UPDATE 6:32 pm. 4/27: Minor edits throughout
UPDATE 5:44 p.m. 4/27: ADDS Scott comment that she did not file ORR with county
UPDATE 10:14 a.m. 4/27: ADDS Gilmore comment that she is not a convicted felon, as anonymous robocall claimed; additional comments from Gilmore about sheriff’s department
Revelations that Clayton County Commissioner DeMont Davis’ 2008 campaign for Georgia Senate District 44 bounced two $8,000 checks for television advertising are also raising questions about who brought the information to light.
Davis successfully completed probation under Georgia’s First Offender Act. That means he is essentially treated as if the conviction never happened for employment purposes under Georgia law. What’s not clear is whether that applies to elected officials in Georgia.
The Clayton Crescent has asked Davis for comment on the matter. Through a third party, Davis promised to comment later this week.
Last Wednesday, the race for the Board of Commissioners District 4 seat turned red-hot after Donald “Dee Cee” Craddock of MIXX 106 Radio posted images from a 2008 case involving Davis.
“Hey Jeff Turner The Guy You vouched For Is Not eligible to be an elected official Under Ga. Law…..Did You Know this and Didn’t Care??? Asking For a friend…”
Craddock tagged District 1 Commissioner Alieka Anderson, District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, Solicitor-General Charles Brooks, Clayton County Government, the Clayton County Library, and the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.
When The Clayton Crescent asked Craddock how he got the information, Craddock replied, “I have my sources.”
In the context of an election, this raises two issues:
- whether the First Offender Act applies to people running for elected office, and
- whether a judge’s ruling that a first offender’s conviction no longer applies for employment purposes means that voters also will give that person a second chance.
“We agree everyone deserves a second chance but Lying and Denying your Mistake is a Character issue for voters,” Craddock told The Clayton Crescent.
One of Craddock’s Facebook images appeared to be a Gwinnett County Sheriff’s inmate sheet for Davis that included a mugshot. (It is The Clayton Crescent’s editorial policy not to show mugshots except in the case of an immediate public safety threat, such as an active shooter, so we are not reproducing it here.)
The other image appeared to be of a property bond for Davis’ release, signed by Laura Davis and Lt. R. Pauls of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office for $11,200 plus $200 in fees.
Craddock’s Facebook images included what appear to be excerpts from Open Records Requests for “any and all email correspondence between Jeff Turner and Commissioner Damont [sic] Davis referencing Damont Davis’ two felony convictions for Account Fraud in Gwinnett County” and “any documents Commissioner Demont Davis disclosed to the board of elections revealing his arrest for fraud in Gwinnett County justifying his eligibility to run. Also any documents he signed under oath concerning his current elected position.”
The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request for the same documents, using the wording quoted in Craddock’s Facebook posts, as well as for the name of the person who had requested them. The county sent back a copy of the request from a Sherrad Frink, which had been cc’d to several other county officials and local news organizations:
We e-mailed that person and asked whether they had received all the documents they had asked the county to provide. The e-mail did not bounce and Frink did not reply by press time.
2 bounced checks for TV ads
A check of Gwinnett County Superior Court online records shows Davis was indicted on December 4, 2008 on two counts of deposit account fraud. The applicant was Landmark Communications, a political consulting firm. Court records indicate one count was dated July 1, 2008 and another July 12, 2008.
We went to the Gwinnett County Clerk of Court’s office and got the case file, which included copies of two checks, each written for $8,000 to Landmark and drawn on a SunTrust account belonging to “Friends to Elect DeMont Davis Campaign Account,” P.O. Box 870275, Morrow, 30287-0275. Check #1087 was dated July 1, 2008 and Check #1088 was dated July 12, 2008. Both showed the word “Campaign” in the memo line. Both appeared to have been signed by Davis. Both were stamped “Return Reason -A Not Sufficient Funds.”
On November 4, 2008, Mark Rountree, the president of Landmark Communications, Inc., swore out two arrest warrants against Davis in Gwinnett County.
On December 3, 2008, Davis and Laura C. Davis signed, and Clayton County Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. R. Pauls witnessed, an $11,200 bond on their Jonesboro home to guarantee Davis’ appearance in Gwinnett County Court.
On May 26, 2009, Davis pleaded not guilty and waived arraignment.
On June 17, 2009, Gwinnett Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Vikki Morek served Davis’ attorney, Jay Abt, with a list of state’s witnesses, a statement from Rountree, an arrest warrant with application, Davis’ GCIC, and 19 pages of business records from Landmark. (These items were not in the printouts that The Clayton Crescent received. This and other related physical files were in storage due to their age and could not be accessed immediately.)
Davis entered a negotiated guilty plea on both felony counts on March 18, 2010. He was sentenced to two years’ probation, restitution within 10 days of $17,778.71, a $1,500 fine, plus fees.
On March 23, 2010, the amended case disposition showed “First Offender Act-GCIC ONLY”:
Those records were amended on July 19, 2016 as “First Offender Act Completed”:
On July 22, 2016, according to the online case information, a judge ordered a First Offender Discharge of Davis’ record. :
That means Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge R. Timothy Hamil issued an order that Davis had successfully completed the requirements to discharge his conviction under Georgia’s First Offender Act.
According to the act, the Department of Community Supervision has to notify the clerk of court when a first offender has completed probation. It “shall be the duty of the clerk of court” to note any exoneration or discharge on the physical and digital case files. The digital file printout that The Clayton Crescent got did not include the notation from the Gwinnett Courts Portal that Hamil had discharged Davis’ case, nor did it show any of the language required under the First Offender Act. A notation on some pages indicates the case file was scanned into the systen on April 30, 2009, long before Hamil’s amended sentence order that Davis had completed his First Offender discharge.
Eligible to hold office?
Georgia law is not clear on whether a discharged first-offender felony conviction precludes someone from running for elected office.
In March 2017, Morrow’s former city manager, John Lampl, took a plea deal on several charges related to fire code violations at the Olde Towne Morrow development, completed his sentence three months later under the First Offender Act, and in 2020, won the may0r’s seat by 68 votes, beating incumbent Jeff DeTar 338 to 270. Lampl did not respond to an e-mail request to comment on his experience with having his file sealed under the First Offender Act.
In 2020, Georgia passed a law that “a [First Offender Act] discharge under this article is not a conviction of a crime under the laws of this state and shall not be used to disqualify an individual in any application for employment or appointment to office in either the public or private sector.”
However, Georgia election law specifies that candidates for elected office must swear:
- they have “never been convicted and sentenced in any court of competent jurisdiction for fraudulent violation of primary or election laws, malfeasance in office, or felony involving moral turpitude under the laws of this state or any other state or of the United States,” or
- that their civil rights “have been restored and that at least ten years have elapsed from the date of the completion of the sentence without a subsequent conviction of another felony involving moral turpitude.”
Also under 2020 Georgia law, “Any person finally convicted and sentenced for any felony involving moral turpitude under the laws of this or any other state when the offense is also a felony in this state, unless restored to all his rights of citizenship by a pardon from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles” is “ineligible to hold any civil office.” That felony conviction on “moral turpitude” charge “shall be a sufficient reason for vacating any office held by such person.”
However, according to a spokesman for the Board of State Pardons and Paroles, the board does not issue pardons for such cases—the judge would be responsible for modifying any sentence or conviction.
Georgia law allows for criminal records restrictions. It also provides for the person who was convicted to inspect those files for “inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading” information. If so, the person can ask to have the record corrected and that the records custodian notify GCIC within 60 days. If the entity is a jail or correction center, it doesn’t have to notify GCIC. But if the entity refuses to correct the record, the person can appeal to the court “with original jurisdiction of the criminal offenses in the county where the entity is located.”
The website felonyrecordshub.com notes some states “refuse to allow anyone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude from serving in an elected office. Moral turpitude includes lying, deceit, fraud, and receiving public funds, or breaking financial responsibilities. If you are convicted of a crime of moral turpitude in Georgia, you may not hold public office unless your rights have been restored and at least 10 years have passed since the completion of your sentence. You must also not be convicted of an additional crime of moral turpitude since the original offense was committed.”
- If you successfully complete your probation, the probation officer will request an Order of Discharge from the judge.
- The judge will issue the order, and it will be filed with the clerk of court (be sure to keep a copy).
- The Clerk of Court will enter the Order of Discharge onto your official Georgia criminal history record and the record of the case will be sealed from your GCIC criminal history record for most employers.
- [You should] Obtain a copy of your GCIC criminal history record to make sure the First Offender case no longer appears on your report. (NOTE: Law enforcement and certain employers can still see the charge.)
The Clayton Crescent did not find a copy of the Order for Discharge in Davis’ case file Monday. Other related files are being pulled from storage.
We asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to confirm whether Davis has requested GCIC restriction, whether Davis’ records already were restricted, or whether anyone from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office or any other law enforcement entity had accessed Davis’ GCIC record this year. GBI Office of Privacy and Compliance Manager Cheryl D. Payton said the GBI could not confirm whether Davis had sought to restrict his records, saying those applications fall outside of Georgia’s Open Records Act. Payton noted, “Georgia Felony Convictions are the only criminal records subject to the Open Records Act. You may obtain these from any local criminal justice agency, however restricted records are not included.”
As for the possibility of whether anyone might have used CCSO’s computers to access Davis’ record, Payton said the GBI could not confirm whether that were the case. “These systems are used for the Administration of Criminal Justice,” Payton wrote. “If you have an allegation of misuse, you may report it in writing to the GCIC Division Director, Rhonda Westbrook and it will be investigated.”
Records and robocalls
Davis faces two challengers in the May 24 primary, Meia Ballinger and Janice Scott. The Clayton Crescent asked Ballinger whether she or her campaign had made an Open Records Request. Ballinger said she had no idea and that the request was not hers.
We also sent an e-mail to Janice Scott on April 21 seeking the same information. A call to Scott’s phone number on file that went to a full voicemail box that day, so we sent an SMS for a callback as prompted. Scott replied by e-mail on April 27: “No, I did not.”
The Clayton Crescent sent an e-mail to Landmark Communications’ Mark Rountree and called the company twice for comment. A person who answered the phone at Landmark said he had no information on the matter. Rountree did not return a third followup phone call by press time.
Two robocalls placed to District 4 voters sometime around April 12 accused Davis of being “a criminal.” The Clayton Crescent obtained recordings of the calls:
Male Speaker: “DeMont Davis was arrested in Gwinnett County on two counts of deposit account fraud. If DeMont Davis would make and deposit fake checks with his own account, what would he do with your tax dollars? We must stop government corruption on all levels. Check your mailbox over the next 30 to 60 days for more information about the real DeMont Davis. Clearly the wrong choice for Clayton County. DeMont Davis: the wrong choice for Clayton County.”
Female Speaker: “He pled guilty and was convicted of check deposit fraud. He then turned around and opened a club, right here in our county, with a woman who was a convicted felon and wanted for insurance fraud. DeMont Davis and his business associates are criminals. Check your mail early next week for more details. DeMont Davis is a criminal.”
The false claim about Davis’ business partner in the second recording apparently refers to Ramona Gilmore, who has a case pending in Clayton County Superior Court. Gilmore and Davis owned the now-defunct Legends Headquarters Sports Bar and Lounge in Stockbridge. The Clayton Crescent attempted to contact Gilmore about the anonymous claims made in the robocall but was unable to reach her. Gilmore contacted us Wednesday morning and said the claims were false.
First, Gilmore says she is not “a convicted felon,” as the anonymous female robocaller claimed.
Another claim the anonymous female robocaller made about Gilmore was that she was “wanted for insurance fraud.”
Gilmore says that also is a lie.
While online court records show Gilmore is charged with first-degree forgery, insurance fraud, and false report of a crime, those are charges—not convictions—and the case is pending.
Those online court records also indicate that Gilmore forfeited her bond in February. Gilmore says that, too, is false.
She says her pending case is related to her divorce from her now-ex-husband, that she had not forfeited her bond, and that the notation on Clayton County’s public-facing court website had been a clerical error.
“It comes from me and my husband going through a divorce,” she explained, “and we had a TPO, and we would go to court, and anytime you go to court—I was in contempt, per my husband, but he was coming bothering me, and they run your fingerprints.”
Gilmore said that, as part of that divorce fight, she had had to turn herself in. “So that’s the only way someone could get my information from anywhere, is [from] the judicial system.”
She doesn’t appreciate whoever put out the robocalls dragging her into their political fight.
“I don’t deal with anybody here,” Gilmore said. “So why they’re throwing me in this mix with Mr. Davis and whoever, I wish they would leave me out of it.”
Gilmore added that the anonymous female robocaller lied about her and Davis’ business.
“They said it was a club? It’s a restaurant,” Gilmore said. “Clayton County does not allow bars and clubs. And whoever’s giving this information must be coming from the sheriff’s department. It’s not the police department because where would someone get information from that I’m a convicted felon and I’m not? They would only have the arrest information from me and my husband going through our divorce.”
She also was unhappy that her personal business was dragged into someone’s campaign.
“Politics should be politics, and people’s personal lives should be their personal lives,” Gilmore said.
While she said she had a pretty good idea of who was behind the robocalls, Gilmore said she didn’t want to name them.
“You know who’s feeding the information, but I can’t say who because I don’t want to be in the middle of it,” she said. “Everybody knows who’s feeding the information.”
Gilmore said the attack on Davis was irrelevant.
“I don’t know which campaign it is. It’s just a nest of mess that needs to stop,” she said. “And let everybody run their race, and let the people decide who they want in office….All this other stuff, because they’ve got people in their heads, or their minds, or their ears, telling them to do this, this, this, it’s irrelevant. If you’re a first offender, and you have the First Offender Act, the only people that is allowed that information is government and police. The normal person who doesn’t know you isn’t gonna have that information if you didn’t tell them.”
“It’s all politics,” Gilmore said. “I just want to be left out of it.”
No love lost between Clayton County political camps
Sources who support Davis say he is up against an effort, allegedly led by political kingmaker and convicted felon Mitzi Bickers and Sheriff Victor Hill to “stack” the Board of Commissioners against Chairman Jeff Turner.
Hill paid Bickers $2,000 on December 20, 2011 for political consulting work in his run for Clayton County sheriff and has made campaign donations to District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin ($1,000 on March 9, 2020) and District 1 Commissioner Alieka Anderson ($1,000 on August 31, 2021). On July 1, 2021, Scott, who is running against Davis, donated $100 to Anderson’s campaign. Anderson’s campaign paid Bickers’ Pirouette Companies $1,500 for campaign phone calls on October 25, 2021. On election night, The Clayton Crescent spotted Bickers driving away from Anderson’s victory party at ALL-IN Sports Bar and Grill.
Turner has made no secret that he is glad to see Bickers out of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, where Hill hired Bickers after she resigned from the City of Atlanta for failing to disclose her outside political consulting income. In a few years’ time, Bickers quadrupled her salary under Hill and, sources allege, was running the sheriff’s department behind the scenes after Hill was suspended.
As of press time, Bickers awaits sentencing on June 12 after a federal jury found her guilty March 23 on one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, three counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of falsifying tax returns in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal. Her attorneys say they plan to appeal.
Hill has nearly a dozen federal cases, including a superseding criminal indictment, pending in the U.S. Northern District Court and remains under suspension by Gov. Brian Kemp. Hill was suspended pending the outcome of charges he violated pretrial detainees’ civil rights by allegedly strapping them in restraint chairs for extended periods as punishment.
Hill’s attorneys have protested that, under Georgia law, Hill should have his full powers restored. Recently, Hill published a lengthy Nixle post—his main means of addressing the press–alleging the plaintiffs had all been sent by his political enemies and that Chairman Jeff Turner, District Attorney Tasha Mosley, and Kemp have been trying to get him fired.
Janice Scott, one of two candidates challenging Davis for the BOC District 4 seat, paid Pirouette Companies $1,000 on January 5 and $9,500 on January 24 for “campaign literature,” according to a Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report filed February 1.
Online records did not show that the other BOC District 4 challenger, Meia Ballinger, had filed a CCDR as of press time.
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s online records do not show that Davis filed personal financial disclosure statements for races in either Senate 44 race or BOC District 4. (Not all campaign filings are online and some have to be viewed in person at the Atlanta office.)
Some Clayton County elected officials who have paid Bickers’ political consulting companies (listed in candidates’ state campaign filings as Pirouette Strategies, The Pirouette Company, The Bickers Group, or similar variations) include State Sen. Gail Davenport, State Sen. Valencia Seay, former BOC District 3 Commissioner and now Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone (who will hear the case against Davis’ business partner, Ramona Gilmore), former Georgia House District 77 Rep. Darryl Jordan, former House District 63 Rep. Ronnie Mabra, and former State Sen. Vincent Fort, who is now running in U.S. House District 13 against incumbent Rep. David Scott.
Other notable clients of Bickers, according to state campaign finance records, have included U.S. House District 5 Rep. Yasmin Neal, former City Councilman and now Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, former Democratic Georgia House member turned Trump-endorsed-Republican U.S. House District 10 candidate Vernon Jones, Dekalb County CEO Burrell Ellis (who also was sentenced 0n corruption charges last year), State Sen. Elena Parent, and State Rep. Park Cannon.
Just because a candidate hires a political consultant who is later convicted of bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion doesn’t make that candidate a criminal. This partial list of Bickers’ clients gives an idea of the scope of her influence when it comes to getting out the vote—and Scott has hired Bickers in her quest to unseat Davis.
“I don’t think anybody should be throwing dirt on anybody at this time, with everything that’s going on in Clayton County,” Gilmore said. “Run for your position, be for the people of Clayton County, and that’s what it should be about, the people of Clayton County, and not what somebody did 20 years ago, or what somebody did ten years ago. It should be about the people and what’s going on in Clayton County right now today. Because Clayton County is in trouble. And if we don’t get the right people in office, we’re gonna be in trouble.”
Look up campaign finance disclosures (campaign contribution disclosure reports, personal financial disclosure reports, and declarations of intent to run for office) filed with Clayton County by current and recent candidates. To see who has donated money to a campaign—and to whom a campaign has paid money for goods and services–pick a candidate, then look at each campaign contribution disclosure report (CCDR).