Federal grand jury investigating former DA Paul Howard

Former Fulton D.A. Paul Howard speaks during a press conference at Fulton County Superior Courthouse on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.  Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
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Former Fulton D.A. Paul Howard speaks during a press conference at Fulton County Superior Courthouse on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

A federal grand jury in Atlanta is investigating former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and his use of a nonprofit to pad his salary with almost $200,000 in city of Atlanta funds, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned.

The criminal probe is focused on a series of checks totaling $195,000 that were signed over to Howard by People Partnering for Progress from 2014 to 2019. PPP, a nonprofit Howard has run as CEO, made the payments from two $125,000 checks it received from the city — one in August 2014 and another in September 2016.

On Tuesday, well-known Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Ed Garland told the AJC he has been counseling Howard about the criminal probe for months and recently agreed to represent the former DA.

“Paul Howard’s position has been and is — and our position is the same — that he has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Garland said. “Everything he did was approved by the mayor and the Atlanta City Council. It was not against the law and no one has ever suggested it was. We know of no crime he could have committed nor have we been told of any alleged crime he committed.”

Famed Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Ed Garland is now representing former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. A federal grand jury in Atlanta is looking into an unusual arrangement in which Howard funneled $195,000 in city of Atlanta funding through a nonprofit he headed into his personal bank account.  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Caption
Famed Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Ed Garland is now representing former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. A federal grand jury in Atlanta is looking into an unusual arrangement in which Howard funneled $195,000 in city of Atlanta funding through a nonprofit he headed into his personal bank account. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

As previously reported, the Justice Department’s public integrity section in Washington subpoenaed records of communications between the DA’s office and the city regarding the $250,000 payouts to PPP. The Justice Department lawyers told the city and the DA’s office to turn over those records and other documents last October.

The DA’s office has fully complied with the requests for documents, Garland said.

“These payments were completely lawful,” Howard said in a statement issued in September in response to the Justice Department subpoenas. “I will cooperate fully with this investigation and am confident my actions do not violate any state or federal law.”

In a runoff election held in August, Fani Willis, a former prosecutor who once worked for Howard, unseated the six-term incumbent with almost 72% of the vote.

In 2014, Howard told the city of Atlanta he believed he was not being paid enough through his state salary and a county supplement. (He was making about $158,000 at the time and about $175,000 when he left office.)

He asked the city to give him an $81,259 salary supplement to increase his annual pay to $239,500. The city refused, but it ultimately sent PPP the two checks totaling $250,000, the lion’s share of which ultimately made its way to Howard’s bank account.

The arrangement appeared to be questionable because state law says only counties — not a nonprofit — can supplement a DA’s state salary.

Just days before being thumped in the runoff election, Howard agreed to pay a $6,500 state ethics fine for failing to disclose his role as CEO in two nonprofits, one of them being PPP, on annual state filing reports.

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The Justice Department’s public integrity section in Washington subpoenaed records of communications between the Fulton County District Attorney’s office and the city regarding $250,000 payouts to People Partnering for Progress. The Justice Department lawyers told the city and the DA’s office to turn over those records and other documents last October.

People Partnering for Progress is a nonprofit former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has run as CEO.