A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia has returned a three-count indictment against a former commissioner in DeKalb County, Georgia, for extorting bribe payments from a DeKalb County subcontractor. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division made the announcement.
Sharon Barnes Sutton, 59, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was arraigned on an indictment that charges her with two counts of extortion and one count of federal program bribery by U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard for the Northern District of Georgia.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Barnes Sutton was an elected member of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners (“the DeKalb Board”), representing District No. 4 of DeKalb County. The DeKalb Board is comprised of seven elected, part-time commissioners. Among other functions, the DeKalb Board appropriates funds for infrastructure development within the county, and a simple majority of four commissioners is needed to award public contracts for any such project. The indictment alleges that, during the relevant time period, Barnes Sutton also chaired the DeKalb Board’s subcommittee on Finance, Audit, and Budget, which undertook preliminary reviews of contracts, and was a member of the DeKalb Board’s subcommittee on Public Works and Infrastructure.
The indictment further alleges that, in May 2014, Barnes Sutton approached an individual whose company had received a sizeable procurement award from the DeKalb Board in connection with the construction of a wastewater treatment plant. Barnes Sutton demanded monthly payments of $500 from this individual, later increasing her demand to $1,000. The individual made the first $500 payment in June 2016 at a restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. The indictment further alleges that Barnes Sutton asked the individual to meet her at the restaurant and brought her son along so that her son would receive the cash payment on her behalf. The individual made the second $500 cash payment at Barnes Sutton’s residence in July 2014. The FBI disrupted Barnes Sutton’s continued demands in August 2014.
The indictment is the result of an ongoing investigation by the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office and the DeKalb County Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Amanda R. Vaughn and Victor R. Salgado of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.