A few years ago the DeKalb County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners passed a zoning ordinance that regulated late-night establishments and nightclubs.
The ordinance required that new businesses must obtain a special land use permit if they wanted to operate either as a late-night establishment or as a nightclub. The law provided an exception to the new rule for pre-existing late-night establishments and nightclubs, which allowed those businesses to be grandfathered in.
Disputes with the county
In DeKalb County, the Zoning Board of Appeals hears and decides zoning appeals when a property owner has a dispute with the county. From January 2009 to May 2013, Jeremy “Jerry” Clark served as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
In September 2012, the county issued a warning to the owner of a late-night establishment in Tucker, Georgia, advising him that the establishment could not operate as a nightclub without a special permit. The business owner responded that the establishment had operated as a nightclub prior to the 2008 zoning ordinance and as a result, should be grandfathered in as a nightclub under the new zoning rule.
The county told the late-night establishment in writing that it was grandfathered in only as a late-night business, could not operate as a nightclub, and could not have a dance floor.
The business owner appealed to the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals. Prior to the hearing on the appeal, Clark met with the business owner. During those meetings, the business owner made it clear to Clark that if the board of appeals approved the owner’s request to operate as a nightclub, Clark would be rewarded.
$2,000 cash payment
In November 2012, the board approved the owner’s request to operate as a nightclub. Clark voted in favor of the business owner. The business owner then paid Clark approximately $2,000 in cash and donated approximately $1,500 to a non-profit interest Clark was involved with.
In February 2015, Clark, 42, of Lithonia, Georgia, was charged with one count of bribery. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 2015.
“It took only $3,500 to subvert the purpose of this DeKalb zoning ordinance, which was to regulate the operation of late-night clubs,” said acting U.S. Attorney John Horn. “This case demonstrates how a corrupt public official can sell out the legitimate interests of the communities and citizens he serves, solely for his own profit. DeKalb County citizens deserved better.”