ATLANTA - A FOX 5 I-Team investigation has found a program developed by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to help reduce juvenile has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and not helped one single child.
Howard blames the lack of progress in the program on the COVID19 pandemic.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts says he is shocked, concerned, and plans to get to the bottom of the controversy.
It all started last August as Paul Howard handed out t-shirts and sang the praises of a new program he promised Fulton County Commissioners would help stop juvenile repeat offenders from committing more crimes.
According to his brochure, the Level Up program was conceived after two teenage brothers, who had been arrested 30 times between them, shot and killed community activist Anthony Brooks in 2016.
Fulton County Commissioners then voted to earmark at least $500,000 for the program. The goal – provide mentoring and counseling to juvenile offenders who had committed three or more crimes.
Howard is in a hotly contested race with a former prosecutor in his office, Fani Willis, and often touts the Level Up program in his political ads and debates.
However, an I-Team investigation found since the day that half a million tax dollars were allocated a year ago there has not been one single juvenile offender placed in the program.
"I'd be shocked if no kids have gone through the program yet," said Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts.
Pitts says the program sounded great on paper, and he trusted Paul Howard’s office would make sure young offenders got help.
"Our goal is to help young people if they are not being helped that is really disappointing," said Pitts.
The FOX 5 I-Team attempted to find out what happened to the money. Last November, Howard hired four employees to run the program at a yearly salary cost of around $210,000.
According to a written agreement, the county would pay the Atlanta Police Foundation another $280,000 to provide mentoring and family intervention for the repeat offenders.
The Atlanta Police Foundation issued the following statement:
"For three years, APF’s At-Promise Youth Initiative has partnered with multiple Atlanta service agencies to provide youth with mentoring, tutoring, health, psychological counseling, and other social services in an effort to divert them from the criminal justice system to pathways to productive lives. This grant from Fulton County’s Level-Up program recognizes and reinforces" those programs already in place."
The foundation and two other non-profits they partnered with planned to use the money to help young repeat offenders who were "referred by the Fulton County District Attorney's office, up to a max of 30 youth at a time."
But, no juveniles were ever referred to the program. The only tangible asset we found was one Foundation partner spent $33,918 of the money this year on a passenger van to transport kids.
"Obviously taxpayers are involved, but if those kids were going to be the beneficiaries and if they have not benefitted, it's another blow to them," said Pitts.
Paul Howard issued a statement blaming the lack of progress on the COVID19 pandemic that hit this March.
He wrote that the "court system has been in a virtual shutdown" and "COVID-19 has decimated the ability for personal contact and direct interaction that was planned at the outset of the program."
Even though records show a second payment of $100,000 was sent to the three grassroots community organizations in May 2020 after the pandemic hit, and right before the June election date.
Pitts promised to get to the bottom of the controversy.
"Now, that you brought it to our attention, I'll be speaking to my manager, and finance people, and my colleagues, to find out what they would like to do," said Pitts.
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