A state judge sentenced the former chief operating officer of the DeKalb County, Ga., school district and her ex-husband, an architect, for a scheme in which they steered district design work to his firm.
County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker sentenced Patricia Reid and Tony Pope on Dec. 9, but more interesting than the sentences are how the husband-and-wife team worked together yet still believed they worked within the law or had concealed any violations.
Becker sentenced Reid to 15 years in prison for steering district contracts to Tucker, Ga.-based A. Vincent Pope Architects Inc., of which she was also an employee.
Pope was sentenced to serve eight years in jail, and Crawford Lewis, former school district head, received a 12-month sentence for misdemeanor obstruction of justice, according to the county district attorney.
It is not yet clear if the sentences will be appealed.
Pope and Reid were married during the period when she served as the school district COO and funneled $1.4 million in contracts to his architecture firm. Originally charged in 2010, a county jury on Nov. 22 found Reid and Pope guilty of racketeering; the jury also convicted Reid on a theft charge.
The scandal began when Reid took actions in her job that raised eyebrows, just months after being hired by the school district in October 2005. Reid, known then as Pat Pope, served as financial chief and secretary of her husband’s firm from April 2005 to August 2007.
Prior to her employment with the district, she and her husband met with Lewis and the school district’s attorney, agreeing that Tony Pope could complete his existing $326,364 contract for work on Columbia High School, but could not work on any more school district contracts due to the conflict of interest.
The work on the school covered design of a new career center, auditorium additions, HVAC system replacement and ceiling tiles and light fixtures.
Expanded Husband's Involvement
Within months of becoming COO, Reid expanded her husband’s involvement on the high school project.
Lewis colluded with her by approving contracts, change orders and addendums to Pope’s contract, according to the charges. The couple and Lewis used design-build and design-bid-build contracts to profit from the various projects and to enable checks to be sent directly to Pope’s firm.
About five months after Reid became COO, Pope requested a $176,690 increase in architecture fees for the project, but submitted no documentation to back the increase. Lewis and Reid signed off on it, although Reid did not submit a change order to the school board as required. The payment was for services already included in Pope’s contract.
In June 2006, school district auditors recommended that architects not be paid additional funds when they do no additional work. On Aug. 7, 2006, Lewis issued a memo to the Board of Education stating that “architects and engineer fees will no longer be based solely on a percentage of the stated cost limitation or cost of construction… there will be no contract increases granted based on cost growth.”
But Lewis ignored his own memo regarding the high school job, prosecutors charged.
On July 7, 2006, Pope submitted a request for a change order to increase the architecture fees by $268,766, with no supporting documentation. Combined with the other change order, Pope had now doubled his fee for the high school project, although no additional work was done.
Pope claimed the increase was appropriate because of a hike of the stated cost limitation of the project’s HVAC construction contract, although the contract already included designing HVAC and replacement for a fixed fee.
During trial, Pope said the prosecutor’s charge that he overbilled the district was a mistake. “I’ve proven myself to be just the artist,” Pope said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Also during trial, Lewis said that in a 2009 meeting with Reid, she boasted that she was smart after he asked her if she had broken the law.
“She indicated that if there was anything that had been done illegal, there was no one smart enough to know about it,” Lewis is quoted as saying.
Dismissed Two Architectural Firms
In addition to other crimes, Reid dismissed two architecture firms working on separate construction projects and altered the projects so her husband could work on them, prosecutors charged.
One of the firms had completed about two-thirds of the work and the other had finished about a quarter of the project.
The firms had been hired to design plans for the construction of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school south of Decatur, and for the renovation of the Mountain Industrial Center complex, which houses two schools and is near Tucker, Ga. DeKalb County Schools paid $660,000 to the architects for work that it later paid others to do.
The joint venture firm Heery-Mitchell oversaw construction projects for the school district prior to Reid’s tenure but she replaced the contractor shortly after she was hired, with Gude Management Group.
Reid knew the owner, Samuel Gude, from previous work at another construction company.
Immediately after hiring Gude, she repeatedly solicited him to provide tickets to events including multiple tickets to Atlanta Falcons games for her and Pope, totaling $3,391; four tickets to the Final Four basketball tournament totaling $18,622 for her and Pope; many tickets to the Fox Theater totaling $920 for her and Pope; and multiple tickets to the 2008 Atlanta Mayor’s ball for her, Pope and Lewis.
When the District Attorney subpoenaed documents from the district in October 2009, the subpoenas were sent to the director of internal affairs. Lewis ordered the director to forward the subpoenas to Reid.
She produced a stack of just three inches of documents, according to court records, so the DA’s office obtained a search warrant for her office and conducted a search on Oct. 13, 2009, which resulted in seizure of about 50 bankers boxes of documents.
Reid not only fired architects and manipulated projects so her husband would get work, she also hid his involvement in projects, according to the prosecutors. She listed architect Vernell Barnes, of C.D. Moody Construction, as the architect of record for the McNair project, and approved a $175,402 contract with the firm.
In return, Barnes paid a $20,000 kickback to Reid and Pope, prosecutors claimed.