The DeKalb County District Attorney's Office conducted a search warrant Monday at the home and offices of the county's top elected official, Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis.
The timing was calculated. Ellis was busy at the time the searches began, testifying before a special grand jury about the county's bidding process.
Investigators emerged from Ellis's Stone Mountain home, carrying computers and boxes of potential evidence. Search warrants suggest that Ellis is suspected of bribery and "bid rigging," essentially doing favors for people that helped him get elected.
The investigation began when the county's District Attorney Robert James convened a special grand jury to look into the county's bidding process. He initially focused on the watershed management department. But the case took an unexpected turn Monday when investigators raided Ellis's home and office looking for information about campaign contributions.
It wasn't until Ellis finished testifying about the bidding process Monday that he found out search warrants were being executed.
"I haven't done anything that I'm aware of, nor has my staff done anything I'm aware of that was inappropriate," Ellis said.
As investigators wrapped up their search of Ellis's home, they escorted Ellis' 83-year-old mother, who was visiting, back into the home.
"I don't know. They're looking for a contract in particular, but I don't think there's anything in my home or my office that would raise any eyebrows," Ellis said.
Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan told CBS Atlanta News that it's very difficult to prosecute an elected official.
"If you're a prosecutor going after an elected official, especially a popular elected official, or even an unpopular elected official, you'd better have a very, very good case," said Morgan. "Having tried elected officials as a prosecutor, it's very tough."
Investigators also searched DeKalb County's finance, purchasing and elections offices, as well as the office of former Ellis campaign manager Kevin Ross. CBS Atlanta News reached out to Ross but he did not immediately return the message.
Ellis pointed out that several people do business with the county, including campaign contributors.
"I think what's essential here is never have I done anything that would give anyone a promise in return for a campaign contribution," Ellis said.
The warrants also will allow investigators to look at the emails of Ellis and other staff members and at his American Express statements. He said he'll continue to serve the county while the investigation runs its course.
"I want them to know I'm going to continue to be honest. I'm going to be transparent. I'm going to continue to work with the all the officials involved in this process. We're going to continue to do our job and do it in the right way," Ellis said.
It's possible that the search warrants could end in indictments.
"The crimes appear to be political public corruption, bribery, racketeering, influencing public officials," said Morgan. "However, there's a federal crime which is also alleged in the affidavits."
Ellis said he is not represented by an attorney, but he will seek counsel.
James, the D.A., had no comment.
Copyright 2013 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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