ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has started looking into whether state Sen. Don Balfour committed any crimes when he illegally claimed official expense pay, agency spokesman John Bankhead said Tuesday.
Bankhead said GBI agents started the inquiry after getting a request from Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, on Aug. 22. Balfour, a Republican from Snellville, has not been charged with any criminal offenses.
The Senate Ethics Committee fined Balfour $5,000 last month for illegally accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days when he was outside Georgia. He also incorrectly recorded some of his in-state travels. The punishment came after two people filed complaints with the committee over the discrepancies in Balfour's expense reports.
Balfour previously told reporters that he made "mistakes" and agreed to reimburse the state nearly $1,200 in addition to paying the fine. His attorney, Robert Highsmith, said Tuesday that Balfour never committed any crimes.
"These were inadvertent mistakes," Highsmith said. "The appropriate resolution and closure was a fine. I have every confidence that the GBI will conclude the same thing."
Under state law, any legislator who knowingly and willingly falsifies expense paperwork can be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.
Highsmith said he believed Olens started the probe because of a request from state Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, a member of the Senate Ethics Committee. McKoon voted against the agreement with Balfour, saying he wanted to impose stiffer penalties. McKoon said Tuesday that opening an investigation moves the state toward a complete examination of the case.
"I do not share Mr. Highsmith's view that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is subject to any political pressure, least of all from me," McKoon said.
Balfour is among the senior Republicans in the Senate. He chairs the Senate Rules Committee, a powerful group that decides which bills get a vote on the Senate floor.