Days from runoff, Fulton DA admits to 14 state ethics violations

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference on June 17, 2020, at Fulton County Superior Courthouse, where he announced the charges against Garrett Rolfe, the now-fired police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks twice as Brooks ran during an attempted arrest in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference on June 17, 2020, at Fulton County Superior Courthouse, where he announced the charges against Garrett Rolfe, the now-fired police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks twice as Brooks ran during an attempted arrest in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Paul Howard, trailing in the polls, calls the matter "administrative"

Days away from a re-election runoff, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard agreed to pay a $6,500 state ethics fine for failing to disclose his role as CEO of two non-profits, one of which netted him $195,000 in city grant money.

The state ethics commission approved a consent agreement with Howard imposing the fine Thursday. Howard was accused of 14 violations, which he admitted to in the consent agreement.

In a statement, Howard said he was pleased to get the matter resolved. He lashed out at unidentified critics whom he said have equated the ethics violations with criminal conduct.

“Their arguments have been false, as they were well aware, and were made only to gain political advantage,” he said. " ... The action filed by the commission has always been administrative and today they have delivered a death blow to those who raised false messages by disposing of the complaint, merely assessing an administrative penalty.”

Yet to be resolved is an ongoing criminal investigation of Howard for padding his pay with $195,000 of the $250,000 in grant money the city of Atlanta signed over to the DA’s Office in two checks. Those checks were then deposited into the bank account of Howard’s People Partnering for Progress nonprofit, which then wrote out checks to the DA over the next several years.

Many were for his failure to disclose his secondary employment as the CEO for People Partnering for Progress. The nonprofit says its mission is to reduce youth violence.

Howard was also accused of additional violations involving another nonprofit, The Academy of Progress Inc., for which he also served as CEO from 2016 to 2019. During those years, Howard also failed to disclose his position at the nonprofit on financial disclosure forms.

David Emadi, executive director of the state ethics commission, on Thursday credited the AJC and Channel 2 with bringing the issue to the commission’s attention.

Jake Evans, chairman of the ethics commission, said the panel was satisfied with the agreement.

“We want the voters to know information they are entitled to know, and in Mr. Howard’s case, he was taking on payments from nonprofits he wasn’t reporting. He was supposed to report those,” said Evans, a lawyer.

“There could be a far bigger issue, which is that he was sitting in a public role as a DA and also taking on compensation from an outside source,” he said. “That is beyond our jurisdiction but that will be looked into.”

Evans was referring to a GBI criminal probe of Howard at the request of Attorney General Chris Carr. “The GBI investigation is active and ongoing,” agency spokeswoman Nelly Miles said Thursday.

In prior statements, Howard has said he will be fully exonerated.

Howard faces attorney Fani Willis, one of his former top deputies in the DA’s office, in Tuesday’s runoff. During the Democratic primary in June, Willis finished first with 42 percent of the vote to Howard’s 35 percent. A recent Channel 2 Action News/Landmark Communications poll of 500 likely voters found Willis holding a commanding lead.

After the ethics complaint was filed, Howard said, he instructed his lawyer to amend his 2015-2019 financial statements so they would satisfy the commission’s requirements.

“My hope was this would be completed prior to the District Attorney’s election, so Fulton County citizens could be clear about this matter,” he said of the resolution. “Thank God this has happened.”

ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM