A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia has indicted former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton on two counts of extortion and one count of bribery, the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. announced on Tuesday.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Barnes Sutton, 59, at her DeKalb County home early Tuesday morning without incident.
Later in the morning, Barnes Sutton appeared before U.S. Magistrate Russell Vineyard, who set a $25,000 signature bond.
The indictment alleges that in May 2014, Barnes Sutton accepted money from a contractor in exchange for the awarding of a contract for the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility.
The indictment cites Barnes Sutton’s work as chair of the DeKalb County Commission’s Finance, Audit and Budget Committee, which recommended the contract.
The indictment alleges Barnes Sutton approached an individual whose company had received a sizable procurement award from the DeKalb County Commission in connection with the construction of a wastewater treatment plant. Barnes Sutton allegedly demanded monthly payments of $500 from this individual and later increased her demand to $1,000.
According to a DOJ news release, the individual made the first $500 payment in June 2014 at a restaurant in Decatur. 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 reportedly made the second $500 cash payment at Barnes Sutton’s residence in July 2014.
According to the news release, the FBI disrupted Barnes Sutton’s continued demands in August 2014.
The indictment spells out recorded conversations between Barnes Sutton and the contractor for $500 cash payments, and outlines the contractor’s refusal to pay her a higher amount of $1,000.
According to the indictment, the committee chaired by Barnes Sutton voted to approve a four-year contract for more than $10 million for the Snapfinger Creek Project.
After her court appearance, Barnes Sutton’s defense attorney Bret Williams told FOX 5 and other media that they deny the charges in the indictment.
Calling her record as a county commissioner unblemished, Williams said, “We will prove she is innocent of these charges.”
Barnes Sutton left the U.S. District Courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon without making a comment to reporters.
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 attorneys Amanda R. Vaughn and Victor R. Salgado of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.