Fulton DA Howard accused of 12 public disclosure violations

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who is accused of 12 violations of state public disclosure laws. (TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM)

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who is accused of 12 violations of state public disclosure laws. (TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM)

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has been slapped with a complaint from the state ethics commission, which is alleging the prosecutor committed a dozen violations of public disclosure law.

The commission brought the action after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported discrepancies between personal financial disclosures Howard filed with the state and tax filings submitted to the IRS by a nonprofit he heads.

"We remain aware of the issues raised by the report and are continuing to actively investigate Mr. Howard's case," said David Emadi, executive secretary of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

“We welcome the appropriate time and place to tell our story,” Howard said Wednesday.

The complaint alleges violations on five years of personal financial disclosure forms Howard has filed while serving as district attorney. Eight of the alleged violations involve People Partnering for Progress, for which Howard serves as CEO.

The nonprofit was founded in 2004 to reduce youth violence. But over at least four years, Howard used PPP as a conduit to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to supplement the salary he gets from the state and the county, an AJC and Channel 2 investigation found.

Howard, who now makes roughly $175,000, was paid $140,000 in salary by PPP from 2015 to 2017, according to its filings with the IRS. He also was paid another $30,000 by the nonprofit in 2014, PPP’s records show.

In a prior statement, Howard said the money paid by PPP was supplemental salary from the city of Atlanta through two $125,000 grants. Whether Howard was able to do this is questionable because state law says counties, not cities, can supplement a DA’s state salary.

When asked Wednesday if the Attorney General’s Office was looking into the matter, spokeswoman Katie Byrd said, “Our office is aware of the state ethics commission complaint concerning DA Paul Howard and we are reviewing the findings.”

In his statement to the AJC and Channel 2, Howard said he tasked his chief appellate attorney, who no longer works in the office, to research whether he could make more money, supplemented by the city. The attorney found nothing in the law prohibiting it, Howard said.

Personal financial disclosure reports that Howard filed with the state asked him if he held a fiduciary position with another entity, whether profit or nonprofit. They also asked Howard if he held any secondary position and, if so, for the name of the employer.

In its complaint, the ethics commission alleged Howard committed five violations by not disclosing he was a fiduciary while he was serving as PPP’s CEO from 2015 through 2019. It also accuses Howard of not disclosing his secondary position at PPP from 2015 through 2017.

In his previous statement, Howard said he did not disclose he was a fiduciary for PPP because he believed the law applied to business entities “and not the small nonprofit involved in this matter.” He said he did not disclose his secondary position at PPP because his work for the nonprofit was “part and parcel of the same services I provided as Fulton County DA.”

Howard was accused of additional violations involving another nonprofit, The Academy of Progress Inc., for which he also served as CEO from 2016 to 2019. During those years, Howard also failed to disclose his fiduciary position at the nonprofit, the complaint said.

The nonprofit’s filing with the Secretary of State’s Office said its purpose was to acquire funds and property that would be devoted to “charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes.”

But IRS records indicate the Academy of Progress’ nonprofit status was revoked in May 2019 because of its failure to file necessary tax forms.

The complaint said the General Assembly requires public officials and candidates to disclose their financial holdings “so the electorate will have the opportunity to identify potential self-dealing in the official’s/candidate’s acts.” Disclosures of private interests are also necessary to determine if they influenced office holders’ decisions “to the detriment of their public duties and responsibilities,” the complaint said.

Howard, Fulton’s DA since 1997, qualified in March for a seventh term. He is being challenged by two candidates: Fani Willis, who worked as a prosecutor in Howard’s office for 16 years before becoming a judge for the city of South Fulton, and Christian Wise Smith, an Atlanta attorney and former city of Atlanta assistant solicitor.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Actions News reported last week that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard approached the city of Atlanta in 2014, saying he was underpaid. He secured two $125,000 grants from the city that were deposited into an account for People Partnering for Progress. Howard used the nonprofit, which he headed as CEO, to supplement his six-figure salary with at least $140,000 in payments from 2015 to 2017, the nonprofit's tax filings say.