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September 7, 2013

Indicted DeKalb CEO’s phone calls wiretapped

Authorities used wiretaps to eavesdrop on phone conversations between indicted DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis and his attorneys, consultants and even relatives, according to notification letters sent to people whose calls were listened to or recorded.

Ellis is suspended from office while he awaits trial on charges of theft, extortion and conspiracy. Prosecutors say he committed those crimes by illegally pressuring county vendors to contribute to his campaign, though Ellis denies wrongdoing.

The wiretap notices also show authorities listened to calls of Ellis’ former campaign manager, Kevin Ross, who has not been charged with any crimes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/18BMfKh).

“Every single day someone calls saying they got a letter,” said Craig Gillen, one of Ellis’ attorneys. “It is shocking they are recording conversations between Mr. Ellis and his 83-year-old mother, Mr. Ellis and his sister, Mr. Ellis and his religious counselor, Mr. Ellis and his attorneys.”

It’s unknown how many letters were sent or how many phone conversations were wiretapped. The one-page letter does not refer specifically to the case being investigated. It says texts and conversations to and from the “Target Telephones” were intercepted and “all original recordings have been sealed by order of a Superior Court Judge.”

Attorneys for both Ellis and Ross said they’re worried attorney-client privilege may have been breached by the wiretaps.

“I am very concerned that the DeKalb County DA’s office has listened in a conversation between me and my client,” said Seth Kirschenbaum, one of the lawyers who represents Ross. “One thing a person should be confident in is that privileged conversations between him and his lawyers are confidential.”

Erik Burton, a spokesman for District Attorney Robert James, said the letters were sent pursuant to a federal law requiring notification of people whose phone conversations were intercepted. He declined to say how many notification letters were mailed or how many conversations were recorded by authorities.

As for the lawyers’ complaints that attorney-client privilege may have been violated, Burton said, “They can hash that out in a court injunction.”

Jeff Dickerson, a communications consultant who works for politicians and governments, received one of the notification letters and said he’s talked to roughly a dozen others who also received them.

Dickerson has done work for Ellis and said he’s angry about the tactics being used in the investigation.

“If you’ve talked with them, then your calls were intercepted,” Dickerson said. “I find it reprehensible and unconscionable. It’s a gestapo tactic. We have a new district attorney in DeKalb, and this is his way of operating.”

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