Crawford Lewis case: Who, what and when

WHO'S WHO IN THE CASE

Crawford Lewis: Former DeKalb County school teacher and principal who was named DeKalb school superintendent in 2004. In 2010, he was fired around the time he was indicted in a corruption case involving taxpayer dollars for school construction. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction charge and has agreed to testify against his former co-defendants.

Patricia Reid: Former DeKalb schools chief operating officer, accused of helping to steer business to her then-husband, architect Tony Pope. She faces 65 years if convicted.

Tony Pope: Accused of participating in a corruption conspiracy with Lewis and Reid. He faces 30 years if convicted.

TIME LINE

Oct. 8, 2004: Crawford Lewis becomes DeKalb superintendent and later hires Pat Reid to oversee construction of new schools funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Dec. 22, 2008: Lewis tells school lawyers that Reid tried to blackmail him and wanted to hire her friends for SPLOST work.

May 2010: Lewis, Reid, her husband Tony Pope and Reid’s assistant are indicted. (The assistant is later dismissed from the case.) Lewis is fired.

August 2011: After operating more than a year with an interim superintendent, the DeKalb school board, under pressure from an accreditation agency to select a permanent successor to Lewis, hires Cheryl Atkinson.

May 2012: The DeKalb district attorney brings a superseding indictment against Lewis and the others.

December 2012: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, citing mismanagement of the district, puts DeKalb on probation.

February: Atkinson resigns. The school board hires former Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as interim superintendent.

July 18: Yet another amended indictment is issued, shrinking the case against Lewis, Reid and Pope.

Oct.7: The school board makes Thurmond superintendent, dropping the “interim” from his title and extending his contract into 2015.

Oct. 16: Lewis pleads guilty to a misdemeanor. He will be sentenced only after he testifies in the trial against Reid and Pope, set to start Oct. 28.

A new case

How former DeKalb school Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ guilty plea changed the district’s corruption case:

It was a big win for the prosecution.

Prosecutors suffered a loss the day before when the judge refused to break off the case against Lewis so they could use his statements in a trial against former district chief operating officer Pat Reid and her ex-husband, architect Tony Pope. Had Lewis exercised his right not to testify, prosecutors likely would not have been able to use his comments and evidence that he gave investigators early in the case.

Lewis becomes the star witness

The guilty plea frees Lewis to testify without fear of incriminating himself. But defense attorneys can suggest a motive behind his testimony — he got a deal and he is no longer facing the prospect of decades in prison — and possibly ding his credibility with the jury.

The defense must adapt and quickly

Attorneys for Reid and Pope have to recalibrate their defense strategy to factor in testimony and evidence Lewis can provide. And they will have to do it quickly, as the judge refused to move the Oct. 28 trial date. Lewis is now guaranteed to take the stand. Reid and Pope must decide whether to do the same to counter Lewis.

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke stories beginning at the end of 2009 questioning school construction contracts that involved architect Tony Pope, who was then married to the DeKalb County School District’s chief operating officer, who was in charge of such projects. Soon afterward the AJC also reported that Superintendent Crawford Lewis and COO Pat Reid had bought their county cars at deeply discounted prices.

The AJC published nearly 20 stories more before the three were indicted in May 2010.

The AJC has continued to track the case as the indictment went through three different versions, the key investigator and the two prosecutors resigned, and it has moved toward trial three and a half years later.

AJC DeKalb schools reporter Ty Tagami has provided in-depth coverage of the school system’s leadership changes and academic challenges, as well as the district’s accreditation crisis.

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