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State Sen. Don Balfour Indicted on 18 counts

A Fulton grand jury has indicted state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) on charges of misusing his legislative expense account, filing false expense reports, and theft by taking.

That's according to the attorney general's office, which will prosecute the case.

In total, the once-powerful Senate Rules Committee chairman faces 18 counts. The full indictment can be found as a PDF here

Last year, Balfour was accused of accepting reimbursement pay for in-state work on days when records show he was out of state. Balfour claimed the issues were due to inadvertent mistakes.

Later, the Senate Ethics Committee fined Balfour $5,000 fine and he had to repay the state about $1,200. He agreed to the conditions rather than face public hearings.

William Perry, executive director of the government watchdog Common Cause Georgia, had called for stiffer punishment at the time. He welcomed news of the indictment. 

“I think at a time when public trust is so low, it’s important for people to see that someone in a powerful position will be treated like anyone else,” said Perry. 

State law now calls for Gov. Nathan Deal to convene a three-member panel to recommend whether Balfour should be suspended from office. A Deal spokeswoman said the governor is waiting for an official copy of the indictment. When he gets it, Deal will have 14 days to appoint the panel. 

Balfour faces felony charges of false certificate, theft by taking, and false statement and writing. The false certificate charge carries a penalty of one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Theft by taking is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. False statement and writing can mean imprisonment of one to five years and a fine of up to $1,000.

Prior to the 2013 legislative session, Senate leaders stripped Balfour of his Rules Committee chairmanship.

In a written statement, Senate President pro tem David Shafer (R-Duluth) said the chamber takes its responsibility to safeguard taxpayer funds seriously. He added a Senate subcommittee is making sure legislative expense accounts are accurately tracked.

In recent years, ethics advocates repeatedly cited Balfour as a reason why reform was necessary. Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill that for first time capped lobbyist gift-giving at $75 per gift.

Balfour is the second state lawmaker to be indicted this year. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) was charged in May with tax evasion and misappropriating  nonprofit funds.

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