Nonprofit meant to stem gang violence used to pay Fulton DA

Over the past decade, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has headed a nonprofit with a laudable mission: reduce youth violence.

But Howard has used the nonprofit, People Partnering for Progress, as a conduit to receive tens of thousands of dollars to supplement the six-figure salary he gets from the state and county for being district attorney, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News has found.

PPP mentors students, augments a program that sends prosecutors out into the community and helps the DA’s office combat gang violence. From 2015 through 2017, the nonprofit paid Howard $140,000 in salary, according to its filings with the IRS. His biggest payday came in 2017 when he took in $70,000, the tax records show.

In a statement given to the AJC and Channel 2, Howard said he secured two $125,000 grants from the city of Atlanta — one in 2015 and another in 2016. Howard said he initially made the highly unusual request in early 2014 because he believed he was underpaid for the work his office did.

“I believe that the supplemental salary that I received from the city through my service to PPP represents reasonable compensation,” Howard said. “PPP’s involvement through my supervision in the community prosecutor’s program is meaningful, and the community prosecutor’s program has performed important and positively impactful work in the community.”

The financial arrangement has sparked an ethics investigation of the DA and raises questions about its legality. The Georgia code says counties, not municipalities, can supplement a district attorney’s pay. One code section does say cities can supplement the pay of assistant district attorneys, but it does not give that exception to district attorneys.

None of the DAs in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb or Gwinnett counties receives a salary supplement from a city, an AJC survey found.

Howard said he tasked the head of his appellate section, who no longer works in the office, to research the issue six years ago. “She was not able to find any law which prohibited a municipality from paying such supplement,” he said.

Howard said he felt justified in asking Atlanta for a salary upgrade because he was the seventh-highest paid DA in the state. At that time, Howard’s salary was $158,241. It is now about $175,000, thanks to a pay hike approved by the Georgia Legislature in 2015.

Howard said he received approval from City Council members who wanted the supplement tied to specific services to the city. For example, one proposed a new community prosecutors program initiative in Atlanta Police Department’s Zone Three in southeast Atlanta.

Howard said the city gave him $125,000 checks in both 2015 and 2016, payable to him, for community prosecution. He then deposited them in PPP’s account, he said.

Along with his statement to the AJC and Channel 2, Howard included an Aug. 22, 2014, letter he wrote to then-Mayor Kasim Reed, thanking him for the initial $125,000 grant.

From 2015 through 2017, People Partnering for Progress brought in $343,100 in contributions, its tax filings say. The $140,000 given to Howard as salary during that time frame accounted for almost 41 percent of the nonprofit’s collections as reported in its IRS filings.

PPP’s most recent tax filing, for 2018, did not disclose whether Howard earned a salary. Nonprofits do not have to provide detailed financial information if they collect less than $50,000 in contributions, which was the case for PPP that year. But the nonprofit’s records indicate it paid Howard at least $30,000 more in salary during 2014.

The tax filings list Howard as the nonprofit’s CEO and say he devotes an average of 10 hours a week to the job.

Howard did not disclose any of this in the personal financial statements he has had to file with the state ethics commission since 2010.

Those filings required Howard to disclose if he had received any monetary fee for activities directly related to his official duties. Since 2014, he has said he received no such money. When asked to disclose if he held a fiduciary position, Howard answered he did not, even though he served as the nonprofit’s CEO. Finally, after listing his occupation as district attorney, Howard left blank the disclosure’s request for any secondary occupation and employer, even though he was PPP’s chief executive.

After being notified of those discrepancies by the AJC and Channel 2, David Emadi, executive director of the state ethics commission, said, "There is an active investigation into the matter. As Mr. Howard's filings are subject to an ongoing investigation, that is the only comment we have at this time."

In his statement, Howard said he did not think he needed to disclose the $140,000 he made through PPP, which wrote the checks. “It is my contention that it does not require any reporting of any payment of a supplement or salary from a municipality,” he said.

As for being a fiduciary, “I interpreted the statute to apply to business entities and not the small nonprofit involved in this matter,” he said, noting that top city officials were aware of the matter.

The financial disclosure form, however, said a fiduciary position applies to a business entity “whether profit or nonprofit.”

Howard also said he did not think he had to disclose his CEO position on the form’s request for a secondary occupation because his work for PPP was “part and parcel of the same services I provided as Fulton County DA.”

Howard also said he paid state and federal taxes on all the money he received as salary.

People Partnering for Progress, founded in 2004, grew out of a donation from Howard’s nephew, NBA star Dwight Howard. Howard said his nephew initially sponsored “The Perfect Attendance Program,” which awarded bicycles and helmets to students who didn’t miss a school day.

Dwight Howard was so impressed with that program, he presented a large donation to his uncle to start funding PPP, Paul Howard said.

In past years, the nonprofit enlisted students in a 10-week program to educate them on the criminal justice system as “junior district attorneys.” They are mentored by volunteer prosecutors and participate in mock trials.

The Arthur M. Blank Foundation has donated money to PPP. In 2015, it contributed $25,000 so the DA's office could get the Atlanta Police Department's gang intelligence IT platform. The office has not lost a gang case at trial when it has presented evidence from that database, Howard said.

In 2017, the United Way contributed $60,000 for gang violence prevention, according to the nonprofit’s financial statement.

Howard, Fulton's DA for 23 years, recruited Atlanta tax attorney and longtime friend Raymond Carpenter to serve as PPP's treasurer.

“He feels strongly about this,” said Carpenter, who works for the nonprofit free of charge. “He believes in community policing and making certain people are safe in their homes.”

Carpenter said he had nothing to do with the arrangements for Howard’s salary involving the city and PPP.

“I wouldn’t have done it that way,” Carpenter said. “It does raise all sorts of questions, I’m sure. But I was not involved in any of the discussions or negotiations.”

In past years, the nonprofit used some of its contributions for a membership at the Commerce Club. From January 2011 to February 2013, it paid $5,089 in dues and fees and an additional $197 in late fees.

The thought was the club could be used as a good setting to solicit contributions. But after two years, PPP canceled the membership when it concluded the club was not being used enough to justify the expense, Howard said.

PPP also pays the expenses of volunteers, including assistant district attorneys in the Fulton DA’s office. Over one 10-month period beginning in August 2014, for example, the nonprofit reimbursed $21,073 in mileage costs and $2,446 for parking.

In his statement, Howard said his community prosecution program has grown from one assistant DA in APD’s Zone Four to eight assistant DAs, an administrator and a “court watch” director assigned to all zones and in north and south Fulton.

“It is my view that the PPP’s involvement in the community prosecutors program and in the gang prevention efforts has contributed to a major reduction in crime throughout the community,” Howard said.