AJC file photo

Investigation into Atlanta school purchasing grows

Two more Atlanta Public Schools employees are facing discipline in connection with the hiring of a company owned by the district’s then-purchasing director to provide parking and staffing services, and an internal investigation into the school district’s purchasing practices has grown.

More than $60,000 in revenue from those parking services may be missing.

The former purchasing director, who was fired, had been accused of fraud at his previous job.

And district officials are looking into the possibility that other employees may have been paid as vendors, in violation of a policy that bars employees from doing business with the district.

Several employees questioned whether it was ethical for the district to do business with former purchasing director Randall Sellers’ company, according to a new report from external auditors. In some cases, Sellers and athletics director Jasper Jewell assured them the arrangement was fine. No one reported suspicions of wrongdoing.

At one point, Jewell asked Sellers if it was okay to hire Sellers’ company to staff athletic events. Sellers said it was because “thousands of other people in the District do this,” Jewell told the auditors. Earlier this month, Jewell was suspended for a month without pay for entering into an agreement with Sellers in violation of district policy.

The district also moved to fire a purchasing department administrative assistant, Crystal Moore, for failing to report that Sellers was doing business with the district.

Sellers was fired in January. He has not responded to messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution seeking comment.

The investigation into possible conflicts of interest started after the finance department questioned a series of checks written to a school bookkeeper for what turned out to be catering services, a potential policy violation on a smaller scale, executive director of internal compliance Connie Brown said.

“We got to thinking …’I wonder how many other employees are also doing business with the district’ and one thing led to another,” she said.

Sellers’ presence on a list of district vendors jumped out immediately, Brown said.

But Brown’s office and the external auditors found more than 400 other employees or companies with possible ties to employees on the district’s vendor list. Many of those employees may have received reimbursement for legitimate expenses. Others may have been placed on the list but never paid.

The district’s finance office is combing through records to determine if any other employees are doing business with the district.

“Culture is important,” Brown said. “It’s important to make sure our employees know that if you see something or think something’s not right you have to say something.”

Although external auditors found Sellers’ company may have failed to hand over as much as $65,000 in parking revenue to schools, district officials say they have not referred his case to law enforcement because of a lack of clear evidence. Since July 2015, the district paid Sellers’ company more than $125,000.

Sellers had been accused of fraud at his previous job as purchasing and travel manager for Habitat for Humanity. A lawsuit Habitat filed against Sellers claims he used corporate credit cards to charge more than $20,000 at Foot Locker, Macy’s, Six Flags Over Georgia and Zoo Atlanta and other stores and through cash advances.

Habitat first learned of the charges in fall 2008, a week after after Sellers resigned to take a job with Atlanta Public Schools. In January 2010, the nonprofit sued Sellers, seeking repayment. Later that year, Sellers filed for bankruptcy, thousands of dollars in debt to credit card companies, the IRS, his former employer and others.

The district was apparently unaware of the fraud allegations until questioned by the AJC. Sellers was hired by the district’s previous chief financial officer, district spokesperson Pat St. Claire said.

“APS has no record indicating that Mr. Randall Sellers was accused of defrauding his previous employer at the time of his hiring in September of 2008,” she said in a written statement.

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