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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 8:00am

Don Balfour: Sloppy And Overworked Or Organized And Precise?

The state has aimed to show state Senator Don Balfour gamed the system in day two of his trial at Fulton County Superior Court.

Balfour’s defense, however, has indicated the case is politically-motivated and driven by Attorney General Sam Olens. His lawyers have also picked at the indictment, which they say includes errors and improperly displays private identification information for Balfour.

The state’s longest serving Republican lawmaker is accused of defrauding Georgia taxpayers by filing erroneous expense reports.

Vouchers and expense reports dominated the second day of the trial. And through testimony, the state tried to show Balfour as having almost unlimited power to log expenses.

That’s because he chaired a committee in the state Senate. It gave him latitude to claim work days even when no meetings were scheduled. Indeed he was often the legislator who sought reimbursements for non-legislative days the most.

And senior assistant attorney general David McLaughlin zeroed in on one expense from April of 2009. That’s when it’s alleged Balfour received reimbursements for a trip to Washington from both the state and his employer.

One witness, Robyn Underwood, is the state legislature’s fiscal officer. She told McLaughlin she didn’t know Balfour had also submitted the same expense to the Waffle House, his employer.

“Could you imagine a scenario in your job as the fiscal officer where a member of the General Assembly could get reimbursed for actual expenses from the state and get reimbursed for actual expenses from another entity and you approving it?” he asked.

“No,” Underwood replied.

Balfour's defense says the errors were innocent mistakes. And interviewing the same witness, attorney Ken Hodges introduced repeatedly into the record that Balfour cheated himself by not reporting expenses he accrued.

Underwood told Hodges that his client neglected to update address forms that would have allowed him to collect more mileage when he moved from Lilburn to Snellville.

“And you told me that was some 7,000 miles that he was entitled to but didn’t get reimbursed for between 2003 and 2008, isn’t that right?” Hodges asked Underwood.

“That’s correct,” she replied.

Hodges, partner, William Hill, spent several hours working over Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Wesley Horne about the amounts at issue in the indictment. He went through each count and calculated how much Balfour is alleged to have claimed fraudulently.

“Did you tell the Attorney General’s office that the count was over a total of $32?” he asked Horne.

“Our focus wasn’t the dollars but whether it was wrong,” he replied.

The courtroom in downtown Atlanta has become a way station for some of Georgia’s top politicos, including former Governor Roy Barnes. The defense, including Hodges who's a former gubernatorial candidate, issued a subpoena to Barnes, the former Governore said.

If convicted, he faces fines of up to $1,000 and as many as 10 years in jail.

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