For a couple of minutes during a sentencing hearing this week, the federal judge droned on about the good that Katrina Taylor-Parks had accomplished at Atlanta City Hall and in her private life.
When judges go out of their way to note a defendant’s positive accomplishments, you can assume the word “however” is coming — followed by the sound of a hammer.
This case was no exception. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones noted that not only did Taylor-Parks, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, take bribes from a contractor, she lied to the FBI and, perhaps worst, she put other city employees on the spot by using her position of power to make them do things they knew were hinkey.
“I cannot overlook the seriousness of your crime,” said Jones, who has, through his sentences in the ongoing pay-to-play corruption scandal, made it clear he’s sending a message to public officials thinking of getting a little action on the side.
“With all that stated, Ms. Parks, I ask you to stand,” the judge said. He then sentenced her to 21 months in prison (what prosecutors wanted), followed by three years supervised release and a $14,999 fine, an amount matching the sum of her ill-gotten gains.
At that, Taylor-Parks gasped loudly and collapsed like a sack of potatoes, leaving the packed courtroom in stunned silence. The ambitious 49-year-old official, who once earned $200,000 a year and had carved out a bright career, was left panting and muttering on a courtroom floor as the enormity of the consequences for her misdeeds sank in.
Nothing sends a message to other potential corrupt officials like the vision of a defendant hitting the floor. It was a pathetic sight that made you feel sad for her on a human basis.
Once again, however…
The hard fall of Katrina Taylor-Parks — it was probably an anxiety attack — is the latest chapter in the continuing saga of City Hall denizens ending up in federal court and then in the pokey.
Taylor-Parks spent more than two decades serving three mayors of Atlanta. Her job for eight years was to convince City Council members of the sanctity of then-Mayor Kasim Reed’s proposals and turn them into law.
“She was certainly loyal to the mayor’s agenda, and her job was to deliver votes,” said former City Council member Yolanda Adrean. “She was good at her job.
“When votes were close, she had to pick off a few council members,” Adrean continued. “She’d talk faster and faster and her eyes would get bigger and bigger. Sometimes you could tell she was moving beyond the facts.”
Adrean recalls that Taylor-Parks used to carry a leather-bound diary, in which she frequently wrote down notes during meetings. One would surmise this tome is in the hands of the feds.
Like others sentenced in this investigation, Taylor-Parks has given up what she knows about slimy doings at The Hall. Taylor-Parks met with investigators at least 16 times and let the FBI download the contents of her phone. She recorded 11 conversations for the feds.
Obviously, we’d love to know who and what, although prosecutors are very mum on this subject.
Her attorney, Jay Strongwater, said Taylor-Parks’ actions were an anomaly. Strongwater suggested she fell to the deceptions of Paul Marshall, an investor/flim-flam man she met a few years ago at night school at Georgia Tech.
According to the feds, she arranged meetings between a vendor (the AJC has identified him as Marshall) and high-ranking city officials. She also introduced the vendor, who was chasing a city contract, to an unnamed City Council member. She, in turn, got $15,000 in cash and gifts, including a trip to Chicago, a cruise to Mexico and a Louis Vuitton handbag.
You always wonder why someone successful would throw it away for mid-level graft.
Marshall, Strongwater said, “had a certain way to convince people to do him a favor. It was out of character for her.”
It’s interesting that a strong woman who could bulldoze and harangue opponents at City Hall could so easily be led down a sordid path by a con man dangling a fancy purse.
“This is not an isolated incident; this is not an aberration,” prosecutor Jeff Davis told the judge. She was “motivated more by money than by honor.”
She did, in fact, go rogue and take payments seven or eight times, and she did create a fake corporation to hide her illegal proceeds.
It is uncertain whether Taylor-Parks was connected with others who have been convicted of corruption charges. It seems she may have been freelancing in her own independent scheme and the other pay-to-play bribery dealers were involved in their own separate affairs.
Strongwater said his client was intimately familiar with the inner workings at City Hall, and he believes “she gave information that furthered the prosecution.” However, he doesn’t know how well investigators were able to use that info.
Prosecutors want scalps. The fact she is going away for 21 months indicates Taylor-Parks didn’t deliver a large enough hairpiece.
During sentencing hearings, the defense brings forward character references. Taylor-Parks’ team trotted out the usuals: A preacher, a beloved relative and a person mentored by the defendant.
They did add a witness who was a bit unusual — Ricky Brown, an ex-con who now tries to get jobs for other ex-cons when they are released from prison.
Brown, a DJ at the Magic City strip club who went down in a 1990s drug bust, told me Taylor-Parks was an advocate for his firm’s efforts to help ex-offenders land jobs with the city. “In fact, she was one of the only ones who helped us,” he said.
So why would someone who has the world by the tail risk it all for trips, cash and expensive knickknacks?
“Tough question,” Brown said. “In that era (at City Hall) there was rampant corruption. It’s greed. I think she just got caught up in it.”
Brown hopes Taylor-Parks will embrace his motto: “Don’t let your past determine your future.”
And when she gets out, perhaps he can land her a job.