Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, 64, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison without parole in federal district court in Atlanta Wednesday (Sept. 5) for accepting bribes.
Lasseter pleaded guilty May 31 to accepting $36,500 in bribes during 2011 from an FBI agent posing as a South Florida real estate developer to support a proposed real estate development in her district. Lasseter resigned from her District 1 seat on the Gwinnett County Commission that day. She represented Duluth, Suwanee and Sugar Hill on the commission.
Her son John Fanning, 34, of Dacula, and Carl “Skip” Cain, 65, of Flowery Branch, pleaded guilty in May to participating in the bribery scheme and to drug trafficking. Their sentencing was delayed until Sept. 18 at the request of their lawyers.
Cain acted as a “bagman” for Lasseter and Fanning, arranging the bribes and setting up meetings where the payments were made. Fanning and Cain each laundered $10,000 in purported drug money and also acted as drug couriers for what they believed was cocaine in a FBI sting operation.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Lasseter could have been sentenced for 46 to 57 months. The 33-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. represents a reduction in her potential sentence because she cooperated in an ongoing investigation of corruption in Gwinnett County. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had recommended a sentence of 33 to 44 months. The judge waved a fine ranging from $7,500 to $75,000 because of her inability to pay.
As a result of her cooperation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Mark Gary, 39, of Duluth, with bribing Lasseter to secure commission approval in 2009 of a controversial $4-million waste transfer station in which he had a personal stake. Lasseter has not been charged in this case.
Gary appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Justin Arnaud Wednesday morning and waived indictment. Gary is expected to plead guilty, but a court date for his plea to be entered has not yet been set.
Gary was released on bond. After Lasseter voted in favor of the project, Gary allegedly gave her son John a bribe consisting of $30,000 worth of chips at an out-of-state casino, according to court documents. Fanning subsequently shared the money with Lasseter.
Gary worked to help Lasseter get elected to the county commission, and she appointed him to the Gwinnett County Planning Commission almost immediately after taking office.
Lasseter’s attorney, Stephen Johnson, argued for a sentence of 24 months. Lasseter’s other son Justin Fanning, her daughter Jenny Limon, friend Jerry Robb, and Leigh Landon, a former student of Lasseter’s, appealed to the court for leniency. The judge was urged to consider Lasseter’s many contributions to the community, especially her accomplishments as mayor of Duluth for 14 years.
“The people of Duluth love Shirley,” said Robb. “I hope that this one blemish will not outweigh all that she has done.”
Shortly after taking office as a Gwinnett commissioner in 2009, Lasseter’s husband died, her home of 20 years was foreclosed upon, she lost her job, and she experienced health problems, her attorney said.
Lasseter did not speak on her own behalf.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Douglas Gilfillan countered that sentencing Lasseter to less than the recommended guidelines “is not going to send the right message to deter elected officials from using their office for private gain.” He also pointed out that Lasseter had accepted bribes in more than one instance.
The maximum sentence she had faced was 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. Lasseter had recently emailed Duluth officials, local business and civic leaders, and friends requesting character reference letters be sent to her attorney to be forwarded to the judge to obtain leniency. The court received a number of letters in her support.
Based on information John Fanning has reportedly provided in the corruption investigation, he is seeking a reduced sentence on his bribery and drug trafficking charges.
John Fanning’s attorney William Thomas Jr. filed a motion Monday containing the information. While cooperating with the probe, John Fanning reportedly provided information to investigators on three targets of the investigation.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, John Fanning could be sentenced to 70 to 87 months in prison. He is seeking an unspecified reduced sentence.
The sentencing hearings for Lasseter, John Fanning and Cain had originally been scheduled for Aug. 6 in U.S. District Court but were continued upon request by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta for 30 days until Sept. 5 to facilitate matters relating to their cooperation with the government’s corruption investigation.
John Fanning and Cain could each receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 each on the bribery charges. 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.
Judge Pannell recommended that Lasseter be incarcerated in a minimum security federal prison close to Atlanta for the convenience of her family. The nearest suitable facility, however, could be about 500 miles away in Florida. She will remain out on bond until she reports to prison in four to six weeks.