ATLANTA (AP) — Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, her son and a third person pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Atlanta to a scheme to accept bribes in exchange for Lasseter’s influence and vote for a proposed real estate development in her district.
Lasseter “sold her office and betrayed the citizens of Gwinnett County who had voted for her,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
The commissioner, her son John Fanning and her associate Carl “Skip” Cain all pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme. Fanning and Cain each pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking charge as well.
Lasseter admitted in court to accepting a total of $36,000 in cash from a man she believed was a businessman seeking to develop a real estate project in her district. The man was actually an undercover FBI agent.
“Your Honor, I truthfully regret that I took a bribe,” Lasseter said when the judge asked why she did it. “I’m very ashamed that I did something like that to embarrass not only myself and my constituents but the commission and Gwinnett County.”
Fanning, who had been appointed by his mother to the Gwinnett County zoning appeals board, was promised a 50 percent ownership stake in a pawn shop that was to be part of the real estate project, prosecutors said. Cain, who has a trucking business, served as a “bagman,” for Lasseter and Fanning, arranging the bribes and setting up meetings and accepted $10,000 from the undercover agent.
Lasseter and Fanning had multiple meetings last summer and fall with the undercover agent and repeatedly assured him Lasseter’s vote could be bought. They also told him that, as a member of the zoning appeals board, Fanning could help secure approvals or variances. Lasseter also told the undercover agent she may be able to get the county to buy portions of the property that couldn’t be developed profitably.
Lasseter and Fanning also discussed with the undercover agent the possibility of him serving as a go-between to help them leverage Lasseter’s position to profit from the proposed privatization of the Gwinnett County Airport.
The undercover agent told the three that he was involved in trafficking illegal drugs and money laundering and that he planned to use drug money to finance the proposed project. Fanning and Cain told the undercover agent they were interested in getting involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, prosecutors said.
They each laundered $10,000 that they believed to be drug money and traveled to New York to transport what they thought was four kilograms of cocaine back to Atlanta, prosecutors said.
All three defendants are cooperating with law enforcement officers on a continuing investigation into corruption in Gwinnett County, prosecutors said, and all three expressed remorse in court.
The three are out on bond set to be sentenced Aug. 6. They each face a maximum of 10 years, supervised release of one to three years, payment of restitution and a maximum fine of $250,000 for the bribery charge. Fanning and Cain also face a minimum of five years and up to 40 years for the drug trafficking charge, as well as supervised release of four to five years, a fine of up to $5 million and payment of restitution.
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