Report Calls DeKalb County Government ‘Rotten To The Core’

Update 6:00 p.m. with a statement from Interim CEO Lee May.

WABE has obtained a copy of a letter sent to DeKalb County’s Interim CEO Lee May, sent by the special corruption investigators he appointed, which says “The DeKalb County government we have found is rotten to the core.”  The letter also indicates the investigators feel they are being improperly – and perhaps illegally – blocked from completing their probe.

In perhaps the most serious allegation, the investigators say they have recently found what could be a bribery scheme in a major county department. They did not say which one.

The letter was signed by former State Attorney General Mike Bowers and investigator Richard Hyde.  May appointed them in March of 2015, with orders to look into every department, including his own.  But the investigators did not have subpoena powers.

In their message, which runs just over two pages, Bowers and Hyde outline what they say is widespread misconduct in county government, and efforts to obstruct their investigation.

Bowers declined to comment to WABE about the letter or the investigation.  But the words he and Hyde used in the message were harsh throughout.

“The misconduct starts at the top and has infected nearly every department we looked at,” the letter to May says.  “While most folks have been helpful, some department heads have flatly ignored requests from you and your office to provide full documentation … They have also ignored Open Records Act requests we have filed and today are in violation of state law … By refusing to provide the needed records they are delaying the completion of this inquiry.”

Much of the letter deals with the use of county-issued purchase cards – often called P-cards – which employees use to buy county supplies.  Bowers and Hyde say they looked at more than 40,000 P-card transactions.

“The extent of P-card abuse and misuse is astounding,” the letter says.  “Improper expenditures include the purchase of a cruise to the Bahamas for an employee, flower arrangements, a ‘live’ guitar player, a Christmas tree, and the dry cleaning bill for a judge’s robe.  Taxpayer funds were routinely used to buy liquor, catered meals, candy, popcorn, and pretzels filled with peanut butter for elected officials, department heads and staff members.”   Bowers and Hyde say the alleged abuse continued, despite years of reports about it from internal auditors.

But the investigators claim “the waste and fraud is not exclusive to P-cards.”  They say several departments have illegally overspent their budgets over the past five years, with no action taken to stop it.  They added, “The county awarded sole-source contracts despite there being many other qualified vendors available to perform the same work, at a much lower cost to the county.”

“Thefts of county property have been covered up and mishandled.  In one case, police were not notified and the thief still draws a paycheck from the county.  And in just the last few days, we have found what appears to be a bribery scheme involving a major county department.”

The letter contains no recommendations about what county officials should do next, but it indicates the investigation is not over.  In the concluding paragraph, Bowers and Hyde write, “While we have reduced the number of county departments we are investigating at your request, we still have a good way to go before completion.”

DeKalb County’s Interim CEO Lee May has released a statement about the letter which can be read below:

I wholeheartedly disagree with the opinion that DeKalb County is rotten to the core.  The overwhelming majority of DeKalb County employees are honest, decent, hard-working, and committed to public service. 

We were aware of the underlying issues mentioned in Mr. Bowers’ letter.  That is why we hired him to conduct a comprehensive review of county government operations to identify corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, or abuse; with a report in 120 days.

The 120 days has come and gone, and it appears the only thing we have to show for it is a 2-page letter full of salacious – but vague – innuendo. 

I was informed by Mr. Bowers today that a detailed report will be issued in 3 weeks that will provide me with a road map to reduce our risk exposure to waste, fraud and abuse.

You can read the summary below: