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Georgia state Sen. Don Balfour indicted

Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 3:22 PM
Last updated 7:22 PM
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ATLANTA -- A grand jury has charged state Sen. Don Balfour with illegally claiming legislative expense pay and double-billing the state and his private employer for the same expenses, according to an indictment released Friday.

Balfour   AP
AP
Balfour

The indictment accuses Balfour of falsifying multiple reports to claim pay and travel expenses from the General Assembly. On several of the days when Balfour claimed state pay, lobbyists reported entertaining the lawmaker outside of Georgia.

Balfour, R-Snellville, previously agreed to pay a $5,000 fine issued by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days when he was elsewhere. Lawmakers may only claim their legislative expense pay if they are conducting official business inside the state. They can claim expenses while traveling outside Georgia if they are part of an official delegation approved in advance.

The Fulton County grand jury handed down its indictment Tuesday.

Balfour admitted last year that he made "mistakes." He did not return messages seeking comment Friday. His attorney, Patrick McDonough, said that Balfour did nothing criminal.

"Our preliminary investigation into this is he may have made some inadvertent mistakes on his expense accounts, but he certainly did not intentionally misappropriate any state funds," McDonough said.

Balfour's case was particularly troubling since he previously served as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which was supposed to set up a panel to scrutinize the expenses filed by Senate lawmakers. Georgia's lawmakers face little scrutiny and few standards when claiming upward of $1 million annually in expense pay under a system that relies heavily on their honesty.

Senate leaders appointed a new committee chairman earlier this year.

"Our hearts go out to the members of Senator Balfour's family," Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer said in a written statement. "The Senate takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard the tax dollars of this state."

Balfour faces 16 counts of making a false certificate, one count of theft by taking and one count of false statement and writing, all felony charges. The false certificate charge is punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Theft by taking carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. False statement and writing is punished by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

All of the charges are felonies.

The grand jury alleged that Balfour was double-billing to get money, in one instance seeking legislative expense pay on May 7, 2009, for an expense that was also reimbursed by his employer, Waffle House Inc.

The Republican lawmaker came under scrutiny last year when it was revealed that Balfour was claiming legislative expense pay on days when lobbyists reported entertaining him outside Georgia.

For example, the grand jury accused Balfour of falsely filing paperwork to claim legislative expense pay on Aug. 8-9, 2011. Lobbyist reports indicate that Balfour was attending a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Texas during that period. On Aug. 9, Georgia Municipal Association lobbyist Tom Gehl reported that he bought Balfour's lunch at a San Antonio restaurant. The next day, another lobbyist reported buying Balfour a meal at the event.

In a similar instance, Balfour was accused of illegally claiming expense pay on Nov. 30, 2011. Lobbying records suggest that Balfour was then in Florida. A lobbyist bought Balfour dinner in Orlando on Nov. 29, while another lobbyist purchased Balfour a ticket to Disney's Epcot Center on Dec. 1.

The Senate Ethics Committee, which examined Balfour's expenses, identified 18 days where the lawmaker improperly filed for pay or expenses. In addition to the fine, Balfour reimbursed the state nearly $1,200.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, declined through his spokesman to comment on the charges. Deal will have two weeks once he formally receives a copy of the indictment to assemble a panel tasked with deciding whether Balfour can finish his term in office.

When the indicted official is a state legislator, the panel is supposed to include the attorney general and one member of each chamber of the General Assembly. But since the attorney general is the one who sought the indictment against Balfour, the state constitution says he cannot serve on the panel and the governor will instead have to appoint a retired state Supreme Court justice or a retired state Court of Appeals judge.

Olens issued a statement enumerating the charges but otherwise declined to comment.

Comments (9) Add comment
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itsanotherday1
41950
Points
itsanotherday1 09/27/13 - 03:34 pm
5
0
I hope they hammer him good

I hope they hammer him good if guilty as charged.

rmwhitley
5542
Points
rmwhitley 09/27/13 - 04:16 pm
0
0
You can't
Unpublished

spell crook without politician.

movingtoaugusta
62
Points
movingtoaugusta 09/27/13 - 05:42 pm
5
1
How much do we pay the Richmond Cur Supt. of Schools?

How much do we pay the Richmond Cur Supt. of Schools? This guy gets indicted fora couple of days worth of travel on a technicality and we have been paying Dr. Frank Robinson for almost 2 years for essentially just showing up after his stroke because we sympathize with his misfortune?

Quit wasting money that was collected through taxes on everyone for the benefit of our kids by paying special favors to your cronies.

Where is the equal protection?

itsanotherday1
41950
Points
itsanotherday1 09/27/13 - 08:21 pm
1
2
moving

You must have protected status (right heritage) to get those bennies in Augusta.

Darby
25010
Points
Darby 09/27/13 - 10:59 pm
2
1
Disgusted and fed up to the gills with crooked politicians.

It angers me most when it's a Republican. I expect better from them than from Democrats.

Yeah - I know. I shouldn't have higher standards for Republicans, but I do. Sue me!

Dixieman
14369
Points
Dixieman 09/27/13 - 11:37 pm
3
1
Dog bites man

A politician rips off the public and steals funds? Not news!

geecheeriverman
2008
Points
geecheeriverman 09/28/13 - 05:29 am
1
1
Works at Waffle House

I'll bet you and ham and cheese sandwich that he will WAFFLE out or this one.

...point to ponder
743
Points
...point to ponder 09/28/13 - 07:15 am
0
0
Easy decision for the Governor....

...no more public service.

Bodhisattva
5977
Points
Bodhisattva 09/28/13 - 07:35 am
0
0
Nathan Deal(R), Chip

Nathan Deal(R), Chip Rogers(R), and Ralph Hudgens(R) next for outright bribery and selling of influence.

Darby
25010
Points
Darby 09/29/13 - 12:06 pm
1
0
Bod lists three (3)

Republicans he seems to believe have questionable character. Wonder what his point is?

I could give him thirty (30) Democrats in the same boat. Most of them already under indictment or convicted.

It's ludicrous to point to tainted Republicans when there are so many public serpents (No, that's not a typo.) on both sides of the isle who need to be horsewhipped.

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