DeKalb school COO had ‘black box’ for blackmail, Lewis testifies

The trial so far

Prosecutors have called former school district employees who testified that former chief operating officer Pat Reid ignored the prohibition that her husband get no more construction contracts.

An architect who was the designer on record for the McNair Elementary Cluster said he was a part of the project in name only. He said there was an agreement with the contractor that Tony Pope, who was married to Reid, would do the work and get the fees.

Former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, testifying over two days, said he expected Pat Reid to rescue the troubled construction projects but instead she worked to help herself and her husband.

What’s next

Former School Superintendent Crawford Lewis will continue to be questioned Friday by attorneys for Pat Reid and Tony Pope.

Pat Reid had a “black box” in which she stored secrets to use against those who crossed her, including him, former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis testified Thursday.

“She told me … when she had worked at other places she always carried with her a little black box,” Lewis testified. “She said I was in her black box as were other members of the Board of Education. She gave me two names (of board members) she knew to have had a personal relationship.

“I took it as a threat to me,” he testified.

He said Reid, the district’s former chief operating officer, wanted him to stop an internal investigation of her handling of school construction contracts. Reid is on trial accused of manipulating contracts to benefit herself and her former husband, architect Tony Pope.

Lewis said he responded by telling her he would not stop the investigation or his efforts to fire her. Then, he drove home to confess to his wife, “I had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.”

Reid and Pope are charged with racketeering and theft by taking and face up to 65 and 30 years in prison, respectively. Prosecutors say millions of dollars in construction projects were involved.

Lewis was initially charged as well and faced up to 65 years in prison. One of the theft charges in a previous version of the indictment was that Lewis used his district credit card for a getaway with a staff member. But Lewis pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor obstruction and agreed to testify against Reid and Pope. According to his testimony Thursday, Lewis will be sentenced to 12 months probation as a first offender, meaning the conviction disappears once he completes his sentence. If he does not testify “truthfully,” however, he could be sentenced to up to 12 months in jail.

At the center of the case are two projects, Columbia High School and the McNair Cluster Elementary School. Pope was already the architect for the first phase of work at Columbia High School — an auditorium, a career technology center and HVAC renovations — when Reid was hired.

Lewis said he was “thrilled” she took the job because he expected Reid to save the district’s troubled construction program.

Reid and Pope agreed that Pope could get no more district contracts as long as she was COO, Lewis testified, but could finish the contract he already had in the first phase of renovation at Columbia.

But Reid soon became ruthless in protecting her $109,000-a-year job and ensuring that Pope and her friends got district construction contracts, Lewis said.

He testified that Reid won board approval for additional work at Columbia High by describing it as a continuation and not new work. He said he did not read the contracts before signing them if he had been assured the documents had been vetted.

“I relied on Mrs. Pope (Reid) entirely,” Lewis said.

He said he also did not know that while she was DeKalb Schools COO she was also an officer with A. Vincent Pope & Associates.

Reid also canceled contracts with the McNair project architect and construction company.

“Mrs. Pope indicated to me she didn’t think Brown Design Group was capable of handing the volume of work,” Lewis said. “She had had a difficult time communicating with the head of the firm … She said there was no way she could work with this person.”

The McNair job eventually went to David Moody of C.D. Moody Construction and architect Vernell Barnes, both unindicted co-conspirators. Barnes testified earlier this week that his involvement was in name only because Pope was doing the work and getting the fees.

Lewis said Reid asked him on a Saturday morning in December 2008 to meet her at a German bakery in Stone Mountain.

“She said it (the district’s internal investigation) needed to be discontinued and the investigation had gone on too long,” Lewis said.

He refused but still couldn’t get approval from the Board of Education to fire her, Lewis said.

Reid was key in a civil suit brought by a contractor who was fired so Pope and Moody could get the job. Lewis said the board’s lawyers asked him to request that the District Attorney’s Office hold off on its criminal investigation until the still-pending civil suit is resolved. His call to the DA’s investigator is the basis for the obstruction charge against Lewis.

“It was strongly recommended to us” by the board’s lawyers “that Mrs. Pope not be terminated,” Lewis said.

Even when her contract expired, it was renewed along with a “modest” pay increase.