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Shirley Lasseter sentenced to 33-month prison term

Artist sketch of Shirley Lasseter in Federal Court on Wednesday.

Artist sketch of Shirley Lasseter in Federal Court on Wednesday.

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Shirley Lasseter

ATLANTA — A federal judge in Atlanta sentenced former Gwinnett County Commissioner and longtime Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter to nearly three years in prison Wednesday, marking the stiffest punishment yet in what’s been called a culture of corruption in Gwinnett.

Two sides to Lasseter were examined in court: the approachable and philanthropic mayor who shepherded a burgeoning Duluth to respectability, and the immoral politician broken by financial struggles and personal tragedy.

U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. sentenced Lasseter to 33 months in a minimum-security federal prison for accepting bribes in exchange for her support of proposed real estate developments. It was the sentence prosecutors had asked for.

Upon her release, Lasseter must complete three years of supervised probation, the judge ruled. He acknowledged Lasseter’s “great career” but added she “has brought all that to a tragic end, and that’s unfortunate.”

Once charged, Lasseter resigned her $31,670 a year Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners post and admitted swapping her objectivity in development votes for a series of bribes totalling $36,500, cognizant that one proposed pawn shop would be funded, in part, by supposed drug proceeds.

Lasseter’s attorney, Stephen Johnson, asked for a sentence of two years, given his client’s “substantial assistance” with federal authorities that led to bribery charges against Mark Gary, a Gwinnett businessman she had appointed to the county’s planning commission.

While Johnson pointed to Lasseter’s charitable achievements that included $120,000 raised for a Duluth High School scholarship program and an education lab in a low-income section of her city, he acknowledged that in 2009 Lasseter’s “four incredible losses” — her husband, her longtime home, her state-level job as an educator and her health — caused the loss of a fifth item: Her moral compass.

“She committed serious and troubling crimes as an elected official,” Johnson told the court. “She has brought shame and disrespect on herself ... and destroyed in a matter of months her stellar reputation.”

Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, 34, of Dacula, and Flowery Branch businessman Carl “Skip” Cain, 65, an associate of Lasseter’s, were also charged in the bribery scheme. The judge postponed their sentencing hearings until Sept. 18, to allow their attorneys more time to prepare.

Prior to Lasseter’s sentencing, two family members and longtime friends pleaded with the judge for leniency, as Lasseter, redheaded and donning a business suit, dabbed her eyes with tissues.

For her cooperation, which included working undercover and giving “multiple debriefings” to prosecutors, U.S. Assistant Attorney Doug Gilfillan agreed to the 33-month sentence ­— the low-end of applicable sentencing guidelines.

Lasseter’s youngest son, Justin Fanning, 31, painted her as a devoted mother who maxed out credit cards and piled loose change to provide for her family. She was crushed by her husband’s sudden, fatal stroke in 2009 and her health problems — from high blood pressure and herniated discs to two replaced hips — have continued to mount, Fanning said.

Said daughter Jennifer Limon: “The decisions of my mom and my brother have affected my family as a whole. We come here today ashamed and broken by their actions.”

Jerry Robb, a Vietnam War veteran, applauded Lasseter’s patriotism and efforts to erect a Sept. 11 memorial in downtown Duluth.

“The people in Duluth love Shirley,” Robb said. “I hope this one blemish will not outweigh all the good she’s done.”

Lasseter qualifies to serve her sentence at a minimum-security federal prison because she has no criminal record and poses no substantial threat to society. The facility will be a “camp” setting without walls, where inmates are commonly allowed to leave during the day and return at night, said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman John Horn.

She will be in custody for all 33 months, as there is no parole in the federal system. She will remain free on bond for the next four to six weeks until she’s notified by federal prison officials.

For her family’s sake, Pannell said he’ll recommend that Lasseter serve her time as close to Atlanta as possible.

Johnson said the closest appropriate facility is in Marianna, Fla., about 65 miles west of Tallahassee.

Lasseter’s crimes bear a stark contrast to the amicable “Mayor Shirley” image she projected for 14 years in Duluth.

In February 2011, Lasseter appointed her son and eventual codefendant Fanning, a Dacula landscape business owner, to a one-year term on the county’s zoning appeals board.

Within months, according to federal authorities, corruption began when Lasseter and Fanning teamed with Cain to leverage their positions for payoffs. Cain was allegedly paid $10,000 by an undercover agent posing as a businessman for brokering the involvement of Lasseter and her son.

Fanning’s payment was to be a 50 percent ownership stake in a pawn shop business proposed for Boggs Road near Duluth. Time and again, as the bribes topped $36,000, Lasseter told the undercover agent she would give her official approval and vote for the project in exchange for the cash.

Fanning and Cain also pleaded guilty to drug trafficking for transporting four kilograms of “sham cocaine” from New York City to Atlanta as part of a related undercover sting. They face a minimum of five years in federal prison.

Allegations against businessman Gary, revealed earlier Wednesday, show Lasseter’s underhanded dealings began at least two years before those matters.

Outside the courthouse, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillan Yates made an open plea for tips from Gwinnett citizens as her office’s corruption probe continues. Lasseter has provided information about “other conduct” that Yates would not divulge.

Yates said the investigation revealed that Lasseter had a clear objective to make more than her salary as a commissioner, beginning “almost the day she took office.”

“(Lasseter) began looking for ways that she could cash in,” Yates said. “She did that for a couple of years.”

Comments

R 2 years, 1 month ago

JUST 33 months? I guess they liked her solo singing ...

I know the residents of Gwinnett enjoyed their “bit part” in making all this happen, cause we are all made of money around here.

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debbiestorm 2 years, 1 month ago

of course, everyone is totally rich in Gwinnett....or so someone would like to think so. seems gwinnett county has been doing their best to keep the lower incomes out, ex: you can't build a home unless it is a "certain" sq. ftg. which is unheard of now ( no building going on) with all the vacant unsalable homes. the keeping up with the Jones is not good for the general population. and now, the former commissioner can't follow simple laws and gets such a light sentence. go figure.

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champaignlady 2 years, 1 month ago

Just goes to show you can do whatever you want in Gwinnett County, get a slap on the wrist, and go on with your life. May she rot in prison!

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JCJB 2 years, 1 month ago

No, you can't do anything in Gwinnett County. Had she been in Gwinnett County court system, she would have had the book and more thrown at her. People in Gwinnett get much more time for non violent acts than anywhere else in Ga. It's the Federal Court that handed this sentence down.

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NorcrossDot 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes but because the Gwinnett DA wouldn't/couldn't do anything to get it in the Gwinnett Courts.

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NorcrossDot 2 years, 1 month ago

33 Months out of a possible 10 year sentence? Government employees especially elected ones should be held to a higher standard. Oh, but then we wouldn't be able to find anyone to serve. I am very disgusted. You can be assured she won't serve that much either.

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champaignlady 2 years, 1 month ago

I read another report that says she will "self report" in 5-6 weeks and serve her time in a minimum security facility. Give me a break!

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R 2 years, 1 month ago

Rehabilitation at Club FED …

I wonder what skills will come back out?

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debbiestorm 2 years, 1 month ago

yeah, that is quite strange. the special people get a break huh? LOL..i don't get it.

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Coolray 2 years, 1 month ago

This seems fair to me. She isn't in a position to do anymore damage and there is no propensity on her part to commit another crime. The federal system does not have parole so she will spend all 33 months in custody. Additionally, she was fined $250,000.

She cooperated and that cooperation will result in more indictments and convictions. I'm as outraged as any one but this is a fair resolution to this case.

Now let the new round of indictments begin.

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R 2 years, 1 month ago

Where is the data that she was fined?

The case could have rated up to 250K in addition to the Incarceration, but I don't see that the fine was applied in this case..

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JRegan 2 years, 1 month ago

You're right in this instance Shirley will never be in a position to do further damage and she is totally broke. But how will this sentencing affect future elected criminals? And what about Kennerly? More than likely Kennerly took bribes for 16 years, some of which were $1M. We may never know what he raked in as a dishonest commissioner, but there are those that would serve 3 years in Club Fed detention in order to get their hands on $10-15M. At least if they think they can keep the cash.

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rco1847 2 years, 1 month ago

Really Ray? Really? What about Oath, Honor, Trust? Are they so worthless to you?

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SickandTired 2 years, 1 month ago

LOL maybe she can sell the car she bought with Mark Gary's money to help defray the cost of the $250K fine. Yeah right like anyone will see that money!!!

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NorcrossDot 2 years, 1 month ago

And the people that voted her in. She was my "Commissioner" and during the trash fiasco i was told she didn't have time to communicate with her constituents. Was too busy taking bribes and don't forget who helped get her into office, our very own Bannister. I'm still very sorry he didn't get prosecuted. So much for the Gwinnett County DA's office and the grand jury.

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debbiestorm 2 years, 1 month ago

what else can go wrong in Gwinnett? Occupy Gwinnett

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R 2 years, 1 month ago

"The facility will be a “camp” setting without walls, where inmates are commonly allowed to leave during the day and return at night, said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman John Horn."

"Johnson said the closest appropriate facility is in Marianna, Fla., about 65 miles west of Tallahassee."

WOW .... Day Trips to Disney! The beach!

"She will be in custody for all 33 months, as there is no parole in the federal system. She will remain free on bond for the next four to six weeks until she’s notified by federal prison officials."

With this facility, WHO would NEED parole?

GOOD Grief ... Just call her “undocumented” and give her a DREAMER work permit already...

Cocaine, really??
It’s of no consequence, house arrest would be more inconvenient at this point…

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CD 2 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps she can do some work for Fly Gwinnett Forward or Landmark while she is out during the day.

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newresident 2 years, 1 month ago

I would hope that the Federal prosecutor continues to dig and prosecute all. This commission is what the county has been known for and needs to end yet the rumors exist of others on appointed authority boards that deals with millions of dollars that do the exact same thing as Lasseter. The only question I have is what is the status of the other commissioner Kennserly who was on charges from the county. Where is the case at? I know it was not a federal case but maybe the Federal prosecuter needs to push our solicitor to get the ball rolling to put this one behind bars with Lasseter.

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pcjohn 2 years, 1 month ago

I don't think anything will happen to Kennerly because we have a DA, Danny Porter, who is the "see no evil" monkey of law enforcement when it comes to cops and politicians. Look what he did with Bannister! Porter is as useful as a dead mule.

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Gundoctor1 2 years, 1 month ago

can't we all just get along? That's what Monica's man said last night. She will love Marianna. I grew up there. She can get a day job and begin paying off her fine. When is the drug trial??

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JRegan 2 years, 1 month ago

Let's not overlook the statement Mark Gary made, "An honest developer can't do business in Gwinnett County", combined with DA Danny Porter's description of Gwinnett government as, "a culture of corruption."

This clearly needs to be a wake up call to the citizens of Gwinnett that it is time to make changes to our government to eliminate corruption. The primary source of corruption is the district courtesy voting which allows each commissioner to create a fiefdom when it comes to zoning hearings. Two changes will help eliminate this source of corruption - first place a permanent moratorium on spot zoning, second let's change the structure of county government.

Gwinnett County adopted a 20-year land use plan approach to zoning in the 1990s and ever since has chipped away at the plan one spot zoning case at a time. Allowing commissioners to override the land use plan creates opportunity for corruption. It's time to close that loophole.

We have four part-time commissioners earning $31,000 and the full-time chairperson earns $62,500 to run the county with a $1.5 B budget. In the corporate world salaries for these positions would range from $175,000 to $400,000. Alvin Willbanks, Gwinnett Superintendent, base salary is $272,000. Do any of us think by underpaying elected officials we are going to attract the most honest and capable persons among us to hold these offices? Can we be sure paying commissioners more will guarantee honesty? No, but we can be certain that what we are doing now is not working.

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Katrina 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree with everything you've stated here! With regard to the commissioners, do you think we need more commissioners, or all full-time commissioners? In any case, they need to be paid more.

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Coolray 2 years, 1 month ago

Don Balfour, Richard Nixon, Charles Rangle, Bernie Madoff, Hedge Fund Managers, Wall Street Mortgage bankers! What do they all have in common? They all make a lot more than 30,000 and they're all corrupt.

Your local garbage man, McDonald's fry cook and waffle house waitress all make 30,000 or less and are mostly hard working honest people.

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wally 2 years, 1 month ago

"The facility will be a “camp” setting without walls, where inmates are commonly allowed to leave during the day and return at night"

I wonder if she can go to the beach or Wild adventures in Valdosta.Maybe they will give her free admisson and pack her a lunch?

There you have it folks. You do not have to be held accountable for your actions even if it includes cocaine trafficking, bribery,or stealing from Gwinnett County and it's taxpayer's.

Hell...I think I am gonna run for public office.

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BuzzG 2 years, 1 month ago

"DA Danny Porter's description of Gwinnett government as, 'a culture of corruption.'" Excuse me, Mr. Porter, was it not your job to go after these crooks? How come you always seem to miss the boat and someone else goes after the crooks? Are you that incompetent that this stuff goes on all around you or do you not want to miss your afternoon naps? Of course if Danny Porter had been known to be on top of things, these crooks may never have been exposed. The rat does not bother the cheese when he knows it is guarded by a vigilant cat.

Of course the bigger questions are (1) why do we keep reelecting this ineffective guy and (2) why does the media keep giving Danny Porter a pass.

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JCJB 2 years, 1 month ago

I LOVE this comment. Danny wants to be either Governor or AG of Ga. He's the biggest jerk, prosecutes insignificant non violent crimes to the fullest and then some, while letting others just slip away. He's a fool. The media gives him a pass BECAUSE of his political aspirations, don't think its anything else.

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rco1847 2 years, 1 month ago

The Gwinnett Republican aristocracy is alive and well. They steal, lie, and take bribes with no regard for the community they were to serve. Maybe Lasseter will remember all the people pleading with her to protect their neighborhoods and vote no on Airport Expansion. But hey, owning an airport is the drug smugglers dream, right?

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teelee 2 years, 1 month ago

Why would drug smugglers want a more secured airport with the feds present? The way Briscoe Field is set up now is a smugglers dream, there is no security and they can fly whatever they want in during the early morning hours when nobody is around. You can bet drugs are already being flown in there on a regular basis.

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Katrina 2 years, 1 month ago

Teelee, I agree that Briscoe seems like a smugglers' dream. I have often wondered what is being flown in and out of there at all hours of the night.

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JRegan 2 years, 1 month ago

teelee if having the Feds involved in airport security is so effective in preventing drug trafficking why was there a major drug bust at Westchester airport last September?

http://articles.cnn.com/2011-09-13/justice/new.york.tsa.officers.arrested_1_tsa-officers-security-officers-drug-trafficking?_s=PM:CRIME

So what's easier for the DEA to track, a late night flight of a private aircraft from a foreign country or a scheduled passenger flight from within the US? I would guess the DEA is more focused on those late night private aircraft flights. And let's not forget a private aircraft arriving from a foreign country must clear customs, which can't be done at Briscoe.

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Katrina 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes, rco1847, I seem to recall Shirley sitting there at the BOC meetings looking like she really cared. What an actress!

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teelee 2 years, 1 month ago

I think they need a new cartoon artist, even Shirley girl doesn't look that bad. LOL!

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wally 2 years, 1 month ago

And we thought they were nuts in Clayton County. They have nothing on Gwinnett Count. We are more alike than different. Hey, all you crooks in Clayton County, Gwinnett County will welcome you with open arms. You can get away with anything here. If you get caught, they will go light on you, specially if you cooperate and turn in others who will get off easy as well. COME AND GET IT ! EASY PICKIN"S

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SuxBeanU 2 years, 1 month ago

if the prosecutor only asked for 33 months, we need a better prosecutor for the next 33 months the taxpayers will be stuck feeding her boarding her and clothing her, where is the punishment for her? she should have been sentenced to a regular women s prison and received one month for each dollar she took.I'd say she got off with little to no punishment.

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