A file artist sketch of Mark Gary and attorney Paul Kish in federal court.
ATLANTA — Federal authorities have charged former Gwinnett County planning commissioner Mark Gary with bribery related to payments he allegedly offered to former commissioner Shirley Lasseter and her son, John Fanning.
Gary is the latest player named in an ongoing corruption probe into Gwinnett government officials. Lasseter provided information and secret recordings to federal investigators that served as a basis for charging Gary, Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Gilfillan said Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege that Gary gave $30,000 in gambling chips to Fanning at an out-of-state casino for votes in favor of a controversial solid waste transfer station in which Gary had a personal ownership interest.
That the payment was made in gambling chips and to Lasseter’s son was meant to mask the fact that she would profit from her vote in favor of the $4 million waste transfer station near Dacula, according to Gary’s charges.
Gary owns Noble Village, a retirement community, and has not served on the planning commission for several years. He worked to get Lasseter elected to Gwinnett’s highest governing body, and she appointed him to the planning commission almost immediately after taking office. Lasseter voted to approve the waste transfer station in April 2009.
Prior to that vote, Gary discussed paying Lasseter and her son as much as $100,000 for her approval, authorities said.
“Lasseter directed Gary to speak with and to provide the money to (her son) to conceal the purpose of the payment,” the charges read.
Ultimately, Fanning gave a portion of the $30,000 back to his mother and used some to purchase a vehicle, authorities said.
The waste transfer station in question involved land Gary owned at U.S. Highway 29 and Alcovy Industrial Way, next to a Stars and Strikes family entertainment business. It was never built.
Gary, who was released on $10,000 bond, is expected to plead guilty to one count of bribery in a hearing in front of a U.S. District judge. In an initial appearance Wednesday, he waived a federal grand jury indictment, essentially admitting to the charges. His attorney, Paul Kish, said the plea hearing could happen in the next week and as soon as Thursday.
Gary faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine on the felony charge.
Kish said he expects his client to be called upon to testify against others, but he did not elaborate when asked. Gary declined comment to reporters on the federal courthouse steps.
“There’s corruption in Gwinnett County,” Kish said. “Mark Gary is not the problem ... (he) made a mistake three years ago.”
Kish said Gary began cooperating with federal authorities as soon as they approached him, “and that will continue.”
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said her office will continue to pursue corrupt public officials and those in private business who try to pervert the system.
“Gwinnett County’s development decisions should be based on what’s best for the county, not who places the highest bet,” Yates said.
— Staff Writer Camie Young contributed to this report