OPINION: How a once-great Scott got caught by Atlanta’s cozy corruption

Larry Scott, left, a former top Atlanta contracting official, walks into the Richard B. Russell Federal Building for his sentencing on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. Scott was sentenced to two years in prison after admitting last year to being paid on the sly more than $220,000 over five years to help companies win government contracts, including with the city. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Larry Scott, left, a former top Atlanta contracting official, walks into the Richard B. Russell Federal Building for his sentencing on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. Scott was sentenced to two years in prison after admitting last year to being paid on the sly more than $220,000 over five years to help companies win government contracts, including with the city. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

On Tuesday, it was Larry Scott's turn to roll in the sad barrel of shame at the Richard B. Russell federal courthouse. 

Tracy Reed, brother of former Mayor Kasim Reed. (credit: WSB-TV)

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It is a testament to the ingenuity and ambitious industriousness of our city that those in charge of making sure commerce gets accomplished are so capable of setting up “business opportunities.”

Let me pause to restate the egregiousness of Scott's arrangement: His day job was to vet "disadvantaged" companies so they could work with the city. And at the same time he worked for a private firm — one run by the then-mayor's brother — that helped guide such companies through the maze of city and federal regulations.

Last fall, when Scott pleaded guilty, people wondered whether he, in his dual role, helped preferred companies get inside information to help craft winning bids. Well, nothing like that came out during Tuesday’s sentencing. Federal prosecutors are like poker players in conservative suits.

Scott, until now, has shown an exemplary life. Born to a low-income family, Scott graduated from Georgia State University and had a solid work record. But he was laid off in 2002, so he turned to a fraternity brother, Tracy Reed, who helped him get on with the city.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Davis told the judge that Scott’s actions “shattered the very delicate trust between the city of Atlanta and its citizens” and “called into question the integrity of the program.”

Scott’s attorney, Stephen Murrin, called his client’s crimes “mistakes” and examples of “the frailty of man.” Had there been no widespread corruption probe, Murrin said, Scott’s acts would have faded away unnoticed. In essence, he is collateral damage.

Murrin said his client was not involved in Cornerstone’s day-to-day operations and acted merely as its bookkeeper.

Murrin noted that Scott was not accorded a downgrade in his sentence by the feds for “substantial assistance.” That, he said, is because his guy knows nothing.

“It’s not sexy; there is no pay-to-play scheme,” the lawyer told the media outside the courthouse. “Larry implicates no one. He has no knowledge or information regarding the administration of Kasim Reed or anyone in that office.”

Later, he added, “he is not cooperating against anyone in this case. He won’t be back in court (to testify against anyone). You will not hear of him again. He will fade back into life with his family after serving his sentence, and that will be the end of news coverage of Mr. Scott.”

I talked with lawyer Lee Parks, who has sued the city several times over how contracts are bid, and who represented Miguel Southwell, the airport's former general manager who was fired by Kasim Reed in 2016.

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Parks noted that "Southwell had to interview with Tracy" before he was hired. "They called it a meeting," he added.

Parks has also told city investigators that Tracy Reed met with a job candidate for another high-ranking airport position. That prospect, Cortez Carter, was later fired because his wife had ties to a concessionaire.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport may be a very busy place, but it can feel cozy.

A spokesman for Kasim Reed has previously told the AJC that Tracy Reed wasn’t involved in the vetting process of future employees.

Parks said that Scott’s sentence is “another peeling of the onion.” He said that it’s outrageous that the brother of a mayor can have a firm shepherding companies to get business with the city.

“But that kind of thing has gone on a long time,” he said, “and I don’t think people appreciate how wrong it is because of how blatant it has been.”

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