There are new developments in the criminal case against former DeKalb school chief Crawford Lewis and construction manager Pat Reid, developments that only underscore the imperative to take an unflinching and unapologetic look at who holds which positions in the district and how they got them. The same should be done for all contracts.
The task facing new superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is not an easy one. She has years of grime to clean and a long, long history of cronyism to undo.
An updated indictment was issued last week, elevating the role of Lewis in the mess: The indictment states:
Lewis “abused his position for his own personal gain and the benefit of his friends [and] his family…”
“Rather than operating in the best interest of DeKalb County’s children, Crawford Lewis, Pat [Reid] and Tony Pope stole or facilitated the theft of millions of dollars, performed or approved payment for substandard work, blocked legitimate contractors from receiving or completing contracts and manipulated projects to meet their own unlawful objectives.”
The updated indictment released last week says former school district construction chief Pat Reid did what she could to bloat existing design contracts with then-husband Tony Pope and to steer new ones to him, and Lewis signed off on everything, then did what he could to block the ensuing investigation.
What started as a probe into Lewis’ use of a school system charge card for vacations to the Bahamas ballooned into a complicated racketeering case. It’s laid out in 132 pages based on more than 80 boxes of documents.
The new indictment updates a 2-year-old one that charged Reid, Pope and Lewis with racketeering, theft, bribery and other crimes. The indictment accuses Reid and Pope of pocketing taxpayer funds allocated to four school construction and renovation projects. The indictment is unclear what Lewis gained in total. Under the bribery charges it lists tickets to the 2008 and 2009 Masters golf tournament costing almost $39,000, tickets to the Atlanta mayor’s ball valued at $5,000 and two dozen Atlanta Hawks box seat tickets in 2009. The indictment says the tickets were given by various construction companies.
Reid also demanded tickets to Atlanta Falcons football games, the Final Four Basketball Tournament, Masters Golf Tournaments and shows at the Fox Theatre, according to the indictment. Reid was the first defendant listed on the old indictment brought by former District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming, but Lewis was the first of the three to be listed on the new one.
“There is more of a focus on his activity,” current DA Robert James said Tuesday. “It enhances the alleged role of Dr. Lewis.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are scheduled for court Monday to discuss deadlines and the trial schedule. Defense attorney Tony Axum, who represents Reid, said the case probably won’t get before a jury until next year.
Pat Reid, who changed her last name from Pope after she and Tony Pope divorced, expects to be cleared, Axum said.
A DeKalb Superior Court jury will have to review emails, construction contracts, change orders, competitive bid documents and investigators’ interviews to decide if it all adds up to a criminal operation. The allegations surround millions of dollars in contracted design and construction work at Columbia High School, McNair Cluster Elementary, Arabia Mountain High School and the Mountain Industrial Center, which includes the new school administrative offices.
The indictment charges each defendant with four counts of violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, one for each construction project. RICO cases are complicated, and more often brought by federal prosecutors than county district attorneys.
While Lewis appeared to be in more of a supporting role to Reid, the indictment said Lewis signed off on the contracts and payments that Reid approved.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog