Balfour says travel expense errors were unintentional

7:05 PM, Dec 18, 2013   |    comments
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State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville)

ATLANTA -- Georgia Sen. Don Balfour told a jury Wednesday he never intentionally submitted false vouchers for travel reimbursement.

Instead, Balfour told jurors that he was exceptionally busy-as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules committee, as an officer in a national organization of state legislators, and as an executive at Atlanta-based Waffle House. "Juggling a thousand things at once is what I had to do. And when you juggle things, sometimes balls fall down," Balfour told jurors.

Balfour was the final witness called in his criminal trial. He faces an 18-count indictment accusing him of claiming travel and per diem reimbursements to which he wasn't actually entitled.

Balfour's testimony concluded mid-afternoon Wednesday, at which point the defense rested its case. The prosecution rested its case Tuesday.

Contrary to prosecutors' story that Balfour tried to game the state's reimbursement system, Balfour said he has turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money. That money, he says, includes:

  • His decision to opt out of the state retirement system. He says that decision will cost his family up to $150,000.
  • His failure to file notice that he'd moved from Lilburn to Snellville. That failure, he says, shortchanged his auto mileage allowance from $3,000-to-$6,000 because Snellville is ten miles further from the state Capitol than Lilburn is.
  • His failure to claim mileage on numerous state trips for which he'd never submitted expense reports, worth some $23,000.

After he was elected to the Senate in 1992, Balfour said he volunteered to take a pay cut at Waffle House of $10,500 - the amount of his part time salary as a legislator. That decision, he says, likely has cost his family some $200,000.

"I don't know a single other legislator" who volunteered for such a pay cut in their private sector job, Balfour said.

"I wasn't there for the money. And I'm not there for the money. That's why I've left three to four hundred thousand dollars on the table," Balfour said.

Former governors Sonny Perdue and Roy Barnes testified on Balfour's behalf. Both said Balfour had an occasionally rough demeanor that concealed a "soft underside," as Perdue said, devoted to public service. Both said Balfour was a senator whose word they could trust. Balfour's wife Ginny testified that the couple frequently opened their home to people who'd fallen on hard times.

Defense witnesses described Balfour as a man who often overlooked details.

His administrative aide in the Senate, Beverly Crumbley, described him as a man "who bless his heart, could be scatterbrained."

Georgia Court of Appeals judge Billy Ray, a former senator who shared a Capitol office suite with Balfour, described his desk as "cluttered." Balfour, he said, "was really good at themes and maybe working the big idea. Details, not so much."

In one of the counts, Balfour is accused of double-dipping expense reports, submitting expenses for a trip to both the state and to Waffle House.

Balfour, who said he took 50 to 70 airplane trips per year on state and Waffle House business, says the error was inadvertent. He admitted he'd already submitted the expense to the state. "Six weeks later I must have come across the receipts and thought, oh I haven't turned these in to waffle house... I must need to turn these in."

A prosecution witness, former GBI agent Wesley Horne, testified Tuesday that Balfour's expense report inaccuracies were worth $2276.28. Balfour says he has repaid the state for some of those overages.

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