DeKalb County government was rocked to its core Monday as search warrants were issued in DeKalb and Fulton County for information from more than five county offices, the home and office of Burrell Ellis, the county chief executive, most of his staff and his former campaign manager.
After testifying Monday morning before a special county grand jury, Ellis said he was perplexed by the search of his office and home carried out by detectives while he testified for the district attorney.
“I don’t know that I’m being targeted,” Ellis said during a short mid-day press conference. “This is a civil investigation. I will protect my rights.”
However, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker signed a search warrant on Jan. 4 that called for searches of, among other things, vehicles registered or assigned to Ellis, his personal and business financial records, his computers, his cell phones, his papers and writing samples.
The search warrant said there were “facts tending to establish probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed.” It cited laws regarding racketeering, extortion, bribery and bid rigging. It did not say who might have committed a crime.
In addition to a search warrant for CEO’s office on Ponce de Leon, there is also a search warrant for the DeKalb County IT Department for computers and emails related to Ellis, his former chief of staff Jabari Simama, current chief of staff Hakim Hilliard, the CEO’s two assistants, the Public Safety Director William Miller, purchasing director Kelvin Walton, Watershed Department Director Joe Basista, Community Development Director Chris Morris, the county’s chief operating officer, Richard Stogner and Joel Alvarado, the legislative affairs director. Another search warrant for the finance department seeks Ellis’ American Express credit card records. A search warrant for the county elections office looked for campaign finance disclosure records of Ellis.
The warrant also calls for searches of documents related to contracts, consulting agreements with vendors, lobbying contracts, records pertaining to DeKalb probation services, the Watershed Management Capital Improvement Program, county ambulance services contract, campaign contributions and campaign finances.
“There is nothing wrong, nothing improper that I’ve done. There is nothing inappropriate to hide,” Ellis said, adding that he had instructed his staff to be fully cooperative.
Ellis said he learned of the search warrant for his Stone Mountain home and his county office after testifying for about an hour to a special grand jury Monday morning.
This was the CEO’s second appearance before the grand jury that was called in early 2012 to look into the Watershed Management Department.
Spokesman Burke Brennan said he did not know if Chief Operating Officer Richard Stogner’s office was searched. Stogner has also testified to the grand jury.
Ellis said his mother was alone at his home when the detectives searched his home.
Ellis answered questions about Kevin Ross, saying he was his campaign manager for his 2008 campaign but not his 2012 campaign.
Ross, a former campaign strategist for Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, was the subject of another similar search warrant issued in Fulton County by Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall.