Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor who has reviewed documents in the case, called on Howard to immediately address the accusations in public and open up the books for his People Partnering for Progress nonprofit to show he did nothing wrong.
“It’s hard to see a non-criminal reason for his conduct, so I think the voters need to hear from him an explanation that is well documented and supported,” Cunningham said. “I can’t see any legal justification for doing it. It looks like theft by conversion, which is a felony under Georgia law.”
Howard initially approached the city in 2014 and asked for a $70,000 salary supplement to the $158,000 he was receiving at the time from the state and a county supplement. (He makes roughly $175,000 today.)
When the city declined that request, then-Mayor Kasim Reed arranged for the city to write a $125,000 check to the DA’s Office in 2014 and another $125,000 check in 2016.
After he learned the city had approved the first payment, Howard wrote a thank-you letter to Reed on Aug. 22, 2014. In that note, he said the funds would be used to augment his community prosecution program. They also would “aid in crime reduction and improved quality of life within the city of Atlanta as well as provide additional compensation to the community prosecution staff and the district attorney,” Howard wrote.
The letter made no mention of Howard’s plan to divert almost 80 percent of the city’s funds to himself.
The AJC and Channel 2 previously reported that People Partnering for Progress used the city funds to pay Howard $170,000 from 2014 through 2017. Attached to the recent ethics commission letter were copies of four $5,000 checks that the nonprofit paid Howard in 2018 and another $5,000 check in 2019.
Howard is being challenged in the upcoming Democratic primary by attorneys Christian Wise Smith and Fani Willis. On Tuesday, during a forum hosted by the Georgia Justice Reform Partnership, the two challengers criticized Howard for getting caught up in the controversy.
In response, Howard said, “I would ask people to kind of ask themselves the question: Well, I wonder why is it all of a sudden during this election season that we now start to see allegations against Mr. Howard?”
Then, referring to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he added, “I’m reminded of something that has happened throughout our history with people like Dr. King, and I’m not comparing myself to Dr. King. But always allegations were placed against him.”
Such attacks have happened before, he said. “And I can tell you with those allegations, whatever process they take, I can tell you that I will be fully exonerated.”
After the initial charges were filed against him in April, Howard amended his 2015-2019 financial statements to disclose his position as CEO at the nonprofit, said David Emadi, executive director of the state ethics commission. “That complaint and investigation remains open at this time.”
In April, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported discrepancies between personal financial disclosure forms Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed with the state and tax filings submitted to the IRS by a nonprofit he heads.The state ethics commission soon filed a dozen charges against Howard, and the GBI opened an investigation. Through tax filings and Open Records Act requests, the AJC and Channel 2 have found that Howard supplemented his salary by taking $195,000 from two $125,000 city of Atlanta grants signed over to the DA’s Office in 2014 and 2016.