Crawford Lewis testifies

Former DeKalb County school superintendent Crawford Lewis testified he was “thrilled” when he read Pat Reid’s resume, and wanted to hire her to repair the district’s troubled construction program even though she was married to an architect who was already involved in building DeKalb schools.

That decision, however, is what eventually led him to the witness stand Wednesday to testify against Reid, once the school district’s chief operating officer, and her ex-husband, Tony Pope. They are charged with racketeering and theft, accused of manipulating school construction projects to benefit Pope’s architectural firm, A. Vincent Pope & Associates.

Lewis testified Wednesday that he was stunned to find, just days after taking the promotion to superintendent, that the district’s construction program was a “mess,” especially a project at Southwest DeKalb High School. All the money a special-purpose sales tax had raised for the work was spent, but the construction was far from complete.

“I was appalled at what I saw,” he said of a visit to the Southwest DeKalb High School construction site in 2004.

“It looked like a Third World country instead of a high school,” he said. “It was abysmal. Construction had stopped on the project. There was still machinery on the property. Over 2,000 kids had been placed in mobile units or trailers. I knew millions of dollars were poured into the Southwest High School project. Everyone wanted to know where did the money go and why aren’t we further along on this project?”

That was the impetus for the national search for a construction professional to oversee the district’s building program, rather than an administrator, Lewis testified.

He said, “I was thrilled” to get Reid’s application.

In the first interview, Reid — who was Pat Pope at the time — told Lewis about her husband’s contracts with the school district, but she did not reveal she also was a principal in A. Vincent Pope & Associates, Lewis said.

She was offered the job with a $190,000 salary during the second interview. Lewis said her husband was invited to that interview so he would understand that he could finish the contracts he already had — at Columbia High School — but could not do any more work for the district as long as his wife was COO.

“I had found someone I was really interested in employing,” Lewis said. “I thought I had found someone who really fit.”

Lewis originally had been a co-defendant himself. Like Reid, he was charged with racketeering and three counts of theft by taking. But less than two weeks before jury selection began, he made a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction for trying to sidetrack the district attorney’s investigation of him and Reid and agreed to testify for the prosecution. The case has been pending since the first of three versions of the indictment was returned more than 3 1/2 years ago.

In exchange for his testimony, Lewis will get a much lighter sentence, no more than 12 months in jail instead of up to 65 years in prison. Reid could be sentenced to 65 years if she is convicted of all the charges, and Pope is facing 30 years if he is convicted of one count of racketeering and one count of theft by taking.

Lewis testified only 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon. He is to continue testifying today.