DULUTH -- Like many of her friends, Stacie Stamper was shocked to hear of Shirley Lasseter's guilty plea to accepting bribes in federal court this week and the official's subsequent resignation from public office.
Stamper's sense of shock, however, was overshadowed by an "immense sadness" for the 64-year-old county commissioner and former Duluth mayor of 14 years.
"There's so many good things she did," Stamper said. "To think that one thing could tarnish it ... this whole career of public service has just been negated."
Some of those who knew Lasseter better than most spoke their piece Friday afternoon shortly after hearing the news of her guilty plea to accepting bribes related to a real estate deal.
A top prosecutor accused Lasseter on Thursday of selling her office and betraying constituents.
Lasseter admitted to accepting a total of $36,500 in bribes in exchange for her vote in favor of a proposed pawn shop on Boggs Road in District 1, which she has represented on the board since 2009.
She could now face up to a decade in federal prison.
Stamper and other friends of Lasseter said it could have been a case of desperation for the former commissioner.
"You don't know what her financial situation was," Stamper said. "If something happened, and you lost everything, you don't know what you'd do. Don't judge folks until you're up against that situation."
Added Stamper: "Don't throw stones."
Duluth resident Becky Samford, a close friend of Lasseter's, agreed.
"She is not a crook. She is a woman whose husband died recently and left her with a tremendous amount of debt," Samford said. "I'm not saying what she did was right. I think she was a desperate person. Someone threw her a lifeline, and she grabbed it."
Sixteen-year-old Adam Smith of Duluth, however, said it doesn't excuse her behavior.
"When you are in a public office, you always will be subject to scrutiny for your actions, as you should be," Smith said. "You can't act like that and expect to get away with it."
Longtime Duluth resident Theresa Kelly said the whole affair has left her feeling uneasy.
"It goes to show you never really know people ... not like you think," Kelly said. "It took guts to admit she did it; I'll give her that. But what she did was wrong, and she needs to pay for what she did."
Lasseter became the third commissioner to step away from the embattled board in the last two years while facing the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Lasseter's son, John Fanning, 34, and Carl "Skip" Cain, 65, also pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme and to cocaine trafficking. They both face up to 10 years in prison and a minimum of five years. All three defendants face fines of at least $250,000.
Fanning is a former member of Gwinnett's zoning board of appeals, which his mother appointed him to. Cain, of Flowery Branch, is an associate of Lasseter's who works in the trucking business.
At a press conference Thursday, U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said Lasseter "sold her office and betrayed the citizens" of Gwinnett.
Cain reportedly acted as the "bag man" for Lasseter and Fanning, arranging bribes required for their official approval and setting up meetings with them for the payment of the requested bribes. Cain was paid a total of $10,000, which he demanded as a fee for arranging the involvement of Lasseter and her son. Fanning's cut was to be a 50 percent ownership stake in the pawn shop, Yates said.
An undercover agent told the defendants that he "laundered money for drug dealers and that drug trafficking proceeds would fund" the proposed pawn shop on Boggs Road.
All three defendants were released on $10,000 bond Thursday.
Lasseter, whose term was marked by the death of her husband and self-described health ailments, had announced in February she would not be seeking another term. Her District 1 Commission seat included the Duluth and Suwanee area.
Stamper said Lasseter's career in public service to Duluth and Suwanee is now "tarnished."
"It's like if you paint a beautiful picture, and then somebody comes along and slings mud on it," Stamper said. "As hard as she's worked and as much as she's done ... it really breaks my heart that this is how people may remember her."
Staff Writer Josh Green contributed to this article.