18 months, hordes of such buyers have been knocking on doors or calling residents looking for sellers. “When I moved here in 2010, there were lots of vacant properties and boarded up houses,” said Ayisha Weisner, president of the neighborhood association for Sylvan Hills, which is about a half-mile south of the westside trail. “But once you could tangibly see that the Beltline was coming, all of a sudden all these people were interested in these abandoned houses.” Weisner said she tries to fill in the blanks on the Beltline to her neighbors, many of whom are older and are not able to get out to meetings about the project. “If you are not Internet savvy, you have no idea that the Beltline is coming,” she said. MORE ABOUT THE ATLANTA BELTLINE In-depth: Atlanta mayor to citizens: Don’t sell your homes cheap Investigation: How the Beltline broke its affordable housing promise Learn more: Your guide to the Atlanta Beltline  Beltline galleries: Project renderings | Before & After | Art | Walking Tours Sheperd expressed her concerns to Beltline CEO Paul Morris during a contentious council committee meeting earlier this year, saying the organization relies too heavily on social media and other online tools to communicate to residents. She has introduced a still-pending ordinance mandating Atlanta Beltline holding meetings at Neighborhood Planning Unit gatherings. “How are they telling people what the impact of the Beltline is going to be on their community?” Sheperd said. “They email it out. They Facebook it out. But they need to go to NPU meetings, to neighborhood meetings. The NPUs were set up by (former mayor) Maynard Jackson to get the information out to the meetings. ” Atlanta Beltline spokeswoman Ericka Brown Davis said the group’s social media strategy should not be confused with its community engagement efforts. Social media is meant for promotional efforts. But efforts are also made to reach out in other ways. In 2016, Atlanta Beltline sent direct mail about the progress on all segments of its trails to more than 5,200 addresses throughout the city. The group also sent out 6,000 quarterly newsletters, more than 113,000 emails and 52,173 fliers to libraries, recreation and senior centers and churches. It also has quarterly briefings for the public, study group meetings around the city and resident round tables. “People ask us to come out to provide information all the time,” said Beth McMillan, director of community engagement and planning for the Beltline. McMillan said Beltline officials have attended NPU meetings, but don’t go regularly because the agendas of the gatherings are so packed they only allow for brief updates. The Beltline does have its unofficial ambassadors. Patrick Berry, development committee co-chair with the West View Community Organization, said he’s tried to keep residents informed on the westside trail’s progress through his organization’s email list, Facebook page and Facebook group. The information has been plentiful, he said, if not a bit overwhelming. “I’m connected through all their communication channels,” he said. Mayor Kasim Reed said it’s important to get the word out about the impact the Beltline can have on home values because he worries people will be tempted to sell if an offer sounds attractive. “The most important thing we can do is to communicate to people that live in these neighborhoods is you have an opportunity, because you’re already there, to take advantage of the current [housing] environment in the city of Atlanta,” he said. “But you really have to be mindful because you’re going to have people who are more and more aggressive about acquiring your home.” He said what might sound like a good deal now, could prove to not be later because the value of houses along the Beltline’s trails are only going to go higher as the project attracts more residents and services. Vickie Scheer said she and her husband Wayne did not wait for Beltline officials to educate them. They started to investigate when they saw neighborhood houses that had been boarded up since the recession being renovated. The Scheers, who have lived in the same southwest Atlanta home on Melrose Drive home since 1981, have since attended forums for Atlanta mayoral candidates to hear how they plan to handle the increased interest in living along the Beltline. “We are very concerned about the gentrification,” Vickie Scheer said. “There is nothing physically we can do about it but be aware of it.” Rosanne Maltese, who has lived in her southwest Atlanta home for 35 years, said she didn’t really start keeping up with the progress of westside trail until she started getting mail asking if she wanted to sell her house. “Initially, I didn’t put that together with the Beltline,” she said of the offers. “I didn’t know what to think at first.” She said Beltline officials could have done a better job of reaching out to the community, but that she’s thrilled now that she knows what’s going on. “When I first moved in the area, it was stable,” she said. “Then there were a lot of older residents who died and the area just seemed to go downhill.” The Beltline is starting to reverse that decline, she said. “I think this is a wonderful thing,” she said. MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on, including these stories: Atlanta’s next city council president will play bigger role than usual 2017 Atlanta mayoral race: How high can the city’s sales taxes go? MARTA to take over operations of Atlanta Streetcar Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta politics. Subscribe to
  • A contractor who has admitted paying bribes for city of Atlanta contracts paid more than $1.6 million over three years to an influential political consultant who held a high-ranking job in Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show. One six-figure payment from E.R. Mitchell Construction Company to a business led by the Rev. Mitzi Bickers, who worked for the city from 2010 to 2013, matches the date and amount of a bribe Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. pleaded guilty to making — a $110,000 wire transfer on April 1, 2014. Federal prosecutors have not named the person to whom the bribe payments were made in the cash-for-contracts scandal, which was active from at least 2010 to 2015. Mitchell and a second contractor admitted to conspiring to pay more than $1 million to a person under the belief some of the money would go to one or more people with influence over city contracts. The AJC reviewed a portion of Mitchell’s banking records from 2013 to 2015. In all, checks or wire payments from Mitchell companies went to Bickers and her companies 80 times, the records show. The payments reveal a much deeper financial relationship between Mitchell and Bickers than previously was known. They also raise fresh questions about what Bickers, a Baptist minister and a political consultant, was doing to earn such large sums. Two checks reviewed by the AJC indicated in the memo line that the payments were for “Govt Relations.” Some of the records reveal payments to Mitchell from co-conspirator Charles P. Richards Jr.’s construction company that came within days of bribe payments identified by federal prosecutors. On Aug. 7, 2015, for example, Mitchell deposited $30,000 on the same day Richards has admitted to writing a $30,000 check as a bribe, documents show. Both Mitchell and Richards have agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. Bickers has not been charged in the case, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office subpoenaed her emails and work product from the city of Atlanta and the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, where she currently works as a chaplain. Neither Bickers nor her attorney, Carl Lietz, responded to the AJC’s request for an interview, nor did they answer questions emailed to them about the payments, Bickers’ role in the investigation, and her relationship with Mitchell. In May, the AJC reported that Bickers’ criminal defense team had asked their client for a record of every bank deposit made into her accounts during the time frame of the bribery scheme. They wanted the documents “to identify proper taxable income,” according to documents turned over to prosecutors through subpoena. Craig Gillen, Mitchell’s criminal defense attorney, did not respond to messages and questions about the payments. Lynne Borsuk, Richards’ attorney, also declined to comment. Paul Murphy, a former U.S. Attorney who is now a partner with King & Spalding, said the transactions are not necessarily nefarious, but they would be of interest to federal prosecutors. “What the government would be interested in would be what was the nature of the relationship between E.R. Mitchell and Bickers and what happened to the money,” he said. “What the government does in an investigation is it follows the money.” A spokeswoman for Reed reiterated past statements that the city is fully cooperating with federal authorities and said “those involved in any wrongdoing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Two checks for “Govt Relations” It’s unclear why Mitchell and his companies — construction firms with a long history of government contracting — paid so much money to Bickers’ companies that advise political campaigns. The two checks marked for “Govt Relations” were for a combined $22,335 on Sept. 13, 2013. They were written to Pirouette, a Bickers’ political consulting company, three and a half months after Bickers left her $62,500-a-year job as director of human services for Mayor Reed. Bickers is not a registered lobbyist with the state. She does, however, have extensive personal ties at City Hall, after helping Reed’s campaign win the mayor’s office in 2009. Reed has publicly downplayed Bickers’ role in his administration since her name has been linked to the investigation. In 2012, Bickers took a leave of absence to drum up political support for a statewide transportation sales tax, a job she was given because of her extensive contacts throughout metro Atlanta. Deposits made into Mitchell’s accounts also align with allegations laid out in the government’s case, according to documents reviewed by the AJC. That includes a $20,000 check from Richards in January 2013 that matches the amount and date of a bribe payment he admitted to making. The AJC review of Mitchell’s bank records found that he twice wrote checks to Bickers within days or weeks of bribe payments Richards has admitted to making. For example, Richards admitted to paying a $50,000 bribe through a wire transfer on March 27, 2014. Mitchell’s financial records show he wrote a $50,000 check to Pirouette eight days earlier. Likewise, Richards admitted to paying a $12,000 bribe with a check on June 26, 2015 — a payment that happened 16 days after Mitchell wrote a check to Pirouette for the same amount, according to Mitchell’s bank records. It is unclear if those two payments from Mitchell to Bickers’ companies are related to the bribery investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has not identified recipients of the alleged bribes, declined comment. At times, Mitchell’s companies paid firms tied to Bickers thousands of dollars several times a month, sometimes writing multiple checks on the same day. In December 2014, for example, Mitchell wrote the following checks: $11,642 to The Bickers Group on Dec. 9; $8,000 to Korah Music Group on Dec. 23; $11,868 to The Bickers Group on Dec. 24; $14,000 to The Bickers Group on Dec. 24; and $15,736 to Pirouette on Dec. 29. The Bickers Group is also a political consulting firm. Korah is an artist management company registered in Nevada. Bickers is listed as an officer in the company with a Stockbridge, Georgia, address that belongs to a UPS store. “Korah Music Group discovers and manages artists who want to turn the world around through the liberal arts,” a website describing the company says. “Our leadership team has the industry knowledge and experience to push the inner gift from your soul to the world.” Bickers’ neighbor gets $582k Mitchell’s financial records also show a connection between Mitchell and a contractor, Robert Walker of Jonesboro, who appears to have business ties of his own to Bickers. On March 7, 2014, Mitchell wired $582,500 to Georgia Project Management and Design. The AJC could find no business registration for the company with the Georgia Secretary of State. But a company invoice was submitted to the city of Atlanta by Robert Walker for “disaster recovery” cleaning work in February 2014, and it lists its address as a suite within the same Stockbridge UPS store Bickers used on the Korah Music incorporation document. Property records show Walker once lived about a mile and a half miles from Bickers near Lake Spivey. A Robert Walker with that same Jonesboro address was the chief financial officer in a defunct company which listed Bickers as its chief executive and was registered at her Jonesboro address, state records show. When contacted by phone, Walker told the AJC that the wire transfer was payment was for subcontracting work he performed for Mitchell. Walker declined to answer any other questions and said his attorney would contact the AJC. The attorney did not call the AJC before press time. A memo line on the wire says it was for “Snow 2014.” The AJC reported in February that Mitchell’s Cascade Building Systems was given $5.3 million of emergency contract work during the devastating 2014 ice storm — 65 percent of the money Atlanta spent cleaning up after the storm. Emergency contracting is not required to go through the city’s normal competitive bidding process. An AJC investigation found that some of Cascade’s billing seemed excessive. In one case, Cascade charged city taxpayers 1,000 hours of overtime for equipment at $442 an hour — about $200-an-hour more than price quotes provided by the other companies that performed work during that storm. Walker’s company also performed work directly for the city during that storm, cleaning three buildings for $40,500. A city spokeswoman said in a recent email the contract was necessary to clean up after 350 public works employees who camped out in the buildings during the city’s recovery effort. Alvin Kendall, an attorney for Walker, said Thursday his client provided “equipment and labor to remove snow” for Mitchell’s company, which was the city’s primary contractor. Georgia Project Management and Design isn’t registered with the Secretary of State, Kendall said, because Walker is a sole proprietor.  Kendall said his client was not a part of any wrongdoing.   “The only thing I have discussed with (Walker) about any wrongdoing is what we read in the newspaper,” Kendall said. “And to the extent of what we read in the newspaper, he doesn’t know anything about Mr. Mitchell.”   Kendall also said he did not know if his client had been questioned about Mitchell or Bickers by federal authorities. Relationship extends to real estate, development Mitchell and Bickers’ relationship goes back more than a decade. In October 2004, Bickers filed for bankruptcy protection after a failed run for Fulton County Commission chair. Mitchell came to the rescue, with a $65,000-a-year job as an executive in one of his construction companies, and two bonuses paid soon after she was hired, according to documents in the bankruptcy case. Bickers withdrew her Chapter 13 petition in early 2005. Other records suggest a cozy business relationship. Fulton County property records show E.R. Mitchell Construction Co. sold a building on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard in South Atlanta to Bickers for $350,000 in January 2015. Three months later, Bickers transferred ownership to a different Mitchell firm free of charge. Mitchell, Bickers and the Chateau Land Co. were sued in 2013 over more than $300,000 in defaulted real estate loans issued in 2008 and 2009. Bickers was listed as Chateau’s chief financial officer at the time. The case was settled out of court in January 2014 for an undisclosed sum. Several weeks before the settlement, Mitchell signed a check to Bickers for $39,775 with “Loan Repayment” written in the memo line, according to records reviewed by the AJC. ‘A partner of her choosing’ In 2014, the relationship between the two crossed over state lines into Mississippi, after Bickers helped Tony Yarber become Jackson’s mayor. The Bickers Group incorporated in Jackson, Miss., in June 2014, and Bickers’ partner, Keyla Jackson, established a Mississippi presence for Pirouette with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office that same month, according to incorporation records filed with the state. A year later, Bickers and Keyla Jackson formed Mississippi Developers LLC, a company that was a partner in a proposed hotel project near the city’s convention center. About that time, Mitchell registered E.R. Mitchell Company LLC as a Mississippi business, and Mitchell and Bickers sought minority-business certification for their companies to help win city contracts. It does not appear that any contracts were awarded to the companies. A federal lawsuit, previously reported by the AJC, claims Bickers told the head of Jackson’s equal business opportunity office in May 2015 that she was a major donor and friend of Yarber, and the mayor “decided she would get” a federally-mandated waterworks project “with a partner of her choosing.” Campaign finance records show Bickers and companies tied to her contributed $15,000 to Yarber’s campaign the previous year. The lawsuit, filed by Stephanie Coleman in February, also says Bickers asked her for help making the paperwork justify the contract award. Coleman told the AJC and Channel 2 Action News in February that she had been interviewed by FBI agents in Jackson in November 2015 related to bid-steering allegations. The Jackson City Council eventually rejected the bid by the team that included Bickers for the waterworks project.
  • Grady Health Systems is proposing a $165 million expansion that would add a seven-story surgery center to its main campus and increase its capacity at a center on Ponce de Leon Avenue that treats HIV and AIDS. The proposal is in its early stages, but a timeline for the project says it could be completed in three and a half years. The hospital system is seeking half the money to pay for the expansion from Fulton and DeKalb counties, while the remainder would come from philanthropic and other private sources, according to a presentation to county leaders. The project would add operating and recovery rooms and allow more space for in-patient beds. The current operating rooms are at capacity, according to the presentation. >> View the full story, at MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Arielle Kass keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Fulton County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories: After years of leadership, Bill Edwards officially South Fulton mayor Resident sues over Roswell council’s denial of cul-de-sac development Property values to rise steeply in much of Fulton County, Atlanta Never miss a minute of what's happening in Fulton politics. Subscribe to
  • A Gwinnett County judge has shot down the ethics board-challenging lawsuit filed by embattled Commissioner Tommy Hunter.  Judge Melodie Snell Conner ruled against the lawsuit, which argued that Gwinnett’s ethics board was unconstitutional because of its use of appointments from private organizations, in an order filed Wednesday. Her brief, 1.5-page order said Gwinnett’s ethics board is “not constitutionally infirm” because it is merely a recommending body.  The final decision in Hunter’s ethics case, which was based in part on a Jan. 14 Facebook post in which he called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig,”’ rested in the hands of his colleagues on the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners.  The board voted last week to publicly reprimand Hunter. Conner’s ruling deemed the other arguments in Hunter’s lawsuit — including one asking for that reprimand to be vacated — moot. Read the full story — including what folks on both side of the Tommy Hunter issue had to say — at
  • A grand jury indicted former DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson with theft Tuesday after he receiving about $3,000 in advances for government trips that he never took. Watson, 63, faces a single count of theft by conversion in DeKalb Superior Court, according to DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston’s office. Watson withdrew advance checks in January 2016 for conferences in Chicago and Savannah, but then he resigned from office in March 2016 to run for DeKalb Tax Commissioner. “The state alleges the expense money was then converted to personal use and not repaid until approximately one year later, well after Watson’s resignation,” according to a press release from Boston’s office. “County policy requires any funds advanced for travel but not actually used for said travel be returned to the county immediately.” A warrant was issued for Watson’s arrest, and he’s expected to surrender to authorities, the release said. Watson didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Exclusive to subscribers: Read the full story on MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Mark Niesse keeps you updated on the latest happenings in DeKalb County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories: Accused politicians try to undermine ethics oversight in Georgia DeKalb Sheriff Mann could retain office even if found guilty DeKalb police, firefighter pay raise plan revealed Never miss a minute of what's happening in DeKalb politics. Subscribe to In other DeKalb news:
  • Tommy Hunter, he of “John Lewis is a racist pig” Facebook infamy, has been officially reprimanded. The written condemnation from his colleagues on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, the result of a controversial ethics investigation, has been posted online and on the courthouse wall. Soon, the five-page denunciation, which notes a “pattern of behavior that fails to adequately consider the good of the County,” will appear in the local newspaper, completing the process. But then what? MORE: 13 controversial Facebook posts by Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter Will the uproar — the months and months of commission meeting protests and racial angst, of early departures by Hunter and controversial comments from his paid political consultant, of frustration among members of an otherwise buttoned-up government — finally come to an end? Will everything…calm down? Not likely. The protests may continue, a recall election is a possibility, and Hunter’s lawsuit will still be there. “He has really created a situation in Gwinnett County that we can never go back to the status quo,” Donna McLeod, one of the architects of the anti-Hunter movement, said. “Those days are long gone now.” Read the full story — including what Hunter’s spokesman and attorney have to say — at MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories: Camp Toccoa reborn: Reviving one of Georgia’s greatest WWII legacies More funding approved for new I-85 interchange in Gwinnett Deal asked to appoint replacement for convicted Fulton councilwoman Never miss a minute of what's happening in Gwinnett politics. Subscribe to
  • Charges have been dropped against a Paulding County man who had been accused of trying to intimidate a key witness in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal. On Thursday, Fulton County prosecutors dropped the case against Shandarrick Barnes, who had been indicted for allegedly throwing a brick through the window of contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr.’s southwest Atlanta home. Mitchell pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes in a cash-for-contracts scheme. A lawyer for Barnes filed a motion earlier this month to suppress evidence in the case, including a purported taped confession. In the motion, attorney Ted Salter contended prosecutors had admitted “a significant portion of its file is missing”. In an email attached to his motion, Salter contended that the confession may have been lost. Now Salter said he is working to get his client released from state custody. Barnes’ parole for a prior conviction was revoked and he is currently incarcerated at a state prison in Jackson. “I am trying to get my client released immediately,” Salter said, adding that he has written to the state parole board for Barnes’ release. “Let him out and let him see if he can get his job back,” Salter said of Barnes, calling his detention “a strain on his wife and daughter.” Barnes was arrested by Atlanta police in November. The alleged incident occurred in September 2015. Barnes pleaded not guilty to felony counts of making terroristic threats and criminal damage to property in the second degree. The bribery case involving Mitchell is federal matter, but the alleged act of vandalism was brought in Fulton County Superior Court. Mitchell told police officers at the time of the brick incident he was working with federal authorities on a case. Written on the brick was an unmistakable threat: “ER, keep your mouth shut!!! Shut up.” Dead rats also were left on Mitchell’s property. Barnes once worked for a former executive at one of Mitchell’s companies. That executive, Mitzi Bickers, is a reverend and political consultant who played a key role in Mayor Kasim Reed’s 2009 election and served in Reed’s administration from 2010 to 2013. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records related to her from the city of Atlanta and Clayton County, where she now works as a chaplain for Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill. Police records from Barnes’ arrest said Barnes confessed to the brick incident and that the confession was recorded by the FBI. Salter said earlier this month in his motion the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office relied on the purported confession tape in charging his client. As part of his motion to suppress evidence, Salter included emails he sent to Fulton prosecutors seeking the purported confession and other evidence, including victim statements, cellphone records and recorded conversations between Barnes and Mitchell. But Salter said he never received the purported confession tape. In an email attached to Salter’s motion earlier this month, Deputy District Attorney Fani Willis wrote Salter and stated she believed Salter had “all the information we have.” Willis did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
  • Two men pleaded guilty Thursday to reduced charges based on allegations they were involved in a scheme to steal $4,000 from DeKalb County’s government by forging former CEO Lee May’s name on a check. Former DeKalb Deputy Chief Operating Officer Morris Williams and contractor Doug Cotter agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors to resolve the case.  Cotter will reimburse $4,000 to the county government. In addition, Cotter and Williams will pay $1,000 fines, serve one year on probation and work 80 hours of community service. The case arose from repairs to May’s home as a result of a December 2010 raw sewage spill that flooded his basement.  Cotter was working for Alpharetta-based Water Removal Services and charged the county $6,500 to fix May’s floors. Cotter has said Williams told him to bill the county for that amount, even though he had agreed to do the work at cost, or $2,500. Cotter wrote the $4,000 check — representing the difference between the amounts — to May, which he didn’t cash. Williams then returned the check to Cotter, who cashed it at a liquor store owned by his family. It’s unclear what happened to the money afterward. May, who left office in December, has said he never received the money or signed the check. Both Cotter and Williams had been facing felony charges with maximum sentences of 30 years imprisonment, but Senior Assistant District Attorney Chris Timmons said in court the reduced penalty was appropriate. Timmons told Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey he wanted to resolve the case because of potential issues such as having to disclose a confidential source during a trial and the statute of limitations. Cotter pleaded guilty to a charge of theft by taking. Though Cotter is repaying the money, he entered what’s known as an Alford plea. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his innocence but acknowledges it’s in his best interest to enter the plea. Williams pleaded guilty to a charge of obstruction of an officer as a result of an interview with the FBI about the case in 2015. Exclusive to subscribers: Read the full story on MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT. The AJC's Mark Niesse keeps you updated on the latest happenings in DeKalb County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories: Accused politicians try to undermine ethics oversight in Georgia DeKalb Sheriff Mann could retain office even if found guilty DeKalb police, firefighter pay raise plan revealed Never miss a minute of what's happening in DeKalb politics. Subscribe to In other news:


  • Police are investigating a shooting at a Starbucks in Cobb County. Channel 2's Ross Cavitt learned that a woman was shot outside the Starbucks at Paces Ferry and Cumberland Parkway Thursday afternoon. Witnesses said they heard a pop and then saw the gunman jump over the bushes and run to a waiting truck. Cavitt spoke to a witness who said the woman who was shot asked for help, but then left. The woman has been identified as Sheena Fisse, 31. 'She had come into the door and I heard from other people she asked for help and said she's been shot. She asked for help or announced she'd been shot and turned around and left,' Grant Wyckoff said. TRENDING STORIES: O.J. Simpson granted parole after 9 years in jail Police: Burglar thought he cut security wires, still caught on camera 10-year-old girl hit, killed while walking to store Police said Fisse was shot in the side and drove eight miles down the interstate to Fulton Industrial Boulevard where they found her. She was taken to the hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. Police said they are questioning one person in connection with the shooting. If you have any information, you're asked to call 770-499-3945. Woman shot outside Cumberland Starbucks, drives miles down the highway before stopping. Suspect at large. @wsbtv Ross Cavitt | WSB-TV (@RossCavittWSB) July 20, 2017
  • Police said a burglar broke into a local nail salon and got away with cash.Channel 2's Audrey Washington was in Gainesville where police said the man scoped out the shop for one specific reason.Police said the burglar targeted the salon because he knows the nail techs get tipped with cash. They said it's the same reason they want him off the streets before he hits another nail shop.Surveillance video obtained by Washington showed the man walk into the back door of the nail studio and spa inside the Lakeshore Mall before 8 a.m.'Somebody come in through the back door like you see in the video,' the business owner told Washington, 'He just randomly picked it and (was) lucky to get in.' TRENDING STORIES: Woman had $2 million in liquid meth hidden in cleaning jugs during traffic stop, police say 10-year-old girl struck, killed while walking to a store Man shoots AT&T work truck outside parked in front of his home While inside, the shop owner said that the man cut the wires to what he thought was the security system. It turned out the wires he cut were to the audio system, so the camera was rolling as the man made his way inside. 'Not fair for us or anybody or business owners,' the salon owner told Washington.Sgt. Kevin Holbrook, with the Gainesville Police Department, told Washington, 'He did not hit any other businesses in the mall. He went to this nail salon, probably knowing that they do a lot of cash business.'The owner wouldn't say how much the guy got away with and police are hoping someone will recognize the suspect in the video by his distinctive camouflage backpack. Meanwhile police are warning other nail salon owners in the area. 'If you do cash business, if you have employees that receive cash tips, do not keep large amounts of cash in your store,' Holbrook said.The salon owner said he added extra security to his back door and as for the suspect, police believe he lives in the area. Anyone with information is asked to give Gainesville police a call.
  • Sen. John McCain's treatment for brain cancer could keep him out of Washington for weeks, perhaps months, and yet it's unlikely anyone will challenge his extended leave. Congress has a long tradition in which no one questions ailing lawmakers taking time to recover. For starters, it's just poor form. And, frankly, it's up to the stricken member of Congress and their doctors to decide when — or even if — they return to work. Some have recuperated away from the Capitol for a year or more. It's an unwritten courtesy that often doesn't extend to the real working world where employees are forced to file for medical disability or take unpaid leave. Julie Tarallo, McCain's spokeswoman, said Friday that 'further consultations with Sen. McCain's Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate.' McCain had taken to Twitter on Thursday promising a quick return. 'Unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by!' said the six-term Arizona Republican and 2008 GOP presidential nominee. The 80-year-old McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, who had removed a blood clot above his left eye last Friday. He and his family are weighing his treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy. In the immediate aftermath of McCain's diagnosis, Republicans wouldn't speculate about what the temporary loss of McCain's vote would mean. But McCain's absence complicates Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plans for a Senate vote on a GOP health care bill to erase much of the Affordable Care Act. A vote is possible on Tuesday, but GOP defections plus McCain's likely absence could sink any chance even to get started. McCain wouldn't be the first lawmaker this year to miss votes, hearings and other legislative action. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson remained in Georgia for several weeks earlier this year as he underwent two back surgeries and recuperated. Isakson missed the vote on confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. In January 2012, then-Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. suffered a major stroke and didn't return for almost a full year, making a dramatic entrance by climbing the steps of the Capitol on the opening day of the following Congress. In a lawmaker's absence, congressional staff keep the office operating, send out news releases — one from McCain on Thursday blasted the Trump administration's Syria policy — and respond to constituents. Absences can leave the margin of control on a razor's edge. The month after Democrats won back the Senate in 2006, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson had a near-fatal episode of bleeding in his brain that, at the time, threatened to shift the Senate's margin from 51-49 Democratic to 50-50 GOP control with Republican Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote. Johnson recovered but was away from the Senate for almost nine months. McCain is battling the same form of cancer that claimed the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in August 2009. Kennedy was away from the Senate for extended stretches but returned on occasion to vote. 'There were times when Senator Reid had to juggle things because he had two senators absent, Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd,' said longtime former Senate aide Jim Manley, who worked for both Kennedy and then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. 'Having said that, it really never, with a handful of exceptions, proved to be that big of a problem.' Kennedy also delegated some of his responsibilities as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee by farming out responsibility for bills before the panel to colleagues such as then-Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. McCain has had Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., handle his duties as Armed Services Committee chairman. Unclear is whether Inhofe will steer the sweeping defense policy bill if the Senate begins debate in August. And, if legislative necessity should dictate that McCain return for a crucial, dramatic vote, there's precedent for that. Kennedy, who mostly stayed away from the chamber for fear of infection, returned to the Senate in July 2008 for a key vote. During McCain's first term, Sen. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., recovering from an emergency appendectomy, was wheeled in on a stretcher to cast the deciding vote on a GOP budget plan. And in 1964, California Democrat Clair Engle, whose own bout with brain cancer rendered him unable to speak, was wheeled into the Senate to vote for the landmark Civil Rights Act. Engle pointed to his eye and tried to mouth 'aye,' according to newspaper accounts at the time. In an earlier time, some senators were away from the chamber for years. Karl Mundt, R-S.D., suffered a stroke in late 1969 and refused to resign and allow a GOP replacement to be named. He held the seat until January 1973 and was replaced by Democrat Jim Abourezk. Sen. Carter Glass, D-Va., kept his titles of president pro tempore and chairman of the Appropriations Committee despite being absent because of frailty due to old age.
  • Embattled former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has opened a new consulting firm called Resilient Patriot, LLC that is advising private equity firms, according to one of his brothers, who says Flynn is 'moving on with his life.' Joe Flynn said his family also is in the early stages of starting a fund to pay for the legal bills his brother is racking up as he sits at the center of multiple probes into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. 'Mike's not a millionaire, not even close,' Joe Flynn told The Associated Press this week. 'This situation has put him in a tough spot financially. This is going to cost him a lot of money.' 'There's a lot of people that are big fans of his across the country,' he added. Several of Flynn's siblings plan to administer the fund for the retired Army lieutenant general, and are working on setting up a website and consulting with a lawyer about the legal intricacies of such a fund. Joe Flynn said they want to 'be as transparent as possible' and do it properly. After being forced into retirement in 2014 by the Obama administration, Flynn went on to set up a company that accepted speaking fees from Russian entities and later did consulting work for a Turkish-owned business. He joined the Trump campaign and then the administration as an early supporter. But the Trump White House ousted him after saying he mischaracterized conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. A wide range of his actions — including foreign contracts and payments, and whether he lied to officials — are under scrutiny by investigators. Joe Flynn said his brother is not independently wealthy, and depends on his Army pension. While his brother made some money consulting, Joe Flynn said much of that went into his company and to subcontractors. Now, with Resilient Patriot, Michael Flynn is advising private equity firms on deals they are considering, Joe Flynn said. He did not specify the firms. 'They use him to vet opportunities with his network,' he said. 'He's slowly starting to do that as a totally independent consultant.' While he said his older brother is doing well, 'There's still a cloud over him,' he said, adding 'I think he's not worried about going to jail or anything like that.' His son, Mike Flynn Jr., used the name Resilient Patriot on Twitter, but the work does not involve him, Joe Flynn said. Flynn Jr. sent numerous posts on Twitter about the conspiracy theories of Pizzagate, a fake new story suggesting a Washington, D.C., pizza shop plays a key role in a child sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton. The conspiracy theory influenced a North Carolina man to fire a rifle in the restaurant in December. Michael Flynn has been spending most of his summer in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he and his wife grew up and where they built a home years ago. Flynn has spent time surfing and golfing there in recent days. The plans for a legal defense fund were first reported by Bloomberg.
  • Lately the Congressional Budget Office just can't get any respect. Republicans from the White House on down have worked to discredit the nonpartisan agency, in an effort to undermine its inconvenient findings that GOP health care bills would cause more than 20 million people to lose their insurance. Now all eight former directors of the agency, some of them Republicans and some Democrats, have signed onto a letter defending CBO and urging lawmakers to give it the respect it deserves. 'We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency's role in the legislative process,' the former directors say in their letter Friday to the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. CBO is a nonpartisan agency and acts as Congress' official scorekeeper, analyzing the costs and impacts of the bills lawmakers write. Most major legislation does not come to a vote without a CBO 'score' and these scores can be consequential in serving as the bottom line analysis of the impact a bill will have. CBO directors are approved by the House and Senate leaders. The current director, Keith Hall, was chosen by Republican Tom Price, who is now secretary of Health and Human Services but previously chaired the budget committee in the House. Price made the selection and it was blessed by the top Capitol Hill GOP leaders at the time. Hall has served since 2015. Nevertheless, in recent months Republicans have not liked what CBO has had to say about the GOP's legislation to repeal and replace 'Obamacare.' The biggest headlines have been the large numbers of consumers who would lose insurance under the GOP plans, plus the higher premiums for older Americans that would result. Many congressional Republicans have pointed out that CBO's predictions sometimes don't prove accurate. In one example Republicans often cite, the agency overestimated the number of Americans who would gain health coverage on the purchasing exchanges created by Obamacare. Two Trump White House officials, legislative director Marc Short and Brian Blase, special assistant to the president for the National Economic Council, went so far as to write an opinion piece in the Washington Post earlier this month pre-butting the agency's findings about Senate health care legislation. The estimates 'will be little more than fake news' the two claimed. The sitting leadership of the CBO does not respond to such attacks. But in an unusual move the past leadership got together to fight back. In their letter the former directors defended the agency's approach and the high quality of its research, while noting that a law's outcome over time can be difficult to predict in a dynamic economy. 'In sum, relying on CBO's estimates in the legislative process has served the Congress?_?and the American people?_?very well during the past four decades,' they conclude. 'As the House and Senate consider potential policy changes this year and in the years ahead, we urge you to maintain and respect the Congress's decades-long reliance on CBO's estimates in developing and scoring bills.' ___ Online: Read the CBO directors' letter at: An occasional look at what Capitol Hill is talking about
  • Meek Mill faced scrutiny during his highly-publicized rap feud with Drake and relationship with former girlfriend Nicki Minaj. Some may think Mill lost in both situations, especially after Drake's Grammy-nominated diss track 'Back to Back.' But the Philadelphia-bred rapper doesn't view it that way, saying there were other pressing issues in his life he considers as losses — from the death of close friends to a probation violation that landed him three months in house arrest last year. While wearing a gold pendant in remembrance of the late rapper and protege Lil Snupe, who was shot dead in 2013, Mill spoke with The Associated Press about his new album 'Wins & Losses,' which comes out Friday. He also touches on empowering young black youth, Minaj's ex-boyfriend Safaree Samuels being jumped during the BET Awards weekend and his aspirations of doing film. AP: What compelled you to name your album 'Wins and Losses'? Mill: Everybody saying that I'm losing and I lost. I lost my case. I lost my friends to the streets. Those things really meant something to me. I started off in the basement on a karaoke machine. Now I'm in million-dollar studios, making a lot of money being able to feed my family and take them out a crazy environment, still being able to wake up on my own time and do things how I want to do it. That's my definition of winning. I determine my definition of losing on this album. AP: Your single 'Young Black America' has a politically-charged tone. What do you want people to take away from it? Mill: It's an eye-opener for the young people for my culture. It's to help them open their eyes and see what they are really dealing with in real reality. A lot of rap isn't based off reality most of the time. Sometimes it's ignorant. ... I just wanted to give young people in our culture an understanding of what's going on. In one video, we got young kids with guns with KKK masks on, basically saying we killing our own. AP: What run-ins have you experienced with the law that youngsters can relate to? Mill: I was 18 and got beat up by a cop and almost killed by cops. I was just a statistic coming up. The cops are in a dangerous neighborhood thinking everybody else in the neighborhood is dangerous or everybody in the hood is killers. They caught me and treated me like I was a killer. I don't think that's really right. The cop gave me a 100 charges with trying to kill a cop. I don't want to kill a cop. They basically put me on probation for the rest of my life from that point on when I was 18. I'm 30 now and still on probation. I've been to jail three times from that one stint of probation. Any mistake you make, you'll be put in prison. Your freedom can be took. AP: Your relationship with Minaj and beef with Drake really put a spotlight on you. How did you take to the criticism? Mill: I'll look at the internet and see comments like, 'Meek got Nicki money.' You can't know nothing about Meek Mill if you saying something like that. They be like 'Meek Mill can't rap.'... 'Somebody wrote Meek Mill raps'. ... I came up on YouTube rapping since I was 14 years old. That's my importance to the streets. They seen me come up. My story is not a facade. AP: Did you have anything to do with Safaree being jumped? Mill: I don't know nothing about him getting jumped on. I pulled up and actually seen him getting into an altercation. You can look at my face and see that I was surprised. Me and my friends had a party at that spot that night, so that's somewhere we were supposed to be going. I don't communicate with him. I don't know him. I don't even want to base those guys in this interview. That's not even on my level. Street fights take place all the time. I ain't touch nobody. Didn't put no hand on nobody. I'm on strict probation. I'm just trying to handle my business and feed my family. I don't think those dudes are worthy of being talked about. AP: Does your short film, 'Wins & Losses: The Movie' make you want to get more involved in film? Mill: I want to do something that expresses the things we go through. The things we feel. I have a lot of older white friends who don't understand our culture. They might see ignorant or wild things and don't understand why it's going on. But I might have to break it down like, 'Yo, this guy is on drugs for 15 years.' I believe I can express things through film. ___ Online: ___ Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at . His work can be found at