Former top lottery official files whistleblower lawsuit

A former top finance official with the Georgia Lottery has filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that he was fired after refusing to present inflated sales projections.

Kenneth Knight, former vice president for financial management at the Georgia Lottery, names the lottery and its president, Debbie Alford, in the lawsuit.

Knight argues that he was pressured by Alford and his boss to present the lottery board with flawed sales projections in April 2014. Knight says in the lawsuit that he told his boss about problems with the numbers, but that they were presented to the board anyway.

About a week after the board meeting, Knight says he was terminated from his job “because of events that took place in March and April of 2014 during the budget process which resulted in misleading information being distributed to our CEO and board of directors,” the lawsuit says.

Knight says he was fired to shift blame and cover up the fact that Alford knowingly presented the board with inflated figures, “an act by her that is both unethical and illegal, and which was motivated solely by unlawful political influence.”

State records show Knight earned $132,000 from the Lottery in fiscal 2014, his last full year with the games. Alford was Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget director before becoming Georgia Lottery president in 2012.

Joseph Kim, senior vice president and general counsel for the Lottery, said, “The lawsuit is baseless and we look forward to defending the case in court.

“The plaintiff and his lawyer gave the Lottery the opportunity in August 2014 to avoid ‘inevitable media attention’ if we paid them $500,000,” Kim said. “We declined then and we decline now to pay ANY money because the case is not about retaliation but about an employee who could not satisfactorily perform in a new job into which he was promoted.”

Knight’s lawyer is Kim Worth, who also brought the whistleblower lawsuit for former ethics chief Stacey Kalberman, who claimed she was unfairly forced from her post for investigating ethics complaints against Deal too aggressively. A jury awarded Kalberman more than $1 million after a weeklong trial.

The state also recently settled another lawsuit brought by a Worth client. The state agreed to pay $480,000 to Mary Therese Grabowski, who filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that she was forced from her job as a spokeswoman at the Georgia National Guard after she said she refused to cover for then-Adjutant General Jim Butterworth’s “unethical and inappropriate conduct.” The Guard said that the settlement included no admission of wrongdoing.

The state has settled at least four lawsuits against top Georgia officials in the past year, including a payment of about $2 million in June to come to terms with three former state ethics staffers who claimed they were improperly threatened for too vigorously investigating claims against Deal.