Stonecrest sues staffing firm over ‘poorly performing’ city hires

Credit: City of Stonecrest

Credit: City of Stonecrest

DeKalb’s newest municipality ties Jacobs appointees to various city scandals

In a wide-ranging new lawsuit, Stonecrest officials say the engineering and staffing firm that helped launch the fledgling city repeatedly hired unqualified, incompetent and unproductive people — many of whom also had a hand in the scandals that have rocked the municipality throughout its six-year existence.

Jacobs, an international firm formerly known as CH2M, provided staffers and administrators for DeKalb County’s largest city from its inception in 2017 through the end of 2021. It had previously provided similar services to new metro Atlanta governments like Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Tucker.

But in Stonecrest, things went awry in just about every conceivable fashion, according to the 76-page lawsuit filed this week in DeKalb County Superior Court.

The city accuses Jacobs employees or subcontractors of playing direct roles in the mismanagement of federal COVID-19 relief money, which resulted in former Mayor Jason Lary and others going to prison; the issuance, and use, of unauthorized purchasing cards; and the Metro Green recycling plant saga that is still playing out in court.

The suit also says Jacobs collected money from the city services it never provided, including but not limited to economic development and strategic plans meant to guide Stonecrest’s future. Plus, Stonecrest alleges, Jacobs staffers altogether neglected to “collect certain revenues on behalf of the city” — namely various business license and alcohol fees, as well as portions of hotel/motel and rental car excise taxes.

Most Jacobs employees, the suit says, “provided little, if any, services to the city and rarely addressed issues facing the fledgling city or responded to citizen complaints concerning the provision of city services.”

In a statement provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday afternoon, Jacobs said it had not yet been formally served and was “not commenting other than to affirm that we will vigorously defend the lawsuit.”

“The facts are the former Mayor of Stonecrest is in federal prison, and Jacobs has fully cooperated with city and federal law enforcement in all investigations,” the statement said. “Jacobs is a global company that prides itself on our integrity and steadfast commitment to our clients.”

Stonecrest City Attorney Winston Denmark and Mayor Jazzmin Cobble did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jacobs and other entities named in the suit are accused of breach of contract, civil racketeering, conspiracy and several other offenses. The city has asked a judge to order it be repaid for various losses, unfulfilled services and attorneys fees, as well as for unspecified punitive damages.

A potential dollar figure was not provided.

Jacobs employee involved in COVID fraud

By all accounts, Lary — Stonecrest’s founding and now-former mayor — was the ringleader of a well-documented scheme to pocket portions of the city’s $6.8 million allocation of federal CARES Act funds. He’s now in the midst of a 57-month prison sentence for his role in siphoning off money meant to help small businesses survive the pandemic.

As an elected official, Lary was never employed by Jacobs.



But Clarence Boone, the city’s then-economic development director, is also facing charges for his participation in the scandal. And he was assigned to his position by Jacobs.

So, too, was Plez Joyner, who joined what was then known as CH2M after an unsuccessful 2017 run for city council. Throughout the subsequent years — and “despite poor performance,” the lawsuit alleges — Joyner climbed the ranks from director of public works to deputy city manager and then chief operating officer.

Stonecrest has no public works department. The other positions “did not exist and were not created by any official contract,” according to the suit.

Joyner would go on to authorize — without approval, the city says — the deal that put a firm called Municipal Resource Partners (MRP) in charge of disbursing Stonecrest’s CARES Act funds.

MRP was, it turns out, controlled by Lary. And it was the primary shell company used to disguise the abuse of the relief funds.

Lania Boone, Clarence’s wife, was hired as the bookkeeper for the firm and wrote its checks, including the one that paid off the mortgage on Lary’s Macon-area lakehouse. The Boones also received money that went toward their son’s college tuition, room and board.

Yet another Jacobs employee is accused of being at the center of two other sizable Stonecrest scandals.

In May 2017, Michael Harris was assigned to serve as Stonecrest’s first city manager. A little over a year later, according to the lawsuit, he “erroneously and without proper authority” told the folks at Metro Green Recycling that a concrete recycling plant proposed in a residential area of the city complied with both local zoning ordinances and DeKalb County’s solid waste management plan.

Based on that word, the state issued Metro Green a permit.

Two years of costly litigation later, a judge ruled that the permit was improperly obtained. The case has since been appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Credit: Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment

Credit: Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment

Harris is also accused of improperly providing city purchasing cards to Jacobs contractors “who were not Stonecrest employees.” According to a subsequent audit, only two of the 10 p-cards issued on behalf of the city, and in circulation for more than two years, should’ve been authorized — and some 978 purchases were deemed to have been inappropriate.

The allegations against Jacobs and its employees go on from there.

The lawsuit contends that Gia Scruggs, hired by Jacobs in Feb. 2021 to provide city financial services, made “continued complaints” to Jacobs management about “improper and unlawful” expenditures requested by Lary and Joyner.

The firm “took no remedial actions to address Scruggs’ whistleblower complaint,” the suit says — and subsequently “refused to compensate Scruggs” at her agreed-upon salary.

Later that spring, Stonecrest alleges, “Jacobs officials were observed shredding unknown records related to conduct of Jacobs officials and/or the provision of services to the City.”

Jacobs is the primary defendant named in the suit, but several others are also listed. They include Lary, Joyner, Clarence and Lania Boone; Iris Settle, a Jacobs employee and former “city chief of staff”; and Jacobs subcontractor Tee Foxx; as well as Municipal Resource Partners and a handful of other LLCs allegedly tied to the Stonecrest relief funds scandal.