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Balfour lawyers up as GBI wraps $$$ probe
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By JIM WALLS
Jan. 10, 2013 — The GBI has completed an investigation of state payments to soon-to-be-deposed Senate Rules chairman Don Balfour, but there’s no word yet as to its findings.
Attorney General Sam Olens won’t say what the next step might be, if any. Balfour, meanwhile, appears to have retained Andersen, Tate & Carr, a Duluth law firm that is defending former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly against bribery charges.
The GBI had been looking into Balfour’s compensation for legislative service and expenses after he acknowledged “inadvertently” submitting claims for per diem and mileage on days when he was actually out of the state. He agreed to a $5,000 fine last summer to settle a complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee.
The case has cost the Snellville Republican much more, though. Senate leadership is about to replace him as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, and his campaign has paid nearly $80,000 in legal fees since June, including $35,000 to Andersen, Tate & Carr on Dec. 13.
Neither Balfour nor Pat McDonough, head of Andersen, Tate & Carr’s criminal defense team, returned telephone messages seeking comment.
Olens asked the GBI to investigate based on a request by Sen. Josh McKoon, the only Ethics Committee member who voted against the settlement.
GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Wednesday that investigators met with Olens and his staff on Dec. 14 to turn over the investigative file. Bankhead would not discuss the findings.
“It’s up to the prosecutor now,” he said, to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
Olens’ office confirmed that it has the investigative file but declined further comment.
The Ethics Committee found that Balfour improperly claimed $173 a day plus mileage for eight days of out-of-session legislative service in 2011. As Atlanta Unfiltered first reported in February, lobbyists had disclosed spending money on some of those days on Balfour’s meals and entertainment at out-of-state conferences. Legislators are not eligible for per diem when they’re not in Georgia.
Balfour in 2011 collected per diem for 115 other days, far more than any other Georgia legislator that year. He was one of 10 senators allowed to claim an unlimited number of such “committee days.”
Senate rules require that those members submit “a brief statement of the nature of the legislative duties carried out” for each day of per diem. None of Balfour’s 2011 per diem requests did so.
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