Ex-Gwinnett commissioner sent to prison on federal bribery charges

Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter (left) leaves federal court after being sentenced for bribery. Lasseter was sentenced to just under three years in federal prison Wednesday.

ATLANTA — Former Gwinnett County Comm­issioner Shirley Lasseter was sentenced Wednesday to just under three years in federal prison for her part in a scheme to accept bribes in exchange for her influence and vote for a proposed real estate development in her district.

“Almost from the moment she took office as a Gwinnett County commissioner she began betraying the trust of the citizens of Gwinnett County,” U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said after the sentencing.

Lasseter, 64, admitted in federal court in Atlanta in May to accepting a total of $36,000 in cash from a man she believed was a businessman seeking to develop a real estate project in her district. The man was actually an undercover FBI agent.

The judge sentenced Lasseter to two years and nine months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. The sentencing was consistent with what prosecutors had requested. Lasseter’s lawyers had asked for two years.

Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, and another man, Carl “Skip” Cain, were also charged in the bribery scheme. Their sentencing, originally set for Wednesday, was postponed. They each face up to 10 years, one to three years of supervised release, payment of restitution and a maximum fine of $250,000 for the bribery charge.

Fanning, 34, and Cain, 65, also face a minimum of five years and up to 40 years for a related drug-trafficking charge.

Lasseter did not address the judge during Wednesday’s hearing, but two of her children and two friends spoke on her behalf. They said Lasseter had been an honest and faithful public servant, serving as mayor of Duluth for more than a decade before becoming a county commissioner. Shortly after she became commissioner in January 2009, they said, her life fell apart when her husband died, her longtime home was in foreclosure, she was plagued by money troubles and her health began to fail.

“The decisions of my mom and my brother have affected our family as a whole. We come here today shamed and broken by their actions,” said Lasseter’s daughter Jennifer Limon.

But prosecutors argued that Lasseter accepted or arranged to accept bribes from at least three people, which shows that her actions were systematic, not a momentary lapse in judgment.

Lasseter, Fanning and Cain are all cooperating with federal officials in an ongoing investigation into corruption in Gwinnett County.

Their cooperation led to Gwinnett County businessman Mark Gary being charged with bribery. Prosecutors say he gave Fanning $30,000 worth of chips for an out-of-state casino in 2009 to secure Lasseter’s vote to approve his application to build a solid waste transfer station. During a court appearance Wednesday, Gary asked that his case be sent to a U.S. district judge for a guilty plea.

Gary’s defense attorney Paul Kish says his client made a mistake but that corruption in the county is the real problem.

“An honest developer can’t do business in Gwinnett County,” Kish said, adding that his client could not comment because he is cooperating with federal authorities and will likely be called to testify.

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