Pleas offered but not taken in DeKalb racketeering case

Plea offers were made but not taken, so former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis, one-time district chief operating officer Pat Reid and her ex-husband, architect Tony Pope, will go on trial on racketeering charges Oct. 28, prosecuting and defense attorneys told a judge Friday.

Because DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker had set Friday as “D-Day (for) defendants to enter a plea, it wasn’t until today (that) we were sure the defendants would go on trial,” Assistant District Attorney Kelly Hill said.

“I want to make sure,” Becker said, asking prosecutors to announce the maximum punishment each could face if they are convicted of all the charges pending against them.

Their lawyers said each of the three understood what was at stake.

Lewis, Reid and Pope are accused of conspiring to steer tens of millions of dollars for construction projects at Columbia High School and the McNair Cluster Elementary School to Pope’s firm, to businesses he was affiliated with and to Reid’s friends. Prosecutors say Reid abused her authority over school construction to manipulate scores on contract bids so her husband would win business. And the indictment alleges that Lewis knew what was happening but did nothing to stop her.

Lewis and Pope also are charged with theft by taking because prosecutor allege they bought their county-owned cars for cut-rate prices after tax dollars were used for repairs and upgrades such as new tires. The indictment also says Lewis used his county-issued credit card for personal expenses, and Lewis and Pope interfered with the investigation.

Hill said Lewis and Reid stand to be sentenced to 65 years in prison if they are convicted of racketeering and all three counts of theft by taking by a government employee. Pope could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of the one racketeering charge and one count of theft by taking, the prosecutor said.

The hearing Friday was to clear up most of the loose ends as the case moves toward the start of jury selection in little more than two weeks, 3 1/2 years after the three were first indicted in 2010. The original indictment has been revised twice, in the spring of last year and again on July 18.

Becker also issued several orders on Friday, including one prohibiting defense and prosecution attorneys, witnesses and the three defendants from discussing the case with the media. The order was drafted by the attorneys after they all agreed there should be limits on comments outside the courtroom.

“This case has received local and national media coverage that began at the time of the execution of the search warrants during the investigative state,” according to the consent order on “extrajudicial statements.”

“Members of the press have contacted the court about hearing dates and scheduling updates,” the order said. “Both the state (prosecutors) and defendants’ attorneys have also been contacted by members of the media and in some instances have commented about the case.”

The order says lawyers can speak on basic information that has already been in court or is public in other places — the ages, occupations and family status of defendants or the time and place of arrest — but little more.