Maria Colon

Whistleblower cases cost Fulton taxpayers $575,000, and counting

It was a brazen scheme by a mid-level Fulton County employee to help fund a side business with taxpayer money.

Nicola Hosier, a former financial systems supervisor in the Human Services Department, used her county-issued credit card to buy linens, chairs, place settings, appliances, silverware, champagne flutes and other items for her private event-planning business, Exquisite Events Atlanta LLC, which she co-owned with three other county employees, according to court documents. More than $183,000 – including funds meant for the poor and homeless – was siphoned away.

But, when the county’s top leaders were alerted to it in 2010, they directed their ire not at the perpetrators but at the county workers who uncovered the scheme, two lawsuits alleged. The county’s former internal investigator, Maria Colon, was demoted and received a $45,000 pay cut. Her supervisor, former Deputy County Manager Gwen Warren, was fired. The women alleged that the county manager at the time, on orders from some elected county commissioners, ordered them to put nothing in writing about the scandal and to keep quiet until after November elections.

“At Fulton County, we don’t investigate ourselves,” Commissioner Emma Darnell allegedly told the county manager. Over the years, Darnell has declined to talk about the accusations.

Colon and Warren didn’t keep quiet. Both sued under the state whistleblower act. Now, after seven years of litigation, with the county pushing back hard and taking appeals all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, the cases have reached an end that won’t be cheap for taxpayers. The County Commission agreed last week to settle with Colon for $325,000, just as a trial was about to begin. And, last month, a jury awarded Warren $250,000.

According to the Daily Report, still pending in Warren’s case is a fee request for more than $500,000.

In 2013, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a hard look at the scandal and found that, despite promises to the contrary, no one from any government or law enforcement agency had made any meaningful attempt to find out whether top-level officials ordered a coverup.

No investigator interviewed the whistleblowers, and no one had spoken to at least five of the seven commissioners in office at the time the case came to light, the AJC reported.

Instead, the county’s inquiry seemed to have been limited to the theft of funds. The county manager brought in the commission’s police department to investigate, and it zeroed in on one employee — Hosier.

In August 2013, she pleaded guilty to more than 100 counts of forgery and making false statements. Though Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said in a written statement at the time that no further charges would be pursued, he backpedaled in an interview with the AJC, strongly insinuating he might take the probe further.

“The thing is, it’s not over,” Howard said at the time.

That was four years ago. No other charges followed.