A file artist sketch of Mark Gary and attorney Paul Kish in federal court.
ATLANTA — Gwinnett County developer and former planning commissioner Mark Gary pleaded guilty Monday to federal bribery charges, the latest phase in a corruption investigation that began with the indictment of former Gwinnett Commissioner Shirley Lasseter.
Gary, 39, of Duluth, pleaded guilty in front of United States District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 3 in front of the same judge.
“Mark Gary’s been trying to do the best he can to help the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office clean up corruption in Gwinnett County,” Gary’s attorney Paul Kish said. “He wants a level playing field because he’s a really good developer, and wants to go back to being a good developer.”
Gary could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“Today’s guilty plea shows that paying off a public official is a losing bet,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement. “Gwinnett County’s approval of competing real estate developments is not a game in which votes are for sale to the highest bidder. We will continue to aggressively pursue business people who corrupt the system by bribing public officials.”
During the hearing, Gary said Lasseter told him he needed to pay her $30,000, and he initially declined until Lasseter said she would vote against a controversial $4 million solid waste transfer station in which Gary had a personal ownership interest. The station would serve as a way station in the trash collection process, consolidating trash from haulers for shipment to more distant landfills.
“I made a bad decision, a wrong decision,” Gary said. “I tried to get out of it as fast as I could, but the bell had been rung.”
Gary was charged with bribery Sept. 5 for his alleged role in offering payment to Lasseter and her son, John Fanning. Federal prosecutors believe Gary gave $30,000 in gambling chips to Fanning at an out-of-state casino for votes in favor of the waste transfer station.
“He was pressured to make a payment, and he did,” Kish said. “He made a bad mistake. Young people sometimes make mistakes. But ever since that, he’s done what he could to help the government.”
Lasseter, who reportedly provided information and secret recordings that helped federal authorities charge Gary, voted for the waste station near Dacula in 2009. Prior to that vote, Gary discussed paying Lasseter and her son as much as $100,000 for her approval, prosecutors believe.