Fulton County officials have launched an audit into a county-run jobs program after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found it placed trainees in the hands of a businessman who failed to pay their wages.
Confirmation of the audit comes as newly released emails show that a county commissioner and Fulton jobs program administrators raised concerns about Veterans Home and Business Services — the company that provided the training — months earlier than previously disclosed.
Despite those concerns, the emails show no evidence that the county investigated the company before entering into the contract. Nor did officials vet the company’s chief executive David Gallemore before orchestrating a publicity blitz meant to attract workers to the program.
Gallemore, a DeKalb businessman, represented VHBS as a Fulton County-based national operation hiring 10,000 U.S. military veterans to make and coordinate appliance and home repairs for warranty companies.
In reality, Gallemore had liens for unpaid taxes in two states; three personal bankruptcy filings in less than five years; an eviction from a downtown Atlanta office; a Texas federal court judgment for unpaid wages; a contempt of court ruling affirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court in a child support case; and more than $100,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
County officials didn’t discover any of Gallemore’s issues before the training program started. But last summer, about two weeks after it began, Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall voiced concern that the number of veterans hired through the program was short of her expectations.
A county press release about the training program included a photo that showed only a handful of trainees. None were veterans.
“FYI…That’s not a lot of vets,” Hall wrote in an Aug. 9, 2018 email to a member of her staff.
“No that is not,” replied Anita Harris, Hall’s director of legislative and community affairs. “I was under the impression that this program was going to put a large group of veterans back into the workforce.”
Hall did not return messages seeking comment, and a county spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment about Fulton’s role with the program.
Hall initially pushed for WorkSource Fulton to launch the federally-funded Work Experience program with VHBS, then called for the audit last month after learning of the AJC investigation.
Fulton workforce development board chairman Latron Price said he hopes the audit reveals what went wrong.
“The question becomes, what did we do when we found out there was a problem?” Price asked.
Robb Pitts, the chair of the Fulton County Commission, said the concerns should have led to “a thorough review of the organization and the principals involved in the organization.”
Gallemore did not return calls and text messages requesting comment.
The county’s jobs program, WorkSource Fulton, contracted with Veterans Home and Business Services in May 2018 to provide federally funded work experience to county residents, even though Gallemore had a checkered financial past and a history of failing to pay workers, an AJC investigation found.
That contract came with valuable benefits, according to the emails, which were obtained by the AJC through the Georgia Open Records Act.
All managers in the Fulton County library system were asked to post VHBS flyers advertising jobs for veterans that paid up to $30 per hour. The county’s press office created and distributed a press release. They also arranged for Gallemore to appear on WAEC-AM, a Christian radio station, to talk up his hiring initiative.
After Hall threw her support behind the program, Fulton workforce development manager Kenneth Fitzgerald stressed to higher-ups the urgency of getting the program started. In a June 20, 2018 email, he relayed that a VHBS manager would be receiving an award from the governor’s office for the business’ efforts to hire veterans.
Cody Hall, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said he could find no record of any such award.
More red flags
The number of red flags grew even after Hall noted the low number of veterans participating in the training.
On Sept. 6, Michelle Vialet, a workforce development manager, sounded an alarm to her boss, Select Fulton Deputy Director of Economic Development Samir Abdullahi.
Vialet forwarded to him a 2017 complaint from the website Ripoff Report written by a person who said that Gallemore refused to pay him and accused the businessman of having a messy financial past.
“David took the money from this project and used (it) for his own personal bills while my bills became well overdue to the point I had my work vehicle (repossessed),” the complaint said. It referenced Veterans Home Services and another company Gallemore owned.
The same day Vialet sent that complaint to her superior, Fitzgerald chimed in, warning Vialet in an email that Gallemore had not hired anyone to date: “I really do hope that I have not set all these customers up for total failure. …..SMHHHHHH.”
Ishmail Hasan, who posted the complaint on Ripoff Report, told the AJC that no one from Fulton ever contacted him to ask about Gallemore. He said Gallemore owed him more than $1,000, and he was only able to collect by showing up at his house.
“He’s been doing shady business for years now,” Hasan said.
The emails obtained by the AJC do not detail any response from the county to the warnings, and a spokesman did not respond to an email asking about the county’s response.
Even with the concerns, Fulton employees doubled down on their relationships with Gallemore. They connected him with workforce development programs in other counties in September, convening a conference call in Gwinnett and encouraging a relationship with the Atlanta Regional Commission. The ARC didn’t work with VHBS because the company never returned a preliminary checklist required of partners.
When training in Fulton County finished, Gallemore hired on many of the trainees full-time, but did not pay their full wages. He continues to owe many of them money, the workers said. Trainees previously told the AJC their participation in the program caused them financial hardship, including trouble feeding their families, paying rent and making car payments.
Fulton officials were also copied on a November letter from an employee who said he was owed $700 in unpaid wages.
After the AJC raised questions about the program, top county economic development officials acknowledged that VHBS was not what the county bargained for, emails show.
“Total train wreck,” concluded Al Nash, CEO of county development authority Select Fulton, in a May 10 email.
County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt suggested the county distance itself from the damage done.
“I don’t think we do or should own this organization’s failure and need to make that clear,” Corbitt said.