Kasim Reed says he’s cleared in feds’ probe of City Hall. Will it matter in mayor’s race?

Former mayor and current mayoral candidate Kasim Reed (far right) spokes at an event hosted by the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum on Wednesday. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Former mayor and current mayoral candidate Kasim Reed (far right) spokes at an event hosted by the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum on Wednesday. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Throughout Kasim Reed’s third mayoral candidacy, he has repeatedly defended himself against opponents who relentlessly called attention to the federal corruption investigation that spawned from his time running Atlanta City Hall.

In recent weeks, attacks have elicited the same response from Reed: That he is no longer the subject of the ongoing City Hall corruption investigation, at one point going so far as to threaten legal action if City Council President Felicia Moore asserted as much at a recent debate.

Now, his personal attorneys have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that federal prosecutors told them that “the inquiry regarding Mr. Reed is closed.” He was cleared of any wrongdoing, the attorneys said in a statement.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment after being provided with the statement.

Political experts said the announcement from Reed’s attorneys could help his messaging as he faces questions about the federal probe ahead of the Nov. 2 election. It may also cause the other candidates to pivot and focus more their attacks on the people who worked under Reed who have been indicted or convicted of crimes.

While residents who support Reed may become more emboldened to vote for him as early voting starts this week, some voters who support other candidates said the news doesn’t change how they feel about the former mayor.

Atlanta mayoral candidates Antonio Brown (left) and Kasim Reed (right) listen as City Council President Felicia Moore speaks during a forum hosted by Partners for HOME and Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative on Friday, Oct. 1. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Reed’s fellow candidates, meanwhile, say their perception of his administration amid the corruption investigation remain unchanged.

“The current status of investigations into Mr. Reed are immaterial,” said City Council President Felicia Moore, who was statistically tied with Reed in the AJC’s poll of the race last month.

“The fact remains that his administration was rife with corruption, and several of his personal appointees have been jailed and are indicted,” Moore said. “Mr. Reed personally told me several times that nothing happened in City Hall that he didn’t know about. I believed him then. I still do.”

William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, said the news benefits Reed to an extent.

“It does sort of partially remove that cloud,” Boone said. “But I think there’s another consideration. I would think about the fact that members of his administration have pleaded guilty … and some have even served a bit of jail time.”

Atlanta City Hall has been under a years-long federal investigation that implicated seven Reed officials and four city contractors, including bribery convictions against his chief procurement officer and a deputy chief of staff.

Reed’s chief financial officer is currently under indictment for fraud and weapons charges, and his former director of human services is facing a 12-count fraud indictment.

But Craig Gillen and Danny Griffin, Reed’s personal attorneys, told the AJC “there is no federal investigation of Kasim Reed.”

“In August 2021, Mr. Griffin and I, as counsel for Kasim Reed, were asked by two Assistant United States Attorneys to join them in a conference call,” Gillen said in a statement. “During that call, the federal prosecutors informed us that their inquiry regarding Kasim Reed was completed and that the inquiry regarding Mr. Reed is closed.”

Reed entered the race in June with a heavy focus on crime, immediately becoming a frontrunner and the most recognizable candidate in the race, having served in the Georgia Legislature and two terms as Atlanta mayor from 2010 to 2018. However, he has sought to rebuild trust and confidence with some voters by separating himself from the scandals during his administration.

“I have been having conversations, literally hundreds of conversations, all over the city of Atlanta,” Reed told the AJC at a campaign event Thursday. “I wasn’t under federal investigation of any kind. I shared that with voters. And anything that we can do to further establish that we’re willing to do, because we’re at a critical point in the campaign.”

Corruption isn’t the main issue in the mayor’s race. In a recent AJC poll, just 4% of respondents said corruption is the most pressing issue facing the city, far behind crime and affordable housing. But 61% of respondents said the federal investigation made them less likely to vote for Reed, as opposed to 34% who said it has no effect.

About 44% of respondents had an unfavorable view of Reed, compared to 34% who viewed him favorably.

“As far as that corruption stuff that happened with Kasim Reed, that’s not an issue for me at all,” said Kelly Parham, an undecided southeast Atlanta resident. A real estate agent, Parham cares more about what the candidates are going to do about crime, housing, and homelessness. “I’m more concerned about what directly affects the citizens.”

Other mayoral candidates voiced skepticism about the comments from Reed’s lawyers, casting scrutiny on the broader culture at City Hall and the indictments that were handed down.

“The claim by Kasim’s lawyers that some anonymous Feds say Kasim is not corrupt is not just questionable, it is irrelevant,” attorney Sharon Gay said in a statement.

“Well-established facts show that, as mayor, Kasim sat atop a corrupt enterprise,” Gay said. “Ten people - high-ranking officials in Kasim’s administration and vendors with close ties to them – have been indicted for serious city-business-related crimes. Seven have pleaded guilty. Three are awaiting trial. Either Kasim knowingly let a corrupt culture fester, or he was so clueless that he did not know about it. Either way he is disqualified to serve as mayor of our city.”

In a statement, City Councilman Andre Dickens also called attention to how seven “members of Reed’s inner circle have either been convicted of felonies or are awaiting trial for corruption.”

“Kasim Reed’s attorneys can say whatever they want,” Dickens said. “If Reed somehow is not under investigation, he is the worst judge of character to ever occupy city hall and couldn’t see corruption occurring right under his nose. Atlanta voters want a Mayor who will keep Atlanta safe and make us proud.”

Fellow councilman Antonio Brown declined to comment on the matter.

A campaign subpoena

Reed could continue to face questions about the federal scrutiny into his previous campaign, which is separate from the larger City Hall investigation. In June, the AJC found that Reed’s previous campaign was fighting a federal grand jury subpoena for campaign attorney Jeremy Berry to testify in a probe for alleged wire fraud.

Without naming Reed, the court ruling described allegations that a candidate for local office used campaign donations to make personal purchases, including furniture for his mother, trips to resorts and lingerie. The AJC matched the amount of the furniture purchase — to the penny — with an expenditure from Reed’s 2017 campaign finance report.

Reed told the AJC that federal authorities found no wrongdoing related to the recent probe.

“There is no federal investigation of my campaign. Jeremy Berry was interviewed, and that was the conclusion of the process,” Reed said.

Several voters who oppose Reed’s bid for a third term said they were not swayed by the statement from his lawyers that he is no longer personally connected to the City Hall probe. But it could help him among undecided voters or those on the fence.

“When he first started, I voted for him because I liked the things he said he was going to do,” said Winifred Fambro, a 70-year-old Grove Park resident who’s undecided on whether to support Moore or Dickens. “But Kasim Reed really disappointed me.”

Gaylon Calhoun, a Pittsburgh neighborhood resident who works as a tour bus driver for entertainers, is still just beginning to do his research on who he’s going to vote for. But he’s leaning toward Reed, “because he’s got the experience and the city didn’t fall apart when he was in office.”

If Reed isn’t personally under investigation, that would make Calhoun feel better about voting for him.

“But still, the person at the top still has to take responsibility for the type of people they have below them,” Calhoun said. “So he would still be my choice, but it would be kind of with an asterisk beside it.”

More from the AJC

For comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Race for City Hall, visit https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-mayors-race-2021/