Saturday, June 02, 2012
Gwinnett County Commissioner Pleads Guilty to Accepting Bribes
Commissioner’s Son (a Zoning Board Member), and Another Associate Also Plead Guilty to Participating in the Bribery Scheme and to Drug Trafficking
ATLANTA—A Gwinnett County Commissioner, Shirley Lasseter, 64, of Duluth, pleaded guilty today in federal district court to accepting bribes in exchange for her support for a proposed real estate development in her district. Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, 34, of Dacula, and Carl “Skip” Cain, 65, of Flowery Branch, an associate of Lasseter’s, also pleaded guilty today to participating in the bribery scheme and to drug trafficking.
“Today’s guilty pleas are part of an on-going effort to root out public corruption in Gwinnett County,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates. “The citizens of Gwinnett County have a right to elected officials who serve the public. Instead, these defendants used the office of a county commissioner to line their pockets by taking payoffs from individuals whom they believed to be drug traffickers. These defendants broke the public trust and the law. We will continue to aggressively pursue corrupt public officials and those who conspire with them.”
Brian D. Lamkin, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated, “Today’s guilty pleas are the culmination of an extensive investigation by the FBI and demonstrates the FBI’s commitment toward such public corruption investigations, to include those involving elected officials. Anyone with information regarding public corruption activities are urged to contact their nearest FBI field office.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court, Lasseter serves as the elected District One Commissioner on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. Fanning is Lasseter’s son and operates a landscaping business. Fanning was also a member of the Gwinnett County Zoning Appeals Board, a position with a one-year term that began in February 2011 after he was appointed by his mother.
Lasseter, Fanning, and Cain agreed to sell Lasseter’s official approval of and vote for a proposed real estate development in her district to an undercover agent with the FBI, who was posing as a businessman. Cain, who works at a trucking business, served as a “bagman” for Lasseter and Fanning, arranging the bribes required for their official approval and setting up meetings with them for the payment of the requested bribes. After Cain said that he was interested in making money from drug trafficking and illegal money laundering, the undercover agent told the defendants a fabricated story that he laundered money for drug dealers and that drug trafficking proceeds would fund the proposed real estate development.
In multiple meetings, Lasseter and Fanning told the undercover agent that Lasseter’s approval and vote regarding the proposed development was for sale. They also told the undercover agent that Fanning could use his position as a member of the Zoning Appeals Board to help secure any necessary approvals or variances. Lasseter also discussed with the agent the possibility that, in exchange for the requested bribes, the county would buy any portions of the property that could not be developed profitably. Although Lasseter said that such a purchase would be difficult because a state special grand jury had investigated county land purchases, she confirmed that she would secure the necessary approvals for the undercover agent to develop the property.
In exchange for Lasseter’s official approval and vote, the defendants demanded and were paid or promised the following benefits:
■Lasseter received a total of $36,500 in cash, paid in several installments, the largest installment being a $26,000 cash payment that she and Fanning counted out together to ensure that the total was correct. Each time Lasseter received cash in exchange for her official action on the proposed development, she confirmed to the undercover agent that she would give her official approval and vote for the proposed development.
■Cain was paid a total of $10,000, which he demanded as his fee for arranging Lasseter and Fanning’s involvement.
■Fanning was to receive an ownership stake in a business to be located in the proposed development.
Lasseter, Fanning, and Cain also said that they wanted to work with the undercover agent on additional matters involving misuse of Lasseter’s official position and other illegal activities. In several meetings, Lasseter and Fanning sought to enlist the agent’s help as a bag man in leveraging Lasseter’s official position to enrich themselves personally from the proposed privatization of the Gwinnett County Airport.
In addition, Fanning and Cain acted as couriers delivering what they believed to be cocaine and what they believed to be drug money. Fanning and Cain each laundered $10,000 cash, keeping an amount that represented what they understood to be the standard fee for laundering proceeds from illegal drug trafficking. Fanning and Cain also transported a substance that they believed to be cocaine from the New York City area to Atlanta. After flying to the New York City area and spending the night, Fanning and Cain flew back with four kilograms of sham cocaine. After their plane landed in Atlanta, Fanning and Cain each took possession of two kilograms to make a delivery to a prospective buyer. Law enforcement officers detained Fanning and Cain before they could make the planned delivery. Law enforcement officers also confronted Lasseter the same day. All three defendants are cooperating with law enforcement.
Lasseter was charged in a criminal information on May 31, 2012, with corruptly soliciting and accepting a bribe. She pleaded guilty and could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Fanning and Cain were charged in the same criminal information with participating in the bribery scheme and with drug trafficking. Fanning and Cain pleaded guilty to those charges and could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the bribery count. Fanning and Cain face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years on the drug trafficking count, which carries a maximum sentence of forty years and a fine of up to $5,000,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Sentencing is scheduled for August 6, 2012, before United States District Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr.
This case is being investigated by special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Douglas W. Gilfillan is prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta recommends parents and children learn about the dangers of drugs at the following website: www.justthinktwice.com.