Lawyer John Floyd, tapped by Fulton DA, is a RICO expert and much more

John Floyd in Fulton County Superior Court on March 16, 2015, when he played a pivotal role in the state's closing arguments in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. Floyd served as the state's premier expert on the RICO statute. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC file photo)
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John Floyd in Fulton County Superior Court on March 16, 2015, when he played a pivotal role in the state's closing arguments in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. Floyd served as the state's premier expert on the RICO statute. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC file photo)

Atlanta lawyer John Floyd didn’t know why he was being called into the state attorney general’s office. He also didn’t know that the briefing he was about to receive would put him on a track to become the state’s go-to guy on racketeering cases.

During the lengthy presentation, in December 1996, Floyd was told two Medical College of Georgia researchers had diverted millions of dollars that should have gone to the college into their own personal accounts.

Then-Attorney General Mike Bowers said he had two questions: Can you indict this under the state’s RICO statute? Can you help us recover the money they’ve stolen?

Floyd, who’d already made it his mission to become a RICO expert, answered yes to both questions. Before he knew it, he had been sworn in as a special assistant attorney general.

Working tirelessly over the next few years, Floyd helped obtain convictions against the two former researchers, Richard Borison and Bruce Diamond, and helped the state recoup more than $10 million.

“He did a first-class job,” Bowers said. “He was instrumental in the state recovering a pile of money.”

Mike Bowers speaks with the news media on Sept. 30, 2015, at Balch & Bingham LLP in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
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Mike Bowers speaks with the news media on Sept. 30, 2015, at Balch & Bingham LLP in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

So began Floyd’s work for state prosecutors, who have repeatedly tapped his expertise to bring racketeering cases. Now Floyd has been retained by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis at a time her office is investigating former President Donald Trump for possible solicitation of election fraud. In a letter to state agencies, Willis said her probe includes potential violations of several criminal statutes, including racketeering.

ExploreFulton DA’s comfort with racketeering law could influence Trump probe

Floyd, 63, declined to comment for this story.

Even though he is one of the nation’s leading authorities on RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), Floyd is far from being a one-trick pony. He has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in high-stakes civil litigation and filed suits on behalf of whistleblowers — all that were later joined by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 2007, Floyd was among the first lawyers to sue the pharmaceutical company Allergan Inc. for marketing Botox for unapproved uses. That led to the company pleading guilty and paying out a $600 million settlement.

John Floyd, a lawyer for the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore. (Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore)
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John Floyd, a lawyer for the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore. (Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore)

“John is able to work harder than any lawyer I’ve met and has read more about the world than any person I’ve ever known,” said prosecutor David McLaughlin, who worked the Medical College case with Floyd and is a close friend.

Floyd also never seems to stop talking, McLaughlin said with a chuckle. In the Medical College case, he estimated they drove to Augusta and back 30 to 40 times together in McLaughlin’s Mazda RX-7.

“There were times I talked a cumulative total of five minutes and John talked the rest of the two-hour drive,” McLaughlin said. “But it was the best educational experience I ever had.”

When Borison and Diamond were named in the 172-count indictment, a lawsuit was filed to recover lost funds and search warrants were executed. Both men ultimately pleaded guilty and were sent to prison.

Floyd helped the AG’s office find money deposited in banks across the Southeast and as far away as Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Searches led investigators to find centuries-old suits of armor and medieval artifacts Borison had purchased for a castle he planned to build near Augusta.

As a teenager, Floyd attended Hotchkiss, a boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut. It was recommended by his father, a business executive who had also attended a boarding school. Floyd later obtained his undergraduate degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, majoring in history, before attending Emory University law school.

After that, he spent two years as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley. At the judge’s urging, the Atlanta firm Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore hired Floyd in 1985 and he’s been there ever since.

Emmet Bondurant, the firm’s founding partner, remembered O’Kelley’s recommendation, with a nod to Floyd’s loquaciousness. “He said John was incredibly bright, if you could only get him to stop talking,” Bondurant said.

Floyd, a voracious reader, “knows more details about history than any human being ought to know,” Bondurant said. “If you wanted to know the color of the French Army uniforms in the 16th century, he could tell you.”

It comes as a surprise to many that the bookish, bespectacled Floyd is a competitive weightlifter. His personal bests are 242 pounds in the snatch and 303 pounds in the clean and jerk.

Bondurant encourages his lawyers to take on cases pro bono — free of charge — and to work them as hard as they would for a paying client. This led Floyd to help DeKalb County in two high-profile cases and the Fulton prosecution, led by Willis, in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case.

A liberal lion in Atlanta’s legal circles. Emmet Bondurant has a reputation as one of the most effective trial lawyers in the nation. One publication called him the go-to lawyer for “bet the company” litigation. His firm has always engaged in pro bono work.  (BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM)
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A liberal lion in Atlanta’s legal circles. Emmet Bondurant has a reputation as one of the most effective trial lawyers in the nation. One publication called him the go-to lawyer for “bet the company” litigation. His firm has always engaged in pro bono work.  (BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM)

Credit: BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJ

Credit: BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJ

In DeKalb, Floyd helped obtain a conviction and life sentence against former Sheriff Sidney Dorsey for ordering the killing of his political rival, newly elected Sheriff Derwin Brown.

“John convinced us to charge him with RICO and he even drew up the indictment,” said former DeKalb district attorney J. Tom Morgan. “Then he taught us how to try it. He’s absolutely brilliant.”

In a recent interview for his old boarding school, Floyd recalled the slain sheriff’s mother handing him a shoe box after the trial. Inside were two lemon cakes and a note that read, “Thank you for what you did for my son.”

DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, left, was murdered at the direction of Sidney Dorsey, right, the outgoing sheriff, in 2000. (AJC file photos)
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DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, left, was murdered at the direction of Sidney Dorsey, right, the outgoing sheriff, in 2000. (AJC file photos)

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Said Floyd, “I went back to my office and thought that I never dreamt of a moment like that when I started law school.”

Floyd also helped with the criminal case against former DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis, who later pleaded guilty.

In the APS test-cheating case, Floyd prepared the racketeering indictment and sat at the prosecution table during the six-month trial. Bondurant estimates Floyd’s billable hours would have topped $700,000 had he not worked free of charge.

In closing arguments, Floyd said the educators had joined in a conspiracy and used the school system as a criminal enterprise. They also shared common goals: to cheat and cover up the cheating, he said.

The jury convicted 11 of the 12 defendants. Twenty-one had previously pleaded guilty.

Atlanta lawyer Page Pate, who represented an educator in the APS case, said he doubts a racketeering case can be brought against Trump, if that’s the plan.

“I was skeptical about racketeering being used in the APS case too, but with John showing them how to do it, they obviously were a winning team,” Pate said. “I still think it’s going to require some fancy legal footwork to put together a RICO case in the election investigation. But John’s a great dancer.”