New indictment means smaller case against former DeKalb school superintendent and others

Former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis, his former chief operating officer and her ex-husband are facing a third version of a racketeering case first brought against them more than three years ago, but now there are fewer charges, fewer schools and fewer taxpayer dollars involved and two names have been added as unindicted co-conspirators.

Although the case against Lewis, former COO Pat Reid and architect Tony Pope has gotten smaller, DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James still says they are racketeers who enriched themselves at the expense of taxpayers and schoolchildren, personally profiting from school constructions contracts.

The DeKalb District Attorney’s Office has not detailed the reason for the leaner, smaller case, but acknowledged that prosecutors streamlined it with a second superseding indictment, returned July 18, in time for the Oct. 28 trial date.

“It is because this case was so overcharged from the beginning,” said Michael Brown, one of Lewis’ attorneys.

Tony Axam, Reid’s attorney, said the most recent indictment was “radically different” from the previous two. “We assume they couldn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and that’s why their case has been reduced. They made an executive decision to reduce the case,” Axam said.

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Pope’s attorney did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

All three have said they are not guilty.

Going through a grand jury to make a larger case smaller is not the ordinary path, according to some legal experts.

“What it does suggest is, as things move along and get closer to trial, prosecutors are taking a harder look at what they can prove,” said University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson.

It’s a lesson prosecutors nationwide have learned, he said.

“You don’t overcharge,” Carlson said. “Prosecutors have become wary because of some recent bad experiences around the country of the old practice of throw everything in and see what the jury brings out of it … One does not want to overpower the jury with undue detail. It’s often felt that confusion favors a defendant.”

There are four components to the complex case of racketeering as it is laid out now: the details of construction at Columbia High School and to a lesser degree the McNair Cluster Elementary School; Lewis and Reid allegedly using their positions to buy cars at prices far below their value; Lewis’ use of his county-issued credit card; and Lewis and Pope allegedly interfering with the investigation into their actions.

Much of the indictment portrays Lewis as a passive participant who allowed Reid, known as Pat Pope when she was the district’s COO, to manipulate the system to benefit herself, her then-husband and her boss, the superintendent. Lewis knew what was happening, according to the indictment.

“Without hesitation or question, Crawf0rd Lewis approved Pat Pope’s financial decisions regarding DCSD’s compensation to Tony Pope’s firm made with DCSD,” the indictment said. “Many of those financial decisions directly and indirectly benefited Tony Pope and Pat Pope (Reid). Crawford Lewis established an environment in which Pat Pope (Reid) managed DCSD’s construction department with few, if any checks and balances. Crawford Lewis permitted Pat Pope (Reid) to manipulate DCSD’s construction department’s processes and procedures and to issue lucrative contracts to contractors working with and paying Tony Pope’s firm.”

Later, according to the charges, Lewis also used Reid to impede the district attorney’s investigation.

In the latest version, there are fewer charges against Lewis, Reid and Pope. But the indictment now names contractor David Moody and architect Vernell Barnes as “unindicted co-conspirators,” people suspected of crimes but not charged. The indictment says Moody and Barnes helped hide Pope’s involvement in a project at McNair Cluster Elementary.

The second indictment, returned in May 2012, was 132 pages. The revised indictment returned in July is only 31 pages. Lewis, Reid and Pope are charged with one count of racketeering instead of four. Pope now also faces one theft-by-taking charge while Lewis and Reid face three instead of one.

There is no bribery charge at all in the July 18 indictment.

The new indictment:

• References the thousands of dollars in tickets Lewis and Reid allegedly got for the Masters’ Golf Tournament, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Falcons games, the Mayor’s Ball or shows at the Fox Theater that were at the center of the bribery charge in previous versions of the indictment. But the July document has only one sentence saying Reid solicited tickets to “expensive sporting and other events and, on one occasion for a trip to New York” on Lewis’ behalf, but no details.

• No longer includes construction projects at two of the four school projects cited previously. The charges are now that Reid arranged for overpayments, extensions and changes and improperly awarded contracts on Columbia High School. The three are also accused of conspiring so that Pope would profit from the McNair Cluster Elementary project. Not included in the revised case are Mountain Industrial Center and Arabia Mountain High School.

• Puts the total cost of the projects at $22 million. It was around $80 million in the first two indictments.

• Accuses Lewis and Reid of theft for buying their county-issued cars – a 2006 Ford 500 and a 2005 Ford Explorer respectively – for $10,000 less that the book value for each.

• Claims Lewis used a county credit card to pay the $295 charge for a room at the Grand Lucayan resort at Freeport in the Bahamas and charged $107 for chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne at Ritz Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee where he enjoyed a getaway with a school district employee.

• Charges all three with theft for allegedly paying Pope’s legal expenses in a civil lawsuit a contractor had brought against the district.

Brown said the case has taken too long — more than three years — and the recent re-indictment suggests it’s weak.

“There was no evidence to support any claim Dr. Lewis took any bribe or that he corrupted the school construction program,” Brown said.

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