ATLANTA - Members of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s police protection unit routinely used city-issued credit cards to pick up thousands of dollars in fast food and dry cleaning for the former mayor, despite clear policy forbidding any use of the cards for personal purchases.
Reed reimbursed taxpayers for only a fraction of those expenses, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News investigation found. And the city’s chief financial officer told reporters that his department was powerless to stop the inappropriate charges.
“We would flag charges and give him the opportunity to repay, and in many cases he did,” interim Chief Financial Officer John Gaffney said. “I’m not making any excuses for inappropriate charges. We do our best to change behavior, but that’s all we can do. There was no behavior change.”
The news organizations obtained hundreds of pages of credit card statements and receipts for the nine officers who have served in Reed’s Executive Protection Unit, and found more than $90,000 in charges from 2015 through 2017 — including airfare for Reed’s family, expensive flights to Las Vegas on the weekend of a marquee boxing match, and one-night hotel room stays in Atlanta.
The records do not show how much of the spending was for business or personal use. Reed reimbursed the city $2,800 from his personal bank account, according to documents provided by the city under the Georgia Open Records Act.
Some of the charges made by the bodyguards were for official city business, including airfare and hotel accommodations to keep up with Reed’s high-flying mayoral lifestyle that took him all over the globe. Reed often travelled with three or four bodyguards — more than Gov. Nathan Deal, who typically travels with two.
The AJC and Channel 2 previously reported that Reed made about $300,000 in charges to his own card since 2015 -- $150,000 last year alone -- for five-star hotels, luxury-class airfare, chauffeured car service and expensive restaurants. Reed reimbursed the city $12,000 from his personal bank account in March, just days before the documents were released to the AJC. Reed’s statements also showed he made an additional $30,000 in reimbursements within a month or two of making the charges. The new records show Reed’s travel cost taxpayers more than previously known.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which has been investigating City Hall corruption for nearly two years, issued a subpoena to the city after the AJC’s story, seeking documents related to Reed’s credit card use.
The police officers’ statements also show the less-glamorous side of Reed’s public spending, with more than $1,500 in charges for meals at restaurants like Waffle House, Wing Depot, Popeyes Chicken, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. The bodyguards also charged $3,768 on more than 120 trips to pick up Reed’s laundry.
It is unclear if all those charges were just for Reed, or if the officers also paid for their own food and dry cleaning with the cards. One $27 receipt at a Flip Burger Botique, for example, said lunch was for Reed’s wife.
Reed paid back just 31 percent of those charges, according to the documents.
“Mayor’s dry cleaning,” says a hand-written notation by Atlanta Police Detective Michael K. Flisser, on a $21 receipt from Mac N Jac Cleaners.
“MKR snack,” says another note by Flisser, written on a $3.99 receipt for Twizzlers.
Vince Champion, Southeastern Regional Director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said using officers for menial tasks harmed a department already struggling to attract and retain officers because of low pay and marginal benefits. Days before leaving office, Reed handed out $32,500 in bonuses to seven of the bodyguards.
“Your job should be to be around the mayor, make sure that if he gets in a vehicle, or goes in a certain area, that it’s clear — that there’s nobody in there that’s going to hurt him,” Champion said. “To be an errand boy, I don’t feel that’s what the job should be. At the least, I don’t think it’s very ethical. And I don’t think the officers should have accepted that.”
The officers did not respond to interview requests or emailed questions.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields declined to be interviewed or answer questions, and instead issued a statement.
“I rely on commanders and supervisors to manage their own divisions, sections and units and I expect them to flag any issues of concern with me,” the statement said. “My number-one concern is that the Mayor and his or her family are safe, whether at home, on the job or anywhere the job requires. I’m confident the commander of Executive Protection knows best what is required to accomplish that mission.
“Executive Protection is tasked with accompanying the Mayor throughout the day, and if picking up dry cleaning or lunch means one less stop for the Mayor, then that is a reasonable assist.”
The officers were required to sign three-page credit card agreements acknowledging they were not allowed to use the cards for personal purchases. Reed authorized the cards for the officers, and signed some of the agreements.
Travel charges for mayor’s family
The AJC and Channel 2 identified other personal charges on the officers’ cards, including an airplane ticket for Reed’s young daughter to Nassau, Bahamas, for $248.50 on Aug. 25, 2015, and a $102.60 flight charge for Reed’s wife, Sarah-Elizabeth Langford Reed.
The mayor spent $1,500 on his city credit card at two luxury hotels in Nassau that week. He did not reimburse the city for the hotels, but did write a check for his family’s airfare.
Reed did not respond to questions about the city business he was tending to in Nassau, and why taxpayers initially covered his family’s travel expenses.
On Aug. 25, 2017, bodyguard Craige Cooper swiped his card to pay $5,949 in Delta tickets to Las Vegas for himself and two other bodyguards. The flights left that day, arriving with thousands of celebrities and high rollers in town for a marquee boxing match between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. Reed used his own city-issued card Aug. 24 to buy a $1,700 Delta flight to Vegas.
Cooper used his card in T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26 — placing him in the venue on the day of the fight. Cooper, who had a brief stint providing protection for boxer Mike Tyson, and the other bodyguards also used their cards for relatively small taxi and restaurant expenses that weekend.
Neither Reed nor any of the bodyguards responded to AJC questions about the purpose of the trip, whether they attended the fight, and what was the city business in Las Vegas that weekend.
Reed also took a contingent of four officers to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where they charged about $17,000 to taxpayers. None of that was reimbursed.
The final tab on four officers’ cards: $13,000 in hotel rentals; $1,491.40 in airfare; $1,203 for car rental; and $525.59 in food. Reed did not respond when asked why he needed four members of his protection unit at the convention.
Atlanta hotel stays
The documents reviewed by the AJC and Channel 2 also showed a large number hotel charges in the city of Atlanta.
At least 32 times, bodyguards purchased rooms at Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis, The Omni, or the Hyatt for one or two nights, costing more than $6,200.
A police spokesman said charges for hotel rooms in the city are generally made because of inclement weather or when the mayor had early morning or late-night events.
Champion, of the police union, said renting rooms because of events “is not a good excuse.”
“That’s why you have the drivers,” Champion said. “That officer is going to take you home and pick you up. All you have to do is wake up in the morning.”
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has had a different approach when using executive protection during her first three months in office, utilizing only two officers. There is no record of those officers picking up laundry or meals for her, or booking overnight hotel stays within the city of Atlanta.
Bottoms’ bodyguards have purchased airfare, hotels and small meals while out of town accompanying the mayor on official visits, records show.
Through a spokesman, Bottoms said her administration “follows and will continue to follow the City of Atlanta credit card policy.”
Gaffney, the city’s interim CFO, said his office is going to recommend to Bottoms a new credit card software system that prohibits certain point-of-sales codes from being accepted by the cards. Gaffney said his office may recommend policy changes, as well.
“We’ve got to have a policy that is consistent with the new administration’s desire to be transparent,” Gaffney said. “It’s on the list of things I have to talk to the mayor about.”
This article was written by Dan Klepal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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