Fulton County DA Paul Howard defends decision to close politically sensitive case

The City of Atlanta under Mayor Kasim Reed paid $250,000 in grant money to Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard's office between 2014 and 2016. The majority of that money went to boost Howard's salary.

During the time period of those payments, Howard determined there was no cause to prosecute a business run by a family friend and business partner of Mayor Reed, despite a staff recommendation to do so.  Howard said there was no crime and no politics at play. 

In 2016, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, told me politics played no role in his decision not to prosecute airport vendor Darrell Anderson's company for theft.

Anderson's company, Curbside Management Services, managed shuttle buses at the airport. He was a family friend and business partner in a real estate deal with then-Mayor Kasim Reed, and also an investor in Mayor Reed's father's recycling business.

What we didn't know during that 2016 interview, was that the city of Atlanta, under Mayor Kasim Reed, had granted $250,000 to Howard's office to be used to create crime-fighting programs and boost Howard's salary, according to city documents.

"It's what we call in law, it doesn't pass the smell test," said Jessica Gable Cino.

Jessica Gabel Cino, is a criminal law professor at GSU.

"While that is not an actual conflict of interest, it certainly seems to create a potential conflict of interest. It raises questions and sort of puts you know a cloud over this entire scenario," said Cino.

So, how did this all start?

The FOX 5 I-Team chronicled how Darrell Anderson's companies took over key ground transportation contracts at the airport after Kasim Reed was elected Mayor.  

Our investigation found, in 2012, Anderson's company sent the city this invoice requesting $25,000 to buy a "Jeep Liberty 4 DR vehicle" to use at the airport. The airport cut him a check for the full amount. But, we found two weeks earlier Anderson's company bought this used Jeep Liberty that cost only $12,340. 

Anderson's lawyer told us at the time that despite that invoice for a Jeep Liberty, Anderson's company actually used the airport money to buy a different car months later. 

The second car was still under $25,000 so Anderson's company paid the city back  $2540 some two years later after our report aired.

Our findings sparked a complaint by then Common Cause director William Perry asking that Paul Howard investigate.   In early 2015, Howard himself signed off on a full "misappropriation of Taxpayer funds" investigation after reviewing the initial facts.

At the end of the investigation, a staff member recommended Anderson had committed the offense of "Theft by Taking and False Statements & Writing."

Paul Howard overruled that recommendation and declined to prosecute. He told me one key reason was the city of Atlanta was satisfied with ultimately getting their money back and did not feel like a victim. 

"You have no evidence that it is political. Because, if you do I challenge you to show me where it is," said Howard.

This is what we've learned since that challenge.

Prior to that interview, in 2014, Paul Howard asked Mayor Kasim Reed for extra money to boost his salary. The request ultimately led to Howard promising to also create crime-fighting projects as well.  

In 2014, prior to Howard's investigation of Darrell Anderson and later in 2016 after the investigation, the city transferred two $125,000 checks to Howard's office.  At least $140,000 of it ultimately ended up boosting Howard's salary through a nonprofit he controlled.

In a letter, Howard wrote that an assistant DA had concluded that no criminal prosecution (of Anderson) was warranted" and he adopted that position. He also noted the city payments "were approved by the city council."

Anderson's lawyer told me the city payments to Paul Howard had nothing to do with his client, it was simply Howard's attempt to raise his salary.

"A potential conflict of interest is certainly lending credence to...it looks like there is something on the sly here, and that erodes public trust in the legal systems," said Cino. 

The Assistant DA that Paul Howard said recommended no prosecution of Darrell Anderson doesn't remember it that way.  Carranza Pryor emailed me late today to say that he and the investigator in the case recommended further investigation of all the issues regarding Mr. Anderson.