Thursday, February 25, 2021

Former Lilburn officials indicted in bribery scandal

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Doug Stacks was a rising star in Lilburn City Government. So trusted that at one point, he was promoted from planning and economic development director to assistant city manager, a post he no longer holds. He was the heir apparent to his boss Bill Johnsa.

But Johnsa said he became suspicious of his No. 2 in late 2018 and began asking questions. Johnsa said Stacks confessed to a small bribe, then quickly resigned.

That has now led to a bribery scandal in the Gwinnett County suburb and a 16-count indictment against Stacks and two others.

Johnsa told Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas that Stacks, former Lilburn Downtown Development Authority Chair Norman Nash and Realtor David Kennedy secretly bought the land on Lawrenceville Highway. One week later, they sold it to the city for a $185,000 profit.

The indictment Thomas found in court records indicates the trio ran the bribery scheme from 2014 until late 2018.

Prosecutors allege Kennedy paid Stacks and, at times, Nash used tens of thousands of dollars to grease the wheels for land deals, or through a front company, bought up land they knew the city was looking at and then resold it within days to the city at a jacked-up price.

Johnsa said that included the land where Lilburn Police Headquarters now stands and undeveloped land at 147 and 157 main streets.

Thomas asked Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson, “Do you believe there is anyone else involved besides these three?”

“This is an ongoing investigation, but we will go where it leads us.” She later added, “I think these things happen more so than we want to admit, but when we do come across these things, we take them very seriously,” she replied.

Other developments mentioned in the indictment include Noble Village, which sits right across the street from Lilburn City Hall, as well as 190 Parkview Trace, The Enclave Townhomes, Indian Trail Distribution Center, The Preserve at Killian Hill, and Luxomni Point. All are within the city limits of Lilburn.

Lilburn downtown business owner Hugh Wilkerson is a downtown development authority board member and worked alongside Stacks and Nash.

He told Thomas he was disappointed in hearing news of the scandal.

“You have trust in people, and they let you down, so it’s not good. … It’s unfortunate they took advantage of the situation,” Wilkerson said.

Thomas tried contacting all three men indicted but could not reach any of them.

Lawyer Matt Crosby said he’s representing Stacks and sent Thomas this statement:

“This office and I represent Mr. Stacks. We have been in contact with the Gwinnett District Attorney’s Office regarding the allegations and expected the recent indictment. At this time, we are thoroughly investigating the claims and researching the legal issues involved. Any further comment on the pending litigation would be improper at this stage.”

The city of Lilburn released this official statement:

“On August 22, 2019, City Manager Bill Johnsa questioned Stacks regarding possible illegal payments received as a result of city/Downtown Development Authority land transactions while Stacks was employed at the city. Following that phone conversation, Johnsa immediately contacted the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office and the Lilburn Police Department and an investigation was opened. Stacks resigned from his position as Assistant City Manager at the city on Monday, August 26.”

“This was extremely disappointing news and not representative of the manner in which the city conducts business,” said City Manager Bill Johnsa. “The city has cooperated fully with authorities during their investigation. I’m confident that this matter will reach a timely resolution and trust will be restored.”

Former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who handled the investigation until January, said by phone he believes it’s much larger than indicated in the indictment. He believes the trio took in $500,000-$600,000 between them.

Stacks was booked and released from the Gwinnett County Jail on a $35,000 surety bond. Records don’t show that Nash or Kennedy have been booked in so far.

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