Not that we’re keeping score, but the new bribery scandal at Atlanta city hall is at least the third case since 2014 raising questions of public corruption. So far, no city official has had to face criminal charges.
The AJC brought the first case to light: a scheme involving the city’s Workforce Development Agency and federal job-training grants. The AJC’s investigation found that the money went to city insiders who hired phantom workers in some cases and conducted token training or none at all.
Executive Director Deborah Lum suddenly retired after the AJC made its findings public. Mayor Kasim Reed gave no explanation for her sudden departure. Then this past December, Atlanta agreed to pay $1.86 million to settle the Justice Department’s investigation of the grants. Workforce employees caught a break in the deal. As part of the settlement agreement, federal officials said they did not intend to launch civil investigations into actions by agency employees.
Nightclub and restaurant owner Kevin Edwards wasn’t as lucky. The agency paid Edwards to train construction workers at a home building business that had been defunct for years and to train teachers at a troubled daycare center. Feds charged Edwards with stealing the grant money, and in a plea deal he admitted guilt. He has to pay up to $649,272 in restitution and is facing federal prison time. His sentencing hearing is set for May 18.
Case No. 2 involved the city’s Watershed and Public Works departments. Scathing city audits found that city property was missing at both departments, among them a backhoe worth $80,000. Some employees were arrested on theft charges, and others lost their jobs. (However, the city’s Civil Service Board reinstated at least one of the workers charged with theft, ruling there wasn’t enough evidence to uphold the termination.)
In May, Reed removed the head of Watershed, Jo Ann Macrina, without stating a reason, at the same time he bagged the airport’s director. “Today really is not about the circumstances regarding their terminations, or their exits, ” Reed said.
Still pending in that case is a whistleblower lawsuit by two Watershed employees who were fired. Gwendolyn Winston and Loren Yarbrough allege that their dismissal was retaliation for reporting fraud and mismanagement in the department. Their attorney could not be reached for comment Monday, but a spokeswoman for the firm said that the firm is seeking additional documents that came to light during depositions last year.
As for the latest case, contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. has admitted paying more than $1 million in bribes for city contracts and is scheduled to be sentenced April 28. A second contractor, Charles P. Richards Jr., has been charged with conspiring with Mitchell to commit bribery.
While the feds subpoenaed city records related to a former city official – Mitzi Bickers, who was Reed’s director of human resources from 2010-2013 – no city official has been charged so far.