A Fulton County Superior Court jury found state Sen. Donald Balfour not guilty of charges that he intentionally received reimbursement from the state that he was not entitled to. (Special photo)
ATLANTA —A Fulton County Superior Court jury has found state Sen. Donald Balfour not guilty of stealing money from the state through the filing of false expense reports.
“I am very disappointed in the result of this case,” Georgia Attorney Sam Olens said in a statement released by his office Thursday. “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.
“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. I was convinced that this case should be brought. A grand jury agreed.”
Balfour, represented by former Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges, faced 18 felony counts related to expense reports he filed with the state.He said that he did not intentionally file incorrect reports and that errors he made were honest mistakes.
In his closing arguments Wednesday to the trial jury, Hodges said the verdict would send a message to the attorney general’s office.
“Your verdict is a message to Sam Olens, it is a message to the state of Georgia: don’t waste taxpayer dollars on people who aren’t criminals,” said Hodges during closing arguments, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What an absolute waste.”
Before the charges were filed, Balfour had been one of the state’s most powerful politicians and chaired the Senate Rules Committee. A guilty verdict would have cost his his seat in the Senate and up to a decade in prison.
First elected to the state Legislature in 1993, Balfour was suspended from the Senate and his committee appointment Nov. 13 pending results of the trial. He was chair of the Reapportionment and Redictricting Committee, vice chair of Health and Human Services, a member of both the Appropriations and Finance committees and an ex officio member of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.
State Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, R–Duluth, released a regarding the verdict.
“I am sure the verdict is an enormous relief to Senator Balfour and his family,” Shafer said. “We have adopted procedures that will prevent misuse of legislative expense accounts going forward, including regular review of expense requests by the Senate Audit Subcommittee.
“We have a duty to be the best possible stewards of the state’s dollars.”
Olens said that while he disagreed with the verdict, he respected the jury system and the jurors who were seated in the case. He said he accepted their decision.
Olens did not apologize for taking the case to court. “I do not apologize for standing for the principle that no person is above the law,” he said. “I will never apologize for that principle. And I will continue to work every day for the people of Georgia and for the rule of law.”