On September 24, 2012 in the Superior Court of Fulton County Sam Olens, as the Attorney General of Georgia, issued an 18 count Felony indictment against Don Balfour. On December 19, 2013 Don Balfour was cleared of all charges. Who is Don Balfour and why should you give a damn about this trial or this man?
Don Balfour was an influential state Senator (R-Snellville). Sam Olens indicted him with alleged misuse of his legislative expense account mostly related to travel expenses.
The Press release from Sam Olens: On Tuesday, September 24, 2013, a Fulton County Grand Jury charged Donald K. Balfour, II, with 16 counts of Making a False Certificate (O.C.G.A. § 28-1-8), one count of Theft by Taking (O.C.G.A. § 16-8-1) and one count of False Statement and Writing (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-20). A certified copy of the indictment was received from Fulton County Superior Court this morning.
These charges stem from Balfour’s submission of Georgia General Assembly expense vouchers indicating that he was entitled to reimbursement for mileage and per diem expenses to which, it is alleged, he was not entitled.
Making a False Certificate is punishable by one to five years imprisonment and/or up to a $1000 fine, Theft by Taking is punishable by one to ten years imprisonment and False Statement and Writing is punishable by one to five years imprisonment and/or up to a $1000 fine.
Justice at what Price?
Fast Forward over a year later and by some estimates around $1.5 million in your taxpayer money spent prosecuting this case and Don Balfour was cleared of all the charges. Balfour claims he spent $156,787 defending himself against the 18 felony charges. The GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) worked 371 hours on the case, a forensic audit logged 620 hours. The AG’s office had FOUR prosecutors working on the case that collectively logged in 570 hours.
After Balfour was acquitted the jury foreman said she wasn’t sure how the reports became the subject of a criminal trial.
“Personally, when you started looking at the dollar amounts of the charges, it became ‘Are we really here to talk about this?’ ” she said in December.
Let’s not forget that Olens has spent $30.38 million on outside attorneys. It seems easy to understand how he spent so much considering the huge team and massive money spent on prosecuting travel vouchers and losing all 18 counts! Let me repeat, he used a large team of lawyers that presumably could have been working on actual cases with merit, forensic auditors, GBI investigators with expenses around $1.5 million and over a thousand logged hours and went 0-18 on his felony counts. Not even one count stuck after close to $2 million in Georgia tax money spent and massive labor resources of many agencies!
18 Felonies For what?
Most charges alleged that he filed for and received mileage and per diem reimbursements to which he wasn’t entitled. The longtime senator and his defense team maintained all along that the reimbursements — totalling less than $3,000 over a five-year period — were mistakes and the product of poor record keeping. After the jury acquitted him Balfour said: “I have spent 14 months of my life going through hell,” he said. “Fourteen months. And not just me. My wife, my family, my name … I want to thank the jury for what I would call the wisdom of Solomon, and for figuring out what the right thing to do is.”
Over three days of proceedings, a series of calendars, reimbursement forms, vouchers and legislative rosters were examined ad nauseam. Through the indictment and three state’s witnesses, Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin attempted to make the case that Balfour, an executive with Waffle House, knowingly filed erroneous paperwork to pocket extra money.
Though more high-dollar accusations were made — including a roughly $1,300 trip that Balfour was reimbursed for by both the state and Waffle House — most of the charges dealt with amounts less than $35.
Defense attorney Ken Hodges was less diplomatic. “I think you all saw for the last three days while we were in court what a tremendous waste of the taxpayer money we’ve gone through,” Hodges said. “We’ve had multiple agencies, multiple GBI agents, multiple assistant attorney generals and Sam Olens himself, who was driving this train. And the taxpayers ought to be offended. I’m offended.”
He continued, lashing out at Olens, the state’s attorney general. “If a prosecutor was given the option to make a decision, this case never would’ve been brought,” Hodges, a former prosecutor, said. “This is being fueled by somebody that wants to run for governor and didn’t have the adequate experience to know that this wasn’t a crime.”
It should be noted that Ken Hodges, the guy that kicked Sam Olens butt in court, lost to Sam Olens in the 2010 AG race. How Hodges who is eminently more qualified lost to Olens has little to do with his skills and everything to do with the R and D after their names on the ballots. Had this been simply a non-partisan election there is little chance the mealymouthed Olens from New Jersey with no prosecutorial experience at all could have beat a Georgia born, UGA and Emory grad, who is also one hell of a trial attorney as Olens learned after having Hodges humiliate his team in court. I am not even sure if Olens argued in the trial and could have had his assistants handle that instead. What a shame and great loss for Georgia that Ken Hodges did not win that election in 2010. I bet Nathan Deal is certainly elated he lost. I do not think Hodges would have been been a pawn like Olens in those ethics cases. In fact, had Hodges won I daresay Nathan Deal might be a far more precarious situation than at present.
Aftermath of the Trial
Following the decision, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said he was “very disappointed” in the outcome, but defended his decision to bring to the case to trial. “The GBI investigation revealed that Senator Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur: miles he did not drive, days he did not work, hotels other people paid for,” Olens said in a statement. “Those requests were too numerous and systematic to be simply isolated mistakes. If those requests had been submitted by an unelected state employee, they would have been prosecuted, and a state senator should not be held to a lower standard.”
A few lessons to take from this humiliating failure and debacle by Sam Olens. Sam Olens doesn’t know how to prosecute trials. In fact he has no experience prosecuting and certainly not the personality to prosecute. In the debate against Greg Hecht he looked like a wilting lily and when given the chance to ask Hecht a question declined. The defense team and many in the media also questioned if this was simply politically motivated. Don Balfour is not poor. He is the Vice-President at Waffle House.
Now I am not saying Don Balfour is the poster child for an innocent man wrongly charged either if this report by Atlanta Unfiltered is to be believed. In fact many Republicans that have met and served with him have called him “an arrogant prick & a cocky son of a bitch” to name but a few. Those were among the nicer terms I decided to choose from the many comments I saw in articles. I do not know the man and this article really isn’t about his guilt or innocence or his personality. It is primarily about the motive, competence, and ability of our Attorney General to identify corruption and get a conviction and on this point he failed spectacularly. If Balfour was a Grade A asshole as many are suggesting, I am sure he ruffled a lot of feathers and made a lot of enemies in twenty years. But since Southern gentry no longer challenge an adversary to a musket duel, is it possible Sam Olens was their black-powder that simply fizzled and misfired?
When it comes to honest politicians in Georgia they tend to be a rare commodity. Georgia in fact leads the country with corruption which likely will not surprise any readers who are from Georgia. But that is beside the point for this article since Olens went after him on travel vouchers and lost after spending around $1.5 million. His biggest case as AG and he lost meanwhile Olens won’t touch Nathan Deal or his pals. When you are prepared to spend $1.5 million with what appears to be overwhelming evidence you damn sure better win or be prepared to have people question your ability to perform as the Attorney General of the state.
What I am arguing is most of these felonies were over very minor amounts and were likely sloppy bookkeeping as opposed to something willfully malicious or planned. Quite frankly with his wealth he should have refused all remunerations from the state coffers along with the rest of the multimillionaire politicians in Atlanta while our state is a sinkhole state in debt. Do they really need to collect a salary or travel vouchers with net worths north of $5 million while Georgia is so deep in debt? No, this likely had nothing to do with travel vouchers and was probably part of a much bigger scheme to bring Balfour down to size or teach him a lesson. Maybe Balfour had made some enemies that had Sam Olens ear.
I have to wonder why Sam Olens and his team should’t be brought up on charges. When you charge someone with 18 felony counts and can’t get a conviction on even one you are either incompetent or have a hidden agenda or both. It’s a truism that when ‘they’ want to get you, they will go for your travel receipts because there are always mistakes. It is nearly impossible not to make mistakes on travel receipts as many people can attest that need to keep logs.
It seems not an unreasonable hypothesis that someone whispered to Sam Olens and had him prosecute Balfour promising Olens it was his next step toward running for governor or possibly Lieutenant Governor. Olens has never prosecuted a case in his life so why in the world did he get elected as the state’s chief prosecutor when he is a fish out of water in a courtroom? He won the election because he was a Republican not because he was qualified or suited for the job by any stretch of the imagination. His nearly four years of incompetence has made that abundantly clear.
So why would the Republican kingmakers in the shadows decide to choose Olens? Is it because he is weak and easily influenced? Is it because he is easily intimidated and manipulated? Is it because he is ambitious and realizes his weaknesses and understand unless he keeps the party bosses happy he would be back to obscurity writing contracts? Who knows…. one thing is for certain, Ken Hodges would have made a far better Attorney General and so will Greg Hecht.
Who is Keyser Söze
Who were the puppet masters that had it out for Don Balfour? I sure would love to find out and I suspect Don Balfour probably knows the answer or at least has a few good educated guesses. Maybe he will decide to get some revenge and we will find out one day if he spills the beans. Someone certainly wanted him removed and even with the acquittal they accomplished their main goal which was likely to get him out of the Senate and public service completely. So perhaps Sam Olens won after all since his goal quite possibly was not to win any of those felony counts but to destroy Dan Balfour politically. Fait Accompli
Kudos Mr. Olens, you absolutely suck as an Attorney General for the citizens of Georgia, but you sure seem to make a wonderful puppet for the party bosses behind the scenes when they decide someone is no longer useful or needs to be pushed to the side. Just be careful that once you outlive your usefulness you don’t become their public enemy #1. They can be vicious I hear and new puppets are already queuing up to take your place.
P.S. Some free advice you won’t win as Lt. Governor or Governor if that is your ambition. A mealymouthed Florida born and New Jersey raised boy is not likely to win over the red meat voters of the party. You won as Attorney General because few pay attention to that office or know who you are and the party bosses decided they wanted you there. But if you try and run for a higher office, your accent alone will ensure you lose in the primaries. Your debate performance against Greg Hecht was pathetic. Florida might have voted for a yank, but I don’t see that happening in Georgia for a while yet unless they connect with voters and you don’t. Unlike Rick Scott that spent $75 million of his own funds to win the office, you don’t have that deep a bankroll to buy the Governorship. It is not the fact that you are a yank that would stop your ambitions, but you are the exact opposite of someone like Chris Christie who could possibly win here because he has charisma and bravado even if you dislike his politics. You have none of his charm or appeal. You seem to be a nice guy and therein lies the problem. I sincerely hope for the good of Georgia you are defeated and return to the life you are far more suited to handling which is paperwork and contracts. It is time we returned a prosecutor to the job of Georgia Attorney General and sent the lieutenant back to the trenches.