By Dave Williams
ATLANTA - A lawmaker who represents Rockdale County and a portion of DeKalb County in the House pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal money laundering charges.
Rep. Ron Sailor, Jr., (D-Decatur) agreed to resign his House seat within 24 hours.
Sailor, 33, in his fourth term as a lawmaker, appeared in U.S. District Court in Atlanta before Judge Jack T. Camp to answer one felony count of laundering and attempting to launder about $375,000 in drug proceeds.
"I want to say how truly sorry I am to be here before the court," he told Camp. "I was desperate for money. I did business with a person who I believed to be a drug dealer to try to get myself out of debt."
Democratic, legislative leaders expressed sadness and disappointment upon hearing word of their colleague's guilty plea.
Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he and Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) got the news Tuesday morning from Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram).
"This is something that pains all of us," Smyre said. "I've been in this House for 34 years. Anytime anyone crosses that line, it hurts very deeply."
Porter said it's now clear why Sailor was absent from the House floor so much during the current session.
A recent report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he had missed 91 percent of 233 votes on bills, resolutions and procedural matters. That ranked him among the House's most frequent no-shows.
Sailor, who also serves as associate pastor of a Baptist church in Gwinnett County, was arrested in December after several meetings with an undercover FBI agent who he believed was a drug dealer from Florida, said U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias.
Sailor had offered to launder drug money for a fee, Nahmias said.
Shortly after being detained for questioning, Sailor admitted the crime and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in an ongoing public corruption investigation, Nahmias said.
"Representative Sailor's actions ... were very disturbing because he was a person entrusted by his community with enacting the law, who instead violated the law in a serious way," the attorney said.
Nahmias strongly hinted that Sailor's cooperation with federal investigators could lead to legal trouble for other public officials.
"All I will say at this time is ... Mr. Sailor and others have learned, people in public office who have violated the law and the public's trust should know that their situation will be much better if they come knocking on the FBI's door, than if the FBI comes knocking on theirs," Nahmias said.
Smyre said one of the worst aspects of Sailor's case is that it erodes public trust in elected officials.
"There's so many good people in this body," Porter said. "We hope this doesn't reflect on everybody who works hard and does their best."
It was unclear Tuesday whether a special election would be held to fill Sailor's seat or whether his successor would be chosen during the regular election cycle.
Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said state law gives the governor 10 days after a vacancy occurs to call for an election. The secretary of state then sets the date, Brantley said.
The 93rd House District, which cuts through Rockdale County just south of Conyers into southeastern DeKalb County, is heavily Democratic.
Sailor is due to be sentenced on May 22. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report