DA Sentenced to 18 Months for Lying About Sex With Informant

R. Robin McDonald
Fulton County Daily Report

A South Georgia district attorney has been sentenced to an 18-month prison term for lying to federal agents about an improper sexual relationship with a confidential informant.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson sentenced Robert B. Ellis Jr., formerly district attorney of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit, to 18 months in prison and levied a $5,000 fine against him for making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

F. Maxwell Wood, the U.S. attorney for Georgia's Middle District who prosecuted Ellis, said that the judge had departed upward from federal sentencing guidelines in sentencing the former DA. Lawson did so based on the impact that Ellis' indictment and guilty plea had on the community, according to Wood.

"I was very pleased with his ruling in that regard," Wood said. "You had a district attorney who had to step down; an appointee was put in place. The machinery [of Ellis' office] slowed down significantly, and people were not getting prosecuted. ... I think it was a fair sentence."

Ellis' lawyer, former Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers, said he was "very disappointed" with the sentence. "Given that it involved an upward adjustment of what was called for by the guidelines, we are considering an appeal," Bowers said.

Ellis' legal team, which also included former DeKalb District Attorney J. Thomas Morgan III and Valdosta attorney J. Converse Bright, had sought probation in the case. The plea agreement that Ellis signed provided for a maximum of five years in prison and fines as high as $250,000 prior to the application of federal sentencing guidelines.

Federal agents began investigating Ellis, who is married, last January after a woman facing criminal charges in his circuit and acting as a confidential informant in an ongoing drug investigation told the FBI that Ellis had forced her into a sexual relationship.

Ellis held that he and the woman had engaged in a consensual affair.

A federal grand jury subsequently charged Ellis with felony civil rights violations that stemmed from allegations of forcible sex and sexual fondling with suspect Jody Manning, who at the time was facing state drug charges, and charges of lying to federal agents and felony witness tampering. The indictment accused Ellis of telling Manning that he would prefer she not speak to any FBI agent or other investigator seeking information about their relationship.

The indictment also accused Ellis of making a false statement to FBI agents at a meeting last February. At the time, FBI agents asked the district attorney, who was not aware he was under investigation, if he ever had solicited sex or had sex with an adult or juvenile who either had a pending case or had been previously charged in his district, according to Ellis' plea agreement.

Ellis responded, "No."

Last summer, Ellis voluntarily stepped down as district attorney, and Gov. George E. "Sonny" Perdue III appointed Homerville lawyer Charles Joseph "Jody" Steedley to replace him. Steedley, who campaigned this fall for the office, was defeated Nov. 2 by Homerville attorney Catherine Harris Helms.

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice