Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, 64, of Duluth faces a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta Thursday morning to accepting $36,500 in bribes to support a proposed real estate development on Boggs Road.
Lasseter’s son, John Fanning, 34, of Dacula and Carl “Skip” Cain, 65, of Flowery Branch pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme and to drug trafficking.
Lasseter sold [the influence of] her office and “betrayed the citizens who voted for her,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates during a press conference announcing the guilty pleas Thursday afternoon at the Richard Russell Building in downtown Atlanta. “Today’s guilty pleas are part of an ongoing effort to root out public corruption in Gwinnett County,” she said.
Lasseter accepted bribes in 2011 totaling $36,500 from an FBI agent posing as a South Florida businessman interested in investing in real estate in Gwinnett County, Yates said. The bribes were paid in cash installments of $1,500, $9,000 and $26,000, she said. The proposed development never came up for a vote before the county commission.
Cain, an associate of Lasseter’s, works at a trucking business. Fanning operates a landscaping business. He served as a member of the Gwinnett County Zoning Appeals Board after being appointed to a one-year term on the board in February 2011 by his mother.
Yates was joined at the press conference by Brian D. Lamkin, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office; Assistant U.S. District Attorney Douglas W. Gilfillan, who prosecuted the case; and Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.
Lasseter resigned as District 1 commissioner Thursday in a letter sent to Gwinnett County Administrator Glenn Stephens, according to Joe Sorenson, communications director for Gwinnett County government. Lasseter had announced she wouldn’t seek re-election citing health and personal reasons. Her first four-year term would have expired at the end of 2012.
As District 1 commissioner, Lasseter represented Duluth and Suwanee. She previously served 14 years as mayor of Duluth.
Cain acted as a “bagman” for Lasseter and Fanning arranging the bribes and setting up meetings where the payments were made, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office detailing the FBI sting operation.
Lasseter and Fanning reportedly told the undercover agent that Lasseter’s favorable vote on the proposed development was for sale and that Fanning could help obtain necessary approvals and variances for the development through his position on the county’s zoning appeals board. Involving the agent in leveraging Lasseter’s commission position to benefit from the proposed privatization of Briscoe Field was also discussed. Lasseter was the swing vote on the airport issue.
After Cain said he was interested in becoming involved in drug trafficking and laundering drug money, the FBI agent concocted a story that he laundered money for drug dealers and that drug trafficking proceeds would fund the proposed development. The agent later put Cain and Fanning in touch with an “associate” to enlist them in these activities.
Yates said that Cain informed the FBI agent at a meeting where Cain introduced him to Lasseter and Fanning that Lasseter was “running short of cash.” After the agent took her aside and gave her an initial payment of $1,500, Lasseter told him: “You’ve got my vote,” according to Yates.
Cain was paid $10,000 that he asked for as a fee for arranging Lasseter and Fanning’s involvement in the development. Fanning was supposed to get 50 percent ownership in a pawn shop in the Boggs Road development, Yates said.
Each laundered $10,000 in purported drug money through their businesses, keeping 12 percent as a fee. Fanning and Cain also acted as drug couriers for what they believed was cocaine. They were intercepted by law enforcement officers after their New York flight arrived in Atlanta on their way to deliver four kilograms of “cocaine” to a prospective buyer.
Lasseter, Cain and Fanning waived indictment and pleaded guilty to charges in a May 31 Criminal Information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the court, Yates said. They each posted $10,000 signature bonds, she said.
Fanning and Cain could each receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the bribery charge. They each face a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for drug trafficking. The maximum sentence for drug trafficking is 40 years and a fine of $5 million.
Sentencing is scheduled for Lasseter, Fanning and Cain Aug. 6 before U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr.