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Balfour indicted on theft, false statement charges

Don Balfour

Don Balfour

State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, will face an 18-count indictment.

Balfour, once the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, was indicted this week by a Fulton County grand jury with 16 counts of making a false certificate, one count of theft by taking and one count of false statement and writing.

The charges come after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into expense vouchers from his work at the General Assembly, where Balfour sought reimbursement for mileage and per diem expenses at the State Capitol when lobbyists disclosures show he was out of state.

The charges vary but each is punishable by at least one year in prison, while the theft by taking could garner as much as a 10-year sentence.

Balfour has said the expense claims were a paperwork error, and he agreed to a $5,000 fine after paying back the $800 in disputed reimbursements. He did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

But Debbie Dooley, the Dacula woman and Georgia Tea Party Patriots co-founder who filed the complaint with the Ethics Committee, praised Attorney General Sam Olens for pursuing the matter.

“I believe it sends a clear message that no one is above the law and I thank them for their pursuit of justice,” she said. “I am saddened that this was necessary. I believe Sen. Balfour was a good man that did many good things while senator but I believe that he became enamored of power and allowed power to consume him and to cloud his judgement. Unfortunately, this is a trap many good men have fallen into.”

The Waffle House executive, who has been in office since 1993, faced the Senate Ethics Committee last year. Despite the investigation, he easily won a new term in November, after besting Republican challengers months before, becoming one of the longest serving Republicans in the Senate. But after agreeing to the first fine imposed by the Ethics Committee in 30 years, he was stripped of the Rules chairmanship by legislative leaders in January.

Balfour is the latest in a string of Gwinnett officials who have faced prison time for ethical violations.

Former Commissioner Shirley Lasseter is serving a 33-month sentence for a federal bribery conviction, which also implicated her son John Fanning and businessman Skip Cain. Former Planning Commissioner Mark Gary later pleaded guilty to paying Lasseter for a vote on a controversial solid waste transfer station.

Former Commissioner Kevin Kenerly is awaiting trial on local charges of bribery and failing to disclose financial ties to rezonings, after an initial indictment was thrown out in the state Court of Appeals.