DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Sharon Barnes Sutton, a former DeKalb County Commissioner, was arrested by the FBI Tuesday, according to her lawyer.
"Yes, Ms. Sutton has been arrested by the FBI, despite her longstanding residency in DeKalb County, willingness to surrender if necessary and unblemished record as a Commissioner," said her attorney, Bret Williams, in a statement sent to 11Alive.
She appeared in federal court Tuesday to be arraigned on bribery charges. She plead not guilty and the judge granted a $25,000 signature bond. As a condition of release, Sutton was ordered to surrender her passport and stay in the northern district of Georgia. Her attorney argued that she has a medical condition that prevents her from working, so the judge said she doesn't have to actively seek employment -- which was going to be a condition of her release.
The state also said she had failed to appear in court before and suspended her license. Prosecutors also argued that she traveled to Michigan, which delayed the return of her subpoena. She was arrested when she returned this morning.
Sutton is central in a federal grand jury indictment that revolves around the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant Expansion Project in DeKalb County.
Sutton is accused of using her status as a DeKalb County Board member and her role as chair of the Finance, Audit and Budget committee to award the treatment plant expansion subcontract, worth over $10 million over four years, and pressuring a contractor to accept a payment bribe.
Two companies were awarded the contract, with one company to receive 17 percent of the total reward amount. According to the indictment, Sutton approached the first contractor and asked why a company owned by her friend was not added as a subcontractor to the Snapfinger project. After the contractor gave her an explanation, the indictment claims that Sutton wrote "500" on a piece of paper and handed it to the unnamed contractor.
The indictment accused Sutton of asking a public official to serve as middleman for the payment. Around June 2, 2014, Sutton and the unnamed public official met at that person's home and Sutton said she wanted to take a drive, according to records. Before getting into the car, she instructed the public official to put his phone in the trunk.
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: So, I did meet with [CONTRACTOR A].
BARNES SUTTON: Mm hmm.
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: And, uh, that [ COMPANY B ] thing was, he's supposed to give you 500 and I, I'm not in that.
BARNES SUTTON: Then how do I get it?
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: That's up to you and him.
BARNES SUTTON: I just wanted to be ... because you're a friend and I trust you, I don't want [CONTRACTOR A] coming to me.
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: Ma'm
BARNES SUTTON: He's your friend ...
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: That's what he told me, he don't want me in it, okay? That's what he said.
BARNES SUTTON: Is that because beef for another reason that I'm not totally aware of?
PUBLIC OFFICIAL 1: I don't know, but I, I... there, there's no reason for me to be in it.
BARNES SUTTON: 'Cause I trust you, I don't trust no...
After some back and forth, Sutton allegedly asked the official to make sure there "weren't any problems" with the alleged $500 bribe.
On June 6, 2014, Sutton met with the contractor at a restaurant in Decatur with her son, where the contractor provided her $500 in cash, which was handed to Sutton's son.
On July 10, Sutton and the public official met at her home to discuss the payment. The public official expressed concern about Sutton's son being involved in the bribe. Sutton said in the conversation, which was recorded, that she didn't want to be seen accepting the envelope of cash -- and that's why her son was involved. Later in the conversation, Sutton told the public official she didn't want $500 -- she wanted $1,000.
According to the indictment, the public official told the contractor about Sutton's request. The contractor refused to comply with the $1,000 request and exchanged several phone calls with Sutton in July. Eventually, the contractor stopped by her home in Stone Mountain and paid her the remaining $500 bribe.
Sutton is now charged with two counts of extortion and one count of bribery, according to the indictment.
"We deny all of the allegations. As you will see, Ms. Sutton has been an outstanding commissioner and has an unblemished record," said Williams outside the courtroom. He suggested that the upcoming five-year statute of limitations might play a part in her indictment.
"Obviously, they didn't think at the time they received the tapes that it was good enough, but now, it's a game. The clock is running out. Do you pull the trigger, or not?" Williams said. "I have been in contact with the government for at least two months about this case. As I've mentioned, (Sutton) has lived in DeKalb for 32 years. She has been at the same address for 10 years. She's not going anywhere. Why did they make a show out of (her arrest?) I don't know. I'll ask you -- are you not entertained?"
In 2014, 11Alive reported that the DeKalb Ethics Board launched an investigation into Sutton's and other commissioners use of the county credit cards.
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