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Debt-ridden DK official says she spent $69K out of pocket on campaign
By JIM WALLS
Jan. 28, 2010 — Sharon Barnes Sutton’s paycheck was garnisheed in 2008 after she missed payments on her Lexus. Gwinnett County issued four arrest warrants in her name over more than $1,000 in bounced checks in 2007. And she lost her $162,000 Stone Mountain home a few months ago when she couldn’t keep up with the mortgage.
Despite those debts, Sutton says she spent at least $69,000 of her own money in 2007 and 2008 to win her seat on the DeKalb County Commission, campaign records show. All this on a $43,000 annual salary as a DeKalb schoolteacher.
Sutton reported lending herself more than $62,740 and contributing $6,906 more to her campaign account between July 2007 and August 2008. The DeKalb school district told the state auditor that it paid Sutton $42,777 during the 2007-08 school year — roughly the period when she made those loans — and $27,642 the following year.
Her December 2007 disclosure noted the campaign received another $8,500 loan but did not report the date or say whether Sutton was the lender.
All told, Sutton’s loans and cash contributions made up nearly three-quarters of the $108,000 or so that she spent on the 2008 commission race.
How could Sutton find herself that deep in debt and still spend that much money on her campaign? We asked, but couldn’t get much of an answer.
Sutton and her campaign treasurer, state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Neither did Otanya M. Clarke, the attorney representing her regarding a state ethics complaint.
Warren F. Mosby, her campaign manager, said he was not privy to the particulars of Sutton’s financial obligations — “That is not my job to manage a candidate’s personal finances” — but he would not talk about them even if he were.
“It is my understanding that it was a very complicated and complex financial situation,” he said. “Details of that are a private matter.”
(Sutton used $53,465 — about half of her total campaign funds — to pay Mosby’s company, HSI Systems & Consultants.)
Sutton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the root of her financial difficulties was a long-running legal dispute with a contractor and the company insuring her home. She said a mold problem forced her to move out and leave all her family’s belongings behind, but continued to make the mortgage payments while renting a second home in Stone Mountain.
Court records show Sutton sued the contractor and insurer twice in Fulton County. Both suits were dismissed, most recently in September for lack of prosecution.
Sutton failed to report most of her campaign loans until well after the Aug. 5 primary runoff that sealed her victory. She filed a campaign disclosure in April 2008 but missed the next four filing deadlines set by state law.
In December 2008, Sutton submitted the four delinquent disclosures, reporting $49,500 in personal loans and nearly $33,000 in itemized contributions from supporters.
Mosby, Sutton’s campaign manager, also ran Gene Walker’s winning 2008 campaign for a seat on the DeKalb County Board of Education. Atlanta Unfiltered reported in June that Walker’s campaign also filed key financial disclosures late.
Walker failed to report nearly $20,000 of campaign donations from interests related to the Sembler Co. until after he had won a runoff election. At the time, Walker chaired the DeKalb Development Authority, which was reviewing Sembler’s request for a $40 million tax break for a Peachtree Road development. Walker has since resigned from the authority’s board.
Sutton’s late disclosures were filed Dec. 3 and Walker’s Dec. 4. Sembler donated $2,500 to Sutton’s campaign as well, records show.
The State Ethics Commission has an open case on campaign opponent Viola Davis’ 2008 complaint about Sutton’s late filings.
Sutton’s most recent campaign report, filed a couple weeks ago, shows the campaign still owes $49,515 on the loans. The campaign reported paying her back $10,877 in July 2008 and $10,600 the following November.
Sutton’s financial troubles date back to at least 1995, when the first of a string of civil and criminal charges were filed against her, court records show:
Sept. 26, 1995 — DeKalb State Court issues an $1,817 default judgment against Sutton for a claim by an Atlanta medical practice (debt canceled July 2001)
April 23, 1996 — Sutton is charged in DeKalb with writing a bad check a few days before Christmas 1995 (the charge was dismissed in June 1998 with a docket entry noting the statute of limitations had run out)
Sept. 26, 1996 — DeKalb State Court issues a $379 judgment against Sutton for a claim by a second Atlanta medical practice
Dec. 6, 1996 — Sutton pleads no contest in Gwinnett to writing a bad check to West Building Supply in Stone Mountain
June 9, 1998 — Sutton pleads no contest in DeKalb (receiving a 10-day suspended sentence) to writing a bad check shortly before Christmas 1997
March 27, 2001 — DeKalb County Sanitation files claim (later dismissed) against Sutton for unpaid account
Sept. 23, 2003 — Sutton sues Allstate Insurance & PJ Services (dismissed in February 2005)
Feb. 12, 2004 — IRS files $16,526 lien against Sutton for unpaid federal income taxes (lien was released May 26)
Sept. 23, 2004 — Tucker dentist files claim against Sutton; process server notes “house vacant, mailbox full of mail”
Aug. 12, 2005 — Sutton sues Allstate Insurance and P.J. Services again (dismissed in September 2009 for lack of prosecution)
June 24, 2006 — DeKalb Magistrate Court issues a judgment against Sutton for a $3,953 claim by Cynthia Woods (noted in December 2006 as paid in full)
Jan. 1, 2008 — Sutton loans $4,740 to her campaign for DeKalb County Commission
Jan. 8, 2008 — Gwinnett issues four warrants against Sutton for writing bad checks at Costco in Duluth (warrants recalled Jan. 21, 2010 after Sutton paid Costco)
April 3, 2008 — DeKalb State Court issues a $7,023 default judgment against Sutton for a claim by Primus Automotive Financing
April 15, 2008 — Sutton loans $34,000 to her campaign
May 23, 2008 — Primus seeks garnishment of Sutton’s wages
July 1, 2008 — Sutton loans $8,500 to campaign
Aug. 1, 2008 — Sutton loans $15,500 to campaign
Sept. 30, 2009 — BAC Home Loans Servicing files dispossessory notice against Sutton (docket notes “tenant evicted” Jan. 21, 2010)