LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - Former Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Shirley Lasseter took center stage in the fraud trial of a former high-ranking sheriff’s deputy.
Nick Neal is accused of multiple counts including fraud, identity theft and lying to a GBI agent about his involvement in a towing company.
The last time we saw Shirley Lasseter, she was headed to federal prison for soliciting bribes in an unrelated case. But on this day, she returned to court to serve as a witness for the prosecution, although it's unclear how much help she provided.
With her characteristic humor showing on the witness stand, Lasseter warned jurors she might not remember much about her dealings with former deputy Nick Neal because she's been serving time in federal prison.
"I spent two years doing nothing with this mind,” Lasseter said with a chuckle.
Neal is accused of improperly using his position as a high-ranking, politically-connected sheriff's deputy to lobby Gwinnett County to buy expensive diamond brake pads and rotors through a distributorship he actually co-owned. County employees can't do that.
“He thought it was an excellent company." Lasseter remembered. But Lasseter testified she didn't remember Neal, who she called a good friend, ever pushing for the $50,000 purchase.
"I don't think Mr. Neal had anything to do with that." Lasseter told District Attorney Danny Porter.
The county never bought any more diamond power brakes and Neal only made 500 dollars.
In 2012, the FOX 5 I-Team began looking into allegations surrounding Major Neal and his relationship with towing companies. He denied then trying to strong arm his way into taking over a Buford wrecker service or lobbying commissioners to buy brakes.
Prosecutors say they will present evidence Neal committed identity theft by using Fleetwood Towing's bank account to pay his American Express Bill. And they told the jury Neal lied about who really owned a second towing company.
It's against the law for a Georgia sheriff to have any financial interest in a towing company. Sheriff Butch Conway said he believes that law applied to his deputies, which is why he ordered Nick Neal to have nothing to do with such outside business.
But prosecutor showed the jury leasing documents with Nick Neal's signature, indicating Neal as the owner of Southeast Towing, a company in Lilburn, even though he told the GBI the company was actually owned by his wife.
Sheriff Conway said Neal was a “close personal friend,” but he had no idea Neal had violated his rule.
Porter: If you had known that Nick Neal was involved with a towing company, what would have happened?Conway: He would have been terminated.
The sheriff ultimately fired Neal for talking to the FOX 5 I-Team in the middle of the GBI investigation.